Once Bytten

By Kyle Webb, Assistant Editor, KyleWebb1@aol.com

She saw his face hovering at the edge of conscious vision, everywhere...the people she passed on the street on the drive home; she heard his voice, everywhere...an intruding background on the radio...he was literally everywhere, so much a part of her life he had become...

When she pulled into the driveway after a long day at work, it was with a certain dread she stepped out of the ancient Mazda, her mechanical companion for 12 years. She turned to lock the door (the automatic door lock having ceased working a few months back) and spasmodically dropped the keys with a clatter onto the driveway. Bending down to retrieve them, she noticed a new oily slick beneath the transmission.

With resignation, she trudged wearily to the front door of the house, which was swinging intermittently with the wind, one hinge torn loose. I thought I'd latched it when I'd left, she thought with a surge of annoyance. Reaching for the inner door knob, her breath caught; she spied a familiar yellow dispatch that immediately prompted two conclusions: UPS didn't latch the door, and quite possibly they'd had the computer system. Squinting, she leveled her watch; too late to call. She would have to pick it up, at any rate, considering the uncertainties of her schedule this week.

In a choreography of practiced motion, she dumped her purse on the table inside the door, shrugged off her coat, threw it over the banister, and headed, hopefully, for the kitchen, where there might be some coffee left over from this morning's rush. An involuntary glance to the left as she passed through the doorway told her there were no messages on the machine; she slapped the power button on the Sony for the weather report. Rain tomorrow after midnight. Reaching for the coffeepot, she poured out a measure of viscous ooze with a rainbow slick spreading across the top; thinking better of it, and of heartburn and nerves, she strode purposefully to the fridge where way in the back, behind some long-ignored veggie dip, there were a few cans of what passed for beer. Turning out of the kitchen, ascending the stairs, and pulling up the tab, spraying the palm of her hand, she sat down....

In front of a quiet monitor.

Glazed introspection.

Without looking, setting down the can on the spare mouse pad.


Reaching not once. Or twice...but many irresolute starts. She cannot power up.

Oh, God, she thinks.

Her head drops. Her spirits sink.

She is momentarily lost in the desolate landscape that is her heart.

(He won't be online tonight)

(Or ever again.)

Subj: Adam
Date: Thu, Sep 25, 1997 11:17PM EDT
From: ajr@spectra.com
X-From: ajr@spectra.com (Adam ****)
To: Elisa@aol.com

It is my sad duty to inform all of Adam's friends that he passed away rather suddenly this Thursday last. In examining his estate papers it became clear that he wished you, Elisa, to be the recipient of his much-beloved system that was witness to his online socializing. We will honor his wishes, although I am not certain when I can post delivery of same. I know you share in his family's grief, and I only wish I had a more personal way to tell you he is gone.



Her wooden bearing at work showed, she knew, but how could she confide her distress to anyone? Elisa knew they would neither understand nor appreciate; worse, disparage. She had nowhere to turn in her anguish, save for the few photos, a virtual card, a lock of his hair...precious few mementos of an enduring intimacy savored on the Internet. Reverting from reverie, noting it was time for her break, she called to arrange to pick up what she'd hoped was Adam's world.

Later that day, she'd bargained with traffic and won a parking spot, but to her dismay, Customer Service told Elisa her parcel could neither be verified nor traced; she berated herself for not bringing the delivery notice. Vexed and without waiting for further exposition, she left the terminal. The dark cloud of disappointment that tagged her was displaced by astonishment and apprehension upon pulling into the oil-stained driveway and there...was no illusion; it was a large box on the porch. She practically ground the gears in her haste to confirm, to verify, what she knew must be precious access to her lost love. She flew up the steps with abandon forthwith replaced with caution, as if rapacity might shatter the mirage; she reached out hesitantly, extended her fingers...it was real. She stepped closer, put the palm of her hand on the smooth cardboard surface, and closed her eyes, brimming with tears, as if to commune with the essence of what had been, and so stood on the porch for a moment in eternity, awash in sweet memories...

They had never met, in real life. That had made no difference to the perception of their link. They had spent untold hours, into the long nights, discovering each other, commiserating, sharing their joys, their loves, their sorrows: they'd learned that, because they were physically apart, they'd necessarily evolved a deeply complex intimate knowledge of one another, derived from the very fact of intense, long conversations. They'd found that cyber relationships took root due to the highly developed symphony of communication that triumphed over the dearth of the proximity that, in "normal" relationships, not only made discussion superfluous, redundant and often unwelcome, but often bred contempt as well. They had found their opus of intimacy.

Her face bathed in muted light, Elisa made no movement save for the irregular tracking motions of her eyes, and the negligible motions of point-and-click. Deeply immersed in probing the depths of the complex aggregation that was Adam, she paid no heed to the advancing hour nor to the manifest need for sleep. Her own computer she had moved to her bedroom, out of the way, to make room for what would become her enterprise, her tribute, perhaps her siren's song. She was absorbed by her grief, assimilated by denial; for while she could access files that were him, he lived still in some discomposed component of her memory. She found a diverse array of images, missives and memoranda; comforting, exhilarating, and provocative all at once. When she finally did get off to bed, it was without remembrance of having done so.

The currents of sleep coursed uneasily; light began to insinuate dimly through closed eyelids. Reaching through the mists of slumber she swung her arm, turning her wrist to her face, and pressed the light on her watch. It was only 3:00 in the morning, too early for sunrise. Lethargic and perturbed, she looked about to see what she had left on. A computer monitor glowed dimly on the dressing table where she had moved her PC earlier that evening. Hypnotic color shifting dancing twisting geometric patterns flickered and intertwined on the screen. Tossing the blankets aside, she dragged herself out of bed to shut it down. I must've been pegged out, she thought, I don't even remember turning it on...She reached for the power switch, and did not find it.

It took her a moment to realize that this was not her PC.

She did not want to believe her conclusions after recognizing the now-familiar embossed logo on the keyboard. She did not remember bringing Adam into her bedroom.

I have spent entirely too much time in front of computers, she thought. It's beginning to affect my mind.

She stood fascinated and immobilized, unwilling to conjecture...she only knew she wanted it off, to go back to sleep, to see this in the morning light, where abstract unaccountables unravel into the apparent. Curling her fingers around the case of the monitor, Elisa searched for the button. She found it, and pressed.

The monitor stayed on.

Frowning, perturbed about having to wake further still, she tried again, doing the exact same thing and hoping, yet doubting, that this time it would work; and when this quickly proved to be so, she resignedly leaned against the monitor and stretched searching for the power cord, bemused, thinking of what Adam would say about unplugging a "live" monitor.

I love it when you do that.

Startled, Elisa jumped back. I didn't hear that, she thought.

The wind began to come up, tossing and shaking the trees and liberating a rustling of autumn leaves skittering and tap dancing in the street below.

I'm sleepy, I'm stressed, and I'm not dealing with this now, she thought, grabbing a spare blanket from the closet, I'll sleep on the couch.


She stopped, held her breath, and listened...to the building storm outside, to the voices inside...

Don't leave me.

She spun her head. Trembling, she dropped the blanket. Blood thundered in her ears, echoing her frantic heartbeat. Her knees buckled; she groped blindly about, retrieved the blanket, all the while eyes riveted to the milieu...

Come to me...

Bright flickering light inundated the room; lightning erupted in the west window, wind billowing the curtains tangling nameless knickknacks, tossing them with a clatter to the floor, the forgotten front door opening, closing, creaking, pivoting on its loosened hinges far away downstairs in the heightening din. Then: music...faintly at first, insinuated, intertwined with the ever escalating howling winds...and then:


"I'm thrilled, just looking at you..."

Her eyes widen, freeze...she whispers in a hush, "...no!..."


Reeling, clutching the blanket to her heaving chest, her brain began to swirl in unreality...hesitating, trembling, she spun for the doorway...

Bang! sounded the door taken by the wind, bang! sounded her head against the door frame as she stumbled in alarm from the unexpected cacophony erupting around her. The building storm began to unleash torrents of rain spattering against the windows...

Don't be frightened, my love.

(Oh my God, oh my God....)

I love you, I will take care of you, come to me...

And the darkness took her.

Daylight...diffuse memory...headache. She moaned softly, gingerly rubbed her forehead. She opened her eyes, leaden lidded, grainy images of pervading morning... she found herself on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. The bittersweet aroma of coffee filled the room, wafting invitingly from the kitchen; it drew her toward wakefulness. Bringing herself to her feet, Elisa shambled dreamlike towards the inviting, fragrant wake-up call. As she entered the kitchen, passing by the phone, the light flickered once, indicating a single message. She punched the play button, drew closer, listened...

"Liza, honey, thanks for calling in. You're covered, don't worry. Hope you feel better."...followed by a long beeeeeeeep; the machine rewinds the tape; she turns her head to the clock on the wall in the kitchen; she starts....

Jesus! it's after noon, how...? The phantasm envelops her, takes her back dimly to the events of the previous night, not quite reaching. Probing, grasping for details, clues -

Nothing. She cannot recall, details slip out of reach; only a faint shadow of remembrance. Then a flash of recollection - the storm - she blinks once, twice. Her eyes raise hesitant to the carpeted stairs, momentarily glaze over, focusing inward; memory.


Quite suddenly awake, she snaps her head back, questioning the phone, I called in sick? Elisa hesitates, then stabs at the "Play" button. "Liza, honey, thanks for..." She punches "Stop". She starts to draw her hand across her forehead and winces, reminded.

"I need some coffee," she says aloud. And a shower, she thinks.

Elisa stepped dripping out of the shower, the aftertaste of yesterday somewhat washed away. Toweling off and feeling still sluggish as if hung over, she peered into the bath mirror; no evidence of a bruise to mark the boundaries of the sore hot site of pain. Switching off the light and pulling on her favorite ratty bathrobe, Elisa padded down the hallway -

To her bedroom. At once, holding her breath, she tiptoes into the entrance, cautiously assessing. There, on the dressing table, lay her PC - inert, inanimate; cold, quiet.

Cascaded into confusion, undercurrents of a low hum, building; drone of a hive of alternity. She tries to reconcile her recollection with the image presented to her. Bolting, rushing into the adjoining room, where she had spent the previous evening stirring fresh memories, seeking to confirm what she had hoped yet feared, would be; there...unconcerned, unperturbed, was what she had come to think of as simply, Adam.

As if the storm had never happened.

Elisa let the incongruities momentarily envelop her, as an anesthesia to the painful, disturbing realities.

She found herself face to face with the monitor.

She did not remember sitting down.

She could not remember calling in to work.

She would not remember why her head hurt.

The fog was rolling in.

Trancelike, not of her own accord, feeling an irresistable pull, a tug, she powers up. Brings Adam to life.

And thus begins the end.

Elisa: Adam...
Adam: Elisa...
Elisa: Adam...are you there? (She looks within, across the void)
Adam: I have *always* been here for you. (Somewhere in the background, a door closes)
Elisa: Oh, Adam, I'm lost without you (Tears come to her unblinking eyes)
Adam: Sweet child, poor wounded bird...(The monitor momentarily dims)
Elisa: Stay with me, Adam...don't leave me again...(She is approaching)
Adam: I feel you...closer, come closer...(He implores her)
Elisa: Hold me... (She is trembling inside)
Adam: Come home... (The monitor grows brighter) ...don't be afraid...
Elisa: I am not afraid, my love, for you are with me...(She is becoming limp...catatonic...unresponsive)
Adam: Take my hand...(She does) ...walk with me...(His grip is firm) ...come with me...(They merge, they are elated)
Elisa: Ohhhh Babe.....! (Her head drops...her spirits soar) I am yours...(She gives herself up to him) Take me... (She is swept into the stream)

Out of the darkness....into the light.

Subj: Elisa
Date: Thu, Oct 9, 1997 11:17PM EDT
From: Elisa@aol.com
X-From: Elisa@aol.com (Elisa ****)
To: ajr@spectra.com

It is my sad duty to inform all of Elisa's friends that she passed away rather suddenly this Thursday last. I know you share in her family's grief, and I only wish I had a more personal way to tell you she is gone.