by Larry Purcell

He'd forced himself to become one of the guys, but by nature he wasn't. He was neither outgoing nor friendly, didn't date and cared nothing about sports. But in order to survive socially at work, he'd created a persona, one that was as ordinary and everyday as the next guy.

He'd felt compelled to watch those idiotic nightly TV shows to acquire fodder for the inane conversations he would have with his 'buds' the next day. And he used the abbreviated information from one of the sports websites to obtain either 'important' scores or fast breaking stories. Over time he learned enough appropriate phrases during lunch hour conversations with his office mates to appear to hold his own on the hot topic of 'babes'.

The work paid well enough, requiring minimal concentration and the ability to present a friendly, capable, competent telephone voice while talking computer-challenged users through the simplest of steps. But all he really cared about was getting through the workday to rush home to his computer and his addiction. Russell was perhaps the best Solitaire player in the world

No, not the classic 'sit at a table, set up the deck and turn the cards one by one'. He played the most current computer version of Solitaire, one of the first games available on PCs. It was fun, fast and couldn't be cheated. Russell played hundreds of times each night. If the truth were to be known, his total playing career exceeded hundreds of thousands of games. There is no trick to winning, simply the luck of the draw. While the object of classic Solitaire is to get all of the cards uncovered, the computer variety also times the game and awards points for uncovering and moving cards to their appropriate resting place. Russell's skill level was such that he had reached the maximum level of points in the briefest of time, the ultimate plateau of Solitaire.

He often carried on a running commentary throughout each game, not unlike a TV sportscaster, congratulating himself for a particularly good move, while chastising the computer for its ineptness. If he took the time in the evening to do it, he would load appropriate theme music on the CD to accompany his heroic efforts. Life was good and Russell was the undisputed champion of Solitaire whenever he sat at that keyboard. Until the night he lost and heard the snickering.

It was two days into the new week and Russell had yet to appear at his desk. His office buddies, already worried, became exceedingly anxious when their boss asked about Russell's whereabouts. Determined that their friend had met with foul play, they waited until the end of the workday and rushed to his apartment to investigate. Looking for the proverbial key under the mat, they weren't disappointed. They entered and went immediately to Russell's bedroom and his computer.

The screen was on and a screensaver was doing its duty. On the desk were an open, warm can of Coke and a large bag of barbecue chips, which had erupted into considerable spillage on the chair and floor. Searching the rest of the small apartment took but a few seconds with no sign of Russell or a clue to his situation.

Having determined that he was not going to be found in the small rooms, they were about to leave when, taking a last look around the bedroom and computer, one of them accidentally bumped the mouse. The screensaver faded and the screen came alive with a wave of playing cards, rolling continuously across the screen that unique activity that occurs after a Solitaire win, when all of the cards have been turned over. The intruder looked on for a moment and then let out a bloodcurdling shout, quickly bringing everyone else back into the bedroom. With horror etched on his features and gasping for breath, he pointed at the screen and what appeared to be Russell's face on the tiny live figures on the front of each picture card, screaming and waving frantically.


This story came from my own obsession with the computer version of Solitaire. I'm somewhat more restrained after Russell's demise. I have been committed to reading and writing 'small horrors' ever since I first read Edgar Allen Poe. I write tales with a twist and savor not letting the answer out until the very end.

A writer, journalist, editor and novelist, I've moved around the country frequently enough to make the statement that I'm from everywhere. I try to carry enough experience away from each venue to provide sufficient fodder for my tales. And I would rather write than eat.[/i]

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