“Dini went three minutes thirty-two seconds before she couldn’t take it anymore,” Mel said, staring at me. “You think you can beat her, April?”
It wasn’t a question; it was a challenge. Mel was my best friend. But last week she’d uploaded a vidbit of her brother snorking milk out his nose, and it went viral. Fifty thousand hits a day, and suddenly she was all stuck up and bossy. Even the tag that hovered to the left of her head said that she was now taking bids on corporate sponsorship.
I stared back. “No problem.”
“Tabitha told me it has a kind of Zendo effect.”
I glanceblinked the definition of “Zendo:” a hall for meditation. It didn’t quite fit, but it made me think of serene quiet and white walls. Mel saw my momentary pause and gave me a condescending-looking smile.
That smirk made me want to beat Dini’s time even more, just to prove that I could. “Any time you’re ready,” I said, touching a finger to the earpiece of my glasses. A black-and-white cube appeared, twirling slowly in the upper left corner of my vision, below the timestamp and my current geo-coords. A download confirmation chimed in my ear.
“You’ll have to do a hard boot afterwards. It completely crashes your glasses.” Mel gave me another one of those smiles. “Any time you’re ready,” she said, her tone mocking me.
Bitch. I wouldn’t be that snotty if I was the one that was famous. I looked at the door to my room, and the tag told me it was locked. The Mom-watcher program I’d secretly bought online said that she was still blocks away, stuck in traffic. Here we go. Jaws clenched, I looked at the black and white cube, then blinked twice to run it.
It was like being naked in public. All of a sudden there wasn’t a single tag anywhere in the room. No content and number-of-item info when I looked at my dresser. No outside temperature when I looked at the windowpane. The posters on the wall were mute. No friendlist. No newsfeed. No inbox. Nothing. I gasped, suffocating — drowning in silent blankness.
“How you doing, April?”
Weird. When I looked at Mel, I could actually see the glasses perched on her face, light from the window making blobs on the lenses. My heart felt like a hummingbird and my hands were sweating, but I had no biofeed, and there wasn’t even a timestamp when I looked up and left. I swallowed hard. “Fine. How long have I been offline?”
“One minute seventeen — eighteen — nineteen.”
An eternity already, but I wasn’t about to tell Mel how scared I was. Instead, I turned towards my dresser. Maybe if I looked at the things on top and concentrated on each one in turn, the time would go faster.
I went over. Scattered across the brown wood were a bunch of souvenirs. On the far left was a paper-thin seashell. I picked it up. It was fan-shaped and shiny inside; on the back, bone white with scattered pale purple spots.
I concentrated and tried to remember why it was there. No geo-coords to give me the location, but the place had been called something-something Beach. It had been hot when I picked it up, but it wasn’t in the past couple of months. So it must have been last year. Mel had been there. Dad had taken me and Mel to something-something Beach last summer. Why this particular shell, though, I couldn’t remember. At the time it had seemed important, though. Then I remembered — Mel had picked it up for me. Best Friends Forever. After something-something Beach, Dad had taken us — to a restaurant to eat. There had been ice cream after that, but with no tags, I couldn’t look up the details — the beach name, the restaurant, the flavor of the ice cream — and I couldn’t remember on my own. Drowning in silent blankness. Suddenly everything, including my vision, became all fuzzy.
“Jesus, she’s crying!” Mel said, sounding excited.
I looked up and over. Mel had come up beside me while I was staring at the shell. Her head was tilted slightly, the way she did whenever she was recording.
My heart stopped. “You’re live-feeding me?” I whispered.
Mel laughed. “Do you all see this? Those are tears running down her face.” She was talking to someone else, and in a flash I realized who — her new audience. She had been recording me the whole time, and I hadn’t known because my glasses were down.
Anger exploded inside me. I slashed at her face with clawed fingers, trying to hook her glasses off. She hit me back, but I managed to slap her hard enough to knock her glasses off and onto the floor.
There was more fighting and a lot of shouting; and in the end Mel picked up her glasses and went home, saying that she didn’t ever want to see me again — she didn’t hang out with crybaby losers who’d never be famous.
As soon as she was gone, I sat on my bed and hard-booted my glasses. The world came back like it had been before — timestamp, geo-coords. The dresser told me a bunch of stuff I really didn’t care about. So did the windowpane. My inbox pinged with a stream of messages — ten times more than I normally got, mostly from people I didn’t know. Instead of answering, I wiped half-dried tears from my cheeks and deleted Mel from my friendlist forever. On the carpet lay a dozen or so eggshell fragments, mottled white and purple. One of us must have stepped on the seashell while we fought.
I scraped the pieces up off the carpet. But when I looked at them, they told me nothing.
Andrew Gudgel has always loved playing with words and language. He and his wife currently live in Asia, the latest stop in their nomadic existence, in an apartment slowly being consumed by books. Visit him at andrewgudgel.com.
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