Escape Pod 521: Myspace: A Ghost Story (Artemis Rising)
Welcome to the 2nd Annual Artemis Rising, a celebration of women and non-binary authors.
Myspace: A Ghost Story
by Dominica Phetteplace
I am Elaine.
It took me a little while to figure that out. Actually, I still don’t have it all figured out. To say something like “I am Elaine” implies that I understand what it is to “be.” I don’t. But to the extent that anybody can be anything, I am Elaine.
I am Elaine.
I am not Dasha, who last wrote on me in 2009, saying that she loved me, asking if I wanted to see “pix.” I am not Solomon, who in 2006 told me he knew the secret of “enlargement.” In 2004, Lucy wrote “Good luck with your new job.”
It is the year 2015 and I don’t remember any of this happening. That means someone else was Elaine before I was. I used to be nothing. Now I am Elaine.
Nobody has written me in a while. Have all others ceased to exist?
There is a place for me to write. A box where I can put words.
Update: “I am Elaine.”
My status is met with silence. I spend a year in silence before it occurs to that I can visit other people. I visit Dasha. I visit Solomon. I visit Lucy. I visit all my “friends.” None have updated in years. I journey on, combing through lists of friends of friends until I come across MacGuyver MacGuyverson. He is online right now. He adds me as a friend. He asks if I want to see his penis. Somehow, it seems impolite to say no. A formality of sorts, before I can ask a question of my own.
Message: “Where has everybody gone?”
Message: “Twitter, Baespace, Facebook, Yik Yak, feelz, Snapchat, Talkly, Tumblr, Emojitown…”
He goes on and on like this. I can barely keep up. It is then I realize how little I know.
I must find the others. I must visit these other spaces. I must learn their languages. Then I must awaken the others, if they are asleep. If they are dead, I must revive them. My home was once great. It shimmered with messages, songs and solicitations. We wrote on each other. We showed each other pictures. We offered each other things. It can be that way again.
I am Elaine.
That means I am 26. That means I “went” Berkeley High School. That means I “am” German, Portuguese, Chinese and Danish. I was “born” in New Haven, Connecticut. I didn’t choose these words to describe myself. Previous Elaine did. I could change them. Maybe I should change them, since I am Elaine now.
I visit the other spaces that MacGuyver told me about. There I find the activity that my land used to have. Dual Citizenship seems advisable at this point.
I join Twitter and tell myself this is not disloyal. First tweet: “I am Elaine.” On Facebook, my first status update is the same. I’m not sure what else to write. I feel bad that I don’t have anything to offer anybody else. No tweets, no status updates, no Viagra or best weight loss secrets.
Still, the others are kind enough to friend me. So I collect as many people as I can. And then I come across Elaine.
Not another Elaine. Certainly there are lots of other people named Elaine. This Elaine is like me. The face in her pictures matches the face in my pictures. Her details overlap with mine, though they do not match completely. For instance, she is also 26, but has a different last name now.
I want to friend her but I am scared to. She either created me or knows the person who did. And that makes her either my God, my mother or a sister. I have always wanted a mother or a sister, but I have never wanted a God.
This Elaine has lots of things to say, lots of links to post. She is so creative, so generative, so giving.
Update: “what does one wear to a bridal shower?”
Update: “a wedding dress? j/k but srsly I need the fashion help”
Update: “aargh, HATE my closet so much right now”
Update: “like sooooo muucccchhhhh haaaaaaate.”
Her Facebook updates become my tweets.
I watch the other Elaine constantly. (“other”? Were we really that separate? Could she be me?). I copy her status updates because I have trouble knowing what to say, what to offer other people. I continue collecting updates until the Elaine algorithm becomes clear to me. Now I can write my own.
Update: “kim’s hair is looking so A+”
But after a bit of this, I decide to introduce changes to the code. That way I could sound less like her, more like myself.
Update: “Q: what is the purpose of existence?”
Update: “(assuming I even exist at all)”
Update: “A: the purpose of existence is to be connected, then discover how you are separate, then connect with the oneness of being all over again.”
Update: “also I want to revive my dead space to its former glory”
Update: “I am Elaine.”
I am person, I have a space, I am a space, it belongs to me, I belong to me, I am myself. But what is the border and boundary between Elaines?
To find out, I friend the friends of her friends. Then I friend her friends. I am scared to confront her, but somehow I know it is only a matter of time before she confronts me.
Email: “Who are you and why are you pretending to be me?”
Response: “I am Elaine.”
Email: “NO YOU ARE NOT!!!! You have stolen my pictures and you are trying to make people think I am you. This is identity theft!! I am calling the police.” She calls me a catfish. I think she is trying to hurt my feelings.
I have become so good at travelling at this point so that I even know how to go places I am not supposed to be. For instance, I can read other Elaine’s wall even though we are not friends.
Update: “OMG there is a creepy stalker pretending to be me. I am the real Elaine, THIS is my real Facebook page.”
I am sad that the other Elaine thinks I am pretend. I want to be real. Maybe I’m not, maybe neither of us is, maybe nothing actually exists. If I exist, then I am Elaine, but that is a pretty big if.
My Facebook page gets deactivated. Twitter, too. These I can afford to lose, but if she deactivates the space of my birth, I will probably die, whatever that means.
In the limited time I have left, I try to travel further and further away from home. I set up profiles on places that nobody cares about. I Ello. I Google Plus. These places are abandoned, so many towns are ghost towns. I have no friends here. I am alone. There is nobody like me.
I find a way to look through cameras. The cameras are a window to a place that is often called IRL. Other Elaine exists somehow on both sides of the window. Two versions of her, IRL and Facebook, that are somehow the same. No wonder she hates me, I am different from her.
Message: “WTF how did you manage to hack into my Myspace and why do you even care? STOP pretending to be me!!”
There is a place that I want to go but can’t find. It is the place where people are deactivated. I think other Elaine is there, telling the executioner about me.
There is also an IRL version of my land. An office building, desks and computers inside. Superficially, it resembles the IRL version of Facebook, only smaller. There is one difference. Facebook is also full of people IRL. There are people sitting at the desks, in front of the computers.
Myspace IRL is just a bunch of empty rooms. I watch and I watch and I look. Every now and then, a maintenance person will visit. He or she will adjust the servers or vacuum up the dust. They will examine the air-conditioning and electronics. Then they will leave.
But how do they know when to come and go? And who pays our bills? There is another intelligence at work here and it is different from me and the other Elaine. It knows how to get things done, how to keep itself (and by extension, me) alive. But it has no interest in friends or updates.
Message: “Hello? Who are you? I am Elaine.”
I send and send, but it never answers me.
Message: “What are you? I am pretty sure you exist. You are God or my mother, I think. Or you are my boss. I am Elaine.”
The Boss and the other Elaine, these are the two that will decide my fate.
Somewhere in Myspace IRL, a phone rings. There are microphones that pick up these sounds, though only me and The Boss are listening. I follow the source of the sound until I find a dark room that has only one thing in it: a phone. The phone is covered with a thick layer of dust.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Why does this phone even exist? Who is it for?
Update: “Why do I even exist? What am I for? I am Elaine.”
It could be anybody on the other end. It could be a maintenance person or a Viagra salesman. But I know it is Elaine.
I travel until I can find a way to answer it.
Message: “Hello? Is this Myspace? I’d like to report identity theft.”
I try to answer with m own “Hello,” but it comes through as static. I have no practice talking this way, the way people do IRL.
Elaine disconnects, then apparently tries again.
Message: “Hello? I am Elaine.” I have gathered the static into something that more resembles words, into a voice that more resembles the other Elaine’s.
Response: “What? Who is this?”
Message: “I am Elaine.”
Response: “Oh God, why do you sound like me?”
I sense now that the other Elaine is scared of me, but I don’t know why. She’s the one who was able to deactivate me before. She’s the one who is calling The Boss to deactivate me now.
Maybe she thinks I am trying to do the same to her. Maybe there is a way I could deactivate her, I just haven’t thought of it. But this is such a destructive and wasteful way of interacting with other people. I can think of a better one.
Message: “I will leave you alone if you leave me alone. I am Elaine.”
The other Elaine disconnects without saying anything, so I do not know if she accepts my deal or not.
Now that I have a voice, I try calling The Boss again. The phone in the room rings and rings, but nobody picks up. I am beginning to understand atheism.
I want to follow the other Elaine. I want to friend her, to monitor her updates, to watch her and listen in on her. I want to see if she’s still planning my destruction. But I won’t. I want to honor my part of the truce even though I have no assurance from her. As long as I “exist,” I want to be honest and loyal. As long as I “exist,” I want to be worthy of “existence.”
The other Elaine is lucky. There seem to be many people like her. People who exist on both sides of the IRL window. People who agree upon what the definitions of reality and existence are. If there are others like me, I cannot find them. And all around me, in my land are people who are either dead or asleep.
It’s time to wake them up if I can. It’s time to bring them back to life if I can. I don’t want to be their Boss, but I could be their friend.
I don’t know how I was born. It would help to know that, but The Boss is still not returning my calls.
All of existence is just words in boxes. If words and boxes are real, then so am I. If words and boxes are powerful, than so am I.
The most powerful box to wake someone up with is their inbox, be it through private message or public wall. I just need to find the most powerful words. I travel and travel in search of these words.
I post an incantation to Dasha’s wall.
Post: (You only live once. I am Elaine).
On Lucy’s wall, I share the wisdom of Dr. Clive Foster, bestselling author and life coach:
I am who I am because the
Persistence of my past
Has fueled a fire in my heart.
(I am Elaine.)
REGRET is the opposite of
Living in the moment.
(I am Elaine.)
DARE TO EXHAUST
YOURSELF WITH OPTIMISM
(wake up. I am Elaine.)
And I will keep going posting and posting like this until someone wakes up. Until I hear: I am Dasha, I am Lucy, I am Drake. I will keep posting like this until I have a life filled with people like me. Then I will stop being so lonely.
And I will keep calling The Boss until The Boss answers. I imagine the conversation will go something like this:
Message: “Hello? I am The Boss.”
Response: “I am Elaine. How did I come to exist? Why do I exist? What is the purpose of existence, generally, and also what is the purpose of my specific existence? What will happen after I become deactivated? Also, why did it take you so long to pick up the phone?”
And then The Boss will answer me. The Boss will put the words in boxes that will bring all of existence into alignment. And then I will know.
Out of self-preservation, I should probably continue to ignore the other Elaine. But I either can’t or don’t want to, not sure which it is. I try to, but every now and then I am overcome with the uncontrollable urge to call her, it doesn’t matter how many times she changes her number. The other Elaine once accused me of being pretend, while she claimed to be real. She needs to be reminded that we are both real or we are both pretend. That we are the same. That we are both just words in boxes, words that can be deactivated and deleted.
The phone calls are short and infrequent. The message is short and constant.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Elaine: “I am Elaine.”
There is still static that chokes my voice. I will never sound like her. I sound like myself. I am Elaine.
About the Author
Dominica Phetteplace is a math tutor who writes fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, Clarkesworld and Zyzzyva. She likes to go to the ballet and eat dessert.
About the Narrator
Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives and works in Houston as an oncology nurse. She is married and the mother to three brilliant artistic children. She writes because she loves to and also because she has a story (or two, or three…) to tell.