Troll’s Remorse

 

Seven years of criminal excess passed and still the name “Nick Goldmann” had never been uttered in a courtroom.  A few hundred people knew about Nick’s shady reputation, and some even dared to care—but even in this age of sensationalist litigation, Nick was still physically able to bother whomever he wanted.  An annoying comment on an up-and-coming folksinger’s YouTube video, an awfully rendered Photoshopped picture on another artist’s self-promotional message board—there was simply no limit to the frustrations Nick Goldmann planted on the virtual world.  Of course, his specialty was hacking.

And the craziest thing about it all was that outside of the Internet, people were oblivious.  Sure, Nick wasn’t the ideal “guy next door,” but he could have passed as a family’s wacky next door neighbor on any American sitcom.  He wasn’t that creepy in real life.  You might have even thought he was a benchwarmer for some minor league baseball team—he was in remarkable physical condition and slightly handsome for a guy who sat around on the computer ninety percent of his life, hacking into anything with a domain.

And these were the thoughts that flew through Tommy Lee Gatz’s head as he jogged along a cul de sac in the suburbs of Fairview, Oregon.  Formerly Nick Goldmann, Gatz had finally abandoned his infamous persona in exchange for a working-class life.  Online, he had previously resorted to various pseudonyms, some of which resembled proper names and others of which were adjectives flanking banal nouns—everything but sheer anonymity.  However, the vengeful Internet users he had terrorized over seven years kept lists of any screenname that could be associated with Nick Goldmann.  None of Nick’s pseudonyms—no matter how forgettable or irrelevant to his interests—lasted a week without being blacklisted by a former victim.  One pale day, when Nick’s old Mac computer malfunctioned for a few hours, it dawned on Nick that a lot of interesting stuff occurred outside of the Internet.  At that point, he hadn’t left his apartment in four days, and the last few times he did leave were just for petty errands.  He earned his tiny income contributing to a blog run by food critic in Massachusetts, so he never needed to work away from his computer screen.  If he had written bestselling novels instead of typo-ridden reviews of restaurants he never actually dined at, Nick’s reclusiveness might have been as infamous as Pynchon’s.  But Nick finally realized how pitiful his existence currently was when he took a long walk around his neighborhood and saw the names of his high school classmates on signs for local professionals.  There was Parry Hudgins, once a copy editor of the school newspaper, now a family physician.  There was Henry Cronmaker, once the class president, now a CPA.  And here was Nick Goldmann, the boy most likely to flunk out of community college, now an Internet pariah.  He promptly deleted all of his hacking software.  The next month, none of Nick’s pseudonyms could be spotted even on Google, and, having undergone a name change, the infamous Nick Goldmann was now Tommy Lee Gatz.

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