Uncategorized, Verse


Some time later…

I am in a room, a one-bedroom studio. I am sitting in front of a large Zenith floor-unit tube television. This thing must be from the mid-20th Century. All of a sudden, and with a faint click and hum, the large screen lights up. Just in time for the 6 o’clock news.

“In local news tonight: the tiny Town of Westchestertonville has miraculously sprung up on the grid out of seemingly nothingness. For months now the town had gone dark, cut off from the vast majority of society. Federal authorities are still scrambling to muster an explanation of how they could have missed such a large oversight for this long. It also leaves some people wondering how many of these towns are still out there, excommunicated from the almighty Internet.

“In world news, the apparent seven-year itch as it were, that has plagued so many relationships due to a faulty Bookface matchup, seems to be receding a bit, as more and more daters revert to meeting people in person. We tried calling Bookface CEO and Founder Darryl Schmuckersburg for a possible explanation at this sudden departure from his long established norm, but he was unavailable for comment. In recent years, Schmuckersburg had come under fire for his supposed failed algorithm, but had somehow always kept the public at bay with reassurances that he was simply working out the bugs. I guess the people were finally fed up.” The newscaster’s look grows dark and seems to penetrate through the red-blue-green pixels of the tube and looks into my soul. Now, it’s as if he’s talking to me.

“Attention Mr. Schmuckersburg, if you’re viewing this and hearing my voice, then your mind has not doubt grown tired of the infinite loop, which has kept you in its clutches for…” he looks down at a digital display on his handheld tablet, “now a little more than two months. In this time, the Town of Westchestertonville, which you shrouded in darkness and cut off from the rest of the world for the benefit of your Bookface® social monopoly, has been freed. The author of your digital prison thought it fitting to give you this message when you awoke, to both ease you out of the coma and let you know of your wrongdoing. You tried to rob this quaint little society of its humanity for your own vain agenda. Conversations, Mr. Schmuckersburg, relationships, the foundations on which our collective human genome operate cannot be reduced to information commodities for you and others like you to deal as capital. We are people, Mr. Schmuckersburg. And we’ve taken our lives back. I hope that in this account you have been able to step into the shoes of some of these men and women, albeit an infinitessimally small fraction of one percent of those you’ve harmed; that you’ve seen the world through their eyes, and experience reality as they have; and maybe, just maybe, you can relate.”

“Can’t you see?!” I say. “I know what is right! Just give me some more time and I can work out the kinks. Humanity will be better with Bookface®. Believe me!” But the news anchor just looks down at the papers he’s shuffling on top of the desk and sighs.

“Very well,” he says, the well seems a whole octave lower in tone. Then a robotic voiceover plays as the newscast fades out.

… End transmission. Initiate infinite eight sequence 6281982. Congratulations, Mr. Schmuckersburg, you are being infiniteighted.




Chapter 8: The Infinite Eight

Blackbeard and I began immediately, on the second floor of the Red Tavern Inn, fashioning our coup d’etat design against Bookface®. Enlisting an old friend completed the first part of my three-pronged plan to lift Westchestertonville from darkness. Now, together, we had to address item Nos. 2 & 3: (2) Bevilacqua was the puppet of Bookface® CEO Darryl Schmuckersburg; and, (3), as the puppet of the social media megalomaniac, the MACHO leader was spreading propaganda to his followers, trapping them in fear. In creating these mythical beasts—the predatory cougars—in the minds of his faithful followers every Wednesday night, within the sanctimonious stone walls of the Our Lady of the Assumption, Mr. Bevilacqua was unknowingly, yet very effectively, alienating these men from the opposite sex on Bookface®—the social norm for matchmaking—thus allowing the benefit of continuity for his mortal enemy Schmuckersburg. And with a monopolistic vice grip on the very social structure of humanity, Bookface® (or the absence thereof) was quarantining these poor souls from society. They languished in the desolate wasteland of a disconnected Westchestertonville.

Of course, this all made sense to me that night I became Bevilacqua himself, because I knew how infinite eights (I8s) worked. As the MACHO leader remembered those predatory cougars lurking in the shadows, something seemed off, inauthentic. An I8 operated along a specific pattern that those who’ve had the privilege of forging could detect quite readily. I thought of how he reminisced about his former life experiences expatriated from the mother Bookface, how he kept them from his beloved wife:

If only she knew of the horrid things I’ve seen. An entire underground world utterly separate from Schmuckersburg’s Pleasantville. Thank God she hasn’t. She’s an innocent. She’s never had to exist, to dwell, to linger, to assume an identity so putrid and pathetic, starving and bled dry in the absence of Bookface’s social lifeblood. These memories reminded me of the awful code Bill Blackbeard and I had sailed through on his digital pirate ship, slicing through the effluent seas of HELL.com, when we found the breach ended up in the Bookface® mainframe. And now as we, the swashbuckler and I, began laying plans for the mother of all infinite eights, in his upstairs room at the Red Tavern Inn, my former life as an infiniteighter flooded back into my mind in torrents, as the Dark Frequency had flowed the previous night, and earlier that morning.

For the layman, for those traveling fluidly and unimpeded along the mainstream: A brief history of the infinite eight. The infinite eight was an elegant solution to the manufactured chaos that plagued man’s mind, when the Internet granted him the A-bomb of cyber power and he hadn’t the mental acuity to weild it. It was an engineered economy of one’s assumed reality. It had to be subtle, precise. If a subject had become harried, his mind filled with the interference of static and blind rage, one simply couldn’t combat this effect with more noise. Fighting it, defining the impetuous conflict, thus poured more gasoline on the fire. No, we needed to be the liquid that quelled this inflammation of the mind, corrupted by the hacker’s delusions of grandeur. In the case of Mr. Bevilacqua, we had two people to fool—himself and Schmuckersburg. Our I8 would enter the hack from the back, through HELL.com, cut off Bevilacqua’s feed and then control the leak, thus threading Schmuckersburg’s own contrived nightmare back to him. As far as Bookface would be concerned, Westchestertonville was still shrouded in darkness. You see, the very first infinite eights were designed to redirect (or misdirect rather).

As the Internet, sites like Bookface®, began to run our society, programmers realized early on they would have to protect their creations. Yet fighting fire with fire or hiding behind a firewall only fueled hackers’ hubris to rape and pillage the information high seas. One could always just create a bigger, more powerful gun. The solution would thus have to dissolve hackers’ efforts. Programmers began developing code that acted as informational cul de sacs. A hacker would trespass through what appeared to be the back door, or some other realm of the website, and begin to inflict their awful influence, expecting the code to then shape to their bidding. The genius of original infinite eight code was its intuition. It could automate what the hackers’ intentions were, mimicking the virus; its output back to the hacker’s interface would return the appearance of a working virus. All the while, the actual code governing the program in “jeopardy” would remain untouched and running properly. It’s amazing what the power of perception is capable of. And by the time the formerly unsuspecting hacker realized his illegal code had been ineffectual, it was too late. You see, the infinite eight also extracted information from its victims—unique IP addresses and pedigree data one could use to build a case against this criminal. When the feds came to break down his door, they weren’t just carrying a warrant; they had just cause to prosecute. Let’s just say guilty pleas were at an all-time high, when I8s hit the WiFi waves.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. These hackers, though most had been wiped out by the elegant solution of the infinite eight, the resilient ones persevered. They fought fire with fire (or perhaps more accurately; water with water). They found a way to develop I8s, which had originally been perceived as attachments or accidental qualities to the structure code of a mother website, as freewheeling entities. Loops that could be designed on the fly and thus meticulously customized to even the most volatile victims. And their signature distinction from their predecessors: these infinite eights didn’t attack the Internet site; they attacked the user. These hackers had found their own way to master the power of perception.

Such entities were now attacking the men of Westchestertonville. And I had to cut them off at the source: Bevilacqua. With the top priority of my three-pronged plan sitting across from me in the Red Tavern Inn, I conveyed to the Captain the next steps.

Step 1: We needed an entry point to HELL.com. This would be simple. With Max’s exclusive access, we could enter through the back door. We would then loop several of the monsters in Max’s effluent HELL code and feed it back to Bookface®. Schmuckersburg’s montoring of his puppet would return a status quo on the cougar con.

Step 2: Freeing Mr. Bevilacqua. This wouldn’t be so simple. To tell a man, especially one as intimidating as Mr. Bevilacqua, that his world was not entirely real was no easy task. And, frankly, I still hadn’t figured out how Schmuckersburg had entered the man’s mind in the first place. I was used to dealing with online realms, not reality itself. Schmuckersburg was certainly a formidable foe. I would need proof that his awful cougar monsters that he preached of every Wednesday night were just an imposed figment of the man’s imagination. I would need to present a contradiction in Mr. Bevilacqua’s doctrine. I thought back to that conversation I had had with B.J. the bartender about the pumae pack, while waiting for the Captian. And the recount of this conversation, a few hours earlier, gave me good confidence in Step 2, although Blackbeard still held his reservations.

“Aye, I get Step 1, but Step 2 seems damned impossible, mate,” Blackbeard barked. The Captain hadn’t the intimate knowledge and experience with the Dark Frequency that I had (nor had I divulged an ace up my sleeve). I would ask him, at this juncture in our scheming, to operate on faith. “Spose I don’t have a bloody choice, do I?”

“The key is an entry point,” I said. “I’ve already proven to you that I can enter men’s minds via the Dark Frequency. My hope is that you can augment the bandwidth with your exceptional signal dealing skills. At that point, I can undo whatever Schmuckersburg did.” From passive observance to infiniteighter of the human mind. It was certainly a leap of faith, but that’s just because it had never been done before.

I would find an entry point into Mr. Bevilacqua’s mind, if I could send it and him into shock. Here’s when I’d play my ace in the hole. The steady and powerful brainwaves of Mr. Bevilacqua would screetch to a halt and I could match his frequency with that of the Dark’s. A seamless assimilation. And with Blackbeard’s amplification of the Dark Frequency’s bandwidth, I could sever Schmuckersburg’s ambilical chord attached to the MACHO leader’s brainstem. The plan was laid in place, Blackbeard and I now would wait until next Wednesday night’s meeting. Outside of Dark Frequency dreaming, this was the only time I ever saw Mr. Bevilacqua. In the meantime, I had to locate the pumae pack; they had information crucial to our plan. Luckily, tonight at J.J. Kilroy’s Pub was ladies’ night.


Six days later. We rarely left, the Captain and I, from the Red Tavern Inn; occasionaly we’d venture down to J.J. Kilroy’s Pub, during our scheming. Our dual solitude only added more weight to the following Wednesday for which we prepared. I remember that night held a heavy stillness in the air, as we made our way from W 5th Street to Church. The full moon’s reflected lumens bounced off of the inpenetrable Our Lady of the Assumption’s granite walls, standing steadfastly in a celestial spotlight against an onyx of absolute black void. The building could have been the only aedifice in the Universe. Captain Bill Blackbeard and I arrived at six o’clock sharp, two hours before the weekly MACHO meeting. Blackbeard set up his gear in the room neighboring the classroom, where he could warm up the motherboard of his pirate ship. We had contacted Max vel Nirvanator earlier in the week and received the access codes for HELL.com. While the Captain sailed into HELL, I would find my entry via Mr. Bevilacqua and we’d meet in the middle. The good captain would be my only ticket out, once I had undone Schmuckersburg’s handiwork. It was our theory that Schmuckersburg fed new info on the predatory cougars into Bevilacqua’s mind during these weekly Wednesday-night meetings. And this is when we could sever the puppetmaster’s strings.

I walked into the first room on the right and flicked the light switch by the inside of the door. The overhead flourescent laps illuminated that speckled linoleum floor. As I surveyed the empty desks for the best place to sit, I checked my radio microphone in the inside of my collar.

“Blackbeard, can you hear me?” I said.

“Aye,” the bud in my ear captured the pirate’s steel drum twang. Good. We would need to maintain communication for this intricate I8.

“OK. I’ll need you to access HELL.com from the other room, before the men arrive for their MACHO meeting. When Bevilacqua arrives and the meeting commences, I’ll play my ace. At this point, I’m going to need you to sever his HELL.com feed and revert it back to the Bookface breach. I’ll need you to run this loop so that Bookface can’t detect that I’m entering Bevilacqua’s mind.”

“Aye, aye,” the good Captain said. “And then ye’ll free him from the Schmuck’s code on your end and we’ll meet at the breach, aye. See you on the other side, mate.”

“Aye,” I said.

I ended up taking my usual seat in the back, even though I was early. No need to raise suspicion, I thought. The next hour and a half seemd to take years. I sat in silence until the first MACHO members began trickling in. Some of the last to arrive were Sully and the other bear-shaped gentleman who always sat next to him in the front corner. Stanley’s seat was still empty. Perhaps out of respect. And then Mr. Bevilacqua entered the room. His jet black hair seemed more wild than usual, but that could have just registered as wild in my heightened state. For once, in a MACHO meeting, I wasn’t here as a passive observer. Soon I would need to act. As every weekly meeting began, Mr. Bevilacqua’s thick Brooklyn “Alright, gentleman,” quickly calmed the loquacious crowd. And we got down to brass tacks. The MACHO leader fired up his slide show apparatus. Sure enough, we were still talking about puma hunters and their packs. The pumae. I couldn’t have picked a better segue, if Blackbeard and I had planned it. I played my ace. While Captain Bill Blackbeard was hacking his way through HELL.com en route to the breach to sever its ties with Mr. Bevilacqua himself, I switched my radio dial to channel 2. “It’s time,” I whispered into the collar mic. As the m sound rolled off my tongue, in walked that confident cougar leader and her pumae pack. One of them flicked the light switch by the door into its on position. A collective gasp swept across the MACHO meeting. Yet my focus was fixed on Mr. Bevilacqua, his jaw clenched as his dark ocular orbs of intensity shot daggers of hate into the pumae pack who had so rudely interrupted his meeting. You see that ladies’ night, the previous Thursday, had been fruitful for the Captain and I. We got lucky (not in the traditional sense); the leader and her pack had entered that night and we talked. Free of the fear that had paralyzed me that night they had supposedly taken Stanley, I did not hesitate to go over to them. As I had suspected, they were not kidnapping our former MACHO friend; they were rescuing him from the ignorant depths of Westchestertonville and MACHO. These courageous women had learned of the MACHO clan and that the leader’s dear cousin, Stanley, had fallen victim to their propaganda. And so they took Stanley back. Now they were here in ground zero, the Our Lady of the Assumption, Mr. Bevilacqua’s stronghold, to complete our collective mission of freeing Westchestertonville. The leader lit up a cigarette and spoke to the speechless crowd of men.

“I know why you guys meet here every Wednesday night and I’m here to tell you that what this man right here,” she pointed to a Bevilacqua ready to blow, “is telling you is a load of bullshit. Do you really think we’re the maneaters he says we are??”

Bevilacqua finally barked.

“Get the fuck out of here! Who do you think you are coming in here?? Men, don’t listen to them! They will twist your wills with their words. Don’t listen to these sirens! These are the monsters that killed Stanley!” Another collective gasp swept over the crowd still putty in Bevilacqua’s hand, instead of putty to the puma’s words. These men were putty.

“It’s funny you should mention him,” the puma leader said calmly, exhaling smoke from the side of her lips. “Because here he is.” The ladies spread to both sides of the dark entrance way and in walked the formerly unfortunate (who now turned out to be quite fortunate) Stanley. He had been the ace up my sleeve all along. Bevilacqua’s jaw dropped.

“How are ya feelin’, fellas?” Stanley was the same as I remembered him those weeks ago in the bar.

“How could this be?” Mr. Bevilacqua verbally expressed his puzzlement.

“Mr. Bevilacqua,” Stanley said, “You were wrong, sir. These women aren’t monsters. They saved me from this town. This place is backwards.”

“This is some sort of trick,” Mr. Bevilacqua insisted, he was now visibly flustered. His wild black hair grew maniacal. I then realized, from the back of the room, that now was my time to strike. The crowd grew restless and more noisily at their leader’s confusion, yet they sat tightly in their seats as this show played out in front of the classroom. I found quiet focus in the surrounding calamity and concentrated on the Dark Frequency, which had been present all along. In the next room, Blackbeard’s wireless broadcast gave amplitude to the naturally faint signal and I flew into Mr. Bevilacqua’s mind, in his momentarily vulnerable state.

The yelling from the crowd, Stanley, the pumae pack (excuse me, the ladies) and Mr. Bevilacqua himself faded to the back burner as the Dark Frequency grew in my mind as a bridge between consciousness and the id of my subject, the puppet of Schmuckersburg, the Men’s Alliance for Cougar Hunting Occasions leader, Mr. Bevilacqua. Soon, all ambient light and noise went silent as the Dark Frequency transported me across the room (in spirit) from my mind to that of Bevilacqua’s. Instantly, I could feel his hatred for the pumae pack, and sensed his thoughts racing on what to make of this complete contradiction to his entire belief system. I began immediately to look for Schmuckersburg’s tie to his mind. This had only been the second time I had entered the MACHO leader’s mind, yet I noticed instantly his memories seemed the same. I saw his wife, the Dr. Quinn Medicine woman. I saw his old electric jalopy chugging out of Westchestertonville to his home two towns over. This man had acquired nothing new in an entire week of thinking. And then I looked closer at the code of his memories and I began to read between the lines, between the movement of the memories at what was governing their manifestations. His brainwaves echoed in a very precise pattern, more machine than human. Then it dawned on me that the same message was repeating over and over again in binary. As I translated the binary code, I thought back to the first time Captain Bill Blackbeard and I had traversed HELL.com. This spontaneous memory made sense to me when I read back the code in English: Bookface® Incorporated Official Internet Protocol Address. Welcome to Bookface, where we are where you are. At the very core of Mr. Bevilacqua’s consciousness, the rudimentary level of this man’s existence, was Bookface® code. If I wasn’t in a digitized state during this infiniteighting attempt, cold sweat would have dripped down my temples at this realization. I wasn’t in a man’s mind at all; I was in the Bookface® mainframe. I couldn’t free Bevilacqua from his Bookface® influence; he was Bookface®. I would later come to realize that Schmuckersburg had not stopped at aggregating the social structure of humanity for the sake of his almighty dating algorithm. He was also acquiring the necessary data to complete his own version of the human genome. And it appeared he had completed a prototype in Mr. Bevilacqua. The cold sweat that was there in mind, not body, ran down because, at this realization, I had no way out. HELL.com merely fed into Bookface®, a one-way channel. There was no human in Bevilacqua to separate from the almighty Bookface®. All roads led to Bookface®. And they were all dead ends. Instead of panicking, I quieted my mind. And centered on the unique metronome tick of my time gene. Slowly, but surely, began to resonate with a wave much older and more powerful than Bookface®. Without an established exit, I would have to create one. In the stillness of my own mind, enveloped in the bigger synthetic Bookface® consciousness, I prepared to blast my way out.


… The Dark Frequency is the low rumble of a deep ocean wave. I hadn’t sensed it in youth, for I moved at a heightened, cacophonous tone. I must’ve sounded like a dog whistle to the great tsunami. Aging, as one does, I slowed down and could feel the deep stretch of its mammoth weight. The pure and terrible power of existential momentum. I felt the amplitude of these divine waves resonating with my unique metronome time ticker. My time gene was thus dialed to the specific signal of the Dark Frequency. I could hear it and, as the full body of its low rumble flowed through me, I asked it to listen to me. I did not have command over its impetus; I certainly did not control it. Instead, I asked it to move, to bend ever so slightly to my will. From the launching point of Mr. Bevilacqua’s genetically engineered mind, I had fixated on Bookface’s internal IP source and now I called upon Its signal to overload the mainframe. Once and for all, I would sever the social monopoly’s hold on the tiny town. I would disperse the cloud of ignorant gloom which shrouded Westchestertonville from the rest of the world. I would allow the light of the Internet to shine upon these innocent people once again. The flow rolled in as a title wave. My body, my mind, my soul were carried away in the undertow of its awesome momentum. And I focused its concentrated torrent into Bookface®. The Giant Weight coursed through me and my very identity fluttered like a flag in a hurricane. Via the Dark Frequency, I sensed the synthetic soul of Bookface® itself, Schmuckersburg’s baby. I resonated with its digital impulses on the servers feeding information into Westchestertonville. And, at the apex of my hold on this divine Dark Frequency, I sent a finishing surge to the specific circuits which allowed Bookface to cut off the Internet from the town. I sent this terminating blow to blast open the bandwidth wide; to disintegrate Bookface’s interpretation of the information and allow the raw data through. The low rumble of incredible magnitude ignited brilliantly in all iterations of the word brilliant; super nova brightness, the richness of a full orchestra symphony, aromatic as a field of lilac in bloom and I felt vibrations which poured from a source beyond all existence. Was I the Dark Frequency or was It me? We were one. I had achieved Its perfect rhythm. Be gone Bookface®! I rid you of this community! I exhaled, knowing full well this would deliver the deathblow. I felt the totality of my deliverance hit Bookface®’s connection to the town. Then I sensed a reverberation coming back. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The frequency which had agreed to my bidding became overwhelming on Its return trip. It filled every capillary in my circulatory system. It bubbled in my gut and shot beams of light through my fingertips and out my eyes. The steaming whistle of a locomotive erupted from my throat. Impossible noise brimmed to the edges of my temporal lobes and overflowed out of my ears. I felt every cell in my body ripping apart! I asked myself Did Schmuckersburg have an even firmer hold on the Dark Frequency?! Could he be overloading my mind as I had tried to inflict upon his baby Bookface®? These were my last thoughts before the silence. Quiet. Serenity in void. Suddenly I sat at a child’s tea party drinking imaginary tea, in a quaint bedroom on the second floor of some suburban home. The Sun poured in through the window’s open shutters. Ahh, yes. I was in my grandmother’s house playing with one of my little cousins. My only reasoning to this juxtaposition of time, place and existence was perhaps its stark opposition to the obvious calamity, within which I had just been. Chaos, awful unforgiving, red separation. Then the complete opposite: tranquility in a familiar room. Of course, this fizzled after a few moments and the reality of darkness seaped in. So ended my amazing ride on the wings of the Dark Frequency.

It’s a shame though… That I didn’t write any of this down. Perhaps my prose could have incited even the slightest change to veer us away from the fateful path Westchestertonville was headed. I’m dead now. It’s like none of this ever happened. My soul forever swims in the ethereal smog about Our Planet Earth, created by the WiFi waves that carry precious information along an electromagnetic continuum of finite possibility, stuck in limbo, asphyxiated amidst the sulfuric gaseous barrier between this life and the next. The news reports down below are blaming this phenomenon on the constant “wired-inness” the general public feels. Just like greenhouse gases that have trapped the Sun’s radiation in our atmosphere, the giant WiFi net has trapped staticky brainwave patterns. Even in death, we can’t get rest, apparently. And so, I swim among the other unfortunate souls caught in this greater atmospherical leash reigning over Mother Nature. For an eternity I can continually commend myself… Congratulations. In this very moment and for every succeeding one after the next, I’ve just been Bookfaced®.

At the thought of this unholy word, my mouth begins to salivate. I know I am dead, yet I can still feel the froth collecting on the walls, where my mouth used to be. And I can taste the tangy oxidizing tinge of iron, which used to happen when…

I was running…




Chapter 5

Dreaming in memories, I dreamt in reverse chronological order. Recent occasion gave way to a vivid scene from last week—Stanley strolling over to that ruthless pack in the bar—and then an anecdote from a year ago—the hot barista who used to serve me coffee every morning in that little neighborhood shop on the way into work. This merely cleared the brush of caked on data to expose a sentimentality closer to my origin. As my memory dream began in this fashion this night, the intrepid rewind slowed, paused and played back a time well before infiltrating Westchestertonville, which was my present assignment. In rapid eye movement, I had become my former self…


I am sitting in my editor’s office. I’ve only been reporting for the The Es (the the eyes and ears) for several months. At the green age of 25, I am new. I am hungry. And I have aced the few assignments the Es were willing to entrust upon me. The bright sun beats in from the large window doubling as the room’s left wall. My editor, Tom’s his name, has collapsed the Venetian blinds into the corner, like a deck of vertical cards. He sits behind his desk staring at me. Big Tom McElroy. We’re on a first-name basis, but that doesn’t reduce my respect for him. He sits behind the rectangular desk, wearing it like a belt buckle, in the way a 300-pound frame can take on the otherwise cumbersome piece of business furniture and make it look small. I sit in the seat directly in front of this desk, which seems much bigger on my end. Tom is balding. Thin, silvery, aviator glasses faintly outline his square head in the sunlight. The sleeves of his wrinkled white dress shirt are rolled up past his elbows, which he has heaped onto the desk’s wood-finished surface (faux wood, probably plastic), an exposed forearm barrier between him and me. His crab claws at the terminals of these pythons clench a crumpled piece of paper detailing my latest assignment. Tom tells me I am to track down one of the rogue websites that have been periodically popping up on our intricate and incessant monitoring of the World Wide Web. You see, these sites are special, he says. They materialize into existence for maybe a few seconds and then disappear into the nothingness for months on end. Most sites at least leave a trace of their existence on the Web. Broken links, blog posts mentioning their activity; there’s always a cyber trail leading back to a source. Not these intermittent entities. When they’re offline, they don’t exist, nor did they ever exist, according to any Internet records at least. All we have to go on will be eye-witness accounts, Tom says in his terse delivery that a lifetime of flowing information has eroded down into facts and blunt description. “Most of the people you talk to will be about as reliable as a nutjob farmer, out in West Bumfuck, who thinks he just saw a UFO.” Tom has a way with words.

Now I’m on the street. Hitting the pavement. Utilizing real, old-world reporter techniques. Dogged. I’m putting the leg work in overtime, like cooking a homemade meal from scratch. Internet research is a case of microwave dinners in the frozen section of the supermarket, when I need some fresh produce from the farm stands. Yet with little to no leads, the first question I have to answer Who knows what I need to know?

Maybe Maximilian vel Nirvanitor would know something. Before reporting for the Es, I had freelanced as an infiniteighter. Infiniteighters have two very specific talents: they can ensnare freewheeling psychotic hackers within an infinite loop (figure-8) of their own delusions of grandeur; and, conversely, they can free prisoners from these loops, self-induced or otherwise. Max needed me for the latter. As founder and CEO of http://01101000011
0010101100001011101100110010101101110.010001110100111101000100 (binary for heaven.GOD), his site had trapped some people within their own fantasy and he needed an infiniteighter to break the cycles before their families filed lawsuits. Save the obvious side effects, his site was quite ingenious. New users, who could accurately type out the full binary for heaven.GOD, would be directed via the information superhighway, to a black screen populated by a solitary blinking cursor. You’d type a question along the single command line. ‘What is beyond this Life?’ The machine would then answer. Beyond this Life is entirely determined by the Life you lead now and will continue to lead until death. For me to generate you afterlife experience, you must first tell me about this Life. The beginning stages could take several hours, but the idea here was that “heaven” was what you make it. You were asking the machine questions, but really the machine was figuring out its user and building paradise around this unique psyche. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ took on a whole new meaning on heaven.GOD. As someone began constructing a fantastical world around them, the limits of their imagination became evident to the machine. The machine and its clever Max encoder, savvy to these patterns, then simply looped the user within their own limits. Once heaven.GOD had determined the user was satisfied by a perfect day at the beach—waves crashing, sun shining, the smell of suntan lotion and saltwater all to entrance—the docile user settled ever so gently into repeated bliss. He hired me to rain on their sunny day, slapping cold, biting reality back into their lives. Getting inside their heads had always come easy to me. Not sure why I had this talent, but it was handy when trying to translate the semantics of artful conversation or when freeing someone from their own delusion, fortified by fearful creation. I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite poems: … much power and rage fueled that soul sage, whose fearful creation thus fortified his cage… It was pretty easy to see where someone was coming from, I guess, while standing in their shoes.

It followed, then, that he could have acquired know-how to program such seductive code (as the lines that governed heaven.GOD’s) crossing paths with the likes of shady characters I now seek.

I am in Max’s lair, a step-down one-bedroom in the fairly affluent side of the city. He says he likes the good location and subtlety of an inconspicuous and quaint basement apartment. The situation keeps him grounded among the high-class yuppies. Hair gelled into spikes and eyes visored by thick black-rimmed and -lensed sunglasses, Max sits tapping away at an ergonomic keyboard, among blinking lights and beeps, which seem arbitrary to me (though I know Max knows what they all mean) and give life to the master coder’s dark underground cave. Max’s awkward, hyperactive movements and heightened energy indicate his surprise to see me; it’s been several years since we ended our business relationship. He swivels his chair toward where I’m standing and flicks his glasses into his thick patch of shiny spikes. “I was shocked to hear your voice on the other end of the line,” he says. “I could’ve used your expertise a few more times, man.” He flicks the glasses back down over his eyes and goes back to tapping away in front of a sea of monitors.

“Sorry,” I say, “had to take the honest route. Working for the Es now. Trying to get to the truth; I’m done spinning lies for a few extra bucks.”

“I hear ya,” he says, still typing and scanning. “Yet isn’t it ironic that you’re now consulting a spinner of lies to find the truth?” Max wears a popped Polo collar under a dungaree tuxedo—a denim jacket and acid-washed jeans. His speech reeks of the 2080s, a decade during his heyday he can’t seem to let go. And all of his pop-culture references hark back to this golden time, in his mind. “Anyway, the guys you’re after, they’re into some pretty heavy shit.” See what I mean? Who uses heavy anymore?

“How do you know them?”

“A couple of the guys are clients. They call themselves line jumpers, by the way. But don’t go spreading that around town. I’m telling you that little tidbit in confidence. You’re likely to get yourself killed or, even worse, erased completely from society (identity obliteration), if you go sticking your nose where they don’t want you to. I’m telling you because you’ll need to distinguish between the Real McCoy and posers who claim to be line jumpers. Frankly, it’s quite an easy profession to fake; for the most part, no one has seen, heard of or knowingly met any of these cyber phantoms. That’s the way they want it. And that’s the way they’d like to keep it, if you catch my drift…”

“Well, what can you tell me about them, then?”

“As I said, they’re highly discrete, but being in the line of work that I am in, they couldn’t help divulge several of their secrets; you know just as well as I do that a true heaven experience only happens when we’re not lying to ourselves.”

“—I know that a little too well, in fact.”

“Ya, sorry about that. Should’ve warned you it can get messy raining on someone’s personally tailored parade…” He pauses, perhaps to allow me elaboration on my infinteighter experience, but I’m passed that now and undivided in my focus for the matter at hand. My stiff upper lip and unwavering stare urge him to continue. “… So several of the line jumpers logged on a while back to launch their own heaven experiences. And let me tell you: these guys know how to have fun. I wouldn’t have needed to contract your services for these creative geniuses. In fact, their imaginations were only exceeded by their ability to moderate. They’d get into heaven.GOD and out in short intervals. They’d never wire in for more than a few minutes. I had never seen activity like this before. I’ll admit, I breached my own confidentiality agreement and dove into the archives of their sessions, on several occasions. Their sequences were works of art. I couldn’t tell if they were using memories of life events that had actually happened or creating entirely original worlds by pure inspiration. They just seemed to have a control over self-imposed reality to a degree well beyond any league of even my most prolific clients.”

“What sort of things did you see in the archives?”

Max pushes his sunglasses up over his forehead and looks me straight in the eyes from his comfy reclining black-leather work chair. I get the feeling he wants to indicate the severity of what will leave his lips next. “Tough to explain really. And I didn’t understand a lot of it. Just a feeling of calm washed over me as I experienced their worlds. Life forms and energy exchanges that were entirely unlike any phenomena one could witness in the real world… at least in this world.”

“OK. So how does this tie into their line jumping?” I don’t have time to wax existential with my old friend Max; I need to find a solid lead to these ghosts of the Internet. Big Tom’s deadlines are not flexible.

“Well my curiosity got the best of me one night. After one of their ‘unique’ sessions, I noticed their IP (Internet protocol) was still on and I tracked what sites they had visited, prior to logging into heaven.GOD. Then I played back their session. It appeared they were using the data acquired from prior online sessions to inspire the world’s created on the fantasy interface. Again, all of this took maybe several minutes and what they had created was beautiful, but it seemed incomplete. It ended well before I would have pulled the plug.”

“It almost sounds like they were taking Internet data and uploading to heaven.GOD—”

“That thought crossed my mind,” Max cuts me off; his mind often works faster than his social sensibility, “but it doesn’t make sense. We both know thanks to the severe confidentiality of these fantasies, that this information is stored solely in my archives. Protected by 10-fold firewalls and then severed from the Web immediately upon completion of the session, it’s impossible for any source outside of my personal servers to receive the data created from a heaven.GOD session.”

“Well, it would appear that way at least,” I say. Ever faithful to the facts, now I need a name. Line jumpers won’t cut it. “So can you give the name of one of these guys, on of these ‘line jumpers?'”

“No, but I can hook you up with their signal dealer, the guy who sets up their disposable addresses for rapid connection/disconnection to perform split-second surfing. You may have heard of him, in fact. His name is Capt. Bill Blackbeard…


At the utterance of this name, I awoke in a huff. Now it was morning and the sun poured into my bedroom. The sunlight jumpstarted my circadian rhythms, which psychologically rumbled in the low idle of a finely tuned V8 internal combustion engine. My sleep had been complete (I must’ve been awoken between cycles). No residual drowsiness clouded my consciousness, which in turn was sharp as a tack. I had had an eventful rest during my downtime and crystalline facts began to form. They hardened from coal ambiguity to the razor’s edge of glass-cutting diamonds. The glass they cut through had acted as a refracting prism deluding me from the truth and now, as 14-carat clarity shattered the rigid bullshit, three infallibilities descended upon my mind’s eye:

3. Bevilacqua was feeding MACHO propaganda.
2. He was acting knowingly or unknowingly as the puppet of Schmuckersburg himself, for the sake of baby Bookface®.
1. I needed to find Capt. Bill Blackbeard, that obnoxiously elusive fuck.

I felt like delivering a double entendre the way an action hero punctuates a point of climax in the movie. I reached over to the nightstand, grabbed my tablet computer and logged on for the first time in over two weeks, only to cancel my account. As my index finger firmly pressed down on the touch-sensitive confirmation screen, I whispered gruffly… Bookface this.




Chapter 3

It had been two weeks since my last Bookface login. The first few days felt like I had just quit smoking cigarettes. Not because of the withdrawal symptoms, just the feeling of pride that washed over me as I silently acknowledged the choice not to feed my habit and sign in (light up). A few more days passed and now my daily routine consisted of a steady regiment of carefully planned out tasks to continually orbit around, yet never plummet into the gooey Bookface center that seemed so fundamental to society nowadays. No. My way of life would not consist of the instant gratification of digital information; I relied on the inborn instinct and the five God-given senses. For me to maintian full cover in this land, this existence, I would have to develop these primal skills. Any other MACHO member would agree.

Stanley’s seat was empty at next Wednesday night’s meeting. He had apparently succumbed to the collective mind of the pumae pack and could no longer indulge in the freedom to think for himself. This, of course, included the choice to attend MACHO meetings. If only he had listened to the advice that our sage leader bestowed upon us every Wednesday evening from 8 to 9 p.m. I guessed those pumae were certainly a force to reckon with. I sat in the back of the classroom housed within the 2-foot bedrock stones of the Our Lady of the Assumption, unaware at the time that this wouldn’t be my last encounter with that powerful pack.

As the meeting came to a close, Mr. Bevilacqua held me back from the exiting droves of MACHO members who were filing out of the room.

“I see Stanley didn’t make it tonight,” Bevilacqua said. “He hasn’t missed a meeting in months. I heard from some of the other gentleman that you were with him last week, the last time any of us saw him.” The wrinkles carved into Mr. Bevilacqua’s sandpaper skin seemed deeper and more drastic this night, I suppose to complement his grave concern for our fellow Stanley.

“Sorry, sir,” I said, “there was nothing I could do. A pack of pumae took him before I had a chance to rally the troops away from another one of Sully’s marathon stories. And I didn’t want to face them alone.”

Bevilacqua’s expression, which resembled the stoic immovable stone chiseled into six gargoyle faces that forever watched over the Our Lady, from the ledges of her steeples 50 feet above our heads, turned from stern indignation to softer understanding. And his wrinkles seemed to shallow a little at this explanation.

“Well that’s unfortunate, but you did the right thing. There’s no tellin’ what they would have done with the two a ya. You boys can have your fun, but bare in mind: a few wobbly pops will only weaken the will and leave it to the little head to make the decisions. You can go out and have a good time, but keep the pack strong and don’t stray. We don’t want another Stanley scenario on our hands.”

“So you think we’ll see him again?” I said, though I already knew the answer was No; it was more to keep the conversation fluid, as I really had nothing else to say. Bevilacqua stood no higher than 5’8″ and was maybe a buck-60 soaking wet, but his look delivered the weight of a grizzly bear. There was no doubt in my mind, as I tried to maintain calm in front of him, though my palms gushed with sweat and my heart raced, that the knowledge he imparted to us every Wednesday night could only have been acquired from his hard-nosed experience, expatriated from the “all-inclusive” Bookface®.

The sage MACHO leader confirmed my prophecy with a gentle shake of his solemn head, closing his eyes and pursing his lips slightly. We said our goodbyes in anticipation that either of us wouldn’t see each other until the next week. I was home within 20 minutes—the tiny studio I had rented a few months back was maybe 10 blocks from the Our Lady. Fatigued from a week of wondering about our unfortunate Stanley, I slipped into a deep sleep. Almost immediately, I began to dream, yet this was like no dream I had encountered before. I dreamt I was Mr. Bevilacqua himself. I couldn’t control his body or make any conscious choices on his behalf, but I had a front row seat into the life of the mysterious man, as if my eyes were his… those wide, black, peering orbs of intensity. And I could hear his thoughts. The dream began like this, Bevilacqua and I one…


…As I’m getting into my electric jalopy, in the Our Lady’s parking lot out back, I make eye contact with Bill walking his dog along the sidewalk across the street. ‘Hi, Bill,’ I say. Something seems to be bothering Bill. The quick pace in his stride and pained look on his face indicate he’s nervous about something. Perhaps sexual frustration or some other internal psychological struggle that’s eating him from the inside out. If I see him again, I’ll make it a point to invite him to our meetings. We may have our next MACHO recruit. Hell, somebody’s got to fill Stan the Man’s seat. I force the key into the ignition. After two attempts, the engine purrs like a kitten with a cold. What a piece of shit. Ah well, ‘A to B,’ as good old Pop used to say. Alright I gotta make it home by 9:30, in time for Sheila’s pot roast. Jesus Christ. If I’m friggin’ one minute late, I won’t hear the end of it from her. Not sure how long this workin’ late at the office routine is going to work. All’s I know is this: she can’t find out about MACHO.

Street-lamp reflections fluidly slide up the windshield like the Wall Street stock ticker. Their stream blurs as I speed home. In the darkness, I can only assume cougars creep in the darkness beyond well-lit roads my shitty hunk of metal and reinforced fiberglass glides economically along. In the shadows, their eyes are too dim to register on the smooth glass. Yet I know they’re there. I speed home. I know Sheila awaits. Beautiful Sheila. If only she knew of the horrid things I’ve seen. An entire underground world utterly separate from Schmuckersburg’s Pleasantville. Thank God she hasn’t. She’s an innocent. She’s never had to exist, to dwell, to linger, to assume an identity so putrid and pathetic, starving and bled dry in the absence of Bookface’s social lifeblood. She’s never logged off and, at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I love her for it. I don’t wish this fate, that my MACHO members must endure day in and day out, on anyone, save Schmuckersburg himself for fucking up the very equilibrium of humanity. What a fuckin’ tool.

I finally pull up to the driveway. I pull my cellphone out of my left pant pocket to see the clock read 9:29 p.m. A whole minute early. Maybe that old jalopy still has some juice in her. A to B and then some, Pop. I walk up our cement path, which leads from the car to the side of our quaint bungalow. The kitchen lights beam through the window Sheila has cracked above the sink so I can smell her fresh-hot pot roast. I swing open the screen door and enter the yellowness of the linoleum floor and the hanging lamp dangling above our stained pine dinner table (that I will eat breakfast on in the morning). Sheila’s setting the table and turns her head slightly over her right shoulder. Her flowing red hair moves with this gesture in that way that sends a tingling from the base of my spine only to end in a twinkle in my eye, which meets her one green gazer peeking over the softness of a delicate shoulder. She is my Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. I tell the guys every Wednesday to steer clear of a woman like this, not for their benefit; I want her all to myself. Not only can Sheila never find out about MACHO, those guys can never know I’ve stashed my love two towns over in the safety of a Bookface-friendly community. Then I really will be the hypocrite. ‘Hello, my love,’ I say. She smiles slightly and that tiny perfectly-formed dimple punctuates her happiness that I am home. ‘Just in time,’ she says. ‘Here, sit down and I’ll fix you a plate.’ I really do love her.





Chapter 2

The men convened by the foot of the stone steps at Our Lady of the Assumption. A few lit up cigarettes, while the leaders, the talkers of the group, started workshopping plans. The night still young (it was five past 9 p.m. on a Wednesday) and no one to go home to, the more social members of the evening men’s group usually spilled over into J.J. Kilroy’s Pub on W 5th Street. It was a great way to split up the week.

At the bar, I found myself sitting next to the refrigerator-shaped gentleman, the one whose white mustache wiggled as he spouted 50-year-old gems of grizzled humor. They called him Sully. The shitty 13-inch TV above the bar spat out a news report about a family of 13 children, each of whose name began with the letter ‘J.’ The reporter was interviewing the father.

“Tell me, sir, at this point, can you even name all of your children?”

“Sure can. That’s Jerry, Janelle, Johnny, Joe, Jennifer, Julie, Jocelyn, Jack, Jessica, Jillian, Joan, Justin and the little one there, that’s Jasper.”

Sully quipped, “What is this guy? A Jerk-off?”

A couple of compadres, including myself, let out the low rumble of belly laughs. Sully was always good for a few of those a night. Kilroy’s fit all of the known stereotypes for a dive: dark; dank; dingy; and, after a few pints with the crew, delightful. Overhead hanging lamps lit the glistening surface of the bar, but all the corners, by the pool tables and the wall-side stools, were shrouded in their proximal lack thereof light. As far as I could tell, no cougars lurked in the shadows. At the far end of the bar, sat a few 20-something co-eds, pert, blonde and beautiful. No way they weren’t Bookface plug-ins, but our unrelenting friend Stanley would have to be sure.

“Stan,” I said. “You know–even if they somehow do have even the slightest interest in you–that you’ll need a Bookface profile to get either of their numbers. Something we both know you don’t have.”

“Who knows,” Stanley said. “Maybe they’re Stan-sexual.”

His ear-to-ear, cartoon grin raised the wire framed glasses a few centimeters above his wide nose. I was pretty sure, even if Stanley had had a Bookface profile, his chances with these snapdragons would net to absolute nil. Although, what he lacked in charm, he made up for in utter shock value.

Stan was just far enough away and spoke just loud enough in his slow whiny delivery for the group to eves drop on this most certain kamikaze mission to the other side of the bar.

“Hey ladies, how are we doing tonight?” Stanley began talking to the two young fillies before they had a chance to notice he was there.

“We’re fine,” the one on the right said. “Were we found compatible on last week’s Bookface matchup or something?” The girl was genuinely puzzled that this random dude had decided to approach her on the cold open. For the most part, Bookface had done away with that aspect of life for the vast majority of plugged in proletariats.

“Nah, I don’t even have an account,” Stan said matter-of-factually, a stark contrast to the sheer puzzlement it effected in both of the girls’ faces, which expressed verbally a ringing sentiment of ‘Who is this guy??’

“You’re not seriously trying to hit on us the old-fashioned way, are you?” inquired the other girl. “Sorry, we don’t date guys whom we can’t background check on Bookface. Haven’t you seen the public service announcements? ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a Bookface by his profile.'”

“I don’t watch much TV neither,” Stan answered quickly, almost cutting the second girl off. He turned back to his original target.

“It’s OK. We don’t need to develop a relationship here; we can just fuck.”

On that note, both girls were up out of their stools. The first girl threw a wad of cash on the bar to cover the tab. Both made a bee line to the door, reassuring the bartender they didn’t need change. If anything, BJ the bartender should have thanked Stanley for their generous tip.

“Ah well,” Stanley said walking back to our section of the watering hole. “Turns out they were a couple of prudes.”

“Stanley,” Sully piped up out of his somber state. “How many times I gotta tell you: no girl under 40’s gonna give you the time a day without a Bookface. You ain’t Brad Pitt… maybe Sad Shit.” The laughter broke the tension Stanley had caused by his awkward social display. All was forgotten and we could go back to drinking in merriment, a bliss in the inebriated ignorance that none of us would have performed any better. Not without Bookface. As I sipped sweet, velvety ale, I secretly hoped no one in the bar recognized me from my profile picture.


One pint turned into many, among the growing roar of hearty jocularity and clinking glasses, an amalgam of sound which reverberated the wooden walls of J.J. Kilroy’s Pub. And soon, my senses sunk into the liquid abyss of drunkenness. Time also slipped into a figment of my imagination and there was no telling how much of this mythological concept had passed, but, then, suddenly, my head resurfaced from the briney brainwaves. I couldn’t tell whether I was six or 16 pints deep, but my consciousness awoke on a biting cold-air slap that wisped in with the sight of four cougars entering Kilroy’s Pub. They entered as a gang of Old West outlaws would have, swinging open the springloaded double doors of some seedy saloon sitting dilapidated on a dirt road, bright light shining at there backs to silhouette their shrouded figures as mysterious black entities. Bevilacqua would have called them a pack of pumae. They moved as one body, four sets of eyes scanning the many dark corners of the lounge. The leader walked in front of the other three dragging daintily the thin film of a burning cigarette behind her, between two fingers swiveling with the rhythm of her gate, which translated its movement on the ball of a relaxed wrist. I was the first to notice them as Sully spun one of his drawn-out tales to our group. In my heightened state, my mind relegated that chatter to the back burner, as the majority of my attention fixated on this four-headed beast. They set up post around a pedestal-style table at the outskirts of the bar, perching on the surrounding stools to further survey the field. ‘What was it Bevilacqua was saying about pumae?’ I thought to myself. ‘Ahh yes. They hunt in packs.’ My gut instinct was, thus, to steer clear. I wish I could’ve said the same for Stanley. A few moments later, I saw him poke his head out of Sully’s rhetoric, like a meerkat protruding from his hole. Not a beat after that, Stanley splintered from the safety of the social circle we had created for ourselves at the bar.

“Stanley!” I yelled after him. “Remember what Bevilacqua said: don’t break from the herd! Pumae hunt in packs!” My slurred words were white noise to him, drowned out by the sea of a hundred conversations and juke box ambiance.

Even if my words had fallen on his ale-soaked ears, it would have been too late. The pumae swallowed him up in the center of their pedestal stronghold. Too intimidated by Bevilacqua’s admonitions, I was helpless to retrieve him. And everybody else was still ensconced by Sully’s story. That kid didn’t have a chance. Maybe there was something to Bevilacqua’s ramblings. When I first began attending the MACHO meetings, I thought him a lonely, bitter and delusional man, rejected and thus seeking vengeance on the whole of femininity, but his advice seemed to hold water, as evidenced by the display I had just witnessed. As Sully carried on, I kept one eye on the mysterious circle holding ground at the outskirts of the bar. The pumae were playing with Stanley, mentally toying with him as if his emotions were a giant ball of yarn, passing him back and forth between their circle and further entangling the strings of his will within their protracting claws, until he resembled a marionette puppet bending to their every whim. And then, just like that, they were gone. I had looked away for maybe 20 seconds. And when my surveying eye returned to that section of the bar, the four stools around that pedestal had been vacated by the pack and its prey… the unfortunate and weak Stanley.




Chapter 1

I was running. Panting, the hard breath from cold night air whipped my throat and churned a tangy iron taste, which salivated the sides of my mouth. I was running late. Finally, I arrived. The Our Lady of the Assumption on Church Street stood regally, ominous, in the black night. I scaled up the 14 granite steps, taking two stone slabs at a time in each leaping bound and heaved myself at the obstinate oak double doors. Tugging the right side with a full-bodied movement that began at my calves and shimmied up my shoulders, my arm muscles cranked to make the giant monolith move. The dark hallway on the other side would have been pitch black were it not for the triangular sliver of light escaping from a glass panel in the door immediately to my right. I peeked in to see the room’s freckled, eggshell tiled floor bouncing fluorescent light from ceiling lamps. A white contrast to my current whereabouts. 30- to 50-somethings, all male, were bonding monosyllabically in that primal way most men relate to each other. A jovial bunch. From left to right of the front row: a refrigerator-shaped gentleman had forced himself into the school desk. He wore a worn, green baseball cap and the little white mustache above his lip wiggled as he joked with the bear immediately to his left. This man had muffin-topped over the desk. If he had got up suddenly, just then, the desk would have risen with him. His head was bald, bicked, and he had surrounded his mouth with a dark goatee. The middle man was staring straight ahead blankly, as he plopped Doritos from a small bag into his gaping mouth. And to the right, nearest to the door, talked two younger fellows, perhaps friends. They dressed sharper than their row mates, wearing slick-backed hair from the overabundance of gel and had each matched form-fitting, white, thermal shirts with pristine work boots and blue jeans. Conscious of my tardiness, I gently turned the handle and inched into an open seat-slash-desk, at the back corner of the crowded rows. At the front of the room, Mr. Bevilacqua’s thick-framed Buddy Holly glasses and wild, dark hair, cul de sacked by a bald scalp, sharply contrasted the atmosphere, as large black print on a blank page. The hot light from the projector made sweat run down his forehead and collected in shiny vertical pools filling his temples. Above Bevilacqua’s head, the big wall clock, that generic round face smiling in every high school classroom across the contiguous United States, ticked to 8:00 p.m. He tocked.

“Alright, gentlemen. Let’s get started.”

His simultaneous flicking off of the light switch as he articulated his announcement fizzled the murmurs like a freshly poured Guinness glass clearing into the deep silence of thick, iron-rich stout. Bevilacqua clicked to the first slide on the projector, which hummed as it lifted tiny specks of dust through its conic beam. The 10×10 silver screen read:

Tonight’s topic: Cougars are only the beginning.

“So begins our fifth meeting of the Men’s Alliance for Cougar Hunting Occasions… or MACHO,” a few newcomers in the crowd chuckled. “I know. I know. I hear it too. Purely coincidental. Now men, we have to call attention to a serious matter. This matter is of course that there’s a lot more than just cougars out there. There’s bobcats, mountain lions, pumae (or multiple pumas), the Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman phenomenon…” He clicked the small black button on top of his handheld clicker, that governed the tempo of his slide show. The projector displayed a woman in her mid-40s. Her skin sagged with weathering. She must’ve smoked, as evidenced by the yellow-stained teeth and prematurely wrinkled, leathery hide. Her hair frizzled away from the tightly drawn bun. And she’d grown into her more squarish, heftier build that a slowing metabolism can often cause. Her clothes, faded jeans and a plaid shirt, were loose-fitting and gave no feminine quality to the body beneath, which had most likely lost its curves to the stocky frame she now lugged around. She stood, oafish, arms at her side and squinting. Underneath her picture, it just read BOBCAT.

“Now this, gentlemen, is your standard bobcat. We have to watch out for this one. She’s led a rough life and is tough as fuck.”

A little about MACHO. These men were all middle-aged divorcés. They had been cast out onto the dating scene once again. Yet now with Bookface’s® aggregate dating site handling the heavy lifting for the vast majority of eligible bachelorettes, recent divorcées or fresh co-eds, these offline pariahs were forced to scavenge for the scraps. The outliers. They really didn’t have a choice; sometimes the small head calls the shots.

I was only 29, never married, but I lied about my age and said I had just dealt the ex the axe to get into our weekly Wednesday-night meetings. They thought I was there as a MACHO member, but really I was trying to get the inside scoop on this controversial club, which had risen in the backlash of the online dating site’s social monopoly.

Now there’s perhaps an infinite number of factors when considering the formation of MACHO, but it’s in my humble opinion that their sum total can net to one irrefutable fact. The algorithm failed.

Flashback about 90 years ago, in the early 2000s, the birth of a new millennium. The Internet was still new, fresh and shiny. Print media were dissolving into online, electronic platforms–information had liquified into pure energy pulses, packed with digital data… And Bookface founder Darryl Smuckersburg had, at the height of his rise to conquer this Internet still wet behind the ears, just successfully siphoned all known dating websites through his Bookface aggregate. It seemed appropriate, as this was the original plan for Bookface: an online dating community. When the popularity of this modest idea exploded into a worldwide membership, that was said by Smuckersberg himself, to transcend the dating aspect of life and encompass all existence–life, death and everything in between–for each of the Earth’s over seven billion constituents, the 20-year-old billionaire had not yet understood the implications of his actions. You see, at the apex of his pride, Smuckersburg thought he had figured out humanity. He had everyone’s info–little Jimmy’s 5th birthday photos, the fact that almost 70,000 people liked Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or that only 2,300 liked the Carlton Dance of said show, an event reminder for Steve Stanley’s end-of-the-year bash, Janey Jennings’s hilarious wall posts about traffic on Monday mornings, the little red heart that indicated Cathy Erikson and Jim McDougal were now engaged, while Ryan Thompson and Kelly Flaherty just broke up…and that Sean Skeelo was eating some homemade cookies his mom had made for him. Everyday life multiplied by seven billion. Thus, he went to work on the algorithm, which would solve all lonely hearts’ woes. He probably thought to himself, ‘For everyone, there must be an equal and opposite, a complement,’ pulling the uberfrequent all-nighter to craft his masterpiece of coded equations. His 5th Symphony. This would end all suffering. OK, Buddha.

In its infancy, the algorithm had an unprecedented 99.98-percent success rate. Soon after, it achieved a perfect 100 percent, as Schmuckersburg relentlessly beta tested version after version in the 11th hour to squash the last of its bugs. This hallmark, once announced on news stations throughout the six populated continents, extinguished all doubt of its reliability. Bookface became the norm. The site’s masthead read “Over 2 billion matches and counting…” Newlyweds even got a personally addressed congratulatory card on their wedding day (after all, event planning was handled through the social hub’s built-in interactive calendar)…

Congratulations. You’ve just been Bookfaced.

Everything was hunky dory for a while. Yet after several decades, the honeymoon was over. A success rate, formerly batting a thousand thanks to Bookface, dropped to absolute 0. The algorithm had a shelf life.


Bevilacqua clicked to slide two.

“This, gentlemen, is Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.”

A striking portrait of Jane Seymour graced the silver screen. Her one blue and one green eye sparkled amidst a waterfall of flowing red hair. She smirked at the all-male audience.

“If you see a beautiful cougar like this, steer clear men. They are crazy as fuck.”

You see in the wake of Bookface’s colossal failure, these men had been abandoned, inept, past their prime and unable to mate. Bookface had robbed them of the experience necessary for the hunt. Left to deal in drastic measures, many had exhausted their bank accounts on hookers or were just clearing up from a rabid case of herpes, courtesy of a girl they had “casually encountered” on Craigslist. The Internet, site’s like Bookface, were like a steady flow of crack that had suddenly been sucked from their veins and left them shivering in sheer dependence in the fetal position. Withdrawal. Backlash. MACHO.

These men, throughout their entire childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and into their middle age, had been spoon-fed the opposite sex. If their libidos could be personified, it’d be a fat guy, soft, out of shape, muscles too atrophied to bear the burden of courtship and further gluttoning themselves on the instant gratification of fast food sex.

So what? These poor bastards had the social intelligence of obtuse cavemen. How did this lead to the weekly meetings? These men had three things in common:

  1. They all lived in the quaint backwoods Town of Westchestertonville.
  2. Without Bookface, not one horny soul could get laid for his left nut.
  3. Despite item No. 2, Bookface no longer had any use for them; and they had been cast out of the online Garden of Eden.

You see, Schmuckersburg began to think, as the 7-year shelf life claimed more and more victims every day, that it wasn’t his algorithm that was wrong; it was the people. He noticed certain outliers’ profiles just didn’t add up and, when cleared from the mainframe, vastly improved the interconnected circuitry of his worldwide baby. What’s a few broken eggs for the sake of the majority omelet?

The projector exhaled a loud hissing sound, the bulb got exponentially brighter and then burned out.

“Ahh shit,” Bevilacaqua muttered. As he went searching for a replacement bulb, he turned on the overhead lights and, in his thick Brooklyn accent, continued the narration of his burnt out slide show.

“Men, much like the harpies from ancient Greek mythology, Dr. Quinns will lure you in with their unparalleled beauty,” he said. “Y’know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. Then they’ll take the shirt right off your back, so to speak. Don’t listen to the little head on these ones, fellas.”

Misery loves company. More importantly, misery needs collaboration (the unofficial MACHO motto). Left with no defenses of the fairer sex, these men banded together. Power in numbers. In this, the fifth meeting of the Men’s Alliance for Cougar Hunting Occasions, they were systematically categorizing this unknown species: women. Without Bookface’s comprehensive dossier of pertinent courting info, these men were helpless to the jungle cats’ feminine wiles.

Now MACHO may not have been the ideal solution to this relational deficit. It was crass and ignorant. Men had legitimately developed a fear for the opposite sex. But these were men of action and action was precisely what needed to be taken. If someone or a group of someones didn’t do something, we would all be Bookfaced.

The minute hand on the round smiling face clicked to 9 o’clock.

“Alright, looks like we ran out of time,” Bevilacqua said. “We’ll continue this discussion next week. We’ll start with pumae and how they hunt in packs for their prey.”

As the men slowly rose from their school desks and filed out of the door, Mr. Bevilacqua talked over them.

“…and remember: Leave no one behind on the hunt. Power in numbers, men. And if you must break from the herd, by all means, WRAP… IT… UP.”