MAESTRO • by Charlotte O’Farrell

I watched Jerry in silent awe, amazed by the quickness of his fingers across the keys.

Back straight, elbows relaxed at his sides, he made what he did look effortless. He was the master, though — there was no denying it. What he produced was sheer poetry.

I noticed the look of concentration on his face when he was in the zone like this. He barely even blinked. He was so absorbed in his art; it consumed him. Years of practice, of intensive study, all coalesced into this perfect act of creation. This, I knew, would be his masterpiece.

I’d known he was The One as soon as I met him. His eyes had found mine, but remained somehow far away, as if fixed on something in the distance others couldn’t see. As I grew to know him, I recognised his talent and realised that this remarkable man would use his gifts to change the world.

At last, he finished. He leaned back in his chair and floated down to reality. His fingers stroked the keyboard as if cooling down from the months of effort he’d put into his work.

“Is it done? Finally? I can hardly believe it,” I said breathlessly, stepping forward out of the shadows and planting a kiss on his lips.

He nodded and spun the laptop he’d been working on towards me.

“At last. Want to do the honours?”

Hand shaking, I reached forward and pressed Enter. The screen buzzed, scrolling through hundreds of email addresses in an instant. Then thousands, then millions.

By morning the Grief virus would be inside every government, business and organisation on the planet. It would be infesting them, eating away at contact lists, servers, individual computers. Destroying all it touched. The world would be on its knees. Only Jerry and I would have the cure. And we would withhold it, until the entirety of humanity begged for it. We would have everything we wanted or needed for the rest of our lives, without question. No-one would dare challenge us after this.

I kissed him again. My little world-changing genius.

Pulling back from his desk, he took out a camera and snapped a shot of me next to the laptop, code showing.

“For posterity!”

His words were jolly but there was something in his eyes I’d never seen before – at least, not directed at me. It was coldness. Some kind of calculation was going on in his brilliant brain.

I looked at the screen. The Grief virus was working its way through thousands of bank accounts, emptying them into new ones. I didn’t recognise the names or locations of the ones our loot was being deposited into.

“It’s been a delight. Really. I must thank you,” he said, jumping to his feet.

“Jerry – what do you mean? Where are you going? They won’t trace it back to my flat for—”

But the sick feeling was already settling in my stomach. Images of the last few months of his coding marathon flashed past my eyes: Jerry registering so many things in my name. Jerry taking photos of me sitting by the computer as I admired the genius of his code on the laptop. Jerry never letting me take a picture of himself, saying he was “shy”.

He moved towards the door. I felt my knees buckle under me.

“You can’t do this,” I whispered.

He shrugged.

“I’ve got a plane waiting for me. I don’t have much choice. What fun would all this money be if I spent the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, waiting to be arrested?”

He opened the door. Too far away for me to try to tackle him now.

“Besides – you were the one who pressed Enter.”

The door slam made the room shake. In the distance, I could already hear the sirens.

Charlotte O’Farrell writes horror. A lifelong fan of the genre, her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including ‘Daughters of Darkness’ and ‘Sirens at Midnight’. She writes daily flash fiction on Twitter @ChaOFarrell. She lives in Nottingham, UK with her husband, daughter and cat.

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