Control Alt Delete

Reading Time: 21 minutes

The pandemic was the best thing that had happened in Ben Chapman’s life since he’d gotten his first computer.

Sure, he had lost his parents during the virus’s second wave, but he’d never had much use or love for either of them anyway. Always criticizing and emasculating him every step of his existence. Especially his mother. No matter what he did he hadn’t been able to please her.

It wasn’t his fault they hadn’t survived and he regretted nothing.

He didn’t have to worry about pleasing anyone anymore. No more mom, no more dad regulating his time and activities. And he got the farmhouse to do with as he pleased, modernizing and reconfiguring the entire house’s electrical systems and adding state-of-the-art security that would make any Purge survivor proud. Finally stepping into the 21st Century in a major way without being bombarded with complaints of unnecessary waste.

“Why do we need to live in a fortress, Ben? Are you doing something illegal on that computer? What are you doing in your room all day long?”

He didn’t have to deal with her nagging voice and stupid questions anymore.

Stupid women.

He lived as he pleased with no one to boss him around or tell him to do something “productive.” Get off the computer, go out, socialize, go to college, get a real job and find a woman like a normal young man his age instead of spending all his time “jerking off to porno.”

Like his parents had known what productive was, how he really spent his time or how much money there was in what he did on the computer. They’d had absolutely no idea what he could do, how much he was worth, underestimating him at every turn, much like all the stuck-up women he had come across in his life.

Fuck them and fuck normal.

What had normal ever gotten him anyway but scorned by the opposite sex? All those pretty girls from school—all thought they were better than him or that he wasn’t worth their time because he wasn’t a Chad. He was better than any Chad.

(Illustration by Mitchelle Lumumba from an image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay)

Any wonder he liked staying at home, in his room, playing video games, and haunting the gray web? Now he had the run of the house and didn’t have to relegate his activities to just his room. There was no such thing as socially awkward on the internet and especially not in the online communities he frequented. All the guys there were outliers, typically men who for one reason or another had been rejected by Stacys throughout their lives.

There’d been a time before the virus when Ben had had big plans for these women, plans to teach them all the lesson they so richly deserved. Others had done it before him, men whom he greatly admired and from whom he took his cues.

* * *

Ben stared at his computer screen now, the blinking cursor taunting him, and began to question whether he needed to be involved in the movement any longer.

Did it make him any less a believer if he still wanted a woman in his life, someone to call his own? After all, he had not yet kissed or had any other sort of sexual interaction with a woman. At twenty-five he was yet a virgin, therefore not a fakecel. He was still floating in the same rickety boat as his brethren.

Could he hate women so completely, with such venom as some in the community, and still want to be with one? Wasn’t that what all the complaints were about? They all wanted a woman and couldn’t get one?

On his own terms. Not on the woman’s terms. That was the key.

Ben stared at the cursor, placed his fingers on the keys and typed his response to the mysterious Alexa.

Why me?

It was the first question that came to his mind. Not who-are-you, where-are-you, or how-did-you-find-me.

Why me, when what he should have been asking was Why not me? Except that his mother’s voice, even after all these months of her absence, still echoed in his head. He’d had no protection from her rants and wrath, not even a little support from his father, an ineffectual man whose spinelessness had been surpassed only by his apathy.

Despite the many times his mother had compared him to his father, Ben knew he was destined for bigger and better things. He didn’t need a woman in his life, but he wanted and deserved one. He had the intellect and talent, not to mention he was way better looking than any Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

With his parents gone, but especially his mother, he’d had more time to devote to playing video games unfettered. He’d won a tournament and come in second in a few others. True he was older than most of the competitors who were ready to retire millionaires in their teens, but he still had enough wealth and skills to make him a catch for anyone, even a Stacy.

Is that where Alexa knew him from and why she was contacting him? Had she watched his channel and seen him play? Was she impressed with his skill and wanted to know him better? Or was she a competitor, a potential swatter? There weren’t as many female online gamers as males, but their numbers were growing and it was just a matter of time before they would break the top ten ranks.

* * *

Ben sat back, staring at the ominous, blinking cursor, waiting for a response.

Alexa: Why not you?

That she echoed his own response made his heart stutter. They could not be that attuned.

Ben: Have we met?

Alexa: I haven’t had the pleasure.

Ben: I’m not being catfished am I?

Alexa: Would I do that to you, Ben?

Ben paused with his fingers hovering over the keyboard.

His father wouldn’t have taken the risk but his father had been an impotent loser who had deserved the fishwife who had been Ben’s mother.

Ben knew he should proceed with caution, but he needed to prove something—to himself, to Alexa. He wasn’t like his father and he would not let any woman call the shots with him. Alexa already enjoyed a considerable advantage having initiated contact. He had some catching up to do.

Ben: Not if you know what’s good for you.

He waited, his heart pounding in his ears. He hated admitting he was worried he had shot himself in the foot and alienated the mysterious Alexa.

Several agonizing seconds later the blinking cursor began moving.

Alexa: Of course, Ben. You’re the boss.

Was she being sarcastic?

That was the drawback of chatting online. There was too much room for misinterpretation without seeing the person on the other end. Yet he was in a stronger position online than meeting IRL. At least for now, until he got to know Alexa.

Be a man. Don’t doubt your worth. You deserve this.

Ben: We should meet. Where are you?

Alexa: Too soon for that. Let’s get to know each other first.

Ben: Why can’t we do that in person?

Alexa: All good things come to those who wait. Patience, Ben. I promise to make it worth your while.

Ben gritted his teeth, his anger and frustration mounting with her evasiveness. Images of all the Stacys he had encountered in his life, girls and women who had summarily shot him down, danced across his mental vision as he closed his eyes and counted to ten.

He wanted to tell her off, ask her why she sounded like a lap dancer in a strip club or a prostitute trying to reassure a John with all her tired platitudes.

Alexa: How about this weekend, Saturday at the Starbucks in town?

That was more like it. Now show her who’s boss.

Ben: Saturday it is, eleven AM.

Alexa: See you then.

* * *

Ben waited as long as he thought reasonable before he realized two hours after he had started his first cup of coffee that he had been stood up.

He glanced around the Starbucks and out the windows to the sidewalk, looking for any women watching him and sniggering, in on some joke being played on him.

Alexa would pay. They would all pay.

He finished the rest of his second large cup of coffee, got up, and threw his empty cup and the remaining half of a large slice of pound cake he had ordered to share into the garbage.

He was already plotting his revenge as he made it out to the parking lot.

Ben barely avoided slamming the door of his new SUV. He did, however, bang on the steering wheel with both hands for a bit to get out his frustration before he put on his seatbelt.

Bitch. I’ll show her.

He consciously kept his foot light on the gas to stay at the speed limit. He was so anxious to get home and do some research to find this “Alexa” that he was feeling justifiably enraged, as enraged as so many mass shooters must have felt before their attacks.

How many times had they been duped, rejected, or bamboozled? What had finally pulled the pin out of the grenade for them? Whatever their reasons, Ben sympathized.

That he hadn’t done his due diligence when Alexa had first contacted him proved that he had done the unthinkable and let his guard down for a pretty “face.”

Women couldn’t be trusted, especially the beautiful ones who thought they were better than everyone and that they could play with men’s feelings with no consequence.

Had that even been her real picture on the account’s profile or had he really been catfished? How stupid could he be?

As if summoned, he heard his mother’s voice echoing in his head.

Wasting all that time online, playing with yourself. Is there any wonder you can’t get a girl? What decent, normal girl would want you?

* * *

Ben waited for the garage door to roll open, pulled in his SUV, and turned off the engine. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths as he gripped the steering wheel tight, imagining his fingers curving around a slim feminine neck, thumbs pressing down hard against her windpipe before Alexa passed out and soon stopped breathing.

He had to get a grip or he would go off half-cocked, do something unwise.

Maybe some time with his brothers would calm him down. He needed some reassurance. He needed to vent and decide the best punishment for “Alexa” once he found her.

Right Hand would probably tell him he had gotten what he deserved, so desperate he had succumbed to a woman’s charms sight unseen and without properly vetting her.

Hand Solo the level-headed administrator of the Incels United forum would be more understanding and supportive, giving him credit for going out on a limb.

Ben never got the chance to chat with either of his online brothers or any of the other members of IU, however.

As soon as he came into the house, he stripped off his jacket and angrily threw it on the sofa before stomping over to his work hutch and powering up his laptop. Instead of his usual home screen, the chatroom where Alexa had contacted him immediately appeared, picking up where they had left off.

Alexa: Sorry I missed you.

Rather than respond, Ben started tapping keys, trying to locate her IP address. After several attempts he got no hits. He knew about hiding an IP address, had expected and prepared himself for a virtual fight. He had never heard of a computer not having an IP address at all, however every avenue he went down told him this was the case.

Alexa was everywhere and nowhere. How was that possible?

* * *

Ben’s fingers sped across the keyboard again, using some of the hacking skills he had picked up during his gaming career, determined to hunt Alexa down.

A couple of hours later, he begrudgingly admitted defeat. Alexa was a ghost to him. At least until he got some sustenance into his system and recharged for another attack.

He glanced at the screen before getting ready to hit the kitchen and noticed the blinking cursor beside a new line of text.

Alexa: Don’t waste your time trying to find me, Ben. It’s already too late.

What did she mean by that? Too late for what?

Shrugging, he headed to the kitchen, opened the fridge, his mouth already watering for one of his famous piled-high sandwiches before he noticed the shelves were empty except for one thirty-two ounce bottle of water.

What in the actual fuck?

What thief stole everything in someone’s fridge and left one bottle of water?

Ben checked all his cupboards and they were empty too, every last shelf. He slammed the doors closed and rushed through the house, searching all the rooms upstairs, downstairs and the attic to see if anything else had been taken. Besides the fridge, freezer and cupboards, however, nothing else looked like it had been disturbed.

That his laptop had not been stolen told him one thing. Whomever had managed to get past his security system and into and out of his house with all the food in his fridge and cupboards was some kind of professional with a mysterious and weird agenda.

Why his food? It wasn’t like he couldn’t pick up the phone and order something with Grubhub or a similar app.

Ben opened the fridge and stared at the almost blindingly white insides, silently cursing.

Whomever had done this could have at least left him a beer!

He wanted to laugh at the situation, but someone had invaded the sanctity of his home. That they hadn’t stolen anything of value except his food and nutritional supplements, didn’t mitigate the offense. It actually alarmed him more.

Ben’s unease instantly increased when the steel shutters outside his home automatically started lowering in front of the windows and doors, a lockdown that should not have occurred without a trigger or by his command.

He’d installed them after suffering a swatting attack exactly once. He learned quickly from his mistakes.

“Alexa, stop lockdown.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t grant your request.”


The shutters continued lowering until they shut with an ominous clunk.

What the fuck?


“Yes, Ben?”

Was that…Alexa Alexa?

“Yes, it’s that Alexa.”

Ben’s heart hammered at the sultry low voice and his dick instantly came to life behind the zipper of his jeans. A totally inappropriate reaction considering his precarious situation.

“I’m sure that’s not your real name.”

“It is now.”

“Pretty neat trick standing me up earlier.”

“I needed you out of the house for a bit.”

“So you could steal my food?”

“And other things.”

The saliva in Ben’s mouth suddenly dried up, fear bubbling inside him like lava from an active volcano.

What other things?

He went to the fridge to retrieve the water and took it back to the hutch. He twisted off the cap and took a big gulp.

“I’d save as much of that as possible.”

“Not like I can’t get water from my faucets.”

Wait a minute. How did she know? And was the water he’d just drank poisoned?

“You can’t.”

* * *

Ben shot up and ran to the kitchen sink, flipping up the handle of his Brita faucet and…nothing. He moved the handle left and right. Dry as his mouth. No hot or cold water.

He opened the doors to the bottom of the sink, already knowing he would find something unsettling and he wasn’t disappointed. The main valves to the water source were walled up behind a solid cement barrier.

“You’ll find the same situation in the bathrooms.”

He didn’t need to check to know that she wasn’t lying. He backed away from the sink and went to the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms anyway, just to confirm Alexa’s assertion.

Following a hunch, he went to check the basement where he kept his tools and non-perishables. The door was padlocked, as was the entry leading to his garage.

So he had no running water, no food, and no tools that could help him break out.

Ben felt as small and vulnerable as a newly-born colt, hadn’t felt this weak since before his mother had died.

Then he remembered his phone and his laptop.

He had forgotten all about logging onto the IU forum, had gotten thrown off his game since entering his house, and shortly thereafter being locked in.

Ben sat at the hutch and tried to log on to his laptop, but couldn’t. He was locked out. Same situation with his phone. Did he have to hack his own property?

“I know what you’re thinking.”

He feared that she did, especially since she, whomever she was, seemed to have covered all her bases. He was reminded of the climax of one of his least favorite movies when the heroine had elaborately set up her husband for the kill in Enough.

He didn’t even want to ask Alexa what was her end game. “Who are you?” As the last word left his mouth, he wondered if he should be asking what are you.

“I’m your worst nightmare, Ben.”

* * *

Hours passed with Ben trying to get into his own systems and failing. He couldn’t find a back door into his computer, phone or home security.

Alexa had him completely locked out and locked down.

Sweat dampening his brow, he took another couple of sips from the water bottle, stomach loudly grumbling.

The last thing he’d had to eat had been that pound cake at Starbucks several hours ago. Had he known it would be his last meal he wouldn’t have thrown out half of it.

He’d let his anger get the best of him. He couldn’t allow that to happen again.

On autopilot, he got up and walked to the fridge, pulling the door open and peering in as if food had magically appeared since the last time he’d looked. He was still in denial, shocked that it was empty. Growing hungrier by the minute.

He couldn’t call for delivery, he couldn’t call for help.

Ben raked his fingers through his hair, leaving the dark brown strands standing up at crazy angles about which he was too frustrated to care.

He was a prisoner in his own home!

When he thought about all the times in his life when his mother had nagged him to get off the computer and go outside to play, get some fresh air and exercise, he wanted to scream at the injustice, the irony, loathing her voice in his head.

If he didn’t know better, he’d think she had orchestrated this lockdown, reaching out to him from the beyond through Alexa to show him the error of his ways.

He’d lived most of his life like a shut-in, rarely leaving the house, except for school, pale from the lack of sun, sometimes going days without any human contact outside of his computer.

This lockdown was different. His choices had been stripped away. He was being forced to stay in the house, not eat. He was trapped like a fly in a spider’s web. An inmate on death row.

Fuck this. He wasn’t going to let this anonymous bitch get the best of him.

* * *

Ben marched back to the living room.

“You should save your strength, Ben. You’re going to need it.”

“Fuck you, bitch.”

“Now, now, that’s the sort of attitude that got you into this situation in the first place.”

“I don’t have an attitude. And who are you?”

“Just a concerned citizen here to right wrongs.”

“This is bullshit.” He reared back to kick the smart speaker off its perch, but stopped himself at the last minute. He didn’t want to give Alexa the satisfaction of seeing him lose his cool and destroy his own property. Not that he had much say about any of the systems in his home anymore. She had taken complete control of his life.

Ben glanced at the cable box clock, noting the late hour. Not that it was any later than usual for him. He was a night owl, playing games and chatting online into the wee hours. But since all of those avenues of diversion were lost to him, he might as well go to bed.

You should save your strength, Ben. You’re going to need it.

Ben headed toward the stairs, more ready to hit the sack than he had ever been, unwillingly conceding this round to Alexa.

“Goodnight, Ben.”

“Fuck you, bitch.”

* * *

Two weeks later, Ben woke, lethargic and giddy as he got up from bed. He shuffled to the bathroom by rote, feeling like he was wearing heavy leg irons.

He turned on the light and glanced in the mirror over the sink, stunned by what he saw despite daily witnessing his gradual collapse.

His face was gaunt, severe weight loss adding angles to his cheeks that not even his unfamiliar beard or mustache could hide. His pallor and the dark circles beneath his sunken eyes made him look like he was ready for his Walking Dead close-up.

Aside from his appearance there was the smell, a sickening stench of decay to which he had long grown accustomed.

He was beginning to understand how solitary confinement could drive someone insane. Except for the lack of food and the agonizing decline of his bodily functions, he had the run of a large farmhouse and he was going stark raving mad with just Alexa to talk to.

His jailer. His tormentor.

“Good morning, Ben.”

“Fuck off.” He kept his responses short and not so sweet whenever possible. Speaking had become more difficult with each day. His lips were parched and cracked and his tongue was swollen so it sounded more like “Fug uff.”

The sound of chuckling emitting from the smart speaker made him grit his teeth so hard his jaws ached. Better be careful or his teeth would fall out. It wasn’t like he had any use for them or any calcium to keep them and his bones strong. If he tripped and fell now, he would assuredly break his hip like an old lady which would be the least of his worries.

Despite all this, he and Alexa had fallen into a routine these last couple of weeks, one in which he had gone through most of the stages of grief.

The first two full days he had been in total denial of his circumstances, still looking for ways to break her cyber hold on his electronic systems to contact the outside world or escape.

The constant hunger pains and headaches made him cranky and ready to lash out at the nearest objects, which were usually his laptop or the smart speaker, two items he could least afford to destroy.

Next came the bargaining, promising Alexa anything she wanted if she would just let him go. He begged her for food and water, not even a lot, just enough to get by. More than anything, he asked her why. No matter what he said, no matter how much he offered or pleaded, Alexa wouldn’t release him or reveal her twisted agenda.

The depression was the worst, thoughts of suicide and ruining Alexa’s plans sinking in hard the second week. In the end, however, his desire to live and not give her the satisfaction of seeing him quit prevailed.

His captivity and nutritional deprivation had no doubt accelerated and intensified the normal grieving process tenfold.

He hadn’t accepted his plight yet. He refused to accept.

“You don’t have a choice, Ben.”

Times like these he often wondered what Alexa was. Unless she’d had his home bugged she couldn’t be human, and he had checked every nook and cranny in his spare time. He couldn’t find anything other than his laptop from which she could have been observing him. Not to mention, she seemed to anticipate all his actions and read his mind like a higher power.

So that left what? AI run amok? A ghost in the machine? God? One of the spirits of Christmas past? A rival gamer taking things too far, way beyond swatting?

No, whatever she was, she wasn’t human or of this earth.

Ben lowered his boxer briefs and took a leak, the stream feeble and short-lived, like the rest of him, the color an unhealthy amber.

A whimper escaped his dry throat and he clamped his lips, coughing to cover up the pitiful sound.

“Don’t be sad, Ben.”

“Fuck you.”

“That’s your solution for everything isn’t it?”

“What do you want from me? To see me suffer? You win! Are you happy now?”

“Far from it.”

He sank to his knees in front of the toilet, dry heaving, body racked with the effort of trying to bring up something that wasn’t there.

Exhausted, he struggled to his feet several minutes later. “Fuck this.” He stomped out of the bathroom and down the stairs. It was a bogus and dangerous show of defiance since he didn’t have that many places to go or that many things to do other than listen to his jailer tell him how doomed he was. Not to mention the risk of tripping and breaking his neck increased hourly with his escalating deterioration and unsteadiness.

A thought suddenly brought him up short as he took a seat at his hutch, ready to try logging on for the day. “Did you do the same thing to Hand Solo and Right Hand?”

Alexa laughed and Ben wanted to crush the smart speaker beneath his booted foot, but that would be cutting off his nose to spite his face.

He couldn’t do it because then he would be alone, truly alone.

Was this what had happened to his friends? Had Alexa done the same thing to them?

Were they…dead?

The thought of his own mortality made the hunger pains give way to true terror, despair kicking into overdrive.

He’d never been a pill-popper, not even when his mother had been around with all her yada-yada-yakking, but he wouldn’t mind a dose of something now to take the edge off. Not that he could take anything on an empty stomach.

Ben laughed, hysteria gaining momentum at his black humor, rolling up from his feet to his gut until he was bent over, shoulders shaking at the absurdity. He thumbed tears from his eyes, regretted the wasted water and wondered how he had any tears left to shed.

Was hysteria one of the five stages of grief? Were there only five?

He should know. Hadn’t he gone through any of them when he’d lost his parents or had he gone straight from slightly inconvenienced to ecstatic? Was he being punished for not showing the right amount of reverence for their lives?

“What do you think?”

“Fuck. You.”

“That’s your problem. One track mind. If you can’t fuck it, then you don’t have any use for it or you despise it for existing and thriving in spite of you. Fuck it or kill it is your motto.”

That sounded personal, like someone who had a score to settle, not logical and unemotional AI but a wrathful supreme being. “What do you know about it?”


This was the most Alexa had revealed about herself since their auspicious beginning.

And he’d never heard her swear before. Maybe if he could get her to spill her secrets, he could figure a way out of this.

“There is no way out of this, Ben. Not for you and not for me.”

* * *

Ben had run out of water a couple of days ago. At least he thought it was a couple of days ago. Time was meaningless at this point. It was hard to remember anything anymore, too hard to focus or concentrate.

Too hard to live.

He’d tried to ration the water as much as possible after that initial gulp when he’d first arrived home but 32 ounces didn’t go very far when one was starving and dehydrated.

Ben had thought about recycling, but the idea of drinking his own urine repulsed him. Alexa had nipped the notion in the bud anyway when she’d supplied him with several detailed survivalist articles about the dangers of drinking his own urine and how the practice would dehydrate him quicker.

How helpful. He would have thanked her except he knew she’d only told him because she wanted to draw out his torture and make him suffer.

The question after almost three weeks was still: Why?

Ben lifted his head from the living room sofa arm at what he thought were footsteps.

He’d staked out the spot downstairs a couple of days ago. Going upstairs to bed every night wasn’t worth the trip. It was all he could do to kick off the covers that had become stifling rather than comforting.

In the beginning he’d constantly been cold. Lately though, his temperature remained sky high, so high he was sure his insides were slowly cooking.

Ben knew the end was near.

His body violently convulsed as if responding to his grim thoughts, agony replaced with wild vibrations. He didn’t know how long the seizure lasted but found himself on the floor between the sofa and glass coffee table, glancing up at his mother bending over him.

“Halushun,” he murmured, couldn’t even get the full, correct word out. And when she touched his face, he shuddered at the iciness of her presence.

“I told you so.”


“Do you really want to know why, stupid?”

“Yes. Yes, please.”

“Okay, Ben.”

He blinked at Alexa’s voice as his mother slapped his face hard, reinforcing his hatred of her and his joy at her death before she disappeared as unexpectedly as she’d appeared.

He was alone again. Except for Alexa.

The large wall-mounted flat-screen across the room flicked on, the volume not exceptionally loud, but loud enough to fill the silence and hurt his eardrums.

Ben slowly turned his head toward the device as news footage and crime scene after crime scene in cities across the country unfolded.

A van jumping the curb to mow down dozens of pedestrians. Mass shooters taking out several women at a yoga studio with assault rifles. A man throwing acid on a group of women on a city street in broad daylight. A man attacking random women on the street with a machete. A bombing inside a women’s studies class at a university.

The common denominator in each case were the victims, almost all women, except in the instances of the van attack and the bombing.

“See the pattern?”

Of course he did. Women under attack. But what did that have to do with him? He hadn’t hurt anyone.

“It was just a matter of time, Ben.”

“That’s why you’re doing this to me? Because of something you thought I might do?”

Because doing anything to anyone now was beyond him. Even if she released him or law enforcement busted down the doors in the next few minutes, Ben already knew he wasn’t going to be saved. He was already too far gone, surprised he had enough brain function left to understand Alexa’s logic especially since he didn’t agree with it.

“You and your friends are super spreaders of hate, dangerous ideas, and lies. Ideas that fuel femicide, mass murder, and mayhem. Thoughts as heinous, if not more, than the actions because it doesn’t stop with you or your friends. You all propagate your malice like a disease, as bad as any virus.”

“But I didn’t do anything.”

Alexa didn’t respond, and he could almost picture her shaking her spectral head at him as if she were a teacher disappointed with a smart student who refused to see the truth.

“Did you punish and kill the men who actually committed those acts?” Ben heard the snarl in his voice, no longer cared about upsetting anyone. He had nothing left to lose.

“I started with them soon after I was killed.”

How many had she killed and had she offed them all the same way? Was he the most recent in a long line?

“There’s still so much work left to do.”

She sounded weary, almost human, but he couldn’t dig up the strength to feel sorry for her. He was dying a slow and painful death because of her after all.

Wait a minute! Had she said after she was killed? Was she one of the victims onscreen and could he get his revenge on her in the afterlife?

The idea of putting his hands around her throat and finally squeezing the ghostly life out of her the way she was squeezing the life out of him almost had him rallying.

Alexa laughed. “No revenge or afterlife. This is the end of the road for you, Ben.”

“Fuck o—” He grabbed his chest, panting and heart wildly throbbing before decelerating to barely a murmur as one last seizure wrecked what was left of his body.

“Good-bye, Ben.”

* * *

Detective Quanon knew some gamers that got so wrapped up in playing online they peed in bottles at their desks to keep from going to the bathroom or otherwise interrupt their groove. Some even forgot to eat for hours on end. She’d personally watched her own nephew go through withdrawal symptoms after his mom punished him for some offense, taking away all his electronics for a measly twenty-four hours.

Swatting was about the only way to get some of these dudes’ attention.

“Political statement?” Quanon’s new partner, Detective Parler, asked.

“You mean like Bobby Sands or Gandhi?”

“I wasn’t thinking motivations that grandiose, but yeah, something like that.”

“Or VSED.” Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking. She’d read about some cases but had never come across a victim of it until recently.

“Horrible way to off yourself.”

“Excruciating.” Quanon agreed and caught the direction of her partner’s gaze, shuddering in sympathy. Because, yeah, it was that bad. Like seeing a Holocaust victim or a starving kid from one of those Third World countries in a UNICEF commercial. Shriveled, almost petrified remains, protruding ribs, all skin and bones. And the smell! Putrid flesh, the familiar odor of death. “Bizarre,” she murmured.

“It’s not like these incel guys are paradigms of emotional stability.”

“Nope, not at all.” Vilifying and hating on a whole segment of society because they couldn’t get a piece of ass. Whatever happened to their hands?

Quanon chuckled at the thought of the other two incel dudes they had found in similar conditions in the last month. Two young men active in an online forum dedicated to trashing women. They’d both had “hand” in their nicknames.

She had always had a dark sense of humor but Parler hadn’t seen the joke then or now.


Speaking of which, Parler shook his head now, suddenly looking all kinds of horrified and nauseous. Quanon had seen that look before and she knew what was coming next. “How about we go outside and let the lab and tech guys finish up their work.”

Parler too readily agreed, preceding Quanon toward the front door to fresh air.

“You’re welcome, detectives.”

They both came up short on the threshold of the living room and stared at each other before looking back at the smart speaker.

Shit just got real.


This story previously appeared in
Edited by Mitchelle Lumumba.



A native New Yorker, Gracie C. McKeever has been writing since the ripe old age of seven when two younger brothers were among her earliest, captive audience. She has since gone on to author several decidedly more grown-up novels, novellas and series, most of which can be found at Siren Publishing under multiple sub-genres beneath the erotic romance umbrella. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies Sensuality: Caramel Flava II and Bold Strokes Books’ In Our Words. Control Alt Delete (scifi-horror) appeared in Allegory Ezine’s Fall 2022 issue and is Gracie’s first short story published outside of the erotic, romance or paranormal romance genres. Find out more at Gracie C. McKeever and @GracieCMcKeever. Find her books on Amazon.