Tag Archives: marriage

“The Computer Nerd” Release Day

October 20, 2015

Official Ad Flier for
Official Ad Flier for “The Computer Nerd”

Well, the day is finally here. Have you picked up your copy of The Computer Nerd yet? If not, you can find it at the online retailers presented in the links on its official page. It’s just 99 cents, a bargain for all the punch it packs!

If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think. If you start a discussion about it somewhere, link me to it. I’m curious to know how the general public receives it.

I’ve posted quite a bit about this story already, so I’ll keep this entry brief. Just wanted to say thanks to all of you reading this who have shown support by picking up your copy. If you like what you’ve read, then feel free to take a look at some of the other things I’ve written, which you can find on the side bar to the right. Most of them are shorter and freer, so they’re a no-risk investment.

In early November, I’ll begin the postmortem report on The Computer Nerd, its sales potential and reality, and how it stacks up against the concerns I posted about yesterday. Why would you want to know about that? Well, if you’re an aspiring author who wants to give indie publishing a try, then you might like a heads up on what the sales reality for what you’re producing could look like. We all need a reality check sometimes. I will also talk more about the books that are next on my release schedule if you’re interested in what’s coming soon.

Thanks for the readership, folks. Start opening up those discussions.

A Note to Potential Reviewers:

If you’d like a free copy of The Computer Nerd to review for your blog or website, feel free to send me a request by e-mail, listed on my contact page, with the subject line “Requesting Book for Review,” or some iteration. In the body, specify that you want a copy of The Computer Nerd for review and send me a link to your blog or website so that I know where to look for it. I’d also appreciate a follow-up e-mail when the review goes live so I can link it here. Please note that all free copies must be redeemed at Smashwords.

And thanks for your interest.

Regarding the Price:

I had intended to keep it priced at $.99, but after giving it some thought, and seeing how little readers seem to be interested in a cheap book (versus a free one?) so far, I think it makes more sense to charge a standard price for a worthwhile book. So, on October 27, 2015, the price will go up to $2.99. I think this is more fitting for its size and quality anyway.

However, for those who read this blog, I’ll keep a $.99 coupon handy for you (which I’ll list on The Computer Nerd‘s book page) until the end of the year.

Again, this wasn’t my original intention, but I think it makes the most sense from a business standpoint, especially now that I can see how little of a sales difference $.99 makes (spoiler alert!).

Changing Gears:

Beginning tomorrow, I’ll be posting some new book reviews and other interesting things in honor of Back to the Future Day, so I hope you’ll come back for the fun.

–Jeremy

“The Computer Nerd” One More Day until Release

October 19, 2015

The Computer Nerd Cover Image
The Computer Nerd Cover Image

So, with tomorrow marking the release of my first attempt at selling a book I’ve written (no longer just the freebies on an ambiguous marketplace where anything and everything shares space), I must admit that the uncertainties of success are mounting. Will it succeed? Will it fail? Will anyone even notice?

The scary thing about putting my work on the Internet for all to see is that some people might actually check it out, and those same people will undoubtedly have an opinion. Whether that opinion is positive or negative can greatly influence the future the work has with the rest of its audience. The more people who praise it (or, realistically, if the first person to comment is one who praises it), the better chance it has at winning respect and additional readers, maybe even fans. If the majority, or even the first to comment, shows a tendency toward dislike, then the question is begged if the story, and its author, has a chance to find a more successful audience elsewhere. It’s a nerve-racking thing to think about.

This doesn’t make me as nervous when I send out freebies, like the six books that are already available (check the right sidebar for those titles). The only risk in reading a free story is that you can’t get those ten seconds back (the ones you invested to find out you’re not a fan of this thing you just downloaded). It’s a bit more of a nail-biter when people actually shell out their hard earned dollars for your work.

I suppose when the traditional publishers take control of a work and the overall feedback is negative, or nonexistent, it has a greater effect on the author since that publisher may be hesitant to take on the next book. In the indie world, the next book stands on its own. Same goes with positive feedback. The more that people like a book, the better chance it has to gain a momentum in respect, in criticism, and ultimately in sales, and the more the traditional publisher will like the author. On that same note, the indie author who puts out his second book is unlikely to see an effect carry over from his first, as his next book cleans the slate, and the traditional publishers can’t prevent it from getting into readers’ hands.

Yet, a good book is a good book, and a good author will more than likely have some momentum going into his second book, if the people reading him know that he’s good.

I think the meteoric rise of a book like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline sets a strong example of the benefits of momentum. Great book, strong premise, competent writer, decent publicity, movie tie-in: no doubt the author would have a free pass for his second book. To me, as a fan of the first book, I think Cline has earned his free pass because his second book, Armada, while entertaining and worth a read, doesn’t quite hit the same marks. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to. It’s good enough that Cline’s third book will come out with strong legs, most likely. And that’s just it. The momentum keeps going. I daresay the momentum stays fierce because Ready Player One was such a force out the gate that Cline could probably peddle his success on that book for several titles to come, even though Armada does hold its own to a lesser extent.

On a similar note, I keep thinking M. Knight Shyamalan has had three hits after The Sixth Sense before Lady in the Water crashed at the theaters. Each one was a little worse than the one before (well, I’d actually argue that Unbreakable was his best movie, but that’s me), but he still carried The Sixth Sense‘s momentum for a little while. Of course, the movies he’s done since Lady in the Water are proof that every artist must give each work his all and not trust his momentum to last forever. At some point, the talent must come back. Fortunately, it seems his newest film, The Visit, has pulled him back into form (I haven’t seen it myself, but the reviewers say he’s gone back to his old ways, which is good). Point is, now that I’m heading into a tangent if I don’t reel it in here, each work stands on its own, but momentum certainly helps.

I don’t know if I’ll gain any momentum once The Computer Nerd goes live tomorrow. The benefit of the presale is that all sales to Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo made before tomorrow will get counted tomorrow, and the book can rank higher on the sales charts than if I had not opened it up to presale. But, I’m also choosing to release on a Tuesday, which is the greatest competition day (admittedly the reason why I chose to release on the 20th and not the 23rd–I mean, why not see how I stack against the big bosses?). A scan on Amazon shows I’m going up against John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer. Am I going to outsell John Grisham? Not a frickin’ chance. Not even close. But, I am releasing a 99-cent book tomorrow that runs the equivalent of a little over 300 pages in a paperback. He’s releasing his 352-page book for $17.37 on Amazon ($14.99 on Kindle). In fairness, he probably has an editor telling him where all the story fat is located. I’m basically fending for myself here. But I think I held my own as a worthy author for this one.

Bottom line is that The Computer Nerd is worth every bit its price, as I’m sure Rogue Lawyer is worth every bit of its price. (As an avid collector of John Grisham hardcovers, I’ll no doubt be picking up my copy one of these days.)

Yes, I’m well aware that I just promoted John Grisham’s book for the same day that mine is coming out to the e-book market. Whatever. There’s a reason he’s popular. Again, mine is an eighth of the price and almost the same volume of story. (I can’t comment on quality because I haven’t read Rogue Lawyer. I’m sure it’s good. I believe mine is also good, though I welcome your judgment if you’re reading this.) In the great scale of weights and measures, buying The Computer Nerd on or before October 20, 2015 (basically today or tomorrow), still makes sense.

Speaking of promoting other people’s books, I’m happy to say that Larry Brooks’s Story Fix is out now, and for anyone who’s read Story Engineering or Story Physics, you’ll know that Larry Brooks is a gift to writers, and if you haven’t read his books, which you can find at the Writer’s Digest Shop, you totally should, if you’re the least bit serious about writing stories. I’ve picked up my copy this past Saturday, and even though I’m releasing The Computer Nerd tomorrow, I’ll certainly be looking forward to releasing a revised version in the near future should I learn about anything I’ve broken and didn’t bother to fix. The nice thing about publishing e-books myself is that I can do such things as that. Obviously, if I release a major update to the story (and I don’t foresee that happening because I have edited the crap out of this thing already), I’ll post about it. Once you buy it, you’re supposed to have access to all successive versions.

But again, I don’t foresee that being necessary. I’ll more than likely need Brooks’s advice for the one I’m currently updating, The Evil Clone of Michael K., which I hope to release in December (on a Friday or Saturday).

So, on that note, buy John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer tomorrow. But, if you have a leftover dollar to spare (or your regional equivalent), give The Computer Nerd a try. You can sample the first six chapters, beginning with this post, and find out more about the book on its official page. The e-book, which is approximately 80,000 words, or the equivalent of about 300 pages (in paperback), can be bought at Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and starting tomorrow, you can also buy it at Smashwords.

If you get a chance to read it, please comment here, or leave a review on your purchased store’s website, or at The Computer Nerd page on Goodreads.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this story. If you start a discussion on it anywhere (for better or for worse; my skin is thick), please link it to the comments below. I’d love to see what people are saying about it.

“The Computer Nerd” Chapter 6

Happy Friday the 16th. For those of you who have been checking Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm for the last few weeks, you’ll know that we’re just a few days away from the big release of my novel, The Computer Nerd, as a sexy digital e-book for your slick little reader. Did you ever think those words would all fit naturally in the same sentence? Nope, me neither. Funny how that works. The things that the future makes us say.

But, before the big day comes, why don’t we sneak a peek at one more chapter? Just one more.

As usual, if you have no idea why you’re here or what I’m talking about, check out the previous chapters to see the fuss firsthand, and then read on with everyone else about the crazy thing that’s about to happen to our hero.

Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Once again, if you like this story and must know how it’ll end (and it’s a doozy), please support the author (which would be me) by preordering your copy at either Apple, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo and then read it in its entirety, starting this coming Tuesday, October 20th. It’s just 99 cents (or your regional equivalent).

You can find out all of the relevant information on The Computer Nerd‘s official page.

Now then, it’s time for the final preview chapter:

Chapter 6

“Wedding Day”

When Anston awoke sometime later, he was still in just his skimpy silk boxers, but he was now upright with his back pressed to a leather seat. And he was feeling motion all around him. And his hands were tied behind his back.

He was riding in a car. His own car. As a passenger.

Alice was driving.

“Alice?”

The sky was dark, but dawn was approaching. In spite of his grogginess, he could make out the azure tint of the rising sun just over the distant hills. The Maserati was moving toward it.

“Where are we?”

Alice was focused on the road ahead. She blinked occasionally, but her eyes were mostly staring at the windshield and all that came toward it. She demonstrated the traits of most casual drivers at least once a minute, checking the side and rearview mirrors. Giving him her attention was apparently the least on her mind.

Anston shook in his seat. He finally understood the situation he was in. His wrists were bound by some kind of twine behind his back. And he was just about naked, save for the ridiculous shorts he was wearing. He didn’t even have on his socks.

Alice was none of these things. Her hands were free, gripped comfortably over the steering wheel. And she was dressed again, this time in something more elegant than what she had worn the night before—a yellow sundress and matching hat. She also had on some makeup. He hadn’t seen her looking so “normal” since the days before their wedding. He was confused.

“Alice? Why are my hands tied?”

She didn’t answer. She was concentrating on the light traffic around them.

He tried to wrest his hands free of the twine, but it was secured tightly. He pulled hard, so hard that he nearly strained his neck. The thing wouldn’t break; it just ate deeper into his skin. Then he tried twisting his body so that he might snag the twine on the automatic window controller and attempt to cut it open. But the seatbelt constricted his motion. There was little he could do but wait for whatever was coming next.

“Alice?”

Again, she didn’t answer. She was too busy watching the back of a produce truck trying to stay ahead of them.

The situation began to erode Anston’s psyche. Alice’s ignorance of his presence was gradually bringing him to fury. His patience for her silence had finally worn so thin that he could see right through it. He finally snapped at her.

“Alice! Answer me!”

She glanced at him. There was pain in her face.

“What are you yelling for? I’ve got a headache.”

He didn’t have the stomach for further ignorance.

“Why am I tied up and naked in the car?”

She looked back at the road.

“I thought that’s what you wanted.”

He could’ve laughed at her comment if it hadn’t sounded so insane.

“Why would I want that?”

She shrugged.

“Alice. Where are we going?”

“Guess.”

Anston shook his head. He was in no mood for games. He was grateful that she hadn’t stabbed him in his sleep, but he wasn’t convinced the current situation was much better.

“Just tell me.”

“Guess.”

He lurched forward as much as the seatbelt would allow. It chafed against his bare chest. Fortunately, he didn’t have much of a chest to chafe.

“Why won’t you tell me?”

“Because I want you to guess.”

He struggled more with the twine.

“Could you untie my hands first?”

She smiled. It looked fake.

“If you guess, then maybe I’ll untie you.”

Anston closed his eyes and took in a deep breath through his nose. He let the air out through his mouth. Then he repeated the process a few more times. He started to regret ever ditching Rebecca for this. He could’ve had a nice dinner with her, maybe slept at her house instead—a reaching idea given how little they knew of each other, but it was nothing unusual given the culture to which they belonged. Certainly would’ve been better to wake up in her bed than tied up in the passenger seat of his own vehicle while a confirmed nut drove him to some undisclosed location. Unless of course Rebecca had the same plans for him, which was also possible given how little they knew of each other.

There was no other way around this, he realized. He would have to give in to Alice’s request.

“Are we going to a landfill?” he asked.

Anston looked at her when she didn’t give him a response. She was still watching the road, though her eyes were showing signs of disturbance. She suddenly looked hurt.

“Alice?”

She glanced at him quickly. The road was clear ahead, but it was starting to curve. She had to keep her attention on it.

“Why would you think we’re going to a landfill?” she asked.

“Are we?”

“No. That’s absurd.”

Anston lowered his eyebrows at her.

“Alice, are you taking me to a landfill?”

“To get married!” Her fingers were now tight around the steering wheel and she was leaning forward. She was also blinking now. A lot. “You said you’d marry me again. That’s where we’re going. To get married.”

Anston looked at the road ahead. The scenery was bare of manmade structures. They were driving down a highway that cut through a forest. Most of the vehicles they passed were commercial rigs headed for the next town, or the next state. If they were getting remarried, they were taking the long way to the chapel.

“Are we headed to Vegas?” he asked.

She gave an expression similar to a smile.

“Why are my hands tied?”

“To make sure you don’t back out at the last minute.”

Anston nodded. Somehow that made sense to him.

“Where are my clothes?”

“At home.”

He glanced at her.

“You didn’t pack me a bag?”

“You don’t need clothes for the honeymoon, sweetheart.”

“I do for the wedding!”

“You don’t in Vegas.”

Anston rolled his eyes. He realized skipping out on dinner with Rebecca wasn’t regretting far enough back in time. He should’ve regretted having ever signed up on an Internet dating site. Alice was the best he could get.

“We do, however, have one stop to make on the way,” she said.

***

Less than an hour later, they pulled off into a motel parking lot. Anston figured Alice wanted a pre-wedding celebration akin to the almost celebration they’d had the night before, but he soon realized that was not at all her intention for coming here. When she’d left him to go to the front office, she was not picking up a room key, but a passenger.

The passenger was a slightly older gentleman, about forty-five or fifty, with a salty beard and gray boater hat. He was dressed in a gray suit and matching tie. Everything about him was gray. But his pale skin, leathery in texture from years of tans cut short by a sudden binge of indoor living, still had the smoothness of middle adulthood. He didn’t quite have the ghostly presence of a man dead before his time. But he was getting there.

Alice skipped across the parking lot to the Maserati with the older gentleman tagging along from behind. He was less enthusiastic in his approach. The large brown suitcase he carried with both hands was weighing him down, as was the frown on his face. When he reached the car, Alice popped the trunk for him. When he came to the passenger side, without suitcase in hand, he unhooked Anston’s seatbelt.

“Get out,” he said without batting an eye.

Anston stared at him, incredulous that a complete stranger would order him out of his own car.

“Excuse me?”

“I can’t get in with you sitting there. Get out.”

Anston glanced over at Alice, who was now in the driver’s seat, to get her opinion on whether this guy was serious. She motioned him with a nod to acknowledge the gray man. Anston sighed and slipped out of his seat, hands still tied behind his back, shorts still barely covering his midsection. The exit was difficult; he had to clear the seatbelt by shaking his shoulders and swiveling out using his abdominal muscles, which he didn’t have many of. Once he managed to stand erect and stretch his legs, he suddenly realized how cold it was outside. He shivered and danced in place while he waited for the gray stranger to push the front seat forward and climb into the back. Once he put the seat in place, he gestured Anston to get back in the car. Alice buckled him in. Then she stepped on the car’s accelerator, causing the vehicle to lurch forward. The force of momentum was strong enough to shut the passenger door.

Anston sat there in silence as the Maserati exited the parking lot and raced for the traffic light. He continued to stare out into the world around him, silently, dwelling on any thought that popped into his head. He let the billboards that passed them dictate his internal narrative. Did he have law insurance? Jack Daniels liquor? Was he prepared to spray his home full of pesticide? He tried to convince himself that, “Yes, I do need insert product here,” by trying to figure out how each one was relative to the next. He’d need to drink a tall glass of Jack Daniels after dealing with the law firm’s insurance adjuster, and then breathe in the pesticide to forget the entire episode. And he’d keep distracting himself with these thoughts throughout the silence for as long as he could stand. But by the time Alice pulled out onto the Interstate, he couldn’t take the silence any longer. He needed answers.

“Who the hell are you anyway?” he asked the man sitting behind him. He couldn’t exactly turn to look at him, but he tried to keep an eye on him through the outside mirror.

The man didn’t answer. Anston wasn’t surprised.

Anston was surprised, however, that Alice spoke for him.

“He’s our witness,” she said. “Can’t get a license without a witness. Remember?”

Anston nodded. He remembered. He also remembered that Vegas was full of drunk people willing to sign a legal document, and that today would offer no fewer choices than the first time they’d married. This guy was hardly necessary. Anston did not understand his ex-wife at all.

***

A short time into the drive, Alice pulled off the highway into a gas station. She stopped at the empty pump closest to the exit. Before stepping out of the car, she patted Anston’s knee and peered into his eyes.

“I need your pin number,” she said.

Anston felt a sharp burst of electricity racing through his chest.

“My what?”

“For your debit card.”

He narrowed his eyebrows.

My debit card?”

She had a deadpan expression. Either it was still early in the morning, or she hadn’t developed personality in the few hours she’d been home.

“I don’t have one of my own,” she said. “I’ve been locked up for a year, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I haven’t forgotten.”

“So, password, please.”

Anston thought about the request. Tried looking over his shoulder at the strange man sitting behind him, though the man was still just to the left of his peripheral sight. He looked back at Alice, who was sitting there patiently. She had not taken her eyes off of him.

“How about I just pay for the gas?” Anston said.

“Yes,” said Alice. “You will. That’s the point. Password.”

“I mean, how about I pump the gas and everything?”

She set her left hand on the steering wheel and stroked it. With her other hand, she rubbed, then squeezed Anston’s knee. Her face was colder than a penguin’s foot.

“How are you going to do that with your hands tied, sweetheart?”

Anston was about to respond, but Alice put her finger to his lips.

“I’m not gonna debate this,” she said. “I’ve been away too long and I just want my life back. Give me the password.”

Anston tried glancing in the direction of the stranger behind him, but Alice slid her hand to the side of his face and redirected him back to her.

“Don’t worry about him. He’s harmless. Your secret’s safe with me. What’s your password?”

Anston squeezed his eyes shut. This woman was making him more naked by the minute. But he knew she wouldn’t relent. No matter how wild her demand, no matter how much it might’ve weakened him, she still demanded it.

He’d have to make several changes to his security before this day was over.

“Two.”

She gestured him to continue when he stopped there.

“Go on.”

“Five.”

He paused again, thinking about the strange gray man behind him. Alice reached down and squeezed his thigh. She held her hand there while he staggered in his delivery. When he still didn’t answer, she crept her fingers up a few inches toward his groin, stopping halfway between the knee and the hip.

“Don’t make me reach the flag,” she said. “Because if I do, I’ll drop it to half-mast.”

“Four.”

He paused this time just to test her. True to her word, she slid her hand just up to the edge of his shorts. He jerked his knee away before she could finish her ascent. He resigned his will to fight her on this.

“Two. There, don’t injure me.”

She reached her hand up to his face and squeezed his chin. He could feel her thumb and forefinger causing tension against his lower back teeth.

“Why would I injure you on our wedding day?”

Besides the fact that she had just threatened him, he couldn’t think of any reason. But then again, he could think of many reasons, including the possibility of payback for him abandoning her to the Happy Place Enrichment Facility. He responded through his clenched jaw.

“I don’t know anymore.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a honeymoon, would it?” she asked.

“I guess not.”

She leaned closer and gave him what seemed like the beginning of a smile.

“If I were to injure you, it would be after the honeymoon.”

She released his jaw. He shuddered slightly. He had no idea when she’d consider the honeymoon over, or the precautions he’d have to take once their life was “back to normal.”

Alice climbed out of the Maserati and headed into the store. Anston, meanwhile, leaned into his seat and fought back the pressure overcoming his sinuses. The temptation to cry was building at an alarming rate. He slunk down as low as his seatbelt allowed.

“Oh God,” he said.

Next thing he knew, a meaty hand came reaching in from behind and took him by the neck. This hand was now squeezing his throat and blocking his ability to breathe. Anston’s eyes popped wide open when he realized what was happening.

He wanted to reach up and pry the man’s hand away, wanted so desperately to free himself from the sudden assault on his air supply, but he couldn’t move. The binds around his wrists had paralyzed his ability to defend himself. The best he could do was to throw himself hard into the backrest, but it wasn’t enough. He started kicking the glove box with his knees instead.

“Don’t disrespect a good woman like Alice,” the man said in a sinister whisper. “When she asks you a question, you answer her. You understand?”

Anston tried nodding, but the man’s hand was blocking his chin. Then he tried speaking, but his grip was so powerful that he couldn’t get his words out.

“You understand?” the man demanded again. “Answer me!”

Anston tried, but the best he could get out was a wheezy whisper. His voice was so strained that the gray man couldn’t hear him.

“Don’t make me kill you on your wedding day.”

Anston struggled.

“Alice would like me less if I did.”

Anston tried shaking his head, but the man’s thumb and forefinger was blocking him from moving side to side. He was fixed in that position.

“Do you want me to? Because I will. Mister Sanders ain’t here to stop me.”

Anston tried to get something out. Anything out. But the fight for air was clouding his ability to think. Even if he could get the words out, it was becoming harder for him to identify the right words to say.

“Maybe I should,” the gray man said. “You clearly don’t appreciate a woman of her caliber. She’s everything that I’d want. If she isn’t everything you want, then you shouldn’t have her, you damn ungrateful prick.”

Anston was sure he had said something in response, but he didn’t know what, and he didn’t know if it had gotten out into the open. He just knew that he was moments away from blacking out. He could feel his lungs screaming for air and his brain begging for oxygen. His cheeks were tightening and his forehead was throbbing. And his windpipe was likely suffering from constriction damage. It had already started feeling like a mallet had hammered it out of shape. Why the hell wasn’t Mr. Sanders here to stop him?

By the time his knees stopped flailing at the glove box, Alice returned to the car. She peeked in, noticed the stranger’s hand around Anston’s neck, and frowned.

“Doctor Nantucket,” she said. “That is inappropriate behavior. I didn’t agree to come with you so you could do this. Please release my husband’s neck.”

Suddenly a blast of air came rushing down Anston’s bruised windpipe. He gasped as he felt the hand around his throat loosen.

“Just trying to improve his wisdom,” Dr. Nantucket said. “Doesn’t seem to have much of it.”

“Well, his face was turning blue, so stop trying to educate him. That’s my job.”

Without another word, Alice went to the pump and started fueling the gas tank. Anston, meanwhile, was still gasping for air. It would be a few minutes before he could talk again.

While Anston was clamoring for breath, he noticed a police cruiser pulling into the parking lot. It parked parallel to the pump beside them. He stared at the cruiser’s cabin, hoping to make eye contact with its driver. The patrol officer was looking at something in his lap.

Alice replaced the nozzle into the pump and leaned toward the driver side door. She was looking right at Dr. Nantucket.

“I’m getting snacks,” she said. “Don’t strangle my husband again.”

She left. Anston was aware of her heading back to the store, but he kept his eyes trained on the patrol cruiser. It took the officer almost three minutes for him to get out of his car and another minute to stretch his legs, crack his back, and head toward the building. As he crossed the pump island, he noticed Anston staring at him. They followed each other’s gaze as the officer passed slowly behind the pumps.

The officer was out of sight, and Anston had no way of communicating the trouble he was now sure he was in.

But then, to his surprise, the officer came back into view, this time from the left, and approached the Maserati from the driver side, which was still wide open. Anston straightened his back.

“Good morning,” said the officer, as he peered into the vehicle through the open door.

“Morning,” said Dr. Nantucket, before Anston had a chance to speak. “How can we help you?”

“Oh, I was wondering if I could help you.” He was looking at Anston. “I notice that you’re riding around in some attire that may be less than appropriate for the public. Are you okay, sir?”

“He’s fine,” said Dr. Nantucket. “It’s his wedding day.”

The officer smiled.

“Ah, nerves?” he asked.

Dr. Nantucket reached around the seat and clasped Anston on the shoulder. Anston flinched so hard that he nearly slammed Nantucket’s hand against the wall. Nantucket released his grip and then clasped him even harder, so hard that it sent a tremor through Anston’s body.

“Can you blame him?”

The officer shook his head.

“I remember my wedding day. Made me a little crazy, too. My advice is this. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s just a ceremony to mark the commitment you’ve already made. Tomorrow will be no different than today. In fact, it’ll be better. You’ll realize that win or lose, there’s no turning back, so you may as well relax and enjoy the ride.” He pointed his index finger at Anston and winked. “I’ve been married for going on twenty years now. We’ve gotten our arguments for divorce down from ten to just three threats a year. I’m confident that by the time we kill each other, we’ll be down to two or fewer. It’s bliss.”

The officer noticed movement beside him and slid to his right to allow Alice some room. He looked at her and smiled.

“I assume you’re the lucky bride-to-be?” he asked.

Alice shrugged as she placed a bag of snacks into the seat. But she failed to hide her twitching smile.

The officer looked back into the car and nodded approval to Anston.

“A fine choice,” he said. “She’ll make you the luckiest guy on earth, I can see that now.” He slapped the roof of the car. “Well, good luck to both of you. Hopefully you’ll put on some warmer clothes once you get your wits about you. There’s a cold front coming in.”

“Thank you, officer,” Dr. Nantucket said.

The officer continued on toward the store. Anston was crestfallen by his departure. He hadn’t been able to get out a single word of warning. Now he was back alone here with the nuts.

Alice moved the bag to Anston’s lap and climbed into the empty driver’s seat. Then she reached into the bag for a package of Funyuns. She opened it and aimed it at Anston’s mouth. She raised her eyebrows at him. He simply stared at her. She shrugged and offered the bag to Dr. Nantucket. Dr. Nantucket stole it from her hand.

Then they pulled out of the parking lot and onto the Interstate.

Anston leaned against the window and rolled his eyes. Even though he could feel his windpipe lessening in pain, he didn’t feel like talking now. He had no idea what the hell was happening anymore. He just knew he wanted out of this ridiculous marriage plot. None of this made any sense.

Unfortunately, he could see plainly that he was running out of time to back out. The signs for Las Vegas were beginning to creep along the highway. Every ten miles they would come closer together, until they came within range of the turnoff that would lead them in the direction of the city.

And then they drove right past it.

Anston sat up straight as his back suddenly tensed. He watched the exit for Las Vegas slip behind him. Then he glanced at Alice.

“You missed your exit,” he said.

She shook her head.

“No I didn’t.”

“But, Vegas is that way.”

She looked at him as if he were crazy.

“So?”

He leaned toward her slightly. He was getting more confused by the second.

“Aren’t we going to get married there?”

“Eventually.”

“Eventually?”

She returned her focus to the road.

“Gotta do Doctor Nantucket’s thing first.”

Anston shook his head in disbelief.

“What’s this now?”

She was the kind of driver who always kept her hands in the ten o’clock-two o’clock position when she didn’t have a point to make. But now she was holding the two o’clock hand up to Anston’s face.

“I don’t have patience for your constant questions,” she said. “I’m trying to concentrate on the road.”

“My constant questions? Sorry, honey, but I’m starting to feel like a kidnap victim.”

“Well, don’t.”

He would’ve tossed his hands up in protest if he could.

“How do I not?”

She shrugged. Her attention was already entirely rapt on the road.

“I demand the truth,” he said. “Where are we really going?”

“Side trip,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I have to worry about it. You’re kidnapping me.”

“No I’m not. And no you don’t.”

She left it at that. Anston glanced out the window again. The desert was looking emptier by the minute.

“I don’t understand you at all,” he said to her.

“I know.”

He looked at her for clarification, but she offered him none. Then he went back to staring out the window.

“I wish this madness would just end,” he said under his breath.

“It will, honey.” She must’ve heard him anyway. “Just sleep it off. We’ll reach our destination soon.”

“I can’t sleep it off. I’m too stressed over this whole thing.”

He heard the clinking of glass down on the floor behind him. Then he heard a suction pop. Next thing he knew, Dr. Nantucket was reaching around him with both hands. He flinched. But the gray man wasn’t threatening to strangle him this time. In one hand was an empty goblet. In the other was the corkless bottle of the champagne that Anston and Alice had celebrated with the night before.

“Drink this,” said Dr. Nantucket. “Special concoction of mine. It’ll knock you right out.”

(end sample)

And there you go! Are you itching to see what Alice and Dr. Nantucket have planned for Anston? Are you eager to find out how Anston outsmarts these people and gets away (assuming he gets away, though you shouldn’t assume anything!)? Are you curious how Anston and Alice’s relationship will progress or decline (or both, or both simultaneously)? Are you just in the mood for the conclusion to a good story and want nothing more to do with these teasers? Then show your support by preordering your copy today.

As usual, feel free to comment.

If you want to buy your copy of The Computer Nerd for your own computer (or tablet, or iPhone, or iPad, or whatever you read things on), please visit the official page for ordering information.

Thanks.

P.S. For those of you who like post-credits scenes at the end of your favorite movies (think: Marvel movies), when you do get your copy, you may want to keep reading past the end matter for a special secret ending.

“The Computer Nerd” Chapter 5

Friday is here again, and with it comes the next big chapter reveal for my upcoming novel, The Computer Nerd, in its e-book form. Have you read the other chapters yet? If not, go play catch up here:

Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

As always, if you like where this story is going–and how could you not?–please support the author (which would be me) by preordering your copy at either Apple, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo and then read it in its entirety, starting on October 20th.

You can find out all of the relevant information on The Computer Nerd‘s official page.

Chapter 5

“The Risky Variable”

Anston had his hand on the bedroom door, softly counting to thirty. He had no idea what would happen as soon as he opened it. Alice was unpredictable, and he didn’t want to barge into the bedroom as if everything was fine. Nothing was fine. She had been a secured patient at the Happy Place Enrichment Facility just a few hours ago, and nothing in Dr. Farea’s discussion, as confidential as he had tried to keep it, had suggested she was ready for discharge. The last year of her residency must’ve been good for her to some degree, but her state of psychosis was such that her therapy had come with an undetermined time frame for success. On the day of her evaluation, the last day Anston had seen her, the doctor in charge had simply given him a grim look when Anston asked what was wrong with her and how long it would take to treat her. His professional answer had been nothing more than a shrug.

Anston had seen the signs of her troubled mind the night he’d brought her home from the wedding. Almost as soon as they had walked through the door, she started to cry. He had expected a little bit of weeping, certainly; he had wept a little himself that night. They were forging a new life together after knowing each other for all of four months, and both were suddenly frightened by what that had meant. But Anston was determined to forge on. Marriage was just the natural rite of passage for his stage in life. It was like when he had graduated high school, and then college, and then graduate school, and so on. It was a normal part of growing up, like getting a job, getting a promotion, losing that job to a lousy economy. Getting married was just one of those stepping stones to old age. At some point, he had to do it. Otherwise, what would he have? Loneliness? He was no extrovert, but he hadn’t wanted to die alone. Of course, he hadn’t been meeting anyone in the circles he was traveling in, so he had to make use of the systems that had been available to him. He’d found Alice on a dating website, the same one he had met Rebecca on a few weeks ago. It had seemed like an okay decision at the time, dating strange women he’d met online. But he had quickly discovered just how small the pond really was, even in cyberspace. He had committed to Alice within a couple of weeks when he realized she was interested in him. It was more than he could’ve said about the others he had tried talking to. Looking back, he knew he was hasty in his decision. Computer engineers were always analytical about their solutions to any problem, and his intuition had been to do the same when he started getting to know her. But he had panicked. He had bought her an engagement ring at the end of the first month, either to sabotage the relationship before it progressed into something he couldn’t control, or to suppress his fears that no one else would love him if he had waited too long. When he had presented the ring to her, he was surprised that she had said yes to his request. That was his first red flag.

The other red flags had been invisible during the first few months of their dating relationship, most likely because he had been looking at her through rose-colored glasses. An attractive, no, stunningly beautiful woman was interested in him, so he had ignored her faults for as long as he could. But as the wedding night drew near, he had started to notice things about her that had startled him, things like her propensity to gargle her water before she swallowed it, even at nice restaurants. The first time she’d done it, he had thought it was unique, and “unique” had looked a lot like “cute” through the lenses he was wearing. But eventually he had thought it was disquieting. When he had gotten the nerve to ask her why she did that, she had said that gargling helped her fully rinse her palate so that she could enjoy every bite of food as if it were the first. When he’d asked why she did it even when they weren’t eating—like when they got back to his house after a long, sweaty walk—she’d reply that it helped remove the toxins from her body. Two months after their wedding night, or sixty-three days after the rose-colored glasses had come off, she had admitted that she gargled to purge her system of evil spirits, which she would acquire after eating meat or getting winded from exercise. That was when the red flag had transformed into an emergency siren.

The path to her sanity had been a rocky one ever since, and Anston had never figured out how to properly navigate it. Eventually, he had realized the need to find her help. But it was after her acceptance into the Happy Place Enrichment Facility that he had decided he had nothing left to offer her personally. He couldn’t justify staying married to a stranger, especially not to one with so many psychological issues. Even as he drove her to the facility—he had told her they were going to the park for a picnic, even though he hated picnics—she had criticized him for not being tall enough for her. He hadn’t known what else to do.

He’d felt ill about leaving her there. It was something he had lost sleep over for several nights. But he’d eventually gotten over it. He had started discovering how much more peaceful his house was without her there. There was no one to argue with him over what to eat. There was no one forcing him to sleep on the sofa for forgetting to take out the trash. No one was going to punch him in the gut for leaving a toothpaste ring around the sink. It was relaxing. And, financially, it was liberating. Preparing for a divorce had released him of his monetary liability to the facility. It was only when he’d gone to sleep each night that he realized his life was still incomplete. He missed having her there by his side. He wondered if he had just missed having a woman by his side.

So, he had signed up with the same Internet dating site where he’d met her. Now that he had an idea of what to avoid, he was more open to his existing choices. The pond was still small, but he had approached it with more confidence. He was ready for a more positive change in his life. But, as he had feared in the days leading to Alice, no one had been willing to stick around long. Most were out of his life within a couple of weeks. None of them had ever given him a reason for bailing. He suspected they had found someone better, or had gone back to someone from an earlier season in their lives. The problem with being a computer engineer, though, was that he was familiar with programming systems, not female brains. No answer he could come up with had ever seemed like the right one. He had kept at the dating game because he knew he didn’t want to spend his life alone. But in the back of his mind, even as the months had passed and the divorce proceedings were set into motion, Anston couldn’t help but think that his wife was still out there in a cold, dark place, and he was in this cozy house trying to supplant her with another woman. Something about that had left him unsettled. Sometimes he wondered if the other women had split so quickly because he’d wanted them to.

When Anston turned the knob to his bedroom door, he told himself that his wife was home. This was not some flash-in-the-pan date that he had picked up on Match .com. As much as he liked Rebecca, she was not his wife, and regardless of all the coffee they could be drinking together, and whatever else would define their relationship, she was not going to ease his mind over abandoning his wife to a crazy hospital. The fact that Alice was home was certainly terrifying. He had no idea what she was planning to do to him tonight after what he had done to her a year ago. But it did ease him to know that whatever horrible thing she had in mind, she could do it in the comfort of her own bed.

***

Alice didn’t notice him coming into the room. She was sitting at his desk, back turned to him. And though the office chair she was sitting in concealed everything from below her shoulder blades on down, he could see that she was dressed exactly as she said she would be: naked, or her idea of being naked, which was everyone else’s idea of dressing for the beach. Yes, just as he’d expected, she was wearing her favorite dark blue one-piece swimsuit. She must’ve found it in the closet with her other things that Anston couldn’t bring himself to donate to charity. What he didn’t expect coming into the room was to find her at the desk. And he certainly didn’t expect to find her at the Windows login screen on his computer trying to get in.

He didn’t want to alarm her, so he cleared his throat softly to make sure she knew he was there. She didn’t give him any attention.

“Whatcha doin’, honey?” he asked, as he moved toward the bed.

She didn’t answer him.

Anston checked for anything out of the ordinary as he moved toward his row of pillows. His memory of how he’d left things before the trip was a bit spotty, but he knew there had been more clothes on the floor, and the general run of the room was considerably messier than it was now. Now he could step only on the floor and throw rug. No dropped jeans or peeled-off socks. Even his slippers, which he usually kept under the nightstand in the corner, seemed to have changed location. And the surface of the nightstand was cleaner, as if it had been dusted in the last six hours or so. There were two goblets and a bottle of champagne on it next to the lamp, but other than that, nothing different that he could find. Just a cleaner version of the room he’d left behind. He suddenly wondered how long she had been waiting here for him.

When he reached the pillows, he felt under them, one after another, checking for the presence of sharp objects. As he searched his bed for anything that might’ve caused him injury during the night, he glanced at the computer screen past Alice’s shoulder. She was still stuck on the login screen, trying one password after another. Nothing was working, but she didn’t betray her calm. She kept at it like a burgeoning hacker, and she did so without demonstrating even the slightest swaying of her body. It seemed that whatever was making her exceptionally loopy before had lessened its grip on her.

“Honey,” he said again, when she still hadn’t answered him. “Why are you trying to access my computer?”

“Want to see my pictures,” she finally said. She was still looking at the screen.

“I thought you wanted to reconnect.”

“Haven’t seen my pictures in a year. I miss them.”

Anston checked the last pillow. Nothing was hidden underneath it or in the pillowcase. Then he scanned the area closest to Alice. Other than cleanliness, nothing was out of the ordinary. Even his desk, which normally had junk mail addressed to “Current Resident” scattered about, was straightened. He wondered if maybe she was doing what he’d done in the early days: holding a knife close to the mouse for quick retrieval in an emergency. He grabbed the pillow and placed it in front of his chest. Then, as he took a step closer to her, he changed his mind. He moved it down to his crotch instead.

“How do I get into your computer?” she asked.

“You have to know the password,” he said, one second before he realized how unhelpful his answer was.

“I can’t figure it out.” She leaned in closer to the screen, as if seeing the asterisks clearer would have somehow cracked the code.

Anston crept closer to her, keeping an eye on her hands. With each step he strained to locate any evidence of an ambush waiting for him. But he could see nothing. Just the computer and its accessories. He still wondered if she was sitting on anything dangerous but shot down that theory when he reasoned that her legs were almost entirely exposed, and anything sharp would cause her discomfort. Most likely he was safe to approach her. So he did.

She flinched when he stepped next to her, and her sudden movement caused him to flinch. He gripped his desk to steady his heart. As much as he was looking forward to releasing his sexual tension, he hated that she was causing him more regular tension everywhere else.

They stared at each other briefly. Alice’s expression was flat. She was more curious than angry or scared. What would he do so close to her now? she might’ve been wondering. Or, he could’ve been looking at the face of a hunter sizing up her prey. Or, she could’ve just been void of emotion. Odds were the truth was some combination of the three.

He reached between her hands and started typing his password into the keyboard. Then he clicked the mouse to load up the desktop.

“There you go,” he said. “Enjoy your photos. I’ll be in bed waiting.”

She didn’t thank him after that, or even acknowledge him. She went right to the “My Pictures” folder and started clicking around. He watched her briefly, just to remind himself what was in there, secretly hoping that he hadn’t updated it with anything conspicuous in the last year. As far as he could remember, he hadn’t taken any new photos since she’d left.

Convinced that she was going to preoccupy herself with the old memory tour for a while, Anston climbed into bed and waited for her. He had already showered and brushed his teeth after tidying up the bathroom, per her request, so he was physically ready. His mind, however, was fighting another battle. The thought of being with her again was frightening. So much time had passed, and he had no idea what kind of anger she had stored for him, and he wasn’t sure this was really such a good idea after all. His pounding heart supported his anxiety. But parts of him much lower than his brain were willing to take the risk. So much time had passed since she’d last teased him.

He wasn’t sure if he should grab a book while he waited, or maybe throw something on the floor just to feel a little less alien in his own bedroom. He removed his watch and set it on the nightstand. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it over the side of the mattress and watched as it disappeared out of sight on its way to the wooden floor. Then he cringed slightly when he heard the buttons of his shirt clacking against the floor. He was sure Alice had heard it and would snap to comment on how messy he was making the room again. But she didn’t move. She was glued to the computer screen.

Anston sat there for about two minutes lying there with his ankles crossed, tapping the bedspread with his thumbs, trying to think of some tunes to whistle. As he struggled to come up with anything worth whistling, he started thinking maybe some real music would get him in a better mood for whatever was about to happen between them. Their romantic relationship had always been a little off to the side of normal, even on the night of their first kiss, which Alice had finally relented to when she agreed to marry him, so there was no telling how things might’ve been after a year without contact. But then he remembered that all of his music was on the computer. He’d just have to improvise humming a random tune. A distant knocking sound on a neighbor’s door helped him form the beat.

Another minute passed when he noticed the air in his bedroom was stale, like it had been in his living room. It occurred to him that his windows were still shut. Well, one of them was cracked open earlier—he’d often left the one facing the side of the yard slightly ajar to keep the house’s air quality fresh—but even if Alice was having trouble breathing earlier, thanks to the gas leaking in the living room, and opened the window more to let in some fresh air (and let out some bad air), knowing her, she had probably gotten cold and closed it again, thus causing the room’s air circulation to weaken. He climbed out of bed and opened them both fully. As he passed Alice to reach the second window in the adjacent wall, the one facing the front yard, she reached out and tugged on his pants.

“Why aren’t you naked yet?” she asked.

“I’m working on it.”

Once the other window was open, Anston dropped his pants on the floor. All that was left on him now were his black silk boxers. Really short boxers. He felt a little odd standing there so close to her with such vulnerability, made worse by the realization that he had left the pillow on the bed. But she didn’t try to stab him. She just kept scanning the photos folder. Now he was feeling awkward for being the second most important thing in the room.

He climbed back in bed and waited. He considered taking the boxers down, too, as most men would do under the rules of the proposition at hand, but Alice had the same idea about his nakedness as she had about her own: shorts counted as close enough and was generally preferable to the alternative. In the course of their entire marriage, he hadn’t actually seen her in her fully exposed state. He’d certainly tried. But she’d always wear a one-piece in the shower, or slam the bathroom door in his face and lock him out if she dared showering natural, which was rare as far as he knew. She’d often confused him.

He continued to watch her, uncertain about when she’d actually turn her attention to him. She was staring at pictures of her old friend: Dina, if he remembered her name correctly. It was hard to tell from here, but Anston could sense Alice crying. She hadn’t seen Dina since before the wedding; something had come up shortly before the wedding date and Dina couldn’t make the ceremony.

It seemed to Anston that maybe Alice had missed her in the year she was away. When he and Alice were dating, she would talk about the hilarious times that she and Dina would share growing up and the many times one would bail the other out of trouble during college and their early careers. They had had a rich history. But Alice didn’t speak of her much after the wedding. He assumed they had had a falling out, but he’d never asked about the details. And, as he watched her scanning the many photos she had stored of her and her friend on his hard drive, he decided it was better not to ask about them now. It would just upset her further.

“Alice?”

She didn’t say anything. She just sat there with her hand on her forehead, staring at the screen. Then she closed the “My Pictures” folder and wiped her eyes. Then she sat in silence for another brief moment.

Anston didn’t understand why she had suddenly gone docile. Her brain was full of such chaotic things that her having a moment of calm was unusual. He didn’t know what to make of it.

“Alice?”

She sniffled, then nodded.

“Okay, I’m ready,” she said.

He had no time to respond, or even to clear his head. Within just under two seconds, she had gone from swinging around in the office chair to leaping like a wrestler off the top ropes onto his helpless supine body. She landed on him with a thud, and he felt the wind knocked out of him a little. His stomach responded with a wrenching jolt. And, even as he said “oof,” she had her hands on his shoulders and pushed him hard against the mattress. Her eyes looked vacant and her face pained.

Then he heard the phone ringing in the other room. He felt the wind knocked out of him again.

He wriggled out from under Alice and reached for the watch on his nightstand. It was after midnight. Alice wasn’t paying attention to the time; she was too busy tickling his narrow chest with the joyfulness of a robot. When she finally noticed him staring at the watch, she stole it from his hand and tossed it back on the nightstand. Or tried. It missed and hit the floor.

“Pay attention to me,” she said, like this was business, not pleasure.

She pulled him back to the center of the bed and pushed on his shoulders again. As she leaned down to lick his neck, the phone rang again.

“Maybe I should get that,” he said.

Alice offered him a grumpy look. Then she released his shoulders and rolled off to the side. He was already getting frustrated with the interruption, but he figured a midnight call was the same as an emergency call, so he climbed out of bed and jogged to the living room to check the phone’s caller ID.

Rebecca was calling.

He sighed. She was probably looking to chew him out over their missed dinner, or maybe she was checking to make sure he hadn’t died in a car accident on the way to the restaurant. He wasn’t sure. And he didn’t have the time to find out. He couldn’t keep the crazy woman in his bedroom waiting. She didn’t handle impatience well.

He left the phone ringing. The answering machine picked up as he reached the door, but the inbox was still full, so she couldn’t leave a message.

“Who was it?” Alice asked, when Anston came back to bed.

“Insurance agent,” he said. “Where were we?”

Alice once again pulled him to the center of the bed and hooked her legs around him. She kissed him hard on the cheek. He could smell her breath quite vividly now. It was stale with the flavor of alcohol. It seemed she had been drinking that day, which was unusual given that she rarely drank; she drank only to celebrate special occasions or when she was deeply troubled or nervous over something. He noticed the champagne bottle sitting on the nightstand by his head, but he was certain that wasn’t the type of alcohol he had smelled on her breath. He thought he had smelled tequila or rum.

“What have you been drinking?” he asked.

“Talk later,” she said. “Consummate now.”

Then she reached for the lamp and turned it off. The room was left dark, save for the glow of the computer screen and the ambient streetlights outside—

And the roving flashlight beam that swept in through the side window and landed on them just as Alice closed her mouth over Anston’s nose. Her breath was definitely stale with tequila.

Both Anston and Alice froze as the beam of light washed over them and a booming female voice ruptured the silence.

“Ma’am, don’t move,” said the voice. “You need to stop attacking that helpless man. Right now. Please raise your hands slowly.”

Alice sprang upright, even as she straddled Anston’s waist, and lifted her hands. Both she and Anston dared to look in the direction of the light’s source. Anston could barely make out the image of a female police officer in the flashlight’s aura. Then he closed his eyes and shook his head. He’d forgotten that he had called the police earlier.

“This is a misunderstanding,” he said, as quickly as he could get the words out, trying to calm the scene before Alice freaked out. “She’s not attacking me. We’re, uh, we’re about to, uh…”

Suddenly the flashlight went out.

“Oh, my, I’m so sorry,” the police officer said. “We had received a call that—”

“Nope, nope,” Anston said, trying to cut her off before she incriminated him in front of Alice. “No one here called you. You might want to see what’s going on next door though. Those people have problems.”

“Right. Sorry. Carry on. And maybe close your curtains before you proceed.”

Anston lay there mortified for the next five minutes. Alice lay next to him, equally shamed by the intrusion. Neither of them said a word until Alice climbed out of bed and closed the curtains. Then she turned on the lamp.

“I brought champagne to celebrate our reunion,” she said. “I want to drink before we officially reconnect.”

Anston was still rigid, but he slowly sat up. He was dazed.

“Yeah, that might take the edge off.”

Alice wrapped her hand around the top half of the cork and pulled it out of the bottle. Then she poured champagne into one of the goblets and handed it to Anston. Then she poured herself a glass. She held it up to him for a toast. Anston was still surprised that she even knew about this social cue, even though she’d done it once before, the night before they married.

“To the future love we’re about to seed,” she said. “Hopefully before this headache gets worse.”

He expected something a little more profound, perhaps a toast commemorating a greater purpose, like them reuniting as a couple, or whatever else was going on in that head of hers. But she seemed content with her dedication. He shrugged and clinked his glass against hers. Then he swallowed the champagne down whole. Alice got as far as putting the glass an inch to her lips before changing her mind and setting it on the nightstand.

“Ooh, I just thought of something,” she said. She hopped out of bed and went to the computer. “I’d written a poem once. I bet it’s still on here.”

Anston rolled his eyes and set his empty goblet on the nightstand next to the bottle. Now he remembered that one thing about her that would always drive him up the wall: she had the attention span of a fruit fly. He lay back down as he watched her search the “My Documents” folder for another relic from her past.

“I forgot what I called it.”

He watched her scan each file and randomly click on documents for a minute before he realized how tired he was. It had been a long weekend, and now his body was ready to reap what he had sewn. He was so tired now that he hardly cared that she was opening files that were personal to him. She was so determined to find that poem that she was opening just about everything she’d come across. He sat up in order to prolong his alertness, but he was fading fast. He fell back down to his pillow. He was so tired.

“Alice,” he said, almost at a whisper. “If we’re gonna get to it, we better do it now. I’m about to pass out.”

She ignored him. She kept hunting for that poem of hers.

“Alice.”

Kept hunting.

“Alice.”

Somehow in his addled brain, just before passing out, he wondered, just briefly, why the champagne’s cork was half out when she’d first made the toast. He hadn’t noticed a bottle opener anywhere. Normally, popping the cork was part of the toast. He wondered why it was already half out.

“Alice.”

Still hunting.

He was looking into the maw of an anglerfish a moment later. It was taking small, ticklish bites out of him, like a deep-sea rat looking for a quick snack on an unimportant part of his body’s surface. It did not match the image he had of an anglerfish, which was generally so nightmarish that he wouldn’t want one sitting on his dinner plate looking back at him. He couldn’t figure out why the feeling of it made him want to laugh.

(end sample)

Want more? Come back next Friday, October 16th, at 1pm EST to catch the next and final chapter reveal before the big release on October 20th.

As usual, feel free to comment.

If you want to buy your copy of The Computer Nerd for your own computer (or tablet, or iPhone, or iPad, or whatever you read things on), please visit the official page for ordering information.

Thanks.

“The Computer Nerd” Chapter 4

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for a new chapter reveal for my upcoming e-book, The Computer Nerd. But, before you read today’s episode, get caught up with the first three chapters.

Note: These have been updated as of today, so now’s a good time for catching up if you haven’t already.

Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 3

Update (10/8/2015): Chapters 1 and 2 have undergone slight modifications this week; Chapter 4 has undergone a major modification.

Remember, if you like what you’ve read so far, please support the author (me) by purchasing a copy of the complete story, available for presale at Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and available for a full download at these stores and others on October 20th. What’s the cost? Just 99 cents. Pretty reasonable, right?

Visit the official page here for more information.

Chapter 4

“Crazy Lives Here”

The night that Anston had dropped off his wife at the Happy Place Enrichment Facility, he was nervous. She had said some pretty awful things to him just before the doctors took her to her new room. Even though he was certain they would’ve taken reasonable care of her, he hadn’t known anything of their reputations, individually, or in reference to the hospital, and he didn’t know whether they could be trusted, or if he had done the right thing leaving her there. Because they were doctors, and because he had found them in the Yellow Pages, he gritted his teeth and risked the chance. But he had heard about the horrendous things that sometimes happened within the walls of mental institutions, things like mixed medications, and unwanted molestations, and friendships with sociopaths. When he had left the facility and headed home, presumably to face a temporary life without her, he worried about the condition the residents of that institution would’ve left her in.

But, because she had threatened to stab him in his sleep the moment she’d come home, his concern for her had been less than the concern that he had had for himself. Now, a year later, he was afraid that her time away had strengthened her grudge against him and that she was coming home to do even worse than merely stabbing him in his sleep.

Understandably, he had to remain vigilant.

***

The pain from the pepper spray subsided sometime after he had gotten in his car. He didn’t want to drive while his face was getting pulled apart by the force of a thousand burritos, so he sat in the mall parking lot until he could sense cold air. He didn’t know for how long he’d spent crying that burning sensation away, but he didn’t hesitate to leave once he was confident he could drive again. He was pretty sure he’d never come back here. How humiliating.

Without money for a hotel or a cellphone to call his friends for support, Anston returned home to find, to his relief, the driveway empty and his interior lights off. But he was cautious. He’d read enough news stories to know that the appearance of safety was never enough.

The sun had been absent awhile, and the crickets sang in full chorus, and the moonlight barely glowed as it hovered in its crescent phase. He sat there in the driver’s seat for another moment staring at the house. It looked normal, but it had always looked normal. He leaned forward, rubbed the last of the burning feeling from his eyes, and took a calming breath. He didn’t have elsewhere to go. He had to face his fear.

He decided he would check the front door and windows for damage. He knew she wouldn’t have had her keys on her—he’d told her to leave them on the dresser the day they were “going out”—so if she had come home, she’d have broken in, and the signs of tampering would’ve alerted him to trouble.

He edged up the driveway, scanning his immediate surroundings for anything that appeared out of the ordinary. It was so hard to see, though. His best option for checking the state of his security in such darkness was to search each window with his fingers, hoping none were broken.

The thought of it gave him goosebumps. Normally, he wouldn’t have bothered to check. Normally, he’d have just gone inside, trusting the neighborhood to keep him safe. But he knew that, as long as his ex-wife was out there, he’d have to put up his guard. They hadn’t exactly parted on the best of terms.

He started down the left side of the house, walking in inches rather than feet, minimizing the intensity of his footfalls against the grass. The yard would get darker the deeper he moved through it. Some pockets would be pitch black this time of night. He held his breath and steadied his nerves. It was in times like this that he wished he had bought a dog.

The first window, the one to the garage, sat behind an overgrown hedge. To reach the window, he would’ve had to stretch through the bush. He hated doing that, thanks to the gritty sensation it often left on his skin. Fortunately, the hedge was undisturbed, which meant the window probably was, too. Anston kept his sigh of relief under his breath so as not to alert anyone who might’ve been in earshot.

But, even as he was about to take another step along the side of the house, he stopped. He remembered his ex-wife’s propensity to clean up after herself—a trait she had spent many months wishing, verbally, that he’d adopt—and that she’d move a branch back into place not just to cover her tracks but because that was the position in which it had belonged.

Now he sighed in frustration, a little less understatedly this time. He reached through to check the window anyway, feeling all the stabbing branches and sticky leaves along his arms. It felt like a violation, and there was nothing he hated more than to feel like something was violating him.

The window was locked. The glass, intact. Even though he was glad that this part of the house was secured, he was still annoyed with his wife for making him check. She had always made him check stupid things like that. The fact that she was doing it now when he hadn’t even seen her in a year just irritated him more.

The bushes in front of the kitchen were just as overgrown, but less clumped together than the ones outside the garage. Examining them was easier. He leaned forward and carefully studied the hedge’s plant construction. As his eyes adjusted to the shapes under the dim moonlight, his heart raced. A few twigs were broken here.

But, on closer inspection, and after feeling a branch stabbing him in the back, he realized it was just an apple that had broken the twigs. He moved on.

Another kitchen window, this one in back of the house, loomed over a brick patio infested with weeds that protruded from the cracks. One brick in the patio was missing. He thought about that a moment. Didn’t have an answer. It could’ve always been missing and he just never noticed. He rarely set foot in his backyard. He decided to ignore it.

His heart was calming as he lowered his hand off the kitchen window, but then he nearly vomited from the overwhelming shock that followed. Something clattered through the cluster of outdoor trashcans behind him. Without giving it a second’s worth of investigation, he ran for the neighbor’s fence that faced the garage side of the house and hopped it. Then he ran into the center of his neighbor’s backyard and watched for movement from behind a lawn chair he had flipped over and barricaded himself behind. He heard a dog barking from somewhere nearby. He tried to push it out of mind. He needed to concentrate on whatever moved before him.

He watched a black cat creeping along the brick patio near his back door, but he wasn’t ready to assume that all was well. He waited for several minutes as his heart decelerated once again. He wasn’t about to approach the back windows until he knew he was in the clear.

Then something broke his concentration.

“Who the hell are you?” said a woman to his right.

He glanced over to see the forty-something woman he’d sometimes view walking down the sidewalk first thing in the morning standing in the open doorway to the back of her house. He normally saw her wearing her pink jumpsuit and listening to her iPod. Tonight she was in her gray bathrobe and purple hair towel. She was not listening to any music; she was frowning. Anston stood and began to approach her with his outstretched hand.

“Hi, I’m—”

“Killer!” said the woman. “Sic ‘em.”

Before Anston knew what was going on, an angry Rottweiler came running out from around her legs and rushed for his position.

Anston’s body reacted before his mind could process the problem. Next thing he knew, he was over the fence, separating himself by great distances from a flesh-eating barker behind him, and several blocks down the street before he realized he was gasping for breath.

He started to think he should’ve introduced himself to his neighbor sooner.

Even though he knew his neighborhood, he wasn’t sure where in it he had stopped; he just knew he was now in the middle of some park. There was a playground to his right and a series of picnic benches to his left. A trio of homeless men were hanging out by the benches.

One of them called him over.

“Hey,” Anston said to them when he approached the group, “I don’t really have time to talk.”

“No?” said the man closest to him, an older gentleman who seemed to have one good suit and refused to ever take it off. “Hot date tonight?”

“As a matter of fact…” Anston thought about Rebecca, thought about the abandoned dinner and the coffee and tequila experience he would never share with her, not now. “No.”

“Neither do we.” The man sized him up. “What’re you so nervous about?”

Anston wasn’t sure where the man had gotten the idea that he was nervous, but he did realize a few seconds later that he was still wheezing from his impromptu run.

“I’m not, I’m just—”

“You sure came racing in here like a bat out of hell. Something’s got you spooked.”

“And it must be serious if you coming here, son,” the grizzled man to his left said. “Ain’t no one tell you this place smells like misery at night?”

Anston shook his head.

“I—I don’t know where I am exactly.”

“‘Course you don’t,” said the first man. “Charley, look. Another one’s come to say hi.”

The third man, a younger gentleman—well, younger than the other two—was resting his head on the picnic table, but he sat up when the first man had called his name.

Charley looked up at Anston groggy-eyed. Then he flashed his gap-toothed smile and raised his thumb. Then he went back to sleep.

“Charley ain’t very social,” said the second man.

“I can relate,” said Anston.

The first man raised his eyebrow.

“Usually a dude come here this time of night,” he said, “it’s because he’s running from something. What are you running from?”

Anston wasn’t sure how much he wanted to share with strangers in the middle of an unlit park at the hour when wolves sometimes howled. But he had worse things to look forward to as the night progressed, so he didn’t see the harm.

“A mean dog,” he said.

The man in the suit shook his head and smiled.

“No, that’s not it. We’ve all been chased by dogs. A dog can’t make a man run like that. What’s really got you spooked?”

Anston furrowed his brow at him.

“Why are you so interested in my problems?”

The man pointed to each of his friends and himself.

“Ain’t none of us connected to the outside world anymore. We like to know what’s going on. Plus, if we get on your good side, you might give us money so we can eat tomorrow.”

Anston shrugged.

“That’s fair. I don’t carry cash on me, unfortunately. And I already gave away my fish.”

The man in the suit glanced at the grizzled gentleman and frowned. Then he sat on the table next to Charley and rested his hand on his raised knee.

“Well, we still like to hear of a nice first world problem. Why are you spooked?”

Anston glanced to his left and right in search of the park’s exit. He could see the road to his left behind him. He really just needed to run away. But then he realized his alternative was to run back home to uncertainty, and he wasn’t in that big of a hurry to face the possibility of confronting the woman who wanted to stab him in his sleep.

He decided to tell the homeless men what was bothering him.

When he finished telling his story, the man in the suit shook his head and clucked his tongue.

“That’s a rough tale,” he said. “I can see why you’d want to get so far away.”

“I had a similar story,” said the grizzly man. “Kinda why I’m out here right now.”

“I didn’t commit my wife to an insane asylum,” said the first man, “but I did something just as bad.”

“Yeah, what?” said Anston.

The man pointed his finger at Anston.

“That, son, is none of your damn business. But, I can say this. It sounds to me you have a lot to fear back home.”

Anston nodded.

“I know. Right?”

“Yes, and I think it’s possible you might be the biggest fool in this park, and Charley here once ate a lit match.”

Charley awoke to the sound of his name and showed off his gap-toothed smile. Then he went back to sleep.

Anston didn’t understand the man’s conclusion.

“I’m sorry?”

“Go home,” the man said. “I know your story well, and I can tell you, you need to make things right with her before you make them worse.”

“I told you the part about how she wants to stab me in my sleep, right?”

“They call that penance. I’m hearing your story, and you clearly did the wrong thing with her.”

“No, no, maybe I didn’t explain it right, see, she needed help and—”

The man in the suit raised his palm to silence him.

“I’ve never met her, but I understand her far better than you seem to. Now, listen to me. Make things right. That girl deserves better.”

“But, I don’t think you actually do understand because—”

“Son, I’ve been around. I know things. Milton here knows things. Charley here knows things. We all know that you need to make things right.”

The second man, Milton, had an apologetic look on his face. He nodded. Charley, lifted his head, smiled, then set his head back to the table.

The first man, the one in the suit, pointed to the park’s exit.

“You heard them,” he said. “Make things right. Now get out of here before we jump you and take your credit cards.”

***

Anston was shaken by his encounter, and a bit mind-boggled. He had no idea what the homeless men were talking about. He was no fool. He did what he had to the night he had his wife committed. It wasn’t easy taking her there, and it certainly wasn’t easy leaving her there. But it was the right thing. She needed help. He provided that road for her. He was no fool. They were the fools. He resolved to never again listen to the wisdom of old men who had made worse decisions than him. Technically, he was smarter, as he wasn’t the one spending the night at the park, so he should’ve been the one giving the advice back there.

As soon as he found his way back home, and as soon as he confirmed that the Rottweiler had gone back inside, Anston resumed his perimeter check, making sure that everything was still secure.

“They’re the fools,” he kept saying to himself.

When he examined the windows facing the backyard and saw that each one was untouched, he moved to the right of the house where the two bedrooms were located. These rooms carried the most weight with his ex-wife during their marriage, so he thought they bore the greatest likelihood of her break-in, if she had even come to see him, which was beginning to look unlikely.

“I did the right thing,” he said.

The guest bedroom, which wasn’t any smaller than the master bedroom, was first. According to memory, there were a number of reasons for her to choose this window over the rest. The prominent reason, of course, being that this was the room where he had first threatened to kick her out. When he did finally kick her out, a month later, he was decent enough to send her out through the front door, in the subtlest way possible, and there was plenty of paperwork to follow, but this was the hill where the snowball had formed.

“She was losing her mind.”

She had certainly made her feelings about the matter known to him at the time. In fact, he had almost changed his mind when he’d discovered that she did, in fact, have a lot of passion for something—a quality he had always desired in women, a quality that he was certain after their wedding night that she didn’t have. But part of that passion was in threatening to invite her mother over to talk to him, sternly, about his way of thinking, so he had brushed it off as displaced desire and continued weighing the possibility of pushing her out the door.

“Not my fault she went insane.”

After he had committed her to the “enrichment facility” a few weeks later, he had spent several months with a knife next to his computer mouse in case she had ever sought retribution. He had eventually put it away when he reasoned that she wasn’t coming back and that keeping a steak knife at his desk for months probably wasn’t sanitary. He had also come to the conclusion that, if against all odds she ever were to find her way home, then providing her easy access to the object that she’d threatened to stab him with so close to the bed he slept in was a bad idea. The fact that she could be coming here now to do any of that left him uneasy again.

“I probably should’ve visited more, though.” He shook his head. “God, what did I do?”

He was nervous to forge on, but he needed his answers. He checked the window. It was untouched. He released his grip of the casing and collapsed against the wall. His breathing steadied.

First he was relieved. Then mystified. If she had broken out of the psycho institution, then why hadn’t she come here? As his fingers retracted from the locked window, he pondered the question. Maybe she couldn’t get a taxicab. Or, maybe she’d forgotten where she used to live. Maybe her meds had brought her to a ditch somewhere.

“I shouldn’t have abandoned her.”

After checking the remaining windows to find all but one secure—the master bedroom window facing the side of the house was cracked open, but it wasn’t unusual for him to leave it that way since his house had poor ventilation, and he hated coming home to a stuffy bedroom, and the room was too dark to see inside anyway—he returned to his front door to test his final barrier. Just as he had left it, the handle was locked.

“She’s gonna kill me tonight.”

He held his breath as he reached for his keys. Then he held his wrist as he inserted the key to the lock.

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.”

When he opened it, he reached in for the light switch. For the first time tonight, normal lighting greeted him, though in the company of stale air. Then he waited a moment to see if anything would jump out from around a corner. Nothing did. His nerves began to calm. His home had not yet been compromised, and now he could relax, somewhat.

As he stood just inside the doorway to his living room, he considered a list of variables regarding his current situation. She was still out there somewhere, but he didn’t know whether she was coming here. If she were to arrive, he’d be in trouble. If she weren’t coming…well, the more he thought about that, the more it pissed him off. Even as he thought of it, he knew it was irrational. The last thing he needed was for someone who had threatened to stab him in his sleep to show up at his doorstep. But she was his ex-wife. Wife. The divorce had never been finalized thanks to certain bureaucratic devices that had destroyed his motivation. Surely she must’ve wanted to see him. Even if it was to basically stick a blade in his gut, or wherever her nutsy little imagination had driven her to want. He felt a little insulted that she had ignored him completely.

But that was ridiculous. All of those months spent sleeping next to a crazy woman had clearly rubbed off on him. He refocused his thoughts. He needed a contingency plan in case she were to come home. Well, to Anston’s home. He needed to get the thought of her ever calling this place home again out of his mind.

To come up with the proper contingency, he needed to consider the facts:

  • She hadn’t broken out of the facility alone. Brad Pitt was with her (not the famous one, the former chemist who had a different real name, most likely—Anston had to be careful not to mix the two up), and he was probably equally as dangerous, if not more so.
  • It was possible that the breakout was Pitt’s idea and that she was just along for the ride.
  • She could be traveling around at Pitt’s mercy. Coming here may not have even been on the agenda.
  • If she were coming here, she’d have already come. The breakout had happened hours ago, plenty of time for her to make her way home…make her way to Anston’s home.
  • If she had other agendas to fulfill first, then she’d still be coming here, most likely in the middle of the night while he slept.
  • Given her initial threat, he didn’t have the heart to sleep in his own bed.
  • He couldn’t afford to sleep elsewhere and was probably doomed to face her anyway.

Anston had moved to the sofa while he considered the list of possibilities. Sitting down had often helped him to relax and to think with a clearer head. It had allowed him to come up with at least seven facts, even though he was having trouble coming up with an eighth. It was possible he had thought of everything that mattered.

While he considered the points, he went to the bathroom sink to rinse his face. The half-empty bottle of tequila that Rebecca had brought was leaning against the slope beside the drain, so he moved it to the towel rack. Then he dried his face on a towel that hadn’t been washed in weeks. The stench didn’t even faze him, he was so used to his bachelor’s life.

Regarding the last three points, he realized he was still in significant danger, and he still needed some kind of security measure to keep him safe. The first thought that came to him was a little raw, and probably ineffective in the grand scheme of things, but it was better than nothing. As much as he preferred to catalogue threats before acting on solutions, he was aware of the possibility that he was low on time. Going with the first solution, the gut solution, was probably his best defense this late in the game. So he retrieved his phone from the kitchen and called his friend Matt to crash at his place.

The plan was rough in his head, but it made sense. He figured Matt could sleep in the bed and Anston could snuggle up to a pillow in the closet where his wife would be less likely to find him. Even as the phone rang, he thought of ways to polish the scenario for greater effect. If his wife were to barge in with a knife, Anston would have more time to react if he were in the closet. He could slip out while she struggled with Matt. Or, in the likely scenario that Matt’s presence in the bed would confuse her and force her to halt her advancement, Anston could wait for her to leave without incident, and then he could trade with Matt once she left. It was certainly something that could work. As his thoughts sped through his mind, he listened to the steady drone of each ring: four, five, six, seven. He couldn’t wait to enact his plan. But, on the ninth ring he frowned. No one was home.

He wasn’t about to lose hope, though. He called George next. George was probably better for the plan anyway the more he thought about it. He was kind of a slob and someone Anston didn’t really want sleeping in his bed, ever, but he was tough at least, and he could handle a surprise attack fairly easily. Probably should’ve called him first. But after the eighth ring, he gave up on George, too. They must’ve been on the boat still.

Since he spent most of his free time working on computers, partly due to his social anxiety, Anston didn’t allow himself an opportunity to meet anyone else helpful. He had experimented with dating again, but he couldn’t ask any of his former lady interests, or Rebecca for that matter, to sleep in the bed in his place. That would beg too many questions and lead to too many awkward moments. And his family lived too far away to help. And, as far as his neighbors were concerned, with the exception of the woman who had sicced her Rottweiler on him moments ago, he’d never actually met any of them, and he wasn’t sure that asking them to sleep in his bed tonight would’ve been appropriate.

As it seemed, he was on his own. He breathed in deeply to lower his blood pressure.

As he filled his lungs to the brim with air, he nearly choked. There was something acrid about it. He considered opening a window for better circulation—the place sure needed it—but he didn’t want to invite any unwanted guests inside, either, so he left it alone and told himself not to take so many deep breaths.

Next, he thought of other measures to stay safe. Soup cans stacked against the front door to alert him should she break in through there. Sleeping in the closet was still an option. But the most effective measure in dealing with this, and admittedly his least favorite plan, for it added complication to the mix should things go badly, was to call the police and ask for a patrol car to camp out for the evening. He didn’t want to invite them over—the fewer strangers he had interacting with his business, the better—but he knew they would keep him secure, depending on how fast they were to react to trouble. He was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at least, so he closed his eyes, stuck out his index finger, and dialed the emergency number by touch.

Fortunately, unlike his friends, the police picked up.

“Hi, I’d like to order some protection, please,” he said, when the operator took his request.

The conversation between him and the operator was formal. After giving his address and a brief synopsis of the situation, which he’d kept vague for the sake of simplicity, Anston disconnected the call. A patrol car would be sent in the next twenty minutes or less. He stared out the window as he thought about all the things that could happen to him in twenty minutes or less.

With no other option before him, it was time, he reckoned, to listen to his fifty-plus messages.

He hit PLAY. The doctor from the Happy Place Enrichment Facility spoke first. Then a woman followed, a woman he knew very well—and assumed the doctor knew well, too. Her voice screeched more than it had when she was still actively his wife.

I’m coming for you, she said.

The dial tone followed, then the beep.

I’m coming for you, said the next message.

The beep followed.

Anston began unbuttoning his shirt.

I’m coming for you.

Beep.

I’m coming for you, sweetheart.

Beep.

I’m coming home.

Dial tone. Beep.

I’m coming for you.

Click. Dial tone. Beep.

Anston took down the first few buttons of his shirt to escape the heat around his neck. His head felt light, almost spinning. He didn’t want to listen anymore. Yet, he was transfixed. Her creepy voice still had a melody to it that made his heart race, and not because he was worried about her killing him in his sleep, even if that did accelerate it slightly.

I’m coming for you.

Beep.

I’m coming for you, darling.

Beep.

Hello, valued customer. This is First Regional Bank calling regarding your account. We have some exciting new options for your future banking experience. If you would like to upgrade to a premium account, please press one. If you would like to upgrade to our platinum account, please press two. For our frequent flyer program, please press three. If you would like to speak to a representative, please stay on the line. Para toda consulta en español, presione cuatro.

Several minutes of silence followed.

Thank you for holding. How may I help you? More silence. Hello?

Dial tone. Beep.

Why was your phone busy?

Beep.

I’m coming for you.

Beep.

I’m still coming for you.

Beep.

Anston stood from the couch and walked into the kitchen, his head so light it was ready to crash into the ceiling.

His stomach had behaved so far, but now he wanted to vomit. He poured himself a glass of water. Some of it sloshed onto the counter when he set the glass down.

Something he hadn’t noticed before amid the problems regarding his stomach and safety, but noticed now that he drank some water, was that his throat was dry, even scratchy. For a moment he could taste even the remains of salt in his mouth. Then he noticed something else: a headache. He hadn’t eaten all day. His blood sugar must’ve taken a dive. If his stomach had only given him peace. He decided to test it.

Kitchenware was sparse in his house. In fact, he owned only one pot—The Happy Place Enrichment Facility had gotten half of his assets in the first phase of the divorce settlement; the second phase was still pending. Anything requiring advanced cooking techniques didn’t get made on his stove. Often, anything that involved cooking period didn’t get made here. He usually ordered out. As he thought about that, he felt another pain in his stomach; he should’ve gone out for dinner earlier. But it was too late now. Most places nearby would’ve been closed this time of night.

He placed his single pot on the burner. Next, he scoured his cupboard for something to eat. His choices were tuna fish and soup. He thought the classic chicken noodle soup best for the occasion, as it was easiest on an upset stomach, so he opened the can and poured the contents into the pot. Then he reached for the burner’s knob to cook it.

His stomach—it was ready to go. All other senses vanished in that moment. He could feel it contract, its contents rising. He stopped short of the knob and ran for the bathroom.

I’m coming for you, doll-face, said the machine as he ran past it.

Beep.

The bathroom was grimy in places, with mildew caked in the tiles and stubble lining the sink. Anston had every intention of cleaning it someday. But today was not that day. Today was made for puking.

He forced the toilet lid open with a clang against the tank, but lost control of the seat. It fell as the first wave of vomit coursed through his system and out of his mouth, slicing through its heavy stream. Chunks of food ricocheted to the floor as they bounced off the seat’s edge.

Several minutes he spent over the bowl, retching every last morsel still lingering in his system. The echo of his gagging bounced around in his head, encouraging his stomach’s muscle reflex to go another round. Soon, he was spent, knees on the floor, face just inches from the toilet. And to think he’d almost made some soup.

He got up, feeling nothing left to expel. Then he went to the sink and rinsed his face again. Then he returned to the living room, ready to unplug his answering machine. Then he froze when he got within ten feet of the sofa. His mind fell blank and his jaw dropped. He didn’t dare so much as flinch.

***

She stood there, in his living room, next to his gas fireplace—a lighter in one hand, his fishing rod in the other. Her dark hair covered much of her face, save for her lips and her left eye. And she wore what looked like a guard’s uniform, though burnt. And she had his fishing rod in one hand and a lighter in the other. She stood next to the fireplace. And it was hissing; he could now tell. And the air: still acrid. And she was here, in his living room. Alice had finally come for him.

He suddenly wondered why he hadn’t stolen the pepper spray or decided against all reason to just bring the tire iron into the house after all.

“Hi, honey,” she said. “Did you missss me?”

She was swaying a little and her speech was a slurred.

Anston was still frozen, but he was beginning to sense movement in his arms. His blood had chilled, but his pounding heart was nevertheless pumping it through his veins at record speeds. The biological activity happening in his body, out of reaction to what his eyes were communicating to his brain, stirred him enough to get him back to awareness. It was a tough grasp, thinking with any sense of logic, but he was ready to give it a go.

“Alice, what are you doing here?” he asked without any sense of irony in his voice, perhaps because his fears had now come to a head and he couldn’t actually think straight. He knew the answer, of course; he just wanted to hear her version of the story.

“Weren’t you listening to my messagesses?” she asked. “I came for you. You’re s-supposed to be my husband and we should be together. S-so, here I am. I tried to warm the house for you, but silly me, I for-forgot about the pilot light.”

He glanced over her shoulder to the fireplace. The firebox was quiet, but he could see that the gas valve had been turned on. No doubt carbon monoxide or some other poisonous gas was swimming about the room, or perhaps something worse, something explosive. He didn’t understand gasses very well. He really should’ve kept up with the vents.

“Wow, you’re s-so handsome at the moment,” she said, with an awkward smile. “Wish I could frame your face.”

“How did you get in?”

Her back went rigid as she attempted to correct her balance.

“The spare key, darling. I used the s-spare key.”

“What spare key?”

“My spare key, honey. The key I made when we were still married. The key I made before you sent me to that…institatu…shun.”

She lost her composure and started swaying again.

“You never told me about a spare key.”

“No, of course not. You didn’t think I wanted you to find it. Did y-you? You’d lock me out.”

“Where did you keep it?”

“Out…side. Under the loose brick in the back patio. I always kept it there. I knew you’d never find it-it.”

“Why didn’t you want me to find it?”

“Because y-you’d move it. You never gave my stuff much regard, like my bathroom…for instance. It’s still dirty, I noticed.”

“How long have you been here?”

She had an awkward smile on her face, which was eerie given the juxtaposition it had over the unlit lighter she was holding ever so close to his fishing rod.

“All day. All night. I heard you talking to someone earlier. Who was it? Was-s it another woman?”

He didn’t want to risk setting her off in the wrong direction. He had to choose his truths carefully. Sometimes that meant making them up. He could sort out their accuracy later.

“Insurance agent. Trying to sell me insurance. I told her to get lost.”

“I’ve been waiting for you in the bedroom, naked, all day, except to cook you dinner, shivering from the cold, but you didn’t come for me. Now I’m dressed, still cold, ashamed, afraid that you might not want me anymore. And I want some chocolate.”

“How did you get here?”

She went rigid again. Her blue eyes, which were red with bloodshot, stared at him with intensity.

“Long s-story.”

“Alice, how?”

“Buick. When Doctor Nantucket burned the guard’s shack,” she shook her head as she recalled her escape, “that was so excessive-ive, I couldn’t believe, but I did believe, he said it was necessary, I think, he forced the man to give us his uni-, er, form. Then, when he ran away in his boxers, poor old man, it was such a cold night, I searched his pockets to…”

She was having trouble with her thoughts.

“Alice?”

“To find his keys. Then it was just a matter of finding the lock it fit.”

She closed her eyes. Her swaying was beginning to lessen. Anston noticed a tear welling up just above her left cheek.

“Why did you leave?” he asked.

She stomped her foot.

“Enough questions,” she said. “I came for you, sweetie, and now I’m here. No more questions!”

“Why come for me?”

“That’s a question, Jack! You violated my request! You always violate my request! You never listen to me!”

Anston narrowed his eyebrows. He couldn’t remember why she’d always called him Jack. It wasn’t his middle name, nickname, or anything associated with his real name. Maybe he had said it once as a joke? The fact that she was still calling him that made no sense. But this was no time to correct her. She was crazy.

“I’m listening, Alice. Just tell me what you want. Why are you here?”

He steeled his nerves for her inevitable confession, the thing he had feared since he’d been told she had escaped, and more realistically, since he’d had her committed in the first place. He dug his toes into the floor to enforce his rigid stance. If he were about to listen to her threaten his life, he figured he should at least look ready to fight back.

Her body softened again. There was a twinkle in her bloodshot eyes. And the left part of her mouth went up in a smile.

“I want you to marry me again.”

This caught him off guard. He expected something more sinister, more insane. But then, he thought, this request was pretty freaking insane. Their divorce was never actually completed. Just started. He couldn’t help but wonder if this were some kind of trap.

“You want what?”

“To take me back, as your wife.”

Anston wrinkled his brow. She couldn’t have been serious.

“What’s your game, Alice?”

Her face was now blank. She shook her head slightly.

“No game. You dumped me. Then you put me in that, in that…place, messing up my life, and you never gave me a chance, and I—”

“I put you in that place because you needed it.”

“Says who? I-I’m perfectly normal.”

Anston resisted his urge to laugh at her. Normal was definitely not the word he would have used to describe her. Even her eyes were going crazy as they rapidly changed dilation. She reminded him of that old drug addict he used to see in the park talking to invisible ducks. That guy was always on something. If not for the fact that she was certifiably insane, he’d suspect she was on those same chemicals.

“You screamed in your sleep.”

“I had bad dreams.”

“You cut the eyeballs out of newspaper photos.”

“I wanted to see through the eyes of famous people.”

“You tried to set the cat on fire.”

“I was allergic!”

Anston braved a step closer to her. She noticed, and she put the lighter within a few inches of the rod. She still hadn’t flicked the flint.

“Don’t come any closer,” she said.

“What do you want with my fishing rod?”

She laughed.

“I want to burn it.”

“Why? Isn’t your gripe with me?”

“You love this pole. You love it more than you love me. I have to burn it. You’ve always put it before me.”

“That’s not true, honey. I don’t love the pole more than you.”

She moved the lighter another inch closer. Anston flinched.

“You do love it more than me!”

“Alice, stop! Smell the gas? You’ll blow up the house. Or yourself. Or you’ll burn your fingers off.” He struggled with the facts he knew and scratched his head while he tried to summon any memory of high school science. “I don’t know chemistry, but something bad will happen I’m sure.”

“Then maybe you’ll fulfill your promise to me.”

“What promise?”

“That you’ll be with me ‘til the day we die.”

Anston took a step back. Maybe she understood chemistry better than he did. Maybe she would blow up the house. He had only one chance to get this right. And, quite frankly, he didn’t know what that chance meant. He didn’t trust her in the slightest.

“I don’t love the pole more than you,” he said. “And to prove it, I’ll grant you your request.”

“Which request?

Anston was confused. Had there been more than one? He replayed the conversation in his head on fast-forward. He was pretty sure she had made only one.

“The one you came here for.”

“You’ll marry me again?” Her lips turned upward and her teeth sparkled.

They were still married, he thought. Legally, at any rate. Perhaps she’d been locked away for so long that she’d lost touch with all forms of reality, not just the tangible kind.

“Just turn off the gas, air out the room, and dispose of the lighter.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t turn on the gas.”

Anston was about to challenge her, but stopped when he reminded himself that she was the one with the lighter in hand. It was better not to challenge a fool with the words of a fool. He’d let that one go.

“Okay, just turn it off and we’ll talk about marriage.”

“What’s the proper way to give me a request?”

“Please.”

“Please what?”

“What do you mean, ‘please what?’ Nothing follows ‘please.’”

“Please, sweetheart.”

Anston pinched the bridge of his nose. He was nauseous, anxious, and getting restless.

“Right. Please, sweetheart.”

Where was that tire iron?

Alice considered his words. And she looked normal doing it—no left eye twitching or anything. Not now. She was suddenly in control of her stature. This scared Anston.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she said. “We marry tomorrow. We consummate tonight. I’ll be in the bedroom waiting. You better be in there after you clean up that bathroom.”

“Okay.”

To his relief, she placed the fishing rod back on the hooks—they looked tarnished, as though her very presence had sucked the luster out of them. Then she pocketed the lighter.

“I’m gonna make you a believer in love again, s-sweetheart,” she said. “Mark my words.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll be unclothed,” she said. “You better be, too.”

“Right. Wait for me.”

She closed her eyes and felt her forehead. There was pain in her face.

“And I want you to stop this room from spinning.”

“I’ll try.”

She opened her eyes and stared at him. Then she allowed her hand to fall to her hip. Back to business.

She moved to the bedroom, not seductive with shaking hips, but stiff, like an infantryman heading to war. Whatever sex appeal he’d once seen in her, it had died with her last vestige of sanity. His spine shuddered when she closed the bedroom door behind her.

He shut off the gas valve to the fireplace. Though his head continued to spin, and though all that nausea he’d tried to purge slowly returned for another round, somehow he felt victorious. He cheated death tonight, or at least so far. The windows were next; the place needed some fresh air.

Anston didn’t fancy himself a wise man—he did, after all, hang out with two drunks two days a month. He also kept to himself the remaining days and didn’t know the first thing about choosing good women. But he did value one thing: his father’s instruction. Whenever something bad was about to happen, he thought back to a piece of advice his father had given him.

“Never be afraid of bad luck,” his father had once said. “If it wants you, it’ll find you. Your job is to stand behind the mirror before it breaks.”

On the fishing boat, standing behind his mirror had required George racing in with a pair of scissors. At home, his mirror required a stray cat—preferably a black one for poetic justice—tossed into the bedroom with the door locked. He remembered her allergy. She was asthmatic. A cat would allow enough time for the police to show and for him to escape.

Anston returned to his kitchen for a can of tuna. But then another thought occurred to him. She was lying in the bedroom waiting for him. No one had done that for him since the week before he’d committed her. Libidinal pressure had built to near explosive levels during that interim, and now he had a chance to deflate it. Maybe Rebecca could’ve satisfied that need in time, but that ship had sailed thanks to his detour earlier, and Alice was here looking to satisfy him now, in her odd, lunatic ways.

Then he was reminded of another piece of his father’s advice: “Never piss off the woman who says she loves you.”

He put the tuna back under the cupboard. Perhaps he could overlook her insanity for one evening, or even see if they still had a spark. Computer engineers had to consider all variables, after all. Spending the night with her again was risky, certainly, but stabilizing his sex drive for a change sounded like a sweet deal. Maybe that in and of itself was crazy. But he could be careful. It’s not like this was the first time they’d shared a bed, even though nothing had ever really happened in that bed, nothing memorable at least. It was possible he could suppress his fear under the power of another emotional force. After blowing his chances with Rebecca, it was probably the best option he had.

He went ahead and counted up the knives in the kitchen, just to be sure. It had been a while since he had taken inventory of his utensils, but eight, which is what he counted here, seemed like the right number. Or maybe he had nine. That sounded right, too. Close enough.

(end sample)

Chapter 5 will be released right here at Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm next Friday, October 9, 2015, at, well, 1pm EST, so stay tuned.

Again, if you are getting into this story and want to find out how it ends, please be sure to order your copy today. Visit the official page for The Computer Nerd for additional information.

Thanks.

“The Computer Nerd” Chapter 3

With the October 20, 2015 release date for The Computer Nerd less than a month away, I think it’s time to start pumping up the hype wagon a little, so I’d like to release individual chapters every few days until the day of release. Obviously, I’m not going to post every chapter, as I’ll want to save something for your e-book reading devices, but I’ll be giving you a decent preview of the book if you stick around long enough to check them out.

(9/27/2015 UPDATE: After giving it some thought, I’ve decided that I’ll release a new chapter every Friday until release. This will make it possible to give you a substantial amount of story without giving away everything in advance.)

Because I’m still finalizing the story, the blog version and the e-book version may have some slight differences. But this will give a decent idea of what to expect. If you’d like to comment on the direction of the story (with positive or negative reactions, advice, etc.), please don’t hesitate. I welcome any and all feedback. And thanks in advance if you do post a comment.

If you haven’t read the first two chapters, you can view them here:

Chapters 1 and 2

And now to continue the story:

Chapter 3

“Security Measures”

The problem with his ex-wife was that she was unpredictable, and whatever she was up to, and wherever she was going, Anston knew he would have to prepare for a confrontation. He didn’t know when it would happen, or how, and he wasn’t entirely sure which preventative measure was the most sensible for keeping her away. If she were to approach him midday while he was heading to his car, for example, she would catch him at his most defenseless. That, of course, would’ve spelled trouble. And, though a normal person was less likely to start trouble in the parking lot of a small IT firm, she had spent the last year at the Happy Place Enrichment Facility because she wasn’t normal. Attacking him in public was something she was probably capable of now, especially after surrounding herself with like-minded people for so long. But that would’ve been unpredictable because even crazy people knew that attacking someone in private is better. It’s the reason so many slasher films take place at cabins in the woods or in the heart of a spaceship hurtling ten thousand light years to nowhere. Even murderous nut jobs knew that isolation is scarier than public gatherings when confronted by a stalker (even for socially anxious people like Anston). It was more likely she’d come for him once he was confirmed alone. The truly unpredictable part was in determining exactly when she would come for him. The problem with Anston was that he was usually alone.

But he was a smart guy. He could prepare for that eventuality. If she were planning to impose on him serious harm, he didn’t want to improve her odds by keeping himself defenseless, so he searched his Maserati Biturbo for a weapon. Unfortunately, it was equally defenseless. He searched the glove compartment for a knife, or even a pen, but all he had was vehicle registration slips from years past and copies of his auto insurance. He’d kept the cabin of his car mostly free of junk. There was an aluminum sun shade folded up in the rear footwell, but it was useless as a weapon—its soft edges ensured that he wouldn’t inflict even a paper cut should she attack. Next, he searched the trunk. He didn’t have much in there, either: just plastic bags, discarded candy wrappers he’d forgotten to throw away after his last road trip, and a teddy bear he’d bought for her when they were dating but decided not to give until after they married (as a token of gratitude) and then simply forgot about until his last road trip, which he took several months after he’d committed her. But he did have a tire iron.

Anston gripped the tire iron between his fingers and marveled at its weight. If swung correctly, it could do a lot of damage to an attacker. He slashed at nothing, just to test the force of its swing. If she came after him in her expected psychotic rage, he would have to aim below the neck to keep from putting her in a coma.

Then he considered his desperate thinking. He was holding a weapon that could stop his ex-wife in her tracks, in ways that could prevent her from ever recovering. And he was contemplating using it on her.

He grunted at his shot of lunacy and tossed the tire iron back in the trunk. Why would he hit anyone with a heavy piece of metal, much less the one he’d married once upon a time? He closed the trunk and grumbled as the Happy Place Enrichment Facility popped back into view over the roof of his car. He had to vacate the parking lot before its mental effects rubbed off on him.

As he sped away from the institution, he continued to think about safer measures for subduing his vengeful ex-wife. He didn’t want to put her in the grave, or even in the hospital. He just wanted to give himself time to escape should she confront him. But he needed to consider the likelihood that she could catch him anywhere at any time. That meant he’d have to carry with him some form of deterrent. At all times. It was the best way to handle her while not killing her. He would need a humane solution.

He decided after several minutes of racking his brain that the answer to his problem was sitting somewhere at the mall.

***

When Anston pulled up to the mall’s south entrance, he spotted a group of teenagers loitering on a low wall, each one smoking a cigarette. The girls were flirting with the boys, and the boys were flirting with each other. Most of them had tattoos, and all of them were communicating with each other almost exclusively through rude gestures and filthy language. He wasn’t sure if they were capable of speaking intelligently. He rolled his window all the way down and tested them anyway.

“You kids know of a shop inside that sells Tasers?” he asked.

The boys collectively shrugged. One of the girls thought about the answer.

“Maybe the Screw Yourself store might have one,” she said with a sneer.

“You know where that’s located?”

“Yeah, in the Bendover District, next to the Kissmyass Department Store.”

Anston smiled and shook his head.

“No idea where any of that is.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Next to Starbucks, dude. Everything is next to Starbucks.”

He gave her the thumbs up.

“Thanks!”

Anston drove to the other side of the mall and parked there. He didn’t want to confront these kids when he approached the entrance on foot. They had looked and smelled like trouble. But at least they were helpful. Given their appearance, he was expecting the runaround.

Inside the mall, it was readily apparent that everything was shutting down for the night. Even with the holidays approaching and mall hours extending, it seemed he hadn’t gotten here soon enough.

But he raced through the mall anyway, trying to find someone who was looking for one last sale to make. He really needed a Taser. Even though he’d never used one before, he knew they were capable of stopping deranged lunatics at the press of a button. Plus, there was real power in carrying one, like transporting a handheld kiddy lightning bolt. He’d often dreamt of shooting a bad guy with one. Never thought he’d need to use a Taser on his wife, but it seemed that day had come anyway.

Gates upon closed gates sped past his peripheral vision in a blur, but he didn’t let it dissuade him. A few gates were still half open—most of them clothing stores where girls like the one at the other entrance could change their identities and interests at the flip of a switch—but each one had employees standing by, sweeping floors and preparing for that final pull that explained to customers that all new purchases would have to be made the next day. And ultimately, it didn’t matter because every store he passed was a rip-off of its neighbor. None of these places were likely to sell Tasers.

But then luck smiled on him. He turned the corner to find a Starbucks, a clothing store, a Starbucks, another clothing store, a fitness store, a tattoo parlor, and another Starbucks, and across from that third Starbucks was a kiosk that sold pocket defensive items. And the salesperson running the booth was still there. She was packing up her cashbox, but she was still there.

Anston startled her when he ran up behind her, screaming “Hey!” just inches from the back of her head. Without thinking, she grabbed for one of her products, a vial of pepper spray, and unloaded it in his face. He screamed from the utter pain of it.

“What the hell?” he cried.

“I might say the same to you, pal,” said the salesgirl.

“I was trying to buy one of your products before you closed for the night!”

“You’re a customer?”

“I wanted to be!”

She put her hand on his shoulder.

“Calm down. You startled me is all.”

“Calm down? My eyes are melting in their sockets.”

There was a change in the tone of her voice. She was all sweet and businesslike now.

“So you know the product works well.”

“Good God.”

She released his shoulder.

“Tell you what. I’m closed for the night, but if you come back in the morning, I’ll sell you this bottle for half off. Just remind me that you’re the customer I sprayed in case I forget.”

“I think you should just give it to me now, for free.”

Anston had his hands over his eyes, and he was on the verge of crying. He could already feel his sinuses congesting from the overpowering jolt of two million units on the Scoville Heat Scale (twice the intensity of a ghost chili pepper and a thousand times hotter than a jalapeno) destroying his will to live.

“Sorry, my boss would get mad. But come back tomorrow morning. I think I can give you a discount. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Anston stumbled out of the mall with his face turning inside out. He’d tried rinsing his eyes at the restroom sink, but the custodians had already locked the restrooms for the night. He still tried at the water fountains, but none of them were powerful enough to clear the mouth guard. It was a futile effort. Now he was outside, daring to face the dust floating under the night sky.

Laughter erupted beside him. He peeked through his fingers to see the boys and girls from before mocking him between each puff of their cigarettes.

“Look at this ass,” said the main girl, “like he’d just got kicked in the face by a stripper with standards after he tried to start a conversation.”

The others laughed with her.

“I guess you found the Screw Yourself store?”

Anston shook his head. He’d chosen the wrong exit, would still have to find the right one, and for all he knew, his ex-wife was still coming to reunite in all of her vengeance.

He decided it was best to cry after all.

(end sample)

Read Chapter 4

If you like what you’ve read so far and want to find out where the story is headed, click here for ordering information and additional book info: https://zippywings.wordpress.com/my-books/the-computer-nerd/

Thanks.

Let me know if you’re looking forward to this.

“The Computer Nerd” Chapters 1 and 2

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book, The Computer Nerd, coming to Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo on October 20, 2015.

Note: Book is still under final revisions, so content may change slightly between now and release.

For more information, including book description and pre-order information, please click here: https://zippywings.wordpress.com/my-books/the-computer-nerd/

The Computer Nerd

by Jeremy Bursey

Chapter 1

“Out of Nowhere”

The Little Waffler smelled of seafood—raw, dying seafood. The odor bonded to the floorboards it lingered for so long. Anston could even smell it in his dreams. Though he’d spent only once a month on this vessel, that one morning haunted his subconscious with cities of calamari and skyscrapers made of mackerel. It never stopped. This particular morning a giant man picked his teeth with marlin.

He was just getting out of his clamshell taxicab when something jolted him from his slumber. The fishing reel was spinning out of control, and the whirring was drowning out the sound of the calming waves. He nearly tossed his coffee from the armrest it came so fast. The line took off, speeding hundreds of feet from the boat, racing for the darker regions of the water.

As his coffee settled from its near spill, he gripped the rod before it could escape. He yanked the handle back, trying to keep the catch under control. His feet, which were already propped against the stern’s inner wall, were feeling the full force of his 160 pounds resisting overthrow. His knees shook under the weight.

The power opposing him: immense. It must’ve been a shark, or a squid, or even a whale he was fighting. His arms strained from the force. If a body builder couldn’t handle this, he thought, then a computer nerd like him had no business trying. Of course, he had to try. It was his lucky rod, a present from his favorite father, the biological one with all the advice, the dead one. He had to hold on.

As he planted his foot against the stern wall, he hoped there was more strength in his arms than in the creature’s fins. As his knees began to rise, he also hoped his legs could handle whatever need for power was left.

With his right foot riveted to the wall, he carefully set his left foot to the deck floor and spun, and then propped the pole over his shoulder. He felt the force of the creature drive him downward immediately. The tug-o’-war match was uneven: this thing was winning. The rod was digging hard into his shoulder, and he was almost out of line.

To counterbalance the opposition, Anston threw himself to the floor, firming his body into a plank position. Now he had both feet against the stern wall and his belly flat to the deck, but his knees were collapsing from the pressure. He worried the creature would pull him right through the wall, if it didn’t flatten him or pull the boat down with him first.

With the pathetic arcing force of his forearm, he pushed his graphite rod in the opposite direction. It was enough to keep him in the boat, but not enough to keep his fishing rod in one piece if this struggle were to persist. The tip bent toward the water at ninety-degrees. Any moment it would snap.

“Someone cut my line,” he shouted. His two friends were inside the cabin playing cards, and he had no clue if they were within earshot.

His heart was pounding now. The coffee that was sitting on the table just over his head was moments away from being out of a job. His energy, thanks to that dichotomy of biology where caffeine and adrenaline had similar yet conflicting goals, was spiking while at the same time burning itself away. He was gritting his teeth as he fought to hold himself together.

He hoped someone had heard him, but he knew these guys well. Once they got into a heated match, they would tune out an atomic bomb hitting the next neighborhood over. Even as he strained with the sea creature’s might, he had that ugly feeling he would have to handle this himself. His friends were three steps behind useless once they’d set their attention to a card game.

But, even as he fought to keep the rod in hand, he was convinced he was engaged in a losing battle. His science of preference might’ve been computer-based, but he understood enough about biology, marine biology, and physics to know that he was on the path to a shattering defeat. He needed these guys to hear, and to care. He kept calling out to them anyway, even if he knew they were unlikely to respond.

Anston wanted to try his luck at gripping the reel’s handle, to spin the crank the other way and hopefully reverse fate, or at least stall the inevitable. But one false move and his rod had a date with the ocean floor. Coming from his dead father, this was not an option. The skin of his forearm started to welt.

“Someone cut my friggin’ line,” he shouted again. “Matt! George!”

It took a full minute of him screaming his throat dry for someone to finally respond. George, saddled with lines down his face and a scowl under his nose, emerged from the cabin entrance with a pair of scissors in hand. His neckline was stained with beer and his hair was tussled from lack of a bath. The parrot on his shoulder squawked.

“Keep your voice down, sheesh,” George said. “Matt’s winning, no thanks to you.”

He crossed the tiny deck and clipped the line. The release caused Anston to slam the pole against the floor, nearly cracking it. The force ricocheted the tip ring into the coffee, knocking it all over the chair. At least he was awake now.

“You’re welcome,” George said, as he trudged back to the cabin. “Matt! You better not be peeking at my cards, you nut-waggle!”

“Nut-waggle!” squawked the parrot.

The door to the cabin slammed shut as the parrot’s voice drained to silence. Anston was once again alone, trying to control himself from hyperventilating. His heart was hammering. The blood rushing through his head was giving him a serious tension headache. But the calm was settling in from behind. The storm of battle was passing now.

He sat up, nursing his forearm. The welt tickled, but at a fair price: it would heal and his favorite fishing pole could stay dry another day.

He checked his watch: not even 7 a.m. In all of his monthly outings, that was the earliest the reel had woken him from his nap, and the only time the fishing rod had been put in mortal danger. If his coffee had only lasted, then he could get through the next hour of sitting around and staring at the quieting ocean. Perhaps his friends would let him join the card game instead.

***

The Little Waffler sailed into port around four o’clock that afternoon. The arrival of docked boats and the neighboring parking lot brought Anston relief. For nine hours he did nothing but read computer magazines and watch his friends play War, breaking only occasionally to hang out with the boat’s captain, who refused to let him stay in the pilot house for more than a couple of minutes at a time, citing ADHD as his reason for needing the extended solitary confinement, and not, he insisted, because Anston was mopey and annoyed him and talked about his fishing pole way too much. Anston was willing to take his word for it, but he was convinced the boat captain was just trying to spare his feelings. With the scent of saltwater etched deep into his clothes, and the nightmares of anglerfish threatening to jar him out of bed, and the depressing memories of constant shuffling around from one boring human interaction to the next, he was glad the trip was over.

Holding his rod, fish bucket, which had just a few fish because he had taken them from George’s stock when he wasn’t looking, and one-cup portable coffeemaker tightly to his side, he jumped the gap between the boat and the dock. The dull thud of wood beneath his shoes reminded him that everything was okay now, that no evil sea creature would threaten his father’s last gift to him anymore. Land was a fair maiden.

He cracked his back to loosen his body. Then he headed for the parking lot. When he got there, he found a homeless person next to his car begging for change. He didn’t have any cash to offer him, but he put his entire stock of fish in the man’s shopping cart. It was the least he could do for charity.

When he returned to his two-bedroom house a half-hour later, he was surprised to find a red Audi A3 in the driveway and a woman sitting on the front step to his porch. She was reading a paperback novel called Skimpy Delicious Tarts, which had a cover that featured two strawberry-filled Pop Tarts sitting on a dish in front of two half-naked romance models making out in a cloud of steam, and didn’t notice him getting out of the car. She licked her fingers as she turned the page, and licked her lips as she continued reading, but her stiff posture suggested she was getting bored with the book.

Anston recognized the woman immediately, but he was suspicious to see her there. Not that he had any reason to complain: she was beautiful in the amber glow of the setting sun, maybe the fairest lady he’d ever met, or at least recently. She seemed intelligent, friendly, and just controlling enough to keep things from getting stale, based on the few interactions he’d had with her. And she matched his physical preference closely enough to make him question why she’d even talk to him. Tall, blue-eyed brunette with no discernable tattoos, especially on her lower back, in a pink sundress and gold hoop earrings. And she was sitting on his front step. And he had no idea why.

“Rebecca,” he said, when he ascended the driveway to approach her. “This is a surprise. How did you find where I live?”

She flinched when he called out to her, and then hurriedly stuffed the book in her purse after sneaking in a couple more lines to read. Her face was awkward, but she quickly corrected the position of her lips to force a smile. She stood to greet him and opened herself for a hug when he came within reach. He had to give her a one-arm squeeze thanks to the fishing rod in his hand.

“Social media,” she said. “I had to research you.” She smacked him on the shoulder. “And it took a long time, buster. Why aren’t you on that new Facebook thing?”

Anston shook his head.

“I know a guy who knows a guy who knows the founder. I think it’s a gimmick. Won’t last. Look how quickly MySpace is dying.”

“That’s because we’re not on it together. Here, hold still.”

She was holding her cellphone—one of those brand new Apple iPhones that people had been standing in lines all summer to get—and she angled it so the screen was facing her. Then she wrapped her arm around his shoulder and pulled him close.

Anston shuddered when he saw his face digitally imposed in real time on the tiny rectangular screen. He immediately squirmed out of her grip.

“Whoa, whoa,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to take a picture with you. Something we can’t also do on your cellphone thanks to you not having one.”

He shook his head.

“Uh-uh, I don’t want my picture taken.”

She put her weight on one foot, leaned back, and folded her arms over her chest. She had a smirk on her face.

“Look at you, Mister Self-conscience, who thinks you’re uglier than you are, which you’re not.”

“Not worried about my appearance,” he said. “Knowing my picture is floating through cyberspace gives me the creeps.”

She shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s the digital age,” she said. “There’s no such thing as privacy anymore. Get used to it.” She wrapped her arm around him again. “Come on, say cheese.”

He squirmed out of her grip again. Then he flashed her an apologetic smile.

“I’m not comfortable having my picture taken. Sorry.”

She twitched her eyebrows and shrugged. Then she stowed her phone back in her purse.

“Okay, if you’re that paranoid. Whatever. Well, to answer the question of why I’m here, I tried calling you a few times so I wouldn’t have to come here, but your voicemail is apparently full. Don’t you ever check your messages?”

Anston reached for his keys and unlocked the door. He glanced inside to make sure the living room was appropriate for company. He didn’t usually invite ladies over for the simple reason that he’d often leave items of questionable ownership lying around whenever he’d make an attempt to tidy the place and give up halfway. Some relics of his previous marriage would occasionally make their way into public view, and these relics sometimes fell into the category of garments of a personal nature. Needless to say, the ladies in the past who’d come to visit when he’d forget to put everything back in its place—deep in the recesses of his closet, for example—didn’t usually return. One day, he thought, he’d have to give his ex-wife’s old stuff to a thrift store. He just wasn’t sure when he’d find the time.

Once he verified the room was clear of misrepresenting evidence, he stepped aside to allow Rebecca in. She sashayed past him, making sure to draw his attention to her curving hips.

“What was your question?” he asked, when he realized he had completely spaced out for a moment.

“Don’t you ever check your messages?”

“Yeah. No one ever calls. You sure you couldn’t get through?”

“It’s why I spent too much of my day hunting for your address. You never confirmed our dinner tonight.”

Anston remembered making a date with her, but he couldn’t remember for which night.

“Oh, thought I had. Sorry.”

She half-turned to view him from the corner of her eye. The right side of her mouth was up in a smile, and her lips parted to show off those sparkling teeth. Her hand was in her purse, and then it was out holding an unopened bottle of tequila.

“For after dinner,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye.

She set the bottle down next to the answering machine.

Anston was ready to unwind after his hard day on the sea. It was nice to get away for a bit, but now he was home, and the brass hooks over the gas fireplace were waiting. They had been naked for two days and were ready to dress again. He set the rod in its safe place. The remaining vestiges of sunlight pouring through the gap between the window curtains glistened off the graphite surface, and he breathed a sigh of relief. His rod was home. His rod was safe.

Rebecca watched him set the rod in place.

“I thought you were working today,” she said.

He offered her a quizzical expression. What had he told her about his job anyway?

“On a Saturday?”

“I invited you to a picnic with some friends this afternoon, but you said you were working and couldn’t come.”

Anston thought back to the conversation, which they must’ve had over the phone at midnight several nights ago. He remembered her saying something about a picnic and him thinking he had no interest in meeting her friends or having ants crawling all over his sandwiches under a sappy tree. But he couldn’t remember telling her that he had to work. That would’ve been a blatant lie. He must’ve mentioned the fishing trip. He always went on the last Friday and Saturday of the month.

“Well, I was half right,” he said. “Sorry. I’ll make it up to you somehow.”

She grabbed his shirt by the neckline and smiled.

“You can make it up to me at dinner tonight.” She released his shirt. “The reservation is for eight o’clock, so you better get cleaned up real quick.”

She sniffed his neck. Anston was a little uncomfortable with that, and he backed up just slightly.

“I’d say take a shower first, but it’s a seafood restaurant, so you’ll probably blend right in.”

“Glad to know I’ll pass their admission standards.”

Anston was tired, but he was also nauseous from seasickness. Going to a seafood restaurant was something he didn’t really want to do tonight. Going to bed, or at least plopping in front of the television, was a much more attractive way to spend his evening. But he and Rebecca were still making an impression on each other, and he wasn’t ready to blow it with her. Not yet. It was too early in the relationship to claim that he owed her anything, but he was the kind of guy who thought beyond today, and he figured the less he upset her now, the better his future with her. The best thing he could do was to suck up his evening plans and assimilate into hers. It’s what his father would’ve told him to do had he been here to advise him. He just had to trust that the room would eventually stop spinning.

“Let me get my bearings in order first,” he said. “Had a rough morning.”

She checked the clock on her cellphone.

“You got ten minutes, so don’t dawdle. You’ll love the food there.”

“Says the woman who didn’t spend the weekend on a boat in the middle of the ocean.”

“If you’d actually been to work today—”

“Criticism noted. Let me finish putting my stuff away at least.”

Anston headed for the small door beside the living room that led to the garage. Rebecca called out after him.

“Anyone tell you how handsome you are when you walk away?”

After returning the bucket to the garage and the coffeemaker to the kitchen, Anston reached into his refrigerator for a can of Arizona iced tea and popped the top before bothering to shut the door. The first sip cured his mild dehydration. The next twenty stabilized his unsettled stomach. The last sip fed his hungry trashcan. Then he leaned against the wall and counted to a hundred. He could feel his body slowly recharging, but he knew he needed to sleep in order to fully engage his proper energy levels. He was so caught up in the fantasy of sleep that he’d forgotten about his company.

He began unbuttoning his shirt as he returned to his living room to check his answering machine, only vaguely aware of Rebecca standing just a few feet away. He didn’t own a cellphone—didn’t believe in them—if his friends couldn’t reach him at home or on the Internet, then clearly they didn’t know him—so all of his messages transferred to the device on the small oak table at the end of his sofa. As he got his shirt halfway open, he glanced at the message counter. His inbox was full. Rebecca had been right.

When Anston glanced across the sofa, he found Rebecca kneeling next to the gas fireplace, examining the logs that he rarely used. Even though it was early December and the cold evenings were beginning to stack on each other, he didn’t like his fireplace. He often worried about the flame jumping the firebox and hitting the floor. He used it only on the worst nights of the year when he couldn’t wrap himself in enough blankets or drink enough hot cocoa to warm himself up. Most days he tried to forget that he even had it. Rebecca was doing a nice job bringing it back to his attention, though. She was testing the durability of the fireplace screen, rocking it back and forth, when he noticed her kneeling there.

“It works, if you’re wondering,” he said.

“Might be nice to cuddle next to one night,” she said, as she erected to a standing position and gave him a seductive smile. She was hugging herself and squeezing tightly as she wrinkled her nose like a rabbit. The opening bell for trouble.

“Maybe. I’d have to clean the vents first. Nowhere for the carbon monoxide to go at present.”

She winked at him.

“No need to kill the mood.”

He watched her as she continued to examine the living room. When she reached out to touch the fishing pole, he stopped her.

“Please don’t touch that,” he said. “It’s irreplaceable.”

She offered him a quizzical look.

“I’m not gonna take it down or break it, silly,” she said. “Just want to understand your hobbies better.”

“It’s not a hobby. I fish because my father fished. That’s the last thing he gave me before he passed. I’d rather you didn’t touch it.”

She shrugged. Her mood dipped as she stepped closer to the sofa.

“Okay,” she said. “I understand.”

The vacancy in her eyes suggested she didn’t, but Anston would worry about that later. The important thing was that she didn’t touch it. He didn’t want the oils on her fingers to ruin the varnish on the handle. He’d just had it restored a few weeks ago and didn’t want anyone but him getting his or her fingerprints smudged in. It was the best way he could keep his father’s last gift to him in pristine shape, the shape it was in when he’d given it to him.

Anston returned his focus to the answering machine. Rebecca, who had noticed the high message count, had a stern look on her face. She was somewhere between amusement and legitimate concern when she stared at the calls indicator. She leaned against the sofa’s armrest beside him.

“You must be popular,” she said. “You say you check your messages often?”

Anston shrugged. He’d checked it every day, and the machine was empty when he’d left for the trip the day before. So this was a surprise.

Rebecca reached for his chin and pulled it in her direction so that his eyes had to meet hers.

“Just to remind you,” she said, “you did tell me you deleted your Match-dot-com profile after we agreed to give this a shot. Have you done that?”

He had, but not because she had asked him. He just realized sometime after they had started talking that he was bored with the idea of finding love on the Internet. He had to deal with computers and software and the people who didn’t understand either on a regular basis. Dealing with the Internet, too, was just a chore.

“Yes.”

“And you’ve stopped talking to your old girlfriends?”

Anston took her hand and removed it from his chin.

“I honestly don’t know why I’ve got so many messages. Stop worrying about me.”

But he was worried about him. He didn’t get fifty message in a month, much less in two days. He was nervous that maybe something serious had happened to a family member. A part of him didn’t want to listen to the messages for fear of what the numbers meant. But he also didn’t want to listen to them in front of this woman he barely knew, in case it was something personal. He was tempted to ask her to leave.

But then he thought about how that might look to someone who didn’t know him well. Potential girlfriends in the past had bailed on him over a misunderstanding. Claiming he wanted privacy would likely raise suspicions she had no need to believe in, if patterns were to hold. So, he decided not to say anything to her and just do what he would’ve done had she not invaded his space at all.

Overwhelmed by the vast number of messages—he usually had fifteen a week and thirteen were telemarketing robots—and because he suddenly remembered that he was on a time limit for the dinner reservation, he resolved to listen only to the first. He figured he could check the rest tomorrow when he had a better opportunity.

He hit PLAY. A voice he failed to recognize drifted between the sofa and the table lamp.

Mister Michaels, said the deep male voice. This is Doctor Niles Farea from the Happy Place Enrichment Facility. I’m afraid I need to speak to you over a matter of great importance. Please see me the moment you receive this. I’m afraid this cannot wait. Thank you and have a happy day.

Anston grumbled under his breath as he slowly buttoned his shirt back to his neck. The Happy Place Enrichment Facility: there was a place he had no desire to see again. What the hell could they possibly want with him? He thought he had made it clear to them that he was cutting and running.

When he glanced at Rebecca’s face, he noticed her eyebrows were raised. She was also tapping her fingers against the sofa’s armrest.

“What’s the Happy Place Enrichment Facility?” she asked.

Anston shook his head.

“Nothing. It can wait.”

“I hope so.” She checked the clock on her phone. “It’s a hard reservation to get and I’d hate to miss it over something that can wait.”

Anston took her by the hand and pulled her to the front door.

“Let’s just go. I can’t wait to eat with you.”

He also couldn’t wait to squelch her line of questioning. The Happy Place Enrichment Facility was not a topic he wanted to discuss, ever. The sooner he could redirect her to less disturbing things, the better.

Problem was the topic was something he couldn’t drop so easily himself. Dr. Farea’s call was likely to sit in his thoughts for the next few hours, and that would drive him crazy. There was no way he could enjoy a dinner with anyone, including Rebecca, with the question lingering in his mind about why anyone from the Happy Place Enrichment Facility would feel the need to reach him. Keeping this matter to himself wasn’t going to work all night. He would have to trust Rebecca on this one, as hard as that might seem. If the facility’s doctors believed it was important to contact him tonight, then there was nothing stopping them from calling him again in the future. One way or another she’d find out what kind of hold this place had over him.

He squeezed his eyes shut as he silently accepted the urgency of what he would have to do now. He hoped he wasn’t about to ruin this new relationship with this stunning, provocative woman. But he knew the risk. He knew he was putting things in jeopardy. He still had to take it.

Outside, Rebecca headed for the driver side of her vehicle, and Anston headed to the driver side of his, a brown 1981 Maserati Biturbo that he had proudly bought from an Italian automobile collector a few years earlier and kept restored ever since. When she noticed he wasn’t meeting her at the passenger door to her Audi, she gave him an impatient stare.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He glanced at his Maserati, as if he had made his first of several mistakes tonight.

“My car?”

“Why?”

“Er, how else am I gonna get there?”

Rebecca displayed her vehicle in the same way a game show vixen would display the box of jewelry for a contestant to guesstimate a price.

Anston shook his head.

“Uh-uh, I’m sure you’re a lovely driver, but I’m taking my own car, thank you.”

“Okay, but I know where the restaurant is, and we don’t have time for you to make a wrong turn. Besides, it’ll give me an excuse to come back here for some coffee and tequila afterward.”

Anston felt a lightness in his chest. He did like the sound of some after-dinner company. But the call from the Happy Place Enrichment Facility could not go ignored. He’d have to address it after dinner, and he was sure that Rebecca would not enjoy it there. He had to be straight with her on this one.

“Under any other circumstance I’d take you up on that. But, that call seemed urgent. After dinner, I’m gonna have to see what it’s about.”

“Okay, but—”

“Just trust me on this. I promise I’ll explain soon. Don’t let it ruin our dinner.”

Rebecca opened her mouth to protest, but she immediately caved. She was a smart woman. Even if she didn’t know what the facility was or why it had an interest in Anston’s prompt visit, she could read between the lines enough to understand Anston’s position. She gestured him to get into his car.

“Just follow close and don’t make us late.” She opened the door and started getting into her driver’s seat. Then she shifted midway and stood fully erect again. “And you owe me a midnight coffee for this.”

Anston winked at her.

“Deal.”

The problem was, even though he had wanted that midnight coffee and tequila with Rebecca, and though he had definitely wanted it with her tonight, he knew she was unlikely to ever spend another moment with him after the decision he knew he had to make. The problem was, even though she did not know what the Happy Place Enrichment Facility was, or why it would’ve called him, he did know, and he knew that whatever they were contacting him about could not go ignored, not even for a moment. The fact that he had already gone a day without hearing the message was likely trouble.

So, when they reached the intersection at Main and Cross and Rebecca went to the right, toward the restaurant, Anston silently apologized to her and went to the left, toward the Happy Place Enrichment Facility. Even though he hoped she would understand his decision one day, he figured she’d have moved on by then. Given his connection to the place, it was probably for the best that she got out of the game now while things were still normal.

Chapter 2

“A Crazy Story”

The Happy Place Enrichment Facility was neither happy nor enriching. Instead, it was a cold, featureless complex stuffed with ten-square-foot rooms, large enough for a cot and, in some cases, a window, all painted in brilliantly tooth-enamel colored walls. He’d call it a prison if the people living here were convicts.

Anston passed the front gate, which no longer existed—a broken striped thing that used to be a gate, rather—and the guard shack that had once housed an old man in uniform but now housed a grease mark covering the remaining interior walls of a concrete husk. A sign on the shack wall read: “Help Wanted.”

The parking lot was close to empty, so Anston found a spot near the entrance. If anything happy was to come of this visit, it was that he didn’t have to walk far.

The entrance had broken glass and a piece of yellow tape across it. Another old man in uniform (not the one he had seen the last time he’d come here) sat on a barstool next to the wreckage.

“Visiting hours are over, son,” he said.

Anston reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He showed the man his identification.

“Doctor Niles Farea asked me to come see him,” he said.

The old man unclipped his walkie-talkie from his collar and spoke with his raspy voice into the speaker.

“Maxwell,” he said. “See if Doctor Farea is still in the building.”

Something unintelligible garbled on the other end.

“Thank you,” he said and snorted as if he and Maxwell had just shared an inside joke.

The old man looked into Anston’s eyes but said nothing. Anston turned away, a little creeped out from his birdlike stare. He really hated this place.

The pit of his stomach stirred. He wanted to ask this guy what had happened—really wanted to—but was afraid of the answer. This was the kind of facility, he was certain, that had made no reservations to oddity, and the truth would probably make him sick.

The walkie-talkie garbled again. The old man nodded.

“Anston Michaels,” said the old man into the speaker. More garbles. “Okay, I’ll send him in.”

The old man clipped his radio back to his shirt collar.

“You’re free to enter. Doctor Farea will see you at the reception desk. If you dare.”

Anston was waiting for a sinister laugh to follow his tacky joke, but the old man didn’t give him one. Just another matter of fact, apparently. He shrugged.

Anston was free to enter, the old man had said. Though he disliked the idea of a wasted trip, for once he hoped he’d wasted this one.

He rubbed his belly in an attempt to quench his nerves. It had never helped in the past, but he thought it might work this time. “Mind over matter,” his high school psychology teacher used to tell him. “Placebos work just as well as brand names,” that old teacher used to preach. Rubbing one’s belly in times of crisis, medicine to a tortured soul. Timeless truths from a 1980’s sage; this had to work.

It didn’t work. He still felt the remains of lunch stirring as he passed under the yellow tape, trying to avoid scraping his biceps against the jagged glass. He wouldn’t have been surprised to find his old psychology teacher incarcerated here.

The reception desk could’ve been a short walk—a case for most facilities. But this was the Happy Place Enrichment Facility. The reception desk here stood at the end of a two-hundred-foot corridor lit with fluorescent lights—most of them burnt out, the remaining few alternating between flickering and black (crack-head designers most likely)—and carved from exposed cinder blocks, polished with white paint. Each footfall leading to the desk echoed with a pulsating beat down the length of the corridor, exploding with a pop at the end. Anston fought the urge to hum techno-rave as he walked.

After breaking through the glass-ridden sphincter and down the facility’s white-walled intestinal track, Anston finally reached the room of reception, the place where all men were dissolved into mush, the place where they could either clog the building’s arteries or be flushed into the parking lot as dismantled souls. It was the place where the sane mind came to die.

No one was there. Anston forced himself to sit in a plastic chair while he waited. A lone copy of Entertainment Weekly lay on the coffee table in front of him. He wept silently as Brangelina became his only link to the outside world.

No man deserved this place.

A couple of minutes passed. Glass walls housing offices on either side of reception, each covered from the inside with closed venetian blinds, reflected the flickering lights overhead. As the strobe effect came from all directions, entrancing him, he found his eyes closing involuntarily. Blackness followed.

This was nice, he thought. Silence, save the buzzing of the air-conditioning, and his happy place unfolded—a meadow populated with the latest desktops, all ripe for the—

His body shuddered and his eyelids flung open. This was no time to sleep. The building had a way of implanting nightmares into its inhabitants’ minds. He didn’t want to see anglerfish jumping out of the meadow into his lap while he slept.

He dug his elbows into his thighs and propped his chin with his palms, forcing his eyelids open with his fingertips. Brad Pitt stared at him from the cover of the magazine, with Angelina Jolie next to him puckering her iconic lips. The caption, “Brangelina Dazzles Third-World Country,” smoked from its red-yellow hue. Then he noticed something odd about it. The cover bulged when it should’ve been flat. He opened the magazine to find a dying cigarette on top of a charred healthcare ad.

“Oh, my patient was looking for that,” said a deep voice from the right of the room.

Anston looked up to see a bearded man in doctor’s coat approaching from the hall between the reception desk and a glass office. He carried a cellphone.

“For what?” Anston asked.

“That cigarette. He couldn’t remember where he’d put it.”

Anston lifted the cigarette from the magazine and tossed it into a nearby ashtray. The impact killed what was left of the smoldering filter.

“Doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “So are you Doctor Farea?”

“I am. You must be Anston.”

Anston nodded.

“Nice to finally meet you. My predecessor spoke adequately of you, to put it nicely.”

Anston wasn’t sure what Dr. Farea had meant by “adequately.”

“Good?”

“Sure. So, I am glad you’re here. My news is urgent.”

Anston leaned against the back of the plastic chair. His thighs felt relief as he released his elbows from the impressions they’d left.

“Do I have to see her?”

The doctor dragged one of the plastic chairs by the leg with his feet and stopped it parallel to Anston across the table. He sat down, folded his hands, and frowned. He was very professional.

“Well, ‘have’ is a very loose term at the moment.”

“How so?”

“Well, I guess I should say that ‘having to see her’ depends more on her than it does on you.”

Anston dug his elbows into his thighs again. Somehow, he thought, the discomfort might dislodge unreality from his system.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I suppose the best way to answer that would be to first point out the damage to our front door.”

“Yeah? I saw that. Pretty disturbing image.”

“Onsite video shows that your ex-wife had a hand in creating that damage when she—”

Anston held up his hand in a halting position.

“Hold on, stop there,” he said.

He needed time to process the information that Dr. Farea was feeding him. As a former professional in the computer engineering field and a current professional in the information technology field, Anston needed to approach things in a problem-solution formula, and to achieve the formula he first needed to understand the problem. And the problem here wasn’t the broken gate, as that was a surface issue, and the surface issue was never the real issue. The problem here had a root cause. Most people, not even mental patients, didn’t just decide to one day crash a gate. The woman the doctor was speaking of, Anston’s ex-wife, or rather, the woman he had meant to divorce but never quite got that far—his estranged wife—wouldn’t just cause damage for the hell of it. She was here for another reason.

Anston lowered his hand. His mind was now properly primed for the information he needed.

“Start over,” he said.

Dr. Farea leaned forward slightly. His face was commanding and his breathing was steady. He had this calming demeanor in his eyes, something that the normal people probably appreciated whenever they had to talk to him.

“As a practicing doctor, Mister Michaels, I have taken an oath to protect the privacy of my patients. There are some elements to this story I cannot fully divulge. But those same elements are necessary for you to understand how dire the situation is we’re facing here, that you face. So, off the bat I’m in a complicated position.”

“I understand. But let me remind you that you called me.”

“Yes, of course. So, I will do my best to share the details in a way that does not compromise patient confidentiality while at the same time alerting you to the seriousness of the problem at hand. This includes the details about your wife, whom, if I have my information current, you no longer have direct power of attorney over.”

Anston gestured him to get on with it.

“You see, Mister Michaels, we’re more than a mental fac—er, an enrichment place. We’re a development center, a place where dreams happen. Our northern sector specializes in various chemical therapies, where the hyper can become stoic and the whiners can become content, so-to-speak. For those who fail to change their lives on their own power, we develop the resources to help them…through chemicals mostly.”

“Right, you make them ‘happy.’ I get it. What’s this have to do with my wife? Ex-wife?”

Dr. Farea oscillated his sights to various focal points around the room, with a strong focus on the table, the magazine, and the dead cigarette in the ashtray. From time to time he glanced at the wall. But he was limited in how often he made eye contact with Anston. As he thought about how to accurately answer this question, perhaps in an effort to squelch any mention of details that qualified as confidential, his eyes moved down to the table. His hands, which people would often use to emphasize important story elements, were still resting comfortably in his pockets. Whatever the doctor was about to say, Anston would have to pay close attention to it. Anston leaned forward to listen.

“Well, it seems that during her community time—off the record, we give them an hour a week to socialize, though most don’t realize it because they’re off in their own little world—she befriended one of our old-timers, a former colleague of ours, a chemist turned sociopath. For confidentiality reasons, I cannot give you his actual name, so we’ll call him, er, let’s say Brad Pitt. Well, the friendship seemed innocent at first because Mister Pitt had been induced with sedatives on a daily basis, so his tendencies toward rampant chaos had been nullified, and thus, his passions with it. But his mind was as clear as ever, something he hid very well from us, and he apparently used it to lure your wife, ex-wife, into a scheme that we believe culminated into what you saw upon entering.”

“Stop.”

The doctor looked up from the table. He was poised to continue his story.

Anston held his hand up again and took a moment to process the information. He spun the ideas in his head for at least half a minute, imagining this budding friendship between two “happy” people who somehow conspired to damage the facility’s front entrance, and what that meant to him economically and socially. Then he contemplated the missing pieces to the doctor’s short version of the story. When he lowered his hand, he glanced at the doctor and frowned. He reasoned that the best way to understand Farea’s point was to match his demeanor and tone.

“So, you’re telling me my wife escaped?”

The doctor’s frown dragged his eyes back down with it. Anston was certain he was looking at Brad and Angelina again.

“It’s complicated, Mister Michaels. We lost some highly potent chemicals in this transaction, as well as a couple of our best guards. You must understand that we’ve taken serious hits from all angles. But we’re committed to doing what we can to rectify the problem. Once we’ve finished securing the area and rebuilding our guard shack, we’ll be ready to take her in again should the police or Mister Sanders catch her and her chemist friend, Mister Pitt.”

Anston cocked his left eyebrow.

“Mister Sanders?”

He waited for clarification. Dr. Farea, who seemed quick to understand nonverbal expressions, something Anston was not particularly great at himself, not unless he knew the person well, bit his lip as he thought about how to explain this Mr. Sanders to him. He fidgeted in his seat as he considered his words.

“Er, how do I say this?” He was now avoiding eye contact. “We have a policy around here to leave the police out of our business as much as possible. We call them if we have an insurance issue, but for the most part we keep them away. Sure, they may apprehend our escapees if our escapees commit a crime, but as a rule we do not alert them to the possibility. We find that we do better to handle things ourselves. The police often just get in the way and complicate things. We try not to encourage that.”

He returned his focus to Anston. Anston was not a fan of his no-police policy.

“Mister Sanders is our guy who ensures the police aren’t needed,” Dr. Farea continued. “When our patients escape, he is the one we send to find them. He is usually very good.”

Anston shook his head in disbelief. He was certain he hadn’t heard Dr. Farea correctly.

“When they escape?” he asked. “As in, this is actually a thing that happens sometimes?”

“We do not alert the media to this, of course. As I said, we like to keep our issues within the family. But yes, we do have escapes sometimes. We do not usually have such violent escapes. Your wife and Mister Pitt are also very good, it seems. But I am confident Mister Sanders will catch up to them eventually. Hopefully.”

“Hopefully?”

Anston drew a labored breath. His stomach wanted to heave all that had survived his day of digestion, with his bowels wanting to expel the leftovers. He knew exactly what this situation meant. It didn’t take a rocket scientist, a psychologist, or a computer engineer to figure out what the doctor, in his most tactful way to warn of danger without damaging his oath, was actually saying here. Anston’s safety was now at risk. If his ex-wife was capable of such destruction to an innocent guard shack, then there was no telling what horrors she could introduce to the man who had volunteered her to this den of nuts. He was probably best to stay away from home, especially given the details of their last encounter.

He reached into the ashtray and picked up the cigarette. He twirled it around his fingers as he studied it. Such a simple object, so little to comprehend about it. How he wished he was a smoker so he could do something about the tension rising into his chest.

“Think I could get a room here tonight?” he asked as he set the cigarette back in the tray.

“I’m afraid we do not have the space to admit mentally functional people like yourself without the proper recommendation from another party. Perhaps you might consider a hotel for the next few weeks?”

If Dr. Farea was giving him that much of a window, then this Mr. Sanders he was swearing by must not have been that good.

“Perhaps I’m a laid-off computer engineer who has to moonlight as a tech support operator just to keep his refrigerator stocked and can’t actually afford that.”

“Then maybe you have friends or family who could put you up?”

Anston thought of Matt and George. They were probably passed out by now from their day of drunken card games, or still on the boat playing War, but it was worth a shot calling them.

“Could I use your cellphone?” he asked.

The doctor placed his phone in one of his numerous coat pockets.

“I’m afraid I don’t let people use my phone. I have a germ phobia.”

Anston stared at him, his mouth now ajar.

“You kidding me? You’re a doctor.”

“I work in a sterile environment. I never leave this building. I invent my own food if I can help it.”

“Then who do you call if you never leave here?”

The doctor thought about this.

“No one, actually. Everyone I know works here. And I pay my bills online.”

“Then why can’t I use your phone?”

“Because I’m a germophobe. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get back to work. My patient was hyperventilating earlier because he couldn’t find his cigarette and I imagine he hasn’t stopped.”

The doctor stood, putting his hands behind his back.

“I’d shake your hand,” he said, “but I don’t know where it’s been. Have a happy evening.”

“What about reception’s phone?”

“Requires a password. Sorry.”

He spun away, leaving his chair where it was, and returned to the hall.

Anston stared at his back until he disappeared.

He hated this place.

(end sample)

If you like what you’ve read so far and want to find out where the story is headed, click here for ordering information and additional book info: https://zippywings.wordpress.com/my-books/the-computer-nerd/

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Let me know if you’re looking forward to this.

UPDATE (9/25/15): I’ll be releasing a few more sample chapters between now and October 20, 2015, so check back often to see where the story is headed. Feel free to comment on any chapter you wish.

You can continue the story with Chapter 3.

My Lament

March 23, 2014:

Note: The following is an excerpt from a letter to a friend that I had written on October 17, 2009. The main question she asked me had to do with formatting a manuscript. But this friend also asked how things were going with me after I had apparently told her I was dealing with something that had rocked me to the core. I had replied with the answer to the formatting question as technically as I needed to make it simple to follow, which I’m not posting here, but lost all dryness and broke into an impassioned response when it came time to address the matter of how I was doing.

This is probably the truest of my thoughts about the relational misses I’ve had in my life, since I had no desire to filter anything out or try to think through it logically when I wrote it. Looking back, I can see how my life’s journey really was quite unfair at times. This letter is extremely personal, and the breakdown of things leaves me quite vulnerable, but I’m posting it anyway because we men rarely talk about what we’re thinking, even if we’re thinking it anyway, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever be this raw again. Granted, I’m posting this four and a half years after I had written it, and the events to trigger this impassioned writing are long behind me now. But the circumstances that brought me to this state sometimes repeat themselves, so I thought it might be worthwhile to let others see how badly they affect me when they do.

Just for the record, I know that we, as men, are supposed to suppress our moments of anguish Ron Swanson style, but I also know how unhealthy that can get if we’re turning our hurts into violence, anger, or other unwanted outbursts, so I don’t care how the following might be perceived. It’s healthy. I probably felt better for writing it. I might’ve even believed it would put me on the path of healing. So, get over it. It’s fine.

Also, I’m withdrawing names and identifying words to protect the privacy of those that I refer to in my response. It’s no one else’s business who they are.

October 17, 2009:

I’m not sure the thing going on with me is fixable. Years of wounds came to a head this week and I’m tired of dealing with it. I feel like the more I deal with it, the more the problem wants to persist.

It is what it is. There’s nothing I or anyone can do but to accept what sucks. I’ve done all I could to keep encouraged throughout the disappointments, and I just don’t have it in me anymore.
It’s one of those gaping holes that God can fix if He wants, but just hasn’t really given me the help to fix, and I need it fixed, and there’s nothing else I can do about it but to wait for the repair. It hasn’t been fixed. The specific thing that brought all this out is irreversible. The broader thing is unattainable under the circumstances I’m given. And it’s a struggle to face the day anymore. I’ve had all I can stand, and yet, the solution is absent. And now my heart is broken. However, I’ll get through it because life likes to distract me.

Yes, I found out that someone I once loved and pursued, but never won over, got married recently. And in all those years, I had never been able to stop thinking about her. I buried it because I couldn’t do anything about it. But every time I see her face it all comes back up. And when I saw her wedding photo, it all came back up. And call me emo if you want, but I just don’t know how to deal with something like that. She wasn’t perfect, and probably not even the best girl I knew. But my heart was with her. And I don’t know how to get past something like this. I think there’s something wrong when my lament of this has already outlasted my lament over my dad’s death and my uncle’s death.

So, as you can see, there’s nothing anyone can do. I wasn’t able to win her over and I had to release her. And I feel gypped because I haven’t been able to love anyone the same way since. The one or two that I tried taking the chance on, they were surrogates for a dream that was already crushed. They were good for who they were, but they never carried the weight on my heart that she carried, and I don’t feel like there’s anyone out there who can get my mind off of her. I prayed for someone better to come along since 2002 when I got the initial rejection (after waiting four and a half years for the right time to speak up—who does that?). And each one that I thought might’ve been that answer turned around and ignored me or rejected me, too. And nowadays the only girls I meet are just that—girls. [Late teens, early twenties]. Big freakin’ whoop. All they ever do is talk about their boyfriends. It’s irritating. Everyone else is married or unsuitable in one way or another. And I feel like there’s no way out of this misery. All I can do is fall into a distraction because if I’m not busy, my mind goes right back to the heartbreak. What sucks most of all is that I want to be happy for her. She’s happier now than I think she’s ever been. She certainly seems that way judging by the last couple of e-mails I got. I want to be glad that she finally trusted someone enough to take that leap. But I feel like this is preventing me from having any real excitement for her good fortune. And I don’t know how to get past it. She deserves the joy. She put up with a lot from a lot of people over the years. She deserves her happiness, and I want to feel that for her. And I’m pissed that I can’t let go. And I’m pissed that I never found that adequate “replacement” since the day seven years ago when this reality was officially on course. I’m pissed that no replacement has come since then. No man my age can handle this, and I’m annoyed that I’m still expected to. No one can say I haven’t tried. I’ve lost friends—other people I cared about—because I tried. But what can I do when every woman I meet refuses to take a chance, or even to return a phone call? I can’t change anyone else’s mind or heart. I can only take care of myself. I can only make my own decisions, no one else’s. And if everyone I meet is on another page, that doesn’t really help. And then the girl I loved most marries someone else and I have no one around to help cushion that fall (or better yet, to invalidate it, because a better woman would’ve made this inconsequential and would’ve given my heart permission to celebrate the transition into a new way of life). I’m tired of doing everything alone. And I’m tired of every journey I take leading to nowhere.

In the end, it’s one of those things that most people will treat as a common part of life, as something that really doesn’t need to be lamented. I was never with her. We were always just friends. In the end, this is nothing more than something a teenager would stress over. But when I consider how I responded to her, versus everyone else, I feel like this is an unfair conclusion. I don’t lament the people who lose the hearts of those they never respected. I lament those who choose badly. Love isn’t lost if it isn’t actually love. I feel like I’ve suffered a loss on the scale of death. It feels exactly the same. Am I being dramatic? Or was she that important to me? Did seeing her face really quiet me that much?

I rarely wish I could turn back time and do something different. I tend to accept what is, as is, and adapt accordingly. This is the one time, however, that I wish I had the power to travel back to 1998 and start over, to go through all the hellish moments I suffered again if there was any chance at having a new outcome (or to at least relive the moments when I still had hope). The fact that this, too, is impossible kills me. I don’t know what else to do now. All my other prayers, physical, financial, everything seems to get answered without a beat. But this, the emotional needs, the relational needs—it’s as if none of this is important enough to warrant an answer. I’ve been praying for a way out of this dread in one form or another since I was in high school. I thought for sure it would come to pass before I’d have to suffer something like this. And yet, here I am, miserable, hopeless, my imagination for what better would even look like lacking, and I feel like no one gives a crap.

This isn’t something I like to share. One of the reasons I drove her away was because I’d express my sadness openly to her. But what I could never tell her was that her involvement with someone else was the cause of it. Now, I’m just sad. And I have to bury it because no one in this life knows how to handle other people’s heartbreaks. If I try, that’s it for me.

I’ve fallen into a no-win situation. And it was all because I took a chance.

I hate everything there is about this thing called singleness. It’s become a poison to me. And all anyone ever cares about is being a friend. Not a date, not an option. Not that I’ve found enough women to want to date, granted, but that in itself is a problem. I think I hate this town, too. And this society. This busy, busy, kill-the-human-heart society.

I used to look forward to each day. I had to walk through Ikea yesterday just to feel like a man with hope again. This is ridiculous. I may not be much when I’m miserable, but I’m full of great qualities when I’m not. And these girls today won’t pay attention to the days that I’m not. They only seem to look at what’s unrealistic—that I can only be a “safe” friend, and that I’m always “down.” I regret the letter I sent to the girl from [location redacted]. She genuinely freaked when she read it. Despite my encouragement, generosity, and whatnot, she never saw the possibility of interest coming. And when I made it clear, she didn’t want to know me anymore. This is what I’m given? These are my choices? Take no chance and maintain a stale friendship or take a chance and lose the friendship? This is what these women give me? Who the hell do they think I am? Some emotionless retard? That “nice guy”? The one who’s a male girlfriend? Such lack of consideration! No wonder I’m a mess.

I don’t know what it takes to get some respect for a change. I don’t know why the guy she married was able to win her over, and why I never had the chance. I don’t know why I was ever led to her when it was clear I’d fall in love but never win her over. And I don’t know why in almost twelve years God never put anyone more suitable in my life. My years are slipping by fast. For every day I’m alone, that’s one less day I have to spend with the one that maybe will finally supplant [that girl] from my heart. She can be out there, if she’s made right, if she’s positioned right. How can it be that in twelve years, such a woman hasn’t arrived? I’m not bad. I’m not a lost cause. Why am I treated as such?

Sorry, [friend], I didn’t think I’d go off on this tangent. I kinda forgot I was writing a response to your questions. But that’s what you get for asking.

So that’s what’s going on. If you think you have words of encouragement that would help, then feel free to try. I can guarantee, however, that this is entirely on God’s shoulders to provide, and nothing’s gonna change until He moves in my favor. I don’t think it’s free will when I’m not given an adequate choice in the matter. I suppose those frickin’ websites like match.com are an option, but your experience has proven that they’re not much of one. If God won’t provide someone suitable to me in my everyday life, how can I expect to find one in the cyber world? That’ll just open me up to worse decisions. The Internet seems to be a breeding pool of liars and fakers. Last thing I want to do is to go out with someone who has a liking to pot or some tattoo fetish (though, why would they ever reveal that in the questionnaire?). I’m not even in the dating game and I already hate it. And I hate how impossible it is to even enter it.

Never in my youth had I thought I’d become the crusty old man. I’m really disappointed with the choices people make, including my own.

I don’t know if this can be fixed. It took me years just to get past my negative nature. I feel like in one swoop it all came back. And all it would’ve taken to repel it is some courtesy, like returned phone calls, regardless of how many houses or states away a girl might live. I feel like hope is a dead weight. The girl I loved most is forever with someone else. What else is there left to say? I can’t bear it anymore.

So there you go.

—Jeremy

[Note from March 23, 2014: I’ve long since gotten over the event that triggered this response, and I’m legitimately happy for the person this was largely about—because I’m still occasionally in touch with her, I have been able to express this legitimate happiness and well-wishing to her in the years to follow. But, as earlier and later journals will testify, the core problem of being poorly matched has not gone away. I have since met better women, which wasn’t the case when I wrote this, but they’ve put me in the same category as these earlier ones, so nothing has changed. Well, I don’t make a big deal about it anymore, so that’s changed. However, I couldn’t say whether the experiences have made me stronger or more callous. There’s a point when you have to throw up your hands and say, “Whatever.” That’s basically where I am now. I’ve stopped looking. Trying to stop praying about it. Sometimes I get thrown into a situation I didn’t ask for and find myself dealing with the aftermath. But that’s the nature of life. A good woman can still hurt me. Whenever I meet one who is unattached, I wonder if God has a plan for us. It’s natural and inevitable. If all goes well, I’ll stop thinking that before it causes me to walk down a troubled path. Sometimes it’s not enough, though; sometimes I can still believe in her, foster a little hope for her, and sometimes she can still find a way to hurt me. But I’m convinced that none of them intend to, and none of them actually know when they do. I have a habit of keeping to myself in those moments so I don’t end up hurting them back. That’s probably unhealthy for all involved. I’m trying to get better about that.

So, I hope this has opened some eyes. At the risk of moving into another tangent, I really do hate being shunted to the side without getting a fair consideration. Don’t get me wrong; I like the friends I have, quite a bit. But friendships alone can’t start families, which I want, and friendships can’t survive when another party comes in and sabotages the time needed to maintain it. If you’re single, a good woman, and I don’t find you repulsive, then don’t assume that I’m disinterested. At least consider me before you friend zone me. If I have to keep dealing with heartbreak over and over, then I’m gonna stop taking on new friends, just to let you know. Trust me, I have enough. I can’t keep up with the friends I already have. I don’t need new ones. I want a companion. A partner. Please stop assuming I’m not good enough for that. Trust me, I am.

Maybe you think I’m not interested because I don’t officially ask you out on a date, so let me clarify something important here: I don’t put walls around my relationships. I prefer to start with friendship, if I’m being honest. It makes the growing process and the looking back at where we came from all the more exciting for me. But, if you’re single, a good woman, and you don’t repulse me, don’t assume our time together doesn’t count as future-building just because I don’t end the night with a kiss. If anything, I’m trying to make the point that you’re worth the journey toward romance, and I don’t have to see you as the latest lipstick flavor of the week. It’s called wisdom and forward-thinking. It’s called consideration for you. It gives me a better chance to actually love you. I’d like to think that’s an attractive quality. Jumping into a romance without knowing you well is a bit like drawing a gun on me and saying, “Love me, dangit!” How can I legitimately love you if I don’t even know you? That’s why, if you’re a good woman, I want your friendship first. I want to choose you for who you are, not for who I hope you might be. Quit punishing me for doing things smart. The only thing you’re accomplishing by putting a glass ceiling over my head is to ensure that you and I have a dying friendship. That does not incentivize me to give you my time. The last thing I want is to knowingly walk into a situation that will inevitably rip my heart out. So, please stop doing things backwards and please stop being unfair. Yes, you should put the glass ceiling over me if I repulse you or don’t line up with your goals in life or simply can’t work well with you. But I’m asking you, please don’t do it just because we’re friends. Awkwardness goes away, often quickly. It’s nothing more than a state of mind. Don’t damage my heart, my faith, and my sense of hope because you’re afraid of a passing awkwardness. It’s shallow and it makes you look bad. Be realistic here: Taking the glass ceiling away is the only way we can keep the friendship alive in time. I hope I don’t have to explain why. If you’re rejecting me because I didn’t ask you out on a romantic date the moment we met, then you clearly don’t understand me. I will ask you out, officially, when I know we’re good together and can work toward a future. Not before. I have no desire to commit to the wrong woman, even if she’s single, good, and beautiful. Don’t expect me to dive off a hundred-foot cliff into shallow, jagged rock-filled waters because you have to label your men “friends” or “lovers” and not simply see them as just “good men.” I’m not crazy.]