AIDS (no not that sort)
Here’s another, shorter one that’s been waiting for me to get round to finishing it. I’ve always wanted to have a go at a SpellsЯUs story. Hope I’ve done the genre justice.
I haven’t done much proofing on this one, so if you spot any glaring mistakes, please PM me and I’ll make the necessary adjustments. It’s also a bit strong on the language side, so be warned.
And of course, that’s where the problems started. It was only one mistake. One bloody email I didn’t recognise, one unconsidered click of the mouse and whoever the fucking arsehole was who sent out his fucking virus had access to my computer and all my personal details.
I mean I shut the computer down pretty much as soon as I realised I’d made the mistake, and I took it to someone who knew more than me about the infernal things – which, as I’ve said, doesn’t take much – and he wiped the damned thing and gave it back to me restored to factory settings, or whatever the term is, but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag, and despite heightened vigilance on my part, and an almost paranoid dedication to security, the fuckwit continued to get into my life, continued to find ways of stealing from me.
The police couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do much about it. I reported the infractions to my credit card company as soon as I noticed bogus purchases. The company insisted on additional security measures, so now every time I use the card I have to jump through a bunch of stupid hoops to get the payment ratified, but still he – at least I assume it’s a he; this doesn’t strike me as a particularly female sort of crime, or am I just being naïve? He still manages to make use of the knowledge he sucked off my hard-drive to mess with my life and charge different bits of his to me.
I’m sorry about the foul language. Normally I wouldn’t be so crude, but this makes me so boiling fucking mad!
The worst is the sense of impotence. There seems to be nothing I can do to stop this shit-head from digging into my existence and hauling out whatever he likes. Pretty much everyone else who should be involved seems to be either uninterested or incapable of doing anything about it, and short of going into witness protection and reinventing myself from the ground up, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.
Or at least there didn’t before today.
Today I happened to be walking through a rather secluded part of town. Cobbled streets and bare oak beams visible in the mildly twisted walls of the buildings. I find places like that peaceful, and a lot of the shops sell the kind of unusual trinket I can’t help wanting to buy.
Yeah, retail therapy works for guys too, and I was in serious need of some. Not only had I picked up evidence of someone pretending to be me online yet again, and spending my money for things I neither wanted nor was going to get, again! But I’d also had bad news from my doctor.
Type two diabetes is a horrible thing, made all the worse because in many cases – mine being one of them – the disease was self-inflicted by poor lifestyle choices. My most recent piece of bad news had been to the effect that the doctor wanted to put me on insulin. I’d been trying to get my diet under control, but with the stress of having my identity stolen from me, I’d been binging a bit, and none of the right stuff. It had meant that my last blood test had pushed my into the red zone, and the doctor didn’t have any more tablets that would help bring things back under control.
So here I was, fifty however much I don’t care to mention, unemployed and unemployable after I’d been laid off a few years back, lonely since my wife left me, stressed about having my very meagre sources of money depleted by some fucking oik who knew better than me how to talk to a computer, and just about to commit to spending the rest of my life sticking needles in my arm. Too fucking right, I needed something to lift my spirits!
The walk into old town had been an effort to distract me from comfort eating, and with little enough effect as I’d already walked past a couple of bakers’ shops and only just managed to keep myself from succumbing to the windows full of sugary goodness.
Come to think of it, sugary not so goodness, given my state of health.
I’d been walking determinedly away from a display of iced and sprinkled ring donuts when I noticed the shop front.
It was small and barely noticeable amongst the larger shops in the street, in fact it was so unimpressive, if someone had asked me about it, I’d have sworn there was no such place. Probably part of its anonymity came from the lack of a traditional shop window. What there was consisted of lots of small, thick and imperfectly formed squares of glass – very olde worlde, but not very practical for displaying your wares.
The sign above the door had annoyed me because of the way one of the letters had been reversed. It was the sort of cheap gimmick that combined poor grammar and an inappropriate dip into the Cyrillic alphabet to give the appearance of carefree fun, but did little more than highlight the impoverished state of education in our country, alongside the wilful indifference to same.
Yeah, so fifties is grumpy old man territory. I’m a card carrying member and proud of it. Want to make something of it?
So despite the ridiculous smallness of the shop, and the general air of repulsion it exuded due to its grubbiness and ill-advised signage – especially in a part of the city which was otherwise something of a haven from all that was wrong with the twenty-first century – I found myself drawn to the place, mainly because of an advert printed on yellow A4 paper, and stuck to the outside of the shop window.
It read, “Special! Autonomous Identity Defence Software. Angry that someone’s stolen your life? Why not turn the tables on them with our guaranteed defence package? Get AIDS and let us help you to a better future.”
There were a few rather bad cartoony drawings filling the otherwise blank space on the page, and it really wasn’t the sort of thing I would normally have responded to, but I was just that pissed off. With one last grimace at the gratuitously annoying shop sign, I pushed the door open.
A cheerful bell announced my arrival and a grizzled old – and I mean old – man with the sort of tangled beard entire colonies of birds could nest in, and a truly filthy robe appeared behind the cramped counter. The interior of the shop bore a closer resemblance to a hastily filled cupboard than to a business displaying items for sale. I couldn’t help but wrinkle my nose a little.
“You don’t put a lot of effort into attracting customers, do you?” I asked the proprietor.
“We trust that the people who need our services have a way of finding us,” the man replied diffidently, leaning on the counter. “Like yourself for instance.”
Point made I supposed.
“I noticed the flyer outside, for the automatic identity defence thingy.”
“Oh yes, the Autonomous Identity Defence Software. Very popular item. I have just one left.” He reached under the counter where the ‘very popular item’ was prominently displayed to anyone shorter than two feet standing on the non-customer side of the counter. The box was plain, unbleached cardboard with one of the yellow flyers stuck to its front.
“I hope it’s not that expensive. The arsehole who hacked my computer has been systematically eroding my savings for the past few weeks.”
“What do you have in your left hand jacket pocket?”
I dug and pulled out a few surprising items. “An old two peseta piece, a bent paper clip and a short piece of string,” I announced after a short examination.
“The exact price,” the old man said, holding out the box and an open hand.
I don’t know, maybe he was being kind to me, maybe he was having a joke at my expense. Almost on autopilot, I passed over my handful of useless items in return for what I was half convinced was going to be a box of something equally useless.
“Thank you,” I said in a bit of a daze.
“My pleasure,” the old man replied. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
It seemed a little rude, but I took the hint and left. The door very nearly did hit me as it snapped shut behind me.
I returned home with the ridiculous box the only evidence of my strange encounter. I tossed it onto the desk next to my computer and stepped into the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee. Next I sat at the desk and stared at the box for a while, sipping at the dark, bitter brew.
“What the hell,” I told the empty apartment. “I mean it’s not as if it’s going to actually do anything, is it?”
Famous last words.
I opened the box. All it contained was a recordable CD of the sort you can buy in most supermarkets, with the word AIDS scrawled on it in black felt tip. As fresh misgivings rose inside me, I booted my machine and, before I totally lost my nerve, I slid the disk into the CD drive.
Nothing seemed to happen for a short while, except the light came on to show that the disk was spinning, then the CD drawer popped open again. Nothing had appeared on my screen. I tried closing the drawer, but it popped back open almost immediately. I tried again, several times, but over and over again the drawer refused to remain shut, until I got bored and removed the disk.
“Well that was a fucking waste of two pesetas,” I informed the emptiness around me, chucking the offending compact disk into the nearby bin. My drab little apartment responded with its habitual sullen silence. It was times like these that brought home just how much I hated my life.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that I’m the principal author of the tragedy of my life. My wife didn’t leave me because she was a heartless bitch, and my boss didn’t fire me because he was a dickhead who didn’t know a good thing when he had it. At the heart of both of their decisions was an awareness that they’d invested too much time and effort into someone who just wasn’t likely to give anything worthwhile back.
And what turned me into that sort of loser? I’d had a dream once, an impossible dream. I’d wanted something so utterly, it had stayed with me every waking moment of my life. Some dreams are not to be, I’d told myself. Some dreams you simply have to grow up, get over them and get on with life.
So, I’d tried.
Times like this, sitting in the train wreck of my life, I found myself wondering how much worse things could have been if I’d only had the courage to choose the other path, to try and turn my dreams into reality. It would probably still have been pretty shitty, but maybe not as shitty as this, and just maybe there might have been some good memories to hold onto. Memories my current life didn’t have to offer.
Still, it was too late now. I sighed and opened up my browser. Here was one of my main reasons for having a computer. No friends to email, no work to do, just a few lesser known web sites, updated by a few dedicated writers who helped to ease the burden I carried. There had been a time I’d thought about trying to contribute myself, but I was too angry – nothing I might have written would have given any pleasure.
Afternoon turned to evening, and I interrupted my reading to nuke a microwave dinner. I ate it straight out of the packaging to minimise washing up, and read on into the night.
She’d pulled off so many of his personal details that first time, there was almost no way he could escape, and she had no qualms about fleecing the old pervert for everything he had. I mean the websites he was into… It was disgusting. He’d had his computer reset, which had been a sensible thing to do, and again every other time he’d noticed her back on his system, but he hadn’t bothered to do anything much else about protection. She’d found him again each time through IP addresses his ISP provided him, and hacked into his system simply enough. Some of the basic freebee anti-virus was so full of holes it wasn’t worth bothering with, and he didn’t seem to have his system set up to update, so old security holes always seemed to be there.
He’d spotted her again and had his computer wiped for the, what was it now? The fifth time? And here she was back pretty much the same day. It was like dynamiting fish in a barrel, or maybe something a little more subtle. Usually she’d wait until she had his most recent credit card security details, then she’d go on a shopping spree at his expense. This time, maybe with a little patience she could catch him logging in to his bank account, then she’d be able to steal the lot. She smiled at the thought.
An insipid yellow window popped up in the middle of her screen. It contained a short message which read, ‘This computer is protected with AIDS. You are advised not to proceed.’
What the fuck was that? She closed the box and prepared to upload the worm she’d been working on. It was designed to sit in the background on his computer, recording his keystrokes and sending them back to her. She’d give it a few weeks this time. There, sent.
Another message box appeared. ‘Assuming you closed the last message by mistake, you are being given a second opportunity not to continue. This computer is protected with AIDS, and you are strongly advised not to proceed.’
What the fuck was this? Computers couldn’t get AIDS. This really didn’t make sense. Again she closed the message box. The worm was in his machine now. All she had to do was wait.
She could spoof an IP address easily enough, make it look like she was connecting from his machine, and it would mean that if he did have some protection software – even with a totally bogus name – she didn’t risk setting it off. Once she had his money and had maxed his credit cards again, she’d send a signal to the worm to self-destruct, taking the computer with it – the contents of the hard drive at least. For now, all she needed to do was connect from here.
She opened the email her worm had sent again, then, setting her machine to look like his, she logged into his bank.
She had an account already set up in a nearby bank with a fake name to it. Once the funds were transferred, she’d go down and withdraw it all in cash. It didn’t take long to set up the bank transfer. One last click of the mouse.
A familiar, piss yellow message window popped up. She hadn’t seen one since the last time she’d actively connected to his computer a month ago, and to have this appear now when she wasn’t connected at all was disconcerting, as was the manner of the message.
‘You really are not authorised to do this sort of thing. This really has to be your last warning. You are very strongly advised not to proceed as there is no way to undo the consequences.’
Too right there wasn’t going to be a way to undo this. It did give her pause to think though. She headed back into her bedroom and packed a bag. Just her favourite clothes. It was a shame, she’d be abandoning a lot of decent shit, but then she’d have the contents of the old man’s bank, and there were always other arseholes to steal from. She dropped the bag by the door, and spent a few minutes spraying everything with bleach to contaminate any fingerprints and DNA she’d left around the place. She left the computer as it would be coming with her.
She filled out the bank withdrawal slip with the correct amount and all her made up details. That would have to be done quickly as well, if the police were going to be after her. She unplugged the laptop and put the charger in her computer bag. Everything was set.
She closed the message box. The bank website had timed out, which meant she had to waste a few precious minutes logging back in and setting up the transfer again, but this time there was nothing to stop her. She clicked.
I wasn’t on the bus anymore. No rows of filthy seats, no grime encrusted windows, no scratched paintwork and half arsed graffiti. Neither was I in an ambulance with its cramped conditions and feeling of imposed calmness over urgent, focused activity. Nor was I surrounded by the clinical whiteness of a hospital ward.
It did smell of bleach though.
I sat up, an exercise which, of late, had required a significant amount of effort, and typically elicited a grunt or two. The balance felt wrong, but the action was easy, like lifting a feather. There was some restriction to movement too – a tightness around my chest and my thighs, and I felt cold, like I was half naked.
I tried opening my eyes, but that didn’t help much. Some bulky, dark mass had fallen over my head and I couldn’t see much of anything. I moved my arms to push it out of the way, and there was that constriction about my chest again, and some odd movements.
It was hair, apparently – the stuff that was obstructing my vision. Where the hell had all this hair come from. I pushed it out of the way, and the world sprang into view, in sharp focus and brilliant, vivid colour.
I clambered to my feet, finding it way easier than I had for many years, except… What the hell was I standing on? It was wobbly as hell, and I nearly fell over. Fortunately, there was a table nearby, but somehow it wasn’t my hand that reached out to steady me. I felt a movement around my legs. A memory surfaced from so long in the past, so deep in the part of my life I’d buried years ago. That feeling of thin nylon stretching and caressing my legs. That made sense of the tightness around my thighs preventing me from moving my legs so much. It didn’t explain how the hell was I wearing a dress though.
“What the f…?” I didn’t finish because my voice was just as unrecognisable as my surruondings. I looked around me, using my spare hand to rake the mass of dark, curling hair out of my face. A nearby door looked like it opened onto a bathroom. I staggered uncertainly towards it, looking for a mirror. Maybe that was where the smell of bleach was coming from.
No mirror as such, but there were mirror tiles above bath, good enough to see my reflection. I spent a good heaven knows how long staring at myself – at least I assumed it was myself. The face looking back at me belonged to a stranger, as did the very slender body. No makeup, but with a complexion like that, who needed it? The hair was a bit wild, but then that wasn’t entirely surprising, given my recent collapse.
I reached down to check my ankles in case I might have twisted one in the fall. Shapely ankles, at the ends of long, slender, deliciously smooth, nylon clad legs. The movement made me aware all over again of the differences in my body and, once I’d assured myself my feet were okay, I set about exploring the rest.
Breasts, well-proportioned and a fair sized handful – just about perfect; good shape without the threat of future backaches. Slender waist and fair sized hips. Size eight was perhaps a little on the anorexic side of healthy, and I was aware of a constant gnawing hunger as well an overall boniness. Well I could do something about that, I was certain. I’d just have to make sure I didn’t overcompensate. A quick check under my skirt confirmed an anatomical conformity with the rest of what I had apparently become.
This was beyond believable. Was this some sort of quirky version of heaven where all my deepest, and arguably darkest – desires were fulfilled? It didn’t seem quite right, because a quick glance outside showed the weather to be the same dismal grey I’d woken to this morning. So what then?
I looked in the mirror again, seeking clues, but the face staring back at me remained a complete mystery. Gorgeous, if you ignored the multiple piercings – sorry, but I’m a little old fashioned. Nose rings and upper ear piercings leave me cold. How could I get my head around what was going on here? Was this even permanent, or was I going to fall down again in a couple of minutes and wake up back on the bus?
Well, I’d just about exhausted the possibility of finding any answers in the mirror. Now that I’d established that I had no idea who I was any more, perhaps there’d be clues elsewhere. I noticed the bag by the door, headed over to check it out. Mainly clothes, most of them new and expensive in appearance, but there was a documents wallet. Passport, birth certificate, driver’s license, so I had a name at least. Lidia Jensen. Not a name that rang any bells at all. The address on the driver’s license wasn’t too far from my actual home address, and there was a rental agreement that dated back to just two or three months ago.
There were bank details for various bank accounts, some of which were in different names, and had accompanying documents. Statements associated with the different accounts showed a healthy overall bank balance. A nagging suspicion started growing at the back of my mind, linked in no small measure to the labels on the clothes in the bag. I’d seen some of those names before, on recent credit card statements.
I returned to the place where I had regained consciousness just a few short minutes before. It had been just a few minutes, hadn’t it? The computer screen was still on, showing a time out screen from an online banking site. My bank. I touched the mouse and took the screen back to the last login. My email address stared back at me. It probably wasn’t the brightest thing to do, but I typed in my password and stared, disbelieving at the zero balance of my account.
The last transaction showed a transfer of my entire savings, modest though they were, to an account I didn’t recognise, but then next to the computer was a withdrawal slip made out to the exact same amount with account details that matched the one I’d apparently transferred all my money into.
A siren sped past outside. I wobbled inexpertly over to the window and twitched the curtain to one side. Down at the end of the road, A bus had pulled over to the side and had its hazards flashing. The ambulance pulled up just behind it.
It couldn’t be, could it?
I turned away from the window. Something flashing up on the computer screen caught my attention. A sort of yellowish box had appeared, filling most of the screen. It was the colour of my last urine sample, and both the shade and the font reminded me of the flyer on that ridiculous shop.
“Transfer complete,” it read. “Thank you for using AIDS, and enjoy your new life.”
It didn’t make sense. That program hadn’t even installed on my computer, how could it be flashing messages here? I closed the window and another popped up.
“PS,” it read, “I’d make use of that withdrawal slip today, then pack your things and leave. I’d also use some of your cash to buy a new identity. There’s a contact in her phone who should be able to help you with that. But seriously, dude, disappear.
“They’ll most likely keep her sedated until tomorrow morning, but I wouldn’t push your luck if I were you. If she keeps her head, she’ll could be out before you wake up, then shell definitely come looking for you. Hell hath no fury, and all that.”
“What the fuck is this?” I said out loud. Habit born from years of loneliness, talk out loud to an empty room. You get so that you speak just to hear a voice, even if it is your own. I clicked to close the second message, and a third appeared.
“PPS,” it began. “Look, I know this is a bit confusing, but you remember the flier, don’t you? Turn the tables on them? At SЯU we like to make the punishment fit the crime. She wanted to be you so badly, we figured why not let her. I mean you don’t mind swapping with her, do you?”
Fuck no, I didn’t mind. Here was the dream I’d given up on all those years ago. Here was what I’d wanted so badly that even when I’d accepted I’d never have it, and had closed the door on it, the absence of it in my life had dragged me down, caused me to sabotage my own existence. Here was the life I’d always wanted to live, and I could do so much more with it than go around stealing from people. Time to go reinvent myself. I clicked to close again. Yet another message popped up.
“PPPS, there you are then. By the way, don’t bother coming back to the shop. It’s not there; never was. And no refunds.”
I shook my head, smiling, and clicked one last time. This time there were no further messages.
She struggled against the restraints. This body was stronger than hers had ever been, but it was in bad shape. She felt mildly ill and slightly out of breath most of the time, and there was something wrong with her vision. The colours were faded and everything was blurred without the glasses they wouldn’t let her wear for fear that she’d hurt herself.
Two doctors stood off to one side discussing her in low tones. She strained to listen in, but even her hearing wasn’t as good as it should have been.
“…real shame. He’s had a rough life… …no idea what’s causing this delusion… …no next of kin. Parents are dead, and has an ex-wife who want’s nothing to do with him… …hasn’t been taking his insulin… …not a lot of choice… …sectioned for his own good…”
“Let me go, you bastards!” she screamed. “You have no right to keep me here. I’ve got to get after him. He has to give me my life back. I took his money, and now he’s got it back, along with everything else I had. You have to let me out of here, you fuckers!”
She broke down into something part way between sobbing and hysterical laughter. The doctors separated, one of them coming towards her. A nurse passed her a syringe, which he injected into the drip feed.
She lay back, and the room faded.
Renee Nouvou, it says on my passport now, which is a little contrived, I know. After a couple of years living in Paris, I speak the local dialect well enough to pass for a Parisian. What had bitten a more significant chunk out of my acquired wealth had been enrolling at the Insitut Français de la Mode and paying rent on a small, grubby Parisian apartment while I studied.
Fashion had been a part of that long-abandoned dream of mine. As a child I’d imagined myself as a glamorous model or designer of the new chic. Then life and puberty had caught up with me, and I’d taught myself to accept this wasn’t one of those situations where I was going to get what I wanted.
Unfortunately, it had turned out to be the only thing I wanted.
And then my one-time tormentor and unwilling benefactress had bequeathed me the sort of drop dead gorgeous body that was ideal to either roll, along with a wardrobe that turned heads even in more discerning environments. I was in my element, a fish born out of water and miraculously restored to my natural environment.
It had taken time. Fifty plus years had allowed me to hone a sharp edge to my grudge against the world, and habits died reluctantly, especially when they are as deep seated as that one had been. Eventually, though, I began to enjoy life once more. I mean there are down sides too. The monthly grots and less efficient plumbing are a couple of the less enjoyable trade-offs in becoming a fully fledged member of the fairer sex, and there were times I missed being taller and stronger. They were rare times though, and more often than not, I greeted the new day with a smile.
You won’t believe how many guys have asked me out – well maybe you will. I’ve had a few dates, but as yet nothing serious. I love the feeling of being safe in someone’s arms, but at the same time, I’m very aware of how many of the guys I’ve met are wolves on the prowl. One of the advantages of having once been a guy, I suppose. It’s one of the weirder parts of this switch. I started out very hetero, and having crossed the divide I find I still am. When I first moved here, I considered getting up close and personal with other girls, but wasn’t overly surprised to find that I didn’t want to. My interest in girls has been purely from the point of view of wanting to be one. The time will come when I find my place in the arms of the right guy. Until then, I’m content with life as it is.
I have no idea what happened to the other me, or her, or him or whatever. There have been times I’ve been tempted to look into it, but I don’t want to give her (him?) any assistance in tracking me down.
My apartment is in one of the anciennes communes de Paris. It’s a twenty-minute ride on the Metro from l’Institut on the Quai de Austerlitz on the Sein, and it’s filled with cobbled streets and tall, somewhat run down, but delightful buildings. I spend my evenings walking among the old shops seeking inspiration. I’m on first name terms with most of the local gendarmes, and I’m well aware of them keep an eye out for me, so I don’t feel anywhere near as insecure as I might.
There was a moment the other day when I thought I saw a sign I recognised. Just a glimpse as I passed an alley. When I stepped back to look, there was nothing there though, so it was probably just a figment of my over-stimulated imagination.
It doesn’t matter. I’ve no use for the place now. I have everything I could want, and probably more than I deserve. It would have been nice to say thank you though, and maybe to apologise. I seem to remember I was a little rude when I met him the first time. I rather suspect he knows already though.
“What’s the matter, boss?” an impudent female voice said from somewhere at the back of the shop.
“I wasn’t expecting to see her, was all,” he replied, tucking the hanky back where the sunlight never reached. “Better make a note not to come back here for a while.”
“I thought you were supposed to know about things like this.”
“Just get back to doing that stock take. The rate you’re going it’ll take a thousand years.”
“A hundred, a thousand, what’s the difference?”
“Just get back to work.”
So, if not Paris, then where? There were a couple of likely spots. More than a couple, in fact. He picked one and reached for the lever.
This is also where the street performer takes off his hat, and proffers it in the hope that someone will drop in a few coins. As always, my currency is your comments and your messages. I’ve really appreciated hearing from those of you who were kind enough to write after my recent efforts, and look forward with hope and anticip… ation to what you have to say this time.