by Glenn M. Diamond
Hey, Melinda Delano here, but call me Mel. I’m a normal
twenty-one-year-old; part dreams, part drama. I’m no curvy redheaded
Italian actress, but I could pass for her mousier younger sister...
with cute black-framed glasses. I’ve always been a little
old-fashioned, but my friends would say that was the old me, the one
before my “death” last month when I got a strange and unwanted
Now I’m sitting on the hood of my second cobalt blue Toyota, on
this warm September afternoon at the Pine Crest highway overlook west
of my home town of Spring Grove, Utah with this giant thought-bubble of
puffy clouds in the sky that spells “WTF?”
There’s plenty to be pissed off about, and this loaner car isn’t
helping. It’s a nearly perfect clone of my lost baby coupe but it feels
like two tons of undead steel. It’s just a machine, I remind
myself. At least it’s not washed up on the banks of Big Elk Creek.
Still, machines aren’t rating high with me these days. I give them one
Although I’m alone I still scope out the parking area before
sipping some peppermint schnapps. Ahhh...better. I need to get a grip.
Spring Grove is a good place to live, but it sucks to be dead here.
Sorry, maybe I should back up.
* * *
It was six weeks ago and I needed to get away from my three closest
friends Cynthia, Zach, and Alison, who are also my roommates. The
general vibe around the house was anti-Melinda, on account of my poorly
hidden disgust about how they’d all become self-indulgent cyber addicts
crippling themselves with nonstop distractions; brainless chatting,
video streams, so-called news feeds, and the worst part -- allowing
machines think for them. Is there anything worse than giving up on
thinking? I don’t think so.
My friends aren’t stupid, in fact the opposite, which makes it even
sadder because they refuse to see what’s happening. At some point a
person becomes a biological puppet dancing to lines of code running
through a magical slab of polished glass.
Sure, I’ve been saturated with technology since I could crawl, and
wonder how anyone ever survived the thousand dark generations before
Wi-Fi. I mainly use FriendBook, since the Earth would stop spinning
without it, and the only ones who don’t are either in a coma or my
awesome Aunt Bonnie!
So I ask you: I have 277 FriendBook friends, but how many of them
would stop whatever they’re doing to help me find a lost dog or take me
to the doctor or just listen to me freak out if I miss my period or
something? The answer is maybe the three other people I live with, and
only if I can penetrate their electronic cocoons of cat videos, porn,
texts, or the general tide of bullshit we’re all swimming in.
You might as well know you can find me on FB as MeliDeli99. On
BlabbIt I’m MellyDee93. I’ve got profiles on others as well; even on
MeToon -- but I’m afraid to use it. Have you seen it? MeToon crawls the
web looking for content about you, which the AI converts into
three-panel cartoons about your life. People say it predicts the
future, but I’m leaning towards ‘creepy self-fulfilling prophesies’.
None of them are fooling me, by the way. They only want to ream us
with their marketing dongs until we’re choking on ads. Plus, they
always lie about the whole “ security” thing. Encryption? Yeah,
whatever. Let’s face it, right now there’s some post-pubescent hacker
in Seattle named Kevin with bag of chips who can tap his keyboard and
find out I just ordered size seven polka-dot panties on-line. It’s
If it weren’t for a reclusive aunt, a freak network glitch, and a
20-year flood, I might never have crawled out of this rabbit hole...
only to fall into a deeper one.
* * *
There are times you badly need a change, and this was one of those
times. I was drifting between temp jobs, had some money saved up, and
had applied for classes to become a medical assistant. Suddenly here’s
this life-changing opportunity and all I needed to do was grab it.
Bonnie Baker, my Mom’s sister, was an actual retired rock star who had
moved to the mountains about three hours away. She’s a total recluse
but offered to teach me how to play guitar at her custom log home
tucked away in the woods near Dos Cabras Pass.
No way could I miss it... private lessons from a rock star! Bonnie
toured with all-girl bands in the 80’s and 90’s, first with Bitchen’Heat
and then The Electric Tacos. Of course, the Tacos mellowed
out, got all New-Agey, broke up, and then reformed as Matching
Cycles. Now she stays tucked away in the mountains but lately was
getting lonely. That’s where I came in.
There was a catch... a BIG one. Bonnie lives off the grid, so I’d
have no phone, no Wi-Fi, no dish, no internet, no texts, no posts,
nothing for nearly a month. She made me swear not to tell anyone where
I was going. Okay, I planned to cheat on that part, but never got the
chance. My parents weren’t an issue -- they’re missionaries in
Guatemala. Forget email, they’re lucky to find a real toilet every
other week. So I only needed to ditch my roommates, and that was
sounding better each day.
* * *
I hate to be so blunt in describing friends I’ve known since grade
school, but you need a quick introduction so here goes.
Cynthia is an exotic, well-rounded (she says “fun-sized”) Asian /
American blend and just sharp enough to keep guys off balance. Cyn
makes good money waitressing but doesn’t have much ambition in life
except, I think, for Zach. And cat videos.
Zach is a tall, freckly, blonde skateboarder / video gamer who
studies coding at Spring Grove CC. He can be sweet, but not always
mature. We have a history -- friends who went too far. That was a year
ago but it’s still awkward. I suspect he still carries a torch, but not
for any romantic reason. It’s more like those old toy cars that would
keep going straight until they hit something, then bounce off into
another direction. He’s mostly clueless about Cyn, and I just stay out
Alison is our petite caffeinated go-getter with short brown hair,
charcoal grey eyes and spooky intensity. She works as a junior buyer at
the Branded Planet megastore.
Alison can’t go five minutes without a complete refresh of her
digital landscape. She’s hyper efficient and loved it when BlabbIt
dropped their character count to 46 because now she could Blabb more on
So here’s the problem: According to them, I was anti-social. I
didn’t text enough, didn’t Blabb enough, didn’t post enough, didn’t
“like” enough, didn’t reply enough, and didn’t chime in on every
trending story. It’s true I wasn’t as connected as them, but how many
texts or emails or posts per day is enough... twenty? Fifty? I didn’t
want to live like a bee buzzing around in a hive and yet it seemed my
entire generation was leading itself into a virtual cul-de-sac. All I
wanted was more reality -- less FriendBook, more friend. Less Blabb,
Something gets lost when a machine handles both sides of our
interactions. Since the machines can’t think like people, people have
begun to think like machines just to make it easier to fit their lives
into an app. I just didn’t feel connected on a human level anymore.
Modern relationships only look real from a distance. Up close they’ve
become pixelated; ambiguous.
My friends didn’t openly resent or challenge me, but I sensed a
growing wariness and frustration. The harmony in the house was cracking
and it always seemed they were the punchbowl and I was the dark thing
floating in it.
* * *
You want an example? Fair enough. I came home one day and all three
of them were there. Zach was on the sofa, cross-legged, serious
expression, looking down at the phone in his left hand on his lap, his
right sliding and tapping on the screen while he muttered and bobbed
Cyn was draped in the recliner, pretending to be reading the latest
issue of FameBlast
while discretely glancing in Zach’s direction every few seconds. Her
phone was partially tucked in her bra and jutted out of her blouse like
a tiny version of the giant black stone in that 2001 space
Through the passageway into the kitchen I saw Alison at the table
which was covered with the usual chargers, cases, cords, and coffee
cups. She was pecking away at her laptop, those long nails clicking out
a bad techno beat.
As I stood in the middle of the living room, nobody said anything.
Only Cyn even bothered to look at me. She threw me a smirky eye-roll,
glanced at Zach, and then went back to the magazine. I started to talk
but immediately got shut down.
“Leave it alone Mel.” Zach warned in an offhand but snotty tone
without even looking at me. Cyn just shrugged her shoulders.
I walked into the kitchen and Alison, eyes glued to her screen,
dutifully summed it up for me.
“Zach fucked up big-time with Cyn and now he’s working on his
AppOlogee.” She shifted her glance towards Zach for a second then back
to her screen. “Guess he’s still trying.”
This made no sense. “Apology? For what? Anyways, he’s just messing
with his phone.”
Alison, always the efficient and mildly condescending
office-trainer type, set me straight.
“You haven’t been on Blabbit lately? That figures. Anyways, not
apology, App-O-logee. Shit Mel, what planet are you from?
AppOlogee is only the top apology app on the globe.
What fresh hell is this? I totally never heard of it. “ You’ve got
to be making that up. If Zach needs to apologize to Cyn for something,
why doesn’t he just TELL her? She’s sitting like nine feet away.” I
gave Cyn a scrunched-up face but she just shook her head. Finally, I
got the rest from Alison.
Zach had been on BlabbIt and thought he was sending private Blabb
messages to his skating buddy Vance. Boys will be boys I guess and
those two had been speculating, in alliterative detail, about -- well,
about Cyn’s boobs.
“I thought it was private,” Zach yelled from the other room, as if
that made it okay.
“Dude,” Cyn offered somberly, “You need to learn BlabbIt better.
You second-level BlabbedAll.”
Alison’s math brain tossed out the punchline. “That works out to
about a thousand people -- including of course our poor Cynthia and her
‘sister-sized sweater slappers’. Right Zach?”
Serves Zach right I guess, but now I know about AppOlogee, which
monitors everything you do on social media and detects all sorts of
mistakes and oversights. Mostly it gives you little reminders called
SociAlerts -- but if you accidentally send an embarrassing BlabbAll, it
does damage control. It was going to track down all recipients plus the
re-Blabbs so Zach could tell them all he acted like a dick.
I don’t know which annoys me more; the fact that this even exists,
or the idea that there’s something wrong with me for thinking it’s
* * *
The funny part about my death is that I wasn’t even there when it
happened.It all went down like this: I never told anyone about going
to Bonnie’s. The ranch house is way back in the woods on twelve miles
of miserable two-track driving from the nearest paved road. My little
car would never have made it, but there’s a short fishing access road
from the state highway that dead-ends near an old footbridge over Big
Elk Creek. From there it’s only a half-mile walk up a pretty easy trail
to the back gate of the property.
Before losing service on the way up the canyon I texted Alison with
the basic facts about my trip. The screen said “message sent” but it
never actually went through due to a freak glitch in the network. That
was problem number one.
When I “disappeared,” my friends never plugged Bonnie Baker into
the picture, since I always respected her privacy and never said much
about her -- except that she lived in Ireland. That was problem number
A few hours after I got to Bonnie’s we were in her massive
timber-framed living room in front of a roaring fire, laughing and
drinking wine... and it started to rain. Then it rained more, and
finally it rained enough for Big Elk Creek to flood and wash out the
footbridge plus the ground my car was parked on. I might as well stop
counting at problem three.
When it was all over, my car was found miles downstream half-buried
in a sandbar, unidentifiable but for the license plates and VIN number.
It was Melinda's car, but there was no Melinda. Her body was lost. Too
bad I wasn’t trying to fake my own death because I did a spectacular
The county sheriff was in no hurry and listed me as missing while
the search continued -- but the AI servers at FriendBook decided I was
dead and took over my account. Within five days they changed my status
to “Eternal” and put me back on line -- as a “ virtual dynamic
afterlife avatar” controlled by their newest platform, The AfterBook.
No, I couldn’t believe it then and I still refuse to accept it now.
It might take years for society to grasp why such a thing would
ever be developed, let alone permitted. I’ve heard of taxidermy but
this is insane.
So instead of the real me who lived three amazing weeks learning
power chords, twelve bar blues, and sharing time with a rock star’s
priceless memories, I had also become a transcendent virtual Friend
living somewhere inside the cyber heaven of AfterBook. But my end was
only the beginning. You see, there are perks on the other side.
Suddenly I was a New Mel -- way cooler, much smarter, and holy shit was
* * *
Don’t say they can’t do it. They own your digital ass and can do
anything they want with it. Have you read your FriendBook user
agreement? No, you just scroll down and click “I agree” figuring
they’re giving you this free service, so it can’t be too bad. Here’s a
clue -- it’s far beyond bad. Just take your standard pact with Satan
and mix in fifty pages of gibberish from the US Tax Code and you’ll get
the general idea.
They own your profile, posts, images, likes, politics, dreams,
habits, fears, secrets, and lies. They know your deepest thoughts, even
ones you haven’t had yet. Free? Not so much. The true cost is your very
essence; a shocking idea when you realize ‘essence’ is another name for
‘soul’. And once the AI has it, they really don’t need you anymore.
I knew nothing about my death until I was ready to come home. In
fact, I never even got the chance to discover the washed-out bridge or
missing car. One morning a light-green U.S. Forest Service SUV drove up
to Bonnie’s and this tall, gorgeous black-haired ranger named Tyler
Fallbrook got out and knocked on the front door. No particular reason,
just checking in like he did at least once a month.
Okay, I admit our eyes locked and I forgot Bonnie was standing
there while that ranger’s uniform was making me goofy. Tyler started
asking innocent questions until he must have put a few things together
and WHAM he got real serious and asked to see my ID. When he started
making urgent cop talk into the little microphone clipped to his
collar, I started to realize what had happened.
Tyler drove me into town to meet with a deputy and file a report.
It was 25 miles each way but it flew by and I wished it was 50. We had
SO much in common. Funny -- he’s not on social media so he gave me his
old-school business card. It was late when we finally got back to the
house, and the next day Bonnie drove me all the way back to Spring
* * *
You’d never expect three weeks would be enough to make any
homecoming as strange as mine turned out to be. My “rescue” was common
knowledge by the time I got back, and the first one I saw was Alison.
She seemed polite but a little cold and broke the news that Cyn and
Zack had become a “thing” and they wanted her to tell me first. Next,
she broke the news about AfterBook.
“We thought maybe you offed yourself. I mean, you’d been acting
weirder than usual. The police came here and asked us all a shit-ton of
questions, each in a separate room. It sucked, Mel. All we could say
was you left and didn’t tell anyone. I don’t think they bought it. This
one cop kept looking around like he expected to see small bits of your
brain on the walls.”
I told Alison about the lost text message, but she didn’t seem to
be paying attention.
“A few days later you popped up on FriendBook and started posting,
but it redirected to something called AfterBook. You had a new profile
picture with this little golden halo. You looked so happy, we all
cried. At first, we thought it was a memorial. But the page banner
said, ‘Welcome Melinda, Our Newest Eternal Friend’. That night the
three of us checked into AfterBook and found out it really was a thing.
Pretty soon you were posting all the time. I’ll show you.”
She opened her laptop and took me on a tour of my surreal postings.
That was bizarre enough, but I also sensed a distance between us. It
was a little like one of those dreams where you go to your own funeral
and try to talk to family and friends but even though you’re not made
of substance anymore they still detect enough of your presence to be
creeped out by it.
Alison perked up when she showed me one of the early posts. “See?
You explained it all here. Yes, you’d passed on, but there was plenty
of content for the AI to develop custom algorithms and launch the
dynamic avatar. Thanks to AfterBook, you’d still be an active part of
Anger struck me. “Stop it, Alison. I explained nothing.”
“Wait, I don’t...”
“You said YOU explained,” I snapped, “ But that wasn’t me. It was
some fucking computer program. I was 160 miles away, alive and
“Did you read it? Seriously, Mel. Maybe you didn’t type it, but
it’s totally you. And look at some of these other posts. It really IS
“You even quoted Shakespeare: ‘There’s hope a great man’s memory
may outlive his life half a year.’Then you added: ‘But in Afterbook,
This was getting ridiculous. “I never heard that quote before.”
Alison pointed fondly at the screen. “Yeah, but she has.”
* * *
Zach and Cyn got home about an hour later. I tried to keep things
light -- plenty of smiles and hugs. After all, I really wasn’t jealous,
but this stupid little idea kept nagging at me, that my “death” really
simplified things for these two. Or was there more too it? What a
We had some wine and tried to be cool with everything. They were
still really pissed at me for running off and never telling them about
Bonnie Baker. I did my best to make amends, told them about my
adventures, bragged about what I learned, and said I might even try to
find a band.
By now it was getting late but I had to insist this AfterBook
nonsense was going to end as soon as I had a chance to contact
FriendBook in the morning. Hey computer ghouls! Very funny, but I’m
alive so you can turn it off now. Zach and Cyn looked at each other
sheepishly before they both turned towards Alison and more weird vibes
bubbled around me.
“That might not be easy,” she flatly stated, “ I don’t think
there’s any way to contact them.”
“I’ll figure it out. If I have to, I’ll just delete the account and
Cyn was playing with her hair and acting too squirmy for eleven pm.
“Really? But... have you thought how amazing it is? What they did --
creating a new you, I mean. Don’t you want to see where you take it?”
Next it was Zach’s turn. “Yeah, Mel! You have this AI twin who has
all your personality merged with this god-like brain. I wish I had
My jaw started to drop but Alison chimed in before I could say
anything. “Mel, Zach might have a point. You need to read all your
postings. They’re so insightful. You’re on top of everything that’s
going on with all of your friends. You’ve got answers to problems in
the Middle East, the mess in Washington, and even the European
financial situation! You’ve been brilliant, funny, and -- okay I’m
sorry -- not the least bit snarky or whiny!”
“She’s right Mel,” Zach affirmed. “You’re awesome.”
“Mel, maybe you should take some time and listen to yourself,”
“But guys, that ‘Mel’isn’t me.”
Alison laced her fingers together, speaking in a lowered voice for
emphasis, “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you.”
* * *
The next morning I woke up in a bitchy mood, determined to shun
them all. I’d become a punchline in search of a joke. I stayed in bed
until everyone else left. Is that shitty? Maybe, but I didn’t care. I
had a major goal for the day, mainly to kick some serious FriendBook
customer support ass.
Packed with confidence on the strength of my clearly non-deceased
status, I started my challenge and quickly found... futility. My
account was locked out, there was no phone number to call, and the
diabolical maze of customer support options left me sending an email to
a generic “admin” address probably in Bangalore.
Disillusionment followed once I started to wade through the terms
and conditions. My identity on FriendBook, and by association
AfterBook, had been completely owned by them since the first
microsecond I launched my account five years ago. Their legal position
was as solid as a granite tombstone. The way I see it now, it probably
never mattered if I had ever been alive. This was their game, and I had
no way to play it. There was only one thing for me to do -- walk away.
Sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee I became aware of
a growing sense of detachment from my life, my plans, and my friends.
Change was in the air, but somehow, I couldn’t take my mind off some
irritating little puzzle-piece about Zach and Cyn. Reluctantly I texted
Alison and asked her if we could meet for lunch. I was in luck.
She was always the most practical of our group and probably
welcomed the chance to smooth it all over and wrap it up with a pretty
bow. We agreed on a nearby sit-down place with a festive outdoor patio.
I pretended to be amused and asked her what role my AfterBook avatar
played in this romantic twist.
“Pretty perceptive,” she began, “ and all I can say is don’t
underestimate the power of the AI. It evaluates your complete history
down to the smallest details you’ve forgotten about and runs it through
the personality modeling routines. It can make decisions based on past
actions, apply these weird fuzzy-logic emotion filters, and...”
She was stalling. “Alison, what about Zach and Cyn?”
I’m getting to that, but you need to know something else. Once
you’re ‘eternal’, you’re considered sage and wise, a sort of oracle,
and people can seek you out for advice about almost anything...even
personal or even romantic issues. Cyn sent you a request, explaining
she wanted to make a move on Zach and asked for your approval, plus for
any tips. She never told me the details, just that you pretty much
hooked them up.”
It’s tough to explain how that made me feel, but there was
definitely a little wave of nausea. I did my best to hide it. “ Awww,
really? That was so thoughtful of her! But... is this another feature
of AfterBook? Your avatar just hands out advice to people, even
personal romantic advice?”
“Well, yes and no. At the end of the day they’re running a
business, of course. To get that sort of access, Cyn had to join AfterBook
Insider for $12.95 a month.”
I’d say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t. I was revolted.
That’s why I’m alone at the Pine Crest overlook with my imposter
Toyota and flesh and blood body, puzzled about this post-modern world
gone mad. These are strange times, so I’d better keep it simple. My
rent is paid up, classes don’t start until next quarter, and there’s
time for a new beginning.
Tomorrow I’m heading back to the mountains. This time, I’ll park at
Tyler’s place and he’ll drive me to Bonnie’s. My friends won’t miss me;
they have AfterBook. I don’t need much, just friends who don’t mind
that I’m human and won’t disappear when the network goes down.
If I really am old-fashioned, why does that sound exciting and new?
© 2017 Glenn M. Diamond
Bio: Mr. Diamond has a background in electrical engineering and
currently lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and daughter. His
first published short story "The Cleansing" appeared in the Huffington
Post in 2014. His last Aphelion appearance was “The Machines at
Ellison” in our February 2017 issue.
E-mail: Glenn M. Diamond
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