“Damnit! I’ll show you!” Tony lifted a sledgehammer over his head. His computer erupted with laughter.

His sledgehammer froze in midair. Puzzlement superseded anger as his monitor flared with an array of crimson flames.

“What the hell?” The sledgehammer’s weight settled heavily on his shoulder. Blind fury stung him and he raised it again. He had installed a new program that had erased every program he possessed. Although he had bought an expensive virus cleaner and downloaded it, he hadn’t been able to retrieve a manuscript he had been laboring to edit for months.

Laughter spewed out of his wastebasket. The discarded software box burst into tongues of red-orange fire. Panicked, Tony splashed his can of cola over it. Turquoise letters melded together then spelled out, “Virus from Hell.” A demoniac face grinned ghoulishly from the carton.

Tony stumbled back, jostling against his desk. The same devilish face appeared on his screen: bull-horned and black-eyed, exposing a mouthful of vampire teeth.

A throaty voice droned. “Our program can edit your manuscript to guarantee a New York Times best seller. This is a one-time offer.”

Tony’s fingers tightened around his sledgehammer.

The voice purred. “As an added bonus, you will never be plagued by a virus again.”

“I better not be-I paid $49.95 for your dumb program,” Tony growled then felt stupid talking to a computer.

The voice continued seductively. “Press the ‘x’ key to affix your name to our contract.”

“What contract?” Tony squinted as a spider’s web of infinitesimally fine print appeared on his monitor, followed by his name in bold lettering. “How do you know my name?”

Light laughter seeped out of his computer. “We take pride in tracking down our premiere customers and catering to their every need.”

“I’m a first time buyer.”

“Just press the ‘x’ key,” the voice urged.

“What if I don’t?”

The computer responded with a wicked cackle. The tiny hairs on the back of Tony’s neck stood on end. He tried to raise his sledgehammer but his hands had gone numb.

“What’s happening to me?” he gasped.

“I’m only a program,” the computer evaded an answer.

Tony pulled out his cell phone. “This is too crazy. I’m calling the manufacturer.”

“Go ahead.”

He dug the software carton out of the wastebasket. It read, “Sell your soul to the devil and gain software superiority.”

“You can also upgrade to a software program that writes books automatically while you sunbathe on the beaches of Tahiti-” the computer generated voice offered alluringly.

The palms of Tony’s hands felt wet and clammy. “I’ve got other options.”

More diabolic laughter. “Yes, there’s always a future in fast foods.”

Strength flooded back into Tony’s hands. He swung his sledgehammer high. It smashed the monitor into a thousand pieces that exploded like shooting stars. He hit the keyboard again and again-

“Tony, For God’s sake!”

His eyes flew open. He was standing in the middle of his room in his gray flannel pajamas, smacking his computer with a pillow. His mother flipped on the overhead light.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

He blinked in the blinding, incandescent glare. The monitor went blank; his wastebasket was empty. “I had a weird dream …”

His mother sighed. “Do you know how much that computer cost us?”

Tony felt his ears redden as he looked at the ground. “I’m sorry.” He sank to the edge of his bed as she turned off the light. The soft slap of her slippers echoed down the hall. A door creaked. The night resumed its silence.

“Tahiti…” He muttered as he crawled back under his covers. “I could have been sunbathing in Tahiti …”

His computer whirred as it turned itself on. The monitor came alive with scintillating flames. A demoniac face appeared above a spider web of fine print. Tony sat up in bed and stared dumbfounded.

“Press the ‘x’ key,” The computer hissed. “You’ll never have to worry about another virus-not as long as you live.”

Tony’s head began to throb as the monitor flashed post card images of sandy beaches lined with palm trees. “How long am I going to live?” he scarcely dared to ask.

The demon grinned crookedly. “Don’t worry about time. It’s is an entirely relative concept.”

Soft music played enticingly as palm trees swayed. Tony’s fingers began to twitch. Mesmerized, he reached for the keyboard.

Published in Stories