The most played out scenario in his head is the one where he contaminates the office water cooler with a certain slow acting and undetectable poison. He likes to go through the steps of it – all the little steps, one by one – during his morning walks to work. He has everything planned. A contact for the poison, a method for releasing it into the water cooler, and even a rough location of the remote valley he would then retreat to, to live alone in a hut and wait to hear stories of the slow and painful deaths of his co-workers through the mouths of disturbed news reporters.
On these morning walks to work he stops in the local corner shop to buy a stick of chewing gum. The woman behind the counter, who’s served him every day for years, has never looked at him, not even once. Once he tried to say hello. She looked right through him, like he was not there. Like they all do.
But actually when he thinks about it – and he does, a lot – there is also something to be said for the notoriety that would come with him simply turning up to the office with an automatic weapon and unloading it right there, murdering them all with bullets, something about the intimacy of it, the immediacy, something about the way it would immortalise his name forever and turn the names and lives of his co-workers into statistics.
The truth is that he has, plotted in his head, over a dozen unique scenarios in which he takes the lives of his colleagues and he has played through them all on his morning walks to work so many times that every corner has been mapped out and filled with detail, including what clothes he will wear and what meal he will eat just before.
It’s really just a way for William to pass the time. He has a lot of time. Everyone around him seems to be scared of losing time, always clinging onto it and bemoaning the passing of it, always joking about the elusiveness of it while not really laughing, but William is a man with almost nothing but time.
He is an outsider. A watcher. A slow observer with a viewpoint fine and uninterrupted. He sees everything, and everything he sees, he never forgets.
Another way for him to pass through the hours, especially during the tedious-to-the-point-of-existential-dread hours at his car insurance sales office in whatever miserable town he lives in, is the diligent maintenance of his profile on FuckLife. This is a virtual world in which he is not a friendless five-foot-five bald and hairy-shouldered office worker with a terrible hunched posture, but a world in which he is Aurora, an indomitable domme, a veritable goddess with a follower number in the hundreds of thousands. In that world he captivates them all, the wide and dedicated audience to his biting realist erotic fiction.
In that world, the sight of a beautiful or even just a kind-faced woman does not fill him with sorrow and pain.
Because several times a day in the real world, William’s life is ruined by kind-faced women.
In his mind they hate him just for being.
He sometimes wishes he isn’t. Isn’t here, isn’t there.
He sometimes wonders if that’s actually the truth, that he isn’t here, there, anywhere. The way they all look right through him. Like he’s no thing, like he’s nothing.
In the online and altogether far better world of FuckLife, he does not long for the beautiful woman, the kind woman. He is the beautiful woman. He is the one they lie at the feet of. He is the one they stare at. He is the one they desire. He has taken back control of his unsatisfied urges by turning himself into the subject of them.
His doting readers leave comments of admiration and send private messages seeking intimate conversation. Sometimes they beg (usually because he makes them) for exclusive photos, custom made content, signed underwear, personalised stories. When he feels benevolent, or when they prove themselves by completing tasks, he grants them their wish by delving into the library of photos on his external hard drive, photos of voluptuous catalogue models from the early 2000s with the heads cut off, bodies he mixes and matches with photoshopped faces pulled from random extinct social media profiles and pornographic still collections, creating unique surgically sewn together people, patchwork models, his own little creations. Original content for his worshippers, the single and desperate and lonely men who, just like William, the real William, are not just horny, but so starved of attention and intimacy that they jump and snatch at any vague chance of human connection with salty greedy foul yellow fingernails.
And he is making a killing from the stockpiled lingerie collection he wholesale invested in some years ago. After wearing them around his house for a few evenings, he ships them off to the superfans who are willing to pay for the premium content, plus postage and packaging. All for the sniff. One day he will have enough money to quit his day job and be Aurora permanently, and let go of the real world altogether. It will be a beautiful time.
Between them, his fans cover the gamut of deviant sexual appetites which form the core of their identities and which they broadcast to the online community. Labels like: bear, big bear, brown bear, cuddly bear, cumslut, whore, raging whore, daddy, granddaddy, catdaddy, baby, fat baby, domme, cuck, bitch, beta, addict, top, switch, sissy, princess, filthy animal, footstool, ashtray, slipper, traffic cone, waste depository, curtain, sewage pipe, oil spill.
Most every post, erotic story or photo from Aurora is met with glowing acclaim.
– Aurora! I love it! I read your stories in my office then hump the corner of my desk when no one is watching lol!!1!! Keep it coming! Keep me coming! – Primal_Scream_89
– Your stories are about more than sex. They’re about the corners of the human soul which everyone else is too afraid to talk about. I’ve never read anything else like them. I just want to say thank you. – Mr.Liar
– Your profile and your stories saved my marriage. Now my husband can’t get hard unless he puts on an apron and does housework for me. Thanks so much! – Long_Haired_Lovely
– Me and my boyfriend re-enacted our favourite story, the one where Aurora takes all her slave’s body measurements and compares them with athletes until he cries. Can’t wait for the next one. You’re the best! – KittyClaws
– Aurora, you changed my life. I am an expert in chemistry, and have been working on my own bomb. Do you have any enemies? Just say the word. I will soon delete this comment. – Jimbo2395
– I’m an agent at BeanFlick Publications. Your work has a unique, bold and dynamic and innovative voice. Do you have representation? Or a boyfriend? Call me – ChuckLikesToFuck
In that world William is untouchable, but in the real world, (and he does get the two confused sometimes) the world of his humming airless office, there are people who have worked with him for years and still don’t know his name, people like Kirsty, whose red hair he wishes he could cut off and eat, whose perfume makes him shiver and whose long legs with high heels at the end look to him overtly devilish and sinister, like they are put here to taunt him personally.
The office, like the outside world, is full of weapons.
But he laughs inwardly to himself.
Because in his head they’re all dead.
Dead and burned and gone and dead.
One morning – after the corner shop lady ignores him for the thousandth time – he walks in to the dull but predatory drone of the office and there is a man standing by the water cooler. William has never seen him before. He must be new at the office. There was talk of recruitment, new blood, fresh ideas. William had hoped for a woman with a self-esteem low enough that she might consider living with him in companiable if not affectionate silence. But this is not a plain woman. This is a man. A tall, handsome man, who already seems to have caught the attention of Kirsty and two other females from the office, who are gathered around the water cooler (that’s where the poison will go, someday, just you wait, they’ll all be dead) listening to this man speak.
They are practically drooling.
Hanging on his every word.
William takes off his coat and puts his bag down at his workstation. He trains his ear to the voices coming from over by the water cooler. They are talking of a housewarming party, upcoming. Beer, food, music, games. No one throws parties like this new man. The whole office is invited.
William seems to know instinctively that whenever the whole office is referred to, this does not include him. The office seems to know it too.
He is the outsider, inside and out.
Two of the females return to their workstations. Kirsty and the new man stay by the water cooler. The new man makes a joke. Kirsty laughs with her whole body. She touches this new man’s hand while she laughs.
William feels sick. He gets back up from his workstation and goes to the bathroom. He splashes cold water on his face and looks at himself in the mirror. He wonders if he is really here, there. He wonders if he has lost himself between the grey spaces between the worlds he lives in. This is not a new sensation. All his life people have looked at him and seen what is just behind him. He is not even tragic, because people notice tragedies. He is inconsequential. He is forgettable.
The bathroom door opens. Jeff, the assistant manager, walks in. William dries his face and looks away from the mirror. Jeff looks through William, to the marble wall behind him, to the hand drier. He goes into the cubicle and drops his trousers. The sound of the belt buckle hitting the floor makes William wince.
He spends most of the rest of the day deep in his story world, monitoring his profile, the friend requests and comments and tips and transactions.
At one point he approaches Jill at the reception desk and asks her for a new ink cartridge for his printer.
She ignores him.
He asks again.
She coughs into her hand then gets up and walks away, without even so much as looking at him.
In the afternoon he makes three sales calls.
Only one answers, and it’s an old woman who seems to think it’s a prank call. She hangs up after cursing several times.
In the late afternoon, as five o’clock approaches, he looks over to the water cooler.
Kirsty and the new man are still there, still talking and laughing, getting closer and closer.
When five o’clock comes, William waits for everyone to leave before him, just so there’s no chance of him getting caught directly behind Kirsty and the view of her calves and thighs, which has happened a few times before, leaving him with no way to escape from the plodding pace of the herd other than to push and shove his way through, which he could of course never muster the nerve to do, forcing him to look at the refined movement of each leg muscle until he feels sick.
He waits for them to leave and then makes it to his car which he then drives home at eighty miles an hour to get to his computer and be Aurora and write a vicious and painful story and upload it and feed it into the mouths of his voracious fans and then cut himself with a scissors and forget all about everything for a little while.
He adopts a nameless cat.
He feeds it tuna and it sits on his couch and licks itself in a way that seems suggestive and reminds him of Kirsty and then makes him head to the bathroom to squeeze and beat the stringy hatred out of him and then cut deep into his inner thigh with the scissors again until things turn hot white and perfect.
He reads books by sad dead men and learns new words, words like solipsism, which he enjoys pronouncing with a reptilian chameleonish emphasis on the aspirated p sound in the middle, spoken aloud only to his nameless cat, who seems to look right through him like all the others.
Neither his doorbell nor telephone rings, never, not at all, not even a tiny little bit.
He wonders if he should even bother trying to grapple with existentialism because far smarter men than he have tried, for centuries, and the best they have come up with is a few catchy syllogisms.
At the office, Kirsty and the new man stay by the water cooler, all day, every day, touching each other’s shoulders, giggling in conspiratorial hushed voices.
One day, and it’s meaningless to say which as they are all the same, William decides to try something. Something to prove one way or another his existence or lack thereof.
While his colleagues (someday he will watch their funerals on television and he will be so rigid he might burst) gather in the break room to discuss the upcoming housewarming party and the important events that will doubtlessly happen there, William nears the door and lets out an inordinately loud cough, a staged, forced cough, the type of cough which is not for clearing one’s throat.
He prolongs the cough to last around thirty seconds and while he coughs, not one of them, not one of the people he has worked with for years stops talking, not one of them turns to look at him, asks him if he wants a honey drop or a glass of water.
Not one of them even flinches.
Therefore he is not.
In the afternoon of that same day, after spending each passing hour in his story worlds where it doesn’t matter if he is real or not (Aurora has now reached 150k followers, an achievement he has been counting down to for some time; he has planned to celebrate this momentous landmark with a steak dinner and bottle of wine, but now, as he feels smaller and more invisible than ever, the whole idea seems silly and meaningless), and while Kirsty and the new man continue flirting by the water cooler, he decides to try something else.
There is every chance that his colleagues, while gathered in the break room, were so wrapped up in themselves and their conversation that his overly theatrical cough went genuinely unheard, or even the chance that if it was heard, it was considered to be simply a cough, hardly an unusual sound in the drone of the office, so he decides he needs to do something more disruptive to test his blurry theory.
After lunch, while the workers sit at their desks and stare at their screens and the clock ticks on, in a joyously careless and almost involuntary way, William lets a loud noise escape his mouth.
More than a grunt, less than a scream.
A flat, dull, projected groan, bludgeoned through the din of the office air.
He waits for the heads to turn, the brows to furrow.
He lets out the sound similar to a wounded breying animal for exactly ninety seconds, and during this entire time, during this whole time, not one of his colleagues reacts in any discernible way whatsoever.
His dull blunt groan goes out into the office air and hangs there and no one moves.
Therefore he isn’t.
The end of the day approaches and William has one last thing he needs to do. He has a plan. Something bigger than a cough or a groan. Something physical. Something consequential.
Over by the water cooler, Kirsty and the new man are still talking, still touching hands. She is still laughing at his jokes. He is getting taller by the second.
William leaves his workstation and walks across the office floor, towards the workstation closest to the water cooler, which happens to belong to a woman named Marge. William happens to know that Marge has two sons, because he is an observer who sees all and forgets none, and because he has many times envisioned them weeping at her funeral when the day finally comes for his fantasies to become real (if anything is real.)
On her desk sits a pile of papers, their corners hanging precariously over the edge. William nears the workstation. At the water cooler, Kirsty and the new man are still talking, still touching each other.
William brushes his hip against the stack of paper, sending all the sheets scattering to the floor.
In the original carnation of his plan, he pictured himself walking straight on, not breaking his stride or turning his head and just leaving the pile of paper on the floor for someone else to pick up, but in practice, in horrible reality (?) when William knocks the papers to the floor, he is unable to stop himself from bending down, gathering the papers, and apologising profusely to Kirsty and the new man and Marge and any other witnesses, and when he does this, when he knocks the paper and then speaks not one of them looks up, stops their conversation, or takes any notice of him at all.
Therefore he isn’t.
With his shoulders slumped and his back arched, William retreats to this workstation, where he sits and gets lost in another of his favourite fantastical narratives. In this one he reduces his colleagues to powder in a split second. The ammonium nitrate bomb in the supply closet.
William has to admit that the seed of inspiration for this idea is not his own; it is the work of his adoring fan, Jimbo2395, but William takes credit for the many inventive ways in which the idea might be executed.
The luxury of choosing the exact moment the bomb will be detonated is all his. He can choose any time of day he wants. Or, alternatively, and there is something about this idea he likes too, he could let go, he could drop his and co-workers’ fates entirely into the hands of Jimbo2395, leave everything up to him, including the exact moment the bomb goes off. There is something exciting about sitting at his workstation, watching the seconds tick away on the clock, wondering which will be the one where it all explodes, wondering which will be the last.
He spends some quality time in Aurora’s world. He is omnipotent there. Another of his followers has completed a task, the same task many of Aurora’s fans get when they request personalised content or send messages.
The task is simple. It begins with installing a smartphone application designed for running. The kind which uses GPS signals to track and mark the route made by the runner, so they can share a snapshot on social media of their achievement and receive thumbs up and shocked faces and comments of congratulation. This kind of application is well known.
– Let me know once you have the app installed, pig. When you do, what I want you to do is this: Say my name. Spell it out on the streets. Walk, jog, run, crawl; go wherever you have to, drawing an imaginary line behind you. I want to see my name. If you do that for me, maybe you’ll get a reward, maybe not, see how I feel.
He has his commands pre-typed in a document full of similar material, allowing him to copy and paste and send to every new challenger (and at this point there has been, in his best estimate, somewhere around five hundred and fifty of them), and the sub-clause in the instruction always shortly follows – Oh, and don’t try to use the same place for the two As and Rs. I’ll notice. Six different letters, six different places. I hear it might rain out. I hope it does.
He has many commands, stories and poems saved in a document. When his fans get close, when they become obsessed and send hundreds of messages a day, when they think they’re making some real connection with some real person, when they’re think their loneliness is almost over, this is what they get, automatic copied and pasted content, fake stories with random names inserted in the right places. They are so desperate for it they believe anything.
William opens the new files sent over by a young man who has been sending messages for weeks about his loveless marriage and disapproving father. He has done an impressive job on the task, using his car, spanning miles, different towns, painting the letters large on the map.
A U R O R A.
The effort, on past precedent, certainly merits a handsome reward, a picture or a whole photo album of dead or retired catalogue models patched together with random faces, but William is not feeling generous. He is feeling small, cheated, disgusting. More so than usual.
He types a quick response to the man who is doubtlessly holding his device in his shaking hands, refreshing the page at minutely intervals, hoping to see that red number one plastered on the envelope, hoping for that dopamine rush.
– You get nothing. Try harder next time, pig.
He looks up from his workstation. Kirsty and the new man are at the water cooler. Their faces are close. The new man is going to do it. He is leaning close, closer. He kisses her. She lets him. He puts his mouth on hers and holds it there. She presses her hips into him. Everyone in the office claps.
William feels sick. His face turns white, his stomach rumbles, and then he vomits, right there on the carpeted floor of his workstation, bright pink chunks, and while this happens, while William wretches and heaves and sprays the carpet with his insides, not one single motherfucking head in his whole office turns to look, not a single goddamned one.
They all look at Kirsty and the new guy, who are now undressing each other. The clapping and the cheering goes on.
William grabs the paper cutter from his desk and runs to the bathroom, locks himself in a cubicle, unzips and pulls down his trousers, digs in deep, hard, hoping to hit an artery, hoping to drown the walls in his blood.
He does not want this anymore.
He is done.
He may be an outsider, an alien, a nobody.
But there is something he can do.
Instead of his living in his story worlds, he can bring his story worlds to life.
The narratives he has indulged in every morning for as long as he can remember.
The people are about to get what they deserve.
He goes home early (no one notices and the vomit remains on the carpet all day) seeing the perfect clarity of his plan, frightening and spectacular.
Jimbo2395 is going to get a message.
They will all be on the news.