Eight-year-old Fern Terrible spotted her stepfather outside, carrying an ax. ‘Where’s Earl going with that ax?’ Fern asked her mother as the skinny woman in denim cut-offs took three microwave dinners out of the freezer. ‘You know he hates being called that,’ she said, the cigarette dangling from her lips almost completely turned to ash. ‘Call him father…or uncle…anything but Earl. Anyway, that stray cat that’s been living underneath the engine block in the yard gave birth to a litter of kittens last night, and Earl’s gonna…you know…’handle’ them.
Fern’s eyes bugged open.
‘He’s gonna…’handle’ them?’ she repeated, her jaw hanging open. ‘Awesome! I can use his computer!’ So Fern logged on to Earl’s computer—the password was 64ChevyChevelle…almost too easy, Fern thought—and went to her favorite site, iSty.com, where all her friends went to virtually ‘wallow.’
‘Some pig!’ the blinking banner ad declared. ‘Act now!’ You are our one millionth visitor! Enter your parents’ credit card information now and you may be eligible to win a FREE iPig!”
In that moment, Fern simply HAD to have her very own iPig. So she sneaked into her mother’s imitation silk purse—which, coincidentally, was made from a sow’s ear—and ‘borrowed’ her credit card. It wasn’t really stealing, Fern rationalized, as she just needed the numbers, not the actual card. Then—almost instantly—Fern had won an iPig: the hottest commodity amongst wired preteen girls such as herself. She clapped her hands together as it downloaded to Earl’s computer. When given the option to customize her new virtual pet, Fern chose the name Wilbur, the name of her real father who had left suddenly one night to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back. In retrospect, Fern thought, the fact that he left with two suitcases and was picked up by that blonde in the Camaro was kind of a giveaway.
Wilbur proved to be hyperactive and curious, always exploring Earl’s files and eating up more and more memory. He wanted to run free, but—instead—was penned behind Earl’s firewall. Wilbur became terribly lonely when Fern was away at school and couldn’t even interact with him on her cellphone. One day, though, when he was booted up, he met a new friend, Charlatan—an illegal piece of spyware generated from an undisclosed server somewhere in Uzbekistan.
Charlatan introduced Wilbur to a vast social network of virtual animals housed at the bottom of Charlatan’s hard drive. One night an old Giga-sheep named Dolly told Wilbur that he—judging from his code—was destined to be erased at the end of his trial period.
‘What do I do?’ the virtual pig asked Charlatan. ‘I need your help!’
Day after day the spyware waited for an idea to come to her. Then, suddenly, it happened! Charlatan began automatically populating blogs with hyperbolic entries extolling Wilbur as ‘radiant’ and ‘terrific’ until he became sufficiently viral. Thanks to Charlatan’s efforts, Wilbur became a web sensation: the most downloaded iPig ever! Due to the short life-span of her code, however, Charlatan proved increasingly incompatible with the latest browsers and operating systems.
“You have been my friend: in that social networking kind of way where we never actually met face-to-face,” Charlatan told Wilbur just before her death. “That, in itself, is a tremendous thing. I wove my websites with strong code because, well, U make me : o ) and LOL! After all, what is life anyway? We’re hosted somewhere for a while only to be dragged into the trash to make room for more code. I’m just some teensy, weensy spyware that spent its life weaving websites to catch files. By helping you, perhaps, I was trying to give my life an upgrade. And, Apple knows, we could all use a little of that!’
After Charlatan’s death, Wilbur managed to repay her by infecting hard drives across the globe with a virus she had ‘laid’ before dying. When the virus hatched, systems crashed across the globe: including the one in charge of Wilbur’s trial demo software, wiping out his expiration date. Wilbur was ecstatic, gifted with immortal life: that is, until Fern’s ninth birthday when—after receiving Earl’s computer as a gift—the fickle, impetuous girl wiped the hard drive clean to make room for all of her MP3s.