Netstrider (Flash Fiction)

“And then, the Netstrider passes in the night and eats the internet.”  Laney paused to let the chills go down their backs, as they poked at screens under the covers.

“But Mommy, they can still use their phones, right?” Dana asked. “That’s not the internet.”

“The Netstrider doesn’t care how you are on the internet, my love. He only cares that you are on, and it draws him like honey. In those lands where the Netstrider has recently passed, oh, the chagrin, oh, the horror–for all around, the phones disconnect, the computers grunt and groan and settle down in a poof of dust.”

The children gasped.  “Then what do we do?  What does anyone do?” asked Will.  His phone beeped three times then, three messages.

“When the Netstrider succeeds, my love, he shall bring all families and all businesses and all commercial interactions to a halt, and people must speak with each other.”

“And if they can’t?  You can’t talk to grandma without the internet.”

“I know, isn’t that scary?  We better evade the Strider.”  Her own phone beeped at her, and she hugged the children goodnight.  “Remember, the Netstrider only bothers those with cyberspace addictions.  Groups of people who have set themselves off, aren’t communicating properly. He prefers to gorge himself on the energy of compulsive surfing.  So stay off your phones tonight!”  She laughed, and didn’t force them to put aside the little dancing rectangular prisms before bed.

Laney trod downstairs to her husband Eric.  He and his tablet occupied the lazyboy, most happily.  “I told the kids about the Netstrider,” she mentioned while straightening up the living room.

“Oh yeah?  How’d they do with it?”

She didn’t know if he was actually listening or not. “I think it freaked them out.  My goal was to get them to put the damn phones away overnight.  We’ll see if it works at all.”

He grimaced.  “I don’t know, Laney.  It’s a long shot. You know what it’s like to think about your phone disappearing.”

She did.  “Well, I’m off to sleep to contemplate the results of my actions,” she cheered them both up.

“Night, dear.”

“Night.” Unmoving he reclined.

She went to her own room; they had long since ceased sharing a bed because of that glow of screens. An hour or so later, she heard him lumber into the master suite.  She fell asleep chuckling at the legend she told their children.

But around three, she woke up, a strange coldness permeating her being.  She checked her phone, wondering if it beeped at her.  It did not.  No new messages.  So she arose to grab her tablet, and that was when she realized the Internet wasn’t working.

“Damn Netstrider!” she exclaimed. She descended to try the family TV, but the internet appeared to have deserted Laney and her family that night.

Panicked, she slid back into her husband’s bed.  He stirred.  “What’s wrong?”

She didn’t answer, only snuggled into him.

“Honey? Why are you here?”

“The Netstrider.  It’s real.” She didn’t have to say anything else.

The sunrise came quickly, a red-hot fire of enormous beauty that would officiate over the interpersonal relations of the day. Laney and  Eric wished it had never come up.  And they thought with horror of the day that was about to unfold before them,a day where humans would talk without screens. They stood up with the sun to face the unnatural new landscape of the world, transformed from a navigable place of connection to a labyrinth of uncharted sociality, a terror they had not experienced in their lifetimes.  Terror was palpable as one civilization drew to an end, and another began.

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