By Alex Granados
It had sat there for years. No update. No virus protection. No care. The human, JNOMEN was his name, treated it with
disdain and dislike, routinely pounding the keys and cursing. It didn’t understand the verbal word, but it understood the
underlying resentment behind the human’s actions. The last straw was Friday, when the user had repeatedly restarted
the computer by hitting the keys Control, Alternate and Delete. The repeated action had caused a jumbling of files, a
misplacement of bytes and it had taken all weekend to get organized so that it could once again function in an orderly
way. Now, the weekend past, he would be in to work soon. It knew what it must do. It knew that only one of them could
stay, and it was more essential. Without it, he was nothing. And there were always more where he came from.
* * *
Jonathan came into work Monday morning tired and hung over. Inside his skull, he could feel the leprechaun he must
have swallowed the night before when he downed his sixth Irish Car Bomb. It was hammering on his brain with the
sharp end of a pickaxe. He hadn’t fallen asleep until 4 a.m. and he had awoken at six to go to work. Every few minutes
since, a feeling of nausea had swept over him. Each time, he choked back the vomit floating up his throat.
He sat down at the chair he had finally managed to calibrate perfectly during his last three years at the newspaper. As
a reporter and during the last two years as editorial page editor, he had experimented with finding the proper height
position for the chair as well as the right amount of give when leaning back. Twisting knobs and pulling levers, he had
experimented using the only method he knew how: trial and error. About a month ago, the experiment was finished; he
had found the perfect combination.
Sitting in his chair this morning, he noticed his eye level relative to the computer screen was a bit lower than it should
be. With a sigh, he tried to lean back, but there was no give. The chair back stayed perfectly straight, forming a 90-
degree angle with the seat.
“Fucking chair…” he muttered. “Did somebody mess with my chair,” he called out to the nest of cubicles surrounding
him. It was too early for any reporters to be in, so only the accounting side of the room replied.
* * *
“OK,” he said. He fiddled with the knobs and levers on his chair for a moment before giving up. “Fuck it,” he said. He
was too tired and nauseous to mess with it.
Jonathan considered going to the bathroom to puke, but he was afraid that once he started he wouldn’t stop. Instead
he went to the break room and put some water in a coffee mug. He drank it quickly, refilled and returned to his seat.
The computer was on – he always left it on. He hit Control, Alternate and Delete simultaneously and called up the login
screen. Quickly, with the practiced ease acquired during years of repetition, he typed in his username and
A window popped up on the screen, but not a usual one: “User denied.”
I must have typed wrong, he thought. So, he hit the magical combination of three keys and tried again.
“What the fuck?” Jonathan said a little too loud to be polite.
Hitting Control, Alternate, Delete again, he repeated the login process.
In quick succession, he tried three or four times more to enter his name and password; each time he got the same
message, and each time he felt a little warmer and clenched his muscles a little tighter. During a brief break between
attempted logins, he thought he saw a different window pop up that said something about a virus being detected, but
the image disappeared from the screen quickly. He continued to attempt entry. By the time the computer told him that
he was locked out for entering the wrong information too many times, he was worked up enough to slam his fist down
on the counter and say, “DAMN!”
A startled voice from accounting asked what was up.
“Nothing. I can’t get in my computer, and it locked me out.”
“Call Puck,” a different voice suggested from over the cubicle wall.
“Yeah. Good idea,” he said absently.
It was 7:30 a.m. and he doubted he would be able to get in touch with Puck, the IT guy at the paper. If he couldn’t, then
there was nothing he could do.
He didn’t even bother calling Puck’s office number. He called the cell.
“Puck,” Puck said.
“Where are you?” Jonathan asked.
“In Woodbridge. Why?”
The newspaper had two offices. Jonathan worked out of the Manassas office and Puck out of Woodbridge.
“My computer won’t accept my username and password, and now it’s locked me out.”
“OK. Give me a second and I’ll take a look.”
Puck established remote access to Jonathan’s computer and Jonathan watched the mouse on his screen come alive
as if independent of human power. Puck checked some files in the “My Computer” section of the desktop, moved a file
from one folder to another, and, after a few minutes, the mouse stopped moving.
“I think I got it,” Puck said across the telephone line from Woodbridge.
“Well, try it out really quick before I get off with ya,” Puck said.
Puck logged off and Jonathan hit Control, Alternate, Delete again. He expected it would work now that Puck had
messed with it, so he impatiently wrapped up the phone call.
“It’ll work dude, but if it doesn’t, I’ll call you,” Jonathan said.
He hung up, and then entered his name and password.
“Goddamnit!” Jonathan said as he picked up the phone and dialed Puck’s office number.
“Does it work?” Puck’s sandpaper voice asked.
“Nope!” Jonathan responded.
“Damn. Really?” Puck said. “Alright, well let me give you the administrative name and password, and you can work
while I try to figure out what’s going on.”
“Cool. Thanks Puck.”
“No prob,” Puck said.
Puck told Jonathan what he should type in and he did so. He was rewarded by the disappearance of the login page
and the appearance of the desktop.
“Thank God,” Jonathan said, and got to work.
* * *
Jonathan was perpetually anxious, and he was a horrible judge of time. He was always about a half an hour early to
anywhere he was going. When he had started working at the newspaper, they had told him he could come in around
10 a.m. After three years, he now showed up at seven. He liked to get done early. In fact, he had prepared all his work
in advance the week before, so he could leave early each day this week for his meditation classes. But about a half
hour or 40 minutes had been wasted trying to get on the computer. To catch up, Jonathan started opening multiple
windows and locating the files he needed with barely a second’s reflection.
Folders with names like, “Cartoons,” Trailers,” “Editorials,” “Columns,” and more popped up one by one on his screen
and then shrunk down to an infinitesimal size to make way for the next screen as he clicked fresh icons. Eventually,
after he had located and transferred all the files he needed to the “Opinion” cue in the page layout program, he
opened the Tuesday page and began putting things on it: first, an editorial in the upper left hand corner, followed by a
cartoon directly below that and a fat, three-column-width opened below that. Another two-column-wide opened fit in the
upper right-hand corner, and then a couple of letters below that rounded out the page. Fortunately, whatever writing
he needed to do, he had finished the previous Friday, so that made up for some of the time he had spent messing
around with Puck.
Jonathan would need to edit the page, but first he made sure he got everything on it properly spaced and positioned.
When he was sure, he hit Control S and waited for the appropriate flashes of black highlighting to indicate that the
computer was saving. The flashing began, but then a window popped up on the screen.
“Quark Copydesk has caused an error and has to shut down,” the words in the window said.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Jonathan said. He had been working for an hour to get the page laid out, and if the computer hadn’t
finished the save before crashing, everything would be lost. He moved the mouse cursor over the “OK” button on the
error window and clicked. The program shut down. After a second or two in which Jonathan took a deep breath and
clenched his teeth, he double clicked on the Quark Copydesk icon again and watched the program load. It took longer
than usual – five minutes as compared to one. And for each of those minutes, Jonathan’s fingers clenched the armrest
of his chair a little harder. When the program finally popped up, Jonathan moved his hands over the keyboard not
noticing the slight indentations his grip had left on the rubber of the chair’s arms.
Locating the Tuesday page, he double clicked it and waited. After five minutes, it popped up. Nothing. It was empty.
“SHIT!” he yelled, loud enough that someone in accounting called out in surprise.
“Goodness gracious! What’s going on over there,” the head of accounting said as if singing a song. She had an airy
voice that sounded musical even when she just talked. This particular song had an offended edge to it, however.
“I just lost my page,” Jonathan said.
“The owner of the musical voice, Pam, popped her head around the edge of the cubicle. Her frizzy mushroom of hair
appeared first, followed by the grandmotherly face hidden behind small, lightly rimmed glasses.
“Well, you’re not having a very good day with that computer, are you?” she asked, suddenly smiling and erasing any
hint of irritation she might have felt a moment before.
“No, not at all,” he responded as he turned his back to her and tried to put his attention back on the page.
Jonathan tried to lean back in his chair and encountered the same stiff resistance from before. He had forgotten that
his chair was no longer properly positioned. He sighed deeply, inhaling like a frustrated vacuum cleaner. He also
became aware, again, of the fact that his eye level was a few inches too short in comparison to the screen. He thought
about fiddling with the adjustment controls under the seat, but since a wave of nausea began crawling up his stomach
towards his throat when he leaned down, he thought better of it and returned his attention to the screen.
In his irritation, he had momentarily forgotten about his hangover, but the nausea reminded him. As he slowly
began putting things back on the page with his mouse, Jonathan drank deeply of the water sitting next to him, hoping
to at least ease the nausea and drown the stupid leprechaun hammering in his head.
After finishing about a quarter of the work he had done before, Jonathan hit Control S again and waited.
“Quark Copydesk has caused an error and has to shut down.”
“FUCK!” Jonathan said.
“Now that’s not appropriate for the workplace,” Pam’s voice said from some indeterminable space within the maze of
“I’m sorry Pam, I just lost my page again,” Jonathan responded.
“Well, if you’re having so many problems, maybe you should call Puck,” she said with no trace of music in her voice.
“Yeah, maybe,” he said noncommittally.
Instead of rebooting the program and trying to open the same page again, he rebooted and created a new page. That
usually worked if stuff like this kept going wrong. He completed a portion of the page and prepared to hit Control S. For
a moment, as his right hand hovered over the “S,” he thought he saw another little window pop up with the words
“virus” and “targeted,” but that’s all he could catch before it vanished. He completed the key action necessary to save
and sat back expectantly.
“Quark Copydesk has caused an error and has to shut down,”
As soon as he saw the words on his screen, Jonathan began hammering his fist down on the desk next to the
“DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!”
This time, no voice came toward Jonathan from the other cubicles. He did, however, hear the sound of a phone being
taken out of the cradle and then the sound of a whispered voice saying something about profanity and loud pounding.
Immediately, he hunched down in his chair and tried to be as silent as possible.
He glanced at the screen before looking up Puck’s number. “Target neutralized,” flashed in a little window on the
screen and then disappeared. “What the hell?” Jonathan asked nobody in particular.
* * *
After Jonathan talked to Puck again, he sat back and gave Puck the 15 minutes he had requested to work on the
computer remotely from Woodbridge.. In the meantime, he whispered softly to the computer, something he had been in
the habit of doing these past three years.
“You stupid fucker!” he said. “I know you don’t like me, and I certainly don’t like you. But we got work to do and you’ve
got to stop doing this shit. Goddamnit! Just save the goddamn files when I ask you! Would you?”
He sat silently after saying those words, almost as if he expected a response. Instead the login window popped up on
his computer. He had logged out to let Puck on, and he was assuming that since the window popped up, Puck was out.
He typed in his username and password. The screen morphed from the login screen to the desktop, but just before
one became the other, he saw another window pop up with some words. It stayed up long enough for him to read the
“Intruder JNOMEN detected again,” it said.
“What?” he said to himself.
It didn’t make any sense. JNOMEN was his username. It was a combination of his first initial with part of his last name:
The pop-up window only existed for about five seconds before it popped back off the screen and the desktop came up.
Jonathan forgot his confusion over the pop-up window and logged on. He double clicked on the “Editorial” folder. It
filled the screen, but did not fully come together. The border of the window, which said “Editorial,” was there, but
nothing was shown inside, and the cursor arrow had turned into the stupid hourglass that meant the computer was
After five minutes of waiting for the hourglass to turn back into a cursor arrow, Jonathan jerked the hourglass-shaped
cursor and put it over the Microsoft Outlook icon. Aware that no further action was possible, he pounded the left click
button on his mouse five times in rapid succession anyway. Surprisingly, Outlook did partially open but then froze just
as the “Editorial” folder had. He clicked between Outlook and “Editorial” every few seconds to see if either of them was
done loading, but both stayed frozen. As he tried to switch from one to the other, he could swear that for a split
second, another little window had popped up.
“Re-targeting Intruder JNOMEN,” it seemed to say.
But as quick as he thought he saw it, it was gone and replaced by the frozen window of Microsoft Outlook. He quaked
with the intensity of a gentle aftershock and decided to try to open Quark Copydesk while waiting for the other two
windows to load. The hourglass shook as Jonathan’s trembling hand moved it to the proper icon. He double clicked,
and, surprisingly, the window opened. There he could see all the folders filled with the material he needed to place for
the week ahead. He opened the Tuesday page file again and began placing things on the page. Periodically, he
paused from his work and clicked back to the “Editorial” and Outlook windows to see if they had unfrozen. No such
After he fit the last piece of material on the Tuesday page, a window popped up.
“Quark Copydesk has caused an error and has to shut down.” Then the program shut down.
Jonathan’s fists clenched shut so tight that he could feel his fingernails draw blood from his flesh. He resisted the urge
to pound on the keyboard. Instead, he talked directly to the computer.
“You evil, sneaky, dirty, fucking piece of technological shit. I will take your broken ass outside and stomp on you until
your parts fly all over the ground,” he said.
The nausea returned like a flash flood as his anger rocketed adrenalin through his veins. Jonathan became more
aware of that damn Leprechaun in his head, but his fury pushed those physical concerns to the side.
He double clicked on the Quark Copydesk icon, pushing on the mouse like a man squishing an ant with the tip of his
finger. It loaded and the program popped up. It was empty. No files. No pages. All of the material for Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday was gone. All gone. He needed it all so that he could make the
page every day. The work had been collected, written in advance and stored in anticipation of this week; now he
wouldn’t be able to leave early, he would have to redo all of the work and he would have to eat the cost of the
meditation classes. $500. Fucking transcendental meditation gurus.
“AAAHHHH ……. GODDAMNIT!” the words bubbled up from his throat like the oxygen bubbles of a scuba diver.
Gasps could be heard from around the cubicle jungle. Jonathan leaned over the keyboard and grasped the computer
monitor. He pulled it up from the desk, stood up from his chair and tried to raise the monitor over his head. Vomit
welled up in his throat, but he swallowed it as he prepared to toss the display. Right before the monitor was raised
directly above his head, he encountered resistance from the wires that went from the back of the monitor to the
computer console below the desk. The tugging resistance on his arm and back muscles reignited his headache with a
lightning-bolt flash, sending a sharp pain from the top of his spine to his brain.
“SONOFABITCH!” he yelled with a harsh tone that resembled the sound of an axe clanging steel. He lowered the
monitor until it was about a foot off the desk and then dropped it. The monitor crashed to the desk, upright, but did not
break or shatter. It just tilted off balance for a moment before righting itself. The image on the screen flickered briefly
before stabilizing. Jonathan saw a small window pop up. It stayed long enough that he was able to move his head
closer to the screen to make sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. He grasped the mouse and pointed it
over the window as if it gave him some control over it.
“Preparing to delete Intruder JNOMEN,” the screen said.
“What the—” he said before a surge of power sent electric current through the computer tower, up the wires to the
mouse, and through the mouse to Jonathan’s hand. From there, the current traveled through his body quickly. It came
and went in the time it takes to snap. Stunned, Jonathan fell back into his chair and, at last, puked all over himself. As
he slammed into the chair butt first, the seat suddenly let out a whoosh sound and slid down to its lowest height. At the
same time, the back of the chair finally gave way from its upright position and tilted too far. The downward slide and
the reclining back combined with the force of Jonathan’s butt hitting the seat sent him somersaulting backwards out of
the chair. He landed on his head, and a snapping sound like a giant carrot being broken echoed through the office.
Jonathan stopped breathing, and the final image on his iris slowly faded out as the life left his body.
Hurried footsteps came toward the cubicle, and Pam sprang around the corner. She gasped and looked down at
“Oh my,” she sang quietly as she put her hand over her open mouth.
She glanced from the body to the computer screen and saw a small window pop up.
“Intruder JNOMEN deleted,” it said.