I have always been drawn to tales of horror and mystery. I watched every Halloween movie on Disney Channel and Cartoon Network each year as a child. I implored my grandma to tell me ghost stories as we sat on the swing outside at twilight. In fifth grade, I read “The Tell-Tale Heart” for fun and declared that Edgar Allan Poe was my favorite author; he still is one of my favorites, and I still read his stories before bed from time to time. Even now, as an adult, I’d like to think that the world is stranger than most would believe.
With all of this said, you can understand why I spent my formative years as a writer trying over and over to write horror stories, testing them on classmates at lunch time, revising them everyday. I didn’t start writing down any of these stories until I was in high school, at which point I realized I was too eager to reveal big twists and clever turns to tell a great horror story. I always ruined them by giving up secrets too soon. Eventually, I decided that I was better suited to read horror and mystery and gave up on writing in the genres I so loved.
It wasn’t until last fall, my senior year of undergraduate studies, that I dipped my toes back into that murky water in a creative writing class. I was also working on my thesis at the time and, as a result, I was constantly looking at daily, mundane forms of communication and expression as possible forms to appropriate in my own writing. It was then, around this time last year, that I came up with the basis for this piece: a horror story told through browsing history. Very rarely have I been so miraculously inspired; I wrote the bulk of “Case File #3689” in a single night, hunched over my computer, taking notes on my own browsing history in order to create the fictional character’s search history, and slowly creating the mysterious figure at the heart of this tale: JW.
In our class workshop, many asked who–or what–JW was. If you’re looking for an answer here, I’m afraid I’ve since learned to keep my secrets locked up tight. Several classmates tried to convince me to “finish” the piece, to reveal JW’s identity, to show what happens after Harkness’s last email, to play things through, but that’s not what this story is about. More than that, that’s not the scope of this story. Readers are stuck in the machine, only able to see what is revealed through that medium; what goes beyond the computer, you can only guess at. While that might sound like a cop-out, I urge you to see the mystery of this story as openness and freedom for each reader to make their own meaning. The beauty of this story, to me, is in its consciousness of its existence as text, as something to be interpreted and reinterpreted through whatever lens or context the reader sees it through. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness of this piece and find your own ending in the shadows and figures that arise. Forget about me, the author, and figure out, on your own, what this story means to you. I’m willing to bet that your answers are way cooler than mine.
Find the full story in Vice-Versa.