In the following days, the man appeared to her again and again, almost driving her insane. He would be staring at her from the corner of the room during a work meeting, nodding at her from the hospital cafeteria in her own project, make an appearance as an extra in a film she was watching.
She would have thought she had gone completely mad, hadn’t he only appeared in the Virtual Space. She had never seen him in flesh and bones, which meant he must be an online stalker.
Elaine tried to think of who he could be, but kept drawing a blank.
Did she know him?
He wasn’t family – unless her family had some soap opera kind of secrets she wasn’t aware of.
He wasn’t someone she had dated.
Someone from school? He was too old to be a former classmate and too young to have been her teacher.
Why would a complete stranger stalk her?
He knew her name though, so he couldn’t be a complete stranger.
What did he want?
He hadn’t spoke to her anymore, after the meeting during her running session, so it was anybody’s guess what he wanted from her. What sign was he talking about?
Suddenly she half-remembered thinking about a sign one night when she had woken up to go to the toilet. Had that really happened? Or was it a nightmare this man had given her?
Someone patted her on the shoulder and she almost jumped out of her sit. It was her friend Sophie, who she had been waiting for in the cafe.
“You alright?” Sophie asked, mockingly.
“Yeah…Yeah” Elaine answered with a smile.
Sophie’s eyebrows arched in question and Elaine knew her answer hadn’t been very convincing.
“How are you?” she asked, to postpone the moment she would have to start talking about her problem to her friend, although it was the reason she had texted her in the first place.
“Yeah I’m alright, job’s boring and men are awful, so nothing new really” Sophie said, smiling and adjusting her hair. “Went for a date with the Danish guy I told you about. It was weird. We couldn’t find a single thing we agreed on, every conversation turned cringy. Why is it that texting is so easy and fun, and then you meet and it’s like it’s the first time you ever talk to this person? ”
“You met him in person person?” asked Elaine, her eyes almost popping out of her head.
“Of course not!” exclaimed Sophie, “We met at the Riviera’s Virtual Space”
“How does that work?” asked Elaine.
“Jesus Christ, how long has it been since your last date?” laughed Sophie.
“Well last time I went for a date you would actually go to the place but sit on your own and you had a screen in front of you and see the guy on it. A bit like sitting at the same table, but not physically” Elaine said.
“Sadly, I am not”
“That was years ago!!”
“Yes it was”
“Oh my god are you even on a dating app or..?”
“I tried a few” said Elaine and Sophie responded with an exaggerated sigh.
“Every venue now has Virtual Space dining options” said Sophie, “on the Collective Server”.
“Do you have to go there?” asked Elaine.
“No, you connect from home, or wherever you want”.
“What about the food?”
“They deliver it!”
“How do you eat while you’re connected?” asked Elaine.
Sophie shrugged. “You get used to it. I do that at work too sometimes”.
“That sounds bizarre” commented Elaine.
“What’s bizarre is that you haven’t been out with anybody in years, hun!”
“Yeah well now I’ve got myself a stalker so that might be about to change” Elaine tried to joke.
And there it was, just like that, she had finally told somebody.
Sophie was looking at her with genuine concern, waiting for her to elaborate.
So Elaine told her about the man.