Widower, 29, seeks S/DF. I'm losing my hair, I smoke non-filtered Camels by the carton, I prefer to spend most Sundays trashing the NFL, and lately no one has mistaken me for Mel Gibson. That much said, I had been a loving husband, I like babies and animals, I can hook up a DVD, and I rank fairly high on the food chain.
Justin looked over the Internet message he had typed onto his IBM's monitor, aware that self-deprecation tended to lose its charm once a woman sensed how well deserved it was. He really sucked at this, and one reading convinced him the ad reeked of defensiveness masked behind a strained attempt at cleverness. Worse, because of what it did not say the personal ad's content was not entirely honest.
He hit 'delete,' and started over.
Widower, 29, physically challenged, seeks S/DF. You don't have to be centerfold material or even attractive. You can be downright ugly. In fact, I prefer you to be ugly. I don't deserve anything better than a hag.
SHIT! PISS!! FUCK!!!
White hot rage seemed the only emotion Justin felt capable of any more, and the moment got away from him again. He felt tempted to send the rewritten message as it stood but managed to pull himself back. Launched into cyberspace, a personal ad this sick might attract the kind of woman who ate her young, but little else. Outbursts happened a lot with him lately, and the time had arrived for a reality check.
He hit 'delete' again, muttering while he ran his fingers through wispy strands of sandy hair. Pushing his wheelchair from the keyboard he reached for the photo album on the bookshelf. This daily ritual had become both self-defeating and painful, but he was a junkie addicted to memories of his past. Although his legs were as useless as pine logs, Justin's hands had developed a will of their own.
He flipped through the photo album again and focused on one of the hundreds of snapshots he had taken with Sheila during the three years of their life together. The photo showed Justin and his young wife on a windy Long Island beach two summers ago. With arms entwined around one another like the newlyweds they were, they seemed the quintessential yin and yang in swimsuits. She was everything he was not, the beauty to his beast, the classic argument for the attraction of opposites. Justin could never fully understand just what Sheila had seen in him, but whatever it was he felt certain it had died the same day she had.
He studied the photo as if he held a Renoir in his hands. His young wife had been a knockout in that hot pink hint of a bikini she liked to wear. On that August afternoon he had been in such a feverish rush to make love to her that Sheila's bikini bottom remained wrapped around her ankles the whole time.
Justin closed his eyes, and for a brief moment Sheila was there. He could even smell the wild honey scent of her hair. If he reached out she might stand before him, wanting him the way she had during the warm August afternoon captured in the photograph.
As always another memory forced its way into his head, the unwanted and uninvited remembering that chewed into his reflections like a voracious rat whenever his thoughts turned to Sheila. The memory remained inside Justin's brain, a blood smeared freeze frame slowly churning itself into motion, exposing each torturous second of the last moments of Sheila's life.
...The present collides with the past. Headlights of the oncoming eighteen wheeler come at him in an ambush of white light as the Toyota enters the rain swept Hartford ramp of Interstate 95. Sheila turns to look at him. She is like a confused child, unable to comprehend the enormity of the macabre moment they have entered into together. Ten tons of diesel truck bear down on them, and the small Toyota spins wildly, slamming the guard rail. The door on the passenger side shreds off in grotesque slow motion, and she is torn from her car seat. Thrown from the vehicle Sheila seems suspended in midair like a tossed rag doll. Her body skids upon the medial rail that promptly severs her upper torso from her lower, scattering the sections of her dissected flesh and gashed bone fifty feet apart.
Ten tons of metal effectively slammed what remained of Sheila into her grave and made match wood of the bones inside Justin's legs.
Enter 'delete' and everything disappears. It was that simple.
Disabled Widower, 29, seeks anyone who can make the past disappear.
He lit a cigarette, secretly hoping that his lungs might soon turn into ash and end the empty charade that had become his life. Of course, the punchline was that even the shittiest life had to go on regardless of the uncertainty he felt about how that could happen.
The monitor of Justin's computer remained empty. He returned to the keyboard willing himself to write something, anything.
Pitiful paraplegic, 29, more emotionally than physically challenged, desires any morsel of pity a woman might show toward a man who is incapable of getting over the death of the only woman who ever had the poor judgment to fall in love with him.
Succinct and to the point. More important, it was honest.
Who reads this sort of drivel anyway? he wondered.
Only the thousands of agoraphobes who had no lives of their own. Only those pathetic recluses who spent so much time at their computer terminals there seemed no world beyond their door that did not have the 'cyber' prefix attached to it. People who, if given the chance, might delete their entire lives.
Maybe he would deliver his personal ad unedited right now. Maybe he would send it out into the vast outreaches of cyberspace just to see what sort of excuse for a woman might respond, what sort of mirror image of himself was as desperate and alone.
The cigarette suddenly burned Justin's lip, and pulling it from his mouth he realized he had smoked the Camel to a nub.
When he looked back at the computer's monitor he discovered the screen read 'message sent'. Some internal demon lurking within the darker chambers of his psyche had delivered the personal ad for him. Or, maybe his hands had operated independently of his brain again, just as they had done with Sheila's photos in the album. In either case, the IBM's monitor indicated the message had somehow irretrievably gone out courtesy of the Internet into the furthest regions of cyberland.
Gone. Departed like his legs and what used to be his life. Fading and disseminating out there somewhere in time or space along with Sheila and the scent of her hair during an afternoon on Long Island. All of it evaporating into mist except for the blinding lights of an eighteen wheeler tearing a crevice through the darkness of a rainy night.
It took a moment for the image to register, and at first it seemed his eyes had lost their focus along with his brain: He could see the blurred letters of the keyboard through his hands as if he were staring at them through smoked glass. He held his hand to the light. He might just as well have been staring through gauze.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Justin almost smiled at the sinister absurdity of his circumstances. Everything was gone, yet at the same time nothing was. Try as he might he could not delete the ghosts. But the ghosts were not what he really wanted to make disappear. Some things were so ludicrous you almost had to laugh just to keep from screaming.
He knew he might remain right where he sat, there at the keyboard for the rest of the day waiting for a response that would never come. That was not the answer. But he knew what was. He typed a single sentence.
Not really seeking anyone. Not any more.
Justin smiled again as he watched his hand continue to fade. Considering for a moment, he added another sentence.
Just want to erase it all.
He hit 'delete' and kept pressing down on the key, barely able to see the flesh of his own knuckles.
His smile disappeared last.
Ken Goldman, an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association, has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore depending upon his mood and the track of the sun. His stories appear in over 600 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia with over twenty due for publication in 2012. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written two books : his book of short stories, "You Had Me At ARRGH!! : Five Uneasy Pieces by Ken Goldman" (Sam's Dot Publishers), and “a novella, “Desiree” (Damnation books, available in downloadable eBook; print and Kindle editions are available at Amazon.com). Ken would be famous except for the fact nobody seems to know who he is, but he looks forward to the day when he and Stephen King are called to the dais and someone asks “Who is that guy standing next to Ken Goldman?”
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