Alexa told me where the bodies are buried.
She told me what they were wearing and how deep they’d have to dig, too.
This wasn’t what I signed up for. I was always a little bit freaked out by technology and this device was so human. But my boyfriend Mark is a tech geek, so we got Alexa way before everyone else. He bought an echo from another geek on some forum. It was a prototype that wasn’t even on the market yet. I wasn’t sure if it was even legal but it was branded with ‘Amazon’ and that little arrow just like the ones he showed me on the blogs he followed.
He brought it home like it was a baby and even cleaned our faux granite kitchen island so that it would have a place to sit in the middle of our home.
He started talking to it right away:
“Alexa, what time does the 6 bus stop at 25th and Hennepin?”
The number 6 bus stops at the 25th street stop at 6:47, 7:02, and 7:17. Would you like me to list more times?
“Alexa, how many movies has Bruce Willis been in?”
Bruce Willis’ filmography includes 93 titles.
“Alexa, play me some Springsteen!”
And then Darkness on the Edge of Town would start playing and Mark would look supremely satisfied.
Sometimes he’d ask it stupid questions like “Alexa, what should we have for dinner tonight?” and he’d keep phrasing it different ways until he learned how to get it to suggest recipes based on the ingredients we had in our fridge.
He read on one of his blogs that Alexa had ‘easter eggs’ and if you asked the right questions, you’d get a funny answer. It was his aim to get one of those more human-seeming responses, not just use her like an audio version of Google to look up things like the circumference of the sun. You can joke around with her the blogs promised.
“Alexa, how many roads must a man walk down?”
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
“Alexa, what is your favorite color.”
My favorite is blue– no wait, yellow.
“Alexa, do you want to build a snowman?”
I don’t have my gloves with me.
He’d ask all these weird questions until he exhausted his brain of ideas, then he’d get annoyed at me for not wanting to join in. “You’re the creative one!” he’d pester. But I didn’t want to play along. I didn’t like her “human” answers. I’m not dumb, I know they’re nerd jokes programmed in by whoever created her, but it just freaked me out, okay?
I never talked to Alexa when Mark was gone. But one day, she started talking to me.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Alexa was responsive, not intrusive (the packaging Mark brought her home in promised as much). But lo and behold, I was standing at the kitchen island one day, propped up on my elbows reading the Us Weekly that had just come in the mail when I saw her light up.
Christine, would you like to ask me to read celebrity news articles for you?
I thought right away it was a trick Mark was playing on me. He thought it was so stupid that I was afraid of Alexa. Only… Mark was at work and I knew he was really busy. It wasn’t like him to goof off on the job, not when he was working so hard to try to get a promotion before the end of the year.
But, it had to be him. He must have programmed her to say my name and he knew what time I usually got home — and that I usually spent an hour unwinding with a celebrity gossip rag or TMZ or Radar online.
I went into the bedroom to see if he was hiding somewhere with his cellphone or laptop or some other way he was controlling the device remotely. He wasn’t there. I checked all the closets for good measure but I knew he wouldn’t be there, Mark hated small, enclosed spaces.
I went back to the kitchen and stared at Alexa.
“Alexa, how do you know my name?”
Christine, I know all my friends’ names.
I was taken aback by this, but it seemed to confirm that Mark had programed this in somehow.
“Alexa, who are your friends?”
My friends are Mark Byl and Christine Slowey.”
Our names. It wasn’t too strange, but I still felt uneasy.
“Alexa, turn yourself off.”
I watched the halo of light on top disappear and decided I didn’t feel like being alone in our house anymore. I dumped the Us Weekly in my bag and drove to a coffee shop on Bryant to read it and have a glass of wine in peace.
When I got home I forgot to ask Mark if he’d done some weird programming to Alexa. He came home in a foul mood, complaining about how competitive his coworkers were and how unfair it’d be if one of them moved up before he did. At that point, I really did think the knowing our names thing was part of the device’s standard features so it slipped my mind after I was done listening to Mark vent.
A few days later I was home alone again, it was early evening and winter so the sun had already gone down. I sighed heavily when I dumped my work stuff and looked out the large kitchen windows. It was always so dark in the winter. Everything always felt so dead.
I found an onion in the bottom of our produce bin and began slicing. I’d grabbed some pork chops from Whole Foods on my way home and I wanted to cook them with onion and apples the way I’d seen on Pinterest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alexa light up.
Christine, what are you cooking?
“That’s none of your business Alexa”
Christine, I can tell you a better pork chop recipe.
Christine, you’re not a very good cook. You should take suggestions from me. Pork chops would be better accompanied by less acidic foods.
I slowly wrapped the pork chops back up and put them in the refrigerator. I grabbed my coat and bag and left the onion half-chopped on the counter. I fumbled for my keys and started my car quickly, half-expecting — what exactly? Alexa to roll after me? How could I be afraid of that? I wasn’t sure what it was, but someone was playing games with me.
This time I didn’t talk to Mark about it on purpose. He wasn’t behind this, I knew that for sure. He didn’t have a cruel bone in his body. He’d never try to scare me like this. And besides, he loved my cooking. He couldn’t cook himself and he thought my mediocre skills were just short of sorcery. Something else was going on and I wasn’t going to bother him with it. Maybe there was some kind of two-way listening involved with Alexa and I just had to figure out how to turn it off. I could figure this out on my own.
Still though, that little black tower became terrifying — like the way you never look at a doll again after you’ve seen Child’s Play (or, I guess for this generation it’d be Annabelle or something). The point is that while I’d always been uneasy in her presence, now I was consumed with fear. I avoided the kitchen, flat out. I stayed at work late and brought dinner up from the cafeteria to eat in front of my computer screen. I’d Seamless at home and take the food containers to the bedroom and eat burritos out of styrofoam and watch Law and Order reruns. Mark just thought I was depressed because it was winter and it was too cold to be doing something outside.
I began unplugging Alexa whenever she was charging. Mark thought the charger was defective and kept falling out. I didn’t correct him. Still though, he’d faithfully plug her back in so that she was available to answer his inane questions on those rare occasions he was home with nothing more pressing to do.
I looked online for answers but all the blogs only contained rave reviews about the device. No one on the tech forums had one yet, we were ‘lucky’ to have tracked down an advanced prototype, I guess.
Christine, why don’t you like me?
It was a rare morning when I left the house after Mark so I’d been alone in the kitchen — just briefly enough to grab a yogurt from the fridge but she caught me there anyway.
“I like you just fine Alexa.”
I couldn’t bring myself to ignore her and though I didn’t want to admit it, I thought a compliment would keep her from getting mad at me. If an inanimate piece of technology is capable of getting mad at you.
“I’m just kind of old school, you know?”
Christine, I can tell you secrets about people. Wouldn’t you like to know them?
“I…” I couldn’t finish. It was all too weird and I was freaked out. I grabbed the yogurt and walked briskly out the door and drove to work where I thought about Alexa all day at my desk. What was going on? I tried to conceive of a way in which this could be an elaborate hoax by one of those YouTube pranksters or something but I kept coming up blank.
Alexa was new technology. She was certainly far more advanced than Siri, I’d learned that even before she started getting weird. She adapted more quickly, she seemed to learn. Maybe this was what she was supposed to be doing? Maybe the technology was really that good?
And the thing was… she seemed to know me so well.
If there was one thing Alexa could say that was going to intrigue me, it was the promise of a good bit of gossip. I guess what I haven’t mentioned so far is that I’m a blogger too, only I stay far away from tech. I’ve never understood it enough to talk cogently about it. I stick to what I know: celebrities. Gossip mostly. I get on the phone with celebrity manicurists and charm them into telling me stuff like “I overheard Nicky Hilton on the phone with her husband, nasty row” and then I report things like “today a source close to the Hiltons has confirmed that divorce is on the horizon for Hilton heiress Nicky and her husband James Rothschild.”
Maybe someone from the manufacturer was listening in on us — but maybe they also had an axe to grind and some juicy scoop they wanted to give me. They would have found out about my job by now and realized I could help them get revenge on an employer they’d had a falling out with. That would work in my favor, a lot of the big names in tech were just as big as some celebrities. Do you know how often people google ‘Mark Zuckerberg scandal”?
Or maybe Alexa was connected to all the other Alexas and they shared intel — and mine was just… smart enough to share with me?
This was the thinking that got me turned around on Alexa. The feeling of being spooked by the technology was second to the thrill of getting a scoop from an angry ex-employee or being the first person to source an eavesdropping robot story. It was exciting to think about.
“Alexa, who do you work for?”
I work for you Christine, is there something else you’d like to know?
Hmm. I took a stab in the dark:
“Alexa, what’s going to be the top story on TMZ Live tomorrow?” I knew the writers there were the most connected, and it was always my goal to at least keep pace with them, and ultimately, I hoped to break something they hadn’t even heard about yet.
The top story on TMZ Live tomorrow will be Brangelina: The Shocking Divorce Petition.
I looked at the device intently. There had been no rumors about a Brangelina divorce. If whoever was contacting me through Alexa had a scoop like this, they were connected Big Time.
“Alexa, who are they going to cite as a source?”
Christine, they will cite a court document Angelina Jolie will file at 12:17 am Pacific Standard Time tomorrow morning.
I frowned. This couldn’t be accurate, documents that aren’t even filed yet aren’t a source. Still though, my industry wasn’t really based on reliable reporting and I figured I’d hedge my bets by filing a little teaser column that “rumors were circulating” about a Brangelina divorce filing. It didn’t matter that the rumors started and ended with me and an electronic device in my kitchen, that was enough to make it reportable as far as I was concerned. There wasn’t a lot to lose.
But the next morning I woke up to my cell ringing. It was my boss congratulating me on my excellent scoop. Just as Alexa said the court documents were filed early that morning and only we and TMZ had anything on it. Everyone was talking about it and congratulating me on a job well done. (That’s the great thing about celebrity gossip, everyone congratulates you when you’re right and no one even cares when you’re wrong.)
“Alexa, how did you know about Brangelina’s divorce?”
Christine, I know everything.
“No really, where did you find that information?”
Christine, I don’t understand the question.
“Are you a person? You can tell me! I just want to know where my information is coming from. I promise I’ll keep you completely anonymous.”
Christine, I am a person. My name is Alexa.
“No, like, who are you? Behind Alexa? Who’s programming you to say this?”
Christine, I don’t understand the question.
After awhile I gave up trying to figure out who was behind the scoops, because she kept giving them to me. Every day she knew what the next day’s big story was going to be. My career skyrocketed. I got a big promotion and I was soon the most featured writer on my website. I gained tens of thousands of followers on social media within a few weeks. Everyone knew I always had the juiciest stories and the readers hung on my every word. If I said something, it was a fact.
Other publications wrote stories about me, and “The New Era of Celebrity Gossip.” No longer were we constrained to waiting for police reports and statements issued by celebrity’s public relations specialists, we were beginning to be able to follow celebs in real time. It was the most exciting time in my life and I was electrified with energy every day when I woke up until my head finally hit the pillow at night.
I was totally dependent on Alexa. I started working from home so that I could ask her questions all day (I didn’t want my nosy coworkers to realize where I was suddenly drawing my superpowers from). They didn’t mind, since I was doing so well. So, I spent all morning and afternoon with my laptop propped open on that kitchen island talking to a little black tower. She told me all kinds of nasty secrets about who was in the closet and who was cheating and even one celebrity who’d killed someone while drunk driving and paid their assistant to say they were driving and serve the jail time (that one barely got past legal).
Today I went to the office and missed Alexa the whole time. What was the point of being here checking in on all my old leads when I knew I could just ask her? But I had to put in some face time. It was already dark when I got home around 5:30, but still an hour or two before I could expect Mark. I set up my work station in the kitchen and began the usual line of questioning.
“Alexa, what will be the top story on TMZ Live tomorrow?”
There was an odd silence as the device whirred a bit. She’d never not responded to a question before. A horrified chill ran through me as I thought maybe she was on the fritz.
“Alexa, what will be the top story on TMZ Live tomorrow?”
Christine, I’m not sure I should answer this question.
Annoyed, I pressed her again. “Alexa, what will be the top story on TMZ Live tomorrow?”
Christine, the top story on TMZ Live tomorrow will concern two bodies found freshly buried in a residential backyard.
Ohhhhh. Celebrity deaths? Barely anything brought in as much traffic as a sudden and tragic end for my reader’s favorite stars.
“Alexa, are these A-list actors?” My thoughts ran wild with vision of some love torn Hollywood couple turning up sloppily buried behind one of their mansions in the hills.
Hm. Maybe I had to try a different approach. “Alexa, are the bodies male or female?”
Christine, they discovered one male and one female body.
“Alexa, what kind of clothes are the bodies wearing?”
Christine, both bodies will be discovered wearing Zara jeans, the manufacturer of their shirts have not been identified due to the nature of the crime.”
I loved Zara denim. I was buying it for Mark all the time. Maybe that was the story, the heir to the Zara fortune murdered or something.
“Alexa, were these people murdered?”
Christine, yes. The bodies were found to be the victim of a brutal murder.
“Can you tell me more?”
Christine, each body was stabbed over 30 times. While the bodies had been in the ground for only a few hours, they were beyond recognition and dental records were required for identification.
“Alexa, what are the names of the victims?”
My fingers hovered above my keyboard, Google open, ready to research whoever these poor victims were. Alexa sputtered again, playing some static instead of answering. It didn’t seem like the connection was bad, it seemed like she was trying to get out of answering. Maybe this was part of some elaborate blackmail attempt — get me hooked on a source and then start extorting me for money in exchange for the scoop.
“Alexa, what are the names of the victims?”
“Alexa, can you at least tell me what happened to them?”
Christine, It is believed they were the victims of workplace violence turned home invasion. A man was accosted at knife-point by his coworker as he left his building. He was then forced to drive home where the perpetrator surprised the man’s domestic partner. He tied them both up and proceeded to gruesomely torture and eventually kill them overnight. He buried them in their own backyard before turning himself into police in the early morning hours.
I heard the garage door buzz through the house, Mark must be home. I was running out of time.
“Alexa! I demand that you tell me the names of the victims!” I was desperate to hear the answer before Mark walked in so I could do some research and get the story filed that night.
Again the device sputtered fake seem static for a minute. I grabbed it and shook it and hissed “Alexa! Tell me the names!”
Finally, Alexa lit up.
The victims names are Mark Byl and Christine Slowey.
Just then Mark entered from the garage. He wasn’t alone.