The Etched Monitor

Now, this evening, he stood across the street, and strolled across the street, up the sidewalk, to the door. He rang the buzzer, perhaps a little too abruptly for a guest, rather than a regular visitor. She didn’t ask who it was, just buzzed him up. The hallway smelled of cilantro and curry and a quarter century of dust, as it had always done. “The hall of a thousand smells,” she had called it, dryly. The front door to her apartment was open, and he knocked briefly on the frame, called, then went in.

Alice replied from Andrew’s bedroom — Gary assumed that she was orchestrating this to avoid falling into pleasantries and mistaken impressions. He found them looking at a drawing that Andrew had made of the scratches and comparing it, from a distance, with the screen itself.

“Hello, Gary, thanks for coming,” Alice said without looking at him. Andrew looked over his shoulder and said, “Hi.”

“Hello to you both,” replied Gary. His eyes were already drawn to the screen and the drawing held up almost in his line of sight. Even Gary’s dulled and neglected gray mass was not fooled — and yet also not to be trusted. In a moment you could tell that this was not the confluence of an electrical spike with the chaotic breakdown of the monitor. This was a directed action, etched into a dumb object by a crude and forceful hand. But how? It was as if an evil villain had directed his electron-beam rifle at this monitor and let fly, with a laugh both evil and chilling. But there was no such gun, and no such villains to provide context. The context, if any, had to come from elsewhere: either back to the random occurrence or to another form of intelligence.

Gary looked at Alice’s immense brown eyes, now directed at him. They saw the confusion and she sensed the alarm in Gary’s face. Together they might even have recognized, if either mind was ready to encompass it, that this was one of those moments at which reality, subjective reality, forks. An experiential quantum mechanics, if you will: an experience that by common sense must have a mundane explanation, but which at the same time does not admit of one. Such an experience is both and neither until the moment that either outcome establishes itself and your own personal reality is confirmed or torn apart, depending on which direction you were leaning and on the weight you applied to your belief.

“That’s quite an engraving,” he said in an effort to sound nonchalant, going slowly up to the monitor. Alice wanted to tell him stop and she put out a hand, but she didn’t open her mouth.

Gary put his face up to the monitor. The etching was as regular as if a PhotoShop wand had drawn it — a whoosh of an electronic paint spray, with a solid core line and fuzzy pixilation, dribbling away alongside. There were three distinct areas: one looked a little like an iconic representation of “the twilight zone,” a spring emanating from a point zero outward; there were two others to the side, one looking like a miniature explosion and the other like an ocean wave about to strike a shore. That was all, but enough to be hieroglyphic, not chance, not a blown circuit, not a cosmic accident. That was will.