Return to Shub-Internet (fiction)
In April 2002, Minnesota housewife Carol Durant accidentally spilled a cup of coffee onto her computer keyboard, shorting out the equipment and preventing her from continuing to bid on an eBay auction for a rare Beanie Baby. Distraught, she slit her infant daughter's throat, left a rambling and bizarre suicide note, and swallowed over 200 sleeping pills. It turned out that she had won the auction -- the other bidders had lost interest in the toy, and her bid was the last one before the auction closed.
Our dear, sweet, all-powerful Internet.
It brings us news, information, and insights from around the globe. It allows us to purchase goods and services that would not normally be available. It lets us play games, read, write, learn in ways that we never dreamed would be possible. We love it, and we cannot live without it.
It spreads disinformation, hoaxes, and lies to every corner of the world. It sucks away our money and leaves us nothing of value. It gives scam artists free rein to lie and steal and swindle. It fills us with rage and sorrow when our favorite websites won't load, when our games lock up, when our e-mail gets cracked. We hate it, we fear it, it gives us no peace.
Love, hate, fear, joy, rage, lust, obsession. The Internet is our family, our support group, our test pattern, our church. For better and for worse.
In February 2003, Yong Shin Pak, an avid South Korean gamer, was absent from work one Monday. Concerned coworkers investigated and found that he had died playing one of his favorite online adventure games. The coroner ruled that he had starved to death, a verdict disputed by his family, who note that, though Pak enjoyed gaming, he had never been obsessed enough to neglect his health or well-being while playing. They also said Pak could not possibly have lost so much weight in just two days. Public records do not list his previous weight, but the autopsy says that he weighed less than 80 pounds when he died.
It is not a new concept. Many of us now love our telephones because they let us talk to friends and family members who live many miles away, but we hate it because our only calls are from telemarketers.
Our ancestors loved the speed of the telegraph, but hated it when the lines went down. Before that, they loved and hated the Pony Express, semaphores, movable type, ink, and paper. We crave communication. We despise inconvenience.
Perhaps anything that inspires such extremes of devotion and rage will inevitably attract unwelcome spiritual attention.
In June 2003, help-desk operator David Scharer was fired for excessive Internet use while at work. The next night, he sneaked back into the building and attacked his supervisor, Edmund L. Dart, in his office. Scharer tied Dart to his office chair, situated him in front of his computer, opened Dart's browser to Scharer's website, and electrocuted him with a car battery he had smuggled in. There was never any doubt about Scharer's guilt -- he had set up a webcam and recorded the whole thing (Don't look for it now -- police have wisely taken it offline). Police have no explanation for how Scharer made it back into the office, how he managed to bring a car battery in with him, or how he was able to assault Dart without anyone else hearing him. Scharer has never been apprehended.
We shouldn't be surprised that communications systems sometimes cause people to die. Pony Express riders were killed by Indians, telephone linemen sometimes touch a wire and get electrocuted. Accidents happen in every industry, fodder for statisticians and human resources pencil-pushers.
In recent years, Internet-related deaths have been happening in larger numbers. No one knows why. Investigations turn up nothing useful. Nothing the statisticians can understand, nothing the insurance men can use, nothing to comfort the family, nothing to satisfy the cops. Just fits of madness. And acts of god.
Iraqi blogger Pari Laleh Jaffari stopped posting on her weblog for two weeks in January 2004. Sporadic posting is not uncommon for bloggers in Iraq -- power failures are frequent, and sadly, some writers are targeted for elimination or control because of what they write. Her postings since her short hiatus have been increasingly strange, telling of being kidnapped by masked men with odd accents, of old friends sporting disturbing deformities, of figures in fog, of nightmarish new mosques, of strange behavior by neighbors, Coalition soldiers, and insurgents, of no longer being able to communicate in any way with her family. Jaffari stopped responding to all e-mail correspondence from concerned readers, and her family says she vanished that January and has not been seen by anyone since then.
We like to make jokes about this stuff. Scratch an Internet addict, and you're pretty likely to find a Lovecraft fan. If the Internet didn't exist, do you think you'd find nearly as many Lovecraft books in bookstores? Would toy companies be making plush Cthulhu dolls? Would tentacle monster anime have any sort of presence out in the non-digital world without the 'Net to push it forward? And as much as we Lovecraft fans love reading cosmic horror, we like making jokes about it even more. We make silly Cthulhu cartoons, we put the Elder Gods on T-shirts, we run "Cthulhu for President" campaigns. Do we do this for Poe? For King? For Barker? For Rice? No, the devotion, love, and humor for Lovecraft far outstrips anything else out there, at least as far as horror fiction goes.
And make no mistake -- the concept of "Shub-Internet" is definitely a joke. When you've lost your third straight RocketArena match against a bunch of n00bs who keep forgetting not to frag their own teammates, you've got to joke about eldritch digital monster-gods who have it in for you. Even the n00bs will understand that the joke's on you.
Isn't it strange? Even people who don't read Lovecraft are able to get online and make Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep jokes with the best of them. Perhaps everyone on the 'Net has a natural talent for understanding and making jokes about Lovecraft's monsters, the way undertakers naturally develop an extremely morbid sense of humor. Maybe it's not so much about funny squid monsters. Maybe it's a defense mechanism.
On September 29, 2004, five members of the SylverDysk Arts Collective of New York City vanished, though the last of the disappearances weren't discovered until mid-October. All five -- Lesa Harper, Andy Davenport, Simon Goff, Lenora Calderon, and Gabriel Freeman -- were working on an online collaborative project they jokingly dubbed "Shubby's Spooky Spectacular," which would coincide with a Halloween art exhibition. After their disappearances, the victims' apartments were plagued by mysterious fires for the next six months. After a lengthy investigation, the police still have no leads.
If there are gods out there, why should they heed prayers typed in the heat of an online deathmatch? Mere seconds pass, and the pleas scroll away, forgotten as quickly and with less care than they were offered. There is no sincerity, no devotion, no true fear, respect, or worship.
And why would a god want virtual sacrifices? What value is there in a few pixels, in a few bytes of memory? You can go buy some more any time you want at Best Buy. Who cares about something so cheap, so easy to replace, so eagerly squandered?
But blood? Blood always has value.
In March 2005, the Robertson family of Detroit received a free computer as part of a University of Michigan program to refurbish used computers for inner-city families. Less than a week after the computer was delivered, eight-year-old Rachellynn Robertson, the family's youngest child, committed suicide by driving her face through the monitor screen. Her eyes were never found.
Only a fool prays for a minor boon or favor. It's not a matter of appearing greedy -- any decent god is operating at a scale that makes our lives and deaths look utterly trivial in comparison. Asking a god to help you pass a test, to heal your sick child, to win you a job or promotion -- it's like a flea asking an elephant to scratch its back. More than likely, you won't be noticed at all. And even if your plea is granted... Well, not many fleas survive their first backscratch from an elephant.
So why pray at all? Why bother praying when your wishes are too common to gain attention, when your prayers must be accompanied with horrible sacrifice, when the gaze of the gods annihilates so completely? Why bother to pray for anything, whether online or anywhere else?
Because there's always a chance that the gods will get it right this time.
In late October 2005, I brought in a couple of plates of festive Halloween cookies and distributed them to my coworkers in the office. All were laced with a strong narcotic agent. When everyone started nodding off, I locked the office doors, closed the blinds, and hung a sign in the window reading "Closed Temporarily for Asbestos Abatement." I made sure all the computers were turned on and all Internet browsers were open. I painted certain mystically significant symbols on the monitor screens. It wasn't long after I had disemboweled everyone that I noticed the fog creeping underneath the doors.