The Goat (Part 85)

I have a stinking summer cold at the moment, and I’m hardly fit to breathe let alone write a blog. So I’ll just dump a bit of story here, and go seek solace in the GOG Summer Sale

I tried to grasp what it was that had stalled it but the creature fought viciously, furious with spite, blinding me with pain as it slashed great lesions in the fabric of my mind. I felt the gashes in my head spilling open: raw red wounds gushing hot with blood…

But it wasn’t blood. It was the essence of my being, cascading like sunlight through the fissures in my soul. I could feel its warmth, its golden light—and with sudden clarity I felt it surround me: the truth of what I was; the forged identity; the pure, incorruptible moments that defined me—

The four-year-old boy at his dad’s 8-bit computer, typing code listings from old magazines: page after page, hour after hour, just to play a card game or Hunt The Wumpus… and having no tape, no means to save the program, just typing it again the next day and the next, until he knew the code by heart… until he understood what it meant and how to change it, enthralled by the magic of the thoughts in his head brought to life upon the screen… a child’s joy at the wonder of creation—

I took shelter in the comfort it gave me. And then it was destroyed. The creature tore the image bleeding from my mind, used it like a doorway: reaching through the wound to find the memories that made me—to find my weakness—dredging up hideous, suppressed recollections—

The nerdy kid, alone in the school-yard. The bullied child, his fear growing as the verbal and mental abuse turned physical: punches to the armpit and the softness of the belly, kicks to the groin, and joint locks, and forearm chokes; always beaten so the bruises wouldn’t show. A child broken, wishing he was dead as the gang of older kids chased and caught him, holding him down in the dirt on the ground: kneeling on his arms as the girls pulled his pants off—as they touched him and hurt him, and put things inside him—

A boy running home to weep in silence, taking refuge in his only friend—the only thing he could trust—as oblivious parents bought him blank cassette tapes, and shook their heads as evening after evening he worked in his bedroom, shielding himself from the terror outside: building worlds in his computer where the darkness couldn’t find him—

I felt the creature seething against me, striving to wrest control of my thoughts—but the memories were flowing now, and hardening around me—

His first dial-up modem: the elation of discovering a different reality—of meeting for the first time kind, like-minded people who reached through the screen to care for him and teach him. His days wasted, stifled at school, but his nights spent in compulsive fascination, exploring the depths of a strange new realm. Weeks without sleep as the obsession built inside him—the need to understand, to get behind the workings: his young mind developing impenetrable focus—

I screamed as the creature took grip of my soul, the claws retracting as tentacles enfolded, binding as to strangulate, crushing me with all the strength of its hatred. My brain crumpled, grinding within like fractured concrete, splitting and choking with the dust of my existence… yet still I remembered—

A boy grinning as he mastered assembly—and used it to crack commercial applications, merely for the challenge of outwitting their developers. His secret pleasure at being the first to break DVD encryption—more than a year before DeCSS—but keeping it hidden, scared of rejection, afraid to show his friends in case they laughed at his code. His brief crusade of attacking spam servers, and watching the chat rooms for perverts luring children: hunting them down from their IP addresses, and posting their names on the public forums…

But all of it paling as he planned his first real conquest: the excitement mounting as he gathered his tools and established the proxies, probing and scraping with delicate skill—expecting a fortress but finding at the fringes a vulnerable server, and hammering its login, gaining entry to a US government-funded nuclear research laboratory…

The sense of fulfilment: the joy of a child staring at data he couldn’t understand, feeling that somehow he had cracked open the universe—

With sudden horror I knew where it was leading. I tried to stop it, to hold on tight to that boyhood elation… but the creature was upon me, roaring in triumph as it feasted on the memory, sickening my mind with the poison of its bile—

The juvenile court case. His mother crying, his father sweating as they read the verdict. The boy almost throwing up on his feet as the Judge ripped into him, condemning his stupidity, describing the outcome had it been an adult trial. His mute acceptance of the punishment, so filled with shame that he couldn’t speak, or even look at his mother…

And worse—so much worse—than the sense of disapproval: his computer gone. His parents removing any access to the internet, all pieces of technology. His spirit fading as everything he cared about was wrenched from his life—

I struggled to forget it, denying the memory, the darkness inside me—but I had nothing left, no strength to resist as the creature stripped my mind—

The sobbing tantrums. The crushing boredom. The isolation. The hours spent sitting alone in his bedroom, staring at the wall, pining for distraction… imagining the feel of a keyboard on his fingers… thinking of his friends still messaging each other—going on without him, as though he were dead…

The long nights, awake in the dark, listening to creaks as the furniture settled… remembering the voices calling him names… remembering the hands molesting his body… crying to himself, and feeling so dirty…

His longest night, sat in reflection, looking at the desk where his life had been. Looking, and thumbing the edge of the steak knife, trying to decide if he could go through with it…

And the pain. The release. The numbing sleep. The bright white light as he woke in the hospital—

No,” I shrieked. “I’m not him. It wasn’t me.

But the creature had me trapped in the moment, living and reliving the bleak despair of it, drowning me in the pain of my torment—

It’s not me.

And I fought against it with all I had, knowing there was more and trying to reach it—

The stilted silences. The fake smiles. The brusque confusion. Everyone pretending that everything was normal…

The boy at last restored to his home. His uncertainty at finding a gift in his bedroom, a strange concession: an ancient console from the charity shop; a stack of old cartridges—

I felt the creature screaming with rage, throwing itself at the foundations of my mind—but something was changing, rising within me—

A new diversion: not truly what he wanted, but an outlet for his tension—his tentative trials soon becoming an obsession, his only stimulation. A feeling of control returning to his life as he played his way through Nintendo’s hardest. The old compulsion reasserting itself: to break things down, to discover how they work—manifesting as the need not just to win but to demolish every challenge…

The weeks and months of studying patterns, repeating each level thousands of times as he deduced algorithms and trained his reflexes. The no damage runs of Megaman and Metroid. The flawless speedruns of Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts ’n Goblins. The sweaty euphoria of beating the boss to complete Battletoads in the impossible time of twenty one minutes…

And finding in his victories internal validation: evidence of his own self worth…

And knowing, subconsciously, deep inside, that it was something more: not just a game, but the expression of his spirit. The child’s realisation, unformed, unvoiced, yet growing in his mind…

Acceptance that the world was beyond his control. Acceptance that people would always hurt him. Acceptance… and indifference. Because he had a place where he could always win; a place where the rules were his own for the making.

No matter what they did to him, or tried to take away from him, no one could touch him inside his own mind. And that was the key, the piece he had been missing: not to reach out into a world that defied him, to try and best it, to seek its approval, but to find what he wanted and bring it within; not to raise conflict in a world where he was weak, but to make his own challenges and pick them apart in the place where he was strong. That was the purpose, the joy in his life—and it made no difference: the toughest coding problem, the most difficult game, or something so common as fixing a computer… the pleasure came from facing it alone in his mind, from using the gifts he had known since birth: the tenacity, the obsessive dedication, the drive to understand… to bend things to his will…

For however feeble his position in the world, inside his head—his castle, his kingdom—he knew there was nothing that could stand against him. He had the resolve, the strength of will—the focus with which he had written his code as an infant child; the strength with which he had rebuilt his life—and he knew in his heart that nothing could break him—no power could defeat him—

Get out,” I screamed. “Get out of my head—

© 2015 - J. D. G. Leaver

To be continued…