“Help! I’m stuck in the Internet!”
“Nan, you can’t be stuck in the Internet. You mean you’re stuck on the Internet. What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to get out!”
“OK. Well do you see a little cross in the top right-hand corner?”
“No I don’t Eamon, sorry. There’s just lots and lots of little boxes with faces in them.” She turned her voice to a whisper. “Some of them are other body parts!”
“It sounds like you’ve got a virus, Nan. I’ll come over and sort it out again OK?”
“Oh you are a good boy. Maybe I just need a kickstarter, eh?”
“See you soon Nan.”
There was no answer when Eamon knocked on the door, so he let himself in. Nan’s laptop was out on the kitchen table with the Windows default screensaver scrolling. Sticky notes bearing passwords in her distinctive scrawl were everywhere, but the woman herself couldn’t be seen.
“Nan? Where are you?”
“Oh hello, lovey! I told you, I’m in the Internet.”
The voice did indeed seem to be coming from the computer.
“Nan, what are you up to? Come out please.”
“Oh don’t be silly. I’m stuck here, else I would!”
“I haven’t got time for games, I’m supposed to be at a lecture in half an hour. Where are you?”
“I think you just have to give the mouse a waggle, that usually sorts it.”
Eamon gave the mouse a nudge; he had little choice but to play along with whatever prank the old lady had come up with this time. Sure enough, Nan’s image came up on the screen. Her hair had been freshly curled, and she’d put on some blusher and her favourite violet cardigan. Eamon looked for clues in the background as to where she might be hiding.
“Is that – Paris?!”
“Yes, lovey. It’s where me and your Grandad went on our honeymoon. Do you like it?”
“How, exactly, are you in Paris?”
“I’m not in Paris, I’m in the Internet. Look, I can change it I think.”
The background changed several times in quick succession, showing Nan at the top of Mount Everest, then among a herd of elephants, then New York City, and finally settling on the Egyptian desert with a sphinx sitting behind her.
“Is that better? I can’t tell without my glasses.”
“Nan, is this a new video chat or something?”
“Well you’re the computer expert, lovey. One minute I was sitting at the table with my brew, minding my own business on Facebook, and the next I got this blinding headache. Blinding, it was! Everything went white. And then I sort of woke up here, with all the boxes.”
“Are the boxes there now?”
“They are, but I don’t think they’re going to be a bother after all. There’s a charming gentleman here who says it’ll all be OK. He’s got a lovely white beard, and you know what I always say: you can trust a man with a beard. He says all the bad people go to a place called the ‘deep web’ so there’s nothing to worry about up top. He’s going to show me the ropes.”
“Right. I’m going to fetch help, Nan. OK? We’ll find you, just stay where you are.”
“Oh you are silly, Eamon. Where else am I going to go?”
Eamon didn’t have the first clue where he was going to get help. The police? He wasn’t convinced this was an emergency: she didn’t seem to be in danger, just confused. His Dad? He’d only panic. A hacker? Ridiculous. He settled for the social care unit, telling the receptionist he was concerned for his Nan’s welfare. “Keep talking to her,” they told him, “we’ll run some checks from our end.”
“Nan, I’m back. I’ve asked the social to help, so this is your last chance to tell me where you are before they get too involved, OK?”
“Oh don’t worry about little old me. Do you remember Majorie from Cedar Grove? She used to give you toffee apples when you were a lad? Well she’s here now. Say hello Majorie! It’s Eamon.”
Majorie peered into the frame holding her best cup and saucer and gave an excited wave.
“Thank goodness,” Eamon exclaimed. “I’m so glad you’re not on your own. Are you using your PC then, Majorie?”
“Ooh it’s a shocker! We can see all your data.”
“Shh now Majorie what do you want to go and tell him that for? You’ll scare the poor lad. What she means is I’ll always be watching over you, Eamon! All your spending, all your learning. All your messages and instagrams. I can see it all, lovey, so you’ll be ok.”
Eamon’s phone began to ring. “Last chance, Nan…”
The two women giggled like schoolgirls as Majorie poured another cup of tea.
“Hello, this is Eamon Thomas.”
“Mr Thomas. I’ve checked your Nan’s records and I can confirm what she says is correct.”
“What? That she’s in the Internet?!”
“That’s it. Your Nan recently signed up to our Connections program. It sounds like you were not aware?” Greeted with a stunned silence, the caller continued. “It’s a scheme whereby a monitor is strapped to the chest, and if there comes a moment where the heart stops – where the client would normally ‘pass on’ – they are simply uploaded to the web instead. All the terms and conditions will be in the pack she was given when she signed up. You can, of course, keep the laptop and speak with her whenever you like. Mr Thomas?”
“We are terribly sorry for your loss.”
Eamon ended the call, staring at Nan laughing and joking with her old friend.
“What’s up, lovey?” she said. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception – out now as e-book and paperback.
On 20th February I will be attending the Virtual Futures ‘Near-Future Fictions’ event in London, where my new story ‘Toxic Duck Inc’ will be read to a live audience. Tickets are available here.