|ALT.CONFESSIONS, Part 1
by Rowan Wolf
NOTE: Due to mature subject matter, you need to be 18 or older to read this. Any similarities to actual persons, living or dead, eMail or newsgroup addresses, are purely coincidental.
To: email@example.com (The Confessor)Nice try. Send me your address.
Bradford Crodin stared at the screen and worked his chin and greasy stubble with his left hand. Must remember to shower today.
It was a pale, unnatural face in the bluish glow, the light of the monitor combing back a receding hairline. His was a worried head in a silent wind tunnel, intent on the screen. Pock marks like miniature craters dotted his shiny cheek. His eyes, dark in their sockets, re-read the message, and again.
Not a lie, he read, not playing games. He snickered. They all lie. All these little perverts. And how she was fighting, how his little Evelyn was fighting to get off the hook. Just look at her.
Of course, he had to admit, and this is what bothered him, why he couldn't sleep, he could not know for absolute sure. Although her messages still originated from firstname.lastname@example.org -- and that was her address alright, this did not necessarily mean it was her at the keyboard. It could be someone else typing. But it wasn't.
He read the messages again and grimaced. The unthinkable goaded him again.
What if it wasn't a lie? Could it be? Could it really be that the crazy girl had killed herself? No. No way. She had played him for a complete fool, and now she was trying to fake him out. To get back at him, make him lose his nerve. And asking for his snail mail address. That was stupid. But still.
It was almost four in the morning and he should be asleep by now. But he couldn't. Evelyn had him concerned. He had never encountered a fake suicide note before, his stray sheep used other means to squirm their way out. Usually by killing their id. What hadn't Evelyn? She was still writing. Same id. And that, now that he thought of it, worried him. Could it actually be?
He read them again. From Evelyn or this Dorothy, her mother? And then, as he allowed for possibility, it suddenly seemed quite clear to him: this was not Evelyn's voice, not her words. This was not Evelyn writing. So something was up.
Was she dead, like this woman claimed? (Woman, he couldn't assume it was a woman). How was he to know? Or was she simply and thoroughly grounded? Was her mother simply fed up and putting her foot down after failing grades and soaring phone bills. He'd read about that. How was he to know? He started another message. Concentrating.
To: email@example.com (Evelyn Lassing)
He clicked the send button and watched the status line changes as the mail program contacted the server then sent the message. Now we'll see.
|* * *|
It was her husband who had suggested they check the computer.
They came for her on the 13th in the afternoon. It was about three. Mrs. Lassing? Yes. Is your husband home? The big man looked uncomfortable in the drizzle. She had no thoughts of inviting him, or his smaller partner, bored and wet behind him. No, he was still at work, wouldn't be home until six. The big one seemed uncertain how to proceed.
"I'm inspector Davidson." He didn't introduce the small one, and she didn't answer.
"I'm afraid we have some bad news."
Evelyn! She knew something would happen to that girl. What is it? But said nothing.
"Could you please come with us."
"We may," he hesitated. "We may have found your daughter."
Found? She didn't understand, and it must have showed.
"Her driver's license showed this address."
Oh my God, she's been raped! She's crashed her car! She was against her driving, from the beginning, she should have put a stop to it. Kidnapped? Shoplifting?
It was neither. The man would not answer her questions but made it quite clear that she had better come. The drive was short and wet, and the windshield wipers made a noise and smudged the windows as they labored. It was a dark building, soaking and dripping and they walked many steps down, on white tile once, now cracked and grey and a strange smell, and then she knew where she was.
"Mrs. Lassing." He made a clumsy gesture toward comforting her but she would have none of it. She would have none of anything for this could not happen. This was not. This WAS NOT!
A silent man in dark hair and rubber gloves opened a locker and pulled a gurney toward him, then stepped aside to reveal a girl. A girl lying very still, a girl with a pale blue face and familiar features.
"Mrs. Lassing," said the big one. "Is this your daughter?"
Evelyn. Evelyn. What have they done to you?
"Mrs. Lassing, please. I understand, but we have to know. Is this your daughter?"
"Evelyn," she said.
They drove her home. It was raining hard now. Steve was not home yet. It wasn't six yet. They both stayed and the little one talked to her. She understood only bits and pieces. The harbor, spotted by a pilot's boat, drowned. Was she a happy girl?
"What? What are you asking?"
"We think it may be suicide."
"She had no problems, then?"
"None. She was a very content young woman. Perfectly content."
The little one had the audacity to write this down. Then they all sat very quietly, and Dorothy understood nothing. Then Steve came although it wasn't six yet. The big one spoke to him and he started to cry. He would.
It was Steve who suggested they check the computer. For there was no note that they could find and there was no doubt that she had killed herself. There were witnesses. Three girls, on their way to school had seen her on the quay standing on the very edge as if contemplating the water. Then, their stories agreed, she simply stepped off. No push, no one near, no wind, no slipping or tripping. She stepped off. On purpose. Yes, they were all sure, all three.
And even Dorothy knew then it had been no accident. She had warned her, time and again of the docks, of the water, the dirty filthy water, to stay away, of the danger of drowning, of the smut that goes on under the surface, and she wouldn't let her learn how to swim, not in a public pool, are you crazy, girl?
Evelyn never had learned to swim and she stepped off that dock knowing full well she would drown. The black water.
She didn't understand. Neither did Steve, and he cried often. She heard him trying to stifle the sobs but the wracking betrayed him, she could hear him in his room.
We have to know, he said. We have to know. And she agreed. They searched her room for clues but found none. They spoke to her teachers, no, she had seemed quite fine. No problems that they were aware of. Let's check the PC, he said.
"Do you know how to work it?"
"A bit. We have them at work."
He turned it on and waited for the screen to illuminate. She watched the thing from a distance. She didn't trust it.
He moved a little arrow around the screen and clicked with the mouse thing. Nothing. Nothing, until he clicked on a small mailbox. It opened up into "mail out" and "mail in." He clicked on "mail in." There was many lines. The same for "mail out." He turned to her.
"This may be it."
"What is it?"
"Her mail. The mail she wrote and the mail she received."
"Where are the letters?"
"They're in here. Stored in the computer."
"How do they get in there?"
He pointed to a small box with two small red lights. "The modem. A telephone line connects to it. The letters go out over the phone line just like talk and into other computers. They have a similar program and can read what she wrote."
"She was talking to all these people?"
"I don't know how many, but she wrote a lot."
She should not have allowed it. She knew it then and now she knew it again. But she had begged and begged and Steve, always the pushover, gave in. Then he insisted too, which was rare for him, saying it would be good for her, prepare her for the real world. So they were two against one and diplomatically, for the sake of peace, she allowed the thing in the house. She should never have done that.
"How do you read it?" she asked.
He clicked on a line in the "mail in" and a letter came up on the screen. A long letter, black on white. "We can read it on the screen."
"I don't want to sit in front of that thing."
"I can print them."
"Do that. All of them." She left the room. He stayed.
She checked after twenty minutes. Sheet after sheet was coming out of the printer. "How long?"
"I don't know. A while."
She left without answering. He was always so slow.
It was nearly eleven when he finally came out of her room. There was a pile of paper under his arm and another in his hand.
"In," he said, and laid the sheets in his hand on the table. "Out," he said, and put the pile under his arm by its side. "She did a lot of talking." She could see he had been crying again.
|* * *|
At first she had browsed the bulletin board out of curiosity, just like everybody else surfing at night -- or anytime of day, for that matter -- looking for sites, things to catch attention, rouse the emotion, life out there.
The Web was okay but too polished, really. Too commercial. She liked the raw edge to the Usenet. Real people, real voices, flames and all. Not so the chat lines, she discovered. They excited her at first, real-time conversations. But she soon found their population almost to a person to be bad typists with little to say. Hi, how are you. I'm so and so. Over. Hi, how are you. I'm this and that. Silence. Silence. I'm fourteen, how old are you? Silence. Silence. I'm fourteen too. Silence. Wow! We're the same age. And on and on ad nauseam.
No, the Usenet, and later e-mail, was for her. She could take it in, think about it and carefully, or not so carefully as in these silly flame wars, reply. It was life, spontaneous and free, just the right balance.
And one night, one board in particular caught her attention:
She lurked for a day, for a week, reading what they actually dared to say, reading what these people, girls and boys and grown men and women actually said about themselves, amazed at what the heart could bare.
This one, a male, sounded like his mid-forties, was a shoplifter. He could not go into a store without this need gripping him, forcing him, he said, to try to outwit the security system and the prowling store detective. He didn't need this, he didn't eat seafood, besides he had the money, but he simply had to pick up the packet of frozen shrimp and hide it in his underwear and smuggle it out past the cashier. Heart racing, he pushed the cart toward the automatic doors, waiting, waiting for the "Excuse me, sir" any second, any second now. Of course they had seen him, and it was written all over his face. And then he was in the parking lot unloading his cart and in the front seat of his car starting up and retrieving the shrimps which he threw in the back seat. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He had done it, again. His hands were sweaty as he pulled out and turned right onto 31st street.
She could see him, follow him through the store, and understand his agony, the compulsion. And in the same thread, two, three, four other shoplifters, evidencing understanding with their own accounts of their need. It was wonderful. It was like having an on-line priest.
The girl was less than twenty, she said so. She had been a prostitute since she was sixteen, while raising a daughter she had at fifteen. She wrote about the pain of making love where no love was part, of salves she needed to smooth the way and ease the burning, of grunts and screams she recited to prove their manhood, of remorse and tears and a worthless existence which was only lit by that one small flame, Anna, her three-year-old daughter. And now, anonymous friends on the Internet.
She cried as she read this, she tasted her life, she felt the sting and ache of unwelcome love and longed to help her. It was sharing she had never conceived possible. Of course, she could never, never.
Or could she? She looked around her small room, a grotto of books and dolls lit by the glare of the screen, as if for an answer. No, she was too normal. Her life was too insignificant. Her problems were too pedestrian. But it would feel so good, just for once to tell, to bare herself.
She walked over to her bed and sat down. She shifted and the springs squeaked. What would she say, though? She looked around her again and at the light that seeped in from under her door. She heard mother complaining about something, dampened by the door and her own thoughts. She heard dad's silence, could see him wince in that way that only she could see, mom never noticed she just went on. Then she returned to alt.confessions; what could she say that anyone would care to read?
Then she knew. She walked back to the screen and began typing. She put her words carefully one after the other and made sure they said exactly what she meant. It was thrilling, this just saying it. Her throat was dry and she shivered slightly as she finished and clicked on "send" before she could change her mind. Then she waited a minute, two, three before she checked the group to see if it had posted. Not yet. She checked again. There. Last on the list. She opened it and read it again, now knowing it was there for the whole world to see. She felt giddy.
|* * *|
|He read her confession but had a hard time making it to the end. Drool and drivel. More of a lament than a confession, and he felt like posting an answer telling her so. Juiceless. He laughed aloud at his pun. Juiceless, precisely. But perhaps, he thought, a challenge. He looked it over again. Such a fragile little thing. Let's see if we can open her up.|
|* * *|
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (The Confessor)
He read the woman's message again. Slowly. He had trouble connecting, trouble making the words mean what they obviously were intended to say. The person writing this wasn't worried about phone costs. No, this was someone who's lost a daughter. Evelyn, he realized then with sickening certainty, was dead. The crazy girl had committed suicide in fact, and this crazy woman, her mother, was blaming him.
'Very clear to me', he read again. 'To me'. So, she's alone in her conviction. But then she says 'we've found', which adds someone else. Looking with her. Helping her? With what? Finding the files perhaps. And the stupid, stupid girl kept them all, and the Usenet post as well.
His mouth had gone dry and he felt hot. He thought of a beer but it was too late, he would wake up with a headache. He glared at the screen again as if this was its fault, and barely quelled an impulse to hit it, to punch through the accusing pattern of darkness and light with his fist. Again, he tried to swallow but there was no saliva.
Is someone helping her? And if so, how savvy is that someone? That question was suddenly very important.
|* * *|
She logged on to find her post again and saw three additional posts by hers. She cursored down, clicked the little '+' sign to expand the thread and opened the first with anticipation. She read:
Oh, my God. She was not alone. It felt like a hug of some sort, comfort from a distance, distances. Her sisters, out there. She read the messages again and wondered if they were all an only child. She felt they were. Oh, God, it felt so right. She almost cried but giggled instead. It was so wonderful.
There was also some e-mail. The 'in' folder had a "2" by it. Only Morris sent her e-mail. What did he want this time?
But neither were from Morris.
The Confessor? She didn't know what to make of it. Someone had seen her post and written her directly. How did they know her address? But then she remembered what Morris had told her: her e-mail address displayed in the "From:" field on all Usenet posts.
She read the next.
To: email@example.com (Evelyn Lassing)
'Has that thought ever occurred to you?' Yes, she thought, it has occurred to me. More than once. Of course she would write back.
She read over the note from The Confessor again. He was a he, she was sure of it.
Why was he writing? Then she answered the other message.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Astrid Fields)
Again she read over the strange note from the Confessor. She was of two minds about answering. Protocol finally tipped the scales: it would be impolite not to.
To: email@example.com (The Confessor)
|* * *|
Ah, she answered. That is key. She had read his note and she had replied. He felt a shiver, a stirring of the chase.
He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the dark ceiling, smiling. The game, as he thought of it, was on.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Evelyn Lassing)
She read the strange message over a hot coffee.
"Evelyn. You'll be late for class." Her mother's voice like a whiplash tore at her to remind her who was in charge.
The door opened. "Evelyn. Now. You must go now." She paused. "You've turned that thing on again. Turn it off this minute. You'll be late for school."
"I'm going to have to speak to your father about this, this machine."
Why don't you just leave me alone! Just for once, leave me alone. God, how she wished she could say it aloud, to her face.
She turned off the PC, grabbed her backpack and coat and headed for the door. Her mother, making sure she noticed, went in to collect the coffee mug, reminding her with pointed silence that she forgot to bring it out to the kitchen. Oh, God, Why doesn't she just leave me alone?
Driving through the rain to the community college she kept thinking about the message. It has to start with you. With your dungeon. She shook her head as if to clear it. There was something sinister about the voice, like a dark monk somewhere out there in her vast electronic nowhere. He scared her a little and thrilled her a little.
|* * *|
To: email@example.com (Evelyn Lassing)He read through his note slowly. Should he tone it down? He was clearly antagonizing the woman. Was is a luxury he could afford? "Yes," he said aloud to the screen. Yes, it is a luxury I can afford. The woman has to face the truth. Besides, he was safe. She would never, could never, not even with help, find him. His laughter, more like a croaking, filled the late night and he could not help adding a P.S. as a final touch to the note:
P.S. Besides, Mrs. Lassing. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but first you have to find me.
Safe in his dark apartment, three thousand miles from Dorothy Lassing, he clicked on the send icon.
It was a bad sleep. His legs ached from too much standing at work, from too much running in his sleep. They were after him, Dorothy Lassing and Evelyn (back from the dead) and the 'others' whom he could not see nor define, the others that could break his aliases, that could trace his many layers of identities and find him here. And he was running in a cold sweat and felt her hand on his shoulder, no, not her hand, Evelyn's, or the Police's, a firm, unforgiving hand, his father's hand. Where are you running to, son. You can't escape hell. Hell is real, yes son, hell is real, you'll never outrun it son. Never. You will burn forever, feel the flames, we'll chill your heart with ice to keep you alive so you can feel the heat, the flames eating your flesh off your bones, son. Don't worry, it will soon grow back to feed the hunger of the flame, son.
He sat up, dripping with sweat. Jesus. He looked at his watch. It was nearly time to get up. He closed his eyes briefly but his brain ghosts remained vivid and threatening within, and he threw them open wide again. No more sleep, no more sleep tonight.
He turned on the computer and read her reply.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (The Confessor)
He didn't get it. It added fuel to his recent dream, and he didn't know why. He read it again and again and still the threat escaped him. Until he started from the very top. With the very first line. He froze.
To: email@example.com (The Confessor).
He could hear his father, his damned dead father, rot you damn it, laughing from hell. He shivered. His room, shutters drawn, grey now in the overcast morning, no longer felt safe. He felt exposed, vulnerable, and it took an effort to suppress the scream.
They had solved his Canadian alias and tracked him to Finland.
|* * *|
"There is no way of telling how many aliases he's got." Morris Anderson leaned back and looked over at her, then at Steve. "It could be two or three, it could be a dozen. Depends on how much money he's willing to spend."
"What do you mean?" she said.
"He'll need an account on each machine where he's got an alias. Some, especially the overseas ones, don't come cheap."
She didn't understand, and said so.
"When you sent a message to," he looked back over the sheets of printouts, "to firstname.lastname@example.org, the message goes to a computer in Canada. From there it is forwarded to this," he looked back at the sheets, "unicorn machine in Finland and from there, we don't know. Unless," he stopped at the thought and looked at her, "maybe he's from Finland?"
"No, I don't think so. His English is too good."
"I don't think so either. If someone bothers to set up aliases they always do more than just one. Two at least, usually three, sometimes as many as eight. Depends on how badly they don't want to be found."
"Can you find out?" Steve asked.
"Don't know. We lucked out with this Canadian interscope machine. Security wasn't very good and I got to unix quite easily. It depends on the system administrator of the machine. If the guy in Finland is good it may be impossible to trace him further."
Dorothy shook her head at the unfamiliar words. He noticed and apologized.
Steve had suggested they call him. Evelyn had introduced Morris Anderson to them several months ago. He was a classmate of hers. Not her boyfriend, she made sure of that. Nice enough boy but a bit unkempt and from a lower-class family. He was going to community college, wasn't he? No, not a boyfriend, but he did put this computer bug in Evelyn's ear, and she wouldn't stop until she got one.
Morris had called when he heard the news. He sounded very sorry. Well, he should be, Evelyn was a wonderful girl. Then Steve reminded her that Morris was a whiz kid at computers, he could probably help find out who this Confessor was and where he lived. Steve called him, and he was more than willing to help. He came right over.
Easier said than done, was his first reaction. He tried the 'usual commands' he said, but they told him nothing, and after a while he started muttering about aliases. Then he was certain about aliases, and then he went to work on Evelyn's computer and she brought him tea and sandwiches.
Then he found the link, to Finland, he said. What does it mean, she asked. Means we're one step closer.
"I want him to know that we're on to him," she said.
"Tell him we've found him out."
"Are you sure? It might scare him, make him cover his tracks further."
She looked at the skinny boy by the machine, and she supposed he was making some sort of sense, but not for her.
"I WANT HIM SCARED," she said.
Click here to continue to Part 2
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