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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Man Who Grew Slowly
by Sue DeNimm

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At that time in the city of Virtues lived a man known to all as Zachary. Zachary was a weak man, timid and feckless, a callow and frightened man, whose every waking thought was of money, of escape and of flight from his responsibilities.

That Zachary lived in the city called Virtues was bad enough - that his surname was Wonder only added insult to God's injury. Zachary, unsurprisingly, was an unpopular man, an ugly and socially malodorous man, and even his friends said behind his back that Zachary was a waste of valuable human skin.

For leisure, and because nobody would talk to him, Zachary was keen on pastimes in which one could engage alone - however enforced Zachary's solitude was, it was not a thorn in his side as it would be to you or I - in particular he enjoyed spelunking, technical drawing and also ran his own homepage on the web, at www.cavedwellers.co.uk, which one day had three seperate visitors within an hour, which made Zachary's web counter highly confused and jollied Zachary up so much that that night he actually went to the pub. Well, actually, he stayed in and worked on improving www.cavedwellers.co.uk, but he thought about going to the pub, which was just as good.

As I mentioned before, Zachary's friends hated him. But, you may well ask, since we already know that Zachary was unsociable, malodorous and personality-deficient, how did he manage to have friends? The answer, as it is with so many of Zachary's web-crawling brethren, is simply - WORK. None of Zachary's pastimes (of course) earned him even the slightest bit of money, even though he had once been in a chatroom and someone had posted something about earning $6,000 for a $6 outlay, which he had not taken up on account of only having pounds and no dollars, so he was forced to work. An ex-student, Zachary knew well the value or valueless jobs, and even though his city was the city of Virtues, video shops and newsagencies still needed to be staffed so that the virtuous could be entertained during their family time. The video shop in which Zachary worked was cavernous, impressive, and although he spent not a second more there than he absolutely had to, Zachary felt he was Lord of that place. The others who worked there, Katherine, Ben and Esther, were less sure of Zachary's superiority, but out of kindness they allowed him to continue under his delusion as long as he wanted, for he could always be counted on to take other shifts, stand rounds in the pub and put new policy ideas to the boss (including one about sex breaks for staff with boyfriends) because he was that eager to be liked.

And so it came to pass that Zachary was promoted at Bolockbuster Video, to head of purchasing, which was a dream come true and a nightmare made flesh for Zachary - a dream because he could finally delegate and lord supremacy over the other staff, but a nightmare because he knew not the first thing about films. Not even what a director was. In panic, Zachary subscribed to film discussion lists at the great North American film schools, engaged in frantic debate with members of the British Film Institute and joined the NFT in London, at some expense and in a false name, desperate for some morsel of information that would help him run a successful video shop. Sadly, however, due to the odium that even reeked through Zachary's electronically-transmitted prose, nobody was willing to help him, and he quickly was demoted and eventually fired when he was found desolately freebasing crack (ordered from www.crackhouse.com) in the staff bathroom.

Unemployed, smelly, his homepage out of date, his PC repossessed by PC World, his sofa repossessed by Oxfam, Zachary was forced onto the streets, a piece of human wreckage with the social skills of ... well, of a computer geek.

And so it came to pass in the city of Virtues that Zachary Wonder learnt under bridges with dirty water the true value of human contact, for he quickly made new, homeless friends, including Foul Ole Ron and the Duck Man, who, even though they knew Zachary had been a tit and a social leper, forgave him and made him their friend.

In fact, if you visit the city of Virtues today, and stand under the angel bridge, politely decline young ladies' offers of sexual favours, hold your nose to avoid the stench from the river Brian, and wait for long enough, perhaps you will meet Zachary - he still lives there, but now is bold, strapping, sun-tanned and strong, with un-fish-like eyes and a luxuriant head of hair, free of mouse-hand-cramp and screen-stare-eye-strain, a healthy and informed member of society, whose new squat contains not a modem lead, not a large manual, not a single 3.5" high density disk and definitely no fucking tower fucking stacked ceiling high fucking computer fucking central process-fucking unit.

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