I’m afraid of the kind of traffic this story will bring to my blog. There’s some nasty buzz words lurking in these prose. Words I wouldn’t want to show up in a search engine, or across a national security agent’s desk.
The characters who use these words have no regard for their meaning. They sling vulgarities at the wind, with the glee of infants hurling smartphones onto concrete. They make casual death threats. They reference acts of terrorism with the enthusiasm of screenwriters referencing pop culture.
These characters speak their minds with not a filter, but a megaphone. Their real life counterparts have been jailed for things they’ve said in jest. They’ve ruined lives, or worse, played a part in ending them.
If the government makes revisions to the First Amendment, it will be because of something one of these people said.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to berate you with racial or homophobic slurs. These characters have used them so often they’ve lost their meaning. They have to resort to craftier insults to get their points across, to scrape the bottom of the barrel clean through, to mine it for new depths.
They’re a case study for etymologists. Linguists will cite them as the ones who broadened our definition of profanity.
Their real life counterparts will desensitize us to things we hope to never see. They don’t pull punches. If I’m to tell their story, neither can I.
Tragedy plus time equals comedy. The hero of this story has interpreted the quote to mean that making fun of tragedy is funny. He’s about to learn that some words are sacred. Some invocations summon things that won’t go back into the depths. Some threats have consequences.
Especially when he makes his threats here, in the Twilight Zone (sorry I had to do that).
I owe a debt of gratitude to @Raishimi, @FoodStoned, and many others who post under the hashtag #AmWriting. Many of you were eager to let your inner trolls go on a rampage. You helped come up with many of the cyber pranks featured in this story. You’re all very evil people.
I cannot stress how much hair this story had me pulling out. At seven-thousand plus words, I decided to break it up into three different parts:
1. Epic Burn
2. The Straw Man
3. Bridge Trolls
Alright, I’ve built this lumbering monster up enough. It’s time to set him free.
The Moderator PART 1: Epic Burn
Jeremiah didn’t realize he had balled his hands into fists. Nor did he realize that he’d knocked the two liter of Mountain Dew over. He watched it pour from the nozzle in bursts, seeping into his keyboard, too dumbfounded to stop it. It spilled across the desk, claiming his mouse, headphones and phone in a single wave.
There was a still of actor Will Ferrel up on the monitor. In it, Ferrel reclined with a beer. His hair was thick, parted to the side. He sported a mustache and a blue suit. This was his get up from the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Ferrel looked taken aback. A caption for the picture read, “WELL, THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY.”
Indeed it had. Jeremiah’s hands were still shaking. His reflection glared back at him through the black patches on the monitor. His fingers splashed through the keys, until he realized the letters were no longer taking his commands.
He reached for his asthma inhaler, shook the Mountain Dew out of it, and took a hit.
The comments continued to scroll down the screen. There was nothing Jeremiah could do about it. Each one was a variation on the same THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY meme. The same words over different pictures: a line graph with a steep incline, a stack of Tetris pieces, a man sitting on his chimney with a lake pooling at his ankles.
Jeremiah flipped the keyboard to shake out the yellow droplets. He flipped it back to find the keys had gone sticky, that and they were still dead. They’d turned on him like everyone else.
His mother stomped across the floor boards. She was doing a stint as a night nurse and she was struggling to adapt her morning routine for the evening.
She had a way of narrating everything that upset her. It didn’t matter if anyone was listening. She said, “Why do you put the jug back into the fridge when you know it’s empty?”
There was a screen cap from Alice in Wonderland up on the monitor. Alice’s eyes peered out the attic of a cottage, her hands poked through the windows, her legs jut out from the base. Again the caption read: THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY.
Jeremiah’s mother said, “And then you put the cereal back when there’s nothing in the box. God damn it.”
Jeremiah hit his keyboard against the desk. It cracked in half. Keys sprayed across the basement floor.
His mother’s footfalls stopped. Jeremiah suspect she was listening for another crash. He set the fragments of the keyboard back into the puddle. He looked to the door at the head of the stairs. A shadow moved beneath it. He took another hit off his inhaler. The shadow went away. His mother’s new routine didn’t afford her the time to investigate his tantrums.
Her stomping resumed. She said, “So it wasn’t too hard to take out the trash, but it was too hard to put in another bag? The hell?”
Jeremiah reached for his mouse. It could scroll, but the cursor wouldn’t budge. He scrolled up to find his name right there on the message board. Not his handle, Lord Kinbote, but his actual name. There it was in the middle of the page, all pink and naked.
His name was accompanied by links to his Facebook profile, his LinkedIn account, a thumbnail he was tagged in, and of course his home address.
Lord Kinbote got into a flame war with someone named the Straw Man. Lord Kinbote lost. He’d gotten torched by someone named after kindling. They’d rallied their troops, exchanged molotov cocktails, and Lord Kinbote got burnt to a crisp. He’d been outed. His name was mud, mud that everyone was now free to walk through.
Jeremiah thought to delete the comment that had evoked the Straw Man’s wrath, but he couldn’t. He had rage quit. He could see the message board, but he couldn’t touch it. He had taken a joke too far and the punchline was etched in stone.
Jeremiah had proposed making sport of finding and killing the Straw Man’s mother. He illustrated his tactics for doing so and invited others to participate in the hunt. He said they could make a game of it. He called it “Capture the Hag.”
It was an empty threat. The first thought that came to his fingers in a moment of impotent rage.
Just after posting it, Jeremiah remembered the League of Legends player who got locked up for making a similar threat. The kid was charged with a third-degree felony for talking trash at the end of a match.
Soon Jeremiah would have the NSA up his ass. He tried to delete his comment, but the Straw Man reproduced it in the body of a post. The clever bugger had copied and pasted Jeremiah’s words, just in case he tried to recant them.
Jeremiah thought to add a “JK” disclaimer, and an “LOL” for good measure, but by then his name was already up in lights. The Mountain Dew assured that there would be no back peddling tonight. His threat would stand with his name right beside it.
It took the cyber mob less than two hours to crack Jeremiah’s Facebook account. One of them must have scanned his “LIKES” page and made an educated guess. Turns out he wasn’t the only Dr. Who fan to use “Buffalo” as his password. Then whoever got into his account changed it to make sure Jeremiah couldn’t interrupt any of their fun.
Jeremiah watched the saga unfold from his mother’s tablet, deleting his browsing history as he went. The sun was almost up and she’d be stomping back from the ER in just a few hours.
The first guest post on his Facebook wall proudly declared, “It’s a boy!”
The second took on a southern twang, “Don’t fret ma, we’re getting married. I promised my baby momma a green card.”
The third was more progressive, “We’re gonna name him AIDS to help raise awareness.”
Each intruder took turns playing Jeremiah. Each added their own line to the pregnancy saga. They were like grade school students passing a story around the classroom. Somehow, a tale about a princess riding her pony through an enchanted kingdom always ended with her getting into a fight with the ninja turtles. Just like that, this story veered from being a blessed event to a shoot out at a Planned Parenthood.
Jeremiah opened a dozen tabs to check his accounts. He had used the same password for each of them. The cyber mob had a skeleton key to ransack his entire life with. They did so in one fell swoop.
The mob gave his online persona a makeover. They weren’t out to steal his identity. They were out to draw tattoos on its face.
His LinkedIn profile now featured “Preteen Gigolo” in his work experience. His duties included, “Reaching into pockets, checking dark cellars, and sniffing rags for chloroform.”
According to his resumé, he was the “Communications director for the Mid West Chapter of Al-Qaeda.” His duties included “Scouting event locations, allocating resources, and maintaining cellular connectivity.
The only job title they didn’t change was, “Line cook,” they merely added “south side meth lab” to the location.
Of course they altered his Match.com profile to say that he was seeking men. That was a given, but he was surprised to see they specified 50 years or older. It was explained by the narrative they had created. Where his profile once read, “I’m looking for someone to be my PLAYER 2 in the game of life,” it now read, “I’m looking for a big brown sugar bear who can fill my little round bowl full of honey.”
Jeremiah poured his mother’s whiskey into his coffee. Her system for protecting her liquor had a fatal flaw: anyone could replicate it. He marked the bottle with a Sharpie to show where the suds rested. There was a chance that she’d smell it on his breath, on her way in, but right now that was the least of his concerns.
He looked back to the tablet. His Twitter Profile now read:
“Jeremiah Jenkins, former NSA contractor turned whistle blower, dedicating my life to exposing the US government’s warcrimes from an undisclosed bunker.”
His newest tweets read:
“The #NSA has listening parties for the funniest lovers’ spats recorded throughout the year. They call these gatherings Breakup Banquets”
“Chris Carter was forced to give the #FBI copy approval of each #X-Files script before the episode could go into production.”
“FACT: The Twin Towers were chosen from a hat that included: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Neverland Ranch & the Giant Ball of Twine #911truth”
Jeremiah ran his name through an image search to survey how far the damage went. The result produced a red wall of glistening soars. The cyber mob had tagged photos of venereal diseases with his name.
On Wikipedia JEREMIAH JENKINS was a Nazi war criminal who had been stationed at Auschwitz. He was thought to be the one directly responsible for the death of Anne Frank. Then after fleeing to America, he founded the Westboro Baptist Church. Someone had Photoshopped a picture of Jeremiah and Reverend Fred Phelps to look like they had their arms over each others’ shoulders. They held signs in their free hands that read, “GOD HATES AMERICA,” and “THANK GOD FOR 9/11.”
Jeremiah’s email address was a lost cause, a compost heap of spam, hate group recruitment materials, and death threats.
Yesterday, Jeremiah had no idea that the North American Man Boy Love Association had a mailing list. Today he did, and as it turned out, they needed donations to help free their “political prisoners” from bondage.
The tablet vibrated as Jeremiah received a string of RSVP confirmations. Apparently he was hosting a Tea Party rally on the same night he was hosting an Occupy Wall Street meeting.
The tablet felt warm in his palm. It stung. He imagined it burning up in his hands, ignited by the hate of the world.
Jeremiah had become a meme, a game for board teenagers to play. Every cyber bully in the world saw the “KICK ME” sign on his back. They couldn’t resist giving his online persona a wedgie, a wet-Willy, and a swirly for good measure.
He’d been caught trash talking. Now he was being made to wallow in it.
His head was in the stocks, drowning in tomatoes. There was an inferno where his welcome mat should be, nothing but flaming bags of poop as far as the eye could see. He doubted that half of his attackers were even aware of the hit he put out on the Straw Man’s mother. They just knew that he was fair game and oozed out of the wood work.
The sharks smelt blood and they came a-swimming.
Jeremiah checked his Spotify playlists to find his collection reduced to one solitary song: Never Gonna Give You Up, by Rick Astley. That night he cried himself to sleep.