He hit the keys, fast and hard. The empty energy drink cans and craft beer bottles standing at attention before him, little soldiers, cheap representations of American masculinity. The screen’s loud blaze of blue light against the darkness of the room; like a fire with no heart. His eyes, two smoldering bricks in the gloom. “Kill yourself,” he types, barely a smirk registering on his face. He follows it with laughing emojis because of course, if someone really did harm themselves, can they not see that this was all merely a joke?

After a blissful, strenuous morning of incel violence, he logs out, and gets ready for work. Managing a fast food restaurant was hard work, but hey, someone’s gotta do it. He checks his reflection in the mirror, not as skinny as he used to be, but he’s got a steady job, a car, pays his bills on time. Any woman would be lucky to have him.

He hates the job; mealy mouthed pissants asking him the same questions over and over again, how do I do this again? Where do we keep the secret sauce? How do I scan the coupon in? A mop bucket with a crack so it leaks all over the floor, the cunt bitch assistant manager who undermines him every chance she gets. Why doesn’t she just do as she’s told and get out of his hair? I swear, she’s just trying to make herself look good to the owners so she can take his job. She couldn’t handle a job like this; this is man’s work.

Suddenly, he is struck with an idea. She wants to be like one of the guys? Sure, I’ll show her what it’s like.

Her information was easily available to him through employee files: name, address, email. Her public profiles were chock full of filtered images of the grody work parking lot and drinks in her hands. Her stupid dog. Her ugly husband. He scrolls through the images that make up her public life: hair salon, walk in the park, #bestietime surrounded by smiling female faces at a church event. “God isn’t realy” he types from his fake account, one of many. Purposely misspells words so it would look like it was an attack from someone other than himself. He begins the barrage slowly, like a machine gun warming up. “Keep filling your fat face cunt” he types on her anniversary dinner picture with her husband. He leers when he looks back and notices the account is blocked; feeling the might flow through his fingers, yes!

She responds to almost every insult, shocked and hurt, confused. She swears it’s someone her husband used to date, he overhears her tell another coworker one day. They fight back and forth for weeks at a time. She blocks him. He makes a new account; the fresh hell is cycled through. Each time she blocks him, the wheel is righted; he is back on top and ready for more.

At work, she is becoming distracted, tense. She forgets to criticize him; good, it’s working. A customer slips in the broken bucket mop water and she is blamed. It felt so good to fire her! Your incompetence led to an accident that could have been avoided, he tsked, handing her the termination form. He shakes his head sadly. You could cost us all our jobs with this, he adds, placing additional blame on her shoulders. He hopes this will do the trick, that she will break.

Voila! there it is, the stream of tears, the ugly curve of her mouth as she breaks into a sob. Please, please I need this job, I’m sorry, I can’t be fired this way. I’ve been so distracted lately and—

Distraction is not an excuse. He interrupted. Take your things and leave.

After she tearfully gathers her things and is escorted from the building, he logs into his accounts in the broom closet like office and sends her an email. “kill yourself pig!” he types, adding the laughing emojis again. You know, just in case.

So when he receives the news that night that she did in fact, kill herself, shut herself into the garage with a hose leading from exhaust to the closed interiors of her 2012 Honda Accord, he does what any person would do in his situation: he scrubs himself entirely from the internet. All the thin trails from the fake accounts, deleting pages, emails accounts, sending the signals bouncing back to far off countries and never-even-born names. Those lives were shells he has now pulverized and sent the dust scattering in the breeze. If they trace it to me, well, that would be an inhuman feat, he thinks smugly.

Tomorrow, he will search out someone else to destroy, now that he has figured out the code, the password into the space of their minds. The hidden doors, secrets that they keep locked. Perhaps the new girl, yes, maybe her. He will take her picture, put it on a nude female body giving fellatio to a horse, and send it out into the world. He squeals with delight. Snug in his lonely bed, the nearby airport a riot of noise and vibration. So that when his computer chimes on in the middle of the night, he doesn’t immediately notice.

His sleep is ragged; too much adrenaline, too much crafted beer that tastes like mothballs, too much power in his little hands, they reach out, exploding across the air. I swear, I swear I thought I heard her say my name. He sits up, sweat lining his brow. The sheets are a tangle of dead scent and crosshairs. His computer chair is turned to face him, the screen glowing bright. A message, typed on the screen, “see you in hell bitch boy”. Is this some kind of sick joke?

He shuts the machine off, fear tangling itself in his belly, cutting the soft tender flesh of his organs with its razor sharp thorns. He crawls back into bed, a dull and pressing headache centered in his mind. When sleep hits, it hits hard, like a sledgehammer to the skull.

The machine clicks on, a silent hum, mute witness; somewhere, someone is watching him. Someone, somewhere, is taking pieces of the broken hardware left to rot in the sun and becoming. Her transformation is almost complete.

His phone buzzes in his pocket at work: he can’t check it until later, but soon he finds dozens of messages from spam accounts: bitch boy. cry baby. you are ugly. one that hit hard, no one wants you you are a mistake. He deletes them all, anger seeping into his core, a hot rage of entitled masculinity bursting within. He wants to smash something, hit someone. He punches a hole in the office drywall, startling the employees out on the floor. Someone knocks, go away! he yells. They do not bother him again.

His computer at home is abuzz with notifications; each one from a different source. His streaming accounts all have messages from this mad interloper, this faceless being who is now serving him a hot steaming lunch. He swears the flash from the digital sign on the freeway was his name and address, he turns back, shocked at seeing the information displayed against the skyline, and almost rams into the car in front of him. Who the hell is doing this?

He logs out of everything, deletes everything, changes his name, but the messages do not stop, in fact they are multiplied. Thousands begin to pour in, inundating him with the black tide of thinly veiled jabs and outright insults. He does not know what to do. He takes out all his cash and closes his bank accounts. He fears he is being followed. From everywhere, it seems that there are eyes regarding him, the eyes of women who clutch their phones to their chests, taking in some information that appeared to them, and immediately seeking his face out. Someone knows something and is letting the world around him know.

He quits his job, rents a cabin for a month. No television, no computer. An empty phone jack, dusty and old is the only connection to the outside world. But he makes no use for it. His cellphone tossed out onto the freeway to be crushed under the wheels of a semi-truck a month ago. Hopefully, hopefully after this month ends, this madness will be over.

The days in the cabin are quiet and filled with birdsong. He wakes after the first night of refreshing sleep in many months. This is the best idea I’ve ever had, he thinks to himself, his arms behind his head, looking up at the beams of the old cabin. Breakfast is spam and eggs, cheap instant coffee. He decides to leave the comfort of the cabin after spending a week in its seclusion, snug in the realms of deep forest where the knowing eyes of women cannot find him. He is gloriously alone; his might feels as though it is returning. I could dream again, up here. I can dream again.

The cabin is the same when he returns from his long walk around the lake; nothing is amiss. No change in the dust, no slight movements of his barest possessions. He smiles to himself, flicking the key to the cabin in his hand. He thinks about the girl at work, the new one, a young, pretty girl still in high school, I think. He decides to touch himself to the dim memory of her face. It’s really all that he can do in this languid space. He has no use for books or anything he might learn from. He prepares himself on the bed, removing his clothing, laying down across the rough coverlets, feeling the itchy wool under his skin.

He can’t remember her face exactly anymore, but soon it doesn’t matter. He is pumping hard, the cheap bottle of lotion smacking against his leg with his every thrust. The buzz of mad electricity fills the air in the silent cabin, a rasping sound over his own labored breathing. He can’t hear it though; he is lost to the euphoria of a dreamed up kiss, an unwanted kiss, a mouth that does not desire his in any way. He is a lunatic in the highest form; in that, he doesn’t believe he is ever wrong.

Oh, but you are, came her voice, the digital beeping war cry coming from a mechanical being that had poured out like sand from the empty phone jack. He jumps up, cock in hand, but she grabs it with astounding force and slices through the base of it, sending it flying across the room. A brilliant spray of blood arcs over the bed, sending a million droplets all around to be absorbed into the dust and ragged wood. His mad screams are soon cut short by the feel of an electrical cord pulled tight around his neck, held taut by large, inhuman hands: hands made up of scraps of metal and millions of miles of old cables.

He takes one look at the figure before him, and he knows that this is the end.

Before him, made up of turgid wires and computer screen eyes, the woman from before, cunt bitch, the one he incited to murder herself so long ago. He barely recognizes her: her arms are jagged pieces of hardware, contorted and razor sharp, the end of the left arm dripping with his blood. The cavernous chest full of blinking lights and a CPU that glitters brightly, the cortex of her new and strange life attached to a machine that was tossed out like so much garbage. Pixelated and badly formed, her every movement mechanical, weary as if she had been this damnable creation for her entire life.

Not too long ago, she moans, sensing his thought, the bright lights twinkling as her fans swirled, tasting the information that hung in the air. The rushing connection of dial up aching out of her mouth. On the internet, everything lasts forever, don’t you know? Even me. Her laugh is a harsh beeping sound that rakes across his eardrums, throbbing in his skull. His hand is still at the base of where his penis had once sat, now a pulsing horror of hot blood and fresh gore.

She pulls tightly on the cable, yanking his head back. Did you think you would escape me? Digitals sighs, like a thousand witnesses to grief, compounded in his ears, driving out all coherent thought. She pulls tighter, his gurgling throat red, the skin broken around it, capillaries bursting. His bleeding extremity, the wide gash of red like a toppled over bucket of paint, spilling from the bed. Digital grrrl knows your number, knows your name, she hisses as the last dredges of his monstrous life ebbed from him.

In the space of darkness, I will find you. I am everywhere, as you once were, but where you are one, I am legion, she clicked. Clicks and clacks followed, the pleasant chimes of a thousand received messages: her laughter, bouncing off the walls in the dark and lonely place. She slowly pushes the metal arm into his torso, feeling the great puncture of his lungs beneath her. She seemed to sigh, but the sound is awash in so many whistles and chimes from now defunct programs and apps, it was hard to be sure.

When she is done, she looks upon his blackened face, the swollen, purple tongue curdled in his mouth, satisfaction etched into her every feature; the ones that could be made out, anyway. What he had taken from her could never be returned, but what one is without, can be replaced, so she learned. She’d always been a fast learner, as she had put on her application years ago. Works well with others, yes, yes she does. That is how she found him, letting the whispers of the millions of women around the world lead her to him.

She sank back into the darkness, slowly now, becoming less corporeal with each clanking step. The pieces of her made up body began to fall apart. The wires loosened and released themselves, untangling around the great shivering metallic limbs and falling to the ground in a loose steel clatter, loud and profane in this quiet place. More shrieks of pain from the digital space, the air filling once again with the buzzing of electricity, then she is gone. Back into cyberspace, one with all things that make up our strange, fast-paced world.

All that was left was a pile of broken machinery in the corner of the remote bedroom, covered in blood. His sad, little body spread out ignobly on the single bed, a cable around his stiff neck. He still had three weeks left on the lease which had been filed digitally with the rental agency; when they find his body, it will be shriveled beyond recognition. A plum pit left out in the sun.

Once again, becoming as soft as desert sand, retreating back into the warm world of trillions of hyper fast images zooming across the planet; her eyes unblinking, searching in the darkness for ones like him, Pepsi-Can desperados with a penchant for hurting people online. Information moving past her open hand with the speed of lightning. I can be lightning too, she thinks, gently grasping the stream of information into her arms like a warm and familiar snake, letting herself be pulled along, riding it now. Riding it forever.

I can be the fastest one of all.