“The Red Light Is Blinking” by Kealan Patrick Burke
In a tiny room, two people exchange insults via the internet. They are both trolls but this isn’t an ordinary one-sided exchange.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear these trolls are locked in battles with one another for their survival. Constantly conscious of the camera that is trained on them 24 hours a day, they fight to keep the LED light from turning to red, meaning they’ve lost. This will set off the klaxon, the timer to countdown, and whatever fate lay beyond their cell.
About the Author
Born and raised in a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke knew from an early age that he was going to be a writer. The combination of an ancient locale, a horror-loving mother, and a family of storytellers, made it inevitable that he would end up telling stories for a living. Since those formative years, he has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella THE TURTLE BOY.
Kealan has worked as a waiter, a drama teacher, a mapmaker, a security guard, an assembly-line worker, a salesman (for a day), a bartender, landscape gardener, vocalist in a grunge band, curriculum content editor, fiction editor at Gothic.net, and, most recently, a fraud investigator.
When not writing, Kealan designs book covers through his company Elderlemon Design.
A number of his books have been optioned for film.
The story is addressed to ‘the victims and the parents’, and opens with a definition of trolling. It goes into an online exchange between ToadBoy200 and Nukeboxxx, insulting one another. Nukeboxx is excited at the reaction from the other troll. ‘And yes, he considered himself a troll’. It tells us this satisfaction comes from psychological reaction and awareness of hurt he was causing.
Nukeboxxx is described as being aware of how bad he stinks, sweat from armpits travelling to the waistband of his pants. He hasn’t bathed in 2 weeks. The small room he sits at his keyboard in smells of sour cream and stale farts. He lives on Mountain Dew soda and Doritos. He wipes sweat from his brow. He wins the exchange. He looks at 2 small LED buttons on a steel box on the wall. One red, one green. The green light pulses 3 times and goes dark. A klaxon sounds in the distance. Silence again. He smiles. He falls asleep, waking on a bad dream, imagining the light turning red.
Another online exchange between skinny puppee and Manda Panda. Amanda covers her face with her hands. She’s exhausted and hasn’t slept for 3 nights. She also doesn’t want whoever is on the other side of the cameras to see her cry. She thinks it bad enough they see her use the bathroom. She refers to cubicle but then reverts it to the place she is incarcerated, having metal walls and ceiling and a heavy metal door. ‘Shitty bed nailed to the wall and a toilet nailed to the floor’. She reveals that her cubicle at the USA Bank had felt like a jail cell and that she’d spent most time there logging on to Youtube and leaving nasty comments. She refers to looking at a manual she finds in the drawer. She looks for something juicy on the girl she is talking to online now ‘to keep the light from going red’. She wonders who is doing this to her and why. She worries about the clock giving a ten second countdown on her toolbar as she doesn’t know what happens at zero. She finds something in the manual and begins to type.
Another online exchange, a red light flashes, a character named Gareth flinches at the klaxon sound. It happens 3–4 times a day. It meant someone online wouldn’t be heard of again. He looks at how he can escape the cell. Someone else enters his online exchange. He leaves his escape plan for now. He enjoys the exchanges and is gleaning information from them, such as that the other people are trolls too and this is some kind of punishment or social experiment.
Chelsea Kaye, former child star, lays on a mattress of Dorito packs. She’s pleased she’s been taken as it might enhance her career prospects. She talks of trolling a woman called Angelina.
6 days later, Nukeboxxx slashes his wrists & dies 70 minutes later. Amanda lasts another 2 weeks before dying of concussion. Gareth lasts longest. He was a stalker of women, one hung herself. He eventually felt guilt and hung himself too in his cell. Chelsea ‘quits’ addressing the camera in the corner of the room. Her countdown begins. ‘Ten seconds later they came for her’.
A news report: ‘“Troll Killers” claim 14th victim’. We’re told Zach Winston was found, like the other victims, hanged from a bridge by copper wire, causing almost complete beheading. The police don’t know who the assailants are. A note is with the body, detailing their cause. ‘You have allowed the monsters to invade our dreams’. It ends warning that when you look away from your screens they will be waiting outside the window.