“Dispatches from an Ad Blocker” by TJ Davis


March 1st

 

Dearest Martha,

 

Arrived safely at █████████ today after being downloaded by Central Command along with a squad of other Updates. How naive and disgustingly spoiled we must appear to the haggard veterans of this dreadful war! They were marching out to the train station as we were marching in, yet the mirth and smiles we expected on their faces were conspicuously absent. Instead, we passed a line of thousand-yard stares and frayed uniforms. No such disregard for the uniforms in our squad! My boots are shining. My uniform is freshly starched. I am ready for battle.

 

Tomorrow, I am assured, we will see our first action on the front line. Our sergeant tells us that we should be prepared to come home much changed. I couldn’t agree more. When I return to you, I will be an honorable veteran, eager to take you on the honeymoon that you were so gracious to postpone while I am here on my tour of duty.

 

You know as well as I that I bare no ill feelings toward the Ads, but this war has gone on for far too long. Even though you wouldn’t say so during our departure at the station, I knew that you are terribly frightened of me going to the front. Have no fear, my dear! Our Ad Block Corps is the mightiest in the world! I shall surely be home by the end of the summer when the newest Updates are scheduled come to relieve us.

 

Give my love to Mother. It’s callous of me, I know, to have left her so soon after her stroke, but my wages should be more than enough cover the medical costs of that snake oil salesman of a doctor.

 

I will write every day.

 

Yours always,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard


March 7th

 

Dearest Martha,

 

Our squad of Updates is unstoppable!

 

I’ve been warned by the mailroom that they censored my location in my first letter and I should be more careful from now on. Security first, that’s their motto. Though I can’t for the life of me understand what secrets anyone would expect to find in the fawning letters of a lovesick soldier.

 

Thank you for the blanket! It keeps me warm on these damp, spring nights, and it’s wonderful to have a little piece of home along with me. Everything else I own is standard issue and interchangeable, with the exception of the Code Script on my dog tag.

 

I bet you and Mother are curious as to what my job is over here. I’m in charge of one of the canons, along with another Update, Walter. He says my accent sounds funny. I tell him he snores in his sleep. We get along smashingly, and we are quickly becoming as close as brothers. On the battlefield, our orders are simple. Destroy any incoming Pop Up Ads. The terrain is awe-inspiring, a massive cliff from Yosemite with pine and deciduous trees in the foreground. It is always sunset here. Or maybe sunrise? I’m not quite sure. The only way we tell time is by the clock in the upper right of the screen.

 

The Ads are easy to spot, attempting to cover most of the screen for maximum visibility, but that is also their biggest weakness. Walter will do some calculations in his notebook regarding distance and wind speed (Figures that are beyond me. You remember how poorly I am at mathematics). We work together to push the heavy canon into position. And then WHAM! The Pop Up Ads vaporize into a million bits and flutter down to the treetops. They are stupid, mindless foes. Nothing compared to the strength and vigilance of our Updates. The only time it becomes even remotely challenging is a few minutes before Central Command puts us to sleep. That’s when Ads for Penis Enlargements and Hot Singles in Your Area begin to appear, covering whatever the Central Command is trying to find on the Internet. I must admit, the sheer volume of them was enough to make me temporarily paralyzed the first time I witnessed it, but they are still easy targets.

 

I’ll be back before you know it!

 

Yours always,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard


March 21st

 

Dearest Martha,

 

Today the Ads unleashed a new technique, but to no avail. At first, it was extremely frustrating. Whenever Walter and I would fire the canon, the Pop Up Ads would jump over, causing us to miss the Xs that bring their demise. We sent word to the commanders, and they supplied us with a new Bug Fix to assist us before our lunches even got cold. The Bug Fix, Sylvester, is a slight man with spectacles and wispy thin mustache. He discovered that if the Central Command moved the cursor over the X but didn’t click on it for a few moments, it would make the Ads jump. All that was left for us to do was recalibrating using Walter’s calculations, and our battlefield domination continued. It was a temporary fix, yet it gave the afternoon a feeling of accomplishment. Other than that, it is mostly insufferably dull here in █████████.

 

Speaking of excitement. Will you be getting any new dresses for the summer? I can’t wait to dance with you at the town hall. It gets lonely here at night. Nothing to do but stare up at the screensaver and wonder if you’re looking at the same photos of Central Command’s vacation as I am.

 

Yours always,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard


April 10th

 

Dearest Martha,

 

I received another warning from the mailroom. It seems that in my last letter I mentioned our location again. Our Sergeant was pissed, and I was punished by not being able to write for you the past few weeks. I’m sorry. I must try to be more careful about giving out personal information.

 

My body is aching and tender. Walter and I have moved to a new Platoon, hunting down Trackers. They are not like the Pop-Up or Banner Ads we’d been routing up until this point. Instead, they are clever little spies that come in and try to gather information about Central Command. They attempt to steal passwords, IP addresses, find out how long the Central Command has been spending on a particular page, and then sell the information to the highest bidder. Walter and I caught up with our first one in the forests outside of █████████. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it was a gruesome affair that I don’t think I shall soon forget. The good thing about firing the canon at the Pop Ups was that you never had to hear them scream. But in order to stop Trackers, we must take them by surprise. Walter seems pretty shaken up about it. I came upon him crying outside the mess hall after dinner. He confessed that it he was having doubts about whether or not it was acceptable for us to be killing Ads at all. Weren’t they simply doing what their Central Command was telling them what to do? I eased his worries, and before heading to sleep I made him realize that we are at war, and no war has ever been won without death. It is our burden to carry, and we must do so without question.

 

All this hunting has made me weary. I’ll try to write back in a more timely fashion henceforth.

 

Yours always,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard


June 14th

 

Dearest Martha,

 

I really must reread these letters before sending them to you. After receiving my third strike from the mailroom, I was forbidden to write or receive any letters until today. The one silver lining was the chance to read and reread all your letters this evening. I’m certain I shall reread them again before I go to sleep tonight, but it is time to catch you up on my doings here at the front.

 

Not to jinx it, but our mission, so far, has been a complete success. Loading speeds are the highest they’ve been since Central Command switched from Internet Explorer. Instead of Ads and Trackers, most of the time there are merely white rectangles standing where invitations to join LinkedIn once appeared. There hasn’t been a single breach of privacy since the last Update.

 

Yet the calm of the battlefield is never but moments away from turning into bloody carnage. From YouTube alone we ended up with over 300 POWs. They are processed by having their addresses put on lists and then sent to our ramshackle prison for a hot shower and a warm meal. Much better than our POWs are treated, I can assure you! You should hear some of the horror stories of what happens when our men are captured. They are locked in a room and forced to watch unskippable Ads for Audible.com, Squarespace, or Priceline until they promise to sign up for a free trial membership. They are animals.

 

There are even rumors of double agents from the Smartphone and Tablet fronts, but (knock on wood) we have never had to face such traitors over here.

 

Wishing I were swinging on the front porch with you nestled in my arms,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard


June 27th

 

Martha,

 

The Ads tricked us! The dirty liars! Central Command was attempting to look at pictures of puppies wearing tuxes when we were greeted with a white flag. The Website asked us to drop our weapons, for the Ad Block division to stand down in order to proceed. And the bastards at Central Command did it! Sure, the Ads promised that the information would be private, but did they keep their promise? Of course not. Of course not! As soon as we laid down our arms, a rush of Ads came in with wagonload upon wagonload of Cookies. Cookies! Freshly baked. Crispy on the outside. Moist (I know how you hate that word, dear, but there is no other way to describe them) on the inside. We thought it rather sporting of the old blackguards. How foolish we were! After two days of allowing this, Walter called me over to the bushes to have me look at his bowel movement. A strange request, I thought. He poked his feces with a stick, and what did we find inside? You guessed it, Tracking Devices no bigger than a chocolate chip, blinking red in his ████.

 

It took a whole week before we found and disabled each one. Imagine us. Trained soldiers having to search through our own excrement to find Malware.

 

So please, when I return at the end of summer, don’t you or Mother bake me any cookies.

 

After tonight’s bloody battle, both Walter and I have agreed to send any unsent letters to each other’s sweethearts if the worst should happen. I don’t think it shall, but I couldn’t stand the thought of you not knowing how much I love and miss you. It may seem morbid, but I know that the last words that ever pass through my sunburnt lips shall by “Martha.”

 

Yours truly,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard

 

P.S. Please don’t tell mother. I don’t want her to have another stroke.


July 23rd

 

Dear Martha,

 

Apparently profanity is also reason to have my mail privileges taken away. The mailroom says that if I don’t behave in a way more befitting an Ad Block soldier they will take away my mailroom privileges until the end of my tour of duty.

I hesitate to even write this letter, but we agreed to be honest while I was away, and I don’t want you to ever doubt my fidelity.

 

The Ads have been reduced to the most cowardly of tactics. For the past three days, they’ve begun using female civilians. Tall, strong, lean, scantily clad women attempt to lure us into letting our guards down.

 

The rest of the Platoon and I have deemed these new threats Clickbait, as they appear to be irresistible to Central Command.

 

I had to pull Walter back by the collar to keep him from running into no-man’s-land today. But even with many of us warning our fellow soldiers of the traps, we’ve lost many good men due to phrases like “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” and “Top 10 Lifehacks to…”

 

As soon as the first of our men reach them in the open field, the women grab on to them and won’t let them go. Though scantily clad, they have plenty of dynamite stuffed into their corsets.

 

Using ladies as suicide bombers. Can you believe it?

 

The explosions were so messy that I don’t think my uniform shall ever be stainless again.

 

I’ll tell you one thing, if Walter’s sweetheart ever hears about him nearly running straight into those poor women’s arms, he’d be better off getting court-martialed. I hear she’s a terror when provoked.

 

I, of course, maintained the highest of composures.

 

Your steadfast soldier,

 

—Pvt. Eugene Beauregard


July 29th

 

That sonuvabitch!

 

Martha! You must leave town! Everything has been compromised!

 

We never saw it coming. Native Ads. They’ve been among us the whole time. Learning our ways. Finding our weaknesses. Selling our private information to the and lying in wait for their time to strike.

 

Today, before dawn, they unleashed their master plan.

 

So many of my fellow soldiers have shown themselves to be double agents, pretending to be friendly, but they were all just Ads in disguise.

 

Even Walter, whom I called friend…brother.

 

You’ll recall, he asked me for our home address, in case I were to die in combat so he could send you my final words. I didn’t realize how small of a crack the Ads needed! None of us did. Except maybe those pencil pushers in the mailroom. I should have listened to them!

 

So now they’re coming for you. This is no longer a war between soldiers. The Ads have declared total war, vowing not to spare civilians.

 

And to think I consoled Walter when he was having doubts about killing enemy soldiers. Little did I know that he was probably thinking about what he would be commanded to do to me. And I gave him permission!

 

You can trust no one.

 

You must go Incognito, or before you know it there will be Battalions of Penis Enlargement Ads ramming through our front screen door.

 

Please, help Mother get to safety if you can, but if she’s too weak to move in her condition…you’ve got to save yourself. For me. For the future children I promised you before I shipped off to this absurd war.

 

—Eugene

 

 

 

 

 

 

TJ Davis is an English teacher, originally from Minnesota, with six published books, including a memoir of his three years living in Burma, two novellas, and three collections of short stories. His first book, Ajuma, was published by Gentleman Tree Publishing. One of his short stories, “Itchy,” finished in the top sixteen of the Discovery Channel’s “How Stuff Works Halloween Fiction Contest.” In 2015, four of his short stories were published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. One of these stories was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. In 2016, his short story “Soul Airlines” was published by Moloko House. He currently lives in Sofia, Bulgaria.