Everyone In Howeville, Virginia Will Tell You My Family Is Cursed — But The Truth Is Way Darker Than Any Urban Legend

Success! Success! There was a laptop in that box and it started. I felt it’s cooling fan start to whir on my table and thanked my lucky stars.

The next six hours were a blur of pure unfiltered Internet binging. Memes, Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, BuzzFeed…it was glorious. Even just a few hours without a connection had left me starved, and to those of you who wondered why I didn’t just go on my phone, you can sadly know that I do not have a smartphone in 2017.

However, after six hours, even I was burnt out. I needed something a little more quaint, old fashioned. I searched the Start menu and was overjoyed to find the old crossword program that Jonathan made for his high school senior project.

Jonathan was a coder before it was cool, or something you could learn on the Internet. His crowning coding achievement was designing a program which allowed you to create your own crossword puzzles. He made the mistake of showing it to me when I was 13 and I fell in love. The coding part was too complicated for me, but I loved to make him build crosswords for me. It was so much fun to do a real crossword puzzle with questions that had to do with my life. Not the boring ones you would find in the newspaper with questions about old presidents and Shakespeare.

I have to admit, I started to tear up a little bit when I launched Jonathan’s crossword program, saw the intro page light up with a paragraph written by him, addressed to the senior project committee which talked about his enthusiasm for coding and how he was going to study computer science in college. It hurt to think that the only Barnes who wasn’t thoroughly beaten down by the world was sucked out of it by some awful person who would never be caught.

Those emotions only fueled my thirst for Jonathan’s old crossword program. I was thrilled to find the program was loaded up with his old crossword prompts when I clicked on the Open option. There looked to be around 50 crosswords created by my dead brother that I could solve.

My brother wasn’t Bill Gates though. His program was extremely simplistic and limited. It only gave you one question at a time and could only design crosswords where the answers were stacked up directly on top of each other like this:

squares

This may have been why he graduated from college with a degree in Communications, not the Computer Science field he initially aimed for.

I didn’t let the limitations of Jonathan’s work bother me the way it probably bothered his computer science professors. I dove right in and started devouring the crosswords which strangely seemed to mostly be about baseball and 90s Sports Illustrated swimsuit models even though Jonathan was only a casual baseball fan and always came across as asexual.

I flew through the crosswords in a few hours until I was sitting in my room with the only light coming from the blue glow of the screen with one last crossword yet to be completed. I was legitimately sad and a little worried the last saved crossword wouldn’t actually even really be a full-fledged puzzle since it did not have a title. It may have just been a draft. The others were all titled after popular 90s alternative rock songs – Santa Monica, Otherside, In Bloom – I loved it. “Untitled,” unless it was a clever take off some untitled track on an album I wasn’t thinking of, was a serious let down.

“Untitled” was a legit crossword though. The first question popped up.

Who is Charlie’s favorite baseball player?

I should have known the answer to this question because I knew Charlie’s favorite baseball player tended to flip flop when he was younger. I knew it was one of the Juniors though. Either Cal Ripken Jr. from over in Baltimore or some other younger, cooler Junior who I don’t think my dad liked.

I tried Cal and Calvin and Ripken and Ripken Jr. first. Didn’t work. I was going to have to research this one.

I hadn’t been in Charlie’s old room in over a year. Tucked at the end of the hall, the room was always the coldest in the house, because of its positioning underneath a big tree. It was also the room left in the house which was still the most like it was left by the person who moved out. Because he was the most-beloved due to his ability to throw a leather ball, nothing was ever changed in there because my mom always wanted him to come back as much as he could, even though he never did, even once… His fake gold trophies still lined the dressers, newspaper clipping of his exploits were faded but still pinned to the wall. A few stray pairs of panties from his glory years of high school were still tucked into the back of his sock drawer.

The stale, musty stench of abandonment greeted me when I opened the door to Charlie’s room. I hated even looking into that his little domicile. It still boiled the jealous blood in my veins all these years later. I could probably only handle going in, checking the closet where I remembered he kept his sleeves of favorite baseball cards, grabbing them and getting out. Any longer and I might have to break another one of those precious trophies.

I had to admit, seeing Charlie’s childish writing on the top of the sleeve full of old cards with the phrase “My Favorite Players” did touch my heart, but only with one, tentative and sentimental pinkie. I could still picture my oldest brother as the golden-haired exuberant little kid with buck teeth who just loved baseball before the weight of the harsh world wore him down. Even I had some sentimental sadness tied to that.

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