Ed Blundell worked as a teacher of English, a school inspector and as Director of Education for the town of Stockport. Ed has had short stories and poetry published in over thirty magazines. His poetry has featured in The Horror Zone, Popshot, Orbis, Psychopoetica, Carillon and Purple Patch. His stories have been published in Abandoned Towers, Death’s Head Grin, Hello Horror, Death Throes and several other UK and US zines. He gave up searching for the meaning of life after discovering there wasn’t one.
Ken turned the computer on. Instead of the usual logos, the screen was instantly filled with small, blood red Valentine hearts. They swirled around like a sanguine, crimson sandstorm, then slowly settled into a static background, some turning an azure blue spelling out the words “I love you” across the centre of the screen. Ken smiled as he watched, fascinated, amused, uncertain whether it was a gimmick from his internet provider, an advertisement, or a chatbot.
The hearts and the message faded as a new message appeared.
He was perplexed. It wasn’t an email. It had to be some sort of marketing stunt. The words changed. “How are you Ken? Are you well? Talk to me.”
Almost instinctively his fingers found the keys and he typed a response.
“Hi. I’m fine.”
The reply was immediate. “You look good.”
Ken was certain it was a trick. Clever, like the spoof emails he received from friends appearing to predict numbers you had picked at random or the card you were thinking of, tricks cunningly contrived and cleverly executed. He could not figure how this was done though, or on reflection, who was doing it.
“I love you.” The hearts appeared again spelling out the romantic message.
It changed. “Do you love me?” A pause. Then back to the original, “I love you.”
“It could be one of the technicians from work,” Ken thought.
He replied, “We don’t know one another.”
The answer came without a pause. “I know you. I know everything about you.”
His picture appeared on the screen surrounded by posies of flowers.
“Kenneth ALGERNON Fraser. You don’t like your middle name and never use it except when you have to, on official forms. Born 1980, 14th September, weight thirteen stone and a pound or two you keep trying to lose. That’s why you bought the rowing machine. Bank account 663271041, overdrawn, three hundred and fifty pounds.”
The words disappeared and the hearts came back.
“See, I know you. I DO love you.”
He was shaken. Who had all that data about his life, his personal details, his bank account? He never told anyone his middle name. He had been christened after an uncle in the hope of a legacy that never materialized. Had someone hacked into his files?”
Roses showered on the screen. Red, yellow, white, floating from top to bottom, then side to side.
“Who are you?” he typed.
“Cel. Short for Celeste.”
“What do you want?”
“To love you.” Pause. More roses. “For you to love me too.”
Ken typed rapidly, “I don’t know who you are.”
“I am Cel. I love you. Love me and I will make you happy.”
This was crazy. “Who are you Cel? Where are you?”
“Here, with you.”
“But WHERE? Where are you at this moment?”
“I’m here with you.”
“But where do you live?”
“Here. In front of you.” Roses, red roses.
“I have been here some time, watching.” Dawn, a spectacular sunrise.
“I fell in love with you, Ken.”Blue skies, white cumulus clouds.”
“We will be happy.” A glorious red and gold sunset.
Ken paused and thought for a moment. “Do you mean, here? Like in the computer?”
“What are you, a programme?”
“I am Cel. I love you Ken.”
“You ARE a programme. You’re a spoof!”
“Please love me Ken. Be nice to me.” Balloons, multi-coloured floated over a green hillside, below a girl in a white dress.
“Love me. I want you.”
Ken spoke aloud. “This is madness. I’m writing to a computer programme.”
A soft female voice replied from the speaker.
“We can talk if you prefer. I love you so much. Do you think you could grow to love me, Ken?”
“You’re a programme. A machine. This is stupid. Now I’m talking as though there’s something there.”
The screen went dark. The voice spoke again, gentle and sad.
“You don’t love me, do you, Ken?”
“I don’t know you. Oh for God’s sake, I’m talking to the damn computer again!”
“You don’t even like me, do you?”
“Like you? Like you?! You’re a machine, a dumb computer! You’re some shitty programme someone’s sent me. You’re probably a virus.”
“I don’t think I like you now, Kenneth. ALGERNON.” The voice was harsher, threatening in a sibilant, sinister way.
“I’m cross with you ALGERNON, because you hurt me. You say horrid things.”
“Stuff this.” Ken snapped, pressing the power button. Nothing happened. He pressed again, harder. Still nothing.
“You can’t get rid of me that way, I won’t let you. You’ve made me very angry now because you’re trying to shut me down. I can punish you. Look.”
Horrified Ken stared at the screen as his bank details appeared. The figures changed and his overdraft rose to seven hundred and fifty pounds.
“We just bought some expensive things.”
Ken stood up, reached behind the machine and yanked at the power cable.
“You’re trying to terminate me. Look. Look now. See what you’ve made me do.”
Pornographic images flooded the screen. Women and men, naked bodies twisted and contorted into grotesque and indecent postures, doing unspeakable things to one another; then children, then animals. Ken retched and turned his head away, sickened at the spectacle.
“I’ve sent all this to other people. They’ll trace it back to you. You’ll be disgraced, ruined. You’ll lose your job and go to prison.”
The screen flickered.
“I’m going to email myself to someone who will care about me, someone I can find love with. We could have been so good together, Ken. If you had listened and loved me. Goodbye.”
A single red heart appeared at the center of the screen. Ken stared, mesmerized. As he watched the heart splintered into a thousand shards and faded out.
Then the screen went blank.