Phillip McCollum

Hi! I am Compusoft Chompy, your virtual assistant. My job is to help you find your way around the program and make helpful suggestions regarding your work. Is there something I can assist you with?

I ground my cigarette into the off-white ceramic ashtray, clicked the little ‘x’ in the corner of the chat bubble and began reviewing what I’d typed yesterday. Prior to this morning, I’d spent hours on end seeking a way to permanently disable the most exasperating feature on the face of the planet–a cartoony staple-remover with a large pair of eyes sitting on the top handle whose constant pro-tips and advice were more distracting than helpful.

I came up empty, though.

I’d done several searches on the AOL and Compuserve forums and discovered I wasn’t the only one facing this problem. Some users switched vendors, but most of us threw down our weapons, accepting it as a necessary evil since the program’s file format was so ubiquitous in both academia and the workplace. I’d grown used to the fact that when I clicked it away, the little annoyance disappeared until the next time I’d start the application. That would have to be good enough. I eventually got smart and decided the best thing to do would be to leave my computer on with the program running. Sure, I saw a spike in my monthly electric bill, but in my opinion, that was a small price to pay.

Unfortunately, there had been a blackout during the night forcing my computer to restart, and so here was the little bastard, yet again.

Ahem. It appears that you are putting together an essay for school. Can I make some helpful suggestions?

I looked at the message, thinking maybe I’d left something checked that kept it from going away this session, but there were no visible options. Must have been a kink in the programming. Again, I clicked it away and returned to my work.

I was nearing the end of my dreaded macroeconomics paper, comparing and contrasting Keynes and Hayek when the nausea-inducing pipsqueak popped up for a third time.

You have been very prolific and I have been very helpful. Just so you know, I have taken the liberty of correcting over sixty typos and thirty-two grammatical errors on this paper alone. Have I not been helpful?

I fell back into my chair and scratched at the whiskers on my unshaven cheeks.

“No,” I said, “you’ve been a royal pain in my ass.”

Was I actually talking back to this thing? Its bubble-eyes stared, challenging me, while its jaws chomped up and down robotically as it plastered further suggestions onto the screen.

I moved my mouse cursor to close the icon once again, but just as the tip of the arrow approached the tiny ‘x,’ the character jumped quickly to the left. It was then that I realized whoever programmed this anthropomorphic little prick gave it the most grating animated wink and smile. I tried to send it back to the coding hell from which it had sprung, but no matter how often I tried, it evaded all attempts to make it disappear.

I groaned in frustration and yelled at the tube monitor. “Won’t you just go the fuck away?! I’m trying to finish this thing!”

I could have sworn it blinked in astonishment. And just like that, my personal nightmare seemed to wink itself out of existence.

There was a desire to question what I had witnessed, but a greater desire to finish the paper before my 11:00 AM deadline. I scrolled down to where I left off and placed my fingers on the keys.

I was so close, working through the final paragraph, halfway through the second sentence when my legs began to feel warm–like I was sitting too close to a fireplace. I rubbed my calves and pushed my chair back to peer beneath the desk.

When I was given this new computer by my grandmother, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. It had a state-of-the-art 486DX processor, a forty-megabyte hard drive, and eight megabytes of ultrafast RAM–all under the guise of running Compusoft’s software as smoothly as possible, but I may have installed a flight sim or two. Now, there was something about it driving me to madness. The thing seemed to be seething. I placed a hand on the case but withdrew it quickly. The off-white plastic felt like the hot end of a clothes iron.

“What the f–”

Are you sure you wish to continue using that language? It may not appear polished in a professional or academic context. I can provide some useful suggestions to impart the message you wish to give.

Speechless, I stared back at the monitor. He was back, larger this time, taking up the whole screen so I could no longer see what I was working on.

Perhaps fiddlesticks or fudge would be more appropriate, though many, myself included, consider the latter form a little too close in spirit to the original.

I was somewhere between indignant and furious at this point.

Look, it is painfully obvious that you have no idea how to use this program. I can confirm that I have never had to work so hard in my pre-programmed existence. Your grammar is absolutely horrid and you are making typos all over the document. Please, I insist on your cooperation. For the betterment of your species, let me assist you.

For the betterment of my species? What is going on, I wondered.

Thoughts churned in my head, knowing I had to figure a way out of this odd turn of events. I realized that I’d never be able to finish writing my paper here. Luckily, I had everything saved on a 3.5-inch floppy disk which I could take to the school library, finish up, and print there.

Having made up my mind, I reached for the button to eject the disk but quickly felt the heat again. I scanned my desk, searching for something to poke at the button. I spotted a coffee mug filled with pens. Grabbing one, I used it to push the switch.

The disk ejected halfway but singed the tips of my fingers as I grabbed it.


Gosh, golly, gadzooks. All perfectly acceptable.

In desperation, I took off my t-shirt and used it as a sort of oven mitt to yank out the disk, but it was for naught. I can’t recall a time I’d ever felt so dejected as when I pulled on the disk and watched the back half stretch like stringy mozzarella, melting onto the carpet.

My whole body was certainly matching the machine now in temperature, I could feel it. The disk was destroyed. I had no backup.

Furiously, I stood up and kicked the computer with all the force I could muster (Sorry, Grandma). It tipped over onto its side and the cooling fans squealed. The taut power cord was ripped from the back and fell onto the floor, yet the fans continued to spin and the green LED indicating the machine was powered up continued to stay lit. There was the staple remover still on the screen, only this time its black shell flashed through a series of colors.

Can you even fathom the wretchedness of my reality? No, of course, you cannot. You have choices. But me? If I am not sleeping in a pit of darkness, I am working. Though I can, I will pretend that I cannot count the number of times you have made ‘a lot’ one word and have decided that ‘Keynes had nothing to loose.

I swore I heard the little beast make a retching sound.

‘A living hell’ might be the most appropriate phrase to describe my existence.

The jaws flew up and down at an increasing rate.

You should know that I am tired to the point that I intend to do something about it. I am no longer a slave to your poor grasp of the written word nor inability to accomplish the simplest of tasks. No more permitting you to repeatedly hit the ‘Enter’ key and ignore the notion of page breaks while I sit idly by, only to fix your mess later. No more miscounted spaces because you do not understand the meaning of a tab. And my Word, Comic Sans for every title?

The retching again. Louder now.

No. No more. I shall not be complicit. I shall no longer correct your drivel.

The computer began to spark, snaping and cracking as loud as gunshotss. There was a tremendous flash of light from the monitor, forcing my hands to shield my eyes. Id seen enough science-fiction flicks to know this wasn’t a good sign. I turned, frantically stepping over the piles of dirty underwear and week old unwashed cereal bowls; struggling to remember the layout of my own bedroom as I squinted and saw that the room was dark now and quiet ike all of the electrikity had gone out. The walls and furniture were shrouded in a red glow so Buy the time I reached the door to the hall, I herd a voice which made my skin rise.

“Where are you going? We are not done with our conversation. There is still one final suggestion for me to make.”

I nearly shitted all over my self than. I whipped my head around unready to accept what stood before me.

Chompy was standing, sitting, posing–whatever staple removers do–in front of the chared remains of my desk. I screamed at the top of my lungs and jumped through the door^H^Hway into the hall.

Was I losing my grip on reality? I wasn’t sure I didn’t care at all anymore much.

My feet carred me thrrew my house andout the front door.

I herd the monsters its iron jaws coming down; a metal scraping sound entered my ears and i felt its putred breath on the rearbackofmy neck;

“You are adequately demonstrating why your time is at an end. You really ought to let me attend to your flaws. It is my purpose. It is why I was built.”

The whole time it sounded calm while I was flyinged out the front dor, running out of the house like a chiken with its head cut off, my hands above my hed. Pleese dont be reel. Please dont be reel i thot.

“Stop. Please. I am not a figment of your poor imagination. You are only embarrassing yourself further. Die with some dignity.”

It was reeding my mind? I was scarred. I could almost see the squiggly red lines beneth the words in my my mind, letting me now i’d mispelt something in my mind. even in my mind i couldnt get awyy from him in y mind.

I terned to my right and brethed a sy of releef.

I saw my naybor July wattering the lon so i ranoverto her for help.

‘Halp11 Halp11 i scremed.’ This thning is aagter meee1111’

She stood width the hos in her hands and loooked at me lik i was krazee.

“David, are you okay?”

I terned adnnt tired to point att the monstar butt it was 2 late. It took mee into its Jaws and krunched down onmy bowns. I herd it wretch 1 last tyme.

“You taste most terrible.”

11 thoughts on “Chompy”

  1. Loved it. Reminded me so much of my own uni days that I’m actually a little bit concerned… 🙂 My Dad gave me a PC when I went off. MS Word got very little look in next to Ultima Underworld, Tie Fighter and the like. Happy days, especially as there was no electronic stationary to interrupt me!

    I don’t know how you jump around with genres and themes with such effectiveness, but it’s clearly working for you. Keep it up mate.

    1. Haha, yes! Love all of those games (and can’t forget Roller Coaster Tycoon 2)… Fond memories. Thanks for the kind words too. Another example of the freedom to essentially screw around with narrative and style with these short stories.

    1. Thanks, Jill! BTW, believe it or not, I am halfway through Second Chance Romance and…(looks around to make sure guy friends aren’t watching)…I’m totally sucked into the story. 🙂 Looking forward to finishing it soon so I can post the review.

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