Short Story – “Internet Nightmare”

I have decided to celebrate Author Appreciation Week by taking the week off from writing the blog to work on the FINAL EDIT of Jim and Jack, my young adult historical mystery. My next post will be on Monday, March 22.

In lieu of this week’s posts, I’ve written a short story:

a

Internet Nightmare

Lynn Rylant sat down at her favorite table in the coffee shop and opened her laptop, eager to get started on the plot twist she’d thought of in the shower. She bit into her raspberry muffin and waited for the screen to come up.

After a moment, her email appeared — thirty-five messages, mostly from the writing forum she frequented.  She clicked on the first few, pleas for help on queries, which she skipped past, not in the mood to dispense advice. To her surprise, the fourth email was a personal message from Grey_hound. His avatar was a greyhound’s face, but she knew that he was male because of things he’d said, and some people on the forum called him Jerry. She clicked on it and his post popped onto the screen.

“Hi, Rylyn1, I see on your profile that you live in West Palm Beach, and I’m going to be down there on business tomorrow. Would you like to meet for coffee or something? Thought it might be fun to talk books in person. Let me know, Jerry Meyers.” It had been sent the night before, so that meant today.

Lynn smiled. She had always wondered about her virtual friends from the forum, now she would actually get to meet one. Grey_hound was a frequent poster to the website, and she knew he’d been a member for over two years. He’d written a fictional account of the Peloponnesian War, had been to several conferences, and seemed to know a lot about the publishing industry. What fun!

She replied, “Sure, Jerry, that would be nice. Where and when? About to sign her username, she reconsidered and typed Lynn Rylant instead. They were going to be meeting, after all, and he certainly couldn’t call her Rylyn1. She eyed her avatar as she hit send, and made a mental note to change it. The photo was several years old, and she had lost some weight since it was taken.

She clicked back to her inbox and Jerry had already responded. “Camouflage Coffee on Clematis Street, 4pm?”

This very place! What a coincidence. Her smile grew as she typed back, “Sure – I’ll be the one with the red rose.” The manuscript she was querying was titled, Red Rose of Summer.

Another quick response. “AOK, see you then.”

Pleased, she skimmed the rest of her emails and started to work on her novel. Soon lost in thought, she expanded on her earlier ideas, pausing only to sip her coffee. At one o’clock, she reluctantly packed up her things and went home to feed Mr. Tibbles, her cat. Mr. Tibbles was on a special diet and needed to eat several times a day, which got a little annoying, but he had been a good friend for almost sixteen years. The alternative was unthinkable.

###

She felt a little tired as she ate her lunch. Her morning at the coffee shop had been productive, she reflected, with over a thousand words added to her previous count. Mr. Tibbles sat next to the vase of Mexican petunias on the table, his eyes following her turkey sandwich. Lynn knew that she shouldn’t, but tore off a piece of meat and gave it to him. It made her feel good to see him happy. She glanced at the wall clock and was startled to see that it was already two-thirty — time to get ready.

Having somehow gotten the impression that Jerry was around her age, she decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to dress more carefully than usual. “Stranger things have happened, Mr. Tibbles!”

An hour later, she surveyed her reflection in the full-length mirror, pleased with her choice. A flowered sleeveless sundress skimmed her size-ten figure and a pink cardigan strategically covered her upper arms “Who says that forty-three is old?” she asked the cat. She slipped her feet into gold leather sandals and walked out of the house to her VW, remembering to pick a red rose from the bush next to the front steps. With a thrill of anticipation, she popped it into the vase on the dashboard and drove to their meeting place.

Entering the coffee shop, she was blind for a moment as her eyes adjusted. A few people were seated at a corner table, but there was no man sitting alone. Lynn selected a two-top and sat facing the door, with the rose on the table in front of her. It was five minutes to four.

At three-fifty-seven, she decided that it would be nice to buy him some coffee, so she went to the counter and ordered two Columbian Supremos. Everybody liked those, and he could doctor it up himself. She went back to the table, set down their cups, and waited.

A minute later, the door swung open and a tall man wearing a blue jacket walked in. He was middle-aged with a slight stoop, as if he were used to leaning down to talk to people who were shorter than he was. Salt and pepper hair ringed a prominent bald spot, and his skin was creased and leathery. Lynn was a little disappointed, but that had just been a silly whim. “Jerry!” she called, waving the rose.

He looked her way and started over. “Rylyn1!” he grinned, extending his hand. “Your picture doesn’t do you justice!”

“Lynn,” she responded with a smile, leaning forward to shake his hand. “Neither does yours!”

He looked blank for a second, but then got the joke and laughed. He looked quizzically at the two cups.

“I already got you a Columbian Supremo,” she hesitated. Maybe she should have waited.

“My favorite!” he boomed, taking a seat. “Black?”

She nodded.

“Just the way I like it.”

A cloud of stale tobacco enveloped her, and she took a sip of her coffee to counteract it. “Are you in town on business?” she asked brightly. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you do for a living.”

He took off his jacket, revealing the blue uniform of a bus driver.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, seeing the logo on his pocket. “Greyhound.”

He grinned. “Now you know.”

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, but he seemed to be waiting for her to speak.

“How’s it going with the querying?” she asked. That seemed like a good topic.

“Just sent out number two-hundred-eighty-three this morning.”

That was a lot.

“You’re getting requests, though?” she affirmed.

“Three partials so far,” he said, “but this is a very tough market.”

“Yes,” she agreed, privately horrified. In the six months she had been querying, she had sent seventy-three emails, and so far had five requests to see more of her work; two agents were currently reading her full manuscript.  “How long have you been querying?” she probed.

“Seven years,” he responded, a slight edge to his voice.

Lynn decided that it might be wise to stop the inquisition. “I’m sure that the Peloponnesian War is just too intellectual for a lot of people,” she placated. He seemed satisfied with that response, and took another sip of his coffee.

Abruptly, he started talking about his manuscript, going into detail about the importance of the war and how his protagonist was a compilation of several historic figures. A few times, she started to ask a question, but he just kept on talking. When he started in on how much research he’d done, she realized that he’d actually been working on the book for over fourteen years, and it was 320,000 words long. “I know that’s a little high,” he said, noticing the look on her face, “but everyone who has read it says how much it makes them think of Michener.”

Lynn took a sip of her now cold coffee, and sneaked a glance at her watch. It was six-fifteen, and he had yet to ask even one question about her or her novel. “Look at the time!” she exclaimed. “I have to get back and feed my cat.” At his doubtful expression, she clarified, “He has a digestive problem and has to eat regular meals. Otherwise, his sugar gets off and I have to give him shots.” She reached for her handbag.

“Oh.” Jerry looked disappointed. “Well, what are your plans for the evening?”

Lynn stilled. “Oh, I’m feeling kind of tired, for some reason. I think I’m just going to make an early night of it.” She smiled, striving for a regretful expression.

“Well, that’s fine. I can pick up some take-out and bring it on over!”

Lynn’s mouth dropped open. “Uh, that would be nice of you, but I am really feeling pretty tired.” Her smile was decidedly less warm.  She stood, and so did he. “Well, it was nice meeting you after all this time,” she said politely, extending her hand.

“I’ll walk you out. Is that your VW in the lot? Those are cute little cars, but they have some transmission problems…”

She finally pried loose from his endless stream of talk by getting into the car and rolling the window down a few inches as she started it up. “Goodbye, Jerry! It was nice to meet you!” She waved and rolled out of the lot.

Ugh! She’d thought she’d never get away. The car clock read 7:02.

Mr. Tibbles meowed loudly as she turned the key in the lock. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tibbles! I’ll get your dinner right now.”

She set her purse down and opened the refrigerator to get out the Tasty Vittles. Mr. Tibbles wound around her ankles, purring. “I’m sorry I was gone so long, poor kitty,” she soothed. Really sorry! She gave a short laugh as she scooped some food into his bowl and set it on the floor. She had just begun to think about what to have for her own dinner when the doorbell rang.

Mystified, she opened the door, and there stood Jerry, a lopsided smile on his face.

“Jerry! What are you doing here?” a flare of anxiety set her nerves jangling. How did he know where she lived?

“You forgot your rose.” He held it out to her, limp and withered.

She didn’t take it. “How did you get my address?”

“The phone book!” he grinned. “You’re the only Rylant in this part of town. The coffee shop is only three blocks from here!” His smile faded. “You don’t want the rose?”

“No, thank you.”

Jerry looked disappointed and started to turn away. She was about to close the door when he glanced back. “Uh, sorry to bother you.”

He sounded so dejected that Lynn felt a pang of guilt as he went down the steps. As she closed the door, she realized that there was no car in her driveway. He must be on foot. She peered out the window as he walked away, head down. A cool evening breeze fluttered the curtains, and she cranked the window closed. Jerry paused at the sound, but then his shoulders fell even further and he continued on his way. Wherever that was. She lived about a mile from the Greyhound station, and there were no hotels in the area.

Crap. She opened the door again. “Jerry!” He turned and she waved, irritated with her conscience. “Would you like a bowl of soup?”

He straightened up. “Sure!” His grin returned and he started back.

Mr. Tibbles dropped from the table and shot under the couch when Jerry walked in.

“Is that your cat? I had a cat for awhile, but he ran away for some reason.” As he took a seat on the couch, Lynn smiled stiffly and opened up a can of chicken noodle soup.

###

The morning sun streamed through the living room windows and Lynn stretched, careful not to roll off the couch. Mr. Tibbles jumped to the floor from his perch next to her. The bathroom door swung open and Jerry stepped out, a pink towel slung around his hips. “You’re awake! It was sure great of you to let me sleep here. I would have ended up on a park bench! I can’t believe I forgot to make a reservation.”

“No problem.” Lynn pushed herself up and the clothes she had so carefully chosen for the coffee shop twisted around her. “Does your bus leave soon?”

“Not for two hours. Can I take you to breakfast?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. I’m still a little tired.”

His face fell. “Oh.”

What the hell. “Sure, Jerry, how about McDonald’s?”

“That’s fine,” he beamed.

At the restaurant, Jerry finally seemed to run out of things to say as he ate his hashbrown. Lynn, still wearing the wrinkled dress from the day before, felt the need to fill the awkward silence.

“So, this isn’t your regular route?”

“Yes, that’s right. I’m filling in for a guy who’s on vacation.”

“Where do you usually drive?”

“Oh, I just fill in for other drivers. It’s a full time job! I’m headed to Roanoke, next.” He paused. “Say! Isn’t that where BkWorm lives?”

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5 Comments

Filed under Reading, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Short Story – “Internet Nightmare”

  1. Shawna

    Haha! And to think I was thinking how fun it would be to meet some of the people from AQ! Hmm.maybe not so much 😉

  2. Yeah. The way that the internet disseminates information is very passive, and when we talk to each other here, we consider our interrogators very subjectively. Such a relationship is forced, though. Speaking on the internet is speaking to a mechanism first and foremost, and the aura of the very person, even when addressed directly, loses all of its authenticity. So much does this happen that it is even ironic when the underlying mechanic in mode of communication carries over into a real-life confrontation.

    Excuse me for being so verbose, but very well done. I would look forward to more of this sort of thing, but it seems as if you have bigger fish to fry than short stories. Don’t let anyone tell you how to write, with the exception of people you don’t know who aren’t addressing you directly.

    That said, want to get a cup of coffee together some time?

  3. Loved it, Layinda.

    I’ve had great cyber friends for years and often wonder what it would be like to finally meet face to face. If we ever do, I promise not to spend the night!

    Take care~

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