Story: The Catfish and the Gem – 31/08/19

There was a girl of nineteen years old, who had everything at her disposal, money and power flowing through her hands in her world. From the outside she was a type of a dictator, with her ordering around of others in her world, although inside she was warm and kind-hearted, she was a wonderful young girl. She needed to appear forceful and strong to those surrounding her, for they knew that it was a difficult task to be forever, fixed, in the world’s view. Her father was a great philanthropist, and did much for the world stage, and her exterior personality was the opposite of his personality to be viewed. Still, they enjoyed father-daughter time on the porch, with him in his rocking chair, and she perched precariously on her childhood rocking horse, and together they would share tales of their day, of what had been, together they smiled, giggled, commiserated, pondered on what the future day would bring.

This girl, her name was Gemma, named aptly so because she was such a gem to her parents’ world, was a curious girl, although she’d been brought up in a wealthy world, she hadn’t had much opportunity to associate with boys, only other girls. This was because she had attended an all-girls boarding school for the entirety of her schooling life, only returning home during holidays to visit Mama and Papa, and little Rovie, her puppy who loved his exploring life. Because she had not been exposed to what the opposite sex was like, she felt somewhat unsure, perhaps inept, in dealing with them in real life. But she was an avid internet user, she enjoyed getting on the chat rooms and speaking with young and old, her favourite room was for Secret Billionaires, this title gave her a laugh and a half because often the users in the room were clearly catfishes wanting to earn some money to unfold.

Their traits were fairly obvious: they’d only call out for older women or older men, because, presumably, these people were easier to trick into love, and fooling them into sharing their fortunes would be such a breeze. Another trait would be that the catfish would be very pushy in nature, wanting to exchange personal details so quickly, this could be viewable within the chatroom discourse, they didn’t give a damn if their motives were observed ever so freely. The talk of their being an illness in the family, of needing medicine, or money for continuing studies, other such things, these were the red flags, the warnings, that could be observable, too. The constant talk and chatter of how they loved the other, wanted to be with the other forever, that they just needed some time to get the money together, and would they help out? Because wasn’t that what love was all about? “Here’s my number for Western Union Transfer.”

Gemma would giggle when she spotted a catfish in the room, it would amuse her to no end, all day, to view their silly little games that were always one and the same. Unsuccessful mostly, but saddened Gemma was when they hit a target, causing a potential future heartache, for someone who only wanted another to chat with. She always kept her mouth shut though, she didn’t interfere with the chase, there was no point policing these people, for, her wise words would go to waste. She had tried to expose several catfish in their time, but to no avail, she couldn’t help that the victims – two middle aged women and an elderly man – didn’t want to know of the truth, their endings were sad tales to unwind.

So, Gemma had many online chat friends, mostly young men, her closest friends were Harry, George, Michael, Simon, and Steve, with her female friends being her close girls from her school, as well as acquaintances from the online world, they were Lucy, Abigail, and Maureen. They loved to have a general group chat online together, speaking of what it would be like, how great it would be if they all got together, had a pizza night and watched movies with great delight, and then outside, fell asleep looking at the stars, and rose warm from the risen sun. They enjoyed planning out activities they could do in reality, but in essence, these activities would never come to fruition with any ease. Because they all lived in different areas of the world, except for her girlfriends, and a couple of the online boys, their lives could potentially cross into Gemma’s real world.

Her favourite boy to chat with was Bryce, she kept him secret from the others, he was her desired other, the one who she dreamed of spending her days with, a night of playful delights. Where they would sip cocoa, hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes, searching for something that they had already known to be so, a love growing, building, each day, with the tapping of their fingers in the chat window, her heart did so grow. He was charming, witty, had great discourse, and knew how to flatter – she always blushed with his many compliments.

He lived nearby to her, in the town over, but they had never crossed paths with each other, and before chatting, had never even heard of one another. This was rather strange, given that Gemma was well known, due to her father’s activities, and thus, her family name, but maybe Bryce led a sheltered life, and didn’t read any newspapers or magazines. She couldn’t, in essence, hold it against him that he didn’t know her name, that would be most arrogant to think that she should be perpetually heard of, known and seen. After all, she was simply a young girl, with a bossy exterior, who had a future bright and rich as could be. Simply speaking, this would be monetary, but she also was talented at many things.

She dreamed of Bryce often, daydreamed of his online picture, he only had one, but she didn’t mind, he’d said that he had accidentally dropped his phone one evening out of the window of the car. He had tried to film the moving scene and suddenly slip! It came away from his hand, no longer there, a has been, and since then he had only been allowed by his parents to use a very old mobile phone with a terrible amount of pixels that it wasn’t worth him taking more pictures for Gemma to fondly own. She believed him, of course, for if it were a lie, what a terribly rubbish one it would be, a useless method of explanatory discourse.

He didn’t have online social media accounts because he didn’t believe in following the trends, that wasn’t what Bryce was all about. He was about fluidity, anonymity, facelessness, freedom, he was an artist, his heart was overflowing, he wanted to capture the world in its essence and beauty, and Bryce said that Gemma was one of these, such a beautiful lovely thing. When she read these words, a smile flew upon her lips, a grinning, a delighting, a wondering at how he knew the words that she wanted to read. He seemed perfect to her, in every way, shape and manner, and she knew that soon, they would organise to meet each other.

Yet when she brought up the idea, he seemed to shy away. He was happy to promise that one day they would meet, soon, one day, but she needed to be patient, he was going through some things, and thus, in his town he needed to stay. Although Gemma had the feeling that she should not ask, she did so reluctantly, and he replied that it was indeed better to not ask. A few minutes later though, Bryce seemed to crumble. He told her everything that was happening in his world. 

His Auntie Lena was suffering from renal failure, they couldn’t afford the money for the thrice weekly visits to be worked on and monitored, they were trying to raise money online but to no avail, and it was terrible to have to ask others. He felt ashamed that he was begging others, mere strangers, to save her life, and this would be ongoing, the funding project would be continuing.

Then, his father was suffering from major depression, every now and then he would attempt to take his life, and they only ever just caught him in the nick of time. His mother could barely cope with the responsibilities of being the sole earner, and looking after an ill partner, and caring for her sister Lena, her life was stressing her out.

And here was young Bryce, in the middle of this hurricane, accepting the overwhelming emotions and pain that was what his life was currently about. In turn, Bryce now revealed that he suffered terrible anxiety at leaving the house at the best of times, in his late schooling years it had been so bad that he’d needed to be home schooled. Bryce was on the brink of a psychological melt-down, he could feel this happening to him, it was saddening to read, she really felt for him.

Gemma knew that she could offer him help in the form of donation money, but she didn’t think that this was what he was currently seeking. What he wanted from her was implicit understanding. Besides, he knew that she was wealthy, if he wanted her assistance all he had to do was ask her, she would kindly and willingly provide plenty.

With shock and sadness, Gemma had read his words, disbelieving at first, but then the reality started sinking in. How difficult it would be to be in Bryce’s shoes, in his world, when everything around him was crumbling? The instability of his life was quite obvious, and the ailing mental health of his immediate family was a struggle to absorbed by herself, she felt such pity for him, and what he was going through. She wanted to reach through the computer screen and hug him tightly, until he understood, until he knew, that she felt so deeply for him now, so much closer for sharing the intimate details of his life, it was appreciated, too. She wanted him to know she didn’t think badly of him at, despite what he was next to say.

“I’ll bet you don’t want to be involved with someone like me,” he typed, the tone was definitely sorrowfully. “I’ll understand if you want to leave me alone, I wouldn’t want to talk to someone with problems like me?”

“Not at all!” Gemma typed chirpily, bubbly, for she knew she needed to be upbeat for him. “This doesn’t change at all the way I think of you, in fact, I now feel closer to you instead.” He flashed five smiley faces upon the screen, it was their secret code, five was their favourite number, and his happiness was there to be known. They began to talk more frequently as he began to confide in her more often, then came the worst week, where he promised he would finally speak with her on the phone, and then when she rang, there was nobody there to speak.

It just rang and rang, the call then cancelling itself, she didn’t know what to do, she had been looking forward to it for many hours. He wasn’t available online either, which was odd, but she returned to her day tasks of pretending to dictate to others what they should do in their daily grind, though inside she could feel a breaking of her love. For she had grown so close to Bryce with every single confided word he shared, she felt a part of his life, nothing was too much to take on, she knew she must continue to dare. To dare to be the best support she could be, Lord knew he didn’t have any others, let alone many, and whenever she heard the message alert, she opened it, there and willing, to listen to what Bryce would say, whatever the content was, of sorts.    

Suddenly, her phone rang, private number. Curious this was, she never received blocked numbers. Yet she jumped up with a shock, grabbed the phone and answered, heavy breathing was obvious, within her she knew that it had to be Bryce, how could it not? But then a laughing in the background, growing louder and louder and louder: “We’ve got your number, we’ve got your details!” Her face contorted, she didn’t understand.

“What are you talking about?” she demanded.

“Ha ha,” they muttered, and then a click, no more. She placed the phone on the mantlepiece and desperately returned to the computer, needing to speak to Bryce now, he surely must be home.

“Check your bank account,” a text message proclaimed as it arrived. With trembling fingers, she signed into the app, with dismay in her chest, and despair in her eyes. As she watched the numbers drop from millions into cents, she wondered who could be so cruel to have done this to her, what did this mean, what was meant? Had Bryce betrayed her? Hers was after all, a very secure private number, and she hadn’t given it out to anyone who didn’t need it, in fact, only a few people held it. It seemed mighty strange that mere days after swapping numbers that this would happen, and now her fortune was dwindling, now, gone, completely away, and she had no one to talk with about it, to confide, of who or where, or what to say. Another text message arrived, and she dreaded to think what it enclosed.

“You’ve been catfished by the Almightiest of Catfish, the one and only Ghost. Nice knowing ya,” it rounded off, with five smiley faces, and now she understood, it was known. Aside from monetary, she knew not of “Bryce’s” other motives, whoever he really was, but it was with great sadness that she knew this would affect her ability to trust. What was the point in caring for others when it could all be a sham? She threw her laptop upon the concrete, smashing it into pieces, of her online life, she no longer gave a damn. She would live in the real world, she wold educate others of what can happen when you least expect it, and by goodness would she share her embarrassing story so others wouldn’t have to experience other versions of it. And when her father would ask about the activities of her days, how did they unfold? She would share, with great seriousness, that she had educated potential victims and made them learned of the dangers of the online world.

© 2019 Alice Well Art, Lauren M. Hancock also known as Alice Well. All rights reserved.

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