All it was was a simple enquiry, nothing special: 'How can I compress a large data file into one without having to split them, using less gigabytes?' It was a PC maintenance forum, fairly popular, a place to go for information, enquiries, and help, and as with most subjects, someone out there in cyberspace knew far more about it than was feasibly possible. If you thought you were fairly 'geeky' about a certain interest, somebody out there would knock you into a cocked hat. You would easily be 'out-geeked' on the subject.
He obtained a few responses, some helpful, some fairly useful, but nothing he was particularly looking for. Yet, all corners and spaces of the internet seem to have been infected with a particular sort of virus. The 'troll', an individual who thinks it's funny to insult and poke fun at someone they've never met, never seen.
The message he'd received was from 'Dragonrider': 'I bet your mother hates you'.
As with a lot of troll messages, it was uncalled for, done simply for the amusement of the perpetrator. Probably a spotty, geeky teen on Daddy's computer. Illiterate and showing zero intellect, these people are out there, amongst the 'normal', probably appearing normal themselves, but with a revolting mind between their ears. Loving the anonymity the internet provides, a chance for their true selves to infect all corners of cyberspace.
Terence Pascal was unemployed, but occasionally worked for somebody who was self-employed laying driveways and patios. It was cash in hand, so he had to be wary of people who would betray him to the jobcentre.
He was 47 and lived alone in a luxury apartment. He was a rather lithe figure, mostly wearing a white cap even indoors, and not trusting many people at all. To make a true friend out of him would take a long and strenuous road.
One person who most certainly would not be making a friend of him was his troll. His troll who found his way onto another forum Terence frequented: 'Archery in the North-East'. Even though he'd never played, he was sufficiently interested to keep asking about it. Another member had recently asked: 'Are you ever going to get round to having a go, or is it just a phase?'
Yet, the last message he'd received there was: ' Like I said, I bet your mother hates you, you spineless mouse'.
He thought he could take such abuse, thought he could let it wash over him, but he found himself thinking about it more and more.
'What's the matter? Had a tiff with your boyfriend you fucking nonce?' was the next message.
The next: 'I know you're there, I know you're reading these. What's wrong? crying are you? dirty faggot'.
This one almost did make him cry, tears did eek out onto his pillow.
For the next few days, he avoided the internet, but he found himself tempted back. However, when he checked his email, who should have messaged him, but 'Dragonrider'.
'Avoiding me are you like a little gayboy? Why don't you face me like a man? Oh sorry, you're not are you? you fucking geek.
By the way, I know where you live'.
Terence didn't want to reply incase he incensed him even further, but it didn't seem to matter. He wondered if he wasn't the only victim. Not that it made any difference if he was. He felt rather helpless. Maybe the troll was some psychopathic freak, or a teen 'having a laugh'. That was the thing about trolls. They are faceless. They could be anybody, as that is who they are.
A full day went by with nothing from his cyberbully, until he checked his email again.
'Thought I'd gone, didn't you? No chance fucko, not until I put either a bullet or a pick-axe in your fucking head'.
Terence found himself in a state of constant apprehension. When he got called by his employer for a days work, he found himself thinking of nothing but his troll, wondering if passers-by were looking at him in a strange way, and although his employer didn't say anything, he knew Terence hadn't put as much effort in, but paid him anyway.
He felt like a school-boy, scared of a bully, wondering if at any moment he would be confronted, and although he was sure he could give as much as he got, it was the unknown that frightened him the most. Was his troll really a geeky schoolboy hiding behind the screen? or was he really a body-building maniac who would smash his door in?
What to do though, confide in someone? Would they even understand? Perhaps they would, or maybe they would simply say for him to stop being such a weakling, and tell this person where to get off. So to gain some sort of inspiration, rather like a sportsperson using music to inspire and motivate them, he found himself in the magazine section of a newsagents, reading about martial arts and weightlifting. He knew there was a boxing gym around the corner, and decided to go around there to look at the times and prices, but found the shutters were down above the sign 'Jim's gym'.
Still, suitably motivated. He was going to give his cyberbully a piece of his mind. He was going to tell him he's picked the wrong victim. He was not to be trifled with.
However, on the journey home, any confidence given by the masculinity he'd absorbed, soon ebbed away, only to be replaced by the fear, and he decided against saying anything.
The following day, having decided his email wasn't really worth checking after all, a text message told him he didn't need to.
'Oi fucko' it said 'If you even think about telling anyone, I will carve you up, and I told you I know where you live. Could you give me directions? I'm currently by the water feature in the city centre'.
Below it was a picture of the central fountain two miles away. It didn't look like a professional photograph, more like it was taken on a mobile phone.
Now what? he thought, he's here, he's on his way.
Leaning against a post-box for support, fear surged through his veins. Nobody looked at him, and he turned and made his way home. Normally he would have hopped on the bus for the two stops it took, but he chose to walk instead, and took ten minutes thinking of nothing else as he entered his apartment.
When he closed the door behind him, he received another text. He wasn't sure about answering it at first, but he knew he had to.
'Nearly there. They're good these phone tracking apps aren't they? Lead me right to you. Not too far now. I need to find a diy shop, where they sell hammers' Below it was a picture of a nearby roundabout with beds of colourful flowers around its edge. That was around the corner.
Terence rushed into the kitchen and picked up a small knife. He went into the bedroom and cowered down at the side of the bed, more to hide, and to cry, because tears flowed down his face.
A few minutes later, another text came through and he reluctantly opened it.
'Knock knock fucko', was all it said, and the picture below was of his apartment.
Suddenly there came a loud bang on the door, as though the place was being raided by police.
For a few moments he wondered if he should use the knife on himself, but decided against it. Another bang, followed by another which sent the door crashing back.
They came in. The bedroom door was closed, and the footsteps were loud and heavy.
"Where are you you little queer? I'm gonna put this fucking hammer in your stupid head, now come out and face me". Terence's heart was threatening to burst, banging against his chest. The bedroom door was kicked open, and there he stood, the troll.
If the light had been different, or he'd been seen through certain lenses, he could have been mistaken for an actual troll, as he had a rather large beer belly, and legs that tapered down to size five feet. He wore a white T-shirt, with a face mask of a yellow, smiley face. He hefted the sledgehammer as though he wanted other things to break.
Terence looked at him through tears caused by absolute fear. The man lifted up his mask.
"Only me, your old Dad" he said. "I was just playing around. Didn't take it seriously did you? I finally got out of jail". He dropped the hammer and walked across where Terence stood up, dropped the knife, and hugged him.