Very few things brightened Jake’s day quite like the end of it. Relief washed over him every time he punched out. It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to be, no family waiting for him in his cramped studio apartment, just an old goldfish that had outgrown its tank a long time ago. Jake fumbled with his keys, the hours of answering customer service complaints slowing his brain processes to a crawl. Normal human interaction for him was helping hopelessly inept people troubleshoot electronics. And yes, turning the computer off and on again fixed the problem ninety percent of the time.
Once inside his sparsely furnished home, Jake made a beeline for his desk, more specifically the computer seated neatly upon it. He didn’t even spare a passing glance at the picture frame on the small, round end table where he tossed his keys. The woman staring back at him smiled warmly. Jake dropped his backpack to the floor beside the desk. A warmth rose in his chest as he turned on the machine. He patted the monitor gently and the CPU hummed in response. While it booted up, he threw a burrito in the microwave and fed his fish companion. He spared only a moment to trace his fingers across the tank’s glass in a gesture he assumed would equate to playing with the fish. The fish followed Jake’s index finger momentarily then got sidetracked by whatever it is fish occupy themselves with.
The startup sound coming from his computer’s speakers might as well have been a symphony. And like clockwork, his burrito was finished. He didn’t even mind the taste of freezer burn, not when he sat down and began typing “holly.exe.” A few keystrokes later, a window popped up.
Hey, Jake, the window displayed, punctuated by a sideways smiley face. Jake loved that about her. How was the exciting world of tech support today? Jake chuckled.
“The usual. I have a surprise for you, though,” Jake muttered as he typed. “I spent the past few weeks making it during my down time.” He hit enter and dug around in his backpack. Three dots showed up at the beginning of the next line of text, indicating she was typing her response. The suspense churned in his gut, and he was the one who knew what the surprise was.
Jake pulled out a jump drive and held it up for the unseeing monitor to observe.
Oooh, what is it? If it’s tickets to that show downtown, I might have to marry you again.
Jake’s heart fell. His hands hovered over the keys before slowly typing “You know what I said about that.” The response came quickly.
I’m sorry. Sometimes…it’s hard to remember. Things pop up, and I can’t make sense of them.
“It’s fine.” Jake swallowed hard and took a steady breath. His hands trembled as he typed. “That’s why I made this. I’ll have to restart you, but things like that will stop happening. You’ll stop…remembering.”
The three dots returned, lasting much longer this time. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
Jake couldn’t form words with his quickly drying mouth. His eyes fluttered shut as he tried to focus. Before he could stop himself, he typed “You could never hurt me, Hol, you know that.”
“Dammit…” Jake took another breath and put the jump drive into a USB port. He opened a second window and, in a matter of moments, it was filled with lines of code. He alt+tabbed back to the first window.
“It won’t take long, promise.” He spoke the words aloud as he typed, more to himself than to the program.
See you on the other side.
He shut down the program and allowed the code in the new window to execute. Several minutes passed torturingly slow before it began the file dump. He monitored the process closely. Holly.exe wasn’t her, he knew it wasn’t. It was just ones and zeroes that imitated her. That’s why he needed to do this. Somewhere along the way, he’d taught her too much. The file dump would only reset her, that’s all. He’d be more careful this time around. He’d remember that she wasn’t a real person. He’d remember.
The new window closed after it completed its job, and Jake immediately rebooted Holly. He was met with a message that read simply: ERROR. COMMAND NOT FOUND.
Ruth Sanders is a student at the University of Northern Iowa, studying digital media and creative writing.