A man appears with a warning.
|The Man Outside the Window
The old man stared at the computer monitor, deep in thought. The lights were low in the room so that only the bright glow of the screen illuminated his face, etching in merciless detail his wrinkles and sagging flesh. He sighed and brought up a hand to rub his face. His voice broke the silence of the empty room.
“Well, that’s another one gone. Goodbye, George. You were a good ‘un.”
His hands reached alongside of him to grasp the armrests of his chair, as though he were about to rise. But a gasp escapes him and he freezes in place. He continues to stare at the monitor.
Going closer, we can see the screen over his shoulder. It is the obituary page of a local newspaper and, in the centre, a block announces, George Parsons, 79, passed away on… We understand now who George is, some friend from younger and happier times, no doubt. But why the sudden intake of breath, why the continued fascination with this unchanging page? We stare with him at the eventless screen.
And then we see it, momentarily, a hand flashing into view from the side of the screen. It disappears just as quickly off screen. The man’s brow wrinkles in consternation.
“What the hell?”
It is quite clear now why he is so disconcerted. This should not be happening. The computer is showing a featureless page of a newspaper and there should be no possibility of a hand appearing randomly at the edge of the screen. How can there be someone standing just out of our vision with a hand waving into view like this?
But the hand appears briefly and there can be no doubt of it. A man is standing just outside the window and, every so often, his movements cause a hand to appear at the edge of the page. Is it purely accidental or is he trying to attract our attention?
The old man seems to think so for he bends forward, trying to catch a better glimpse of the hand the next time it flashes onscreen. And it obliges, keeping still this time, although trembling slightly as though enormous effort is required to hold it there. The man peers closer, staring at the hand.
“Hey, that’s George’s ring. I’d recognise it anywhere, a stupid silver skull, typical of him and his Dungeons and Dragons nonsense.”
The hand waves, apparently in agreement.
“Is that you, George? If not, some bugger’s pinched your ring.”
The old man sits back to await an answer. We realise at the same time that this may prove difficult for the man outside the screen. He may not be able to speak or has no apparatus to convert his voice into sounds the computer can transmit. The hand disappears.
The man starts working with all sorts of controls in his computer. When he is certain that all sound systems are on, he speaks into his microphone.
“Are you still there, George? If you are, but can’t answer, show me your hand again.”
The hand reappears, this time with a thumb raised in incongruous assurance. It seems he cannot be heard.
“Is it really you, George?” asks the man. The thumb stabs the air repeatedly in frantic agreement with the premise. Then it bends to and fro, as though nodding. George has somehow broken through from what we can only think of as elsewhere.
“How can we help you?” The old man is obviously mystified at this limited ability to communicate. In answer, the thumb retracts and, instead, the index finger points downwards. It begins to move as though writing in some nonexistent sand. We watch with the man as it spells out P-E-N.
The man rubs his brow, momentarily baffled. How can he get a pen into the computer so it can be used? And then an idea strikes him and he opens a smaller window and types in a question to Google. He repeats the request, PEN. Google hurries off and returns with a list of responses to the query. The old man hits Images in the menu and a flood of pictures streams down the page. Hastily, he picks one that seems appropriate and copies it to the clipboard. He types in Ctrl-V and the pen drops into the window on screen.
The hand does not pick it up, however. Still as though writing in the sand, the finger spells out P-A-P-E-R. Quickly the man goes through the process to drop a notepad into the screen. The hand pulls it closer, picks up the pen and commences to write.
“Good to see you, Sam. I was beginning to think that no one would read my obit. At least one person remembers me then.”
“I’m sure there’ll be many more, George. There were plenty at your funeral today. But maybe they weren’t all computer savvy.” The old man was relaxing now, as though already he was accepting that his friend had somehow survived death and was living inside a computer.
“There were a few gamers that should be along eventually, I guess,” replied George. “But I’d not be surprised if they didn’t go to the funeral. Not their sort of thing, I think. Nor mine, to tell the truth.”
“So what’s going on, how’d you get inside my computer like this? And why can’t you move around?”
“Search me, Sam. All I know is I woke up in here and I don’t seem to be able to do anything but move my arm a little. I’ve had a while to think about it and my guess is that I spent so long on the computer while I was alive, that my soul, or whatever I am now, couldn’t make up its mind in which world it belongs. And I ended up here as my latest habitual residence, if you see what I mean.”
The old man seemed somewhat taken aback. “So you’re a ghost?”
“I suppose so. Quite a kicker, huh?”
“Damn, George. You know I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Guess you’re gonna have to suck it up then, Sam. But that’s why I wanted to speak to you. You’re in pretty much the same boat I was, you know. Every day on the computer and only going outside if you absolutely have to.”
Sam shook his head. “But I don’t play games, George. I’m a writer, you know that.”
“Don’t think it matters. If you’re on the computer all the time, which world do you really live in? Seems to me you’re headed for the same position I’m in.”
The hand paused then, as if considering how to put its next point. Then it continued, writing with ever greater speed and fluency as it became used to the exercise.
“You wouldn’t like it here, Sam. You already know about not being able to move. But you can’t imagine the boredom. I’ve been here for several days now and I’m slowly going crazy. Nothing to do every day but read the same old obituaries. It’s like dying a thousand times over, I tell you. Don’t risk it, Sam. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
The hand ceased writing, apparently waiting to see the effect of its words on the old man. He, in turn, had fallen silent, a worried look on his face. There was silence in the room for a few minutes.
We take the opportunity to take a few steps back, unwilling suddenly to be onlookers at the terrible choice presented to the old man. He breaks the silence then, bursting out with the words, “So it’s hell whichever way I look at it?”
We can see that the hand writes swiftly now but we do not need to see what is written for the man replies at once.
“It’s hell either way, George. To die and be frozen for eternity in a computer is bad enough. But to give up the computer and face real life without reason or meaning, that would be hell indeed.”
Word count: 1,340
For SCREAMS!!! 05.21.21
Prompt: A man outside the window.