Instead of my standard Ghostland post this week, I’m going to do something different. I’ve been working on my novel lately. Though the whole work is not very autobiographical at all, there are various stories and anecdotes that mirror an experience of mine or someone that I know. The following is one that happened to me and some friends. It’s looking like it won’t actually make it into the book, so I figured I would post it here.

The novel centers around a handful of former users of a BBS, which was a place that people got on their computers to talk to other people before the Internet came along. The novel takes place in 2002 and the narrator is recounting a story that took place in 1992. Some of the themes of the novel is socialization, the difficulties of socialization, and the search for community, of which this scene was a part.

I was hanging out at Tom’s house playing video games with Tom (Tailfin), Mark (Toad), and Jeff (Okate). As was not infrequently the case, we multi-tasked and someone was on the board most of the time. I was about to take over when a girl with the handle of Bunnyflop sent him an IUM asking him how his day was. “Do you know someone by the name of Bunnyflop?” I asked Tom, whose account was online at the time.

“No. Should I?”

“I don’t know. She just sent you an IUM asked how your day is.”

“Tell her fine. Hey, can you stick on my account for right now. I want to talk to her as soon as I die here. I’ve got one hit-point left.”

I shrugged. I hadn’t sent in my subscription money yet for the month, so I only had an hour a day. Tom was a “silver subscription” account holder, meaning that he got 3 hours a day. Better his time than mine, I figured.

I told Bunnyflop that I was doing fine. I never found out exactly what happened to Tom’s game, but he must have rebounded because he was playing for at least another half-hour while I sat there and chatted with Megan, aka Bunnyflop. Megan was obviously pretty new to the whole BBSing thing and talking on line thing, so I carried the conversation. I’d been on the board six months and I was getting to be very good at first impressions (it was usually maintaining their interest that was the problem). I was on a roll that day. I can’t remember what all I said, but with all humility I can say that I was a comic genius.

“Dude, what are you laughing at?” Tom asked as he kept playing his game.

“Sorry. I’m just on a roll talking to Bunnyflop.”

“Are you still on my account? Does she know that you’re you?”

Oh, crud, I thought. Not only was I using Tom’s account, but I had told her that my name was Tom. I didn’t expect anything to come of this conversation. “Not exactly.”

“Sweet! Keep talking man. And be funnier! My account, my hero points!”

He had a point. I was using his time. If I’d decided to be funny and charming, it was all in his name. Besides that, things were looking somewhat good with Clarissa at the time and I didn’t need this particular fish, so I cold toss it over in his bucket. I viewed it as an opportunity to get some experience being charming and witty, though.

She was also a good conversationalist. She played off me wonderfully. Things were honestly going extremely well when she asked what I was up to the rest of the afternoon.

I explained that I had some friends over and we were playing some video games. We were going to watch anime that afternoon. Was she interested in coming over?

She was interested in coming over. Right now, in fact. She would bring over some movies if we wanted to. She was also an anime fan. When Tom’s character finally died, I told him what was going on. He was elated. It had been a while before he’d found any luck even on the board. I was happy for him, but I also felt a little cheated. After all, this was my kill. It bit to use all that effort scoring for someone else. Besides, if he faltered (and with Tom this was not unlikely) I would get my chance.

It actually wasn’t that big of a surprise when it turned out to be a moot point. I had picked up on the fact that she was probably going to be heavy, but she turned out to merely be a little thick. The problem was that she was hopelessly dull. It’s not that she didn’t contribute to our hanging out. It’s not even that her failure to contribute dragged on the rest of us. It’s that she somehow managed to singlehandedly make all the non-dull in the room simultaneously implode, leaving our pale and gaunt apparitions roaming around vainly searching for non-dull.

We gave her every opportunity to be interesting. We asked her questions, but she never gave a single answer more than a word or two long.

“So where are you going to college?”

“[private religious university].”

“Oh really? Why [private religious university]?”

“Parents.”

“Parents went there or they want you to go there?”

“Both.”

“So you want to go there?”

“I guess.”

“What do you want to major in?”

“Marine biology.”

“[private religious university] has a marine biology major?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you should go to a school that offers the major that you want.”

“Maybe.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she had been like this online as well. She mostly played off what I had to say in one or two word responses. In actuality, I had actually projected a non-dull personality on a remarkably, fascinatingly dull vessel of a person.

She didn’t appear to be having any more fun than we were. We realized that we were sort of bombarding her with questions, but it was mostly in an effort just to get her to talk. As a joke, Tom got a flood light and aimed it at her. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, flinching in the light. She didn’t get the joke, answering as though we’d asked if she knew the capital of Zimbabwe or some other non-offensive, serious question.

We all just looked at each other and realized that we were dealing with something peculiar here. We put in the anime tape, watched the show, and decided that we would rather all just go home than spend any more time with the dull-producing machine. Tom, of course, was the one that couldn’t escape because he already was home. He decided that he had some homework to do.

We all ended up going to my house. Once he was sure that she was gone, Tom joined us.

That night he got a System Message from Bunnyflop. She said that she’d had a great time and that she would like to hang out with us again and maybe watch some more anime. We were stunned and a little mad. We were partly stunned because she’d had a good time when we were sure that she was as uncomfortable as we were. In fact, we’d kind of thought that was why she didn’t say much. We were also partly stunned because it turned out that she could string multiple words together. We were a little mad because if she’d just managed to do that at Tom’s house, everything might have turned out very differently.

Tom never responded and we only saw her online a couple times after that before she stopped logging on.


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2 Responses to The Dullness-Prepulsion Machine

  1. Kirk says:

    Perhaps the girl who came over to the house wasn’t the one you were speaking to on BBS? Like you, she could have been using her friend’s (Meghan’s) handle while Meghan played video games. Then, when the real Meghan came over to the house, it was someone you hadn’t communicated to.

    Even if untrue, it would make for a good story. (And this is a novel, right?)

  2. trumwill says:

    That would be a cute twist, but it would make the plot thread a little more involved than I am looking for. Unless I can make “Meghan” an existing character. Something to consider, anyway.

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