Mark Wilson

1-7-02

Solution to the halting problem

 

I always notice when my face is flushed after Iíve collapsed face first onto my cool pillow. But soon that area reaches 98.6 and I roll over to another, more comfortable, part. Again, I yearn for the release of room temperature, avoiding the pieces of pillow that I've left before. Eventually, Iím out of space and I flip the pillow over.

The phone rang. Once. I was glad that I didn't have to answer it. I didn't have the energy to do it. It was a long night--not physically exhausting--but long. The light was still on. It was 4 a.m.

I couldn't sleep, so I debriefed myself about the evening. I met Kari around 8 at her dadís apartment and we talked about old times. She said my dress looked great; although, knowing Kari, she was thinking how good it would look on her. Our dates were late.

I love Kari, but she gets me into the most awkward situations -- tonight she set me up with this guy she knew from camp, Chip Wentworth, swim instructor extraordinaire. I guess Chip goes to our school, but heís a freshman, so Iíve never met him. Heck, I doubt Iíve really met half of my own class.

Kari acts like thereís an unwritten rule about having to attend your senior prom. I have this love-hate relationship with dancing. It's okay when Kari and I go out alone to a club. But with a blind date? That was too much.

Kari's beau and my date arrived around 7:30. Chip gave, what seemed to be, an honest compliment about my dress. I made some self-deprecating comment about Goodwill. Nobody laughed. Why'd I have to make an ass out of myself so early in the evening?

The phone rang again. Once. I checked the clock and it was 4:30. I remembered that I offered to open the schoolís newspaper lab in the morning. It was a Sunday, but we had to meet deadline for our special prom edition. We were a weekly paper, but we always cleared four pages for the special prom photo insert. It was our biggest paper of the year. Of course, that still wouldnít warrant half of the newspaper staff waking up early the day after prom, but ever since that post-prom orgy photo slipped by the advisor years ago, the schoolís administration insisted on reviewing a photo-ready copy of the prom insert on Monday morning. I got up, took some pills, took the phone off the hook and went to bed. I was still wearing that dress.



"Yo, yo, homey wassup?" I questioned the pair of Adidas as they strode into the newsroom.

"Lauren, people donít talk like that," instructed photo editor Michael Boise, as he felt his matching Adidas baseball hat to insure that it was at just the right deviant angle to his blonde head. "Besides, itís wassup Holmes when itís used as a proper noun. Werenít you a copy editor last year?"

"My bad," I answered. "Anyways, get any good shots last night?"

"Four rolls"

"Booyeah!"

"Lauren, go sleep. Youíre delirious, you think youíre a G," quipped Mike as he popped his Intergalactic CD into the computerís CD drive and plugged in his headphones. No amount of concealer could have hidden the bags under my eyes.

I engrossed myself in typing up the yearly "this was the greatest prom ever" high school propaganda article. The other editors working on the prom insert filtered in throughout the next half-hour. I didnít notice what they were buzzing about.

The advisor walked in.

As a rule, the advisor never came by when school was out. As a matter of fact, he was out the door faster than most of the students at the end of the week. He looked like he had a rougher night than I had. He hadnít even tried to pull off his daily comb-over that morning. He crossed the newsroom and started to make calls from his desk.

I was almost done with my story, so I rolled lazily in my wheel-equipped chair to the group of chatting editors to amuse myself with their latest prom gossip.

"Hey guys, whatís happening?" I asked.

"Not Blaise, thatís for sure," muttered Byron, the Sportís Editor, from behind bloodshot eyes.

"ByronÖ" uttered Samantha in a barely audible voice. She was the Entertainment Editor.

"What? What about that guy?" I said. I was confused. Why were they talking about Blaise Northington Ė- or Nothing-ton as he was kindly referred to throughout freshman year -Ė when there was juicy prom gossip to be had at?

"You didnít hear?" said Byron, "Blaise played doctor last night: Dr. Kevorkian."

"What?!"

"Blaise killed himself last night," blurted the Entertainment Editor.

There was a pause. I always fidget during a pause. I pulled the height release on my chair and sank slowly towards the ground. "Thatís Ö weird." I said.

Mike looked up from under his headphones then turned away.

The advisor got off the phone.

About all I knew of Blaise was that he sat behind me in Chemistry class and that one time I had to write a profile of him for the paper. The interview was over the phone:

"Hello?"

"Is Blaise there?" I questioned.

"Yeah," pause.

"Can I speak to him?"

"Err, yeah, this is Blaise,"

"Oh, well, I'm calling with the school paper and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about the computer programming contest you won?"

"Umm, yeah, sure..." Blaise fumbled.

When we had talked for a while about the award he won from the Intel Young Programmer's Contest, Blaise loosened up. He seemed to be a pretty articulate person.

"So, Blaise," I said imploringly, "are you interested in any areas outside of computer programming?"

"Do you know what in infinite loop is? It's an error in a program Ö where the computer just keeps going around and around the same lines of code--in circles. Right on up until somebody terminates the program," he grasped to explain something.

"I think I know the termÖ"

"I believe sometimes people get stuck in infinite loops."

Although the conversation had turned a bit strange at points, his tone wasnít eccentric. Sometimes honesty can be confused with weirdness, I think. He seemed very dedicated to his computer work. He talked like it was all he had.

Our advisor got up from his desk. "Are you all familiar with the tragic news?" he said to everyone, although, it felt like he was talking especially to me, so I nodded.

"We have a policy of not covering suicides," he stated, "however, Iíve been talking to some of the other editors and we believe a short memorial would be a nice idea."

"Dude, weíre a high school newspaper, not an obituary column," responded Byron, "There was nothing newsworthy about Nothing-tonís life."

Our advisor ignored Byron. When I profiled Blaise, it was clear that he had the potential to be the next Bill Gates. That is, if he even wanted to be the next Bill Gates. When Blaise distributed his software tools for free over the internet, Microsoft stock would fall a quarter of a point. That was no embellishment, either, I looked it up. Despite the sweeping range of his software, Blaise kept a low profile. Even after he allowed me to unmask his talent in the school newspaper, no one paid any attention to it. He was still nothing to them.

"Jesus, Byron, youíre an even bigger asshole when youíre hung over," Mike shouted from across the room. Byronís hand twitched into a fist then slowly relaxed.

"Wait, wonít we have to bother the family? I mean, to get quotes? I know I wouldnít want to have to invade their privacy at a time like this," I said to bring the subject back where it belonged.

"Yeah, we canít cover this without upsetting those people," Samantha chimed in.

"I think the family will like to see their boy remembered," the advisor told me. "Maybe if he had a few more advocates when he was alive, Blaise would still be here."

I remembered the pillow. I remembered that, for a fleeting second, I wanted to smother myself out. I hated that I wasnít a charming date. I hated that I couldnít socialize with someone new. I hated that the second we arrived at the dance I retreated with Kari into the bathroom. I hated that I had stayed in the stall long after she had gone back out to dance.

"I suppose I can write another profile; for Blaise," I said.

We spent the rest of Sunday laying out the prom insert. There werenít any major problems, except that Mike had lost one of his rolls of film. Nevertheless, the prom insert turned out really well and it was ready for the principalís approval. When I got home that night, I was truly exhausted and had no trouble getting to sleep.

The next morning, we were told in our first period class that there would be grief councilors available throughout the day for anyone who needed to talk about Blaise. Apparently this was the school districtís standard operating procedure for student deaths. No one stirred.

At lunch, I met Kari at our usual table. With an implied nudge, Kari mentioned that she talked to Chip after she dropped me off from prom. Apparently, Chip told her that he thought I was cute, and that he was lucky to have me as a prom date.

"Thatís because freshman normally canít go to prom," I said. "Iíll talk to you later, okay, Iíve got to do an interview."

I figured that the grief counselors would be a good starting point for learning more about Blaise. Kari offered to tag along for moral support, but I told her it would probably be easier to get people to talk if I was alone.

I entered the nurseís office, where the counselors were based. The room was separated by a cold white curtain, through which you could make out a girl sitting on a gurney.

"It was just horribleÖ horrible," she repeated, "the cannibals were going to eat Scully alive before Mulder came and saved her!"

She was talking to one of the school district grief councilors. On the other side of the curtain was one of our local school councilors and the other district psychologist. The man from the district was wearing a sharp black suit as he slumped over a game of solitaire. Our councilor was eating a sandwich.

I explained to the man in the suit that I was a student journalist and that I wanted to talk about Blaise. He gave a regular spiel about how Blaise was a bright, talented, happy young man whose life was unfairly taken by this tragic accident. I canít believe he actually used the word "accident".

At this, our school councilor, Mrs. Xavier, broke off the suitís rant in order to tell me that she would gladly talk with me in her office after-school, but right now she had work to do. The sandwich sat half eaten as she left the room.

There were only a few minutes left in lunch, but I headed up to the newsroom to see how things had gone with okaying the prom insert. Byron and some football player friend were comparing prom conquests. "Man, if prom night was any indication of how you throw a party, Byron," said the oafish boy, "Iíd quit the team to attend those tail-gaters you throw during homecoming."

"Heh, I donít throw tail gate parties, my friend," explained Byron. "I just throw tail parties. As in gettiní some. Right Samantha?"

Samanthaís nose flared in a breath of resigned fear. She was writing on the board and didnít turn around. The bell rang.

At the end of the day, I remembered I had the appointment with the school councilor. She offered me the seat in front of her desk. I had hesitated sitting down because I imagined Blaise sitting there. I guess I always figured I was the only person who ever needed to talk to Mrs. X.

"Lauren," she began, "Itís very good of you to write about Blaise like this. I know he would appreciate it; I found he appreciated your last article about him very much."

Remembering the sandwich, I asked, "did you work with Blaise often?"

"Yes, Iím afraid he was having problemsÖ"

Mrs. X painted a picture of a boy full of a strange brand of optimism. He wasnít happy with himself, that was certain, but there was something else there. He had come to her because he was disturbed with having no friends, but he liked people a great deal. She opened up an email he sent her when they first started meeting that said, "I didnít interact well with humanity and humanity doesnít interact well with me. However, I observe them, and what I seeÖ is good."

Mrs. X said that Blaise came to talk to her about being singled out. He was being picked on. Apparently, not the entire student body ignored Blaise.

"Iím afraid Iíve already over stepped the student confidentiality line, Lauren," she said. "But, I wanted to show you that Blaise wasnít just made up of all those cliches that Dr. Laurence threw at you in the nurseís office."

"Thank you"

"Oh, and Lauren, Iíve talked with Blaiseís parents. Theyíd like to meet you."



Mike had traded his Adidas for rollerblades. He passed me from behind and marked out a five foot long skid mark on the eraser-board white pavement of the steep hill we were on.

"Lauren!" he panted. "I saw you walking down hereÖ I think thereís something you should see." He pulled out a photographic contact sheet.

"Theyíre test prints of the missing roll. Someone had thrown it away," he said.

"Oh my GodÖ Did you take these?"

I didnít have to ask. The shots were all blurred and too light--like someone had really screwed up the shutter speed. Mike confessed that he let Byron take the last roll of film. Mike wanted to "get his groove on" for the last few dances.

"I knew Byron was an asshole. But I didnít know he was such a sick fuck, too," I said.

"Thereís another contact sheet." Mikeís face whitened to match the color of the sidewalk.

The first contact sheet made me blush. They were of Samantha in compromising positions. She didnít seem the bondage type. It was a good thing that I skipped lunch when I got to the second sheet.

"I tried all kinds of contrasts on these last three pictures; trying to make out what it was."

There was a faded face, and a rope.

Five minutes must have passed.

"Do, do, you think itís Blaise?" I said so low that I thought only God would hear.



Kari was the only person I had to turn to for help.

"We have to go to the police," she finally said, a few minutes after I laid the dark contact sheets out on her pastel bedroom comforter.

"With what? These photos could just as easily be of a basketball hoop," I said.

"Well, then what do we do? Have you found out anything about this Blaise kid while working on your article? Why would he be at one of Byronís sick orgies?"

"I donít know."

Kari sat up and looked out her bedroom window. "Where else are you going to go to get information on him?"

"I still need to talk to his parents. ButÖ I canít show them these."

"Have you looked in his locker yet?" Kari turned around.

"What? Why?"

Apparently Kari had watched him everyday picking through a thick stack of computer printouts in the mornings. He kept them in his locker.

"It was like a ritual for him. Like how I write in my diary everyday at lunch," she said.

Kari confessed why she had been "checking Blaise out". That idea would have made me giggle if he were still alive.

"The way you talked about him in that newspaper profile," Kari said. "I thought maybe I could hook you two up."

I wanted to say, "Kari, you bitch."

"SoÖ Now what?" I said.

"We need to break into his locker."

"What? Kari, are you crazy? Those papers could be anything."

"Exactly Lauren. Exactly." Kari face muscles were tightened with anger. It wasnít aimed at me. Or Byron. I think Kari was upset that she couldnít help me. "How can you call yourself a Ďjournalistí when you never leave the safety of your little newsroom? Youíre so intimidated by other people that you wonít leave your home."

"I canít help it, damn you," I screamed back.



Mike came with us. It was 8 p.m. but we got the janitors to open up the newsroom for us. We told them that the principal was making us fix the prom insert and we had a strict deadline. It felt bad lying to the janitors, because they would always stop by to chat in the newsroom when we were burning the midnight oil. We turned off the lights around 10 and hid in the newsroom until the janitors finished locking up.

It was 1 a.m. when we decided it was safe to go to Blaiseís locker. Apparently Kari was an adept combination lock picker. Who knew she got a kick out of reading anarchy how-toís on the web?

Many of the papers in Blaiseís locker were, indeed, pieces of computer code. However, the stack of papers Kari observed must have been as special to Blaise as she thought they were. It was a verbatim log of a series of Internet Relay Chat sessions. Apparently Blaise had a female admirer.

Her speech was simple, but apparently candid. She wanted to meet Blaise during prom.

It was nearly 4 a.m. when we got to the last few pages. They were unsent emails to Mrs. Xavier. Blaise was certain that his mystery girl was Samantha.

"Pirates check out peopleís personal information all the time on the web," he wrote. "It was pretty easy to trace the mystery girl."

Blaise rambled on. His thoughts were getting hard to follow. "Obviously, someoneís out to get me, probably Byron. Heís always with her. He hates what I am because Iím different. Itís bad enough that people ignore and donít understand me, but people like Byron get a sadistic pleasure out of chipping away at people like meÖ"

"But Iíll show them." It was a suicide note.

There was a noise. Like glass shattering. At first, I thought I imagined it. The result of a world falling apart.

It came from down the hall.

Mike walked down to investigate. I urged Kari to follow.

Byron stood there, his face white, bathed in a moonlight that grayed the hallway. A crowbar was raised high, as if to strike.

"Uh. Hi guys. Working late?" he said innocently as he lowered the crowbar.

"Heís going to fucking murder us," Kari whispered to me.

"Heís no murderer," I said audibly. "Heís too perverted for that."



"Wait, so why did Byron come find you if heís not a murderer?" asked Chip on our second date. It was only the first Saturday after I met Chip at prom, but I already felt comfortable with him. I squeezed his hand, in order to remind myself that I was holding it. The connection felt natural.

"Well, it turned out that Samantha told him that she threw the roll of film away in the newsroom. Byron came to destroy it," I said.

I noticed that Kari was walking into the coffee shop. She was checking up on me, but I didnít mind. I waved her over to join us.

"Checking up on us, I see," I said to her as she sat on the stool next to me.

"Hey, always use the buddy system. You understand, right, Swim Instructor Wentworth?" said Kari jokingly.

Another hour passed before Chipís mom called his cell phone to pick him up. Kari strategically excused herself while we said our good-byes.

"Thanks for inviting me out again," said Chip. "How did you know to call me on my cell phone? I donít remember giving you the number."

"Thatís easy. My parents snagged it off star-six-nine when you called me at 4 a.m. after prom."

"Oh shit. I didnít... Iím sorry."

"No, itís okay. My parents didnít mind so much, and I kinda like a guy who doesnít wait 48 hours to call back," I said with a slight smile.

"You are so beautiful." He smiled back.

"That compliment means a lot coming from a handsome man." I kissed him.



Kari gave me a ride home. It was almost 11 oíclock and I prepared myself for a restful sleep. I plopped my head onto my pillow and forgot about everything except for the warm residual feelings of the day.

The phone rang. Several times. I was annoyed, but I aroused myself from sleep to answer it anyways.

"Hello?" I said.

"Hello, Lauren? Itís me, Samantha, from the newspaper."

I was no longer annoyed. In fact, the day had been so wonderful that I had almost forgotten how worried I was about Samantha.

"Lauren, I just needed to thank you again for coming to the police station and helping me fill out the rape report against Byron," she said. "If it werenít for you, I donít know what I would have done. I just wish... I just wish..."

Samantha was choking on tears. "Are you okay? Do you need something?" I asked.

"I just wish I could thank Blaise, also."

"Do you think youíll be well enough to attend his funeral tomorrow?" I asked. "I mean, itís okay if you canít."

"No, I want to. In fact, I have a question. At my support group, Mrs. Xavier said you were giving the eulogy, right?"

"Yeah."

"Is it okay if I speak too? He saved me."

"Yes. I know. I think thatís a beautiful idea," I said.

"He saved me. I was aiding a terrible prank against him and he saved me. And, even while I was pretending ... when I was pretending to ... I fell in love with him ... online," she said.

"What do you mean?" I asked. I wasnít sure if the question was comforting, but I was really curious now.

"Talking to Blaise online. He was so sweet. Byron made me talk to him at first, to lure him to prom and beat him up, or whatever, but after the first time... he was so sweet to talk to. And then he saved me. And heís dead because he saved me..."

"Samantha, itís not your fault. You couldnít have known. Heck, even Byron couldnít have known that heíd fall and die."

It was sad providence that, in his moment of knighthood, Blaise would untie the damsel, chase off the drunken dragon and succumb to a broken neck after falling into a six-foot deep gully. I almost included that metaphor in my eulogy, but decided it was a bit too much, besides, everyone important knew by now that Blaise hadnít committed suicide. The remnants of that rumor would die when my article was published on Monday.

"What do you think the police will do with that roll of film when theyíre done with it?" Samantha asked.

"I wouldnít worry. They wonít need it now that Byron confessed and the autopsy showed that Blaiseís death was an accident."

"I hope they destroy it. Itíll be no great loss, really," said Samantha. There werenít any memories on that roll worth preserving. Even the photos Byron took at the dance were just when he used the flash to find his way around in the dark.

"Will you be okay? You sound better," I said.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I should go to sleep."

"Goodnight, Samantha." I fell asleep quickly, and dreamt in code, which is strange, because I donít know how to program.

 

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