Hackers always wear ski masks. I have watched enough corporate training videos to know this for a fact. I would say that these ski masks are for hiding the hacker’s identity, but they seem a little unnecessary given that hackers always work from dark basements illuminated only by the eerie green light of their computer screens. Of course, I am not a technical person myself, so I attribute my confusion on this matter to ignorance.
This is what Jake looked like when he worked from the basement of his parent’s house. He told them he had gotten a scholarship to Rouvin University, but in actuality he had been funding his education by stealing personal information and selling it on the dark web.
Now, according to my research, hacking involves typing furiously for a good sixty seconds and then slamming the enter key. If upon doing so, strings of green zeros and ones started shooting vertically up a dark screen, your hacking was successful.
Jake did exactly this. His target was the Social Security Administration’s database. His heart pounded as those green letters flickered up the screen.
His hands trembled with exhilaration. He breathed deeply, trying to calm his nerves.
The code dispersed revealing a webpage, but not the one he was hoping for. He stared for a long moment at the screen.
He was in some kind of a document.
It was titled: Llama Lover.
Jake’s lips twisted into a puzzled half smile. He started reading:
It was a memory, clear as glass and old as time.
A boy standing on the street corner. He was skinny with long arms and legs and a mop of white hair on his head. But his neck, his neck was so long, unnaturally long, it would have disturbed me if he didn’t have such a nice face.
I remember how he smiled at me.
For that one brief moment, I felt like I could be totally myself. I felt like I was truly at home. A car past blocking my view, and when it disappeared he was gone.
That was four years ago. I still think about that boy.
What was this garbage? Somehow he’d ended up in someone’s Google doc, reading… he had no idea what.
He was about to close the window and make a second attempt at the government database, when he noticed a mistake.
Past should have been passed. He rolled his eyes and made the correction.
He wondered if it was all this bad? He skimmed down to the next segment.
Ive never been like the other girls. Im not into boys or makeup really. Since I started school here, Madison has been bugging me to hang out. She’s nice Madison She’s sweet and everyone says shes fun.
So why can’t I connect with her? Why can’t I connect with anyone? Why am I different?
Jake noticed some missing apostrophes and added them. Whatever this was it was laughable, so bad he was actually kind of enjoying it.
Everyone is talking about Fernando Fredrickson. He is an exchange student from Peru apparently. Madison has a serious crush on him. All the girls do. Well, all except me. Id never even seen him, at least until that day last week at the library.
He has blue eyes–blue like the south pacific. A pacific that would pull you into its depths and drown you. A blue and wild sea you wouldn’t want to be saved from. He has broad shoulders, strong broad shoulders that probably make it difficult to pass through doors. I would cut myself on the angles of his face if I ever were to stroke it (not that I have any reason for doing that.)
Jake couldn’t tear his eyes from the appalling text, with its bad analogies and grammatical errors. He had no choice but to continue.
The more he read, the more he hated the main character. Her name was Arianna Royal. She was “troubled” and “different”. He wasn’t sure what else she was, because the author neglected to give her any other character attributes. She had a bunch of very nice friends at her highschool. They were always inviting her to do things but she continually refused to spend time with them. Instead she chose to spend time with the mysterious Fernando because “From the first moment she saw him, she felt a connection she couldn’t explain.”
Of course it was blatantly obvious to Jake that she felt a connection with him because he was the boy from the flashback in the beginning.
Fernando only had one character trait–he was obsessed with Arianna. Interestingly enough, this seemed to be the defining characteristic of all the men in the story.
Jake could not figure out why. She was a passive person without dreams or hopes or motivation of any kind. Reading was her only hobby, though the author didn’t even mention what genres she liked. She repeatedly described herself as “not pretty like the other girls”. Yet, despite all this, there wasn’t a boy at the highschool, who wasn’t desperate for a date with her.
But she ignored them all, all except the mysterious Fernando. Arianna and Fernando had chemistry like a rock and a stick have chemistry. They spent their days staring at each other and whispering. Fernando had a secret.
Hes hiding something from me. I beg him to open up to tell me his secret, but he always dodges the question, changes the subject or turns the conversation to other matters. His neck is too long, and he is always chewing gum. There are always flys circling his head, and a musty alfalfa smell lingers on his clothes. Fernando why won’t you tell me your secret?
Jake guessed Fernando’s secret immediately. The title of the document gave it away. Fernando was a llama or werellama. Further reading indicated that Fernando was a llama “shifter”.
Now Jake had been to corners of the internet he didn’t care to revisit and thought he had seen everything there was to see, but he had never before encountered a llama shifter romance.
He had had it. He compulsively corrected the grammatical errors in the paragraph before him and closed the doc. He never found out what happened to Fernando and Arianna. He hoped they were happy. (Actually, he wouldn’t have cared if they had both been flattened by a steamroller.)
A few months later, Jake was looking for used textbooks on Amazon. Hacking hadn’t been as lucrative as he had hoped. Almost everyone’s personal information was already on the dark web, so the market was saturated.
He was pinching pennies wherever he could. As he scrolled, he noticed an ad in his feed. It was for a book called Llama Lover. The cover was a badly edited stock photo of a shirtless man in blue jeans. He was casting a shadow but instead of taking the man’s shape, it formed the silhouette of a llama.
Jake chuckled to himself and clicked the ad. His smirk vanished immediately. The first line of the description read: Over 1 million copies sold! A quick search verified the claim.
Jake gave up hacking and took on an honest profession–writing shifter romance novels. His pen name was Jamie Smith. Everyone thought he was a twenty-nine year old woman instead of a nineteen year old college student wearing a ski mask in his parent’s basement.
He reused the same plot over and over again, just changing the setting slightly along with the kind of animal the shifter turned into.
And again and again the books sold. He eventually made enough to drop out of college, and start a tech company. He invented a platform that made it easy for authors to create and distribute content. He had downloadable plot and character templates, tagline generators, and more.
Users could find books they loved, books they hated, and books they loved to hate.
Katy’s Note: The above story is dedicated to Amelia. When I asked her to pitch me the worst romance idea she could think of, she responded “llama shifter” without a moment’s hesitation. This is what friendship is all about.