#64 Mailer Daemon by Stephen R. Wolcott

You recently tried to email an anonymous address. After repeated attempts, the message failed. Please check the…

Webster scowled at his MacBook screen and the message from “anonymous” at “mailer daemon.” The fury in him rising to a level not felt since his mother mistakenly threw away his mint condition Yugioh trading cards ten years ago.

Now 20 and holed up in a cheap, grungy studio apartment behind the 99¢ Only Store, Webster’s obsessions often ostracized him from any potential social activity. His hobbies ranged from bottle caps to Happy Meal collectibles to hand-painted Warhammer figurines. He spent hours at Comic Odyssey flicking through racks of comic books and vinyl (soundtracks only).


But this time, his online passions generated a raw desperation. Perhaps because of barely squeaking by on a warehouse assistant’s wages (after dropping out of college), he’d spent weeks focused on Internet deals, honing in to find all the companies and services offering discounts. Living Social, Groupon, and Dealgrind were merely a Level One Ms. PacMan type of challenge.

Level Two targeted the online coupon frenzy. Each discovery led him deeper, untangling the best savings sources to feed his needs.

Webster thought he’d scored a winner with SuperLowUnderGroundDeals— SLUGDEALS.com. The site whet his appetite with slashed prices on “the hottest” games, gadgets, and computer accessories. The word “hottest” pulsated in red, while fire-blazoned banners burned through pages, revealing insanely low prices. Then crimson letters tore through the screen announcing “Limited Quantities. Act Now! And we do mean NOW!”

Webster’s fingers clicked furiously to buy Battlefield IV, Call of Duty Extreme, and his personal favorite, Ultimate Diablo Collector’s Edition in the rare neon glow packaging. A manic giddiness compelled him to seek out more insanely low prices on monster surge protectors, sick skullcandy earphones, and deathadder infrared gaming mice.

Impulsively tapping the “buy” button, Webster jumped back in his chair as white-hot letters burst brightly through the screen: “Congratulations. Your SLUGDEAL is approved!”

The intense luminous of the message made him squint, barely making out a small sub-message about an email confirmation following purchase. Then Webster’s laptop suddenly jolted as if in some kind of spasm. The screen flickered. Brief flashes of undetectable images danced before him. “No!” he shouted. “Don’t go wiggy on me now.” Biting his knuckles, Webster watched helplessly as the seemingly possessed machine fought through pages of grotesque graphics of…what?

He couldn’t make out anything precise except that they seemed intestinal, like the guts of some weird animal experiment mixed with molten lava. Then the screen went dark for a moment. Webster’s heart caught in his throat. Frozen in dread, eyes wide in shock, the computer sat lifeless. The room completely dark, Webster’s shallow panting was the only sound filling his tiny apartment.

Out of mad frustration, he slammed his fist on the table. Instantly, the computer roared back to life. His screensaver popped back on and a small blip alert told Webster he’d received a new email. Hesitant at first, he wiped his sweat-beaded brow, then carefully pressed “get mail.” Among a few notices displayed in the usual blue type a message simply from “anonymous” with the subject line “confirm buy” appeared in red. Red?

Could it be a virus? What the hell, itis gotta be my order, Webster thought and gingerly clicked it open. A message read: “Thank you for shopping at S$^@De&ls.com. Please click on the link below to confirm.”

Why was the addressed all whacked, he wondered? He pressed the blue underlined link and heard as sharp sizzling sound. What the…? A blurry page suddenly snapped open, but filled with snow, like an old black and white TV set. But instead of a static noise, Webster heard a low grunt, almost beastly. Or was it some twisted, deep sinister laughing?

Another gross series of images stuttered in between the snow. Then just as suddenly the SLUGDEAL logo popped on, with the words “Confirm Purchase” glowing red underneath. Dammit, he thought, hadn’t I just done that? He poked his index finger hard on the red message. Nothing. Webster’s frustration grew, ramming his finger onto the button. Was the page frozen?

Then he noticed in tiny print, “contact us.” He banged his middle finger on that icon and a small message window opened.

Webster furiously typed: “I just made a purchase! Has it gone through!?”

Before he could hit return, the message vanished. Instantly, another email blip chimed in, once again in red, but this time he saw the dreaded words: “mailer daemon”. Webster’s eyes may have been playing tricks on him, but he could swear the “a” and “e” in “daemon” were swapping places.

He punched the message with two fingers and saw: “You recently tried to email an anonymous address. After repeated attempts, the message failed. Please check the…”

A blast of expletive-laced cries shot out of Webster’s mouth. They screwed him over.

In a frenzy, he tried searching back through pages to get back to the cursed website. After repeated futile attempts, he lifted his computer as if to hurl it out the window. But some sense of sanity caught hold of him. He gently put the MacBook down, all the while staring wild-eyed at those pointed, printed daggers: “…message failed.”

He slowly, methodically, highlighted the entire bloody abomination of text and held down his finger as if he were squashing a bug. He growled, pressing harder. The pad of his finger throbbed.

That’s when the screen ignited in a burst of flame. An electric torrent of blue sizzled down the window, through Webster’s keyboard, then to his mouse. A rush of piercing current tore into Webster, the last thing he would remember.

When Pasadena’s first responders came to the apartment fire, they saw a charcoal figure fused to the charred remains of a laptop. No one could determine the cause of the blaze.
© Copyright 2011 Stephen R. Wolcott. All rights reserved.


Stephen R. Wolcott is an award-winning writer/producer with over 100 television, behind-the-scenes “making of’ and documentary projects to his credit. In addition, he’s interviewed a wide range of celebrities and notable figures, including William Shatner, Richard Gere, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Gary Sinise, Robert Wagner, JPL/NASA scientists, Whoopi Goldberg, and almost every cast member from the Star Trek films and television series.
In print, his work as appeared in Emmy Magazine, Now Playing and The Pasadena Weekly. He also enjoys traveling cerebrally to of his former Craftsman home in Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven.

8 Responses to #64 Mailer Daemon by Stephen R. Wolcott

  1. What really got me was the way that ‘please check the…’ was unfinished throughout. Really haunting, and ties really well into the themes of poor Webster’s lack of discovery about the problem.

    Was his name a deliberate pun, out of interest? It brought to mind Webster’s dictionary – and the tremendous irony of a man unable to decipher the new language of an alien, convoluted internet age filled with numbers and symbols. A great read.

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