The Plagiarist

Free The Plagiarist by Hugh Howey

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Authors: Hugh Howey
    Adam Griffey lost himself in the familiar glow-in-the-dark sticker. It was a depiction of a bee lighting on a flower, a thirsty proboscis curling out of the insect’s cartoony smile. The sticker held Adam’s attention. The glow of the bee made it seem radioactive, a poisoned thing. It adorned the edge of his beat-up computer screen, the edges curling away as the sticker lost its grip. The remnants of several other stickers stood idly by, just the bumpy adhesive outlines, the colorful bits having long ago been peeled away by Adam’s fidgety hands. He was prone to scratching at them with his fingernails. They weren’t his; they came with the old monitor, which he’d bought off another faculty member. Adam figured it belonged to one of their kids, what with the stickers. He thought about that as his eyes fell reluctantly from the bee and back to the screen. There was a message there, a series of messages typed back and forth. They populated a chat window, the only thing open on his screen. The window suddenly blinked with a new question:
    lonelyTraveler1: you still there?
    Adam picked at the edge of the radioactive bee, thinking of tearing it off. He read back over his conversation with Amanda, his responses in deep blue, hers a bright red. She had asked him a question before he’d gotten distracted. How long had he gone without responding? What would she read in that silence?
    His fingers fell to the keyboard, leaving the sticker for another time. He sat motionless, unsure of how to respond. Thoughts whirled. Adam read the second question up. He read it over and over. Where the fuck had it come from? From nowhere, he decided. He had gone too long without reply; he decided to ignore the older question and answer the more recent one:
    Griffey575: Yeah. Sorry about that. Doing too much at once.
    lonelyTraveler1: you chatting with other people at the same time? you cheating on me? ;)
    Adam glanced over the sad and empty expanse of his monitor and laughed to himself. Twenty four inches by twelve inches of pathetic nothingness. His entire social life, his entire real romantic life, could be contained in one small chat window in a lonely fraction of that abyss.
    Griffey575: I wish.
    He typed the response, then held down the backspace key to erase the truth before he could send it.
    Griffey575: Work stuff.
    He decided that was better. Adam wondered if it counted as a lie if the untruth was as boring as reality.
    lonelyTraveler1: what kinda stuff? for a class you’re teaching? are you writing anything? anything you can share?
    Adam saw how lies could spawn more lies, each offspring bigger than its parent. The truth was, he’d been neglecting his work and his writing. Possibly, in no small part, because of Amanda’s constant badgering to read more. She was—if not his online girlfriend—at least his anti-muse, the woman whose insistence quenched all motivation. Adam had known this of himself since he was an undergrad: he couldn’t think when being told to.
    lonelyTraveler1: you still haven’t answered my other question…
    Which one? Adam thought.
    Griffey575: Which one?
    He hit enter before he could regret asking. He knew which question. He didn’t want to know, but he did. His stomach lurched with the audaciousness of her suggestion. And what did that say about him? How could he have a fake relationship with the real, and a real one with the fake? Which relationship was more real? Which was sicker? And who was the victim? Was anyone really being betrayed?
    lonelyTraveler1: don’t you think it’s time we meet up?
    There it was again. It was crazy.
    Griffey575: In person?
    lonelyTraveler1: how else?
    Adam watched the cursor blink where he was expected to respond. The glowing bee radiated stored sunlight in his peripheral. In the utter darkness around him, he sensed the piles of clutter everywhere. He kept meaning to get to it. He kept

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