(A fear of the company of people)
Jeremiah Ellsmore Ford, or Jef as he was called by friends and family, was a very shy man. He was 5’9”, had mousey brown hair, gray eyes, and, instead of thick glasses, wore contact lenses most of the time. At the age of twenty-one, he had decided that he would work only in a position where he did not have to deal with people face to face. He had made this decision after having undergone a very embarrassing situation in his senior year in college. One of his dorm mates had discovered that Jeremiah was still a virgin and the insensitive boor had posted this fact on his Facebook page. The day after the notice had been posted, Jeremiah found himself being gawked at everywhere he went. He found out about the posting when he was in Biology class and a fellow student had slipped a copy of it on his seat. Jeremiah took one look at the posting, turned a bright red, and gathered up his books and backpack and fled from the auditorium. Unfortunately, Jeremiah liked to sit in the front row, and so when he ran from the auditorium, his embarrassed expression was there for all to see. As he clumsily ran through the auditorium doors, and nearly knocking over the TA, he heard the roar of laughter from the other students. Later in the day, Jeremiah had gone to his professors and asked them to allow him to complete his courses through his computer. Most of the professors were understanding of Jeremiah’s situation, but one was not. This was Mr. Blackmore, Jeremiah’s psychology professor. He told Jeremiah that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his “condition” and that it would be better for him to face his tormentors instead of allowing them to see that they had won. Jeremiah reluctantly agreed and once he confronted his dorm mate about the posting, the posting disappeared. Jeremiah graduated and then applied for a job at a Tech firm. Since his grades were so impressive, he was allowed to work from his one bedroom apartment. He only had to make occasional appearances at the company, but when he did, he was not required to be there for very long and any face to face meetings were kept to a minimum. With this solution in place, Jeremiah may have known quite a few people but he did not have to physically interact with them.
One day, Jeremiah received an e-mail. This, of course, was not unusual since Jeremiah spent most of his day on his computer, but this message was listed under Spam. Jeremiah, like most people who received spam, usually just deleted it without bothering to read it, but for some reason unknown to Jeremiah, he actually opened it. Maybe because the head line seemed to speak to something within his soul, Jeremiah opened the message. The head line had read: Meet the girl of your dreams! Now, Jeremiah usually saw a head line for these mating services as a waste of time, but on this day, Jeremiah’s usually reserved sense of curiosity got the better of him. He clicked on the message and was amazed when a rainbow swirl of colors lit up his screen and was almost immediately replaced by graphics showing a wide range of pictures of smiling women. Suddenly, words popped up in large print: ARE YOU LONELY? CAN’T SEEM TO FIND YOUR SOULMATE? WELCOME TO CUPID’S HAVEN, WHERE WE GUARANTEE YOU THE MATE OF YOUR DREAMS! TO CONTINUE, CLICK ANY KEY. Jeremiah clicked a key and after the lettering faded away, a questionnaire came up on screen. The introduction on the questionnaire said: This service offers you a chance to meet the person of your dreams. Answer all of the questions as truthfully as possible. None of your personal information will be shared with any other businesses or corporations. Once you have sent in your questionnaire, your information will be entered into our database. Photographs of three possible candidates will be sent to you, and you may choose one. If the first choice does not work out, you will be able to make a second choice from the remaining choices. The cost for this service will be $100 (one hundred dollars US). In the unlikely event that you are not satisfied with any of your selections, your money will be refunded to you. If you agree to these conditions, then click AGREE. Jeremiah thought about this for a moment and then thought “What the heck!” and clicked AGREE. He was then prompted to the first question. By the time that he finished answering the questionnaire, and at the end entered his Visa information, Jeremiah felt like he had just run a mental marathon. He clicked Enter and waited to see if he would receive any results. Just as he was getting ready to sign out, a ring emitted from his computer and pictures and brief biographies of three women appeared on his screen. Surprised that he had received three candidates so quickly, Jeremiah slowly studied each picture and then read their brief biographies.
The first candidate was a fairly nice looking brunette named Alicia Goldman. She was 27 years old, had a PHD in Molecular Physics, graduated from MIT, and worked at the University of Rhode Island. Jeremiah thought that she looked a bit stern from her picture and so he checked the stats for the second candidate. Her name was Althea Williams, had blond hair, was 26 years old, and had her PHD in Chemistry. Jeremiah was impressed with her looks and her brains, but, before making his final selection, he checked out the final candidate. Her name was Miranda Chu. She had long dark hair, was also 26 years old, and had her PHD in Veterinary Medicine. Jeremiah did find her attractive but, since he had an allergy to cats, he decided that she would not make a very good prospect. He imagined that no matter how well-dressed Dr. Chu would be on their date, he was also afraid that she would have a pet which would aggravate his allergies. With all things taken into consideration, Jeremiah decided to choose Althea Williams as his first choice. He clicked on her picture and a small screen popped up which had Althea’s phone number, e-mail address, and best hours to phone. Jeremiah wrote down the information, logged off of his computer, and sat back in his chair. He wanted to plan out how he would approach Ms. Williams: would it be more personal to phone her verses e-mailing her? What would he say to her and where would they go on their date? Since Jeremiah was a shy person and also a very meticulous person, he wanted to make sure that when he finally did contact Althea Williams, he wanted to make sure that nothing would go wrong. After thinking about it overnight, Jeremiah finally composed an e-mail to Althea which he felt comfortable with. After waiting a few minutes in anticipation for a quick response, but not receiving one, he went back to his work site. Three hours later, he was finished working on his project for the day and checked his e-mail one last time. He was reasonably happy to see that Althea had responded to his message. She agreed to meet him for dinner the next night at the restaurant that he had suggested. Just for his own satisfaction, and to make sure that he was not dreaming, Jeremiah copied the e-mail, taped it to his screen, and logged off. Once he was logged off, he got out his cellphone and called the restaurant to make the reservation.
The next morning, which was a Friday, Jeremiah checked his messages to see if he was needed at work, and seeing that there were no important messages, he grabbed his car keys and went out to get some flowers for his date. While he was out, he also decided that he would look into getting a suit for that night. Most of the clothes in Jeremiah’s closet were either too leisurely or too out of date. Jeremiah, being such a low-key sort of guy, actually gave a full smile when he saw himself in the full length mirror at the store where he found a suit that made him look presentable. He also decided that he should get a haircut since it had been a month and he felt that he was looking a bit shaggy. After getting everything done that he needed to get done for his date, he went home and took a shower. When he had gotten home, and before taking his shower, he laid the suit out on the bed, admired it for a minute, and checked his computer, fearing that Althea might have changed her mind. There was a message for him from Althea, but all that it said was: “Shall we take my car or yours?” Jeremiah replied that he would pick her up in his car and that he had already checked MapQuest for directions to her apartment.
At 6:45 that evening, Jeremiah parked his car outside of Althea’s apartment complex. He checked himself in the mirror, grabbed the bouquet of flowers that he had bought earlier, and walked up to the entrance gate. He found Althea’s apartment number and pushed the buzzer. Despite the distortion of the speaker, when Althea answered the buzzer and rang him in, Jeremiah filtered out the noise and fell in love with what he perceived would be her real voice. Althea opened the door and told Jeremiah that she would be ready to leave in one minute, and exactly sixty seconds later, she told him that she was all set. Jeremiah appreciated a woman, or any person for that matter, who was exact.
“May I ask which restaurant are we going to be dining?” Althea asked Jeremiah as she locked her apartment door.
“Ah, yes, er, I thought that we would go to one of my favorite spots. It’s called Sadko’s; it’s a Russian restaurant and it has a roaming balalaika group. I hope that you like Russian food and music.”
“Oh, that does sound interesting. I can’t eat borshch because I’m allergic to beets, but I’m sure that they will have something else for the first course.”
“Yes, they do. They make a very good shchi, which is a cabbage vegetable soup. Would you be able to eat that…that is, if you want it.”
“No, that sounds fine to me.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jeremiah was parking his car in the parking lot. He quickly got out of the car and ran around it so that he could open the car door for Althea. She thanked him and, in what was a major deal as far as Jeremiah was concerned, she put her arm through his arm as they walked up to the valet station, gave the valet the key, and walked into the restaurant. The maitre d’ recognized Jeremiah, picked up two menus and escorted the couple to their table. The maitre d’ told Jeremiah that their waiter would be with them shortly and wished them a good evening.
“Good evening, gospozha, my name is Alexandr and I will be your waiter tonight. Would you care for anything to drink?”
“Da, pozhalista, butilka mineralnye vody.”
“You speak Russian? I’m very impressed.”
“Yes, well, some of my company’s clients are Russian and I decided to learn the language. I ordered a bottle of mineral water if that is alright with you. I don’t drink alcohol.”
“No, mineral water is fine with me. I only drink wine and that is only for special occasions.”
“Have you decided what you would like? If I may, we could order a plate of mixed pirozhkis for our appetizer.”
“That sounds very good. I have tried potato pirozhki at a colleague’s birthday party and they were very good.”
The waiter arrived with the bottle of mineral water, poured it into their glasses and set the bottle on the table. He then took their order and left. Jeremiah slowly lost his shyness and by the time that their entrees had arrived, he and Althea were speaking to each other like old friends, not that that was the purpose of the date, but it helped. Soon, the small balalaika orchestra came to their table and started to play “Dark Eyes”. Althea said that she recognized the music and asked Jeremiah what the words meant. He told her that it was about a man who falls in love with a girl with dark eyes, which is considered a sign of great beauty in Russia. Althea smiled and Jeremiah felt, for the first time, that he might be falling in love. By the time that the meal was over and they were getting ready to leave, Jeremiah felt sure that he would be seeing Althea more often.
Jeremiah gave the valet a nice tip when he brought the car up for them. When they were inside the car, Althea looked over at Jeremiah and thanked him for an enjoyable evening. He said that it was his pleasure, but didn’t say anything else because he felt that it might be presumptuous on his part. They finally arrived back at Althea’s complex, but, just as she was getting her keys out of her purse, they heard a threatening voice.
“Give me your money, both of you, or the bitch gets it!” Jeremiah saw a man about 6’1”, dressed in black, wearing a ski mask, holding a gun to Althea’s head. Jeremiah did nothing since he had never been in this sort of situation before. When the shock finally wore off, he tried to bargain with the man. In the meantime, Althea, who was a foot shorter than the man, struggled to get out of his grip. This only made the robber more angry, and Jeremiah quickly took out his wallet to give the man what he wanted. He grabbed the money from Jeremiah, loosened his hold on Althea only so that he could grab her purse. However, Althea, who know some defensive moves, tried to back jab the robber in the face with her elbow. Unfortunately, her jab was ineffective and angered the robber. He raised the gun and shot Althea. He then turned around and ran down the street. Jeremiah bent down to Althea’s body, and realizing that she was most likely dead, fell on his butt to the sidewalk. A neighbor who lived in the complex ran through the gate and saw the tableaux. She got her cellphone out of her robe pocket and dialed 911. The police and an ambulance were at the scene within twenty minutes. While waiting for the police to arrive, the woman went back to her apartment and brought out a blanket for Jeremiah. She was a nurse and her instincts kicked in; she knew Jeremiah must be in shock and that a blanket would be a comfort.
When the police arrived, it took a while for Jeremiah to come back to reality in order to answer the officer’s questions. Since Jeremiah’s car was parked in a secure area, one of the officers gave him a ride home. Jeremiah got out of the officer’s car, walked up to his front door and let himself in. When he got inside, he slowly stumbled over to his couch and laid down. The next thing that he knew was that it was morning. He got up from the couch, and like one of the undead, walked into the bathroom, got undressed, and stood in the shower for a moment before slumping down in the shower and crying.
It was one year after Althea had been murdered, and in all of that time, Jeremiah shut himself off more and more. Her killer had not been captured in that time and so Jeremiah felt less safe on the rare occasions when he did go out. He had also taken his name off of the list as a client for Cupid’s Haven. He began to lose weight because he would immerse himself in his work and forget to go out for groceries. In fact, it got to the point where when he did notice that he needed groceries, he would order them from a local store and have them delivered. One time his boss came by to see why he had missed an appointment to come into the office and was appalled to see the way that Jeremiah was living. He found empty food cartons and soda cans lying everywhere and Jeremiah looked like he had not shaved in a month. Jeremiah gave him some lame excuses for missing the appointment, and since his boss knew about the murder, he told Jeremiah that he would set things up so that if Jeremiah was required, he could just do a teleconference instead of trying to make an effort to come in. His boss also managed to get a promise from Jeremiah that he would clean up his apartment. He said that he didn’t want to see Jeremiah become a hoarder or read in the newspapers about Jeremiah being found dead under a pile of trash. Jeremiah promised that he would clean himself and his apartment and with that reassurance, Jeremiah’s boss went back to his office.
That night, with a heavy rain storm howling outside, Jeremiah had a dream. In his dream, Jeremiah found himself all alone on a small island, with only his desk, chair, and lap top computer. He wandered around the island for a while, gathering some fruit and berries that he found in the jungle which rose up about a half mile from the shore. With his arms loaded up with some bananas, a fallen coconut, and some berries which he “sensed” were not lethal, he walked back down to the beach, ate a banana and turned on his computer. He logged in and began to work on a contract, when he noticed a blinking red light on the bottom right hand line. He had never seen such a thing before and, at first, was not sure what it signified and what he should do about it. He decided to pull his cursor down to it and hit enter. When he did this, his screen disappeared and he found himself on a video conference with his boss.
“Jeremiah,” his boss said, “we have a surprise for you.”
“Wha, what is it?” Jeremiah said in a quiet and surprised tone.
“You’ll have to come in and see.”
“But I’m on an island. How can I get there? I’m not even sure where I am.”
“Just touch the screen.”
This made no sense to Jeremiah and he was reluctant to do it. As he was getting ready to turn off his computer, in the background he saw Althea. He was shocked to see her, but it was too good to be true and so he touched the screen. The next thing that he knew was that he was standing in his boss’s office. He looked through the door and saw Althea starting to turn towards him. She had been looking out of a window, which Jeremiah saw was dark and had occasional flashes of lightening. He started to run towards her, but when she turned to face him, he saw her clothes had gun shots in them. He suddenly stopped and, from the left, a shadowy figure stepped out, raised a hand holding a gun and fired at Althea. At that moment, hundreds of people suddenly appeared and went to surround Jeremiah and they were all yelling “Surprise!”. Jeremiah began to panic as the people crowded in closer to him. He also noticed that each person was holding a gun in their hands. Total fear gripped Jeremiah and he suddenly found the strength to push through the crowd and make his way back to his boss’s office. The computer was still on and he could see the waves breaking on the shore of the island. The moment that he got up to the computer, he touched the screen and found himself back on the beach. Unfortunately, the people in the crowd, led by his boss, also touched the screen and appeared on the island. After his boss appeared, the mysterious gunman appeared. Jeremiah found himself surrounded by hundreds of people and they were all pointing their guns at him. Jeremiah flailed his arms around and managed to clear a path towards the ocean. He had splashed out to where the water was coming up to his thighs when he found his feet stuck in the sand. He was slowly sinking and the crowd was following him into the water. He tugged at his feet as hard as he could, but he lost his balance and fell into the water face first. Jeremiah struggled and tried to put his hands on the sand in an attempt to keep himself from drowning. During his struggle, he felt the whiz of bullets speeding by him.
Suddenly, Jeremiah sat up in his bed with sweat pouring from his body. A bolt of lightening lit up the room and the boom of the thunder shook the glass in his windows. Jeremiah got out of his bed and walked into his bathroom, turned on the light, and stared at his face in the mirror. He got undressed and took a shower in an effort to calm his nerves. After drying off, he did not put his pyjamas back on, but put on a sweatsuit and went to his living room. He debated with himself, but he finally decided to turn on his computer. It was four o’clock in the morning and Jeremiah, as he always did when he first logged on, checked his e-mail. There was nothing of major interest so he logged in to his work station. An hour later, he was starting to feel tired and, not wanting to go back to sleep, he went to the kitchen and made himself a pot of coffee and made two pieces of toast. He finished eating the toast, poured himself a cup of coffee and went back to his computer. For the next few weeks, Jeremiah did not have any more nightmares, but it took him a while before he could fall asleep.
A month later, Jeremiah had just logged on to his computer when he almost fell out of his chair. On the bottom right hand line, a red light was blinking! He slowly moved the cursor over to the light and waited for a message line to come on to let him know what its function was. When the message came on, it said “office line”. Before clicking onto the light, Jeremiah took a slow breath in and let it out. He clicked it on and a video screen came on and Jeremiah saw his boss’s face. When his boss saw Jeremiah’s face on screen, he yelled “Surprise!”. Jeremiah’s face turned white, he fell out of his chair, and started screaming. His boss was shocked by Jeremiah’s reaction and tried to calm him down, but then suddenly, people that he worked with, in spirit, came through his door yelling “Surprise!” and “Happy Birthday!”. This was too much for Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is semi-happy now. The interns and doctors treat him very well, but they never leave him alone in crowds or let him use a computer.