You Are L. (2012)
a Malcolm M. Milon short story
I’ll never forget the look on that man’s face, the first time I met him.
If you can call someone coming up to you wide-eyed and star-struck meeting someone.
He was a stranger and yet he seemed to know me, like a fan recognizes a popular actor or singer. Now, I’m not talking about a shrieking, Beatlemania type of fandom. I’m talking about that quiet, awkward, shy, slightly frightening respect that neither the fan nor the star truly understands.
I just couldn’t pinpoint what I could have possibly done to warrant such fame.
By any standards, my life had been an average, dull, bordering on mediocre one. Married once, divorced, no children, working in a cubicle, speaking to clients on the phone day in, day out. No ambition, frankly no interest in taking any unnecessary chances.
I first met the man at my local café. It was a Thursday morning. I pop by there daily before heading off to work so this was just a day like any other.
He was sitting close to the entrance. I walked in, ordered the usual, a double espresso and a cereal bar, when he stood up, as if under some sort of spell, and slowly walked up to me. I tried to ignore him. I guess I just thought he was heading towards the counter, ready to order something.
Then I heard my name. ‘Leo?’ he said.
When I confirmed his suspicion, his eyes lit up and I perceived a slight smile form on one of the corners of his mouth.
‘Do I know you?’ I asked.
I didn’t know him. I knew that. This was just my way of breaking an uncomfortable silence. His reply sent a chill down my spine.
‘No. But I know you. Probably better than you know yourself.’
Whatever that meant, it did not sound promising. It was the kind of thing that a stalker or a hitman would say. My natural reaction was to get out of there as quickly as possible. I mumbled some nonsense about being late, grabbed my coffee and headed for the door. But the man had anticipated this, and stopped me in my tracks.
He grabbed my arm, just above my right elbow and held it firmly. When I turned to him, ready to struggle my way out of his grasp verbally and physically, the look in his eyes had switched to a troublingly stern, serious stare.
‘If you leave, I won’t be able to help you.’ is what he said to me then.
The urgency in his tone of voice, which sounded genuine, coupled with that worried look of his, I must admit, piqued my interest somewhat.
What did he mean? Was I in trouble? Why would I be in trouble? Who could be behind this?
All these questions swam through my head and, in all honesty, I was curious to find out what this strange individual knew or what he thought he knew.
‘What do you mean?’ I inquired meekly. ‘Sit down. Let’s talk.’ was his simple reply.
Still hesitating, I obliged him and sat down. There was another awkward silence and then he spoke.
‘This is going to sound strange, I’m well aware of that. Just… hear me out, please. This isn’t a joke.’
After an uncertain nod, I finally asked: ‘What’s this about?’
Because, why not be direct at this point?
‘Your name is Leonard Windell, you live about 25 minutes away, Chinatown, Yan Tin Apartments, number 30, third floor. You have a pet fish and, despite what you tell people, it does have a name: Bob. You have an ex-wife, you haven’t seen her in years but still dream about her from time to time, nightmares mostly. You come here every day, same time.’
‘You’ve been following me?’
‘I didn’t have to. I’ve seen what you’ve seen. There is a site, your site, LeonardWindell.com, where everything you do, everything you are is recorded and put on display. I am bringing this to your attention because I think you need to know, because I would want to know. Unless, of course, this is all your doing, somehow.’
What was all this? This was a prank. It had to be. Probably someone’s idea of payback for whatever I may have done to him or her. Or part of some twisted radio show, designed to humiliate complete strangers. Basically, joke or not, I wasn’t laughing.
‘You’ve been listening at my door, speaking to my friends, to people who know me. I am not impressed or amused. Whoever you are, leave me alone or I will report you and you can be sure that I’ll press charges.’
I promptly stood up and walked out the door. Ignoring the man’s desperate pleas to believe him and to let him show me the proof of this so-called site. Behind me, I could hear the door of the café slam open: he was following me. As infuriated as I was, I decided to handle things as calmly as I possibly could. Not saying a word, I stopped walking, took out my mobile phone and dialled for the police. In front of me, I could see the man holding his smartphone up like it was some kind of meaningful trophy. Glancing at it, I saw nothing more than the street’s reflection on the phone.
Except… it wasn’t a reflection.
What I could see on the phone was the man holding up that very same phone. I was seeing what I was seeing on that screen. Which meant that, either someone had placed a small camera at the centre of my glasses’ frames or there was something really wrong here. I tried taking off my glasses but this made no difference. Not knowing what to do, I told the man to leave me alone, to stop what he was doing, and I ran all the way back to the office.
There, the plan in my mind was to forget about the whole thing and get back to saner, more mundane occupations. But what if that man was to walk in right now and make a scene in front of all my co-workers? It was impossible to focus knowing that, at any moment, this could all come back to haunt me.
Maybe I should go online and take a look at that website, the URL’s easy enough to remember. Unless that’s what they want me to do and I’m being tricked into something.
My phone vibrates: it’s a text.
I pick up my mobile and take a look, the text reads: “Do it. It’s not a trick. Alan.”
The man had not introduced himself to me officially back at the café but I knew it was him. How he got this number and how he knew what I was just thinking a second ago, that I was a little more confused about.
Typing in the site address was the most stressful thing I’d done up to this point. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a huge mistake and would cause every computer here at the office to implode somehow. My ring finger finally pushed down on the ENTER key and, to my surprise, the Millennium bug I was expecting did not happen.
The home page I was facing looked mostly bare: a black background with links to the left of the screen, the site title at the top and nothing in the middle. These links got my attention pretty quickly. The first one under “Home” was “About Me”, under it was “Contact”, under that was “Blog”, then “Pics”, then “Videos”, and finally “Quotes”. Oddly, looking at the site, I felt somewhat appeased. This was not a professional-looking page and nothing on it seemed too Earth shattering, nothing a healthy lawsuit couldn’t cure. This was clearly the work of an obsessive amateur, nothing more.
Clicking on the “About Me” link unfortunately confirmed that this site was, indeed, about me personally. Here was a full biography complete with my birth date, which school I went to, my first real job, my ex-wife’s name and all I’d achieved up to this point, which really wasn’t that much at all. Anyone could have pieced all this together so I wasn’t much intimidated. Besides, this seemed more and more like the work of a disgruntled friend, or ex-friend, rather.
The “Contact” page explained the text. My mobile number, along with my landline and every single one of my contact details were on here. This was certainly one
thorough stalker with a lot of time on his hands. Clicking on “Blog”, however, brought back an uneasiness I had pushed away, I thought, for good. Here was a constantly updated account of what I can only describe as my thoughts. These short posts seemed to date back to even before the Internet. Scrolling down, I found a blog post from 1980 which read:
“Went out to a new Lebanese restaurant today. Food was nice. Service was slow. Didn’t leave a tip. I don’t like leaving tips. Don’t know why people still leave tips.”
I remember that night. I didn’t even own a computer then! The last, most recent post eerily read:
“Checking out the site. Feeling confused and a little freaked out. Maybe I should call the police.”
Maybe I should call the police.
I had to leave this page. I had to click on anything else.
“Pics” was next and hardly made me feel any better about anything. There was a huge list of sections, which included standard stuff like “Photographs Taken”, but also the likes of “Photographs Almost Taken” and “Photographs I Wish I’d Taken”. Other sections were more general: “People I Know”, “People I Met”, “People I Love”, “People I Hate”. Literally everything I’d seen since birth had been documented. Even my most intimate moments, even people I’d seen naked, no matter how fleetingly, from celebrities on TV to myself.
I started to feel nauseous at this point, no doubt this was, by now, updated on my “blog”.
I checked: it was.
Reluctantly, I clicked on “Videos” and, again, found a whole range of sections. This time, it looked like every single moment of my life had been recorded, all from my point of view. Pretty much everything I’d ever experienced seemed to be on here. The video footage was raw and unedited, the quality of the image occasionally decreasing, even changing altogether for older videos. Some of those looked like they were shot on an old VHS camcorder or even black and white film in the case of clips dating back to the 1950’s.
The “Quotes” section, much like the “Blog” section, was a collection of updating text. This time, everything I’d ever said seemed to be on here from my first words to my conversation with Alan and a random ‘Hello’ to one of my colleagues on the way to the office just now.
‘Boo’, I said out loud, testing the site.
Sure enough, the word “boo” appeared on the screen seconds later.
This was more than just a website, it was obvious. What it was I did not know and I couldn’t even start guessing. A project of this magnitude would have to involve generations of people not to mention a small camera and sound recorder implanted into my skull from birth.
I couldn’t work until all this had been resolved somehow. I had to do something. There had to be a way into the site.
Scrolling down the home page, I finally find a “Sign In” link. The site asks me for a name and password. I type in my name, the password I use for my emails and it lets me in. I click on a link called “Account” and, finally, I get the option to “Delete My Account”.
I click on the link. Everything goes dark…
More from Malcolm M. Milon soon.
Only on WeTheMindThinkers.