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Markus’ dad used to kick the dog if he was pissed off about something. He would slip his shoe off to do it, punting it in the side with the heel of his foot and a shouted expletive. A familial ritual which was never spoken about, and when Biscuits got run over by a drunk driver when Markus had walked him over to the dog park and he’d gotten off the lead, no one mentioned it again.
Markus had the internet.
He sat hunched over the keyboard, talking shit into the headset as he aimed his cursor across the infinite digital battlefield with guys his age all over the world. Here, they were warriors without causes, because out there he worked shifts at a coffee shop and couldn’t afford to move out of the house. He moved down to the basement, jerked off over talking to women because regret hurt less than rejection and eked out a small, neutered life.
The anger never went away though. No matter how good he got at the game, it wasn’t enough.
He started streaming his games, enjoying the reaction his comments got, and when he started reading some of the links people sent him. When he wandered into work the next day, his eyes were dark with fatigue but how could you explain to your boss, with his weak chin and hipster sleeve tattoos, that one hundred thousand people were listening to you talk?
Markus enjoyed the power, how all these people asked him questions, sent him links and recorded response videos in response to things he’d said.
The feminism question came up.
He avoided it because Markus had been around the internet enough to know it was something you embraced or avoided. Milo Yiannopoulos had said it was cancer, and Markus had agreed, if you got it, it was probably a fight to the death.
It had started as a joke, and the reaction had been immediate.
He appreciated the response videos at first. The back and forth bumped up his ratings, and when he started getting cheques from advertising on his channel, he had to sit down, his head swimming with shock at getting money for just saying what was on his mind.
He decided to get the cancer, and go down fighting.
He recorded videos about feminism.
The Wage Gap.
The Pink Tax.
He took it to operatic. By the time he started recording them, his delivery had sharpened to the point where he was entertaining, which made them more offensive to people on the internet. It was nice to quit the shifts at the coffee shop, and it was really nice to move out and buy an apartment but he never knew how to respond to all the emails.
Markus was enjoying it too much to wonder how long it would last.
New things drew people’s attention.
Which was when Dr Zoe Morgan, started recording her response videos and Markus fell, if not in love, then at least in hate, which was just as good and meant his fleshlight time had a feverish, furious intensity.
He wanted to go out and meet women. He’d get swiped on, but as soon as anyone searched for him, he would be unmatched. The search algorithm was a mirror and Markus did not like what he saw there. So, when she reached out, with her painstaking videos, trying to take him apart from fallacies and insults about his manhood.
He responded with a new level of invention, a kind of hatred which drew attention and views in the way dogshit drew flies. He recorded animations about her, mocking her nasal voice with a sound patch as he imagined her in pornographic scenarios. Animals. Bodily fluids.
She published a chat transcript.
Rachel. He’d had one of those three a.m. panic attacks where he went online to look at the views on his channel, to see tangible proof of his worth. Even a hate watch was advertising revenue for him, and Rachel had been commenting and emailed him a photo with the ripe promise of cleavage and full, soft lips. She caught him when he was weak, and he spilled a lot of the immature, inexperienced sentiment to her in a chat which left him shaking and happy at the same time.
He read his words again, feeling his shame slide up his throat like vomit as he clamped his hand over his mouth. Markus used to do it at home, and now in his own place, he wanted someone to hear his pain and come to help.
They were all on the internet, when they could have been spending time together.
Markus took 50ccs of anger and walked away from the laptop, trying to get into the space where he could record a response to it.
No, not a video.
He was on the server in five minutes. Her name and address. A good part of town, and her degree was in sociology, of all fucking things. He picked up the phone and dialled 911.
Markus let his fear come, had it squeeze tears from his eyes and tighten his throat.
‘Please, you need to send someone, there’s a man with a gun in the house across the street.’
He gave the address, then held the phone away from his face and cried out in alarm before disconnecting the call.
It didn’t feel as good as he hoped. Lashing out like this wasn’t as satisfying when he couldn’t see her face as the cops bust in.
Jake flexed his fingers inside his gloves, gripping the barrel of the AR-15, trying not to think about his sister-in-law coming over tomorrow. She sneered at everything in her little sister’s house, and it made Jake itch to stand up and smack the smugness from her kike bitch face. Kelly was doomed to be single forever, with her multi-coloured hair and cats eye glasses, a permanent case of resting bitch face which haunted Jake’s dreams.
Last summer, she had announced she was trying out girls for a change and got upset when no one cared. Jake decided to be grateful on behalf of his fellow man in a dignified silence. He didn’t want to upset his Lisa over it. He loved her in a solid, quiet way but Kelly got under his skin like a chigger.
Underwood tapped him on the shoulder.
‘Get your head on straight, we’re on point.’
The call had come in, home invasion in a good area and the shift commander was a big fan of the SWAT unit and liked sending them in wherever possible. Uniforms were standing by, good cops but sometimes the police liked to remind people they were there.
Jake nodded and roadie-ran out of the truck, onto the sidewalk and up the steps of the house. He gauged the door wasn’t that strong and kicked it hard, inwards.
He saw half of the girl’s face, the locks of purple hair, the colour of cough syrup and the gleam of spectacles and the rifle was up. It was the thing in her hand, dark and long, which put his finger over it. A small prickle started in his upper lip, the residual irritation he felt for Kelly feeding and heightening the adrenaline coursing through his system.
The red stain on the sweater made him pull it.
A cherry red slushie, a single drop falling from the straw onto the front of her sweater as she had sat there, watching her hit count rise like t-cells in an infected patient. She had the first cheque in the bank, and she had been thinking about being able to move out. It was embarrassing to have a PhD and be living with her parents.
Picking fights with anti-feminists had been a good way to get attention.
Ir8G8m3r had been a great foil, and although she had found the idea of pretending to be someone else to get him talking about himself, she had fought a horrible, inappropriate emotion running though her.
Empathy. Another person who was screaming how together they were, how righteous yet without the ability to make real choices about their lives. She was angry at people who criticised her field because it was the source of her self-esteem. Rachel could not get a good paying job out of it, but she could call herself a doctor and no one could take it away from her.
Not without drawing blood.
She had sauntered to the door, flush with triumph at a future away from the house before it killed her.
The door had been kicked open as she checked her instagram feed on her phone. She had shrieked as the man in black combat armour aimed the rifle at her and fired.
Two rounds punched through her.One went through the brachial artery in her left arm and the other slipped in under her collarbone and punched through her subclavian artery. She did not fall down, the blood loss sending her deep into a pocket of deep, shuddering cold before she felt her legs go numb and the ground rushed up to meet her.
Markus started getting messages.
They came in from everywhere, but really they were all one message.
He had been chatting with one of his friends, struggling not to tell him how he had swatted Rachel, when the messages came in. He left the chat server and checked his social media feeds.
The questions emerged, like lesions rising on the skin of his virtual self, and then the news reports. His anxiety buzzed in his head like insects had nested in there. It drowned out his thoughts, and even his perception of time, watching the world spit spite at him for his actions.
As he heard the thumping on his door, he thought about Bobby and wished he’d never gotten away from him, the lead slipping through his fingers as the car sped down the street. He wished he had said something to his dad, stood up to him for hurting something which had only known how to love him.
Markus knew how Bobby felt as he got up to answer the door.
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Thank you for reading and your support of my work.
Chris smirked at her lawyer as the jury filed back into the courtroom. She loomed over Harvey, her court appointed attorney as her soft bulk spilled over the sides of the chairs and she scribbled on the pad in front of her with such intensity that the pen broke through the surface of the paper. She would look up and grin at anyone in her eyeline, her brown eyes slightly distended in their sockets which gave her the appearance of someone about to throw away their temper rather than lose it.
Judge Rozelle looked at the jury with the weary patience of a parent and asked the jury if they had reached a verdict. The foreman, a tubercular elderly gentleman who wore a suit and tie each day, gave a solemn nod and in a voice worn rough with talking announced that they had.
Chris, for all her rhetoric and misguided passion, stared around her with the despairing expression of a child finding out that Santa doesn’t exist and then burst into a shuddering mass of tears and foul language. The judge, hiding her smile, instructed the bailiff to remove her from the court and threw in that they would announce sentencing tomorrow morning at nine a.m.
Chris knew that the legislation was set against her. She had instructed her lawyer to approach her case on the freedom of speech angle. Her attorney had sought the help of the ACLU, the EFF, the whole alphabet soup of electronic free speech advocates but after an initial reflexive interest, they had looked into her case and backed away at speed.
Her attorney still tried though. Which, when she slipped from incandescent rage into self-pitying melancholy, was something she swore she would thank him for. A note, perhaps.
Chris knew the legislative axe that hung over her head. The precedent of United States v Baker was a strong one, but her attorney argued that case without any real impact on the jury. All the noble talk of free speech gained a patina of foulness whenever the jury looked at Chris or read the transcripts of her online activism.
That and the advent of the Valenti Act meant that Chris was forced to consider that she would not escape the consequences of her actions. She was prepared to jail if she had to, her dad had once admitted to her mom that he preferred prison to being married to her. The food and sex were better.
She promised herself she would be stoic in accepting the judgement whatever it is. A fine would be paid, a sentence served and in time, she would move on from a bad time in her life.
She promised herself but when the judge announced the sentence, her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted like a Victorian lady. It was the most delicate gesture anyone had ever seen from her.
Full Spectrum Blockages were a grisly juxtaposition of private and public sector applied to ensure that the affected person could not access social media or the internet for a period. The sentencing, generally was for a brief time, and had its roots back in the days when Anonymous were not selling branded clothes and running candidates for the Senate and the House. Chris had prepared for this as she wasn’t considered a violent criminal.
It was the idea of it being for life that slapped her across the frontal lobes hard enough to make her faint.
The computer had been her lifeline. The rest of the trailer park was a warm, worn patchwork quilt of people but Chris forever believed herself to be a snagging thread on it, apart and in the acceptance of that, she found a terrible egotistical power. On the internet, she could be anyone she wanted.
Her poorest decision was in deciding to be her. She posted comments on everything, without expertise or experience of the issues involved. Her feeds started off as disjointed updates then shared memes and finally mutated into a ghastly amalgam of the two, pulsing and seething with the need to be heard. She lacked focus or direction so her harm was minimal, the kind of encounter that people referred to when they considered how freedom of speech was a double edged sword.
Then Raymond Kessler walked into an elementary school with an assault rifle and his mom’s brains drying on his army jacket and Chris found her true calling.
Chris started to believe and then prosecute the unfounded accusation that Kessler had been a state actor, working to undermine the second amendment. She posted these evident truths in thick blocks of text, links to sites crawling with malware and pop up ads and if anyone dared to question her, they became collateral damage. Pointing out that using eighteen dead children to advance a political agenda was spurious flew straight over her head. Chris had her cause now and woe betide anyone who got in the way of that.
Few people did, so she went looking.
Kyle Brannigan was eight years old, shot in the head by Kessler whilst trying to run from him. His parents had been publicly vocal in pushing for stronger legislation, unaware that the battle had already been lost after Sandy Hook and in a world where time was sometimes measured in a number of school shootings ago.
She started to stalk them. Trolling was such an odd word to use, with its roots in fairy tales and mythology, and Chris seized the word for her own empowerment. She commented on their feed, creating new accounts when they cottoned onto her and blocked her, even pulling off a rudimentary denial of service attack on the website they put up to solicit donations for a scholarship in their son’s name.
Chris followed the Brannigans around without ever meeting them. She would have been able to claim a degree in their broken, muted world without their youngest son but it was not enough. She saved her welfare, borrowed money from people around the park and took herself over to Michigan to follow them in person.
When she got her nose broken by Kyle’s mom with a kick honed from three years of krav maga, that was the beginning of the end. The police, some of whom had seen the awful sight of children’s bodies carried away in bags held no sympathy with her and when the District Attorney announced charges founded on the Valenti Act, Chris saw it as an opportunity to make her case, to feed the poisonous myth of her ego.
Instead, she had been cast down into perpetual silent exile. She was not even allowed a cell phone unless the FSB approved the make and model.
She returned to the park, finding that the FSB staff had already removed her laptop, her desktop, the broken tablet that she had found and rebuilt with sheer will. None of them made eye contact with her, even Shereen who had left a gig with the TSA to sign up with them.
She sat in her trailer, unnerved by the silence until she pulled the emergency bottle of hootch that she had as the only legacy from her mom and started to drink.
The silence was the worst of it. She started to leave the television on, fighting the twist of anguish when the anchormen begged for people to post on social media and provide content for the show. She managed two days before putting her foot through the screen and buying a radio from the pawn shop, trading the last of her mom’s jewellery for some, and some forged scripts for Percocet for the rest of it.
The rest of the trailer park gave her a wide berth, lost as they were to their screens. Chris vacillated between a superior contempt and a yearning envy without pausing to reflect on anything she had done. All the people that she had collaborated and shared information with were as far away from her as though they were on a different planet.
What made her maudlin was that she knew nothing about the people behind the user names and accounts they held. They might have known about her from the news or the trial, and every day she hoped that one of them might go analogue and write to her, alleviate some of the burden of exile. She had cast herself as a martyr without considering how that might look each day.
After a month, she was stood in the stained, peeling lounge of a shack just off the interstate, handing over the last of her forged scripts and getting something heavy wrapped in grease-stained cloth as well as a sarcastic warning to be careful.
Chris could not afford too many bullets, so she knew that she could not gain the attention that Kessler did. She was forbidden from leaving the state, and where she lived had been dying by degrees, long before she was born.
She walked into the grounds of the public school one autumn morning, shaking with tension and fear, the gun jammed into the pocket of the oversized coat as she willed herself into action. Her jaw had started to ache, growing in intensity until a second burst started in her chest and her mouth filled with a sharp bloom of nausea. She staggered, dropped to one knee as the gun slipped from her pocket and skidded across the asphalt.
She tried to look up as one of the security guards advanced on her with his gun drawn, eyes bulging with terror as another sharp stalactite of pain pierced her through the middle. She glared around the empty playground, heard the soft laughter of children and shook her head to remove it from her consciousness.
When the small, cold hand touched her face, she did not open her eyes.
‘It’s okay, Chris, you can let go. I’m not mad, you can come and play with us.’
She turned her head as much as her pain would allow, struggling to breathe beneath the impossible block on her chest and looked into the smiling eyes of a child.
She tried to say she was sorry that she had been lonely and angry and that she wanted to be a good person.
Kyle smiled at her and giggled before he took her hand again. He understood, but children always do.
She left, relieved to escape the pain and mass and followed Kyle somewhere else entirely.
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