The computer was not a high priority in her life. For years she had avoided any close contact with the cold, seemingly heartless machine. It was an almost necessary demon, which enabled Penny to type up her scribblings and to change and edit the words with ease. It’s all she wanted from the laptop sitting unobtrusively on her desk. When not in use it was folded away out of sight in a drawer.

Penny had a friend who was an absolute wizard on the computer. He understood the complex workings of them, and how to get the most out of their sometimes frustrating moods and idiosyncrasies. It seemed to Penny the majority of what Rory said whilst solving the many problems with the computer, was not the sort of language to be repeated in mixed company.

Penny sat down to do some writing, lowering her trim derriere on to the chair, her eyes adjusting to the flat screen in front of her. The blank page was always a challenge to conquer, and the cursor seemed to taunt her as it flashed persistently at her staring, bright blue eyes.

It was no good. The words refused to come forth. Maybe if she made a cup of coffee it might help. Penny was no stranger to procrastination; it was her closest friend at times. In fact, if Penny had a great story for every time she’d put off writing, she would be a famous author by now. Penny took her time making the coffee. The beans first required grinding. Placing a couple of spoonfuls into the machine she turned it on to hear the silence shattering sound of the motor as it crushed the shiny brown pods into a fine powder. Ah, that aroma. It always smelled much better than it tasted! Penny filled the cafetiere with water, placing the filter inside with the ground coffee, replaced the lid, and set it on the stove to heat. Next, she poured some milk into the ceramic jug which she placed into the microwave to warm.

All this activity gave her an excuse not to write anything. The coffee began to gurgle on the stove; Penny reduced the heat and waited for the soft purr and welcoming smell that meant the brew was ready. She took her mug of coffee back to the computer and sat down in front of the blank screen once more.

A knock on the door disturbed her reverie. Thank goodness. Another diversion from her writing.

It was Rory. He could smell coffee from a hundred paces. Rory lived in the flat next door and was a close but not romantic friend. Not that he didn’t want to be, but Penny made it abundantly clear that it just wasn’t on – Rory lived in hope.

“I thought it must be that time of day,” he began.

“I’m sure you must have a built in alarm that goes off whenever I put the kettle on,” Penny remarked. “It’s just as well I made enough for two.”

“So, what are you not writing about today?”

“As a matter of fact, I was plotting the story of a lost and confused woman with a caffeine addiction,” Penny replied.

“Well you certainly have the qualifications to write about that. How’s the computer behaving today?”

“O.k. I suppose. I haven’t actually done much yet.”

“Have you ever had a look at E_vade?”

“No, I can’t think of anything there I need. Besides I don’t really understand how it works.”

“I can show you if you like. It’s not as though you’re doing anything else.”

Thus began a journey which, although innocent in it’s intention, became an unhealthy obsession … Rory was to curse the day he’d mentioned it to Penny.

He began to show Penny how the whole system of E_vade worked, registering her on the system with a user name – ‘pennyheaven’.

At first, Penny just looked through the various categories of items without too much interest. Then it happened. She found the books.

Penny loved books. Whenever she went shopping, one of the first places she went was the bookstore. Hours later – or so it seemed to Rory – she would emerge her double glazed eyes shining on her pretty face. Now, it seemed she had a whole store of books readily available! Scanning through the list, she wasn’t really aware of things around her anymore. After a few tentative bids, Penny really began to understand the workings of the system. This was much more exciting than writing.

A few weeks later Rory began to worry about Penny. She was normally very fastidious about keeping her flat clean and tidy. It seemed that now, whenever he called to see her she was sitting at her computer on E_vade. There were clothes and books all over the floor and most other surfaces, and her long blonde hair which was normally bright and shiny looked dull and unloved.

Her bank balance began to show a steady decline as her bookshelf developed a steady incline. Maybe she had better buy another one. There were plenty to choose from on E_vade. It was as Penny was scanning her way through the furniture category that a listing caught her attention. ‘TIME OF YOUR LIFE’, it read. She couldn’t resist it; she had to click on the link to find out more. There was no photograph accompanying the listing but it said: Maybe it’s time you fixed up your life. Time you made some decisions about who and what you are. For a special “Buy it Now” price we can help you. Simply click on the buy button and confirm your bid – we will do the rest …

Penny felt a little concerned about the lack of information but she was also very curious. It wasn’t much money to spend for a bit of a laugh, was it? And there was something irresistible about the whole site. It seemed to draw her in somehow. Her excitement rose as she clicked the bid button. There was still time to pull out until she confirmed her bid. “You only live once,” she thought to herself. Penny clicked the button and there was a sudden rush of noise as she felt herself being drawn physically into the computer screen as though all the molecules and cells of her body were suddenly becoming a part of the computer itself. It reminded her of being on a roller coaster with her breath being forced from her body.

When the sensation stopped Penny felt empty, as though she didn’t really exist anymore; just like a blank page. In fact, her heart was beating in time to the cursor’s pulsing – she was the computer screen. When she tried to call out there was silence. She could still hear what was around her – although when the fan kicked in it blocked everything out – but she could only see what was directly in front of her looking out from the screen. This was spooky. After what seemed to Penny like hours, she heard the familiar sound of Rory’s voice calling out for her. She tried again to scream, but still nothing would come.

Rory sat down in front of the computer directly in her line of sight. He was wearing his frowny face, the one that he used whenever there was a problem he couldn’t understand.

“Typical, a blank page,” he murmured. “Maybe I should leave her a message on the screen, it’s the only thing she responds to now.”

Dear Penny, he began. I called in to see you but obviously you have found somewhere more exciting to be than writing your book. You know where I am and how to get in touch, so I’ll leave it up to you. I’m tired of chasing after you and getting no response. If you can drag yourself away from E_vade some time, give me a call. Love, Rory.

He hit the ‘save’ icon.

Now the whole time Rory was writing this, Penny could feel the words; really feel the emotion behind the letters being typed on to her. For the first time since meeting Rory she could actually understand what he really felt for her. Up until now she hadn’t taken him too seriously, thinking he was joking about their relationship.

Suddenly, Pennie’s thoughts began to manifest onto the screen as words …

“I’m so sorry Rory. I didn’t know I was hurting you. I don’t know where I am or how I got here, but I’m stuck. I wish you could hear me!”

“What the…where are you? Your words are appearing on the screen in front of me. How are you doing that?”

“Somehow, I have become the computer! I can see you and hear you; I can even feel how you are feeling for goodness sake! Can you help me?”

Rory was confused, unable to get his mind around what was in front of him. None of the nerdy computer courses had mentioned anything like this.

“Explain to me exactly what happened. Be as accurate as you can, and don’t leave anything out.”

Penny’s thoughts appeared on the screen as she detailed what had occurred to her, as much as she could remember.

When she finished Rory was more confused than ever, and incredibly worried.

“I need to think about this for a while. Maybe you should do the same.”

With that he left the computer – or Penny, and went for a walk to clear his head.

After he’d gone, the computer slipped into screen saver mode, and Penny’s face appeared randomly around the desktop.

The block of flats were near the beach, and this is where Rory headed. Maybe if he could get some clean fresh air it would help him to figure this problem out. He strode along the sand just above the tide line until he reached the rocks at the end of the beach, where he sat, staring out to sea with the salt infested breeze suffusing his lungs. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there meditating, but eventually the sharp points of rock and broken shell began to permeate his consciousness, and his backside. Time to return.

When he went back, the computer was ‘asleep’, so he pressed a key, and lo, the cursor was blinking at him once more.

“What happened? Everything went dark and I couldn’t see anything at all,” wrote Penny.

“You just shut down that’s all.”

“What are we going to do? I can’t spend the rest of my life like this!” she exclaimed.

“Maybe you need to think about what it is you would like to spend your life doing. That’s not as silly as it sounds. If you could get out of there, what would you most want to do? How could you change the way your life was heading, and make it better?”

“Well, I guess I’d take you more seriously for a start. Fancy being on intimate terms with a computer; gives a whole new meaning to ‘laptop’ dancing. I suppose I have been wasting a lot of time mindlessly scanning E_vade. I don’t know why, it just got me hooked like some sort of drug. Ok, when I get out of here I’m going to finish writing the story I had in mind, maybe I’ll write it longhand it’s safer. Then I’ll try to make it up to you for treating you so casually. In fact I’ve been rough on quite a few people. But how am I going to get out of here?”

“Ok, I’ve been thinking,” began Rory. “If I go to E_vade and search for ‘soul mate’ maybe something will turn up.”

While he was talking he’d signed in to E_vade and done a search. What he found made him laugh out loud.

‘Pennyheaven’ – As new, brain hardly used. Slightly confused but willing to change. Wants a long-term relationship with genuine partner. Height 165cms. Weight 50kgs.Eyes – two, mainly blue. Hair – long and blonde. Attitude – conciliatory. Buy it now, or forever hold your peace.

Of course he hit the button, and suddenly Penny appeared before him in the flesh, as though by magic. There is a time when you first waken from sleep when you aren’t quite sure where you are or even if you are. That’s where Rory and Penny were. Neither of them really knew whether it was real or a dream. The one thing they were both sure of was, they belonged together.