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Find Soulmates Near You

Emma-Rive A. Nelson lives in New England, where she roasts coffee by day and writes by night. Her work has previously appeared in Southern New Hampshire University's publication, The Penmen Review.

We all learned the rules growing up.
Tape over your webcam so they can't see you. Don't click any links, no matter what tantalizing things they offer. Don't open packages delivered from the dark web (and if you did, never eat the food inside). Most importantly, never give your true name.
"What's your name?" He typed.
My cursor blinked. I was in so deep, and I was so afraid. My thoughts were racing back to everything I'd learned in school ("To dispel them, key in your passcode backwards. Use usernames instead of real names. Install a red light filter over your screen, or if all else fails, cast salt over your keyboard. Immediately discard any computer that starts to sprout Faerie mushrooms, and...")
I thought all of that was for the weak and the gullible. The same people who died first in the horror movies.
"My name."
My fingers moved on their own, some prey animal instinct unable to fight it.
I was thinking of my friend, Mira. Deep in the dark sleep after meeting some Unseelie prince on a video chat site. Wires sprouting out of her nose and ears and parted lips, wires running into her computer and snaking into routers as she slumbered on, unable to wake. Her brain running strings and strings of unknowable code--for what? What deep machinery or subterranean server? When they cut her loose, she had started to scream and scream and scream, and in a day, she was dead--dried up and shriveled like a husk of an insect, cut off from the nourishment of those pulsing, organic wires that sparked and fizzed with magic and electricity.
They thought computers had killed them, that the lightning strikes of alternating currents and the ring of telephone wires and the omnipresent waves of WIFI signals had burned them out of existence. It wasn't true, though. They left the old forest and found a new hunting ground.
I suppose I should've known from the beginning that it was too good to be true. "Meet soulmates near you!" An internet pop-up mirage full of gossamer dating profiles with usernames like "Juniper." I just never imagined the different forms they could take. I pictured incandescent wing screens and pale eyes that just barely--but not quite--concealed microchips. I never expected a normal boy. (I still knew, didn't I? The unnatural curve of a tooth--an almost imperceptible static around the edges. Eyes like dead pixels).
"Your name?"
I couldn't tell him. I wouldn't tell him. I thought of the package that had been mysteriously delivered to my house. When opened, it had been improbably full of fruit, dripping with honey and nectar. I'd taken the box and dumped it in the woods, far enough away from home that I wouldn't see what became of the wildlife.
A name....
How bad could that deep slumber be, anyway? A slipping away, rocked to sleep by a cat's cradle of tangled wires that looked like vines. Would I dream of the beautiful boy behind the screen? Stories about going to be with them--spirited away for 100 years that pass in the blink of an eye, eating at their table and drinking their wine--were they really so bad? Was that where Mira was now, forever living in their hall with love bites on her neck from her Faerie lover and her mind racing with endless strings of code? Maybe that's why they wanted us--to process for them whatever dark math ran their world and kept them alive.
Would it be so bad?
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
A boy. Dark haired and golden eyed. How easily I'd found myself drawn in--so lonely, so swiftly seduced by that Fae imitation of love. He was going to log off and disappear into the dark web, go back to whatever deep and hallowed hall he emerged from never to be seen again. I needed to let go--but I would do anything to keep him from going.
"I'll tell you my name," I typed. And I told him.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 2nd, 2021
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