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Googolplex by James Renner 

Page 2 of 4

On Halloween they put out a huge bowl of candy bars. Not those mini Snickers, but full-sized Musketeers and Baby Ruths. It was a silly way to ingratiate themselves with the neighborhood. But most parents wouldn't let their kids stop. They waved awkwardly from the street or simply ignored Alan and Trish as they escorted their little vampires and cheerleaders from the Seiberlings' to the Kormuschoffs'.

Trish and Alan still had friends from Kent where they'd lived near the university for a number of years, and so, in order to feel less lonely in their home, they began to host frequent dinners and game nights with their old chums. It was during one of these social dinners, over a game of Scrabble, that somebody suggested they look up the house on Google Earth.

"Fucking Google," hissed Sara DeLaine, a nervously-thin woman who'd roomed with Trish freshman year. Her interjection was in response to Trish's big score, won by snaking "Googolplex" off the top of "Grist." "They monitor everything now. Medical records. Criminal history. Your email. Our house is on Google Earth for anyone to see. It's Big Brother."

"Yeah, but it's not the government," said Alan.

"It's a CIA front, dummy."

"I don't know why they'd care about me, though. I guess I'm just not worried."

Sara rolled her eyes. She was sitting on the sofa, her legs tucked up under her like a goddamn cat, nursing one of the six Red Stripes she and her common-law husband had brought with them. "No one ever cares about their civil liberties being taken away until it affects them directly."

Trish leaned forward in her chair, drawing attention away from the loose argument. "So what happened?" she asked. "When you looked up your house?"

"Right," said Sara's partner, a round fellow named Henry who worked for a PNC mortgage loan office in Cleveland. "It was creepy. Wasn't it, Sara?"

"I wouldn't say creepy, Henry. It felt like being violated. It was a kind of rape. Really. I mean, you pull up your address on Google Earth and, boom, there's a picture of your house taken from the street when you didn't know they were even there. Nobody asked our permission. I mean anyone could pull up that picture. Thieves. Rapists. Scouting for victims. I mean what if I had been standing at the window, naked, just out of the shower?"

Alan, who knew Sara would never stand near a window naked unless the shades were drawn and the lights were out, laughed quietly. Trish shot him a look.

"It's not funny," said Sara.

"You're right. I'm sorry."

"See what you think. Get your laptop out. Let's take a look. You might feel differently if you pull up the picture of your house and there you are in the front yard pulling weeds with your ass crack hanging out the back of your jeans."

Alan shrugged and went to look for his MacBook.

Sara's neck was turning red. It did that a lot when she got overheated about an idea. "I mean when does it stop? You know that right here in Akron, at that Goodyear hangar, they're building a new kind of blimp that flies into the stratosphere and takes high-resolution video that can read license plates on the ground?"

"I haven't heard that," offered Trish, who was making fast work of the chardonnay in her deep glass.

"It's true. They want to film us 24/7. Know our every move."

"But Sara," said Trish. "You work at the Olive Garden."

Just then Alan returned with the laptop. He placed it on the coffee table and sat on his knees to work it. In a minute, he was typing their address into Google. A small orange street map appeared. He clicked on a green man to the left of the map and dragged it over to his road. The window changed, became a photograph of a beautiful colonial with a wide flowerbed full of petunias and heather outlining an English lawn. They all craned their heads around Alan to see the screen.

"Okay," he said. "What am I looking at?"

"That's the Carney's house, up the street," said Trish.

"Ah. Right."

Alan clicked on an arrow and the view swiveled. Their house came into the shot, a brown Tudor with the paint peeling from under the eaves where the winters gnawed at it.

"Get closer," Sara insisted.

Alan clicked on another arrow that scooted the image further down the road until the view was directly in front of their home. Some months ago, that Google van with its 360-degree camera array sticking out of its roof like a periscope, must have driven by quietly snapping pictures. Trish's Saturn was parked in the driveway. Judging by the blooms on the apple tree these photographs had been taken sometime in May. Five months ago?

"See," he said. "No ass crack. No naked Trish at the win..."

He stopped short when he saw it. A second later Trish let out a surprised hiccup.

"What the hell?" she said.

"What?" asked Henry.

Trish pointed at the window. It was maybe a foot square, on the second floor above the front door, where the roof climbed to a peak. There were a couple problems with this window. First of all, it didn't exist. At least not anymore. As long as Alan and Trish had lived in the house, the front wall above the door had no window. But more alarming was what was standing just inside the window.

"Who's that?" asked Sara.

"I have no idea," said Alan.

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