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 pill]s. 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 [insight]s from around the globe. It allows us to [purchase] goods and services that would not normally be available. It lets us play [game]s, [read], [write], [learn] in ways that we never dreamed would be possible. We [love] it, and we cannot live without it.

It spreads [disinformation], [hoax]es, and [lie]s to every corner of the world. It sucks away our [money] and leaves us nothing of value. It gives [scam artist]s 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 Korea]n 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 [starve]d to death, a verdict disputed by his family, who note that, though Pak enjoyed gaming, he had never been [obsess]ed 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 [telephone]s 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 [telemarketer]s.

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], [semaphore]s, [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 [electrocution|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 system]s sometimes cause people to die. Pony Express riders were killed by Indians, telephone linemen sometimes touch a wire and get [electrocute]d. [Accident]s happen in every industry, fodder for [statistician]s and [human resources] pencil-pushers.

In recent years, Internet-related [death]s have been happening in larger numbers. No one knows why. [Investigation]s 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 [act of god|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|deformities], of figures in fog, of nightmarish new [mosque]s, 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 [H.P. Lovecraft|Lovecraft] fan. If the Internet didn't exist, do you think you'd find nearly as many Lovecraft books in [bookstore]s? 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 [cartoon]s, we put the Elder Gods on [T-shirt]s, we run "[Cthulhu for President]" campaigns. Do we do this for [Edgar Allan Poe|Poe]? For [Stephen King|King]? For [Clive Barker|Barker]? For [Anne Rice|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-god]s 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, New York|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 [fire]s 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 [prayer]s 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 [pixel]s, in a few [byte]s 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|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] [cookie]s 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 [The Yellow Sign|mystically significant symbols] on the monitor screens. It wasn't long after I had [disembowel]ed everyone that I noticed the fog creeping underneath the doors.

It won't be long now.