They’ve been robbing the Mexican convenience stores near my apartment. Groups of teens, described in group appearance in recent police news conferences as “diverse.” There’s always a few of them recording on their phone; I think they’re doing a viral challenge or some other relatively psychopathic young person activity. I’ve been taking shorter routes to Vons when I walk over to get my garbage for the week. I’m spending too much money on Soju and cans of sardines. I’m pretty sure I have a fake eating disorder or something. In earlier eras of human society, I’d just be slapped over the head by my mom and called immature. I’m pretty sure whatever I have is in an actual physical book nowadays: the DSM-whatever-number. On the neighborhood Facebook community watch page, a grey outline of a person in a square box says they think the teens must be part of a white nationalist chapter, or possibly hired agitators from out of state. Another square box responds that at least two of the teens or preteens are “foreign-looking” or “at least just weird-looking,” or, again, “diverse-looking.” I comment that they should be in school if they are children, so we should reconcile attendance logs in the local area. Another person responds that many absences would disproportionately be children of color and then another comment responds to that response to talk about something political.

I click off the tab into another tab on Google Chrome on another, but slightly larger and more expensive monitor to begin my unofficial workday by logging onto my VPN. I originally purchased my computer for gaming: the Nvidia graphics card, due to a supply chain issue somewhere in Taiwan, presumably because of economic shadow warfare perpetuated by the Chinese Communist State, has made the computer much more expensive. My net worth has increased by at least $1,000 in part thanks to tariffs. My investment holdings, which includes imaginary digital money and JPEGs of what looks like Gorillaz band members, are also rising this year. I don’t understand the world anymore even when I see it this clearly. It all feels negatively sloped on a bell curve and I’m no longer certain if we’re heading towards the lower or higher five percent.

After confirming that my current IP is based in a small Spanish-speaking country, I log onto my Finsta, which has the name “kidlove44,” something I found very on the nose and kind of dark. I wanted to be obvious. It elicits more random messages from other fake accounts, ran by authentically bad people—not me, a normal person—who believes in Jesus Christ and has a normal job. I am self-employed and my 501c3 is technically a children’s resources non-profit, which I donate money to through my mom’s bank account, so that she can claim the tax deduction while supporting her child. It is important to support children. That’s our organization motto, which I have stated on our website, in very large lettering, specifically “Georgia” font. So much goes into being a startup. So much goes into doing the right things. So much is exhausting.

At this point in my career, it’s easier to find the scary accounts on social media than normal ones. My explore page on Instagram is almost completely “child modeling” pages with names like “DashaDancer12” or “SaraSuperstar.’ Every account has a bio that states something along the lines of ‘This account is run by her mom” or “Big sister-ran since 2016” or “creepy messages will be blocked!” I know none of it is true. I know the men, sometimes women who run the accounts. They keep character every time I message them. The accounts have little girls, usually in a fancy photography room or on a beach, doing their stretches or bending over wearing leotards or swimsuits. These are the legal pictures, the ones Instagram can’t remove or ban accounts for, because child porn needs to have intent. You can’t get mad at parents these days. They want to show off their kids online: it’s inherently weird, but we’ve normalized this. Who are you to judge if they think their child is beautiful and should be shared with friends, family, strangers online? I wonder if this is what the tech lords think at the highest levels or if they’re just indifferent, just don’t want to be involved in that kind of conversation.

When I ask for more private photos, when I pretend to be a “photographer” in their area, it’s like we’re on Broadway. It’s like we’ve both mastered how to communicate only with lying. She asks me if I have kids of my own. I say yes and mention that I have multiple, even twins. The mom responds that she can only send the more interesting photos over an encrypted messaging app like Telegram. I say that makes sense. She replies with a smiley face and a username. This is how every account responds, like robots following a call center script. I think about the Dead Internet Theory, how conspiracy theorists believe every single person online, besides a few thousand real users, are actually experimental AI run amok, making generic posts or fake accounts—political activist accounts, -cellectuals accounts, -stan accounts for popstars or Korean teenagers—all algorithmic. Deep down, I want it to be true. I want all these accounts to be robots who, with mathematical formulas and lines of code, became obsessed with humanity’s worst sexual taboos and, by chance, are multiplying en masse through the web.

But I know that’s a best-case scenario. So, as always, we move to speak elsewhere, without shifting in our Aeron office chairs or our king beds, without leaving our homes, without exchanging a word of truth, and without showing ourselves. All online pedophiles start a conversation with “S2R,” which means “send to receive.” Even in our anonymity, there is the cultural fear that I am not who I say I am, which is funny, since I’m as untraceable and invisible as they are. There’s only one identifier we both seek in the other: are you as bad as I am? Will you send a photo to me that sickens the world so that I know what you really are? And I always do send the photo.

After we know one another, after we both share pictures of naked kids, my job really begins. I ask him if he’s ever acted on anything, ever taken photos himself, or if he’s just a collector. I look out my living room window when I can see he’s read my message and I catch glimpses of things that used to help me forget cruelty. A woman is walking a Pomeranian that looks like it has a mental disorder, big stupid tongue hanging out. There are sprinklers watering my neighbor’s marigolds, so the flowers learn to grow closer to the sky, their little arms open to God. The mailman is wearing the same sneakers that mailmen have worn since New Balance started as a company in 1906. Across my street, above my neighbor’s home, there are chemtrails from jumbo jets raining onto town. Ligotti believed that all things we feel are just made in factories now, that detached machines, more akin to creatures, produced any new emotions or opinions that make us want to live. I believe that there are more people who want to hurt others now. I also believe that there are, logically, more adults that want to also hurt children. I wondered if planes were really tossing ammonium across America, creating desires that only existed long ago, before Earth, possibly before the God I believe in, somewhere full of fire and imps and maybe child sexual abusers with names like Jeff or Johnny. I’m just going on and on and finally notice that the guy responded.

He says he likes to shoot photos himself and that art shouldn’t be restricted to what everyone else finds pleasant. He cites Peter Sotos as an influential figure but says he can’t think of any other artists portraying vulnerability in such an open way. Sotos, he says, is also not very extreme, and dishonest at his core. To quote, “the guy has never even touched a kid or downloaded Tik Tok in his life.” We talk for hours about a life I don’t live but say I am. I find out that he is in a group with hundreds of others, somewhere in an online coven off search engines, off ISP radars. I can’t get invited because I don’t have any original content of my own, the pictures I had sent being, to him, “vintage.” He makes a mistake when he tells me that children in SoCal are easier to groom since they’re Hispanic. I ask him if he’d like to meet at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles in my neighborhood, just so I can learn some tips, so I can keep the culture going. Yes, of course. No exchanging phone numbers or emails. Don’t ask me my name. Let’s both order only apple pies at 2PM tomorrow. Our conversation is over, and we will never speak again, if we don’t see one another with $1 apple pies in our hands.


His name is Scott. He is wearing a blazer with blue jeans, a Dodgers cap, and his T-shirt is for the band Death in June, some neofolk band. Scott is, surprisingly, not obese or horrific looking. In fact, he looks the same age as me, somewhere before 30 begins and your 20s end. His smile is clean, aside from some lingering brown crust from his value apple pie. Mine is cold, so I don’t eat it. We are engaged in a friendly conversation about our hobbies, which neither of us seem to really have. Scott says he isn’t online much, that he volunteers at a YMCA in San Diego and he’s a baseball coach for a Cal Ripken league. I tell him I like to be online because it still feels mysterious. I tell him I enjoy reading, that my favorite novel is surprisingly not Lolita but Juliette, by de Sade. He apologizes to me for being a stereotype, but says his is Lolita, and that he honestly finds it to be a beautiful novel about unobtainable love. A love he can only—in our society, at least—pursue in isolation and at risk.

“Nabokov,” he continues, sometimes looking over at his phone, “died in the 70’s, long before I was born. He seems to understand unrequited love, especially ours, in such a prophetic way. When I read that book, I don’t even get horny. I just think, sometimes too hard; sometimes I get really depressed.” He’s beginning to open up about concepts I don’t care to ever comprehend, so I ask him to take a walk with me, past a local primary school, where they have an outdoor urban farm that often the kids help with for an agriculture class. Sometimes they pick the tomatoes and toss them at one another, I say. Sometimes they smile so brightly that I almost wreck my Ford Fusion on days I like to cruise. Sometimes you get to talk to them through the metal chain-link fence, just for a few moments, before the teachers start to notice. On our walk, he says, verbatim: “I’m thinking minor-attracted people like us are going to be the next civil rights movement. You see how things are now. It’s like everyone encourages kids to be so slutty, to be so open.”

“Ferguson for child lovers. Million MAP March on Washington. There’s going to be a Malcolm X kind of guy, but he wants to fuck a child, then the CIA will snipe him from the other side of a boulevard.”

Le Guin wrote a short story about a utopia called Omelas. All lived in peace, as equals, as happy citizens. There were no supply shortages or crimes. No systems of capital or cycles of abuse. The only real event described in the story is that of a summer festival, with the young of Omelas racing horses in an eternal sun. The only catch, the narrator explains, is that the entire utopia is dependent on the torture of a single child, perpetually kept in darkness and suffering. On Earth, I thought, we get the opposite in every way.

I watched Scott go up to the chain-link fence, smiling like a clown. He saw sixth graders planting bushes, hands covered in dirt and faces gleaming. In real life, in our bare eyes, in our exposed pores, I feel that nothing personal can ever be fully hidden. Maybe chemtrails made us more visible in our real selves, not more insane or detached. Maybe the Internet has desensitized the normal person to fucking kids. Maybe I should let the guy off, because I feel bad. No, maybe the ammonium from the airplanes are driving me insane.

I reached into my pocket to turn off my memo recording, to begin to show Scott that I had been dishonest, to proceed to explain to him that I was disgusted but merciful like Christ, that I also accept payments for my company’s revenue in BTC, ETH, or Doge to a specific wallet address, that I will let him go but if I ever see him in Los Angeles again I would do something worse to him than what he wants to do with children, all the edgy things I normally did. Then, across the street, I can hear a woman screaming “‘Para! Para! Para!” and I see Supreme hoodies and ski masks, I see the new iPhones out, I see some kid doing a weird robotic dance as they throw bags of cash around a short abuela. One of the kids clearly has some handgun and Scott is just staring blankly, asking me if we should do anything or call the police. I say no and look over at him. He looks, now, terrified. In the commotion, I tell Scott that it was nice to meet him, that I enjoyed speaking with him, and that he should seek salvation from himself. I turned around, started to walk home, heard a gun go off, and someone screamed.


Life is a nightmare, but worse. Ligotti, I guess, and I know I’m beating a dead horse by now, knew that nothing could justify our existence. I thought about his opinions a lot, since starting my self-employment, thinking that I could find some clarity or justification for the pretty painful observations I have about myself; that I am normie, I need money, I am too Internet-brained and depressed and detached, I am obsessed with conspiracies or falsehoods, desperate to make anyone else feel worse. I sat down at my computer and uploaded my memo with Scott to the company Patreon, and the world kept turning, and people listened in to laugh, and I wanted very badly to never leave my house again. The chemtrails were still across the street, new ones. They extended fully across the sky I could see from my window, infinitely perpendicular. The lines are in Heaven, but I am not.