Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2017 Results




A Complex Relationship

Copyright © R. J. Viski (penname) 2017


Twitter Account 5098634 dozed peacefully beneath the warm gaze of Mr Sandman, ensconced in blissful reverie. Those who knew her were gladdened by the news, for the past few weeks had left her exhausted, emotionally and physically. Her sleep patterns were as tangled as a ratís nest of electrical wiring more commonly found in South East Asia and resembled more Swiss Cheddar than Tasty Block. Twitter Account 5098634 (or Three Four to her community) was deep in sleep debt and struggling to get back in the black. Tonight, they implored, she would pay off a significant chunk.

REM sleep takes hold and Three Four floats into the abyss of slumber. Her world steadies on its axis.

And then it wobbles. Soon, it trembles powerfully, threatening an earthquake. Another instant and Three Four hurtles back into consciousness with the force of a truck galloping into a concrete pylon.

"Hey, excuse me! HEY!!"

Three Four blinks as her processor powers up. She feels the dread of the insomniac who knows that the dead of night is still upon her and is going nowhere soon. The friend of a friend who commandeers the couch when all the guests have retired home.

She doesnít comprehend the words but she detects a sound; persistent, nagging. Three Four turns up her audio to full volume.

"Hey! Three Four!"

She spins around aghast to see a shape, lumpy in its contours, hovering near the door. Her vision blurred, Three Fourís operating system shrieks instinctively that itís an alien invader, concocted by Victor Frankenstein in the Orkneys. Three Four sits there in astonishment as her hard drive plays a continuous loop of the horror movie links she published for an unhinged celebrity director a year ago.

"Itís me, I need you!"

Three Four backpedals into the bed head. The English-speaking demon, apparently injected with a New York accent, persuades Three Four that her sanity - her treasured sanity - has finally divorced her, packed its bags and moved out. As has her sleep. Her worst fears as a career insomniac realised.

The amorphous cloud takes shape as her discombobulation dissipates. The monster before her does not have any bolts protruding from the neck. Instead, its hair is in disarray and its body is human. Shrouded in a blue bathrobe, Three Fourís zoom lens fixates on the presidential seal emblazoned on a lapel.

"Oh, hello Donald," Three Four says with an extended yawn. "Are you all right? Itís 3am in the morning."

Fully awake now, she notices the toddler tantrum building.

"No, everything is not all right, Three Four. Have you seen the news? Have you?!" Donald fumes.

"What has happened? Has North Korea declared war?"

Donald looks confused. "No, no. The NFL players!! They are kneeling in protest. During the anthem. They are ungrateful scum! And the basketballers declining the traditional lunch invite to the White House." Donald spluttered in disgust, as if the words themselves were thumb tacks lodged in his gums.

It was Three Fourís turn to look perplexed. "NFL. As in the footballers? Who cares?"

Three Four couldnít have stirred up the hornetís nest more if she had thrashed it with a bat.

"Who cares?!" Donald frothed, his head turning tomato red. "Itís about respect for your country Three Four, they are spitting in my face. We have to send out a tweet. I will not back down, we must strike back. My voters need me."

Three Four sighed. "Donald, weíve been through this. You know what the counsellor said. Take a deep breath and exhale. You are the President. So what if footballers are kneeling? You called them sons of bitches for Godís sake. Also, so what if a basketballer doesnít come here for lunch? Just sleep on it; in the morning youíll have forgotten all about it."

Donald hesitated monetarily as the mention of their counsellor. He despised that head doctor more than all the Democrats Ė and a healthy dose of Republicans - in Congress. A stranger who was privy to Donaldís thoughts, feelings and insecurities. Not that he had any of course. He was the top of the food chain, Donald would trumpet. The doctor found those words curious but not out of character.

"No way, we tweet now and get ahead of the game. Plus, itíll draw attention from the tax bill headache. Just a quick tweet, nothing scandalous."

"Donald, please, you canít let this stuff get to you. Iím exhausted. We havenít stopped tweeting since we arrived in this place. Just let it go." Three Four massaged her temple just below the toolbar: where the hell is Melania? Why do I have to deal with this?

Donald refused to give up the bone: "No, the time is now," he barked. "Are you going to send the tweet or do I have to call your boss?"

"Fine, Donald, fire away. But Iím calling the counsellor tomorrow."

Donaldís eyes lit up as he listened to his honeyed voice: "Going to the White House is considered a great honour for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn." End Tweet.

Donald swivelled and stormed out the door. Three Four listened to the receding footsteps and then tried to return to Sleep Mode. But it was to no avail; the re-tweet sonars pinged her without respite until the first shard of sunlight spilt into her room.

*

"You poor thing, it must be so hard." Eleven sipped on her soy cap and all but one murmured in unison, the sympathy team.

Twitter Account Eight Five was the odd account out, fixated on the increasingly frustrating task of plugging his USB into a dilapidated and borderline terminal power socket. He cursed the heavens; the connections in this cafť were always shit. It had been ten hours since his last charge and he felt faint. He would be lucky to have enough battery to get home and he had a backlog of tweets to process, never mind the torrent of complaints streaming in from his account holders. Admittedly, his main client was none other than the Peopleís Champion The Rock, whose business was the most sought after of all Twitter Accounts. Eight Five knew he had been treading a fine line with the management of this particular account; like seagulls hovering over a plateful of chips, other TAís sweated on poaching The Rock.

"Heís just so demanding and the messages he gets me to write, ugh, it makes me nauseous. I didnít download that Harvard English course for this! Hashtag My Life!"

Already strung out, Eight Five was having none of this whingeing. "Címon Three Four, youíve just got to toughen up a bit. Relationships are all about compromise. Take me for example, you may not know this but itís hard dealing with my pool of clients. Granted, they may be more popular than your mate, but they have their foibles too."

Three Fourís sniffles ceased immediately and she winced at the censure. Am I really that pathetic? she wondered.

Elevenís stiletto shoe swiftly shot out into Eight Fiveís shin, collapsing her victim.

"Any chance of shutting up Eight Five? The words kettle and black spring to mind. What was it, five or six months ago? What was that tweet Dame Kardashian forced you to publish? Do ants have dicks. Yes, pretty sure Iíll never forget that snippet of Shakespearean eloquence. Pretty sure Iíll never forget you sobbing uncontrollably for the entire afternoon either."

Eight Fiveís screen flushed fluorescent white but he bit his tongue in contrition. He was keenly aware of the jealousy harboured by his colleagues purely because his uncle was the head delegator at Twitter HQ and fawned upon his prodigal nephew. He knew any protracted debate pilgrimage would ultimately stumble onto that particular Mecca.

With Eight Five conceding defeat, the others steered the conversation towards safer shores; spell checks, the latest engagement feeds from The Royals and the funniest links of the week. Chatter and chuckles enveloped the table and eventually even Eight Five discarded his petulant shell and returned to the fold.

Asudden, the amusement muted and clouds gathered. The five accounts caught sight of their nemesis the Instagram gang, a defiant Jolly Roger flapping on the cafťís horizon, drifting past the window in eerie silence. The Instagrams, faces full of colour and pixelation, frowned at the monotone mob briefly before the hyena pack cackled hysterically. The patriarch could resist anything but temptation:

"Hi kids," he volleyed through the screen doors, "howís life on 140 characters? Excitement city, I bet. My advice, stay on the training wheels. Iím really worried you might scrape your knee venturing out into the adult world of pictures and complete sentences. Safety first, children."

Eight Five seethed at the banter. "Weíre up-sizing to 280 characters, loser."

The Instagram choked on his kale smoothie in contempt. "280! I prostrate myself before you in reverence. Our paltry limit of 2200 characters could never compete with such omnipotence."

Although the plethora of polysyllables confused most of the patriarchís crew, they continued laughing as they sailed away, for theirs was not to wonder why.

Eight Five rose in pursuit but Eleven and Three Four held him back. "Forget it Eight Five, itís Insta-Town."

*

The counsellor adopted his most professional, non-judgmental tone for these patients. He knew this was a delicate topic and they, well Donald in particular, had paper-thin skin. "Good morning Three Four, Donald, thank you for coming in today. Now Donald, I understand itís happened again. The late-night tweet barrages."

Donald strummed his fingers irritably on the 19th century Victorian leather couch that seemed to be a staple feature of shrink furniture throughout the continent. His thousand yard stare compelled the counsellor to repeat himself.

"Yes, yes, I heard you," Donald said with exasperation. "Well done, you caught me; I did force Three Four to tweet a couple of times early this morning. Is that a crime?"

Three Fourís fact-checking app almost crashed at data overload. "You are having a giraffe, Donald. Two times? We sent out five tweets, FIVE. And God knows how many re-tweets. We were up for over an hour!"

"Try to stay calm, Three Four, give Donald the opportunity to speak. It-"

The call to calm was ill-advised, particularly for a man whose vocation was built on advice not being ill. The Twitter bull launched herself at the muleta.

"Me, stay calm?!" Three Fourís insomnia shouted for her. "Have your read this manís vitriol, the utter absurdity of it? And we are not talking early morning, we are talking middle of the night and most nights of the week. Heís addicted to me; itís unhealthy. The one who should be taking it easy is the megalomaniac sitting beside me."

The counsellor backed off and turned down the volume. "Okay, itís upsetting. Donald, tell me why you need to live your life 140 characters at a time. Perhaps we can talk about your childhood and the tough time you had at school."

Donaldís arms criss-crossed and wrapt themselves around his frame in straight jacket fashion. His lips clamped down together like a petulant Venus flytrap.

There would be no epiphany today, sighed the counsellor. He reclined back and checked his own Twitter feed as Three Four, oblivious to her audience, continued her soliloquy, unshackled as she was from her character limit if only for 45 more minutes.

*

Three Four woke to the sounds of chirping birds, but not the kind associated with her profession. Today felt different to the past, well, months. She almost felt rejuvenated. In fact, by Jove she felt reanimated, reincarnated, re-Öeverything.

Three Four still refused to shake her disbelief entirely but it kept slipping away before vanishing into the burgeoning dawn. A full nightís sleep. The insomniacís Holy Grail. Could it be, she wondered, could Donald finally have cast aside immaturity and impulse to become a better human? Maybe he really made it through an entire night unencumbered by twittercide thoughts.

She checked her recent history and shrieked with glee at seeing NIL appear in the headline for the past 12 hours. Truly a momentous event. Three Four considered alerting the Guinness Book of Records at this unprecedented lull in D.T.ís twitter activity.

Three Four glided into the kitchen cloaked in a blanket of tranquillity. She poured herself a cup of freshly brewed coffee and savoured every silent gulp. Even now, at 9.30am, she could not hear his groans, his remonstrations or his pacing.

At 10.30 a.m., Three Four strode out of the door and down the road to the cafť. Despite her freedom, in true Stockholm syndrome fashion she found her scrolling her feed, curious as a cat that is curious at her account holderís status. She gasped at the automated reply:

ďSorry, that page doesnít exist.Ē

As Three Four bounded into the cafť foyer to greet her friends, she noticed an announcement from Twitter HQ: ďEarlier today, @realdonaldtrumpís account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.Ē

Ha, she thought. My hero. Not all humans were the handbrakes that Eight Five labelled them.

The others saw her grin and high fives reverberated around the table. Eleven piped up: "Hey, we have been summoned into the office, accounts need to be reset."

Twenty minutes later, they arrived at the boardroom to be greeted by Two, one of the senior executives and Chief Operating Officer.

"Hi all, you would have seen the news today about our fearless President. We need to reboot all accounts and so I have carried out a review of the existing client base. As Eight Fiveís uncle has a virus, a Trojan horse no less, I have also decided to reallocate the accounts, including the Presidentís account at his request. Three Four, your key client will now be Michelle Obama."

Three Fourís CPU soared.

Two continued to pass out reassignments.

Moving through the ranks, Twoís eyes eventually rested on Eight Five. "And you, Eight Five, given you are our regional Twitter Account of the Year, you get the most vital account of all. Donald. Treat him well."

At that, Eight Five shut down.