ONCE UPON A TIME in a not too distant land, in the not too distant past, a young woman or, perhaps, a young man – you really can’t tell anymore – clicks some keys on a computer. In a similarly not too distant land – if it isn’t the same land – a message arrives on the desk of a young woman who, this time, actually is both young and female. The message makes her smile.
Selene, the young woman with the juvenile smile and the warm flush, clicks back. A friendship is begun - begins with a few brief keystrokes. The conversation, however, is anything but brief. They exchange messages, exchange the details of their lives, in a steady, almost unending stream of clicks and clacks. The ping of Selene’s computer becomes a constant accompaniment to the sound of crickets and the creaks and moans of the old farmhouse she calls home.
Selene gets very little sleep. Her friendship is most intense at night – at all hours of the night – but sleep is of little consequence. Selene senses a growing affection for the friend she knows only as Hera2014; she pines for the day they will meet.
Before any such meeting can be arranged, the fates intervene.
Hera2014’s dog is killed trying to cross the railroad tracks that run near her home. She complains that Noodles, her beloved childhood pet, a dachshund who has enjoyed an extraordinarily long life, never made it over the northbound line, lamenting that only the front half of the unlucky wiener dog managed to cross the rails. When found, Noodles was poised for a run across the pasture that separated the rail line from their home; the rear half of the old dog was, unfortunately, still sitting patiently between the tracks waiting its turn.
Needless to say, Hera2014 is overcome by grief. She is devastated by the abrupt loss of her most constant and familiar companion. Selene is deeply moved by her friend’s grief and begs to visit. All she wants is to hug and console her friend, to hold her close and take away some of the pain, but her offer is rebuffed. Hera2014 is not ready for company. She needs some alone time with her memories – and a bejeweled collar she now wears as a bracelet. Their visit, their first meeting, will have to wait for better times.
Better times should take about a week.
They both agree.
The week passes with tedious pauses in the conversation. Slowly, Hera2014 starts texting again and soon she seems to be back to her vigorous, near persistent, self. The messages fill the night once more and Selene grows excited and anxious; their meeting is finally getting closer. She has been packed since Tuesday.
On Friday, Hera2014 attends a frat party at the local college. She is not a student but friends are going and she decides to tag along. It is not – by any measure – a good decision. A frat brother, a guy famous for smashing empty beer cans against his ample forehead, takes advantage of her in the living room…over the back of a sofa…in front of everyone. She is too drunk or too drugged to do more than mutter the occasional “Wee!” and maybe – possibly – puke on the back of some anonymous guy kissing her breast. She remembers puking, anyway.
Needless to say, Hera2014 is an emotional train wreck (no pun intended). She is embarrassed…mortified…humiliated…shamed…and disgraced – plus one or two other words listed in the thesaurus on her desk. She locks herself in her room. Sitting on the bed, clutching her knees beneath the homemade quilt she got when her grandmother died, Hera2014 texts that she will never go out again. She will spend what is left of her life alone.
Once again, Selene asks to console her inconsolable friend.
Once again, she is rebuffed.
Questions are asked.
Have you told your family?
My stepfather would kill me.
What about the police?
Are you crazy? My friends would never speak to me again. Those boys are THEIR friends.
“I’ll talk to you,” Selena texts.
“Thanks,” Hera2014 replies, following that text with, “I know”.
Another week later, Hera2014 gets thirsty. There is nothing in the house except milk and water. Tap water. Yuck! Hera2014 walks to the grocery store down the block and across the street. She is promptly struck by a speeding pickup that is literally falling apart; the driver doesn’t stop but the police find a cracked mirror, bits and pieces of rust and some mud smudges on the street. Hera2014 is thrown a record fifty-seven feet through the air landing with a coma inducing thud!
Selene doesn’t hear about the accident from Hera2014. She doesn’t hear much of anything for days – and days of texting – until a different voice messages her back from Hera2014’s computer.
The new voice is detailed but brusque. It is Hera2014’s sister but there is nothing warm about her. Nothing like Hera2014. The information is more like reading a newspaper. At times it is harsh. After a while, the messages get even harsher. All the warmth, all the affection she came to love and to need is missing from the computer. It is like a file has been deleted, a file Selene cannot bear to lose.
Selene tells her brother what has happened. She wants to commiserate, to share her pain with someone close to her but he is amused. He says it sounds like a country song. She gets mad when he laughs and slams her door. She stays locked away in her room connected to the outside by nothing but her recalcitrant computer.
The news continues to get worse.
The family is thinking of pulling the plug.
She wouldn’t want to live like this.
“Can I see her,” Selena begs. Privately she cries and when the ping comes back to her, she cries harder.
That would not be a good idea right now.
In time, the messages no longer matter. Hera2014 is dead.
Her account is silenced.
Selena tries to express her condolences…
I am sorry…
I don’t know what to say…
She was my best friend…
…but the computer remains silent.
As Selena sits on her bed scratching her wrist with the tip of the X-Acto knife she uses for art class, she tries one last message.
I can’t tell you how much I miss her…
Makes a second scratch…
And waits some more.
She makes six new scratches before the computer finally sings again.
Sometimes the wrong person dies, don’t you think?
As Selene presses harder on the blade, Hera2014’s messages disappear. All of them.
Hera2014 no longer exists.
It could just as easily have gone black…and does.