The Ghost of Alma Matterson
Chapter 5: Blue Screen

Alma could remember swimming. He was doing the backstroke. It was the beginning of his sixth lap. He loved the feel of his arms stretching behind his head. His fingers would break the smooth surface of the water, and he would pull the water along his side.

The movement was gentle. The backstroke was definitely the most peaceful swimming stroke. He could feel his ears just below the surface of the water as he regulated his breath.

In the recesses of his mind, he could feel the fish swimming in the pond. This ability to sense the different objects in the world was something he could never quite explain. All you had to do was query the attributes of an object, and you would know its current state. I know it makes no sense.

There were many different objects in the present scene. There were trees, the swimming hole, and fish. The two most fascinating objects were the naked boys playing fort on the beach. They were the only objects that never really made sense. Query Tad, and you would get nothing but muddle.

Alma felt at one with the world, but he began to sense something else. The fish seemed agitated. There was something unnatural in the water. He focused and saw the image of a water moccasin. He would just activate the self-preservation method of the snake, and it would swim away.

The snake did not respond. It was odd. The snake was not swimming of its own volition. It wasn't even wiggling--It moved as if it were being pulled through the water. He felt it move faster. It darted through the pond and struck at his leg.

Alma began thrashing. He would just execute the undo command [Ctrl-Z]. That should take care of  the bite. The snake struck again-this time at his neck. Alma dove underwater, that might keep it from biting. The snake bit him again underwater!

If he could get back to shore, his friends would help. He tried to start swimming, but pain shot through his side, he felt his knees buckle. He was in the current. The water pulled him downstream.

If he could reach his friends, he would be safe. Something unnatural pulled at his feet. Things were looking bad. He would have to do something extraordinary to survive. Maybe could just restore his entire self?

He began to execute every command at his disposal. The task manager didn't show any strange programs, but the resource monitor showed that both the CPU and memory were pegged.

He tried to zoom in on the snakes, but the windows were frozen. Then he felt it. A hand grabbed him. It didn't just grab him. The hand reached inside of him and hit nerves that had never been touched before.

The hand was too big for either Tad or Martin. His entire body tensed. He shuttered with convulsions. He shook his head, his arms and his legs. He reached back in his memories to see if there was any experience that could save him. 

The view on the screen went haywire. It no longer showed a swimming hole on a Spring day, but the images of his family flashed before his eyes. They were happy images that became increasingly sad as one willful little boy, time and time again, turned against the needs of his family to his own selfish ends. 

He saw the ingratitude on his face when he got underwear on his tenth birthday instead of a bike. He saw the disappointment in the eyes of Reverend Thomas when they discovered that Alma had masterminded the theft of the church picnic brownies.

He saw his the ugliness of his defiance as he continued to skateboard after repeated warnings. He saw Johnny May lying on the ground on the day of their fight. He saw Mary crying by the seesaws in the aftermath of the playground incident.

In every image he saw his willfulness and defiance of authority. He saw a horrid, arrogant boy, but none of the images could compare to the look on Martin's face when they pulled of their clothes to go swimming. 

Martin didn't want to go skinny dipping. Alma pressured him into it—Alma had pressured his friends into so many nasty deeds in the past. He saw the image of Martin crashing through the bushes and poison sumac in pain. The image zoomed in on Martin's face lined with fear as Martin witnessed Alma's death. He saw the humiliation in Martin's eyes as officer Ron locked him in the cruiser. 

The death, humiliation and pain was the natural result of Alma's willfulness. A spiteful little boy refused to listen to the wisdom of his elders. The play showed the happiness he brought forth when he was good, and the misery he brought to others when he was bad. The morality play went on showing his faults and demanding his atonement.

His friends were in pain. His brother Rick would lose his scholarship, and Char would date losers. This was all Alma's fault. 

He tried to fight back. He frantically, he activated all the objects in his life that he could remember. He shot forth a burst of commands, loading every object at his disposal. The images on the screen began to slow. A memory error briefly flashed on the screen, and his whole world turned blue.

The lesson was clear. Alma had broken too many rules.

"No!" he thought. "I will not accept this reality." He hit [Alt-Tab]. The world still was blue. He hit [Esc]. The blue screen of death burned before his eyes. He hit [Ctrl-Alt-Del]. Blueness ruled. Everything was lost! He couldn't restore. He right clicked. He left clicked. He hit the up arrow. He hit the down arrow. He executed every command in his memory. Nothing worked. The blue screen burned in unending frustration.

He felt more hands. They held his arms and legs. They were somehow below his skin clutching his very soul. He wrenched his head harder than he had ever done before. The blue image went askew.  

He felt hands clutching his head. The blue world turned into a small rectangle. It gradually receded from his field of vision. It turned to the side and vanished. 

The world was now a deep unfocussed gray. There were shapes moving. Then he saw a bright light. The light seemed to move toward him. It hurt his eyes. Was it a tunnel? Should he move toward it? He felt paralyzed. Move toward the light...

"Turn off that damn light! It will hurt his eyes." spoke a gruff voice.

The light vanished. Shapes moved in the darkness.

He was in a large room—a room that seemed to expand into unknown dimensions. Strange smells hung in air that was thicker than anything had felt in his life. Troll like life forms surrounded him.

The trolls mumbled in broken English. The noise seemed to come from directions unknown. If he concentrated he could start to make out their disjointed words and forms.

They leaned over him. The troll in the middle was the fattest and ugliest of the lot. It reached its dark ugly claw toward Alma's face.

"Hello, I am Hardin Thomas..."

It was the black screen that came this time. The black screen was so much better designed than the blue screen. The blue screen was an exercise in frustration. The black screen brought with it a sense of comfort and bliss. There were no accusations of guilt, simply acceptance. Alma embraced the black screen, and collapsed into a lump on his hospital bed.

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