Content warning: this story is not safe for work / NSFW.
. . .
My classmates look like they’re having a great time.
I can’t see their faces too well, but I know the one closest to the camera, on the left side, is Eugene. I know this because Eugene wears a big fat helmet to school every day. Well, it’s a face shield that goes all the way around, but that, combined with the black mask he’s got on? Looks like a space helmet to me. I can’t see his eyes. The camera doesn’t get that close. I can hear him laughing, though.
Someone made a joke, so they’re all laughing. I smile, as if I’m in on it, but then I let my face fall blank again. This is partially because I didn’t really hear the joke; it was all muffled and sounded like ugly radio sounds on my end, and partially because I’m still not sure how many of my classmates can see my face clearly on the computer monitor in the front of the room. I’m not sure about the geography yet. The geography of any of this.
If any of them can see me as well as I can see their pixelated, warped faces, then that’s still too clear for my liking. I feel the zits on my forehead pulsating like something angry and a hellish red. I’m suddenly very aware of how dark my room is. Every blink, every eyebrow twitch, every ugly thought in my head—I feel like they can see it all. I’m on TV. I’m always on TV.
But who cares. At this point, aren’t you all strangers?
Plus—who is even watching? They barely know I’m here. I know nobody. Nobody’s checked on me. They’ve fallen in love with each other, with their festive masks, with their Pandemic Chic bullshit. I’m like Tyler Evans, the kid who died from The Virus at the end of last year. But not really. At least they miss him.
Moments pass. Mindless droning. I don’t know who’s talking. The camera faces the room head-on, but I miss a lot of the sides. From where I’m sitting, there are, like seven people in there. Faces melting. Sounds all blending into one and it’s awful.
Another joke, another laugh. But this time, I know it was James. James is my best friend, and every time he cracks up the room, he brushes his long brown hair back behind his shoulders like a centaur might. He thinks he’s pretty cool, and honestly, he is. James’ parents let him go to school. They’re not like my mom. They don’t think The Virus is dwelling in every crevice of the town. They let James go to summer camp and finger girls this summer.
Hey. That’s James. I’m me. I didn’t go outside. I got fat.
He broke the murmur, like always, and now he’s brushing his hair back. I wish I heard the joke. I’ll bet it was good.
“Alright, people,” says my perfect history teacher. Her legs are like cream cascading down out of that black skirt. I stare at them as she talks.
I’m the only one on the screen, the only one not there. My room is dark and it’s like I’m watching the world happen from a strange warm coffin stuck in the middle of time, unmoving, unwavering, just me looking through a portal into a world that looks familiar, but is no longer mine. It hasn’t been mine in a long time.
I turn off my camera and touch myself under my sweatpants. I think it’s okay because it’s so dark. My mother is sleeping. My mother is always sleeping.
Why am I thinking about that?
My perfect, gorgeous history teacher speaks like honey and lollipops taste. My cock is hard in my unclean hand. She’s so pretty. Brown hair and a pixelated face and blurry eyes against the grey ugliness of the World on Film.
Her skin looks warm in the best way. She’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever talked to. She’s not real. I’ve never met her. She’s just the hottest character on this show I always watch: my third period World History class. My name comes from her mouth like butterflies and songs in church.
I turn on my mic. I’ve still got The Grip. I want to smile. I haven’t showered in, like, three days.
For a moment, we just stare.
Everyone’s quiet. They want to hear the freak speak.
I’m a star. My dick is hard as fuck.
“You’ve got to keep your camera on during class, okay? So I know what you’re up to.”
I blush. No one can see. I unhand myself and flip the camera on. She thinks she’s looking into the camera, but she’s just staring into the monitor. All the teachers do this. They don’t know what they’re doing.
My hand is back below the frame. Swimming in night.
The camera is a few feet away, and it gives off the impression she’s talking to someone directly next to me, someone I could reach out and grab in the dark. I imagine her flesh in my hand. Hair between my fingers. My tongue poking her eye. Weird shit.
“Don’t you want to turn a light on?”
Even with this shitty camera, I can tell she regrets it once she says it. A chuckle rolls over the class like cold waves. She looks into the camera this time and mouths sorry.
And it’s the sorry that does it. I smile. Everything is hot and then cold and my eyes twinkle a bit. I feel them do it. It pours out of me, the Goo. It’s hot in my hands.
They laugh again. I can’t tell if it’s with me or at me. And that’s fine. At least I get the joke this time. But it’s more than that.
I have something they don’t. And it’s in my hand. I’m laughing along, mouth open, teeth glistening with moss and blinding white light from the screen, fluorescents from fifteen miles away touching me like heavenly fingertips.
Lars Banquo writes unpublishable novels and poetry. He lives in Connecticut.