She walked before me, oblivious to her own blindness, and I followed her, not caring that we walked the path of death. There was a temple in the center, and I followed her toward it. I was barefoot, and the path was littered with strewn rocks and glass. A shard of glass cut into my bare foot; I cursed it. Hearing my outburst, she paused and chanced a look back. I stopped and stared at her, transfixed. Her hair was dark, her was face pale, and she was smiling. She paused for only an instant, then she turned around and resumed her pace. Forgetting my wound, I followed.

We walked on a worn footpath through a lightly forested piece of Springtime. The path guided us through the rolling hills with their bright foliage. Just off the beaten path, the green grass glittered with the light of millions of jewels. I could see the temple over the tops of the trees. It was a very imposing structure. Its stony outline dominated the horizon, making even the mountains in the background seem insignificant.

...

The images slowly faded from my mind as the light of a new morning forced me to separate fantasy from reality. I was left feeling empty. Unable to untangle myself from my blankets, I rolled to the floor with a thud. As I pulled myself out of my bedding and off of the floor, I tried to recapture the lost dream. It was useless. All I could recall was a vague feeling of purpose, nothing more.

I took off my bedclothes, wrapped a towel around myself, and walked to the bathroom. I took a long shower, letting the warm water massage my sleepy muscles. Then I slowly brushed my teeth and combed my hair, all the while feeling a big empty something forming right in the middle of my insides.

I looked at myself in the mirror. I noticed my nose, sitting crooked on my face, my eyes, plain and brown, and my whiteheads and blackheads segregated into separate but equal portions of my face. The whiteheads dominated my cheeks and forehead, and the blackheads were mostly on my nose and around the base of my nostrils. My face shone with oil, even though I just took a shower. I squeezed my left cheek between my left thumb and forefinger and felt the satisfying sting of a large whitehead exploding under the pressure.

I ripped a small piece of toilet paper off the roll and pressed it on the small but expanding spot of blood that marked the death of the pimple. I wasn't always pathetic, I lied to myself. At least I'm sociable. This one wasn't a complete lie, because even though Sherman L. Pinkle was a complete introvert, SherPi (spelled capital S-h-e-r-capital P-i, but pronounced Sher-pee) was both outgoing and sociable, a real ladies man.

I put some clothes on, and went to the kitchen to grab some breakfast. I looked up at the clock. 10:25. Omigosh! I'm late. I grabbed a package of chocolate pop tarts out of the box and dropped them in the toaster, then grabbed a cup out of the pantry and filled it with milk. I drained the first glass of milk, then refilled it and waited impatiently for the pop tarts to finish toasting. As soon as they popped up, I grabbed them and headed for the computer. SherPi was in big trouble.

SherPi:	        hey everybody.
BigBadMomma:    don't u hey me :-(
SherPi:	        i know, i'm late.  where is she?
LaceY:          why don't u just wait here?  she'll come back.  in
                the mean time we can talk ;-)
BigBadMomma:    that pretty little girl of yours just left over to
                Castle...and why don't u buzz off LaceY, the mans
                taken   }:-(
SherPi:         maybe some other time
LaceY:          whats the matter, handsome?  afraid i'm gonna hurt
                u?
SherPi:         i can handle anything u can throw at me
LaceY:          its a date :-)
exStacy:        hey sherp, hows your writing coming along?
SherPi:         hey x, its coming along great, i decided that the
                huge temple thing is too cheesy.  i don't know
                where i came up with that idea anyway
exStacy:        i thought it sounded neat
SherPi:         its like a weird dream or something
BigBadMomma:    boy, u better get over to Castle, poor Glitter was
                feeling bad thinking that u forgot about her
SherPi:         yeah, i better go.  bye all
BigBadMomma:    good luck with the woman *grin*
LaceY:          *kiss* e-mail me

I logged out and closed my web browser, feeling good despite myself. SherPi, I congratulated myself, the girls just can't get enough of you.

I knew that I would have to follow Glitter to CastleChat, but I decided she could wait. I clicked on my e-mail icon. After a couple of seconds a box popped up that said "No new messages on server". I clicked "OK" and opened a new message window.

Dear LaceY,

You were ravishing today on NeighborsChat.  After I logged out,
I just couldn't stop thinking about you.  Will you meet me on
HappyDays tomorrow at 2:00?  We can get some privacy there,
if you know what I mean ;-)

Don't love me for my body,
SherPi

I read over it once, then, satisfied, hit the "send" button. After closing my e-mail, I launched my telnet program, chose CastleChat from my pull-down preferences menu, and waited for my computer to connect to the remote server. I liked these telnet chats like HappyDays and CastleChat better than the web page chats like NeighborsChat. Telnet chats gave me more freedom to express myself, allowing things like private conversations, personal rooms, and emotes. For instance, to make SherPi grin on NeighborsChat I would have to type star-grin-star, and that's exactly what everyone else would see. I would type, "ha ha grin". But on the telnet chats SherPi really came alive. When I typed "emote grins", "SherPi grins" would automatically pop up on everybody else's screen. And I could make SherPi do anything. I could type "emote jumps" and SherPi would jump, or "emote picks his nose", and SherPi would start digging. SherPi could become an almost tangible person.

My computer connected, and I typed in my login name and password. I typed "who" and a list of names popped up. At the end of the list was a little box that read "Current Connections: 55". CastleChat only supported 55 connections, so I must have just barely got in. I scanned the list of names. Most were familiar, some were not. Glitter was here, but I wasn't sure which room she was in. I typed "join Glitter", and SherPi was teleported to the room where Glitter was.

SherPi says 'hey baby'
Glitter says 'did somebody forget something earlier'
SherPi says 'i overslept, i couldn't sleep after last night'
Glitter blushes
Glitter says 'oh, behave'
SherPi says 'u know i love u'
Glitter says 'i would have waited for u at Neighbors, but
             that bitch LaceY kept bugging me'
SherPi says 'what was she saying'
Glitter says 'i don't wanna say'
SherPi says 'don't let her bother u, she's just a cyberslut'
Glitter smiles.
SherPi kisses Glitter passionately.
SherPi says 'lets go to a private room'
Glitter says 'ok, follow me'
Glitter goes to her room.
SherPi visits Glitter's room.
"The Connection to castle.chat.net Has Unexpectedly Closed"

I read the dialog box with disbelief. I couldn't have lost my connection; that was completely impossible. I had a 400 megahertz Pentium II processor and a 56k modem. If somebody lost a connection, it must have been somebody with an old computer and a slow modem. It couldn't have been me. But, there was that dialog box.

I tried to reconnect, but after an unusually long wait, my connection was refused. I couldn't believe it. I lost my connection and somebody else had taken my place. I had gotten the last available connection to CastleChat, and it was stolen from me. Frustrated, I closed my telnet program and clicked on my e-mail icon again. The program opened and the message window popped up. I had one new message. It was from LaceY, and the subject line said "naughty boy". Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to lose that connection, I thought. I was about to read the message when there was a knock at the door.

I opened the door, and standing there in nothing but a black leather bikini was the most gorgeous blond I'd seen in my whole life.

She saw my look of surprise, and she said, "Didn't you get my e-mail, you naughty boy?"

Then we were kissing deeply and passionately. I pulled her inside and knocked the door shut with my foot. I felt her pressing up against my body; she had firm breasts and moist lips. Her mouth caressed my neck and her breath was warm in my ears.

KNOCK! KNOCK!

I snapped out of my reverie and got up to answer the door. I glanced at myself in the mirror as I walked by the bathroom. My eyes were sunk in and bloodshot, my face was pale, and I still had the torn of bit of toilet paper stuck on my cheek. I scraped it off with my finger and winced when it started bleeding a little. I turned on the sink water and cupped my hands under the faucet, splashing my face with cool refreshing water. I grabbed a towel and dried my hands and face. A glance in the mirror told me that my cheek still had a little spot of blood.

KNOCK! KNOCK!

I ran to the door and opened it. I saw the back of a young black-haired girl who was walking off my porch.

"Hello?"

She turned around. My heart jumped; she was very pretty, but she was no more than 17 or 18--a good eight years younger than me. "Hi...I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

She looked at me and suddenly I was very aware that I had a little spot of blood on my cheek. I self-consciously turned a little to the left to hide my blemish. "Oh...that's...um...I mean...I've been...awake for awhile already..." My voice trailed off as my left hand found my cheek and rubbed the spot where I had popped the pimple.

"I'm from the local high school, and we're trying to raise money for the prom this year. We're selling these coupon books."

She held a little two by five inch paper booklet out to me. I forced my hand away from my face and took it hesitantly.

"They're only five dollars." She looked at me expectantly. She really was pretty. I caught my left hand making its way back up to my face and pulled it back down to my side. I realized that I was still turned a little to my left. I forced my body to turn so I was directly facing her. I wanted to ask her to come inside, but I found myself reaching into my pocket, pulling out my wallet, and handing her a five. She thanked me, and I mumbled some kind of reply as I turned around and went inside anxious to hide.

I ran straight to the bathroom mirror and leaned in real close. I looked at myself. I couldn't believe I was so clumsy out there. I couldn't talk right. I wouldn't even use any of the coupons. All I could think about the whole time I was out there was the one little zit that I had popped this morning.

"Why are you so stupid?!" I directed this at the me in the mirror. I grabbed my chin with my hand like a parent would grab the chin of a naughty child. I stared at the other me, and he stared back at me, his eyes full of scorn.

I stalked out of the bathroom. I didn't want to go back to my computer, so I laid down on my couch watching daytime soap operas, then reruns of Different Strokes and Silver Spoons until I dozed off.

...

We were drawing near to the temple now, and she quickened her pace. I was winded from keeping up with her. She hadn't stopped for the night, neither had I. We talked only once during the whole journey. She had stopped one day and turned around. Surprised, I halted, standing fifteen feet away from her.

"Why do you follow me?"

I wanted to tell her that it was because she was beautiful. I wanted to say that I loved her. I wanted to tell her that she was in danger, and that if she continued on this path, she would surely die. But all I could manage was to stutter out was "I...I'm curious."

She nodded, satisfied, and turned around to resume her pace. That was two days ago, and now I listened to the conversation echoing through my head non-stop. I thought about what I could have said, what I should have said, and what I wanted to say. Over and over in my mind, we had the same conversation, yet it was different each time. Sometimes we sat and talked, other times we kissed, and still other times we made love. I wanted to have these conversations with her, each and every one of them.