Einbinder opened his front door expecting a mailmanor perhaps
a UPS man wearing those silly brown shortsto greet him,
but there was no one. Only a three-foot by three-foot blue box
with eXhaurio, Inc. lettered in yellow on the sides.
Hed heard a knock, so where was the person who delivered
the package? Harvey stepped out onto the stoop and peered both
ways down the deserted street. He eyed the box, then bent over
and wrapped his chubby arms around it, nearly throwing out his
back as he tried to lift it.
in here, he thought, lead weights?
more he tried picking it up but succeeded only in ripping the
seat of his pants. Then he dragged the box into his house.
* * *
years Harvey had wanted a computer, but being neither technologically
savvy or financially blessed hed never considered himself
in a position to purchase one. They became cheaper by the day,
it seemed (Harvey could remember when a single computer took up
an entire room), but still out of his price range.
one night, battling insomnia, hed lain on the couch staring
zombie-eyed at the television. Around four A.M., as sleep began
tugging at his eyelids, a commercial came on that caught Harveys
you tired of expensive computers that constantly crash and get
choked down with viruses?! the actor exclaimed as zealously
as an evangelical pastor. In fact, he quite resembled one, as
well: he wore an immaculate pinstriped suit, his hair was plastered
to his head, and his animated face was caked with too much makeup,
even for someone on TV. To Harvey, the man looked fake, not quite
right somehow, like George Hamilton or a mannequin
magically come to life.
actor continued: Are you sick of buying the most up-to-date
PC, only to have it become obsolete within six months?!
propped himself on his elbow.
thanks to eXhaurio Computers, Incorporated, for a limited time
you can own your own personal computer FOR FREE!
PCs are self-updating and will never become obsolete! They will
never crash and are totally immune from viruses, spam, and hackers!
eXhaurio PCs come internet readyno modems or cables! And
the best parttheyre ABSOLUTELY FREE! You wont
pay a single red cent!
emphasize this claim, a giant penny filled the screenHonest
Abe staring regally in profile, unaware that he was being used
posthumously to hawk computerswith a red X covering it.
The penny disappeared, and other letters joined the red X to spell
out the companys nameeXhaurio, Inc., with a little
e and capital X.
scam, Harvey said, but he continued to listen.
fake man reappeared. Supplies are extremely limited, so
call now! 1-800-555-X-I-N-C. Thats 1-800-555-9462. Call
now, while supplies last!
actor was replaced by the companys name and the flashing
born every minute, Harvey mumbled before finally nodding
first thought to pop in his head when he awoke hours later was
of eXhaurios free computers. But he suppressed the urge
to call their number. Nothing in life was free. Nothing worthwhile,
Harvey went about his day, changing the blade on his push mower
and cutting his backyard, his thoughts meandered back to eXhaurio,
Inc., and their supposedly free computers.
the man had said, immune to viruses, internet ready, and the best
theyre ABSOLUTELY FREE!
the time Harvey had finished the lawn, hed convinced himself
that no harm could come from calling the toll-free number to see
indeed if it was a scamcalling for investigative purposes,
not as a purchaser.
theyd want something: a credit card number for insurance
or security reasons, his drivers license number,
social security number, a small (translation: large) one-time
convenience charge, a donation to Greenpeace, a pledge that hed
peddle ten computers to his friends, relatives, or coworkers.
Something. If anything, they probably had a phone system like
911 dispatchers that would save his name, address, and phone number
into their database, catalogue the information so they could sell
it to telemarketers. Those bastards werent going to make
cent one off of Harvey Einbinder. No, in forty-six years hed
learned one thing: Nothing ever came free. There was always a
its at least worth a call, whispered a voice inside Harveys
mind, the voice that belonged to the pasty-faced actor from the
commercial. People get things for free all the time, Harvey. Youve
just never been one of those privileged people. Well, now you
can, Harvey. Now you can.
held the phone in his sweaty hand dotted with a confetti of grass
clippings. He dialed the numberit was easy enough to rememberand
held the receiver to his ear. Instead of ringing, he heard a series
of clicks on the other end. Then a recorded female voice answered.
you for choosing eXhaurio Computers, Incorporated, for your home
PC needs, she said dryly. At the tone please leave
your full name and home address, and your eXhaurio PC will be
delivered in three to six days. Thank you.
the beep Harvey said nothing. His mouth opened and closed soundlessly,
like a fish struggling for its dying breaths out of water, then
he hung up the phone.
be a scam, he said to his empty kitchen.
took a V8 from the fridge, drank half of it, and burped loudly.
to be a scam. I dont know how, but it is.
drained the rest of the V8 and burped again.
be a paranoid simpleton, Harvey. That voice again. Be a risk-taker.
Those are the people who get things for free, who get the red
the hell. It could be free.
seized the phone and hit redial. The same clicks, same female
voice, same recorded message. But this time he spoke after the
tone. He left his name and address and hung up before an operator
could break in to inform him that he had to enroll in at least
three participating program offers to receive his free computer.
thingll probably never come, he said.
* * *
it had, and now it sat in a box in Harveys den. He didnt
own a desk, so he wrestled a foldaway card table from the hall
closet, dusted it off, and set it upalong with a chair from
the kitchenin the den by a power outlet. He cut the boxs
packing tape with his house keys and folded back the flaps. Then,
with the care of an archaeologist unearthing the remains of an
ancient civilization, Harvey removed a layer of bubble-wrap and
a layer of Styrofoam before reaching the computer. He struggled
to hoist it from the box with no luckit was heavy as hell.
Harveys job as a part-time maintenance man at Telfair Countys
middle school required a fair share of heavy-lifting, so he knew
when to say screw it and go for the hand trucks, only he had no
hand trucks at home. So, as if easing someone whos fainted
to the ground, he gingerly laid the box on its side and slid the
computer out onto the floor. It wasnt like the sleek machines
that Harvey had seen on other commercials or in store windowsthey
had computers now called notebooks that were the size of, well,
notebooks. The eXhaurio PC was boxy and cumbersome, as if the
designer had given no thought to its aesthetic appeal.
wonder its free, thought Harvey. Its so damn ugly.
And its probably been used before, or made from recycled
closer inspection, its front panel had a power button, a CD drive,
and a slot for 3 ½ inch discs. Below this was a small silver
sticker that read Carver Model, followed by a series
great effort Harvey managed to push the computer under the card
table. The monitor, which wasnt nearly as heavy, he placed
on the tabletop. Rummaging inside the box for instructions or
warranty information or the owners manual proved fruitless.
Harvey scooped out the remaining bubble-wrap and Styrofoam from
the box and found only the keyboard and mouse.
up the computer couldnt be too complicated, Harvey thought.
It wasnt like he had to build the thing. But crawling under
the card table was difficultHarvey was no small man, and
not so young, either. As soon as he got to the floor, his shin
splints flared and his tight face throbbed as blood rushed to
his head. His gut, which made him appear as though hed swallowed
a bowling ball, hung out from under his T-shirt.
the machines components was a breeze. The monitor, keyboard,
and mouse all plugged into the computers back panel. And
the computer itself had only one cord, for the power outlet. Harvey
plugged it in. The computer lurched and emitted a shrill bleat,
like a piglet getting chomped on the rear by its mother. Harvey
jumped, smacking his head on the underside of the card table,
and scooted back into the pile of Styrofoam and bubble-wrap.
Jiminy Jesus! he said, getting to his feet, his shin splints
now secondary to the bright pain in his head. Hed clocked
himself hard enough to make purple splotches swim across his field
inched toward the computer as he would a cornered animal. Maybe
he overloaded the power circuit, he thought, and blew the outlet.
But the computers power light was still on. The monitor
blinked to life and across the black screen letters appeared:
DAY, MR. EINBINDER!
YOU FOR JOINING THE EXHAURIO FAMILY!
it know my name? Harvey asked no one. Then it occurred to
him that the company mustve programmed his name into the
computer prior to shipment. As he slid the chair over and sat
down, the message was replaced by a blue background filled with
tiny mana cartoonish caricature of the gentleman from the
commercialstrolled onto the screen. Hello, Mr. Einbinder!
Im your personalized guide to your new eXhaurio computer,
but you can call me Sid. If you would like to begin the tutorial,
please press the Enter button.
scanned the keyboard, found it, and pressed it.
well, said Sid. Lets get on with the tutorial,
the next hour Harvey remained at the computer becoming acquainted
with the basics of the machine and its programs, how to use the
mouse, how to navigate the internet, and much, much more. Once
the tutorial was done, Sid said that if Harvey ever needed assistance,
to click the special icona miniature version of Sids
faceat the bottom right of the screen.
computing! Sid exclaimed. He waved and ambled off the screen,
as if heading to his digital home and digital family for a quaint
double-clicked on the internet icon. He had never used the internet
before. Hed known of it, of coursehe didnt live
in a cavebut hed never seen it for himself. He started
by perusing sports sites, skimming through the news on how the
Braves were faring in the division series. He hadnt kept
up with them much in the past few years. Harvey wasnt a
baseball man. Football, now there was a game. Chet Merkin, a guy
Harvey worked with at the school, once told him that football
was prose and baseball was poetry. Harvey preferred prose. Poetry
was for fairies and the French. Harvey skimmed the baseball webpages,
then searched for news on the Falcons, even though he preferred
college ball. A link on the Falcons page led him to a site
devoted to his favorite teamthe Georgia Bulldogs. Harveys
idea of a Saturday afternoon well-spent was watching the game
muted on TV while listening to the commentary by Larry Munson
on the radio.
later, Harvey had perused sites for hockey, basketball, NASCAR,
motocross, soccer, and even lawnmower racing.
stomach croaked. Harvey glanced at his watch. Past four A.M. His
eyes ached deep in their sockets and seemed to throb with each
thump of his heart. He was hungrystarving, in factbut
also nauseated, probably from staring at the monitor. Leaving
the computer on, he stumbled through the darkling house to the
bathroom. He fumbled with stiff hands through the medicine cabinet,
knocking plastic bottles into the sink, until he grasped the antacid
tablets. He munched four of them and swallowed the chalky paste.
He tried to force out a belch, then popped two more tablets.
bleary mind could only form simple thoughts: Bed. Sleep.
* * *
phone woke him. Harvey shuffled into the kitchen, the phone still
ringing. He picked up the receiver.
he said groggily.
A mans voice. Familiar.
Simmons, Harvey. What happened to you this morning?
in the voice, which didnt surprise Harvey. Tom Simmons was
the Assistant Principal of the middle school and one of Harveys
bosses. Harvey was supposed to go in to work this morning. The
clock over the stove showed 3:15 in the afternoon.
He nearly admitted to oversleeping. I got
sick. Fever, throwing up. Im in a pretty bad way.
Harvey felt thirteen again, faking an illness to weasel out of
you shouldve let someone know, Harvey. Harvey could
tell from the flatness in Simmonss voice that the man knew
he was lying. Come in Thursday morning. Weve got new
lockers that need to be installed.
thing, Mr. Simmons.
hung up the phone before Simmons could continue. No work until
Thursday meant nearly two whole days with the computer. He went
to the den, carrying with him a bucket of leftover fried chicken
from the fridge.
monitor was blank, except for this message:
GONE INTO SLEEP MODE, MR. EINBINDER.
ANY KEY TO RESUME.
tapped the space bar.
* * *
a vulture, Harvey had picked the chicken bones clean. He still
was hungry. His stomach growled again even though hed already
eaten six pieces, so without taking his eyes off the computer
screen he reached over to fish another drumstick from the grease-stained
bucket. His hand hit the bucket and knocked it off the table,
spilling bones and soggy fried bits across the floor.
dammit, Harvey said. He glanced back at the monitorat
his game of solitairethen got to his hands and knees to
clean the mess. As he scooped up the strewn bones and bits of
fried skin, he noticed an uneaten thigh between the computer and
the wall. Harvey retrieved it, tossed it into the bucket, and
saw something he hadnt noticed before. Something that hadnt
been there before. A purple cord, the width of his pinky, extended
from the back of the computer to the wooden floor. No, through
the wooden floor.
leaned in for a closer look. There was now a small hole in the
floor, just wide enough for the purple cable to fit through. Powdery
sawdust lined the lip of the hole, reminding him of how carpenter
bees had made holes in his lawnmower shed.
touched the cord. Something was movinglike water coursing
through a pipebeneath its rubber tubing.
what is this?
stood and gaped at the computer, and the cable, for some time.
He dug a flashlight from a kitchen drawer and started for the
backdoor when his stomach rumbled. Despite the chicken hed
wolfed down, he felt like he hadnt eaten in days, so he
dug through the slim pickings in his fridge until he found half
a pack of hotdogs toward the back. He hadnt the slightest
inkling of how old they were, but at the moment he didnt
care. He took one out and chomped it in two bites. Then he ate
another, and another. As he opened his mouth to devour a fourth,
his thoughts returned to the purple cable, so he put back the
hotdogs and headed out the backdoor with the flashlight.
crawlspace entrance was on the west side of his house, so hed
have to shimmy twenty or so feet under the house along the ground
to reach the area beneath the den on the east side. He removed
the wooden panel that covered the entrance and shone the flashlight
into the crawlspace. Nothing but darkness, dirt, and spiders.
Maybe a mouse. Nothing that
bothered Harvey. He hunkered to step through the opening, then
scooted along on his hand (his other grasping the flashlight)
and knees. Cobwebs tickled his noseHarvey didnt mind
spiders, but having their webs stick to his face was damn annoyingas
he spotted the lavender cable stretching from his floorboards
overhead straight to the ground. Harvey touched the cord. It was
as taut as a guitar string, with the same sensation of running
water beneath the rubber exterior.
pulled at the end of the cable closest to the ground, but it remained
snugly in the earth. Harvey plucked it like a harp string. Where
did it go, and who the hell had put it there? Or had it grown
like a root from his computer into the ground?
chuckled nervously. Nah, he thought. Thats crazy.
stared at the cable for a minute, panting from all the clambering
along the ground, then exited the crawlspace.
in the den, a new message was on the blank screen:
NOT TOUCH THE CABLE, MR. EINBINDER.
he saw the computer, numbness spread in Harveys stomach,
like someone was holding an icepack to his genitals. He tapped
randomly at the keyboard until the message disappeared and the
normal background returned. Harvey sat and tried to steer his
thoughts away from the purple cord.
bored its way through the floor like a worm and dug itself into
the ground lord only knows how deep and to where christamighty
didnt even want to try to rationalize its sudden manifestation.
It was one of those things that would drive you batty if you tried
to figure it out. Best not to dwell on it.
back there, Harvey thought. So what? Its not hurting anything.
he rested his hand on the mouse, he noticed the icon in the bottom
right corner. The one that resembled the face of the digital guide,
Sid. Harvey clicked on the icon. Sid moseyed onto the screen,
a vampiric grin on his face.
can I be of service? he asked. Please type a word,
phrase, or question into this box. Sid held up one of his
hands and a white, rectangular box appeared there. He looked like
a waiter carrying a large white tray. A cursor blinked in the
box, so Harvey typed PURPLE CABLE and hit Enter.
tapped a finger on his chin, as if probing the depths of his own
computerized brain to recall the information.
he said pleasantly, no matches.
typed PURPLE CORD and hit Enter.
thought. Sorry, no matches.
tried again: WHAT IS THE CABLE COMING OUT THE BACK OF THE COMPUTER?
offered Sid dozens of phrases and questions relating to the cable,
but after each attempt Sid would cheerfully reply that sorry,
there were no matches.
gave up and clicked on the face icon. Sid waved goodbye before
leaving the screen.
said no cables, Harvey grumbled.
* * *
tried to sleep, but in bed he couldnt stop thinking of all
the things he was missinghe was connected to the entire
world now. Harvey had never smoked or done drugshe drank
occasionally but was hardly what youd call a drinkerbut
now he knew how smokers and druggies and alcoholics felt while
jonesing for their next fix. So hed forsaken sleep and returned
to the computer.
nine A.M. Harveys phone rang. He knew who was calling, so
he didnt answer. It rang again at nine-thirty and once more
at ten. Then no more. He was supposed to work this morning, to
install new lockers. No doubt Mr. Simmons had been calling to
tell Harvey to shag ass and get to the school. Maybe the last
call was to inform Harvey he was out of a job. That was fine.
Harvey had seen plenty of ads on the internet for jobs he could
do from home on his computer (WORK FROM HOME! BE YOUR OWN BOSS!
USE YOUR PC TO MAKE MILLIONS!). No longer did Harvey have to answer
to the Tom Simmonses of the world.
felt too weak to leave the house. He was hungry. No, famished.
Drained. Standing for more than ten minutes made him feel woozy,
so he stayed parked in front of his eXhaurio PC most of the day,
occasionally venturing into the kitchen to root through the stale
chips and moldy bread in his pantry. Harvey needed groceries.
Hed eaten nearly everything in his house and still couldnt
fill his stomach. Hed found sites on the internet where
you could order groceries and have them delivered to your doorstep,
but for some reason none of the companies would deliver to his
town. McRea was too small, Harvey guessed. Canned corn and smelly
sandwich meat would have to suffice. Harvey munched on these,
not really tasting them, as he stared at the computer.
dusk a searing pain shot through Harveys head, like hed
sucked down a cold drink too fast. The pain was momentary, but
intense. He winced, stood, and staggered on shaky legs to the
bathroom for an aspirin. As he closed the medicine cabinet, he
caught a glimpse of his reflection. Harvey poked his cheeks, which
were speckled with stubble. Hed always been overweight and
was used to the flabby-jowls that normally stared back at him
from a mirror. But now his cheeks were flat, almost sunken. His
eyes were yellow orbs surrounded by puffy, purplish skin.
grunted and looked down. His stomach, too, appeared lessened.
He hooked a thumb into the waistband of his pants and tugged out.
They were roomier than a few days before.
howd I lose weight sitting in front of that computer? he
wondered. And Ive been eating like a pig at the trough,
popped two aspirin and headed back to the den, and as he did so
he happened to glance behind the computer. What he saw there didnt
fully register until he sat down and thought, Is that purple cord
knelt beside the PCkneeling wasnt as troublesome now
with fewer inches around his middleand peered at the cable.
Two days ago it had been the width of his pinky finger. Now it
was wider than a garden hose, and sluggishly it expanded and contracted,
like the sides of a napping dog. Harvey reached for the cord,
then froze, remembering the message that had appeared on the computers
screenDO NOT TOUCH THE CABLE, MR. EINBINDER! Unknown to
Harvey, the same message was there again, repeating enough times
to fill the screen. But Harveys attention was solely on
the cable. He wrapped his fingers around the cable and nearly
recoiled from its moist, spongy texture, and for a split-second
the cable stopped pulsating, as if it had noticed him.
aint right, Harvey said. They promised no cables,
so this shouldnt be here.
both hands he gripped the cord and yanked hard. No luck. Harvey
turned the computer around so that its back faced him, and then
braced his feet against it and pulled the cord again. Still, the
cord didnt come free, not even a quarter of an inch.
cursed and released the cord. He marched from the den, returning
a minute later with a pair of bolt-cutters that he had borrowed
from work, where he used them to cut padlocks off of lockers.
He stood over the computer and held the open blades over the purple
cord. Snip. The bolt-cutters sliced through the cable like scissors
through string cheese. Red fluid hemorrhaged from the severed
end of the cord as it writhed on the floor like a beheaded snake
or a nightcrawler impaled on a fishermans hook. Gagging,
Harvey darted to the hall closet and snatched down as many towels
as he could carry. He hurried back into the den, and just before
he threw the towels over the whole mess his eyes fixed on the
cable once more. It had stopped squirming but continued to spurt
red into a spreading puddle.
god its bleeding its spouting blood all over my floor
it looks like ive murdered someone
his gorge had settled.
be some kind of computer oil, Harvey reassured himself.
power light on the computers front panel was no longer on,
and the monitor was black (with no messages), reflecting Harveys
sallow face back at him. He tapped the monitor. Static crackled
as his fingertips touched the screen. He pressed the power button
on, Harvey pleaded. Work, dammit!
aside the clump of goop-soaked towels, he unplugged the power
cord from the wall. He braced himself for the computer to make
a noise as he plugged it back in, but the computer made no sound.
And it still had no power.
the kitchen, Harvey called the 800-number from eXhaurios
commercial and heard the monotone female voice telling him to
leave his name and address to receive his free PC, but there were
no instructions for contacting the company or customer service
about a problem. Harvey hung up the phone and went out back where
hed tossed the eXhaurio box. He searched every square inch
of the cardboard, thinking the company might have printed a different
phone number on it, but the only writing on the box was eXhaurio,
punted the empty box next to his lawnmower shed and stormed back
inside. His breathing had become labored. The den tilted to one
side, and Harvey could barely stand. He collapsed onto the couch
and, within minutes, was snoring.
* * *
at his front door. Harvey opened his eyes. The light in the den
was still on, but outside the sun had long since set. Harvey looked
at his watchjust after midnight.
get your panties in a bunch, Harvey huffed, sitting up on
the couch. His head felt as if it was squeezed between two boards
and bound tightly with duct tape. The knocking continued. Harvey
made his way to the door and began to open it. This better
be good. I dont know who you think you are banging on my
words stuck in his throat. On his front stoop were two men who
stood no taller than Harveys stomach. Their skin was powdery
white, like an albinos, which contrasted drastically with
their baggy, dark blue jumpsuits, the kind mechanics wear. They
reminded Harvey of Count Orlok from the black-and-white horror
flick Nosferatu: bald heads too large for their bodies; dark,
protruding eyes, as if their eyeballs wanted free from the sockets;
thin red lips curled into smiles. Their jumpsuits had nametags:
apparently, their names were Fingal and Erland.
evening, Mr. Einbinder, Fingal said in a voice both raspy
and childlike. Computer problems, no?
nodded, his jaw stupidly hanging open.
servicemen from eXhaurio.
squeezed past him into the den, Erland carrying a large toolbox.
The eXhaurio logo was emblazoned on the backs of their jumpsuits.
closed the front door. I didnt call anyone.
servicemen crouched behind the computer and whispered. They pushed
aside the pile of towels and saw the dried red ooze on the floor
and the purple cable lying lifeless on the floor. Their bulbous
eyes grew even wider. They opened the oversized toolbox, took
out two rags, and began wiping up the dried oil.
didnt call anyone, Harvey repeated, taking a hesitant
looked up at him. Dont worry, Mr. Einbinder. Well
have your computer working in no time.
you know it messed up? That cable
touch the cable, Mr. Einbinder! hissed Erland. Fingal shot
his partner a contemptuous look, and Erland went back to work.
turned back to Harvey with a genial expression. This cable
keeps you connected to our network, Mr. Einbinder. If it ever
becomes disconnected, we know.
are you here so late? Harvey asked. I cuh
cable broke almost five hours ago.
ignored him. We had other house calls before you, Mr. Einbinder.
Harvey wondered if the other eXhaurio customers had cleaved their
purple cords, as well.
worry, Mr. Einbinder. Well have your computer in tiptop
shape in no time. You should get some rest. You look peaked. Have
you been eating?
thought what an odd question that was for Fingal to ask, but he
heard himself say, A lot. His eyelids felt suddenly
heavy. I dont have
Mr. Einbinder, Fingal said soothingly. Sleep.
shuffled to the couch and lay down. He began to drift off while
the servicemen worked furiously behind the computer. Just before
sleep found him, he heard Fingal say, Dont touch the
purple cable, Mr. Einbinder. Ever. Just enjoy your computer.
Harvey awoke, the sun was out and the servicemen were gone. They
had cleaned up every drop of the red oil and had even washed,
dried, and folded the towels Harvey had draped over the mess.
The towels werent even stained. In the kitchen Harvey found
several bags worth of groceries on his counter and in his refrigerator.
Thats nice of them, I guess, he thought. He returned to
the den and inspected their work: The purple cord, which had returned
to the width of Harveys pinky, was reconnected to the computer.
Theyd done such a skillful job that he couldnt see
the seam where theyd patched the cable.
probably gave me a whole new cord, he thought.
was relieved now that he knew the cables purposeto
keep him connected to eXhaurios network, whatever that meant.
He switched on the computers power as he sat at the card
table. The PC hummed to life, and instantly the sensation of being
plugged into the world bloomed in Harveys brain.
the regular icon screen appeared, a message flashed briefly on
the blank monitor:
MORNING, MR. EINBINDER! WELCOME BACK!
morning, said Harvey.
* * *
spent the next three days at the computer, only leaving the den
to grab something to eat from the groceries the servicemen had
left him. Then something changed. One evening, after eating a
frozen dinner he didnt bother to microwave, Harvey sat at
the computer and stared at the monitor. He didnt touch the
mouse or keyboard, didnt go onto the internet or play any
games. He only stared. For eighteen straight hours he gawked empty-eyed
at the screen, his only movements the slight rising and falling
of his chest as he breathed. In his mind, however, he was still
playing hearts with people from around the world, checking his
email account for new messages, and searching for nude pictures
of Madonna. Late that night he slunk off to bed.
next day he did the same. And the next day. And the next. He slept
little, and despite consuming all the food in his kitchen, hed
lost nearly thirty pounds. Harvey felt hollow, but a different
part of himthe part that was connectedfelt alive and
fulfilled, but only when he sat at the computer.
computer began to make sounds. Squishes, squeaks, thumps, and
throbs. Sounds of contentment, like the purring of a housecat.
* * *
of fierce thunderstorms had settled over most of Georgia, knocking
out the power to many homes. The storms had yet to reach Harveys
neighborhood but were still causing hiccups in the power all over
the state. In the middle of Harveys daily staring marathon,
the den light dimmed, then went out. The computer screen blinked
off. The power was out for only a moment, but that was long enough
to break Harveys focus.
he said. Come on!
if obeying him, the den light came back on, as did the computer,
which immediately made mucid sounds again.
in the name of Moses
leaned over to listen. Something was moving inside the computer.
Something wet. He placed his hand on top of the computer and drew
it away quickly. The PC was burning up, hot enough to redden Harveys
palm. Then he saw the purple cord. It was now thicker than Harveys
arm and was clumped and knotted like a snake swallowing too many
rabbits. It pulsated, quicker than before, and made Harvey think
of an esophagus pulling food into a stomach. An esophagus without
sight horrified him, but a more grotesque thought occurred to
him. All the weight hed lost, the feeling of emptinessof
being drainedhed felt. This computer was somehow responsible.
It was like an esophagus feeding a stomach, and he was the food.
knocked the computer on its side and, despite its heat, clawed
savagely at its corners. He grabbed a screwdriver from a kitchen
drawer and used it to pry open one side of the computer. Then
he pulled away the panel. There were no wires or circuits or microchips
inside. Instead, he found a translucent sac filled with reddish
fluid. The computer emitted a high-pitched squeal. Harvey stabbed
the sac with the screwdriver, then tore it open with his hands.
Red fluid spilled from the computer, exposing its contents. Harvey
turned his head away and wretched.
computer was filled with organs. Human organs. A heart, a liver,
lungs, intestines, a brainall of them connected by thin
strands of muscle tissue. The organs shuddered and sloshed, continuing
its piercing whine.
jabbed at the purple cord with the screwdriver. Red fluid drenched
his face and chest and arms. Finally, he hacked the cable in two
and it wriggled on the floor, spilling more redness everywhere.
Harvey still couldnt lift the computer, so he hauled it
through the den, through the kitchen, and into the backyard. The
rain would come soon, so he had to hurry. He ran back into the
house, grabbed the monitor and keyboard and mouse, and threw them
on top of the computer in the yard. In the shed he found the gasoline
can and a pack of matches. As he emptied the cans contents
on the computer, Harvey felt the world begin to spin around him.
He hoped that he wasnt too weak; he had to stay conscious,
only for another few seconds.
struck a match and tossed it onto the gas-soaked computer.
world blurred to a hazy gray, and Harvey collapsed. The computer
* * *
opened his eyes. He was back inside his house. Orange light of
dusk shone through the slits in the window blinds and rained pelted
the roof like thousands of knuckles rapping on a tabletop. Standing
over him were the two albino servicemen, Fingal and Erland. Harvey
tried to move but couldnt. He was on his couch, his arms
and legs securely bound. Harvey struggled against the restraints.
shouldnt have done that, Mr. Einbinder, said Fingal.
looked behind the servicemen. Theyd piled together the charred
remains of the computer on the den floor.
is that thing? Harvey asked.
your computer, Erland said. Well, it was.
not a computer, Harvey spat. Its
know what the hell it is, but it aint a computer. It was
feeding off me.
servicemen smiled. We know, Fingal said. It
draws yourwhat would you people call it?your essence
and feeds it to the boss.
boss? echoed Harvey.
Erland said reverently. Hes the boss.
could picture it clearly in his mind. Somewhere deep underground
was a gigantic, quivering grub with hundredsor thousands?
or millions?of purple cables snaking into its spongy, segmented
body, sucking life from people like Harvey to feed itself. Athumos.
me! Harvey said, squirming futilely to free himself.
cant do that, Mr. Einbinder, said Fingal. We
have our orders.
Harvey said. What are you gonna do to me?
you know? Erland asked, fighting back a sheepish grin.
dark, explained Fingal, were taking you with
our factory. Youre going to become a computer.
an honor to be a computer, said Erland. Its
an honor to serve the boss.
murderous shriek rang in Harveys ears. Whos that?
he thought. Whos screaming? Then it dawned on him that the
scream was inside his head. Harvey wanted to scream. He tried.
All that escaped him was a whimper, but it was lost in the tumult
of rain and thunder.
* * *
Johnston towed the heavy box into her living room. She was giddy,
like a child at Christmas. It was her first computer, and shed
gotten it free. Shed seen a commercial on late-night television
and dialed the number that very minute. A week passed, her anticipation
bubbling over like an unwatched pot on the stove. Shed heard
her doorbell and ran to answer it. Expecting to meet a delivery
man at her door, she found only a box with eXhaurio, Inc.
on its sides.
much struggling, she finally managed to wrestle the computer from
the box. She stroked it as if it was the most beautiful thing
shed ever seen. She ran her fingers over its small silver
sticker, on which was etched Einbinder Model, followed
by a series of numbers.
Model? Debbie said. What kind of name is that?
giggled and returned to the box. She didnt know much about
computers, but she knew there had to be a screen and a keyboard
at least. And the instructions. She had no idea how to hook up
one of these things. Shed need all the help she could get,
and she wanted to hurry. She couldnt wait to plug it in
and turn it on. She couldnt wait to get connected.