Green note: outside of work, I been sloshing around, thinking, reading new authors, failing to post book reviews like I said I would, revisiting Kerouac, wondering about Jack Ketchum and Linda De Luca, posting on Oneword and other sites, ever planning a comeback to the grand Big Little where I was born.
In the blackness between worlds, Miriam flapped and kicked amidst alternating blasts of burning and icy winds. Below, she could see her husband Hal, fighting to maintain his position near the outer rim of a hole dense with swirling numbers and symbols. She dropped altitude to get closer to him but pulled back up as soon as she sensed the gravitational field. Hal was losing his fight, his mouth wide with horror and the yelling of words lost in the fire and ice winds.
Miriam woke up screaming, “I can’t hear you!” Her heart was beating so hard and frantic she thought maybe she was dying. She sat up, cried out for Hal, looked desperately around her. Hal’s place in bed was empty. She jumped up, her pulse jamming and pounding. She looked everywhere, the basement, the attic, the yard, the shed, no Hal.
# # # # #
The intercom on Hal’s phone buzzed and he heard his buddy’s voice coming over it in an ominous whisper, “Better run, bud, she’s on her way over to your cube.”
Hal caught Zara in his peripheral, shimmying her Miss Wyoming ass while balancing two mugs of coffee.
Hal hunched over his keyboard. Don’t sit down, don’t sit down, don’t—
Zara sat down carefully on Hal’s visitor chair. She put one coffee on Hal’s coaster, gave hers a slurp. “Hey-ya, Darlin’! How’s my favorite engineer?”
Hal banged the keyboard with both hands. “Fuck!”
“Bad day, Darlin’?”
“Listen, Zara, I’m on a deadline.”
Zara drew back, feigned fear, then bust out laughing. “Aw, listen Hon, take five, it’ll do you good.”
“I can’t spare one let alone five.”
“Well hey, Darlin’, maybe I can help.” She sipped her coffee, squinted at Hal. “I mean, for sure sometimes jus’ takin’ a break, you know, a step back, can give you a fresh outlook.”
“Seriously, Zara, this project is due by COB and I still have to get it to the programmers to code it before I can—”
“You know, I been meanin’ to ask you why a super-intelligent man like yourself don’t do your own code!” Zara leaned toward Hal, both hands on her mug. She lowered her voice and said, “I know you aren’t just all good looks!”
Hal pushed back a bit. “It’d take too long and I’ve got no time. Thanks to all the layoffs, I’ve now got fifty-six projects on my plate!”
Zara sat back and smiled. “You know, I could teach you all the code you’d need for your type of projects…”
“I appreciate the offer, but the programmers are pretty good about turning my projects around when I need ‘em.”
“You’d have complete control over your projects from start to finish,” Zara singsonged.
Hal looked at his watch. “Listen, I’ve really got to get a move on.”
Zara stood up. “Well you think about it, Darlin’.” She winked at Hal and shimmied on back to the admin pool.
# # # # #
A couple of days later, Hal was in the break room getting coffee. He heard that step coming across the tiles and cringed.
“Hey Zara.” Hal stirred his coffee, turned toward the trash and dropped his stirrer in.
“I coulda got you that coffee, you only have to buzz me!” Zara put her hands on her hips with a huff. “I thought you was busy!”
“Oh I’m busy alright. Boss just dumped nine more jobs on my desk!”
“How d’you figure the programmers are gonna keep your pace? They got projects of their own!”
“I know,” Hal said. He turned to leave. “I’ll find a way.”
“Stop right there, Mister,” Zara said.
Hal looked back at her, surprised.
“Hal, I flirt with you ‘cause I like the reaction I get, but I respect you as a colleague as well as genuinely like you, and I see you strugglin’. I know what your end product is and I know the code you need. In just a couple of hours I could show you all you need to know to complete your projects, start to finish. You’re smart. It’s that easy.”
Hal was blown away. He shook his head like to clear it, and laughed. “Christ, Zara, I always thought you were trying to jump my bones!”
Zara smiled. “I know you’re happily married, Hon. Like I said you give good reaction!”
“Well how would you teach me? When?”
“We could go to my place after work one day,” Zara said.
“Forget that. Miriam wouldn’t like it and neither would I. Why not here?”
“Conflict of interest.”
“How so? You’re just an admin…right?”
“Just? Most of my work here is for the gaming division.”
Zara winked at him. “No worries, Darlin’. How about an internet café?”
“OK, that sounds kosher.”
# # # # #
Zara shimmied into the Cozy Café, laptop over her shoulder. She looked around, saw Hal and grinned. She got herself a giant Cozy-Carmel Macchiato and went over to Hal’s table.
Zara pulled out her Squadron X7200 and fired it up.
“Thanks for this, Zara. Very much.”
“Don’t thank me now, Hon, you ain’t been through the wringer yet.” Zara looked up from her laptop and winked. “Just kiddin’. Now, send me the project document you just finished and we’ll use that as an example, OK?”
“Sure.” Hal attached his file to an e-mail and sent it.
“Got it.” Zara said. She opened it and scanned it. “OK, Hal, did you download the programming editor I suggested?”
Hal looked at Zara all skilled and serious. He smiled. “Sure did,” he said.
“OK, open it then open your document.”
“Cursor in your document, hit Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C. Cursor in your editor hit Ctrl-V.”
“Save it the file name you want, making sure you choose the extension Hyper Text Markup Language file.”
“OK, first we’re going to code all your special characters. Write this down as your first step.” Zara waited, licked her lips.
“OK,” Hal said.
“Highlight an instance of a left-hand double quote mark, Click on Find, and in the Replace field enter ‘& rdquo ;’, then click on Replace All.”
“Got it…OK…Oh very cool!” Hal’s face was lit up.
“See? It’s all this easy, just take down the steps. OK, now do the same for the right-hand quote. It’s ‘& ldquo ;’.”
Hal hung in there, sharp as an after-work tack, through the left-hand single quote, the right-hand single quote, the en dashes, the em dashes and all manner of else. He felt a sense of reward and hope until they got into the tougher stuff and he felt his brain slow with each command task.
His eyelids felt thick like loaded syntax and when he looked at Zara her head seemed pointed and large and precarious on the end of a stretched neck, her features golden, like a long ago queen.
He saw himself climbing a Parse tree and pruning it exactly as the queen had ordered, and when he’d got to the top of it he realized he’d come a long way from the parent directory and he panicked. He tried to talk. “Where is the parent directory?” he slurred. “I can no longer see it, I can’t find it, I can’t—” His eyes started to roll back in his head.
Zara reached out her hand and clamped it down on the top of Hal’s head, her nails piercing his skin. Tiny little trails of blood leaked slowly down his head. “Welcome to Zargoth, Earthling.” She blinked golden lids over black eyes, threw her head back from her long neck, and out of her mouth came a funhouse laugh. “You have been assimilated!”
Hal became Panic, the origin of it along with Hopelessness and Desolation. He became the absolute end of a man as he was turned and turned like a spider’s victim by the clawed, golden hand.
But even in the turning, in not knowing his top from his bottom, with each turn, his face up, he could see Miriam reaching out to him, and with eyes wide and horror-filled, he yelled to her, “Find the parent directory!” and then he was gone, sucked down into a whirling vortex of numbers and symbols.
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