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Authors: Keith Ward

Internet Kill Switch

BOOK: Internet Kill Switch
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Internet Kill Switch

 

By Keith Ward

Copyright © 201
4 by Keith Ward
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, 2014

ISBN 978-0-615-94432-6

www.KeithWardFiction.com

To my wife, Kathy, who always believed.

 

To April

To Megan

To Erin

To Patrick

To Fiona

To Sarah

To Brendan

 

For the joy.

1

 

If you lined up 100 random high-school kids in a row and examined them one-by-one, then were told that one of them would soon change the world, Tony Carver was not the one you’d pick. In fact, it’s likely you’d pick the other 99 first. Heck, Tony
himself
would pick him last. Gangly, awkward and shy, he’d laugh so hard that his stomach would hurt if you told him he’d soon be making choices that would affect millions, if not billions, of people worldwide. If you told him you were serious, he might get so panicked that he’d puke all over your shirt.

Tony
Carver wasn’t a world-changer. If he knew anything at all, he knew that.

Change the world? Not a chance. Heck, he couldn’t even get his phone to work. Like now, for instance.

 

Click.
Bzzzt.

Click.
Bzzzt.

Click.
Bzzzt.
Click.
Bzzzt.

On the
fifth click, there was no following
Bzzzt
; no sound of the phone saving the picture that
Tony just snapped.

He
pushed the worn, dull photo button again. This time, he didn’t even get the click.

“Come
on!

“What now?” asked Rick Ber
keley, his best friend.

“Photo button stopped working.”
He handed the flip phone to Rick, who tried the button and got the same non-response. Rick shook it, then tapped it on the cafeteria table. Still dead.

“Well, since the pictures it took were
barely better than passport photos, is it that big a loss?”

“Yes!” Tony said, more angrily than intended. “Even sucky pictures are better than no pictures at all.”

“I guess.”

“I was getting shots of Kimmy, to text to George.”

Rick looked across several tables at Kimmy Harris, who was at that moment drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino. Of course she was drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino; to drink low-fat chocolate milk from the cafeteria would be unthinkable.

Kimmy
was beautiful and popular, so of course she sat at the Beautiful And Popular table. With long auburn hair, a deep tan and movie-star smile, Kimmy hit Miles Forge High School like a meteor when she showed up mid-term. Within two weeks of her arrival, she’d begun sitting with the other A-listers.

As
he watched Kimmy laugh her brilliant laugh, Tony typed out a quick text message to go along with the pictures he took. “here’s the one i was telli g you abou ”, he wrote, then frowned. He looked at the “t” on his phone’s keypad, and mashed it with his index finger.

Nothing.

Mashed harder, with a thumb.

More nothing.

Finally he gave up and pushed the “send” button, whisking away the pictures and text to his cousin George.

“Looks like the ‘t’ went this time,” Tony said
“It’s joined ‘n’ and ‘c’ in the alphabet graveyard.”

Rick chuckled as he plucked the strings of his guitar; he concentrated hard, trying to learn a new song.

“At least it’s not an important letter. It’s not like you’ll ever have to use words with ‘t’, like ‘the’ or anything,” Rick answered without ever looking up.

Tony looked at the picture he’d just taken of Kimmy and sighed. “Why don’t I just throw it in the toilet, since it’s crap?”

“Because then you’ll be down to no phone,” Rick said.

Tony considered.
“Would that be worse?”


Good question. If all you can do is make calls, what’s the point of a phone?”

Tony
pondered the question as he looked idly through the pictures stored on his phone, searching for more shots of Kimmy.

S
canning through photos of birthdays and vacations, he unexpectedly came across the only photo he had of his Dad.

Tony stopped
dead. He stared at the photo, having completely forgotten Kimmy.

It was actually a picture of a picture: Tony’s Dad holding him as a baby. Tony couldn’t have been more than two months old at the time, but the resemblance to his father was strong, even then:
The same curly, dark hair, blue eyes, bushy eyebrows. His Dad looked tall, as was 6-foot-2 Tony. If anyone was this guy’s son, it was him.

Tony
had found the picture in a shoebox in a dark, hidden corner of his Mom’s closet. He’d been bored and rooting around in forbidden spaces one afternoon, and happened upon the shoebox, which he’d never seen before. He pulled out piles of receipts and bank statements, and saw the picture laying on the bottom.

His Dad held him and smiled, a cigarette dangling from his lips. It was the first photo he’d seen of his Dad in years. He looked happy; happy to have a son.

In reality he couldn’t have been too
happy, because sometime before Tony’s second birthday, he split. He didn’t give any explanation for leaving, as far as Tony knew; it was a subject his Mom wouldn’t discuss. At all. Tony asked a few times about him, but it upset his Mom so much that he stopped asking. Better to remain ignorant than cause his Mom heartache.

He
snapped a picture of the yellowing photograph with his phone, then put it back in the shoebox. This way, he could see it whenever he wanted, without sneaking into his Mom’s closet. He never told her he’d discovered the picture, and never would.

Since then, h
e’d spent many hours looking at the picture, and even bought a magnifying glass to study it more closely. Tony wondered endlessly about his Dad: Where was he now? Why did he leave? Why didn’t he ever try to contact me? Whose fault was it that he was gone?

Although there were no answers to those questions, Tony still asked them to the stars he watched at night, lying on the picnic table outside
his home.

Those persistent
, unwelcome questions resurfaced again as Tony sat at the lunch table, staring at the picture on his phone.

Then it started.

Tony could feel his breathing quicken, his chest heave and his face flush. He tried to strangle the feeling, snapping his phone closed, but it was too late. Seeing his Dad brought back the old feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of not being good enough. He was helpless to stop what had begun.

Against his will,
Tony began to cry. Not outrageously, but perceptibly. Tears slid down his cheeks, which he quickly wiped away, looking around.

Tony was a crier. He cried about small things
, as well as big ones. He couldn’t help it,  hated it, hated himself for doing it. But now that it had started, it wouldn’t stop, at least for a few minutes. He was easily moved to tears, and it had always been that way. In his room, where he cried most often, no one could see him. Now, he was in the middle of the Miles Forge High School lunchroom, with hundreds of eyes around him belonging to kids always on alert for someone to mock.

Rick saw what was happening, and his eyes went wide. He’d seen
Tony cry before, but never in the Darwinian lab of a high-school cafeteria.

“What’s wrong?”

Tony sniffed. “Nothing. Just... just...”

Someone pointed in
their direction, howling.

Crap.
“Let’s get out of here,” Rick urged Tony.

Too late. A roar of laughter went up from a nearby table.
The guys looked over at the pack of boys staring at them, hooting and pointing. Mike Lyle threw a roll at Tony. It landed in a cup of applesauce, which splattered his shirt. Jared Conley yelled out, “What’s the matter, Carver? Your boyfriend find out you live in a trailer and dump you?” Kimmy and her friends turned to look, then joined in the laughter.

Tony saw Kim
my giggling, and wanted to die. His embarrassment piled up, reaching to the ceiling. He and Rick got up and quickly gathered their gear together to leave; they knew better than to respond.

Knowing better, however, didn’t often stop
Rick. As with Tony’s crying, sometimes he just couldn’t help himself. “Yeah, Conley. I heard he’s taking you out instead.” Not a great comeback, but effective under the circumstances. Conley jumped up as Tony and Rick bolted out of the lunchroom, heading for the safety of crowded hallways.

They
checked behind them to see if Conley was coming, but the crush of bodies made it hard, slowing them down. Rick had Spanish next, and Tony had Honors History. “Don’t let ‘em get to you, Tony,” Rick said as they dodged students and open lockers on their way to class. Tony’s brain kept rewinding the image of Kimmy laughing at him. That hurt a lot more than the look of rage on Conley’s face.

“Can’t believe I did that!” Tony said
, shaking his head. “As if they need another reason to piss on me.”


It’s all right, Tone,” Rick said. “It’s over now. See ya, man.” He ducked into his classroom.

Tony
still had to navigate several hallways to reach his. He didn’t realize it, but he still clutched his phone. He thought of Kimmy, how she laughed at him, and wished he hadn’t texted her picture to George.

He got nearer to his classroom and figured
Conley had given up. Nope: Conley wasn’t one to let an insult go unanswered. He’d lost them for a minute, but spotted Tony again and raced to catch up. Conley knew he couldn’t risk another suspension this year; his Dad would kill him if it happened again. So he came up directly behind Tony and swatted the hand holding the phone. He instantly turned the other way and melted into the crowd, as innocent a lamb as was ever birthed.

“Hey!” Tony yelled as t
he phone rocketed out of his hand and into a painted concrete wall. He heard it shatter.

Crash.

Smash.

Sayonara
.

Little bits of metal and plastic
flew everywhere. Tony watched helplessly as students trampled the entrails of his phone. As the pieces were further ground up, one thought flashed through his mind:
that’s the only picture I have of my Dad.

Tony walked over to the largest piece of the phone he could find
, the top of the clamshell case, and picked it up. All that was left of his sad phone. Sad or not, though, it was the only phone he’d ever had, and he didn’t know when he’d get another one. Who even knew
if
he’d get another one, given that his Mom had no money.

Tony
wasn’t prone to violent outbursts, but losing his phone and picture of his Dad, added to the humiliation of crying in front of Kimmy, was too much. He slammed the only surviving piece of phone onto the floor and kicked it down the hallway with all his might.

 

When he got home from school, Tony went straight to his Mom’s closet to retrieve the photo of his Dad. She was at work. He’d just borrow the picture and get a few copies made. Mom would never know.

His heart skipped when he didn’t see the shoebox in its shadow
y corner. He looked around the rest of the closet, under sweaters and behind dresses. No shoebox. Hands sweating, he excavated his Mom’s room, checking under her bed, in her drawers. It wasn’t anywhere.

Tony, more frantic by the minute, searched the house for the black shoebox
, looking in every space large enough to hold it. It didn’t take long, as their trailer wasn’t large. But he came up empty.

It was gone.

Gone.

His Mom must have thrown it out. The only remaining
crumb of his father’s existence. The only memory he had, the only connection to that part of himself. How could she? Why would she?

He thought of confronting h
is Mom, asking if she’d just moved it or really had tossed it in the garbage. But how? How could Tony ask her about it, since he wasn’t supposed to know about it at all? Was he prepared to not only dredge up the most painful memory his Mom had, but to tell her he’d violated her privacy? He was sure she’d never trust him again. And maybe she shouldn’t.

Tony, who didn’t need much
of a reason to bawl in the best of times, suddenly had plenty of reason. On his bed, staring at the bare ceiling, he put his arm over his eyes and cried. And cried. No one was there to make fun of him, but at this moment, he wouldn’t care if they did. Wouldn’t care if Jared Conley called him “trailer trash” again. Wouldn’t care if Kimmy Harris saw him.

His Dad was gone, for good. And he
sobbed, hot tears of loss. Sure, it was only a picture.

But a picture was all he had.

BOOK: Internet Kill Switch
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