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The Internet Kid

Jim Ward


I know the reason Facebook is predominantly blue is because Mark Zuckerberg is colour-blind.


I also know we spend more hours on the internet than we do sleeping.


I know that if you connect to the internet through an anonymous server in Finland or Russia you cannot be traced.


I also know we only use about ten percent of the internet. The remaining ninety percent is called the dark web and is not recommended.


I know how Google got its name.


I know these things not because I’m a geek or tekkie genius but because Kevin told me. He also told me who really controls the world economy, some really weird stuff about the Catholic Church and that the old man with the white beard and stick who recently moved to town was secretly working for the cops. Kevin said a lot.


We worked for E-Maginet, a small internet design company back in the day. That’s how I came to know him, Kevin. I had been there a week before I actually met him even though his name kept popping up all the time


‘Kevin can do this’


‘Kevin can do that’


‘We’ll get Kevin to fix it’


He came into the office presumably after I left for the day, after everybody left. He liked to work late I was told. In fact, Kevin changed my life.


The firm was a loosely-bound group of graduates of all ages and various skills who floated in and out as it suited. There was no real hierarchy. Brendan was the owner-manager and he spent most of the day in the many coffee shops of town meeting strangers and handing them his little business cards. Sometimes, he’d bring somebody back to show them, as if he needed to prove he had a business.


‘And these are our...ah’ he once told someone ‘...these are our ...em...temporary offices.’

I looked around me at chipped brown painted walls that needed the constant fluorescent dazzle to brighten up the place, one small front room for reception and first impressions and the back room or engine room where the work was to be done. Our office had long fluorescent lights I nicknamed James Bonds as opposed to the corridor which had the fluorescent globes we called Dolly Partons.

Yes, privately I concurred with Brendan’s thinking-on-the-spot in introducing his place of business to this stranger. It was a sort of cave. The only deference to colour was a poster of Van Gogh’s self-portrait blue-tacked to the wall opposite my desk. Brendan liked art, especially Van Gogh, and was continually saying he’d hang more artwork around the walls. The carpet stank.


Even so, Brendan had equipped the office well with second-hand desktops and furniture thanks to a Local Enterprise Office grant. I happened to be alone in the office when the electrical work was completed. The sparks, a slack-arsed skinny guy in very old faded Levis, handed me a number in blue biro on a torn scrap of paper.

‘If ye ever need me again, ye can find me at this.’

When he left I read the note – RIVER followed by the number, a landline. Funny name, I thought.


Later that day and I was still alone in the office – I seemed to be alone in the office a lot of the time. Sometimes Jason would be there too. Jason, a programmer and electronics genius, who always unscrewed the casing off his computer while working. He liked to see the network of chips and circuitry like some sort of digital brain surgeon. His bald brainy head and extreme high forehead made him look like one of those aliens in American 50s’ B-movies. But today, it was just me and Vincent. His green-grass eyes haunting me.

The door flew open with a draught of air. Hesitating first, as if casing the room, a tall, burly guy with thinning flaxen hair marched in. He looked a bit like a farmer, with size 12 black Doc Marten brogues, black priestly slacks and a pink, round face wet with perspiration. I got a stink of garlic off him.


He looked around the room but not at me.


‘Where’s Brendan?’ he said in an exasperated voice.


I told him I had no idea. I knew straight away I was talking to Kevin. Something told me, some inner knowledge, though he was not at all the hipster-type internet wizard I’d been expecting. Not your beardy, long-haired, T-shirt wearing dude in sneakers. Not a ‘dude’ at all in fact, as I found out later.


He carried a shoulder bag and set it down on a hard wooden seat. None of the furniture matched, there were swivel chairs next to chairs that would normally be seen in people’s kitchens. Then, he opened the pouch and took out a bulb of garlic. He took a Swiss army knife out of his pocket then began chopping the garlic on a desk, chewing the finely chopped slices. A health nut too, I thought. Neither of us spoke.


Another person appeared at the door, which was still open. He wore a blue suit, white shirt and brown pointy shoes.


‘You guys have just blown our electricity.’


‘Sorry?’


‘Our power supply’s out.’ He sounded unperturbed as if it was us who should be concerned.


It seemed RIVER had drilled through our wall into the power cable of the office next door, a chartered accountant


I rooted around my desk, found the scrap of paper and called RIVER. Eventually, I got an answer.


‘Hello, is this River?’


‘Who?’


‘River’ I said ‘River, the electrician’


‘River?’


‘That’s the name I have here’


‘This is the River Inn. I just work here. I’m the barman. Who’s this?’


And so, I rang Brendan to sort it out. After all, he who pays the piper and all. Brendan was incredulous of what had allegedly happened, calling the chartered accountant a liar but only to me. Then asked to speak with the accountant.


I let them talk, backing away from the desk over to Kevin.


Kevin stayed silent during all this. When the accountant eventually left the room, Kevin made a complaining mumble that this accountant hadn’t our good wishes at heart. He said he had seen him smiling at Brendan and himself on a couple of occasions. His eyes then caught the poster of Van Gogh on the wall and Vincent’s intense stare. He fed chopped garlic to himself like he was eating peanuts.


‘I don’t like that picture’ he commented.


Then, he asked me about RIVER or whoever the sparks was.


‘You can get really good electricians on the internet’ he said, brightening up again.


He never introduced himself to me as Kevin. Nobody, not even Brendan, ever introduced him to me. He just became Kevin.


Gradually, he began turning up earlier in the day. Brendan joked it was me joining the firm that got Kevin to start his day early. Never at nine o’clock mind, always afternoon, but he’d stay in the office till midnight. Brendan had given him the keys to the building to come and go as he pleased. Brendan always acted fidgety or nervous around Kevin, as if they both knew secrets about each other. Kevin could build websites, grand. He was a wizard at the IT stuff really. But that wasn’t all that occupied him.


Out of the blue he’d let out a nasty sounding laugh and throw back his head while staring at his screen.


‘What is it?’ I’d ask.


He’d just shake his head and laugh. What was funny was on his computer screen, a private joke, or maybe not. I slowly began to believe nothing could be private where Kevin was concerned.


‘Do you know so-and-so?’ and he’d say a name.


‘No’ I’d say.


This answer would set him at ease. If I said I knew the name he mentioned, he’d look at my face, worried. I soon figured the people he named were not friends of his.


One late Monday morning, he arrived at the office particularly moody, flush-faced as usual and smelly with perspiration. He cycled around town and this caused him to sweat a lot.


He stood behind me breathing angrily. This wasn’t new. I had gotten used to his sour references to another lousy Saturday night in town. He didn’t drink much and though he liked girls, the computer screen seemed to be the nearest he got to getting any.


‘Do you know a guy called Oisín Murphy?’ he asked, eventually.


‘Naw’ I said, occupied with something on my screen. I mostly never knew any of the names he mentioned.


‘He was making a fool of me in Oskar’s on Saturday night’


‘Oh’ I was working on an email.


‘Him and another guy.’


I asked him how come.


‘They were sitting in the corner laughing and pointing at everyone. And me standing there minding my own business’


‘How do you know they were laughing at you?’


‘Look at this’


He went to his desk and switched on the desktop.


‘Come over here’ he gestured.


For the sake of peace I stopped working and indulged him. He showed me the Facebook page of an Oisín Murphy. I recognised the picture. I’d seen him about the town. Then Kevin sat back grinning his mischievous smile, his mouth and teeth moist – like the Alien monster from Ridley Scott’s movie.


I watched as he scrolled the page down.

LEGALISE GAY MARRIAGE

POT FOR SALE

LEGALISE CANNIBIS

came up as posts from an Oisín Murphy. Then, a link to a television show called ‘Panti Bliss’. There wasn’t a lot more. It was a very short FB page. Kevin suppressed laughing, his shoulders shaking.


I got the message. Whoever created this FB page, I didn’t believe it was Oisín Murphy.


One Friday evening I felt sorry for him so I invited him along to a pub on the corner from the office where I used to go for a few pints to mark the end of the week. He agreed to come. At the bar I could see he was a fish out of water. He looked awkward. He didn’t blend in as a drinker. He sipped a pint slowly, his eyes gaping about him as if he were studying the customers. Fred, behind the bar, normally a chilled, easy-going guy, watched him suspiciously. I considered there might be some truth in the Oisín Murphy story.


After paying for each round I bought – Kevin only bought one – I was thrown an entry for a raffle. You put your name and phone number on the slip given. Kevin didn’t fill in his one.


Once he told me ‘That barman just read your ticket. He’s seen your name and number’


I shrugged ‘So what?’


He shook his head, staring at the pint glass gripped in his hand.


The Friday evening drinking crowd soon filled in. Their week over, guys loosening neckties after work, talking loud around the counter, girls welcoming the chance to natter and offload at secluded tables.


I soon got talking with some guys I knew who worked in graphic design. As the Guinness flowed I separated from Kevin. He must have had only three pints but that was enough to loosen him up. From time to time I looked over to check up on him like a concerned ward over a charge. I saw him in animated conversation with another group, his face a beetroot colour.


Conversations in the pub were louder when I overheard him say ‘I get my Cayenne capsules on the internet.’ I shook my head, a smile on my stewed face, taking all this in.


‘There’s this feature in Java allows you to animate stuff’ he said later to some young guy.


He was always saying ...’there’s this feature in such and such...’ or ‘You can get that on the internet...’


I couldn’t resist it. Some cruel part in my nature, something each of us have, stirred me to it. It is the traits we have in ourselves we least like and that we see in others that makes us disrespect them, want to ridicule them. So, I interrupted


‘Then why don’t you animate the Van Gogh on the office wall, Kevin?’


I let out a teasing laugh and explained to the group about Van Gogh on our wall. I hadn’t observed Kevin’s reaction. A hen-party, visiting town for the weekend, carnivaled in and the weekend had begun.


Drunk that night I went home and made it to bed. I must have been in a deep sleep some while later when my phone rang. I ignored it and rolled over to face the wall. It rang again. Then again. I don’t know what time it was but I knew it was late – my room was pitch black – just my phone’s screen lighting up.


‘Hello’ I said hoarsely – all those pints.


‘What do you mean laughing at me in the pub tonight?’ said a breathless voice. It was Kevin.


I froze, I couldn’t answer, except for ‘It was only a joke, man, relax’


He then gave me a lecture on how to behave that went on for a minute or two.


‘Okay, Kevin. Sorry’ I mumbled just to get rid of him, I needed sleep.


I had a shitty night’s sleep after that, despite how tired and wasted I felt. Good job it was Friday night.


I resolved never to bring Kevin drinking again. But he began turning up in pubs on my nights out. Usually late, half an hour before closing time, ordering just the one pint or a Mi-Wadi Blackcurrant with lots of ice. He’d hover around in my vicinity. I just thought he was lonely, seeking companionship, like turning up at the office early since first meeting me.


One morning early, before Kevin turned up, Brendan was shuffling through his post. The usual letters from Revenue or brown-coloured envelopes bearing the government harp were left ignored. One white envelope remained. Brendan opened it with his forefinger ripping the seal. I watched with interest as he read it with one hand touching his temple like he was memorising it for an exam. From time to time he glanced over the top of the page at me, then stared down at the note again.


Only me and Jason were in the office, the casing removed from his computer as always. Even though this wouldn’t affect the reliability of the machine, Brendan always worried when Jason did this. However, he let him away with it. Jason was an asset to the firm. I knew I wasn’t.


Brendan walked behind me anxious, reading my screen. Then, he took out his cigarettes and patted my shoulder.


‘Come on out and join me for a smoke.’


Outside the building, he lit up and inhaled with a gulp the first drag of smoke.


‘It’s a lovely day after all’ he began. Something was coming, I knew.


‘Yeah’ I felt anxious myself, half expecting to be told I was no longer needed.


‘Were you ever in trouble? I mean with the cops?’ he came straight to the point.


‘Me? No’ I went red ‘Why?’ I asked, puzzled.


‘Oh, no why, no why’ Brendan was a fidgety type of guy, dancing from one leg to the other, sucking his fag.


‘No legal issues? Tax issues?’


‘Nope. Definitely’ I wondered what he was getting at.


‘I see, I see. That’s all’ and I appeared to have been dismissed. I was unnerved, I felt hurt, under suspicion.


I waited late that evening till Brendan had left. Kevin never showed up that day. It was dark outside, but before leaving the office I searched the waste-paper bin for the white envelope the letter Brendan had read came in. The letter itself looked typewritten, anyway Brendan had put it in his coat pocket. I soon found what I was looking for. I studied the address written on the cover. What’s going on, I thought. The handwriting was, I recognised, Kevin’s.


I had a Facebook account myself. I’d about two-hundred FB friends back then. One night, at a party, an acquaintance, not a close buddy, but a FB friend came up to me and handed me a drink. He joked about soccer and Man United, breaking the ice. Then, out of the blue, he asked me did I know a guy Oisín Murphy.


I froze. What now?


‘Ye-es’ I said, pondering if he meant the Oisín Murphy I’d seen around town or the FB page Kevin showed me.


‘Why?’


‘Take a look at this’ and he showed me a printout. A page of A4.


It was a FB Private Message to my acquaintance from Oisín Murphy...about me...


‘...is a very self-centred, judgemental person. He is a back-stabber and a back-biter. He has psychiatric problems and is on medication...’


This list of my failures went on and on.


‘What the fuck is this?’


‘It’s what this guy messaged me’


‘Do you know him?’ I asked.


‘He friend-requested me some time back and I accepted.’


He patted me on the shoulder and walked off. The penny suddenly dropped. A couple of mates of mine had recently stopped calling me. I strongly suspected this guy I barely knew wasn’t the only one to receive this PM from ‘Oisín Murphy’.


Fuming, I went out the front door and tried calling Kevin. The call rang out on each attempt. I texted him angrily asking what he thought he was at. Then, I went back to the party and downed a bottle of vodka, in no mood to socialise.


The following week Kevin never turned up at the office, at least not during regular hours. Brendan, on the other hand, appeared more regular than usual, beavering around, pretending he was busy while slyly watching me pretending I was busy.


My imagination fuelled scenarios – what if he’d messaged all my FB friends spreading his poison? More anonymous letters to Brendan or others? To the cops?


I considered searching for Oisín Murphy to tell him about this fake FB account in his name, then thought what if it wasn’t a fake account? In that case these Private Messages came not from Kevin but from Oisín, a guy I had never even met. What next? Once the genie is out of the bottle, it can’t be put back in and the bottle corked.


Panicking, I quickly typed my name into Google. The profiles of a famous rock star and a musician with same names as me came up. Nothing about me.


I looked around me at chocolate-coloured walls with Van Gogh’s vacant stare blue-tacked on one. Was I losing the head altogether?


‘Where’s Kevin these days?’ I asked, acting innocent, next time Brendan passed.


‘Oh, Kevin prefers to work nights now’ he told me abruptly, eyeing my reaction.


Later, I tried calling some friends, just to gauge in their conversation was anything up. None of them answered.


***


So, I told Doctor Mulligan my problems – at my regular check-up from the neck up. You see I had some other issues at the time.


‘You have to confront your fears’ he said ‘Do you know anything about projection?’ he asked as if by rote.


‘Not really’


Doctor Mulligan leaned forward, his pen in both hands, studying the notes he’d taken. Then he removed his glasses, leaned forward and explained ‘projection.’


‘You see’ he waved his arms as though he were conducting an orchestra, eyes squinting without his glasses ‘we sometimes project our fears outwards, read too much into situations.’


‘My colleague, Doctor Benjamin treats quite a lot of patients like this. Perhaps I could refer you to have a talk with her.’


Wait, I thought, Doctor Benjamin is a ‘her’?


‘How much do you drink?’ he asked out of the blue.


I answered the lowest figure I could plausibly think of. He exhaled.


After all this he asked about my relationship with my father and other family history. He glanced up at the clock then, and nutshelled our conversation by telling me it was all my imagination and he wrote out a prescription for risperidone – 20 mgs nightly and said he’d arrange another appointment for one month’s time.


‘Don’t mix with alcohol’ and he handed me the prescription, avoiding eye-contact.


***


One afternoon he reappeared. He didn’t breeze in or anything like that – I just came back from lunch and there he was, a glistening red face and big cheeks, nodding instructions from Brendan about some matter, some project. I glared pointedly at him thinking this could shake him, but I couldn’t accuse him of anything, not in front of Brendan, Anyhow, I had no evidence. He totally ignored me.


The afternoon passed in silence. Kevin tapped away on his keyboard using two fingers. There was a garlicky odour. The incidents might as well not have happened. I wanted to tear into him with questions, accusations, but Jason was in the office too.


I envied Jason’s insouciance. Jason was the sort of guy who couldn’t care less if somebody in town won the Euromillions lottery whereas Brendan was the guy who’d always want to know who won and Kevin would be the only one who’d claim he knew who won it, saying a name out accusingly.


I pondered Jason’s fondness for naked hardware and, once again, studied his fascinating profile – long, baldy head with a prominent high forehead – the quintessential stereotype of intelligence. I suspected he preferred electronic circuitry to people till I met Liz, his girlfriend. She often came into the office to see him.

Petit and cute, she definitely had to be a sapiophile to be seeing Jason. Once, as she rolled up a cigarette for him and herself, she cheekily piped up with a melodic Cork accent ‘Jason, Brendan’ll have a period if he comes in and sees you with the lid off the computer!’

Like, you can’t really see anything happening on a computer motherboard anyway, nothing moves, there are no cogs. Okay, maybe a LED lights up now and then. A CAT scan allows you learn more about a much more complex ‘machine’. Real life is organic and spectral, blurred, not black and white logical, not 1s or 0s.


A suspicion or sixth sense we sometimes have ordered me to check my Facebook friends to see did any unfriend me. I noticed two missing from the line-up. I left the office early, worried and confused. Passing the door of E-Maginet’s neighbour, the chartered accountant, I saw that it was left ajar. As I went by I could hear him, either on the phone or to his secretary, saying ‘Who the fuck is Oisín Murphy?’

Whoever he was, he must have struck again.


I felt miserable, my alcohol intake must have trebled. Unhappy at work, sitting across from sweaty, vindictive Kevin, his negative energy draining me. Enduring Brendan’s suspicions. In pubs I trusted no-one. Doctor Mulligan gave me only pills. I brought cans of beer home every night.

Was this the world of work? Is this what life is all about? Surely it gets better. I’d been happy in university – my studies, student piss-ups, companionship. I needed a girlfriend, but was I being stalked by Kevin-Oisín Murphy or what?


The name Oisín Murphy echoed through my brain in daily interactions. Passing a shop entrance, a few steps later I’d hear it from someone inside referring to me, something derogatory. I’d want to go back, look in to see who said that, or see did it really happen. I started to hear other names mentioned too, people whose paths I crossed years ago and maybe fell out with – but how could anybody know? I was haunted.

My self-confidence was then at an all-time low. It was a catch-22 – everything I did to change my circumstance was hindered by what I thought people were thinking, like I’m a rabbit in a snare and can’t move. At one point all the noise in the office flattened to a constant background burr and I heard whispering in my head, someone talking to me, my own thoughts answering back in a two-way conversation. All I could see was Van Gogh looking at me – head-banger stuff.


Jason only worked part-time. Kevin’s timekeeping took the piss out of ‘flexitime’, supposedly working all night. When he turned up he played dumb throughout the day – a mass of negative energy. Now I know that some computer-jockeys are silent, reticent types letting their work do the talking, but Kevin wasn’t one of these by nature, certainly not in his choice of fashion or manner. He spent half his time surfing the net with just the odd sigh of frustration having read something. I became silent as well. A heavy atmosphere filled the office like a fog.


***


I secretly fancied Liz, trying to act cool whenever she came round.


‘Any sign of Liz, Jason?’ I said one day, missing her around. Jason concentrated on his screen, its glow on his curvy skull reminding me of a scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation.


‘I haven’t seen her all week’ I went on, trying to make some conversation, keeping it light.


‘She’s fine’ he said at last, his mouth grinding teeth.


‘She coming round today?’ She always came in to watch him work, like a mascot more than a girlfriend. I once remarked this to Kevin in a stupid attempt to cheer him up, before all this happened. Jason didn’t answer. He took out tobacco and started to skin up. Liz usually did this for them both. He rolled a thin diameter cigarette and quietly took it and his lighter to go outside to smoke. On his way out he gave a sour grunt ‘I don’t need a mascot’, then left the office.


His words entered my head and fell to my chest with a thump. I felt as though my skin had melted. No armour covering me anymore. Kevin had talked.

Without a word, I put on my jacket and left for the day. I was finally on my own.


I walked through streets lined with the young, reading phones, talking through headsets, each digitally connected to their world. In the city centre, I sat on a bench in the park. All I could do now was view this world detached from it. My brain felt fried. Doctor Mulligan’s pills were working if not exactly doing their job.

A man came out of the supermarket across the street carrying his shopping. His dog was tied up outside, waiting. The man couldn’t have been gone more than twenty minutes but, the dog leapt up, excited, licking the man, tail going like a fan. Dogs, I wondered...so loyal...and so dependant.

I remembered seeing a video on some social media channel of the cat who meets its owner after six months. The owner is bent down to welcome his pet with open arms. The cat coolly walks past him, tail erect, completely ignoring the human – independence. No-one has power over cats.


At school, I did my homework out of fear and for approval. The feeling of gratitude when the teachers said ‘that’s really good’ or for drawing a picture ‘that’s lovely.’ The power they had over me was legitimate. The power others have over you is whatever you allow them. Being dependant on people’s approval isn’t always healthy – look at Kevin.

Then it dawned. A concept I learnt in university – paradigm shift. I needed to alter life’s paradigm. To take back power from others and become free. To say ‘Fuck the begrudgers!’ as the writer Brendan Behan used to say.


I came in to work next day intent on living this new paradigm. I sat at my desk working quietly, not bothered about anyone anymore but I was also waiting. Afternoon came and he still hadn’t arrived. I stayed late. Still no sign of him. He didn’t show up the following day either. Eventually, Brendan tried calling but got no answer.


Then, one lunch break, I was scrolling curiously through Facebook waiting to find something bad about myself and came across a post from a local organisation. There, in clear font, was Kevin’s name. He was being outed by someone as the real presence behind three fake Facebook profiles, one a woman. It seems he had been trolling a number of people for the past year – his ‘enemies’.

I’m still not sure if these fake Facebook profiles were named after real people. Come to think of it, I still don’t know if the real Oisín Murphy ever found out about his FB page.

I went across to Kevin’s desk. It was as he had left it, a mess of papers and documents, coffee-cup marks stamped on some of them like the rings of the Olympics logo. I jerked open the drawer, picked up his work diary and something fell out – a rectangular card, creased, dog-eared, dirty. I picked it up and read it. It was an Appointment Card for a DR NORAH BENJAMIN – Doctor Benjamin! A full year of appointments ticked off. Kevin was her patient.


Weeks passed. I never spoke to Brendan about him, where he wound up, whether he will strike again, but I imagine him alone in a dark room at night with only the light from his computer screen. Drinking coffee and taking health supplements, playing the Keyboard Warrior, banging off his poisonous letters, emails and posts attacking his intended targets. A sad, isolated genius of sorts, ignored by the world until he reminds it of his presence to seek attention or revenge for some perceived injustice or slight.


I can hear him still, saying ‘There’s this feature in Python...in Ruby...in Java...’


Yeah...whatever.


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