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The Last Productivity App I Ever Used

A short story

“You know you are a hopeless case when you get your productivity apps from the Dark Web,” said a commenter, followed by the echoing “lol” from others in an obscure forum I had never accessed before.

I wanted to laugh out loud, too. I wish I could find it funny. Instead, I barely managed a sad, guilty half-smile as I typed the address into my recently-downloaded Tor browser. I knew I was an incurable procrastinator. All other methods had failed me. The Russian app, truth or legend, was my only hope.

I had tried it all. Daily reminders, journaling, writers circles, NaNoWriMo. No luck. My final attempt was to put money at stake. “There’s a website in which you make a deposit and they’ll donate the money to an organisation you hate, unless you finish your novel. You should try it,” a friend said. I did, and my friend was wrong — I shouldn’t have tried it. The KKK had a very white Christmas that year.

I had just about given up on being productive — and on being a writer in general — when I first heard rumors about that Russian app. At first it sounded like an urban legend; the sort of bizarre anecdote that blocked writers share with each other in the time they dedicate to the exhaustive duty of not writing. As time passed and other methods kept failing, I began to give more credit to the scattered testimonials of survivors — lazy hacks like me who had used the Russian app to finally dust off their old manuscripts and enter the promised land of published writers.

Once I was convinced of its existence, my search didn’t take long. For a supposedly clandestine and obscure service, the Russian app wasn't particularly well-hidden. An archived post in a writing forum gave me a couple of search terms, which I used to find another forum post with a tutorial.

After following a few steps, I was finally staring at it. The infamous Russian app, in all its simple, cryptic beauty. An off-white background with three empty fields; the blinking cursor on the first one inviting me to start filling it.

I couldn’t decipher the instructions spelled out in the Cyrillic alphabet, but the tutorial told me what to do next. My name and address should go on the first field, followed by the name of the project on the second. The final field was a drop-down menu to pick a date. I shrugged. After decades of failing to meet self-imposed deadlines, they had lost all meaning to me. I mindlessly picked a random Tuesday, about six months from now.

The moment I clicked the button, I was taken to a new page. The three fields were replaced by an FTP address. To upload the finished project, I supposed. At the centre of the page, a map pinpointed the exact address of my home. I thought the the Dark Web was supposed to be super secure, but somehow they had managed to track down my location. Spooky.

And then there was the timer. A countdown to the deadline started running at the bottom of the page, with a short sentence in Russian written right under it. Google Translate helped me get the general meaning. “You no longer have an option: write or die.”

My guilty smile gave way to laughter, at last. A dark, twisted joke — that’s what this whole thing was, after all. I should have believed it when my friend told me the Russian page was a hoax. Someone had seen a few too many episodes of Black Mirror and decided to play a joke at the expense of lazy writers. I was desperate enough to fall for it. I should write about that someday.

Hmm, Black Mirror. Had I seen the last episode of season 4? Were there five or six of them? “I should check on Netflix just to be sure,” I thought to myself.

As I began typing “Netflix.com” into the address bar, however, a freezing fear held my entire body by the fingertips. I was unable to shake off an ominous sensation. Far away, deep in the darkness of the Siberian winter, I could feel an unspeakable evil slowly inching in my direction. I closed the Google Chrome tab and went back to the Tor browser. The countdown was still there.

Dan Belmont is a journalist and writer based in Manchester, UK. Find me on Twitter. Support my work on Patreon.

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Dan Belmont

Dan Belmont

I write short stories. I also write about writing. If I'm procrastinating on both, I write about why I haven't been writing. E-mail: danbelmontwriter@gmail.com

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