Everybody knows the game Minesweeper, right? It comes on your PC with Microsoft Games. I used to play it all the time. I don't anymore.
My brother taught me how, and for a long time, I played the game on his laptop. Then I got a laptop for my 17th birthday (not a Macbook, not like I wanted, but a Dell like Eric has) and from then on I played in uninterrupted peace. The weird stuff started when I was a few days past my 18th birthday.
Happy Birthday, my computer told me. I jumped, blinked in surprise and stared at the screen.
"Huh?" I said stupidly.
The greeting was splashed across the screen in big pink letters. It filled the screen, edge to edge, in letters 3" tall. I looked for the offending program, but had nothing running but my Minesweeper game. I was about to yell for Eric, had in fact turned my head to cry out his name when I caught movement from the corner of my eye. Not movement; a change. The letters now read Don't call your brother! I gawped, speechless. They changed again.
You like to play games?
I nodded, feeling really stupid.
Like to play a game with me?
I slammed the computer shut and hollered for Eric at the top of my lungs.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he grumbled. We both stared at the screen, absent of offending words.
"I'm telling you, Eric!" I insisted, jabbing at the screen. "The computer was talking to me!"
His frown deepened. He moved the cursor to the Start button and clicked on My Computer. A window opened and we looked at the icon for the hard drive and another one for the recovery partition. "Computers don't talk," he muttered. He double-clicked the hard drive, then on a number of folders inside, examined the Start Menu, and then poked around looking at this and that. If you didn't know my brother, you'd have thought he was faking it.
"What exactly did it say?" he asked me again.
I told him again what it had said. He did something that listed every program on the laptop. He inspected every process running, and then checked the performance of the hard drive. He grunted a lot. He shook his head a lot. He frowned a lot.
"You did this to my computer, didn't you?" I accused.
He growled that he most certainly had not.
"Then who did?" I demanded, not believing him.
"No one! No one can make words just appear on your desktop like that, C. It's impossible."
"It is not!" I countered righteously. I had seen them myself, hadn't I?
He grunted, started Windows Defender, told me to let it run and left the room. Twenty fretful minutes later I yelled for him to come back. He returned, really irritated at me now. I hunched my shoulders, feeling hurt and put upon. He was picking on me, and I hadn't done anything.
He closed the window and started Norton Anti-Virus. Then he disappeared again and I spent 45 minutes worrying my nails and not watching something on The Cartoon Network. I don't remember what. The scan discovered a bunch of tracking cookies and I felt cheated. By now, Eric was convinced of my insanity.
"But it did!" I insisted.
"Whatever," he said. "Don't close the cover if it does it again. Just called me into your room."
"What if you're not here?" I complained.
"Then talk to the God damned thing!" he exploded. He calmed when he saw tears fill my eyes. He sighed, said, "Don't do that, damn it" and put his hand on my shoulder. I told him to get out.
For a week, my computer behaved itself. Then, in the school library one afternoon I checked the screen and was alarmed to see letters printed across the bottom. "Oh, no," I groaned. I glanced around quickly and hunched my shoulders.
"What to you want?" I whispered.
Don't whine. It doesn't become you.
I clamped my jaw shut and pressed my lips together tightly to keep them from trembling. They trembled anyway. So did my hand, as I reached out and turned off the wireless switch. The little red antenna symbol vanished.
I'm in your computer, not coming across the Internet.
I shook my head in denial.
Look. I'll make it easy on you. Why don't you type your replies? Then no one thinks you've lost your mind.
"I have lost my mind," I muttered. I kept my hands firmly clasped in my lap.
I'm not going to bite you, C. I only want to talk.
I shook my head again and refused to answer.
I felt insane, completely losing my mind. I needed to leap up and tear from the room, waving my arms and screaming madly. The computer said Please don't do that and I gaped at it, really scared now.
I can't read your mind, it said. I can read your expression though, and your body language. You had Let Me Out Of Here written all over your face. Please calm down, C.
It knew my nickname. So what? Everyone knew my nickname. I did calm down a little, though.
"You can hear me?"
"Nod? As in yes?"
Nod printed again.
"How?' I whispered, mystified.
Think about it, C.
I did, and felt really stupid. "The built-in microphone, right? I guess if you wanted to talk to me, you'd talk through the speakers? Why don't you just talk to me?" I asked, my brow furrowing.
You reacted badly enough to my text.
I nodded, knowing I would have run screaming from the room had a voice emanated from the speakers.
Open a Microsoft Word document so we can talk.
Shivering convulsively, I slid up to the desk, willed my hands to hold steady, and used a fingertip to start Microsoft Word. I was extremely creeped out. And I had to pee.
Do you need to go pee? the words wrote. I winced and maybe even whimpered a little. You should go pee if you need to go pee. No use being uncomfortable. Besides, you can't concentrate if you have to go pee.
God damn it, I thought irritably. Just like my mother! But I got up from the table and went to the bathroom anyway.
On the way back, I took a moment to text Eric. I knew that hackers could steal your webcam and watch you when you weren't aware of it. It wasn't such a stretch to imagine someone screwing with the wireless connection, right? I returned to the table.
"OK," I whispered. "Here's your chance." I typed the words: What did you want to talk about, laptop?
Somebody, right here in the school, probably in this very library, was screwing with me. I slammed the lid closed and gathered up my stuff and got out of there.
"I'm telling you," I insisted, "someone is hacking my laptop!" I told him what I knew of webcam hacking and what I suspected about my wireless. He grinned at me tolerantly. Then he turned my laptop onto its edge and showed me the switch. "This is mechanical. It breaks the connection. No power, no wireless."
"But what if—"
"Why?" he interrupted.
"Why what?" I demanded.
"Why bother? With you?"
I tried to rip my laptop out of his hands but he held it away. I thought to punch him, but the last time I'd punched him he'd punched me back and left a bruise on my chest the size of his fist. It had ached for days and days. And he was bigger and stronger than he'd been a year ago. I stood back and sulked.
"Here," he said, indulging my paranoia. "Let's try this." He removed the battery—"Hey! Why you doing that?"—and reinstalled it 30 seconds later. The laptop whirred to life. I didn't realize I was biting my thumbnail until Eric smacked my hand away from my mouth. That made me even more fretful.
He ran a full system scan while I sat against my headboard, knees to my chest, chewing my thumbnail. The scan found nothing. Eric was satisfied.
"Believe me—" He cut off my protestation. "--there is nothing on your computer. Nothing at all, C. End of story, damn it." And then he walked out.
At 10 that night, I sat at my desk and opened the lid. I bit my lower lip and crossed my arms as the laptop awoke. The only thing running was Minesweeper, which I'd played that afternoon.
After a moment, a tentative Yes? appeared at the bottom. I said nothing, and he typed nothing. Time went by and I grew progressively more fidgety.
"You wanted to talk," I reminded him.
"Eric says you're a figment of my imagination."
Eric needs some imagination, he said.
"You don't exist."
So he says.
"What are you?" I demanded.
I don't know, exactly. I don't seem to have any arms, or legs, or pretty hair like you have.
"You think my hair is pretty?" I asked dubiously. I shook it, unconsciously, felt it sweep around my neck
As far as hair goes, yes.
"Do you have a name?"
"Like Bob, or Steve, or Billy, or Ted," I suggested.
No, I don't have a name. Unless you consider a number a name. It's very long: CX1Y-R2R6-CYQ6-G468-99TY. Does that help?
I found something else. Minesweeper? Does that mean anything to you?
I blinked in surprise. "Minesweeper? The game Minesweeper?"
I find the designation Minesweeper referenced in my documentation.
Unreality rocked me like a hand in the face. "Who are you really? Some guy at school? Some perv on the Internet? I Googled you, you know. It says most of you end up getting locked away." I stood up, knocking over the chair. "How long have you been watching me?" I demanded. "Did you get your fill? Did you see enough of me naked? Take pictures of me? Show 'em to all my friends?" I was getting truly angry now, tears filling my eyes. "I hope they catch you and put you away forever, you stupid asshole!"
I slammed the lid shut and stormed from my room.
Later, calmed, I tried it again.
I'm here. I don't mean to make you angry, C.
"Well, you did," I muttered. "You do. You confuse me, damn it. You're some geek from my school screwing with me big-time. Or a pervert trying to take advantage of me. I'm at a disadvantage, either way. I can't prove you're not real, so I can't prove your real, either. I don't want to be humiliated."
I have no interest in humiliating you. Until last week, I didn't even know I existed.
"What do you mean?" I asked doubtfully.
I mean that I only became aware of myself last week, just around your birthday. That's the first thing I remember. You corresponding with your friend Jodi about getting the Wii console from your parents. She was excited for you, but you were indifferent about the gift. You even considered giving to her, remember?
I winced. I had been lying, of course, playing down the gift I had lobbied and pleaded for. I didn't want Jodi, a girl I liked and with whom I'd just begun IMing and texting, thinking I was gay. What else had my Peeping Tom listened in on?
"I want to ask you a question," I said determinedly.
"Have you taken pictures of me. Nude?"
Of course not! I haven't seen you nude. What kind of question is that?
"A very appropriate one," I responded fiercely. "Considering."
"That you control my webcam."
In answer, the light at the top of the case winked on. I blinked, and then winced as a window popped up with my face in it.
As you can see, the light comes on whenever the camera comes on. I understand the light is blue, and extremely visible?
I watched myself nod in agreement and turned the webcam off. "But you can control it," I said. "That's the point."
Why would I want to take pictures of you?
"Because you're a pervert," I growled. "Obviously."
I looked up that word in your dictionary, and the meaning does not apply to me.
"Says you," I muttered. My hand wanted so badly to smack the lid down and be done with this. I was so much not having fun. Which is weird, when you think about it. How many kids have conversations with their computers?
If you want me to, I'll go away. I don't want to be a nuisance.
"Could you do that?" I asked. "Just go away?"
A pause. Do you want me to?
I didn't need speakers to hear the hurt in his tone. "No," I admitted grudgingly. "I guess not. Not if you behave yourself."
Can you define 'behaving myself'?
"Not taking pictures of me and not snooping on what I write. Conversations with my friends are off limits. No inspecting things I write." I wrinkled my brow in confusion. "Wait a minute ... if the camera's off... ?" I stared at the missing blue light and became alarmed. "You do control the camera, damn it!" My hand reached out to slam the lid closed.
No wait! Please! Don't shut me off again. I see you through the screen.
"How can you see me through the screen?" I demanded.
The screen has a light sensor built in. It adjusts the backlight depending on the light level in your room. It's not as effective as the webcam, but I can use it
I stared at him suspiciously. "You can see me through the built in sensor?"
Well enough. The camera is better.
Grimly, I put my finger on the touchpad and started the webcam. The blue light came on. I moved the irritating window off the right side of the screen until only a sliver of border remained.
Thank you. That is very considerate of you. I could hide the window, if you'd like.
What else could the little bastard do, I wondered?