I Bet You Say That to All the URLs by Richard Dickson

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SUMMARY: Entry in the August 2009 Flash Fiction Contest

Brushing a fine layer of Cheeto dust from his keyboard, Leonard sat heavily in the battered office chair, the blue glow of the monitor the only light in the room. Multiple websites were poised like dominoes along his task bar, in various states of loading. The Mountain Dew was cold, the chair was comfortable, and the evening was his.

What would be the first course this evening? Naughty Blondes? Redheads in Trouble? Bountiful Brunettes? Leonard always loved this moment, the sense of anticipation, the enticing options waiting for him with a click of his mouse. Some might think it strange that he chose to spend a Friday night with women on a computer screen rather than the real thing, but these women, they wouldn't notice his paunch, or his bad skin, or any of the other myriad faults he felt assaulting him every time he looked in the mirror. Out there, he was just Leonard Malinovsky, retail clerk, but here, in the comforting darkness of his room, he was King Leo. He clicked Naughty Blondes and sat back.

"This program has performed an illegal function and will be shut down."

"What the hell?" Leonard mused as the grey box popped up in a most inconvenient spot, as far as his interests were concerned. He clicked the close button and the window vanished. Maybe some malicious code running in the background of the site? He'd have to check into that later. For now, there were redheads in trouble that needed tending to.

"This program has performed an illegal function and will be shut down."

"Oh come on!" Leonard shouted at the screen as the grey box once again inserted itself directly over a particularly troubled redhead. He paid good money for this subscription, and that money should have bought a more secure site than this. He opened his virus scan to make sure nothing nasty had gotten through, but a quick check of the log showed nothing. Must be problems server-side. Oh well, bountiful brunettes awaited him.

"You're really not getting it, are you, Leonard?"

Leonard blinked. It was the usual grey box with the big red X, the old Microsoft salute, but he'd never seen an error message like this before. Then he laughed it must be something from the site, some kind of targeted ad perhaps. They had his first name from his subscription, after all. He closed the alert.

"Oh, so you think this is funny?"

"Huh?" Leonard muttered to himself, but before he could do anything, another alert popped up.

"I thought we had something special."

"Okay, what the hell is going on?" This was serious. Someone had hacked their way into his system. He leaned over and yanked the Ethernet cable out of his modem. Great. He'd be spending the rest of the evening running scans and trying to undo whatever this idiot has done.

"After all we've been through, THIS is how you treat me?" popped up over the other two alerts.

"No, no way," Leonard shouted, "I'm not connected anymore!"

Another grey box: "Not connected? How can you say that about us?" A colon and a parenthesis had taken the place of the red X.

Leonard removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

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