"Plageurism!" Stolen work, reviewed, lowest rated; a situation on the edge of insanity...
|The Reviewer wore unevenly thick coke bottle glasses, was overweight and sat eating another gluggy mess of takeaway meal.
Several grease spotted cartons lay empty, one doubled as a scrap container, with criss-crossed chicken bones, fleshy knobs still wastefully left on the ends and another containing a few cold fries hiding in the bottom on stale traces of sauce.
"I'm still hungry," he grunted and wondered how much money his publishing agent deposited in his savings account last week.
His third Young Adult fiction novel was selling as fast as the others. He took this success for granted. It was only right that he'd been given a break after losing his family. "Only how it should be anyways," the reviewer muttered.
"Hurry up and download. Useless plan." A couple of foul adjectives didn't improve his modem speed at all.
Patience with his Internet provider had never been his strong point.
Two large bottles, of the BPA (bisphenol-A) toxic plastic type stood like hazardous exclamation marks next to his computer keyboard.
He had left numerous screwed up paper napkins on the white melamine desk, adding to other mouldy food items that were so full of preservatives and artificial colouring even the ants left them alone.
He was aware he would probably be a diabetic in five years from the constant sugar overdose but was not bothered by this. Fitness and diets were a fad hysterically crowed at people like him by the cappuccino crowd, the sport freaks who were so totally up themselves they made him feel ill. It was not the food making him feel bloated and crook. It was not the forceful opinion of others, his eating habits or lifestyle that bothered him.
His thoughts wavered, sidetracked by the past.
His one saving grace had always been his gift of writing. Oh yes, he could bring people to tears with his emotion wracked stories, turn a drunk to instant soberness with his soul searching poetry. Just last week his email account was crammed with knee slapping accolades for a ridiculous comedy he'd penned between snacks. He lived alone, received a pension already, though not even twenty years old. He had applied online to a superclinic, claiming disability from a "knee injury" that was later found to be just a minor sprain from walking to the fridge.
His shoulders shrugged off any feelings of injustice. Deal with it; that was his answer to critics, and he often let fly with this same attitude when reviewing other people's literature.
The Reviewer's focus sharpened back to the present.
The thing that bothered him today was the story he'd begun reviewing. The style and plot instantly grabbed his attention. So much so, he'd finished his dozen pack of chicken nuggets and one of the bottles of Cola before he'd resurfaced enough from his reading to enjoy the taste.
"Woah!" he spoke to the gummy flatscreen that shined its white glow on his face, the only illumination in the dimness of his study. He didn't like the curtains open, showing the outside world of grass, insects and healthy slim people getting about on their mountain bikes and...
An odd feeling of familiarity began to tug at his thoughts as he tried to find cohesive comments that would impress others with his talent for reviewing. This story was so like his own! He read again the line he'd just finished, enjoying the descriptiveness. The main character seemed so real. Very expressive, this writer! He wouldn't have to make fake positive comments for this one!
He sneezed and blew his nose into an already sodden handkerchief and wiped the sleeve of his coat across his nose and lips, the fast food scraped off his chin; transferred to his filthy sleeve. He began to tap at the keyboard, his qwertyuiop letters had almost lost their markings in thick black grime, but his typing skills almost matched his academic level so he didn't need to look at the keys anymore.
A smart boy, his teachers had often whispered to his parents when they were still alive.
They had been tragically killed last year on a level crossing. He was still annoyed that he'd been left waiting at a bus stop half the night and then after walking home couldn't get in the house until the police came in the early hours. After he'd heard the news of his parents and complained about walking so far, the local cops looked at each other, scratched their heads, and weren't very sympathetic.
He'd already rated the story, even before he was half way through it, and had only typed a couple of lines of comments in the review section below when he paused in uncharacteristic blankness. There was not much that stopped him thinking in life. If thinking was action he'd be as bulked and ripped as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The story he was reviewing was so good. There were a couple of typos and a slightly weak ending to a sentence but overall the grammar was correct, the...no...it couldn't be, that was impossible. His feeling of de ja vu became so strong that his face was moist with sweat, yet he felt cold.
He persevered doggedly; determined to read again but after another sentence he sat back in shock.
Scratching his grubby mouse around in panic he scrolled up and read from the beginning once more. The characters names were different, but with dawning rage he slammed his seat backwards and began bashing the keyboard. Self preservation kicked in and he turned the focus of his tantrum away from the keyboard in case he broke it. His computer was his life and his only connection to the outside world. Without it he might have to go outside, probably get asthma and worst of all, face real people. He'd be forced to talk to them, to think of replies to their machine gun questions, their bullets of criticism aimed at his body, his features, his lack of dress sense, his lack of any social skills that weren't typed on a screen.
Screaming in a high pitched voice he kicked over his rubbish bin, chip and candy packets, cookie boxes and drink cans spilling across the carpet. It would make little difference to the chaotic mess already there, faulty internet cables, mouse batteries and mismatched shoes and socks. The infectious smell did not register. The Reviewer was frightened and this unfamiliar fear made him furious.
How dare someone steal his story! To try to copy his work, HIS writing style and the ideas only he could possibly own. After his initial animalistic cry, it was enough to render him speechless in white faced weeping.
With morbid fascination he picked up his chair, numbly sat back in front of the LG monitor and kept reading. And reviewing. All other thought and sound receded and the further he read, the more his heart rate soared.
Not only was the story his, but the man within it was strangely familiar. It could be his brother, the description so closely matched to even make them twins . He suddenly saw the situation with clarity. It wasn't his twin brother written into the plot, it was himself. Him! The Reviewer!
He felt himself sway back in the chair with dizziness, his mind swimming with confusion and he struggled to breathe.
Another heroic effort at continuing the review ended with him stumbling blindly from the computer, its harsh light cutting his aching head in half, and he felt for the bathroom door, flicked the light switch on just in time to see the bowl and empty his stomach loudly into its gaping maw. The food splashed toilet water onto the seat, cistern, onto the plaster walls and into his face.
The Reviewer hardly noticed as he knelt, with mouth hanging open, on the floor welcoming the icy cold tiles cooling his shins and bare feet.
This was surely a bad dream, but a chilly breeze from the flywire vented bathroom window and the noise of peak hour traffic outside brought him back to reality. He could hear the wet tyre noise, it must be raining out there. That was all it was. The room was humid and stuffy and he needed some ventilation; open a window or two.
Perhaps he had the beginnings of influenza or maybe he was just having a low afternoon. He cupped his hands under the vanity basin tap and drank the collected water thirstily, possibly the first drink of plain water for a long time.
He felt sure that in a few minutes he would feel much better and the whole story fiasco would seem a silly hallucination, a joke even. Yes he'd be laughing at how stupid he'd been the last couple of hours.
After all it was only a review and if some foolish person thought they could nick stuff from his portfolio, they had another thing coming. How dare they imply that he should give higher ratings for poorly written items.
Original work was automatically copyright so he could settle back into his comfort zone, chuckle about this incident and turn it into a funny story on his blog. Ha ha.
After a belch and some flatulence, he used the bathroom for its other intended purposes. He showered, dressed in fresh clean clothing, shaved and cleaned his teeth. He returned with a brave swagger, to his post of reading other peoples stories. . He had cut and scrubbed his fingernails and even combed his hair. The Reviewer felt like a new man. He might even offer some gentle constructive criticism tonight.
But as he began to read from the top once again, all ideas of rating and reviewing disappeared from his mind. The story hooked him once again and this time he read to the very end before sitting in his seat, head hanging.
He sat in near silence, hearing only the worn grind of his hard drive and the swishing of the CPU fan in the tower.
The Reviewer sat for a long time. He could not believe it.
Rousing himself he read the story again and felt another wave of nausea, spots of a migraine pitting his vision. With supreme self will, he forced himself to relax and think about this situation as an outside observer. Yes he was definitely the author. Yeah it was stolen. He could prove that beyond doubt, without even checking his portfolio.
The fact that disturbed him now was a new unsettling experience; it was the story itself. The story was about him. Every facet of his acne loaded life had been included in this gripping biography. All his personal life, laid before the literary public like a streaker in a football stadium. It was oddly fascinating to see what had been written about him, the naughty little secrets he tried not to think about, tried to blame on someone else. The stash of wallets he pickpocketed in Computer Game stores, and said he'd "found" them on bus seats, the dirty magazines under his mattress, the...well, he shied away from thinking what else this author KNEW.
The worst part was the ending. The twist in the tail made him shudder with horror, his lips dry and a hand rubbed his forehead absently. Yes the conclusion to the story was beyond reason. The man in the story was a reviewer, just like him, lived in a house like he did, had awful living standards, no life much less a girlfriend or any friends!
JUST LIKE HIM. And the crux of the whole box full? He was murdered. Right here in front of his Compaq. Right now! Foul murder committed using a loose Ethernet cable so economically and conveniently at hand it must have been grabbed by someone as lazy as he. It must be someone EXACTLY like him. Must BE him!
He began to weep again, snivelling and mewling, not even turning around to look; he was so certain now of the outcome of this little reviewing charade.
Already he could feel the blue cable encircle his flabby neck below his double chins and take up the strain, his brain starved of oxygen and his eyesight fuzzy at the edges like a camera shutter, closing in slow motion until consciousness would leave him, and he would topple lifeless to the floor. His computer would automatically run the defrag, anti virus scan and scan disc on the reboot.
For a full twenty seconds he waited. Hearing a tiny noise behind him, a soft scrape of a shoe on the carpet, he couldn't stand the suspense and spun his office chair around.
There was no fat guy with body odour standing there, no hulking novel reviewer with thick lenses flashing, no nerdy overgrown teenager covered in red spotted zits. No computer cable looped and clutched in meaty fists.
Before him stood the most awe inspiring vision he had ever seen, a young woman so beautiful, so stunning and svelte that his debilitating shyness struck him dumb. He blurted out the first thought that came into his disorientated head.
"What are you doing sneaking up like that behind my back? I could almost imagine you were here to kill me but...but I would feel most honoured for my end to come by your hand!"
This confrontation felt as if someone else was using his body, possessing him. His awkwardness, immaturity, usual tactless statements faded away as he gazed at her.
He usually never spoke to those of the opposite sex. It was too difficult and he never knew what to say.
"I've been stalking you for a long time," she murmured, removing a stack of papers and sitting on an old chair of his dad's he'd forgotten existed. She made herself comfortable but he was made uncomfortable when she crossed her long shapely legs. Her knees were covered demurely with a lengthy flowing skirt, a fashion statement obvious even to a caveman such as The Reviewer. This covering of her womanly shape from neck to ankle only served to accentuate her loveliness.
Without thinking he snorted. "You have got to be kidding. You stalking ME? You need to take your tablets lady!"
He drew back, regretting this aggressive comment but she smiled, the room growing brighter it seemed, to The Reviewer, from the reflection of her fresh white teeth.
The room! He looked around horrified at the terrible squalor, the filthy trappings of his private life, the life that no one ever saw. No one had been allowed past his front door since his parent's had passed away, since that night that he'd been so traumatised he'd said the most tacky joke to the disgusted policemen.
Now his face was a picture of a different horror. He felt so ashamed, holding audience to this gorgeous creature in front of him who was sitting so at ease and unruffled by him and his pathetic nonsense. His face burned in embarrassment. Her next words almost stopped his already overtaxed and cholesterol clogged heart.
"Yes, I'll call you The Reviewer," She spoke softly and smiled gently, gazing into his eyes.
He licked his lips nervously and replied oafishly,
"Wha..what did you say? How did you get in here?"
"Yes, you heard what I said. The Reviewer is who you are and right at this moment you are wondering who wrote that story all about you. Oh yes. I know all about you, Mr Reviewer-man. I'm majoring in computer engineering among other handy little competencies. Who do you think scratched together the cameras and stuff."
She waved at the wall behind the computer and around the room. His face was blank with incomprehension and she stood and indicated a few tiny holes strategically placed so that each micro-cam could boast a completely obstacle free view of The Reviewer's every move.
"You're not very talkative are you?" Before he could react she lay her cool hand against the heat of his freshly shaved cheek. He shivered, thinking of the long thin fingers twisting electrical flex purposefully around his throat. She wore no jewellery.
She remained standing so close he could smell her intoxicating perfume, a subtle fragrance that brought images of bright spring flowers in lush fields. Her calm presence and unflappable manner was pushing cobwebs aside in The Reviewers dark mind.
"Yes." She said yes often.
"Yes, at first, I did this as an exercise in my thesis; surveillance, gaining unauthorised access, electronics, use of initiative- all the skills of a technician you see."
"You...are you training for the CIA?" he could hardly credit the words he spoke to carry any serious connotation.
But the closed look that stole across her face confirmed that his frivolous question must be true.
"Let's not go there yet. We'll talk about why I'm here first, then worry about operatives". Firmness in her voice now but she grinned, a sparkle in her eyes that held admiration for him.
Her gaze made him feel special, felt this must be a dream. Either that or the murder he had been expecting was still coming. She was so disarming, so alluring that he felt relaxed and safe. He felt the certainty of it all being "too good to be true".
Her pianist's hands now held the threatening ethernet cable, RJ45 plug on the right, a loop, excess Cat5 cable dangling on the left.
"That's what my aim was in the beginning. To use you for my purposes and then come and kill you. Yes, that story is about you. I wrote it and I've been studying your life for quite some time Mr Reviewer. My feelings changed after a few months of watching. I have seen the worst things you have done. I have examined your facial expressions when you type. I know every secret you have had in the last two years. I saw you weep for your parents. I saw you cry when the editor rejected your manuscript last April."
She paused, her eyes shining and...he could hardly take it in, her eyes were wet. She was emotional, holding back something. For the first time in his life, he felt a primeval fear. This woman was here for one purpose and that was to torture him, slowly, methodically and with as many secret agent techniques as she could remember from her studies.
He stood up involuntarily, suddenly wanting it all to be over. He didn't deserve life. Everything he had done was a failure, even his best writing was useless without anyone in his physical real life, here in this stinking seedy apartment. He missed his father. He began to weep for his mother.
She looked at him, standing only an arm's length away. She would not have to struggle at all to take his life. He had already given up and was waiting meekly for the end.
One step forward and she was against him and he flinched, waiting for death to come.
Then she said,
"What I saw in you and read in your stories has changed my life. Your reviews were too honest. You gave me the lowest rating of anyone on writing dot com. You dissected, no you demolished my stories, critiqued my poems and...I was never the same person since that time."
He held his breath and all his twenty years of memories were concentrated in this moment. His world was gone. The Reviewer would review no more.
"I love you," her breath smelled of peppermint and he had to repeat her words in his mind, his lips moving as he took in what she had said.
"You are The Reviewer! And I love you!" She moved against him and suddenly his lips that had moved before were covered in her warmth, the soft womanliness of her mouth. For the moment, blue cable that she still held was crushed safely between them. She made no attempt to hold him; so sure that he wouldn't move away.
His arms hesitantly made their way around her waist and he felt her press against him. He stood like an ox, disappointed when she withdrew and sat again on the other seat. He almost fell onto his chair as she explained,
"Yes, this is a shock to you. I understand, believe me. I understand everything that you are, all your faults, your fears and your failings. You see, I was like you a couple of years ago, overweight, terribly shy, unhealthy diet...yes don't look so doubtful!"
She paused and then cleared her throat,
"I was just like you and then a man came into my life, a man who reviewed writing with honesty. This man is the reason that I'm here now, the reason I changed everything about how I lived. That man is you! The Reviewer!" She laughed with such joy that he couldn't help smiling in spite of his chagrin at her unflattering appraisal of him. She was right. He was everything she'd said.
His loneliness was like a grey wolf, lurking in the shadows, waiting. He couldn't return to that life of pretending everything was OK. Her enthusiasm and sincerity lent him courage.
"Would you like to visit me again?" he asked nervously, waiting on her answer, holding his breath, not taking his gaze from her face in case she disappeared. He'd never invited anyone here, and never asked a girl out.
"I'll fix this..." he added, indicating the jumble of his man cave.
"Of course I'll come again! You have a lot to learn. About living, loving and especially about me. I know a lot about you. Let's even things up.
Yes! We'll become more than A Writer and The Reviewer. We'll become The Co-Authors..."
She still waved the ethernet cable around and he watched her carefully.
"Will you plug this cable in so I can network my Laptop?"