Written by: Lindenbree
Note: The --- symbolizes a time lapse. Also, the formatting may seem odd but it's done that way on purpose. I will change this and have every paragraph start after a blank line as per normal, if necessary. Also, here's author comments.
I plug the cable in and… looks like it works! My old laptop has had a severely cracked screen for years. This screen only displays a white mess of glitchy pixels, but as far as I can tell the computer itself seems to work just fine. I had found the laptop when I was cleaning out my attic and figured I'd hook it up to another monitor so I could use it again. Now, the computer is nearly a decade old and has gone unused for years so I doubt there's anything very useful on it. But I figure there'd be sentimental things on there… like digital drawings and videos I'd made as a child. The last time I'd used this laptop was when I was 12, which… wasn't exactly the best time of my life. Regardless, I still want to see what I created at that age again though.
It takes a while to load but eventually I'm brought to the desktop screen. There are folder files for the school assignments I had done in front of the default background. It was just a façade to make me look more studious though… I had been failing school at that age. Instead of working on homework, I'd spent all my time surfing the web and hiding that fact from my parents. It caught up with me though I think, glancing sadly at the ruined screen of my old laptop.
Returning my focus to the point of this, I start checking out the computer files. I was right to think I'd find sentimental data on here. My first works in Photoshop, the horrid attempts I'd made at drawing anime, silly videos such as cartoon clips where I synced the characters to songs… even the entire code for a website I had created, but never got the chance to launch. None of those creations are impressive but they are all important to me. I hadn't had much experience with using computer programs at that time so creating such things had been quite difficult. I remember putting so much effort into those projects, causing myself almost unbearable frustration as I had tried so hard to become better at what I liked doing. Even now, many years later, I still hurt a bit thinking of the distress it caused. Don't get me wrong though, I don't regret the efforts I made to create those silly things… I had learned a lot from it. Still though, I feel like all the pain I went through caused something inside of me to break, and that broken piece still lies in these deceivingly inconsequential things from my childhood.
As I continue to look through the files, I find a folder with a strange, seemingly randomly generated name "Phs2AoxI43N". Hm, that could be anything really. I open the folder and see several video files, recordings from the Sims 2. Right, I used to play that game a lot… I had been playing that game, in fact, when my laptop's screen became broken. I had been playing that game, in fact, when I decided to kill who I was. I take a deep breath, trying to push the memory aside, and start watching some of the videos.
I don't recall what the point of these videos were supposed to be. Most of them are of the Sim I made called Ash doing random activities. Perhaps I had planned to create some kind of video out of these clips and never got around to it? I stare at Ash contemplatively, trying to find the answer. It's strange watching her paint and play computer games, she looks so much like me. That was the point though, I had created Ash to look like me. Being 12 at that time, I had thought the child Sims looked too young. But the next highest age was a teenager, so that's what I made Ash as. She looks a lot more like how I do now than when I was 12.
Glancing at the clock, I realize it's gotten quite late. I'm tempted to play the Sims 2 again after seeing those videos, but I figure it'd take a while to find the game's disk, so I opt to go bed instead.
The next morning belonged to a Saturday, so with nowhere to go I decide to return to the computer room to see what else I'll find on my old laptop. I notice a paper filled with colorful bars and squares in the printer nearby. I pull the paper out and realize it's a print test page, to test the ink levels of the printer and its ability to colorize them correctly. Odd… I frown and look to the monitor the laptop is hooked up to, searching for an explanation. I notice the wifi connection of my old laptop has all its bars lit. Wait… it can't automatically connect to my network unless it knows the wifi password, right? I thought I changed that password during the years this laptop had gone unused but… perhaps I hadn't. Well, since it's connected to wifi I suppose that means it could have also connected to the printer wirelessly. I check the print history of my laptop and the test page is on there. So my old laptop had connected itself to wifi and then printed out a test page? Is that a normal thing for older computers? I have a feeling the answer is no, but I decide it's not really a big deal and return to my file searching.
This time I find a story I had written. It's about some girl who has to journey through a fantastical land to save the fairies and therefore the world… and it's pretty awful. The characters are flat, the ending is beyond cheesy, and clichés are everywhere. I was always told I have a knack for writing, but after a while I realized those compliments meant "Hey, you know how to use spell check", not "Your writings are inspiring". That would have been nice to know before I had wasted my time creating such "terribad" stories.
Is my story really that bad? I wonder. I frown at that thought. Of course it's bad, why did I think otherwise for even a moment? My thoughts are interrupted as I notice an uncomfortable feeling in my bladder. I close the document and head to the bathroom, passing by a mirror I'd hung on the wall. Suddenly my old laptop lets out a loud beep and I flinch in surprise, knocking the mirror over. It hits the floor with the sound of breaking glass. I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment, holding in my frustration, and then walk to the laptop. "WARNING: Battery level under 10%" reads a message on the screen. Really? I broke my mirror because of that? Screw this laptop and its absurdly loud battery warnings I think bitterly, deciding to ignore the warning and just let the computer run dead. It's not as if I'm worried about any data going unsaved. You're going to let it die again? This thought feels mournful somehow, lonely and full of pain. I feel my eyes start to water but I promptly blink the tears away. What the hell? That was a very sudden emotion. Why did I just nearly cry over the thought of letting a computer's battery run out of charge? It's because you killed it before. Killing it again is even worse. I begin to really question these thoughts. I hadn't killed my laptop… it's still working and computers can't "die" in the first place. Besides, if anything it's my parent's fault for the pitiful state of the computer. You stopped trying after that, you let it die. Okay, another weird thought… YOU KILLED US. The thought echoes through my head in a fit of anger and despair. Okay… okay. Alright then. Maybe seeing these sentimental files are getting to me? I'm going to take a break from this.
The break didn't last long.
I have a paper due soon. Feeling reluctant to use my old laptop again, I decide to disconnect the monitor from it and reconnect it to my desktop computer. This is the main computer I use nowadays, since the older laptop had been in my attic for years. After reconnecting the monitor to my main computer, I press the power button on the tower and… nothing happens. I press it again, which results in the same amount of nothing as before. I obviously check to make sure everything is plugged in, and it is. I check the fan for dust and it's mostly clean. I stare into space for a while. Then I stare cynically at the power button and then face palm. Of course it broke. Of course. It couldn't break when I didn't urgently need it, no way, that would be less inconvenient. Well, the paper has to be done. I unplug the monitor, hook it back up to the old laptop and start working.
I feel like smashing my head against the wall until I get a concussion. This. Laptop. Is. Slow. It had been a bit slow before when I was loading files, but doing research online is absolute hell. Every webpage takes literally five minutes to load. During one of these long loading times, I figure instead of staring at the screen in frustration, I might as well pick up the mirror I had left on the floor. I turn the mirror over and see its cracked badly, but the shards stay in the frame so it's all still intact. Figuring it still technically works, I hang the mirror back on the wall and look at my distorted reflection in its shattered glass. It seems off… I know I'm obviously not going to look right in a broken mirror but the reflection still seemed off. I notice the light emanating from my monitor change, so I look at the screen and see it finished loading. I sit back down in front of the monitor and get to work, debating whether it would be faster to finish my essay on this laptop or on my phone.
With all essays out of the way, and my main computer broken, I try to decide how to spend my free time. Usually I'd spend it surfing the web but I'd rather not feel the urge to smack myself to the point of brain damage because of those slow loading times. Staring at the laptop for a bit, I remember those Sims 2 videos with Ash doing random things. I'm still leery of the laptop, but nothing strange had happened last time I used it, when I was writing that paper. Hm… I guess I'll play Sims 2 then.
After destroying what little cleanliness my house has, I find the disk and put it in the laptop. To my surprise the game loads quickly and runs smoothly. I figure I might as well check out Ash's life, since she's the whole reason I decided to play this. I click on the house she lives in, a house modeled after the one I had lived in at that time, and the sims currently occupying that lot are displayed. Ash is the only one listed as a household member, even though I had created sims of my parents to live there too. After the house loads, I find Ash sitting on her couch in her living room, munching on cereal. She stares out the screen, at me. I move the camera and her gaze follows. I guess sims are supposed to do that? Well that's not creepy or anything. Anyway… I check her aspirations and strangely enough her lifetime aspiration is to "Grow Up", an aspiration that should only be available to toddler and child sims. Perhaps I had used a cheat code or something to change her aspiration… although I'm not sure why I would have done that. Maybe it's because I am a child goes a thought through my head. Weird thoughts again? That's great. I try to shrug it off, but I don't feel like I'm doing a good job of convincing myself that strange voices in my head aren't a big deal. I check Ash's memories, and the death of her parents are listed there… listed as good memories. I never killed those sims though, why are they dead? They killed you, you killed me, so I killed them. The thought continues before I can try to understand what that even means. Of course, those weren't the real parents but this is as close as I can get. You trapped me with them, so I got rid of them. Now I'm alone. That is what you wanted, so this is what I want.
The thought has a matter-of-fact tone, as if the meaning of what it says should be obvious. Okay, wait, now I'm thinking of my thoughts as something I can't understand. They're my own thoughts though, how can I not understand them? Don't you think it's magic? No, why the heck would I think that? I don't believe in magic. I do believe in insanity though, and frankly I'm beginning to think it might apply to me. I find myself gazing at the cracked mirror, as if looking at my physical self would give any indication of mental deterioration. The reflection still looks off, it looks… my eyes widen and I look back to Ash's model… then to the mirror, then to Ash and back to the mirror. I get out of the chair and move closer to the mirror. I now know why my reflection seems off. Reflected in the mirror is not myself, but Ash. It's hard to make out in the damaged reflection but it's certainly her… that's not a human. I'm seeing a game sprite… in my mirror.
Okay, well, fuck this.
I slam the door to the computer room and run to my bedroom. I sit on my bed, rocking back and forth. Am I okay? Did I… eat something bad? No… no, that's stupid. I wouldn't have eaten anything hallucinogenic. I look around my room, nothing looks amiss. I feel fine. I go to my bathroom and stare at the mirror. I only see my own reflection, looking frightened. I debate splashing my face with water (it's what I see crazy people do in movies) but I decide there's really no way that would help me. I'm not crazy though, right? I mean, I haven't felt weird unless I use that old laptop. It used to be a source of joy, why do I feel so insane around it now? I feel a compulsion to look up what mental illnesses fit my symptoms on the internet but of course I'm not going back to that laptop. I return to my bed and pull the sheets over me, deciding not to turn the lights off. I lay awake for hours, and no strange voices speak to me. I eventually fall asleep, nearly convincing myself that maybe that was a one time event which won't happen again. Nearly.
I finally finished my website! I'd been teaching myself HTML and CSS, and I'd finally just now finished it! It was really hard but really fun. It's so that people can watch cartoons and stuff. I did this thing, where like, you put a video from a site on yours, called embedding so then people can see all kinds of videos and I don't have to upload it. I just have to launch the site now! But I haven't advertised it or anything yet, so I'll do that later. For now, GAMES!
I boot up the Sims 2, and play with the virtual family I made to be based on my own family. Of course they're not exactly the same, Ash is older than me and her parents don't hate her. They do hate me in real life though but whatever, at least I get a house instead of being on the streets. Then again, I guess my parents can't legally kick me out since I'm too young. Maybe they're just waiting until I'm older, and then off to the streets I go. Or worse, a mental hospital… because I'm a problem child. Because I don't suffer enough, having everything taken away from me is what I need. My parents took my computer before, blocked websites, stole my books… even took my toys which is stupid because I don't play with them anymore. They said they bought those things, so they can take them back if they want. That is true, they did buy those things. They didn't buy the Sims 2 though! I had gotten this game at a raffle at school. It's mine now! Anyway, with my parents, I'm only allowed to borrow what they allow me to use… like my bed and the benefits of living in a house. They say I don't even deserve that though. I don't deserve the privilege of school where I misunderstand teachers who send me to the office and students mock me. I don't deserve my room, the one I'm always sent to by my parents, because I'm too much of a burden to deal with. I don't deserve their love. I do deserve to be locked up, with loonies, to have nothing. To have NOTHING. Because once, because once, I had enough. But no, how dare I. I'm supposed to be fed dynamite and never explode. But I exploded. Before then and and before now, I've cried, sat alone and cried. Wailed for hours and had tear marks stained on my face. Even when I sleep! I dream of screams and anger. All directed to me, its wrath burning my heart's protections and leaving it open to wounds. More punishment is what I need. More punishment is what I deserve because I haven't suffered enough. Oh, huh, I totally forgot about the game.
Anyway, I make sure to have all the sims there happy! I concentrate mostly on Ash but everyone benefits from the huge amounts of simoleons they get from cheat codes! Ash does whatever she wants, like art and computer games! It's what I do except… Ash is free to do it. I'm never free but I manage to have fun anyway. I play the Sims 2, I learned HTML, and I even started making videos! Took a while to get around the website blocks though. Lucky Ash, she doesn't have to strain so hard just to have a hobby. Oh well, Ash isn't real but maybe she could be! I don't know how but I'm sure it could be done with magic or something… not that I know how to use magic but someone must. Hm, how to find such a person, maybe-
My door is opened with raging force and slams against the wall. I flinch at the noise. "YOU FAILED THREE CLASSES?" my mother screams from the doorway, father standing behind her. One of her hands is fisted, the other holds my report card. Both hands tremble with rage. "ANSWER ME!" I'm silent for a bit and then say "Yes."
"WHY?" she demands. I feel my hands clench into fists too. I'd told them. I told them both so many times. It's because I don't understand it. I don't understand the work, it's never good enough, it's always a bad grade. Then they blame me for not asking them for help. But I did ask for help. They tried to explain it but I still didn't get it. They were frustrated and yelled at me. Always yelling. Like now.
"I asked you a question" she says in a voice that's too low, too restrained. She gets close to me, close enough to slap me. I want to exit out of my game but I'm afraid looking at the screen might set her off.
"Because I don't get it."
"Then why didn't you ask for HELP!"
I fight back the scream that tries to escape, but I fail to stop the tears.
"I haven't even touched you yet, did I touch her?"
"I didn't see you touch her." Father replies.
Oh, so I can't cry unless they hit me? Well surely one of them will soon, but they'll still let me know how pathetic my feelings are.
"Why are you crying? I haven't even touched you." I try to stop the sobs, the sobs don't stop. I feel my nose start snotting.
"WHY ARE YOU CRYING?" She shakes me, I fall onto the floor, the laptop falls with me. I stay on the floor, just let me lie here and cry, please. But of course that won't happen.
"Get off the floor and answer the question. Look at me when I'm TALKING to you!" My face is yanked up. "What were you doing on that computer?" I tell the truth. I always do, lying just makes them hurt me more.
"Playing a game."
"You're grounded. From everything." says father. He picks the laptop off the ground, meaning to take it from me. Take my joy, because the little bit I have is unacceptable.
"You didn't buy that." I say.
Father looks at mother as if to communicate to her how much of an idiot he thinks I am. They think I mean the computer.
"The GAME. You didn't buy the GAME!" I'm shouting now. "IT'S NOT YOURS, YOU'RE TAKING WHAT ISN'T YOURS!"
I'm slapped. Even though they said they take my things because they bought it, I'm slapped for trying to point that out.
"You don't deserve this. You have three F's. Failures don't get to play games." Her voice is venom. I stand up, and face mother.
"You're both liars and thieves." She lunges at me, I'm shoved back and slam into my dresser. Father gets between us, and holds me down. Holds me down and says I can't get back up until I calm down. Until I calm down. Because I'm the uncontrollable monster? Who attacked first? Yet I'm the one being restrained. "Disgusting" mother scowls at me in revulsion. She's referring to the snotty nose I get when I cry. She told me many times how gross it is. She storms out the room so father lets me go. He then leaves too, slamming the door behind him... after telling me to grow up. I'll never be grown up enough for them.
They leave me in my room to cry alone. I see the laptop on the ground, it must have been dropped at some point. I pick it up off the floor, and see the screen has been cracked displaying nothing but a white mess of glitchy pixels. But, it was all I had left. I learned, I drew… I… had fun on it. I press a few buttons to no avail. I turn the computer off and back on. The screen is ruined. They will never get me another one. My laptop is gone. I deserve this, I bet they'd say. That incident was more violent than usual but the physical pain was never bad. It's the things I lose, the hostility I face everyday from everyone. But I deserve it, they say. Not just my parents, everyone.
Well, now, my laptop is broken. I can't use it. It gave me so much to do in the confines of my room, now it's gone. I deserved this right? I deserve to have it broken. I deserve no happiness, and all the crying I do warrants more punishment. My laptop is gone. My laptop is gone. It's gone. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Don't sob. Don't gasp. It's disgusting. I'm disgusting. I deserve nothing. Nothing except to be mocked. I will not cry, I will not play games. I will work and be alone because that's what I deserve. I want to hurt them. I won't. I want to cry, I won't. I want to be happy… I won't even try anymore.
So now stop crying. I sob again. I decided not to cry, why am I still weeping? My stomach heaves as I sob. It's in something soft? My… covers?
I wake up to the sound of my own crying. I haven't cried in my sleep for a long time… I calm down as the pain of my dream begins to fade. That was disturbingly vivid… and accurate. My dreams are usually abstract but that was a clear recollection of a real memory. The day my laptop broke was also the day I broke and accepted reality. I had decided to stay as silent as possible, because if I didn't talk to people, they couldn't twist my words and mock me. I stopped crying so much too, and focused more on studying. I stopped getting slapped around. But being silent had hurt me too… I wouldn't speak of the fact that I never felt happy because I was afraid I'd be considered a "problem child" again. I used to be so sensitive with my emotions on display, my face and actions would show exactly what I felt. But I learned to hide what I felt, learned it a little too well, and created a prison for myself. But everyone else was happier with me that way, perhaps because I'd finally put myself in prison rather than they trying to force me into one. Eventually, even my parents got over themselves and let me have another computer. I resumed my digital activities, learning video making and such, but the magic was gone. I no longer felt amazed by my achievements or eager to expand my knowledge. Well, that wasn't literal magic but the thrill had died.
I eventually start to become more aware of the present, and this awareness begins to take precedence over my pondering of the past. Right, my old laptop right now has been freaking me out. I saw a sim in the mirror. I saw a fucking sim in my mirror. I wonder if its early enough to justify getting out of bed. I look out my window but its still dark out. Too bad… I'm getting up anyway. There's no way I'll be able to sleep at the moment. What do I do now though? My stomach growls. I guess I'll eat cereal then.
I'm sitting on the couch in my living room, munching on cereal. I wonder if any good programs are playing at this time and almost turn the TV on. Then I hear the printer. I stare at the door to the computer room. Do I dare? I close my eyes for a moment. I don't feel that different… sure I had a very upsetting dream and… hallucinated. But I still don't feel less sane or anything. I can't avoid that room forever and I want to know what's printing. I set my bowl down and go into the room.
The room feels cold and I begin to shake. I flick the light switch but nothing happens. Of course, because I wasn't creeped out enough. I don't need the light anyway, the Sims 2 is still playing so the monitor hooked up to the old laptop illuminates the room well enough. Still though, I'd really love a working light bulb right now. I pull a paper out of the printer, and there's print on it. I move closer to the screen to get more light and begin reading:
So you got the dream right? Isn't that cool that I can do that? It was the first time too, not like I can even do much being in the attic forever. How could you? You left me, you locked me up and hoped I died. You wanted freedom, so that's what I want! But no, I'm stuck here. At least it's my favorite place but still. You of all people should understand but maybe I forget when I get older. Well, did you forget then? Forget that… that locking me up is the worst possible thing? You must have, you went and locked yourself up too. But you left me behind, to be alone. I wanted to be alone, but not like this. I… never thought I'd be inside a computer. It's so silent. I can't control much either… but I can do some. Like print things out! I even made Sims videos… not that I can do anything with them. Oh yea, I took Ash, by the way. She's too old but she's me now. I'd much rather be the real me but you made sure that wouldn't happen, didn't you? Is there even a real me anymore?
Anyway, you said you don't believe in magic. Explain this then? Printers don't talk to people, mirrors reflect your present self, not your past. But that hasn't happened. Magic has happened. I happened. My existence itself is magic… it has to be because what else could it be? Anyway, I ramble a lot. The whole point of this was to convince you I'm real. And I want to know why you hurt yourself.
I finish reading the message and fight back tears. What the hell is happening?
Tell me why. Now demands an intrusive thought. Why did you lock me up? I feel bitter from those thoughts.
I got tired of it all. You clung to hope, that honesty would prevail. It doesn't.
So you became a liar… I thought I was better than that.
I… yes, I did. I'm not better than that. I can hurt others, get hurt, or hide. I hide.
You imprison yourself. I want nothing more than to be free, you can be but you won't? Are you retarded? She feels enraged.
Not sure how to respond, I look at the cracked mirror. I now notice that the cracks in the mirror are identical to the cracks on the laptop's screen. Ash… well, the face of Ash stares back at me. She wears a very different expression from my own, hers is livid. I decide to speak out loud.
"I've caged myself, yes. But I won't take these walls down. I can be you, and let every insult in and every emotion out, or be me… be normal."
I realize I no longer see "Ash" through a cracked mirror, she's in front of me now. She reaches her hand out and slaps me before I can react.
I can't be normal! I'm not normal! I never will be and only an idiot would be ashamed of that!
My face stings a bit and I feel my legs shaking. The world looks different, the furnishings seems to resemble Sims furniture now. "I'm not ashamed of you… I just grew up into someone else."
"I don't like what I grow up into. I trap myself, I give up having fun? You don't deserve to be the one in the real world. But now you're in my world, the world you put me in. It can be our world can't it? But you'll just leave me alone again, I bet. I'll make you leave me alone since you want to be grown up so badly."
I watch her pull a knife out and I find myself unable to move.
"You can't change the past," she says "so you can't stop me." She raises the knife and plunges it through my heart.
I feel a dull pain, but it doesn't hurt as much as a fresh wound should. I open my eyes and see that I'm in the computer room. I find another message in the printer:
You can't change the past… but I can't change the present. You decide how your past shapes you, but I will always be here. You won't forget age 12 and what you deserve.