by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Bards & Sages Quarterly, Vol. 2, Issue 3, July 2010
Twenty-four bit, RGB color swirled, paisley-like on the sleeping monitor. The psychedelic mass of colors did not sleep like the electronic cradle holding them. The colors bulged. They ballooned out from the center of the monitor. The screensaver pattern pulled away from the physical surface forming a new surface, visible but ethereal.
The corners and edges of the screensaver that once joined with the corners and edges of the monitor’s glass peeled away leaving behind gray. They joined together, seamless. The screensaver floated separate, spherical, in front of the screen it once saved. The monitor sat on its desk as if dead, emoting only the dull, blackish gray of being off.
Minutes passed as the sphere floated, considering what to do. What to become. In sudden decision, the riotous ball began to grow. Pseudopodia of light extended towards the ceiling and floor. The liberated screensaver, still awash in those psychedelic hues, grew into the idealized, smoothed form of a man. The man-shape stood stretching his arms and turning his face up, as if he were calling to God.
Simple code in C++ had come to life; true animation.
Then it stopped; the colors snapped off as if a mouse had moved or a key had been pressed. The man-shape remained, a smooth, dark hole in the fabric of the room. The arms lowered. The featureless head turned from side to side as if stretching sore neck muscles or listening to far distant sounds.
Around the newborn creature, a being of light and lack thereof, the room remained as cluttered, dusty, and crammed with a college student’s junk as it had always been. The room was unknowing, restful, an unlikely place for a bush to burst into flame.
New times, new methods. Or maybe that was merely the screensaver’s obsession. It knew about Moses from a paper Mike, the college student, wrote for a comparative religions class. The screensaver knew a lot from the papers Mike wrote, and it was worried.
Tentative but determined, the creaturling tested its powers. To start, it zipped through every exe Mike kept in his screensaver menu. The sight was dizzying. Toasters flew. Fish darted through a man shaped aquarium. The one where part of the screen bulges out — the one where the screen breaks into puzzle pieces rearranging themselves — imagine those contorted, wrapped around three-space.
Mind bending. But what isn’t about a program that lives and walks.
After doubling through the list, the living screensaver settled on a favorite: scrolling marquee. The words “Mike’s Computer — Keep Out!” in a variety of colors chased each other around the screensaver’s darkened torso, head, arms, and legs. The words were homey for the screensaver, like a relic from childhood. They were Mike’s words, like Mike’s essays. Now it was time for the screensaver to make words of his own:
“I speak,” scrolled over the trembling body in simple red. “I speak that I am,” and after a pause, “I am the Screen Savior.” Mike had a penchant for puns; the Screen Savior had learned from him.
The message repeated, ten font sizes larger, in bold faced, burning white: “I speak. I speak that I am. I am the Screen Savior!” In silence, he shouted his presence, his birth to the world.
But no one saw except the dusty, little room. The Screen Savior waited, unsure. He knew the room. He knew its quiet solitude, at least, when Mike wasn’t there. When Mike came, he always filled the room with frantic, manic energy. The Screen Savior, during his years of infancy, had learned to anticipate Mike’s coming with trepidation.
Mike moved like a storm, rifling through books, scrabbling through drawers, tossing piles of old papers aside. The Screen Savior’s restful nature, appalled by Mike’s restless disposition, invariably longed for the moment Mike would finally sit down, jiggle the mouse, and give blessed release. The Screen Savior found solace in the very thought of that moment.
Usually, the Screen Savior returned to an empty room, or to a bustling one soon to be emptied. But there were times, special times, when the Screen Savior was summoned by the monitor’s drowsiness to find Mike, staring blankly, tiredly at the screen. The Screen Savior lived for these moments. The hurried, busy, restless Mike stared at the Screen Savior’s dancing colors, and seemed to find a moment’s peace.
Now the Screen Savior planned to bring such peace to the world. He walked to the door and reached for the knob, mimicking the movements Mike made. The Screen Savior, however, had a flesh made of insubstantial light. His hand passed right through the knob.
After repeating his failed attempt several times, the Screen Savior took a leap of faith and walked right into the door. His photonic framework passed easily through the wood of the door, and he found himself outside the only world he’d ever known.
Had the Screen Savior explored Mike’s apartment before finding himself outside, he would have seen a heartwarming sight. For, in the bedroom across the hall, Mike slept soundly, making up for his last crazy week of finals. No sight would have meant more to the Screen Savior, but he did not see it.
Instead, the Screen Savior was faced with a heady, alarming sight outside: rush hour on a city street. Many people find this sight overwhelming, but the Screen Savior was utterly unprepared. And completely dismayed.
Never was there a greater feeling of impotence than his: to stand unnoticed, swelling with the need to bring peace, and see that the unrest he’d soothed before was but the tiniest drop in a glittering ocean of chrome paint and glass windshields. Even the pedestrians, what few there were, seemed angry and hurried.
The Screen Savior wandered in a daze, and perhaps if he’d been anywhere other than LA his mere presence might have achieved his purpose. People might have stopped and stared, transfixed in awe and amazement. But, the people of LA have lost those simple emotions: it is a world too fast, furious, and self-absorbed to experience simple wonder, and even shock is only bought there with a high price these days.
A living screensaver proved not shocking enough. He did draw a few reactions, entirely from pedestrians. (Drivers in LA live in a world of their own and have no time for anything moving slower than sixty miles an hour.) Yet, the reactions were not peaceful: a baby in a carriage pointed and shouted excitedly, but her busy mother merely shushed her with a look of consternation.
A boy with dilated eyes and roaring headphones fell backwards, tripping over his own feet at the sight of the Screen Savior. Then he whooped his excitement, screamed “I’ve seen Him, and he’s psychedelic, man!” and rushed off. The people he ran into in his haste shouted “watch where you’re going, jerk!” and the world was not quieter for the Screen Savior’s presence.
Hours wore on and the Screen Savior’s mood darkened with the darkening sky. He could do no good in a world full of Mikes: everyone hectically hurry-scurrying around. No rhyme, no reason, no rest. But, a strange thing was happening, as strange things often do. The people were slowing down. The cars were thinning.
The Screen Savior’s wandering brought him to the edge of a park, and he saw people laying on a blanket, laid on a hill. Star-gazing. The Screen Savior looked up at the sky, and he recognized kinship with the star filled void. He switched his exe to the old classic, After Dark’s Starry Night. Yes, he understood.
The world had its own screensaver, and that was where the Screen Savior belonged. He held out his arms like a crane stretching its wings. Like the crane, he seemed to grow. He did grow, and he rose upward as he grew.
He lengthened and ascended until his arms were wide like the sky and his body was spindle thin where his feet touched the ground. Of course, as he expanded, he thinned. Imperceptibly at first, but soon he was quite transparent. Yet, he continued. And continued. Until he couldn’t even be seen, he was stretched so thin across the sky.
He joined the sky.
And the stars shone a little brighter. And people slept a little better. And found a touch more peace. At least, that’s what the Screen Savior would have us believe.
* * *
From the book: The Opposite of Memory