...wonder exactly what made them so sticky in the first place. You look closer, tap the enter key experimentally and realize that a dried brownish substance is making the keys all gluey. Bah! Spilt Coffee! You whip out your handy Leatherman and pry off a couple of keys to investigate further and you realize that there's a lot more liquid underneath; congealed with bits of hair. It's fresher and more red somehow. Red. Like blood. And you realize your mistake. Too late.

Around 11pm, the college·employed techies vacate the premises, the lights are off and the doors are locked. It begins with the E on the fourth system in the second row. The system that seems to be used more than any other. After being pounded all day, it's ready to get up. The miscellaneous and now indistinguishable foodstuffs and drinks that have been spilt on it throughout the ages make it sticky. It wobbles from right to left and back again, struggling to break free of its board confines. After a bit of a struggle, the same struggle it's struggled night after night for a now indeterminable number of nights, it pops, free, into the air.

Landing on one of its sides, the E dashes and leaps atop a monitor and spins slowly, scanning the room, making sure the coast is clear. When satisfied that no humans remain, it whistles. The room springs to life with tiny sound and tiny movement. Little yips and cheers of joy echo through the computer lab. The keys of 39 keyboards make the same struggle they've struggled night after night for a now indeterminable number of nights. Eventually, they're all free from their boards and ready to do the work they love so much.

Together they form various appendages needed for certain tasks. An arm of sticky keys forms to open the closet door. Like a swarm of hyperactive ants the keys pull your lifeless and incomplete body from the nearly pitch black otherworldly regions of the lab closet and place you upright on your two, near finished feet.

They will work tonight as they have worked night after night to make you. As the morning draws near, they will put you, a bit more yourself than you were the day before, back into the closet where they first found you. As they scurry back into their places on the keyboards, the knob of the front door will rattle. Confused about who belongs on which keyboard, they will begin to panic as they leap down into place. As the door opens, the E of the fourth system in the second row will become the last key to resume its position. While the keys are struggling back in place using the equal and opposite maneuver used to escape hours ago, the door will fling open. The college's network administrator will hear the final settling click, a surreal whisper of high pitched tiny giggling and walk in. Suspiciously, he will glance around the lab. Uneasily eyeing the keyboards in a computer lab with very sticky keys that make you, he will dismiss the noise as his imagination and clumsily set his coffee down, spilling some onto his workstation.

...paranoid. Goddamn paranoid. Just look at the freaks around you. What the hell is that sticky substance? What are those people doing to these lab computers?

There's that girl over there. The one with used tissues all around her desk and computer, like a moat of mucous. She's coughing; that awful hacking cough that makes you just want to whump her on the back to get that great hunk'o'phlegm out of her throat. And she doesn't always get that tissue to her mouth in time- oh no, my friend, she's coughing all over the keyboard. And if you catch her in the light, you can see droplets of spit, thick and green, exploding from her mouth. Landing on the keyboard splat*splat seeping between the keys hack*wheeze and settling in there for the long haul. Nice and sticky. It could be TB, or some horrible flu, or a new mutated virus they don't have a cure for yet. The germs can, and will, live on forever between those n and h keys. Or at least until you get that computer.

And then there's that guy that always sits in the corner. He's shifty looking, and huddles over the keyboard as if it holds the secrets to looking young forever, or earning a million dollars an hour, or sudden sex appeal. Except after a while you get to notice what the guy is doing; amid his sporatic mouse clicking his breathing is getting faster, his eyes are glazing over, and although you can't see his hands... wait, you don't want to see what his hands are doing. He gets up to leave the room suddenly and avoids eye contact on his hurried way out. Sometimes he carries a book in front of him, all casual-like, but sometimes he just runs. You try to forget it, then he returns to his computer, flushed and visibly relaxed. He starts to type quickly; it sounds l ike an assignment or an email. Lots of typing. Interaction with the keyboard. Sticky fingers? Any surplus... stuff... leaking off his hand and melting into the computer, onto the keys?

Maybe he's totally innocent. Maybe that's not semen sticking to his fingers after his quick trips to the toilets. Maybe he's going outside to call his mother, or get some fresh air, or get a bite to eat.

And maybe she's got asthma, and you can't get her germs. Maybe you're imagining the whole phlegm thing. It could just be hayfever or something.

Maybe you should just stop thinking about it. Get back to work. What do you expect in a public computer lab, pristine keys and "normal people" like you? Just clean the fucking keys, you paranoid fool.

Keyboards in a computer lab with very sticky keys that make you...

...rethink your position as a computer technician for this school full of little people. Years of network engineering experience and you end up asked to clean keyboards. Leave your ego at the door when educating tomorrow's network engineers...

Little Johnny's cough sprays into every crevice, while Janie alternates between picking at the keyboard and at her nose. Mary looks like she just left the Hershey factory, Joey probably hasn't been bathed in weeks, and Suzy's parents sent her to school with some tropical flu because "She has perfect attendance and a deadly virus shouldn't ruin that."

Bobby has the measles, Zana is playing with a blob of some kind of slime. Jennifer apparently had maple syrup on her pancakes this morning, and Billy spits when he talks (he just had some dental work.)

So many students come to school with so many diseases and the school insists their health is most important. It is this same school that makes policies saying "You'd better not miss two days, or you'll be 21 before high school.". All those germs, so many fingers, so many keys.

Oh how I hate to think of the civilizations, the colonies of bacteria under and between those keys! Every keypress sending up a cloud of intermingled micro-organisms that are hitherto undefined by science. Cultures growing on the ham grease, chocolate, and pudding residue rival the worst a bio-warfare lab can come up with, of that I'm certain.

Oh the horrors of an elementary school computer lab! Even the teacher's machine isn't safe. The teacher usually has to eat her lunch, clean up after Joey spewed his lunch, and drink her SlimFast over and around her keyboard. And honestly, the keyboard is only the beginning. There are still the mice to contend with...

Side note: by a wierd twist of fate, CmdrTaco made a post on Slashdot about this very topic the day after I posted this writeup. In CmdrTaco's post, there was a link to an article on Azcentral.com about a scientific study showing that desks often have more germs than toilet seats.

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