Life in the surveillance state sure has its perks, as Gribby will be the first to tell you. Like this morning, for instance, as he’s drinking his Ovaltine and Googling guppies – he has a tankful in the living room that won’t quit dying – he comes across a site called PornME that sounds interesting so he clicks it open and it is.
It says, “We’re watching ya all the time anyway, at work and home and everywhere and stuff, so why not pay a lil’ extra to have yr vids porned up, bubba xoxo?” Gribby’s intrigued. He likes porn as much as the next guy, and more especially, he figures, the kind made of vids of him and his coworkers – there’s this gal Kellyanne he’s always been kinda into, for one thing – so, what the hell, he figures, sure, why not pay $12.99/mo. and see if they can really, as they claim, “send ya one sexy vid per weekday featuring you and whoever ya been caught on camera with, rendered so realistically yll swear you were there, which, come to think of it, haha, ya kinda were bubba ya know what I mean xoxo!”
Gribby inputs his credit card and waits open-mouthed for confirmation to arrive. Then he washes his hands, though they’re not exactly dirty, and spills out the Ovaltine he forgot to drink and flushes his dead guppies down the toilet and chucks the tank to the curb after he walks out the door of the apartment he lives in alone except for a parrot named Graham – his own real name, from back before kids started calling him Gribby in the seventh grade, a slight step up from Goblin, which they called him before, back when he was fat – and up the street, down to the subway, and back up to another part of the same street and along it to the office he works in with a bunch of ugly and a few sexy people like, as he probably already mentioned, Kellyanne and Mr. Veitch, his boss, a pretty toned and tan older dickhead Gribby can’t help but admire.
He walks into the weird smelly office and plops down at his particleboard desk and says, to no one in particular, “here goes nothin’,” and proceeds, like he just said, to do nothing at all.
He sits there all day, filing files, whispering into the phone when it rings filthy with yahoos, wondering the whole time when and from where he’s being filmed, and what the gnomes or Pakistanis or whoever they are at PornME are doing with the footage, how they’re hopefully already porning it up so when he gets home and cracks his inbox what should be waiting for him but a brand new sexy vid staring yours truly?
And, sure enough, it is! He can’t believe it. Even though he knew it’d be there because he paid $12.99 and they promised, still, when he opens the file and actually sits back and watches himself humping Kellyanne on a stack of papers like a wild boar in the Maytime, he’s pretty much stunned. He can just barely remember the moment when he passed her desk–it was right after lunch, pea soup on his pocket, mayo or sour cream on hers, and he leaned in and said, kinda sexy-like, “Hey, mind if I use the copier?” and she shrugged without looking up and said, “Nah.”
He remembers it now, however vaguely, but the memory’s dying under the furious noise and sweat of the vid. He’s plowing her like mad now, her skirt up around her waist, his pants down around his ankles, his ass grey with office dust, everyone else typing at their stations like everything’s normal, which as far as they can tell it is. The PornME folks have done an ace editing job – everything looks real as can be, so much so that Gribby can’t help looking at the version of himself in the vid and thinking, Hell yeah, that’s right, that’s me up there, bubba!
He comes behind his computer just as he also comes onscreen, on Kellyanne’s slightly chubby belly–she’s by no means as hot as the gals he might watch in any number of other, free, porn vids online, but she’s his, there onscreen with yours truly and not some other dude he doesn’t even know.
Wiping himself off before zipping the dick window of his full-body foot pajamas, he wonders, not quite knowing how this whole thing works, if it’d be possible to come at two different times, or if that’d be like being in two places at once. He shrugs and orders dumplings from the Chinese place down the street and makes a martini and sits on his couch to wait.
This goes on all week, each day’s vid sexier than the last–he’s pounding Kellyanne from behind one day, she’s riding him on her desk amidst a pile of papers and spilled coffee and takeout containers the next, then on Thursday he’s boning two Kellyannes, her image somehow doubled–twinz!!–and then on Friday she’s blowing him in front of the whole office, who are all down on their knees, watching in reverence, gasping when he gasps, groaning when he groans, like the mindless docile puppets he’s always known they all really were.
He’s amped up all weekend, like a new man. On Monday morning he goes back to Kellyanne’s desk first thing, and stands near her, tongue out like a dog who’s been shown a treat but told to remain a few inches away as part of his obedience training. As he stands there panting, he looks up at the ceiling with a little wink at where he imagines the camera to be, and swaggers off just as she asks if she can help him, confident that, come tonight, he’ll be watching himself fuck her ragged again, a martini in one hand, rod on (he’d been taught to call it this, instead of boner or stiffie, by a thoughtful uncle when he was twelve) in the other, and all will be well.
And he’s not wrong, or not entirely. That night he’s there at his desk, vid open and rod on in hand, sipping his martini, ready to watch himself pound her a good one again, same as last week, when, instead of that, he ends up watching her–he can’t believe his eyes!–shove him against his boss’s desk, whip his pants and boxers down, grab a cuke from her lunch bag, and, fingering herself down the top of her elastic waistband with one hand, shove him good and hard with the cuke with the other, all the way up his butt, which, come to think of it, itches and even hurts a bits now, right here where he sits.
He zips his pajamas and orders Chinese and puts it out of mind, but as the week goes on the vids start showing him down on his knees sucking off Mr. Veitch, or pounding him in the ass, or taking a pounding, sometimes from two Mr. Veitches, and sometimes from three. Gribby groans through the shame or fear or whatever he might want to feel about it, and comes again, spilling his martini all over his computer, thinking, dammit, now I’m gonna have to buy a new one, which he does. He uses his old computer’s dying gasps to get online to buy another, and just as he goes to his email account to confirm the purchase, he sees an email from PornME that he sort of wants to not open. He opens it and it says, Two weeks down / ???? to go bubba xoxoxo!
The new computer arrives in no time, and he plugs it in, and imagines a million things he might do with it aside from checking his PornMEmail, since what he sees when he opens it makes him none too happy. He has to admit, the vids are getting strange. They’ve moved past regular fucking, and even past gay fucking. Now he’s doing things to Kellyanne and his boss and Gerry, this fat guy with rotten skin in accounting, and of course the interns, and now here he is doing something pretty bad to Pamela in HR’s daughter, who–though he tries not to look too closely when her face fills the screen (is it illegal just to look?)–can’t be more than twelve or thirteen.
He feels himself falling toward the very bottom of the Internet, faster and faster. The vids seem to be coming faster now too, more than one a day, he thinks, unless it’s the days that are going faster, losing their middles, or consisting only of middles, their beginnings and ends snipped off, tending more and more toward the few moments of behavior, however slight, that are captured and then edited at PornME into the vids he’s watching now, and now again, and now yet again, and once again, and here’s another, and another. Soon, at this rate, he fears he’ll find himself old, spent, the bulk of his life lost in some runoff container on the outskirts of the megacity.
Gribby wants to stop vid production because–why lie?–he can tell he’s about to kill someone if he doesn’t. The vids keep getting worse (he’s kept quiet about their exact content lately, but the gist is clear), and he can sense that one day soon he’ll be sitting in his stained Ikea desk chair, rod on in hand, when what’ll he see onscreen but himself throttling Kellyanne to death on her desk, or bashing her face against her monitor until it goes through and stays stuck in there, or pulling a semi-automatic from his tote bag and shooting the whole fucking monkey show to high heaven, chortling like a retard on his birthday as the ambulances screech in.
And then, even if everyone’s still technically alive the next day, he can tell they’ll never again seem like more than ghosts … not that, come to think of it, they ever really did anyway.
Please please please stop sending ‘em, Gribby writes.
He waits, breath held, after he’s hit SEND, only exhaling when the response arrives: Don’t worry, we know u want it bubba xoxoxo!
He doesn’t have the heart to fight them, especially not after all the energy he’s put into downplaying how excited he is to see himself manhandling Kellyanne into an early grave and/or kneeling down on Gerry’s chest and twisting his face around like a plastic dummy’s, which he’s watching now, rapt, behind his new 26-inch monitor–they’ve gotten bigger with each new purchase, and there’ve been several by now. He watches with the volume down low as he crushes Mr. Veitch’s skull and smothers Kellyanne with a plastic bag and, though part of him regrets it even as he’s doing it, he presses play on the vid again as soon as it’s over.
Naughty naughty comes the response, in red letters over the paused screen. Just you waity waity big bubba baby boy xoxoxo!
He knows better than to try clicking it again. He powers down his computer, totally unable to watch any other porn–come to think of it, he hasn’t watched any since the very first time he watched himself screw Kellyanne regular-wise in what feels now like some distant teenage love affair–stranger-porn, he calls it now, scoffing. Who’d wanna cheat on himself with dirty old stranger-porn? Even the thought of it grosses him out, like finding someone else’s pubes on his soap in the shower.
So, all weekend–weekends, when no new vids come in, are the worst–he wanders his apartment, eating Chinese and staring at the empty parrot cage with no memory of its former occupant.
Everyone at work on Monday looks at him with tired, bovine eyes as he settles in behind his desk and thinks, booting up his smaller, inferior work computer, by six o’clock tonight, I’m gonna be grooving to me killing you all, and there won’t be anything you mooks can do about it lol xoxo!
And sure enough, he’s right. He’s behind his computer now, rod on red and bleeding in hand, drinking gin from the bottle now, no vermouth, eyes an inch from the screen as he mows everyone down with an Uzi, blasting them out of their desks and in some cases through the shitty cheap ceiling, bone and plaster flying everywhere, in a cloud so thick he finds himself wiping his screen in hopes of clearing the image.
This goes on all week, or for many weeks, the carnage getting wilder and more intimate–from Uzi to crossbow to sword to switchblade to rusty nail to a big gooey bag of AIDS blood –until PornME finally crosses what Gribby would still like to consider The Line: he’s at home on Friday night, dumplings at the ready beside his computer (he’s taken to ordering before clicking on the day’s vid, so as to edit out the sad gap between viewing and eating) when, what does he see, but the office filling with greenish-yellow gas and everyone coughing, gagging, and slumping over in their roller-chairs, faces puffy and wilting, while he–the Gribby onscreen–sits behind his work computer operating a lever that has grown out of the keyboard, a paper party hat strapped to his head and a giant clown smile painted over his mouth.
The vid won’t end, and, though the Gribby-at-home presses Pause–or thinks he’s pressing Pause–it won’t stop either. It just goes on and on, the gassed bodies blowing up like meat left underwater until they pop, and, gross as it makes him feel, he finds he’s popped as well, so to speak, behind his computer, in the comfort of the apartment he lives in alone in the heart of the megacity.
He finds himself crying as he polishes off his gin and tucks into his dumplings, the bodies still exploding onscreen, the gas pouring over them, covering the monitor like a screensaver, and he dimly hears himself think, like a child whispering from the far back of his head, enough, enough, for the love of God, enough.
So, in the morning–he falls asleep behind his computer, sauce all over his lap, and wakes in the dark some number of minutes or hours later–he opens his email and, though his fingers are sticky and his mind frail, types:
I don’t like this anymore. I’m not kidding this time either. Please suspend my service. Bill me through the rest of the month or even the year, or whatever, I don’t care about the money. Just please stop sending them.
He highlights the whole thing and almost deletes it, but manages to swoop in with his other hand and hit SEND just in time. Then he breathes long and slow, terrified. Am I scared of what they’ll do to me, he wonders, or scared of what I’ll do without them?
He sits there all day, feeling halved without the onscreen-Gribby, until, around nightfall (or what he imagines must be nightfall, since his shades are drawn and have been all day, or night, if it’s been night all this time), a response comes:
Hahaha. Ya don’t like what yr doing to them? Well how’s about we do it to you then? Someone at work, someone on the street, someone who comes to your door, haha … you won’t know who it’ll be, but they’ll know you! Be ready, bubba.
Suffice it to say, next Monday at work isn’t Gribby’s idea of a good time. He walks cowed among his coworkers, wondering which it’ll be, the one to shank him in the bathroom or slip strychnine in his Lipton while he’s zoned out watching the microwave.
He gets home, already shaking and covered in sweat, and boots up his computer (wishing it were smaller now, the images harder to see) and opens his inbox and the new vid inside, and watches, though he wishes he didn’t have to, as Kellyanne corners him by the water fountain (he remembers this interaction from today–they’d discussed AmEx vs. Discover) and stabs him in the throat with a ballpoint pen.
Gribby shivers, disgusted at the scene, and even more disgusted to look down and find he’s come in his lap without even touching his rod on, like a little kid who shits himself in the sandbox while chugging a box of apple juice at recess. He’s too grossed out to order dinner, so he just closes his eyes in his seat and waits.
The waiting goes on until he hears the ping of a new email. He opens one eye, blinking painfully in the glare and opens it: Welcome to Phase Two, bubba. Congrats–now ya get 2 vids a day! Woo-hoo, laissez les bons temps rouler!!
He clicks the link at the bottom of the page and finds himself watching a vid of himself sitting in his computer chair, shivering, eyes fluttering under closed lids, while a masked figure enters his apartment, takes a paring knife from the wall strip in the kitchen, and walks behind him, dragging it over his neck, tickling without quite drawing blood.
Gribby touches his throat, unsure if he’d rather feel a scratch mark there, and thus know the vid is real, or not, and thus know … what? That it’s all pretend, like it’s been all along?
Months begin to pass, or keep passing, and Gribby can’t tell how alarmed he is or should be. It doesn’t seem as though anyone’s killed him for real yet, though the vids of him being stalked, stabbed, and strangled keep coming, at a rate of two a day, as promised.
And he has to keep paying rent, so he bides his time at work as best he can, trying to keep to himself so as not to be caught on camera with Kellyanne or anyone else anymore, though the vids keep coming: now she’s feeding him a hot coffeepot, now Mr. Veitch is stapling his nips to the wall, now someone’s duct-taping his face to the hot glass of the copier.
He sits at home watching, trying to remember that it’s all just porn, though he keeps looking over his shoulder, double- and triple-checking the locks on the door and even installing new ones, and changing the keys, and installing a new state-of-the-art alarm system, and throwing all his knives and even his spoons and forks and takeout chopsticks in the trash, eating dumplings with his hands from now on.
Finally, a year or two later, he writes another email:
Again, I’m begging you, please stop. I don’t like watching myself get hurt. I was kidding last time, but this time I’m not.
The ping of the response is almost immediate:
Don’t like it? Sure ya do. Don’t believe us? We have yr dopamine reports to prove it. We could send them over right now, if ya want, bubba. Let us know : )
No, he doesn’t want to see them, so he keeps his mouth shut for another few months, or years, his hair slowly falling out, his gut making his rod on harder and harder to find.
Nothing changes until the day he finally writes, Okay, I’m gonna come down there and tell ya how I feel in person, and they say, sure let’s party, and send him an address, so next time Saturday comes around he gets on a bus, then another bus, then the aboveground tram, then a third bus, making his way to the far outskirts of the megacity. It’s a grim warehouse district, full of beached ships and scrap metal, the kind of place that makes you say wow, I had no idea this was here.
The day was a total waste, as far as he can tell–he wandered along drafty, paint-smelling halls and found no one at all to talk to, and emerged in late afternoon in the winter dusk. By the time he got home a vid was waiting. It showed him at the headquarters, throttling a mild-looking bald man, squeezing until the face went purple and the capillaries burst. The funny thing, thinks Gribby, stroking himself pensively as the vid plays on, is I can’t tell which of those two men is me.
They don’t look the same, but he can’t be sure which role he’s playing, that of the enraged customer or the enraged customer service rep. Either way, he thinks, the vid’ll be over soon.
Now, strange as it seems, it appears that Gribby works at the weird office he went to that day, which may or may not belong to PornME. He goes in every morning and sits in the cold dark behind a screen and does nothing, only to come home and watch himself kill customers, or be killed by customers, or both, until a new email arrives:
At some point, a hand will reach through the screen, or an agent will appear at yr door, and then it will all, at last, become real. Shockingly, terrifyingly real, as all things eventually must. We know neither the time nor the hour, chubchub. Until then, enjoy!
Gribby stares at the screen, telling himself that even this is part of the porn, maybe the best part, until another day passes and a new vid arrives. In this one he’s running through hallways of splattered blood and viscera, frolicking like a pagan god, chest huge and red, feet horny and cleft. The next day, the vid shows him running in terror down those same hallways, while the pagan god pursues him, laughing and drinking wine from a goatskin, shouting, “Soon! I’m coming soon!”
And the next day he’s both at once, the god and its prey, the mouth and the morsel, running up and down the endless halls of the building in which – who knows? – perhaps he’s worked all this time, doing whatever he’s always done, selling PornME to suckers all over what’s left of the world.
So he holds on tight, determined to avoid change at all costs, going to work in that huge lonely office among the derelict warehouses, and coming home to watch himself frolic and flee, until, one evening, the doorbell rings. Thinking that must be my dumplings, he zips the dick window of his full-body pajamas and gets up to answer it.
In the door stands a man about his age. The man holds a knife. “I found this in the trash outside,” he says, in a voice that reminds Gribby of his own.
“What are you, um … ?” he asks, but by this point he can no longer tell which one he is.
“I’m gonna kill ya no matter what,” he continues. Then he removes a phone from his pocket and turns on the camera. “Wanna do a shower scene first?”
He nods, and follows the man in, or leads the man in, and they take their clothes off and get in the shower, and soon the drain is running with blood and one of the men is slumped, dying against the other, who’s uploading the vid to a private server with the caption, Poor Gribby, RIP bubba, xoxoxoxoxoxo!!
David Leo Rice is a writer and animator living in NYC. His stories have appeared in Black Clock, The Collagist, Birkensnake, The Rumpus, Hobart, and elsewhere. He’s online at www.raviddice.com, and his first novel, A Room in Dodge City, is available now.