Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Pictures on Dorian's Computer by Michael C. Keith

Dorian Wilder collects images of disfigured faces on his computer, until the computer rebels; by Michael C. Keith.

Isn't that the most perverse thing you've ever seen?
- John Waters

That Dorian Wilder possessed an extreme penchant for the macabre was clear. Why that was the case, especially given his seemingly bucolic childhood, was the question. But whatever disgusting and hideous things he could find on the Internet (and there was no shortage) excited and aroused him. He avidly searched for images of assaults, murders, explosions, car accidents, and bloody fights, but nothing pleased him more than videos or pictures of disfigured faces. His obsession had first been piqued as an adolescent when he came upon a picture of Joseph Carey Merrick - the so-called Elephant Man of the 19th century. This so intrigued and captivated his imagination that in the next few years he amassed a vast digital archive of grossly deformed countenances.

By the time Dorian reached full adulthood, his photo collection probably numbered in the thousands - he didn't know exactly. He had managed to plumb the depths of depravity and ferret out things he'd never known or even imagined existed. Among his gallery of grotesqueries were individuals with leprosy riven skin, burn victims melted beyond recognition, and mutilated heads smashed to a gooey pulp. When he attempted to engage friends with his hobby, their appalled reactions quickly convinced him to keep it private. They just don't appreciate the unique aesthetics these pictures contain, he told himself. They can't get beyond the surface and see the true beauty to be found there.

After nearly seven years with the same iMac, Dorian was forced to replace it with a new model, and this is when his all-consuming avocation took an unwelcome turn. His arcane files of gnarled and disfigured faces would not transfer to a memory stick no matter how many times he tried. He considered forwarding them to his work computer for backup, but then decided not to on the off chance they might be accessed by his employer. Finally, he decided to buy the new computer and transfer his special files to it directly, hoping nothing would happen in the process that might cause him to loose his cherished digital repository. However, once again, the files would not budge from the old computer.

In the end, Dorian gave up trying to relocate his prized photos and decided to keep them on his old machine. Despite its age and growing dilapidation, he still could access the files without encountering major problems. He would continue gathering his favorite images on his new computer and keep his old iMac in a small cubicle in his apartment he'd been using as a catch all for his neglected exercise equipment.

When he unplugged his old computer to move it, however, he was surprised that it did not power down. In fact, it defaulted to a selfie of him that he'd taken just the day before. What's going on? he mumbled, pushing the computer's off button several times. Got a mind of your own, eh? Okay, let's take you to your new space, old boy. Dorian placed it on a small table in the nook and returned to the task of setting up his new iMac. As soon as it was readied, he renewed the never-ending search for more examples of his favorite subject. Before long, the archive on his replacement computer was so substantial that he had all but forgotten about his previous cache of lurid photos.



Several weeks passed, and Dorian decided to take a trip down memory lane and revisit his older images. He was startled to find the elder computer still fired up with his picture on the monitor. He checked the electrical cord and then realized he had never plugged it into the outlet. How can this be? Where can it be getting its power? he wondered. When he looked at his face on the screen, he sensed that something was not quite right. He noticed a slight droop to his eyelids. I look like I'm about to fall asleep. That's not how the selfie was.

After an hour of scrolling through his old photo archive, he attempted to shut down the computer, but as before it resisted his efforts. When he rose to leave, he was jarred by the reappearance of his selfie without having accessed it. This time, his lids covered most of his eyes, leaving just a slit of sclera visible. Damn, what the hey with that? He felt a ripple of chills on his back as he shut the door to the alcove and went for his cellphone. A mix of relief and apprehension filled him when his selfie looked as it had when he first snapped it. He then checked his reflection in a mirror and was satisfied by what he saw. Okay, that old computer is just glitching out. What else could it be? he asked himself. I'll check it again tomorrow.

When, several days later, Dorian finally did return to his former computer, he was appalled at what had become of his own image on the monitor. His cheeks were hollowed out and his skin was discolored and riddled with small red veins. No, what the...? Someone has to be screwing with me, but who? Nobody has been in my house. Maybe I'll just get rid of this frigging thing. Smash the screen and dump it.

He resolved to destroy the old computer but then thought of the irreplaceable image files it contained and decided against it. Just don't look at the selfie. Pretend it's not there. Go right to the files. Keep your eyes averted, he told himself and did not return to the old iMac for a month. By that time, he had amassed a formidable file of hideous visages on his replacement computer that rivaled those on his old one. Yet, there were numerous images in the original file that he could not resist revisiting, so eventually he returned to the storeroom that housed his out-of-date processor without looking at his mutating selfie.

Keep your head down. Call up the photo file without looking at the monitor. Wait until you're certain it's gone. Just look at the corner of the screen until you know it's changed. He clicked the necessary link and, when the screen flickered as it does when it goes to another location, he looked up.

"God!" he yelped, encountering the most horrible rendition of any face he had ever seen... It was a virtual composite of everything odious that could possibly befall a human physiognomy. It's awful. Jesus, no... it can't be real, he mumbled, turning away from the screen in revulsion and horror. It's the most ravaged face I've ever seen, and it's mine. Impossible. What the hell is happening?

After several moments of considering the situation, Dorian slowly turned back to the screen and stared at it. Gradually, the anguish he felt changed into sublime satisfaction, and his lips were stretched to their outer most limits by a broad smile. Yes, he thought, feeling mounting joy. Yes... this is the best one ever. It's fucking wonderful.

10 comments:

  1. A clever and tightly constructed story, with more than a passing nod to Oscar Wilde, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (apologies for stating the obvious). Also an uncompromising and fearless look at the contents of a profoundly disturbed mind, riven with its own consistent internal logic. Fine writing,
    many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. nicely written and to the point, a parable of the dangers of the internet and how easy it can suck you in,( if you are susceptible and let it)
    well done

    Mike McC

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  3. .A compellingly droll and ingenious rework of the P of D G. Computer drama? You just wouldn't expect it to entice the reader in; in real life your mate says '...just look at this - oh sorryyy computer'srunningslow,' and your heart sinks, your interest - if ever there - evaporates, but Michael K has a knack. I could visualize everything; the little IMac, neatly corralled in the alcove, the whirry noises, the heat of it...
    B r o o k e

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  4. One of the benefits of publishing in FICTION ON THE WEB is the wonderful feedback from readers. A great service. Mike

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  5. I enjoyed reading this two-page story. Thanks!

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  6. This is a really clever read. I enjoy the parallelism to "The Picture of Dorian Gray", which is BY FAR one of my all-time favorite novels. I think you have a nice arc in this story, though I think your character could use a bit more depth. Other than that, this is a really great job. I highly enjoyed reading this.

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  7. I enjoyed this technological update on an old classic. The supernatural backdrop held me all the way through to the end. What a precise and fitting end it was. An encapsulating read.

    James McEwan

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  8. I love a good spine-chlling, creepy story. Your story grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let me go until the surprise twist at the end. At the same time, I found myself smiling at your gentle nod to Mr. Wilde. I look forward to more reads from you. Thank you!

    L.S. Sharrow

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  9. I'm tempted to say that it as wilde as Oscar, but that would be silly. It also reminds me of Poltergeist with its evil tv screen. Always glad to be introduced to a new kink.

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  10. This is another fine piece by an author who writes with a good deal of intelligence and acuity. He really puts the 'oooh' into review.
    S.Lucas

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