The house I unknowingly shared with The Wiley during the time of the darxne.ss was perfect, airy and modern. The curtains and windows were remote-controlled, the bathtub was clawfooted and the master bedroom was warm. On a day of gale-force winds flattening muddy litter against my shins, I walked the perimeter of my new neighborhood park to a shop I’d noticed, Well Sprung. I carried rental keys in an envelope; the year was 2003 and I remember the date was April 1st because the mattress salesman tried out an ill-considered joke, some halfhearted quip about bedbugs.
I picked out the widest bedframe in the catalogue, a California King in walnut. All that empty bedspace seemed an inhospitable tundra I’d have to teach myself skills to survive. But the opposite was more terrifying: to lie in a single-person bed, arrayed like a corpse.
Darkness was, for several weeks yet, still unremarkable, mundane like the weather, as controllable as indoor temperature. The loneliness, though, was very bad. My response was to sleep star-splayed in the most lavish bed money could buy, piping a nightcap of Vivaldi and Bach through the room’s expensive sound system. The first thing I learned about The Wiley, in retrospect, was that it didn’t like to sleep alone either.
My perfect place with its two minute walk to the train, that rose-bright dining room I kept decorated with weekly deliveries of wildflowers—to The Wiley, was it a beacon in an abyss? Did The Wiley know the abyss as a thing distinct from its own mind? And what does it mean that I—with my cocktail parties and keynote speeches of today—shared part of my life with a creature made of loneliness?
I know the beginnings of the darxne.ss better than anyone else on the planet, save for Dexter or Jon. I was having dinner with a journalist that night. We were on a date. It was the first time I’d put any effort into human company since my move.
In my life before that moment, before that bed, before that perfect house, I’d almost never been alone. At anyBuddi, work edged into late nights into early hours, when, with the help of pizza and beer, we’d spin it as fun. Dexter and Jon and I, we led from the front. What else could we do? Our raggedy bunch of software engineers hired out of prestigious programs, padding around in mismatched socks, coke-bottle glasses, zippers of piercings down ears or eyebrows—we’d gestured at a mirage of stock options shimmering in the California sun; we’d sold them our dream. We were the first to unroll sleeping bags in the conference room so we could spend a few extra hours eking out a bug fix. The deserted office droned; I envisioned a giant refrigerator hurtling through space, organic matter inside it wilting. Sleeping bags made it natural to share more than feature ideas in the thinkless hours of the night. Sometimes it was with Dexter, sometimes with Jon, sometimes it was with both. Carpet squares abraded elbows and knees. An LED in the smoke alarm watched us like the red eye of God.
The journalist and I, we clinked glasses. A Château d’Yquem, the 1995, at $160 a bottle. Our second such bottle. I’d sold $23M of stock just weeks before—the culmination of a brutal crunch to launch Tickly’s list of deal-breaker features before they bought anyBuddi out. Four hours of sleep a night for five months, and after the ink dried I’d had a hard time resigning delicately. No one understood. I was the only woman on anyBuddi’s founding team. Everyone was counting on me as an equal opportunity mascot; toward the end they’d even seen that I did an important job. Now, a few months and a long flight between me and anyBuddi, Vivaldi trilling me to sleep, I’d log into internet banking just to look at all those commas.
The journalist eyed me. I wanted to go home, but ordered steak. My mother had phoned the day before. My father whispered to her: tell her to visit, is she eating, can she send money for Roxy’s vet bill. All my mother said, in her caramel continental lilt: My dear Manon, call someone up. Leave the house. Drink wine.
The journalist’s name was not memorable enough to stay with me. I put the expensive wine to my lips and the restaurant’s lights went suddenly out like a blanket descending. Romantic, exclaimed the journalist, bringing his face close to the tablecloth, to the lit tealight bobbing in a glazed clay bowl. His nostrils cast long shadows on his lip. I swallowed my wine. My phone vibrated.
Mannie.Did we ever patch ABreplicator 4.2’s auth token vulnerability.Dex.
The coincidence of these bad portents spooked me. Did some part of me instantly connect the events? The code I’d written on zero sleep to deduce network links and plant an innocuous anyBuddi registration prompt, and the statewide blackout, the hurried press release blaming a system fault? If so, it was far from my mind that night as I moved by candlelight, wine-drunk and searching, on top of the journalist. Underneath me, he spread his arms wide. His fingers scrabbled in the covers for the edges of the mattress; he made one driving noise over and over and over, then before he came he said So romantic, his voice pleading.
I asked to be held after, a concession. I can’t be touched when I’m trying to sleep, the journalist said. It wakes me.
But I remember briefly rousing, later, to a guttering candleflame and damp, sinuous arms around me, gently patting at my breastbone, at the space over my heart.
My life all these years later is almost normal.
I sometimes wonder whether the right response to the trespass of a creature made of loneliness was to become, as I have, a swanning figure in the background of every award banquet, dignitary speech, and black tie function. My immense collection of glittering gowns, of feather boas, all precisely arranged by hue. The consignment store clerks who love me, who remember to ask after Gennady the cockatiel. Today, miles away from the house of 2003, in a villa of my own design, the closet doors are glass, the doors to the bathrooms frosted glass. I can’t tolerate the thought of shutting out the light, or of faceless observers lurking close but unseen. If this thought happens to enter my mind, and it does from time to time, I have the means to medicate myself to sleep.
The chitchat with dignitaries, the yuzu old fashioneds poured over a shot of absinthe—these plug the cavity of companionship the way a temporary filling restores a tooth. When the other socialites ask me about anyBuddi, meaning the story of my considerable fortune, I tell them everything except the darxne.ss. When they ask about the darxne.ss, I tell them about the beginning, not The Wiley, not the end.
I rose to a high sun the morning after the restaurant blackout. I didn’t need electricity or words to show the journalist out, to make myself a pot of coffee on the gas range, drink it black with one sugar, which meant I had no opportunity to notice the warming carton of milk in the dusky fridge. My mug left a brown crescent on veined marble quarried somewhere in Italy. The day was approaching noon. Through the blinds, sunshine coated my lashes. I was simmering in that halfway place between waking and sleep, thinking about almost nothing for perhaps the last time in my life.
Then I remembered Dexter’s unanswered messages about ABreplicator, the pair of lit candles I’d left by the bedside. I tore into the bedroom to find the candles out, burned down to stumps. My phone, two bars’ battery and five missed calls, 109 unread messages. I’d been added to a message group, Dexter and Jon and anyBuddi’s lead developer, Gibson. The latest message, from Jon: Not good guys.
Hey, I texted.
Manon, where the hell have you been.
The sun went behind a cloud. The room started to feel close. I flipped a light switch, which did nothing, so I flipped it back. I heard a noise I thought was the pipes, pic-pic-pic. The idea of night falling with no light to stop the world shrinking to a smothering point—this thought warbled through me.
Mannie, phone lines are up, you can get online, use dial-up.
OK. Dex, give me access to the repository.
Again: pic-pic-pic, the pipes. I sat down on the edge of the bed. A condom wrapper sailed to the floor.
Mannie something’s hijacked the ABreplicator interface, wrote Jon. Our auth tokens have been expired.
And Gibson: Some weird kind of privileges config. Nothing we wrote. I’ll send you logs.
I noticed my slippers across the room. They were calf leather, fur-lined, a birthday gift to myself. I remembered wearing them to the toilet that morning—I hadn’t worked out the underfloor heater yet—but I didn’t remember leaving them so neatly, so primly, against the baseboard six feet from the bedside.
I typed: Not my problem anymore. Ask Tickly tech. My finger hovered over Send. Instead, I pressed and held Delete.
Typed: Take anyBuddi down, now. Take all of anyBuddi down. Wipe live. We’ll restore from backup.
I waited a long time for the reply.
This sounds funny, but we can’t. Privileges issue. This config’s blocking us from disabling ABreplicator.
I groped under the bed for my laptop, only halfway looking. In the intensified dark beneath the bed slats, I glimpsed something that couldn’t be possible—a beating, saturation, a rich point of light reflected.
A headrush, from swooping under the bed too fast. What else could it be?
On the bedspread, my phone vibrated. Did you check your emails Mannie.
I yanked my laptop the rest of the way out from under the bed, found the battery thankfully full, plugged in the telephone cable. I rapped fingers to the creaky music of booting dial-up.
The log file sat in my inbox—pages and pages of calls into ABreplicator from encrypted IP addresses.
And a comment in metadata at the top of the file: ==welcome to darxne.ss==
Some intuition told me this wasn’t a pillow fort and bathtimes by candlelight sort of blackout. I bought a portable generator long before the nationwide stock vanished, lugged it around the same park I’d crossed the day I moved in. The sun was bright, my palms slippery. The park perimeter was endless.
It was still days until I’d have to share the generator’s electricity with my neighbors, all of us taking turns, a few weeks until it was confiscated by the city to help keep public services running.
At home I camped out at a corner of my kitchen table, trawled hourly press releases and advisories. The darxne.ss was spreading faster than fire—it spread at the speed of code. Twenty-four hours from the first blackout, it was continent-wide.
For some—the very young, very old, very sick—this was immediately a matter of life and death. Everyone else? An early air of joviality predominated. Cookouts of defrosting meat in every neighborhood, block parties set to percussion instruments that didn’t need speakers to carry. There was a feeling, I suppose, that the grid glitch was a break from lives we all hated.
More and more, the darxne.ss was what I hated. In that always-looming dark I’d accidentally helped create, I studied ABreplicator’s code obsessively. I found many new layers to solitude. Save for Marcia knocking on my door Tuesdays with my share of organic produce from her urban farm, stillness settled like dust. The film of quiet was disturbed only by the chug of the generator, the occasional pic-pic-pic in the walls, and the tapping of the keyboard as I made some modification to ABreplicator, only to lose my nerve and undo it.
For some time I was gone even from myself. I quit piping Vivaldi through the bedroom speakers, replacing concertos with breaking news headlines. I didn’t wash my body. I ate nothing but bread and peanuts, washed it down with black coffee. A pyramid of mugs stacked up in the sink. Every day I woke up before sunrise to crawl debug logs.
One night, on the fifth or sixth day of the blackout, I shut the laptop lid on a low battery pop-up, forced myself to abandon my kitchen corner. The power generator was on loan next door. In my left hand I balanced a lit candle on a stack of pita pockets, in the other I held a jar of raspberry preserves and a butter knife. I hadn’t changed or showered, but felt I soon could. I’d heat stockpots of water, light a row of candles, revive myself a little.
The dining room hadn’t been used in weeks. The wildflowers were twigs and chaff in their vase. At the dinner table I positioned the candle so I could see what was in my hands, broke open the first chunk of bread, spread globs of jam on the soft insides.
It all looked garish in the candlelight, my hands worst of all. The fuzzy outline of my trophy house had become the vague outline of my own mind. I looked up from my dinner toward the vacant fireplace. And into a reflection of myself in the middle distance, where none should be.
I was raising a bite to my mouth; my reflection mirrored the action. But in a moment the blob in my reflection’s hand was a knot of something else, bloodied and beating. And the reflection-that-wasn’t lifted this knot to one shoulder, though I myself remained frozen mid-movement. The bloody knot hopped across to perch on the reflection’s shoulder.
It was only then that I saw the reflection-figure for what it was—the candlelight wasn’t responsible for the molten copper look of its skin, the brow set in scalped surprise, the heartsick mouth. The Wiley stood from a seated position where no chair was. Upright, it was tall as a man. The bloody knot on its shoulder, beating a heartbeat rhythm, ruffled sinewy wings. I felt wet dots hit my face. I flinched.
The Wiley came toward me. Once upon a time I had stared down Tickly executives and named a price. I had learned how to say no to Dexter and Jon and make them understand that word. So I was not afraid. The Wiley extended a clump-fingered hand and took five circles of bread from my palm.
It knelt beside me. I suppose I was expecting a harsh odor to waft off it, copper or viscera or both, but if anything it smelled pleasant, like the first curl of smoke from a struck match.
The Wiley placed a ring of pita pockets around the jam jar. Then it took my index finger and traced from the jam jar to a piece of bread, to another, bounced my fingertip back to the first piece, then continued to another, repeating the arcane loop. Finally, back to the jam jar. On The Wiley’s far shoulder, the heart-bird shuddered an arrhythmia.
There was something precise—mathematical—about this symbolism of jam, bread, and fingertip. More than mathematical. Familiar.
A backtracking loop from index to node to node: this was the algorithmic path of ABreplicator.
Now The Wiley came over and knelt again, this time behind my dining chair. I was not at all afraid, but my body felt differently. My breath stuck in my lungs. The Wiley threaded soap-textured arms between the spindles of my chair and under my armpits. Its body was very warm, and but for the chair, hugged very close to mine: head resting on my neck, chest a steady pressure against my shoulders. Satisfying smell of sulfur. I felt myself, to my horror, lean into that presence. There was a gentle tug on my hair, and the heart-bird gave the barest chirp, as of phlegm stuck in a windpipe.
On the table before us, The Wiley collected the pita pockets and awkwardly worked them in its hands, until the bread was a lump of crumbs and paste. It took the ball of bread paste and kneaded it into the tabletop. Finally, it screwed the base of the jar into the hill of bread paste, fixing the jar to the table.
My teeth clattered but my brain was very sharp. What is it? I whispered.
The base case. A trap, said The Wiley. The words vibrated against my spine, but the monster spoke in my own voice.
A trap, it said, me talking to me, to set free the light.
Dexter and Jon got Tickly management to approve flying me back to Silicon Valley for a week. Air traffic control had been scaled back everywhere, the remaining shifts operating off high-availability back-up generators. I packed skeptically as ticket prices climbed through the high five figures. The day they broke six figures I got a call from Jon to let me know that Tickly finance had nixed the trip, citing risk to life.
Better if you stay put, Mannie, Jon said. Just hunker down a while. Until we figure this crazy thing out.
In 2003, software didn’t control much of the power grid, but what these systems did control was critical. A couple of weeks into the darxne.ss, the prevailing theory was that a virus had leapt from helper utilities monitoring power station uptime, tumbled with the nimbleness of current from one power source to the next. The virus took down every generator it hit. It was fast and invulnerable, its origins unknown.
In my emails and voicemails I confessed that I knew something else about the darxne.ss: it hijacked a short, clever piece of social network code. ABreplicator, piece of my brain and heart.
I obsessed over The Wiley’s bread and jar demonstration, examined the selfBuddi algorithm I’d long ago written into ABreplicator. The base case. With no wannaBuddi nodes to be found, ABreplicator could do nothing but ping itself like a child idly tossing a tennis ball into the air, waiting for friends to come out and play.
But malicious code wrapped the functions I’d written, casting any attempt to modify ABreplicator as a caught exception. And anyway, the darxne.ss had found a cache of nodes along the power grid. The base case didn’t apply.
As I searched for seams in the smooth facade of the darxne.ss, Dex and Jon looked for safe ways to turn anyBuddi off. They phoned our serverfarm in desperation, resolving to literally unplug a box from a wall.
Jon texted ten minutes later: The server guys say they can’t verify we own anyBuddi. Won’t allow us to authorize changes. Won’t allow Tickly devs in either.
How strange, I said to Jon, that the product of our own hands could have strayed so far beyond us.
I get calls from vlog networks now, saccharine emails from podcasters and display agencies: would I mind dropping in to talk about the darxne.ss? We’re so fascinated, they say, by your story.
The bright side, I suppose, is that I have not been forgotten. I remain tangled up in calamity forever, culprit and savior. The downside is that the darxne.ss is not my most interesting story, but this is not something I say to the vlog hosts and ad people. The other story isn’t one I’m able to share.
The lie by omission, the happy ending upfront: we fixed the world. The lights came on gradually. Grid reroutes were rolled back, emergency generators permanently turned off; we luxuriated in cold fridges, warm bedrooms, the ability to survey any vista we pleased after sundown. Items we hadn’t seen on shelves for months came back, first at absurd markups, then at everyday prices.
The final death toll isn’t clear—local records, some updated by hand during the blackouts, were hard to centralize and count. Certainly thousands. Maybe tens of thousands.
The trick we tried saved the world, I’d say into recording mics and vocal meshes, talking around my perfect manicure. Not: We killed so many.
I’d say: The light came back. Not: We adapted to the dark in a primal way. It sang through our bones. It gnawed us inside out. Our eyes began to shine and our teeth grew points.
I did not see The Wiley again for some time, but a week after our encounter, I developed a dark spot over my heart. I noticed it in the toilet mirror at Café Continental; they’d hooked up ceiling fluorescents to a generator, an indulgence that chased the month-long cloak of shadows from my skin. I washed my face. I pressed my hand over my sternum. The lights fizzed gently, steadied. When I took my fingers away I saw it, like a bruise, but concentric like the rings of a tree. It was raised slightly to the touch.
I took all my clothes off and stood on my toes. The floor was dirty, strangely warm—the kitchen, maybe, below. Someone knocked on the bathroom door. One moment, I said. I looked at my neoned body front and back. No other marks.
It would take a year for the spot to fade.
Growing a dot-com from nothing to a hundred million valuation was the work of many willing and reluctant hands, but none belonged to higher powers. I saw nothing supernatural in correcting a browser bug in time for a launch date, or in intuiting the features that’d bring people back again and again, until at last skittish plastic was coaxed from the private folds of a wallet. Mundane forces have always been explanation enough for me—the power of money, important friends, that set of a jaw that tells people they’d do better to mess with someone else. But I’ve come to measure that awful summer by different standards; it was a time of physics drawn from my bones and chemistry drawn from my blood. I don’t allow it into the consignment stores or café patios of today.
One night Dexter phoned with news. AnyBuddi’s lead developer, Gibson, had been reading by the light of his fireplace, had fallen asleep. His girlfriend had stepped out to collect filtered water rations. She came back to find their house ablaze, beams in the roof glowing. Gibson hadn’t made it out in time.
I learned there were many ways to shrivel, and one was loneliness, and another was guilt, and a third was shame. Every death attributed to the blackouts was a notch of blood in my palms.
When I pictured the authors of the darxne.ss, I pictured three figures, faceless, not as-in obscured but as-in entirely featureless, with long oblongs of flesh like thighs where faces should be. I pictured them in the conference room we’d slept in, Dex and Jon and I. I pictured them coding, whiteboarding, fucking. In place of coffee, paper cups of blood. In place of smiles, whiteboard marker expressions drawn by one onto another, erased, redrawn.
I could see the role ABreplicator was playing in the darxne.ss, but not how or why it was being held hostage, forced to stay alive on anyBuddi servers.
I retraced The Wiley’s demonstration over and over, the way it mashed bread into glue, set the jar in it, the lesson it’d tried to teach me. For fleeting moments, I thought I understood. Then didn’t. Was the idea to create one collected node from several discrete ones? To collapse wannaBuddi nodes into the index node? To constrain the ABreplicator loop as if pulling tight a piece of sewing thread?
If loneliness is anything, it is the space between two lines of code whose behavior you can’t control. I stared so long at the pulse of the laptop cursor I composed entire symphonies to its rhythm, entire bodies of work, an opus of chanting. Please, please, please.
Sometimes the house responded: pic-pic-pic.
Desperation has an escalating nature. What starts as grit and resolve becomes a crisis in an instant. That, I suppose, is why I opened the door to the spare bedroom.
What did I find in that dark, spartan room on a gloomy day among that unbrokenness of dark days in 2003? At first, an unlit space vibrating with silence. I hadn’t been in there for months, not since I’d brought home my California-King-sized bed, moving the single bed out of the master bedroom. As my eyes adjusted, I could see that the single-person bed had not gone to waste.
The odor in the room was eyewatering. And I realized that it wasn’t precisely the smell of matches. That I remembered it. It was the smell of my middle school computer lab, converted from an underused library, the smell of the hot hard drives, of culled library books moldering in a tall stack against one wall.
I only ever went to that computer lab on one occasion. I’d been playing an unwinnable PC game during afternoon free period. I was navigating the game one-handed. Spacebar, arrow, spacebar. A polygonal spacecraft bounced across an orange platform riddled with transparency glitches. I didn’t want to play outside ever again. My other hand rested over my heart, where the baseball had struck.
Uh-oh. You hit Manon by accident.
Definitely by accident.
Right-arrow, right-arrow, right-arrow. The arrow button, sticky with fruit juice or the canteen’s raspberry Jell-O, went pic-pic-pic.
People stopped being worth wounds to the chest early in my life.
To the spare bedroom I said, Help me.
The bedsheets peeled back. The creature made of loneliness stood.
I wind a feather boa around my neck, step into a spray of Chanel No.5. A quick glance in the mirror, but only directly into my eyes—exploring the seventy-year ridges of my face is a great hardship. I’ve agreed to coffee with Dexter and Jon, both in town for SECUROH. Dex is keynote speaker this year; Jon will unveil Tickly’s latest product to harness implicit peer networking.
They’re at the coffee shop when I arrive. Manon, they say. You look well. Dex and Jon are flush with wealth. They wear it caked like foundation. Their plain sweaters are Moncler and Ralph Lauren, their scarves mulberry silk. I ask after their wives and children. Then we have the conversation we have every year.
Is the connection still alive?
Yes, I say.
Is it time to upgrade? Will you at least let us check out the setup?
Next year, maybe.
One day we’ll have to, Mannie. It’s all so close to obsolete.
So are we, I say to the rich men. They regard me with pity.
What happens then? asks Dex.
We pray we’ve been wrong all along, I say. About how bad it might be.
Let me show you how, The Wiley said, still in my voice, that same uplift at the end of a sentence when I’m considering how best to get across a delicate thought.
The smell of The Wiley wrapped me first, then its soapy arms wrapped me, drew me in, and the heart-bird hopped to my shoulder and chirruped. Everything was bathed in the smell of sulfur and gears and old books. I wondered if it would get onto my skin and into my hair. I wondered whether I wanted it to.
I still can’t figure out how to fix ABreplicator, how to stop the darxne.ss, I said. Help me.
Let me show you how? The Wiley said again.
Yes, I said, which was a simple word, but also, I know now, permission, permission for The Wiley to enter my life, to alter the make-up of the world forever.
Just like this, The Wiley said, and drew me tighter in.
I leave Jon and Dex to settle our coffee bill. The sun is out, the sort of bright that makes aging eyes water. A suit bag filled with evening gowns is draped over my arm. I maneuver with it up Poplar Street, past families and buggies and pets brunching on patios.
I drop the bag at a consignment store, go round the perimeter of the park. The sun dips behind a cloud. I suddenly feel the breeze. The sun comes back. The bed and breakfast I used for weeks after that day in the spare room is still there, still operational. Nestled between it and Café Continental, a florist I don’t remember seeing last year.
Often I think I didn’t need to trap the darxne.ss this way. I could’ve worked with Dexter and Jon, whiteboarded a solution, fashioned a cage made of code around the virus. Gotten the authorities involved. Fought for admin permissions, proved our authorship, our identities. Why didn’t I?
The driveway to my old house is covered in tiny flowering weeds. I knock on the door.
Marcia lets me in. Manon. You’re always very prompt, she says.
I hand her the rent money first, a paper packet of cash the way she likes, even though it means I have to special order the bills. She strums the wads of hundreds. They’re papercut crisp, so crisp they might’ve been minted that morning.
Marcia is a good tenant and a good business partner.
Do you want another year? she asks.
The house has been maintained to an impeccable standard. It’s aged only in ideology, in its outmoded concepts of luxury. Marcia, on the other hand, is a bit older than me and doesn’t wear it well. I wonder: will she still be here in a year? When I sat her down at the kitchen island forty years ago to make her an unusual offer, the slanting sun had been kinder to her face.
Yes, I say.
Okay, she says. The door’s unlocked for you.
I head down the hall to the spare bedroom. The area over my heart aches—no longer a dark spot there, but skin remembers. Everything teeters so keenly on the edge of failure—my mobility, my lifetime, Marcia, the aging code and infrastructure I’ve come to check on. There’s a slice of light around the frame of the door—Marcia never forgets the light.
Many, many, many years ago, The Wiley held me tight for a moment, and let me go, and said, Bring me the darkness.
I did the only thing I could think of: I brought it my laptop, ran a local copy of the code.
Just like this, The Wiley repeated, and wrapped its whole body shelteringly around the laptop. A trap. The base case.
Isolation, I finished, my own voice echoing my voice.
I open the door to the spare bedroom turned barren server room. The laptop in the center of the room, forty years old, is running ABreplicator, harboring the darxne.ss. Grown around the laptop, grown into it, is the body of The Wiley, crouched in a seated position though there is no chair to support it. The heart-bird has long since mummified on its shoulder.
In our log files, Dex and Jon and I can see that the hijacked ABreplicator is stuck in the selfBuddi routine, looping its own base case, idling, pinging itself. What’s running on this one ancient laptop computer should not matter at all, shouldn’t be able to keep the darxne.ss at bay. But for now, as for the last forty years, that’s what it’s doing.
When I step in and shut the door behind me, The Wiley lifts its head.
Even though we did this to stop the darxne.ss, The Wiley and I, to face it like this, my loneliness echoed in its eyes, its own reflected in mine, makes the skin over my heart ache harder. And if this creature once came to me to find relief from some abyss, then I have rewarded it in the worst way imaginable.
The spare room is bare but for forty years’ worth of laptop power supplies and hardware boosters arrayed on a fireproof platform. There’s a dim scent of electronics but no longer the smell of sulfur and old things unearthed. A dehumidifier hums somewhere in a vent. Marcia’s been very good to me. Marcia is better than a friend.