|Aussie Ropeworks, (Wiki.)|
There was this nostalgic sense of walking down memory lane, some feelings from thirty years ago. It would be nice to recapture some of those feelings, if only in the most fleeting sense. The music would never bring her back, but if nothing else he could get the music back. The day, the very second, when she walked out, Toby had known that it was permanent. He never saw her again, and in a way he was grateful. It seemed more merciful, not just to him but to both of them. He wished her no ill will, it was simply over. They were both going to get hurt. There was no sense in laying blame, or trying to decide who had more pain inside of them. And he had never regretted loving her, not for a moment. It’s just that he had no excuses, and who could blame her? Who could blame her?
He sometimes thought the bitterest thoughts. What if she was pregnant when she left?
What if she was too stubborn, too angry, too bitter; too prideful to tell him? To let him know? God knows she was hinting around about marriage, but he had never thought to inquire why. Too wrapped up in his own childishness, at the time.
Had she seen something in him, a weakness, had she simply realized that he could never grow up, and take responsibility? That he was doomed to be a failure, and that he could never provide her with the same things other men could provide? And a host of other thoughts, like had she known him better than he knew himself?
What if he had a son out there somewhere?
Did she think of Toby? Did she ever think of Toby with anything other than regret; or anger, or even sheer, unadulterated hatred? Toby had beaten himself up about it numberless times over the next fifteen years, and then one day he simply accepted it. She was not coming back. Get on with your life, such as it may be…and yes, you were a skunk, just that one time, and yes, she was justified…
He often wondered what her life might have been like. What if she went into a big depression, lost her job, and had some kid by Toby to look after? What about that, eh?
Had she ended up living in poverty somewhere, and trying to bring up a kid on public assistance, and always telling her son, his son, what a rotten old man he was?
Toby had a way of cutting himself up, sometimes.
But at some point, Toby had forgiven himself.
Toby Walkins was in front of his computer, searching out a favorite jazz musician.
Toby hadn’t heard Eumir Deodato’s bossa-nova music since his late twenties. One day he impulsively cleaned out his cramped and squalid one-roomer, and dragged the whole lot down to the Salvation Army donation centre. At the time, he was planning to make a fresh start. All those albums weren’t worth squat in the modern world, not worth fifty cents apiece, and the turntable was broken anyway. Much of what he took down to the ‘Sally-Ann’ was pretty forgettable stuff, but some of the music he regretted. If it was of some use or benefit to another person, then he was simply grateful. It wasn’t doing him any good at the time.
Somehow, probably because the forty-something-year-old perennial bachelor had only been on the internet for a few weeks, he clicked on another selection onscreen. He was just browsing, looking for entertainment. Sooner or later, he figured on clicking on everything he could see on his screen, just to find out what it actually did, or where it might lead him. The internet involved a learning curve.
For a while he sat and watched some Japanese kid’s home-made video, complete with Deodato’s version of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra.’ It had Asian-script subtitles, and little pop-up animated birds and butterflies floating in and out of what were essentially shots of his dad’s or his uncle’s or somebody’s tree farm. The kid knew how to use his camera and his computer. He was certainly better than Toby. The boy even spoke Japanese. Toby’s face cracked in a grin at the thought. Toby found himself grinning and chuckling like an idiot, at the thought of him watching that! For some reason the thought just tickled him. Perhaps because he had no children of his own, he actually treasured little tidbits of human interactions, or small observations of children. He perfectly understood why parents raved over their kids, but was sensible enough to know that he was only seeing one aspect of the story. Kids weren’t wonderful all of the time, he knew that much.
The neophyte web-cruiser hit the reverse arrow and went back to searching out more jazz tunes. Kids nowadays were creating all sorts of content, and could build a social network of a hundred and fifty people in a couple of hours. There was much food for thought there. For a while he read some sweet young thing in Brazil’s personal page, and wondered if it was just that easy to find new friends? So they both liked Deodato. Big deal. These social sites were a real phenomenon. He could imagine Paola Ramirez telling friends, ‘Some weirdo up in Canada sent me an e-mail,’ and how they all would laugh, and then begin to speculate about the sender. But why should he care what a bunch of perfect strangers, a continent away, thought of him? Did it matter?
And what do people expect when they go for internet dating; or stuff like that? He wondered at the possibilities. What were the odds that a middle-age Toby Walkins was going to drive thirteen-hundred friggin’ kilometers to date some woman in Alabama, no matter how wonderful it all might sound in chat, and ‘remote viewing.’
She’s my perfect match, thought Toby. These were entertaining thoughts; yes. Serious thoughts; no.
Idly, Toby clicked on the return arrow to go back to the main page, and that’s when it happened. He had been hit with a jump or flash-style viral video. Going to the website for Canada Post, he was always getting hit with flash videos, mostly about rally car crashes. For some reason, the amateur rally fans loved to tape car crashes and post them on the internet, and some of them were clever hackers, that’s for sure. But this one was a little different. Toby reckoned for a lot more money, there would be a lot better service from the service provider, but he also thought that it was a bit of a rip-off. They let a few hackers get through to send a message to subscribers: upgrade and pay the money, or this is what you have to put up with.
At first, he couldn’t see much at all, although he had the impression of a dimly-lit room, judging by the dresser and curtains in view. Of the foreground, all was in shadow, and the rear wall was a pallid yellow. Toby didn’t have a web cam hooked up to his machine.
For one thing they cost money, and for another he had run out of USB ports. He would have to unplug something else, and it all seemed like a pain in the butt. He had a pop-up blocker, but the jump-videos interrupted his searches from time to time. Usually they had some kind of a title, and all he had to do is to close the file…right? A young woman came into the room, and Toby sat up, with his heart beating a little faster. She was wearing a sheer nylon teddy, and see-through, split-crotch panties. Her long hair hung down dark and limp, but because of the bad light he really couldn’t tell its color. There was almost pure silence. He could hear her breathing as she turned to face the camera, yet seemingly unaware of it. She seemed so totally natural, as her face turned to the side, and he heard a muffled male voice say something and then chuckle harshly. A male with a thing on his head—the kind of thing that looks like a hood, with zippers on the mouth, and other places as well, he thought. She had nice breasts, thought Toby, cursing the bad lighting.
The light was behind the two figures now, as the girl bent over, placing her hands on the edge of the bed, while the male stood close behind her. They became two black silhouettes, with some barely visible details. Around the man’s eyes were pale rings.
Could the eyes be zipped shut? Why? Toby stared fascinated, wondering what kind of minds it took, what kind of fetish was required to do something like this. His heart pounded in guilt, as the girl’s mouth opened, and she was staring up close into the camera’s eye now, gasping and moaning and staring right into Toby’s eyes.
The man entered her roughly from behind, while Toby, trying to remain as clinical as he could, wondered how much foreplay had gone on before. The woman was clearly near to climax, and Toby noted his own arousal in a kind of sick objectivity—what else was there to do on a cold and lonely Friday night—and that’s when it really got disturbing.
Toby watched as the man reached forward with his left hand, and grabbed her by the hair, as she panted and stared wild-eyed in sensual abandonment. She writhed and moaned in his grasp. Just as she achieved climax, the man reached up with his other hand, holding a big, pointy, black-handled, serrated-edge commando-style knife and slit her throat from ear to ear. Her shock; her bulging, weeping, gaping eyes, her slurping, wet, gasping for air as she clutched at her throat and drowned in her own blood, had Toby moaning in fear, shock and utter despair. Still the man held her head back as she pawed and clutched at her throat, and wet, dark blood rained out of her. Finally she slumped, limp, face-down on the bed. Toby was yelling at the screen the whole time.
“No! God, no!” he shuddered, yet even then a little voice in the back of his mind was telling him, ‘someone’s idea of a joke.’
Toby could find no words; all of his thoughts were inadequate to express his revulsion. The beast, for surely no human being could ever do this, was coming, loudly, while the girl died there, twitching, staring straight into Toby’s eyes, as Toby sat there and cried, sobbing, sucking huge breaths into his body. His guts quaked with nausea, as he fought for air, and tried not to puke. He was afraid to tear himself away from the screen. The male figure leaned in closer, and Toby saw the knife hand was empty as it came up beside the camera. Then the picture went black, and then he was back on his Google-page of Deodato listings.
Toby sat there with sweat pouring down his sides. He could feel cold beads of it on his forehead and around his eyes. He wanted to vomit. Was it real? Should he call the cops?
What could he do?
What would he tell them? “Oh, Jesus Christ,” he thought. “Why me? Why me?”
Ten thirty at night. He had to work in the morning. The last thing he wanted to do was to call the damned cops and try and explain all of this. It had to be a joke—it had to be.
Toby Walkins sat there with his guts churning over, wondering what the hell he was supposed to do now.
Flash Video appears in The Paranoid Cat and other tales, available at many fine online retailers, including a 5 x 8" trade paperback from Createspace and Amazon.