By Andrew Marinus
Joseph Armstrong sat, like many others of his generation, in front of a computer screen, his face bathed
in electric light, the buds in his ears sending eerie music through his cranium. It was just after two o’clock on a
Saturday morning. This was generally how nineteen-year-old Joseph spent all his Saturday mornings, beginning most Friday evenings—eight-hour
stretches of trawling through the world’s library: the Internet. What he did on it varied, but the main things on his
list included the following: watching entire films; watching various Youtube videos; researching subjects ranging from astronomy
to entertainment to weapons to theoretical physics; watching and/or reading porn; playing games; monitoring Facebook; looking
at humorous pictures, stories, videos…; downloading music.
At present, his browser had six tabs open. The first was for his Facebook account, on which he had
messaged a few friends over the last six hours. The second through fourth were open to Wikipedia pages on “Gliese 581,”
“Pink Floyd,” and “Existentialism,” respectively. The fifth, which he was presently observing, was
a Youtube video, on mute, showing an experimental rail gun being fired in slow motion. The sixth was open to a porn website
showcasing pictures of redheads, teenagers, drunken sex, and combinations thereof. The seventh was currently buffering Joseph
a clip from Whose Line is it Anyway? Meanwhile, Windows Media Player was playing The Dark Side of the Moon,
currently on “Us and Them.”
Joseph stared as some sort of particulate field flowed around the firing rail gun. Too bad the video
didn’t have sound…or normal speed, for that matter. It would’ve been something to see the blast at normal
speed. Joseph took a swig from the can of 7up sitting next to his computer. The video ended.
He clicked the search bar and entered “gamma ray burst.” No satisfactory results came up.
He frowned, then entered “solar flare.” Bingo! He clicked one video, paused it, then left the tab as it loaded,
looking at the Gliese article. His mind absorbed facts and speculation like it was all the same, which it pretty much was.
Four to six planets… Two definitely in habitable range… One, more or less so… All three larger than Earth,
so gravity would be a problem… Twenty light years away? Damn. We’re not getting there for a while…
He checked the video’s status. About half done. He checked Facebook. Nothing of interest.
It was two in the morning, after all. People were either sleeping or drunk. Then again, drunk Facebook statuses were always
a laugh. No such luck, however.
He checked the porn site and scrolled down a gallery of various girls, looking for one that particularly
struck him. There were a lot that didn’t, due to the girl herself or just the style of the image. He was disappointed
that redhead galleries tended to have lower standards of attractiveness than brunette or blonde galleries. Then again, there
were a hell of a lot more brunettes and blondes in the world. They probably just took whatever redheads they could get. What
was the percentage of redheads in the world again? He checked Wikipedia. One to two percent. Damn. What a shame. It
wasn’t that he had anything against blondes or brunettes; they could be pretty smokin’, too, but…a hot redhead,
she could just blow him away like the others couldn’t.
He spotted a picture he liked. The girl featured fit his view of attractiveness perfectly. She was
wearing a skirt and nothing else in the picture. He clicked it and an advertisement opened. He closed it and tried again.
And again. And again. This time, the girl’s gallery came up, showing the progression in which the girl went from fully-clothed
and talking to a man, to naked and on her knees in front of him. Joseph began saving each picture to his computer, for later
While Joseph’s mind was somewhere between the girl and Pink Floyd, his body was currently located
in his university dorm room. He had turned on his computer on the pretense of finishing an essay for his English class on
contemporary fiction. To his credit, he had done so before becoming engaged in his current recreational activities,
but he still had another essay for his Philosophy class due in two days.
Then again, it could wait.
Joseph checked back on the Whose Line clip. It was sufficiently buffered. He watched the game
of “Party Quirks.” It was funny, but he was in a cynical mood, so he couldn’t quite bring himself to laugh.
He tended to enter this state of mind when he was nearing the end of an Internet binge. He had once heard lying in bed at
three in the morning, attempting to sleep, was like feeling that you were the only person left on an empty planet. Joseph
didn’t have trouble sleeping, but he did feel this single-existence sensation after surfing the web, when everyone else
with an appreciable social life was asleep.
Not that Joseph didn’t have friends. He had many and was quite popular. But under the façade
of social grace, he was…disinterested. When he heard the things normal people conversed about, he felt like throwing
himself out a window. It was always small shit that, once compared to the rest of the universe, lost any semblance of meaning.
Most conversation was complaints: whining, people bitching about, more often than not, other people...or
random events, rehashing what happened over their weekend, discussing how the coffee at the nearest café wasn’t as good
as it used to be, and—oh, God, no!—politics.
Joseph could care less about government events or shit the news put up to sell papers and get ratings.
He hated the news with a passion. The very last time he’d ever watched it, the reporters had talked about the
meaningless and irrelevant for about fifty-five minutes. Then there had been a short, barely noted story on how an organism
had been found on an asteroid which was arsenic-based, rather than carbon-based, unlike every other living thing previously
known to exist. And the reporters had just told the story like they really, truly, could not give a shit. The other
stories, however, that had been deemed massively important, ranged from how a politician had been rumoured to be having sex
with someone, how someone had been killed downtown in a mugging gone bad, and how a sports team had lost a crucial game.
Joseph had been staring at the TV screen blankly. Then he had looked over at the picture which hung
on his wall, which was essentially just a mix of brown and black. If you focused, you could see a blue dot in the middle,
less than a pixel in size. The picture had been taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990. The dot was Earth, seen
from six billion kilometers away. When Joseph looked at this picture and pictured people squabbling over government and sports
athletes and the nearest coffee, he had to smile and shake his head. No one really got it, the fact that the entire
planet was nothing, and that each and every person was likewise just as much nothing, only more so. Nothing really
made any difference. Really, the astronomers and astronauts were the only ones even close to making a difference in
the universe. And even that was just the equivalent of finally extricating oneself from their home, the equivalent of a piece
of dust floating around a larger piece of dust. Funny, how kids sometimes wanted to be astronauts when they grew up; maybe
somewhere, deep down, they understood, and wanted to go as far as they could in the universe…
Joseph closed his eyes and cracked his back. He needed to chill the fuck out. While he understood the
bleak overtone of reality, this didn’t mean he had to revel in it. The way he saw it, since people made absolutely no
difference ever, the only remaining goal in life was to enjoy it as best one could. Enjoy the little things, which,
universally speaking, was everything. So he talked with friends about what he enjoyed and went to parties and smoked
pot occasionally and had sex whenever possible; without meaning in life, the only thing left was to enjoy the ride.
Leaning back in his chair, Joseph let the music flow over him as “Us and Them” gave way
to “Any Colour You Like.” The beat sped up and began bouncing, turning almost jazzy, although you could in no
way call it that, with all the electronic effects introduced. The song echoed through him, sent his fingers and toes tapping,
and made him want to dance. Neurons in his brain were being stimulated as they rarely were, and tapped endorphins. Joseph’s
heartbeat increased, as did breathing and neural activity. His body and mind were at the top of their game. Joseph smiled.
It wasn’t sex, but it came close…
Somewhere, something made the equivalent of a misfire. A single failure occurred in a normally continuous
array of successes.
Joseph’s every sensory input instantly changed. His body was no longer supported by a chair,
or by the gentle pressure of air against his skin. He was lying in liquid. He couldn’t tell what liquid because, when
he opened his eyes, it was pitch-black. He was naked, although there seemed to be apparati of some kind over his groin and
mouth. Then he realised that he was breathing liquid. He began coughing, but this was a simple automatic reflex. Although
his lungs processed the liquid fine, his brain steadfastly refused to believe this.
Joseph’s ears heard nothing except the same kind of underwater distant sounds heard when splashing
around in a swimming pool. As he screamed, or tried to, he found that virtually no sound was created. His throat was full
of liquid fire. He coughed again, and tasted something familiar in his mouth: blood, his own. Trying to scream had done something
horrible to his vocal cords. He screamed again, with more of the same result.
Joseph’s arms were free, so he began scrabbling desperately around him, feeling for anything
which could help him. There was nothing. He put his hands over the thing over his mouth and tried to remove it. He failed
to do so. Then his hands made contact with each other, and for a moment each of his hands thought the other belonged to a
rotting skeleton. His fingers were thin—too thin. This kind of thin belonged to anorexics and concentration campers.
His hands ran over the arms belonging to their opposite number, which felt scrawnier than some children’s. Feeling his
chest, he found grooves in between his ribs. Feeling his face, he felt more grooves under his cheekbones.
Another failed scream, and his already torn vocal chords shredded themselves further. He inhaled blood
and nearly threw up, coughing instead, then quickly swallowing it down. He tried—and failed—to scream again.
Of course, whatever had made a mistake reported the mistake to something else. That something else
finally summoned Something Else to rectify the off situation…
Sometime later, Joseph, in the dark as he was, felt something that was not him brush against
his leg. Something Else had arrived and quickly noted that the best solution would be to remove the faulty unit and
Joseph could no longer scream, or even breathe very well; in fact, he could make no sound, even as
he felt something tear into his thigh, then pull away flesh and fibrous tissue. It tore into his chest…legs…cheek:
the pitch black allowed him no sight of whatever it was. His tongue felt something squirming in his mouth, which quickly attached
itself via several extensions to his tongue, hard palate, and various teeth. As the thing pulled out, it ripped out the attached
bits and pieces.
As the Something Else continued its work on Joseph, somewhere in the dark, back in Joseph’s room,
Joseph’s room became no longer Joseph’s room. It became Darren’s room. It had been Darren’s room for
three years. There was no Joseph in existence anywhere in reality. The people who had been Joseph’s parents were now
Michelle’s parents. The people who had been Joseph’s friends were now Devon’s friends. And when the Something
Else finished with the young man who had once been Joseph, he would cease to exist, both in this “reality”…and