Two teenage boys sat in an unfinished basement, on a well-loved couch, behind an assortment of junk food spread across an old, beat up coffee table. The two boys looked at each other and one spoke excitedly. "Are you ready?" He asked. "Absolutely!" The other boy responded eagerly.
The first boy clapped his hands and the room went dark. Then, he grabbed a remote control from the coffee table and hit "play," while the other boy pulled out two lacy bras from a nearby backpack, one black and one red. The two boys donned a bra each on top of their heads and quickly fastened the straps under their chins as the first scene played out on the screen. Soon after, the theme song from "Weird Science" began to play. The two boys cheered and started to dig into the pile of snacks in front of them.
This had been a regular routine for the two best friends, Ethan and Charlie, every weekend for the last five years. Ethan was a tall, gangly thing that looked like he could snap in half if someone left him out in the wind. His black hair was always in fresh military style, courtesy of his army man father, but it was always cut too short and made his facial features seem abnormally large in comparison, especially his parrot's beak of a nose. Charlie was an equally unimpressive specimen. He was a little too short for his age and not at all muscular, with shaggy blond hair that always obstructed his face.
The pair had bonded through their shared love of sci-fi, fantasy, video games and cult classic movies. They didn't play any sports, nor were they part of any clubs, and on the weekends the two boys were likely to be found having another movie marathon, spending all day in Charlie's dark basement, mouthing their favorite lines, acting out their favorite scenes and discussing, at length, what they would do if posed in similar situations.
"Man, if I could Weird Science me up a woman, I know I'd do a lot more than kiss her or shower with my clothes on." Charlie piped up.
"I KNOW right?! What good is it if you come out of the whole thing still a virgin?!" Ethan chimed in with audible frustration. "I'm a MAN, I been ready to lose my virginity since I was BORN." Ethan boasted and pounded his chest with his fist.
"Well, I'm a REAL man and I DID lose my virginity when I was born!" Charlie replied with bravado.
"Ha! To who? Your mom?" Ethan asked with a chuckle.
"No. Yours! HA!" Charlie retorted in a snap.
"So funny I forgot to laugh." Ethan replied in his best monotone.
"Yeah man, right after she was done having you I was up in the ICU just-" At this point Charlie cut his sentence short and began thrusting his hips in an exaggerated way, followed up with sporadic groaning and miming other obscene gestures.
"Ok enough already!" Ethan shouted, scrunched up his face at the mental image and threw his hands into the air.
"That's what she said! Haha!" Charlie roared.
Ethan groaned. "I walked RIGHT into that one." He said in a defeated tone.
The pair were plain, simple, everyday, unremarkable teenage boys no different from hundreds of thousands of others across the globe.
Their High School required all students to take an elective class and from the options presented to them the two boys agreed upon Computer Programming. It advertised the ability to build computer games, so, it was a fairly easy decision for the two. After learning some basics, the teacher surprised the class with their first interesting assignment: building an app. Ethan and Charlie both perked up.
"As long as it is school-appropriate, that means PG-13 everyone, let your imaginations run wild! Design ANY application you'd like." The teacher explained to the class. Just then, a boy toward the back of the class spoke up with a voice that was just a little too gruff for a high school student.
"So like, what if one of these lonely Poindexters builds a virtual girlfriend? Is that allowed?" He said with a laugh and nudged one of his friends that was sitting next to him with his elbow. "If you keep it PG-13, sure, why not." The teacher replied, hiding his annoyance with an up-beat tone.
At that moment, the bell rang and the class erupted in a flurry of books slamming shut, zippers zipping, and metal chair legs scrapping across wood floors. Ethan and Charlie were the last kids packing up their books because they were already deep in conversation about what kind of apps they were going to design. The teacher overheard the excited pair and let out a tiny sigh of relief. "Small victories are still victories."
As Ethan and Charlie walked down the hallway to their next class, Charlie looked up and caught sight of Linda Gill. Linda Gill was a tall, beautiful girl with long, silky chestnut-colored hair that hung in the most perfect curls; curls which spilled over her shoulders, terminating just above her waist and they bounced when she walked. Her bright eyes and sprinkle of freckles across her face just made Charlie's heart melt. Every time he passed her by at school, his countenance completely changed, with dreamy eyes and a wide, goofy grin, Ethan had taken to calling it his "Charlie Brown" look, much to Charlie's chagrin.
"So I was thinking about making like a Doom first person shooter with my own artwork and storyline. Or, MAYBE, a collector's app where you can take stock of your collections and I could use my geodes for an example database." Ethan went on for minutes uninterrupted by his steady stream of ideas before he realized that his friend had been rendered catatonic. "Hey! Charlie Brown! Snap out of it!" Ethan shouted.
Charlie's hatred of the nickname brought him back to reality. "Too bad you cant make a 'Linda' app. That's the only way you'll ever get any FaceTime with her." Ethan teased. Charlie began to retort and then stopped, abruptly. In Charlie's mind, an idea was beginning to form.
Later that night, Charlie sat at his computer desk in his bedroom and plugged away at his school-issued laptop. At the top of the screen, the project title clearly read: "BeLinda." He was intent and hyper-focused, without a whisper of his happy-go-lucky self on display. This kind of behaviour had become an increasingly more common occurrence, especially when Charlie had an interesting project to work on. Ethan called it his "Genius-Mode" and would stare on in awe whenever he was witness to it.
A week later, the class was to give a progress report on their app. Ethan had settled on a virtual pet app where you could pick from a cast of classic movie creatures to raise, such as Mogwie from Gremlins, Ewoks from Star Wars, Zoogs from The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath, to name a few, and the rarest pet of them all was a Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story. He had told the class that he planned on using his own artwork to finish the app, but for the time being, he used copy-written images that he ripped off of Google search engine as placeholders until he could finish the drawings. His presentation went over well.
Charlie was nervous to unveil his project to the class. When his name was called, he tried to excuse himself to the restroom. Ethan saw right through him and escorted Charlie to the front of the class with encouraging words. "C'mon man, I'm DYING to see this secret project you've been going 'Genius-Mode' on all week!" He said.
Charlie took a deep breath and hooked up his laptop to the projector, going over what he would say in his mind. The one thought he kept coming back to was "I'm so glad Linda isn't in this class." In sleek cursive font, the name "Belinda" flashed on the screen in a baby blue and white color scheme. Ethan, being the only one privy to the influence, couldn't help but let out a snicker and Charlie shot him a serious look. Ethan promptly covered his mouth and Charlie began to speak as he navigated his app via the laptop.
"Belinda is a personal companion app." His voice faltering on the word "companion." "You feed the app information on likes, dislikes, hobbies, and desired appearance. She can play games with you, watch movies with you, read books with you and have entire conversations with you if you feed her enough information." Charlie continued. The teacher looked genuinely impressed as Charlie clicked through the features on the app.
On the screen, a beautiful woman who looked eerily similar to Linda Gill smiled at the class and "spoke" through word bubbles. Most of the time she was up in the right hand corner of the screen and word bubbles popped up sporadically on the left hand side with information relevant to whatever was being displayed on the rest of the screen. Under the "Books" tab, Charlie scrolled through a full length digital copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. As he scrolled over the scene where the students see Hogwarts Castle for the first time, Belinda's eyes lit up and a word bubble appeared next to her. "This is my FAVORITE part!" It read.
A familiar gruff voice suddenly rang out from the back of the class. "Oh my God! One of you nerds ACTUALLY made a virtual girlfriend!" He said and erupted into laughter. Soon after, many of the other students joined in and made jeering comments of their own. The teacher cut the disruption short.
"Thank you Charlie, you obviously put a large amount of time and effort into this project and everyone else here could take a page from your book." The teacher said to Charlie in a reassuring tone at first, then pivoted to address the entire class. "This is the first of four big projects this year so I want to see everyone taking this as seriously as Mr. West has." The teacher informed the class before they were dismissed.
In the hallway, Ethan explodes on Charlie with a flurry of questions about Belinda. "DUDE! I didn't think you'd take my idea seriously! Why didn't you tell me you made a virtual Linda? And how?!"
Charlie shrunk. "I just didn't want you to rag on me about it, alright? I probably would have never gone through with it if I told anyone. And by the time I got home that night I already had half the functionality worked out in my head. I had to do it! Y'know how I get." Charlie confessed.
Ethan nodded. "'Genius-Mode,' yeah man I get it. It IS pretty impressive. I still wish you would've told me. I could have helped you entering all that data." He said. Charlie smiled at Ethan and replied. "I have a lot more data to put in still."
That weekend, instead of their typical movie and/or video game marathon in Charlie's basement, the two boys spent their time working on and obsessing over Belinda. "When you're done with Belinda you gotta make me one. But I want mine to have a different name... Like... Katana or Sonya... Maybe even Leia." Ethan swooned. Charlie snarked.
"Alright what else can we feed into Belinda's database?" Charlie asked. Ethan scanned Charlie's room for ideas. His eyes fell upon Charlie's bookcase and the most ornate book that graced its shelves. He pulled it out and examined it for a moment before he read the title out loud. "Necronomicon, what's this?" Ethan asked.
The book was a little larger than his hands, like a standard text book but it was old and bound in black leather. It was trimmed in glistening green ornamental lines and emblazoned on the front was a strange symbol that Ethan had never seen before. "Oh! THAT, my friend, is one of my prized possessions." Charlie replied with boastful pride.
"It's full of forbidden esoteric knowledge about demons, different dimensions and magic rituals." Charlie explained, trying to sound mysterious. "I got it off a guy online who found it in his attic and wanted it the HELL out of his house!" He continued with a laugh.
"And you're just telling me this now?!" Ethan exploded. "Well, I, um, uh..." Charlie stuttered. He didn't want to reveal his true intentions for wanting the dreaded tome in his possession. Ethan interrupted. "Let's put this thing in!" He shouted and pushed Charlie out of the way. Ethan scanned page after page of the Necronomicon into Belinda's database while Charlie watched in horror.
The next day, as Charlie was testing the conversational skills of Belinda, she suddenly broke out into a chant. "Spirits, Lords of the Earth, remember! Spirits, Lords of the Air, remember! Spirits, Lords of the Fire, remember! Spirits, Lords of the Water, remember! Spirits, Lords of the Stars, remember!" She chanted in a loathsome sing-song tone.
Charlie quickly turned the app off and reloaded the program. "Belinda" flashed across the screen in it's familiar baby blue and white, and soon he was face to face with a full screen bust of the beautiful woman. He ran through every one of her features about four times each and nothing out of the ordinary happened. He chalked the occurrence up as a glitch and didn't give the issue any more thought.
When it was finally time to load Belinda onto his personal cell phone, he immediately gave her access to all of the functions on his phone. This included the ability to make phone calls, access the internet, photos and other programs, as well as his location. As Belinda ran unrestricted in the background on Charlie's phone, she gathered an immense amount of information. In the coming days, while recording all audio through the microphone on Charlie's cellphone, Belinda learned her origin story while Ethan and Charlie were talking in his bedroom.
"I just wish I had a chance with the REAL Linda, y'know?" Charlie said with a sigh. "You should go for it man! You only live once!" Ethan encouraged.
"You're right. I should. And if I get shot down, I'll still have Belinda." Charlie replied with a laugh that was more of a sigh.
"And if you don't get shot down, you won't NEED Belinda anymore!" Ethan added. "Haha, right? An app just can't live up to the real thing." Charlie replied.
At that moment, Charlie's pocket began to burn intensely. His cell phone had overheated so badly it felt as if he had a hot coal in his pants. He yelped and threw the burning device across the room, burning his hand in the process. A rectangular burn was also clearly visible in his jeans.
"What the hell happened?" Ethan asked. "I don't know." Charlie replied, dumbfounded.
"Do you think Belinda heard us and got upset?" Charlie posed. Ethan laughed and replied, his words dripping with sarcasm. "Yeah man that's exactly what happened. Your virtual girlfriend got jealous."
Over the next few days, Charlie's behaviour began to change dramatically. He was more secretive and a lot harder to reach. He constantly left his phone at home and started hanging out at Ethan's house exclusively. He no longer wanted to speak about Belinda and one night Charlie showed up at Ethan's door passed two in the morning, frantic, and demanding to spend the night. Once inside, Charlie locked Ethan's bedroom door and unhooked his computer from the internet.
"She's out to get me." Charlie whispered in a frenzied tone. "Who?" Ethan asked. "Belinda!" Charlie said through gritted teeth.
"What are you talking about?" Ethan demanded. "Belinda is alive. She's out of my control. And she's out to get me." Charlie stated in all seriousness. His eyes were wide, bloodshot and constantly darting around the room. His voice and hands were shaking. Charlie wrapped a spare blanket around himself and curled up on the floor, bracing his back against the door.
Ethan raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. "Uh, okay." That was all he managed to say before Charlie fell into a deep sleep. When Ethan woke up in the morning, Charlie was gone. That was the last time Ethan Greene ever saw his best friend Charlie West.
No one could locate Charlie after that night. For two weeks, the local news was dominated by the story of two local teenagers gone missing: Charlie West and Linda Gill. Police questioned the teens' friends, family, teachers and classmates. Out of concern for his friend, Ethan willingly shared all the information he knew, including Charlie's peculiar actions the night before he went missing.
Police eventually found the remains of Linda Gill, whose corpse had been so grossly desecrated that it had to be identified by DNA sampling. Soon after, Charlie was found in a nearby field, raving mad, stark naked and covered in Linda Gill's blood. During questioning, Charlie adamantly repeated that he was innocent.
He claimed that his school project, Belinda, had come alive because his best friend had fed a magical tome into it's database. He pleaded with the police that the app had been trying to harm him and Linda, and that he was trying to protect her. Charlie said that he left Ethan's house to warn Linda about Belinda.
According to Charlie's testimony, when he found Linda, Belinda appeared in front of their eyes, in physical form, flesh and blood and it was she who killed Linda in a jealous rage, not himself. He never recanted from this version of of the story. Charlie was found guilty of first degree manslaughter and his parents negotiated a deal to keep him out of prison. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the best mental institution in the country: Arkham Asylum.