Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer
The witch is bony, skeletal, his spine in a permanent curve. His liver spotted hands tap on his rubber console, fast like shuffling cards. He cackles with glee, casting his code-spells. The only light in his little cave under the mountain is the luminescent blue screen that glows on his wrinkled face.
He dives through the world that exists in tanks above his mountain, looking in though his screen, like a peeping tom with a tiny window. In the clean, silver facility at the top of the mountain bodies hang motionless in giant tanks filled with a gel that applies gentle pressure from all sides.
His daughter tried to get him to join her in the dream world. She called it a more perfect alternative. He knew what it really was: a prison. He pokes at his handheld device and initiates a program that gives everyone with red hair lice. Cackling, the witch puts down his handheld and toddles over to his larder. He will have to go out soon, set some traps or try to scavenge canned food.
Outside his cave, there is a moan. The witch walks outside, leaning on his stick. Naked, sprawled among the rocks is a young man. He is covered with a thin layer of grit stuck to goo that is stuck to flesh. His fingers are bloody and his long stringy hair is matted to his face. The young man looks up at the witch.
â€œPlease,â€ he says, squinting at the sun.
â€œFish plopped out of the tank?â€ The witch cackles.
The young manâ€™s face falls on the ground. â€œI . . . came to study with you.â€
â€œScript kitty.â€ He cackles at his own joke but stops as he realizes he is the only one laughing. Laughing on his own never felt lonely, but with someone else, his jokes are flat. He looks at the blood under the nails of the young man. â€œHow did you get down the mountain?â€
â€œI crawled. Iâ€™m, I canâ€™t . . . â€œ The young man faints.
The witch drags the naked, gooey man inside and pours water on his face. The young man wakes up sputtering.
â€œIâ€™m calling your factory bots,â€ says the witch, his fingers flicking over the handheld.
â€œNo! Please,â€ the young man begs. â€œI know that you can hack into the world. I want to learn from you, here, in the real world. I want to understand the magic of code.â€ The young man shivers. â€œI crawled here. I want to make code dance.â€
The witch sat in front of the young man. â€œYou are too weak.â€
â€œI know,â€ said the young man.
â€œYou could never survive on your own out here,â€ muttered the witch.
â€œIâ€™m willing to learn,â€ said the young man. â€œTeach me.â€
The witch raised a bushy eyebrow. â€œYou are also very naked.â€
â€œNo one knows the code anymore. Someone has to learn, for the good of our community. If something should truly break, someone needs to know how to fix it. Help me.â€
The witch crossed his arms and looked at his console. One button, and the bots would come to collect the lost naked man and dump him right back into his virtual world. The witch put down the console and spread a blanket over the young man.
â€œWhatâ€™s youâ€™re name, boy?â€
â€œJeff, tomorrow we start by finding food. Also, never say you will make code â€œdanceâ€ again, or I will bash your toes with a heavy rock.â€
â€œYes Master,â€ said Jeff, smiling as he fell into a heavy sleep.