DEDHAM, MA–According to Boston-area America Online user Josh Reuss, an Internet friendship between himself and Larry Vliet of Socorro, NM, is "getting a little creepy."
The pair, who first met in a Quake III Arena chat room on AOL, quickly discovered that they share numerous interests and began a pattern of regular e-mails and instant-message conversations, which Reuss described as "pretty normal and enjoyable at first, but soon turned strange."
"One time, we were playing Quake against each other, and he killed my guy," the 31-year-old Reuss said. "A few minutes after the game ended, I get this e-mail from him saying, 'Hey, sorry I killed you, Josh. But at least now you know what it's like to be dead.' I thought that was kind of weird, but then he added, 'P.S.–Did I tell you I'm going to be in D.C. next week? Maybe I'll swing by Dedham to see you.' That's, like, 500 miles away."
Reuss' discomfort grew several days later during an e-mail exchange.
"Larry e-mailed me, supposedly just to say hi, and toward the end of his message, he asked if I had a dog," Reuss said. "I said no. So he writes back and says that's too bad, because he was wondering if I knew of any good ways to keep a dog from howling. I'm thinking to myself: Why is he asking me for help with this? And why is his dog howling?"
The following week, Reuss e-mailed Vliet to inquire if his dog had finally settled down. Vliet responded that he didn't know what Reuss was talking about, informing him that he does not have a dog.
"That was definitely some Twilight Zone shit there," Reuss said. "But then, just as I'm trying to process the whole dog thing, the thought suddenly pops into my head that he'd never made that trip to D.C. he'd been talking about. Why on Earth would someone lie about something like that?"
Compounding Reuss' unease are his repeated attempts to determine what Vliet does for a living.
"A while back, I asked him what kind of job he has, just to try to start up a normal conversation, and he said, 'Oh, I do a bunch of stuff.' That got me curious, so I've asked him a few more times since, and he's always given these vague, evasive answers like, 'Oh, I pick up work here and there,' and 'Don't worry about me, Josh, I've got my ways of paying the rent, if you catch my drift.' No, I don't catch his drift."
Another font of strangeness, Reuss said, is an ongoing conversational thread he calls "the web-page issue."
"One of our first chats was about how tough it is to find good Half-Life levels on-line. At one point, I said someone should make a really good Half-Life-file web page, but he somehow got it into his head that I was saying this was something the two of us should do. He brings up 'our web page' every week or so, asking if I've made any progress. I keep telling him I don't know anything about web-site programming, but he just says, 'Well, there are books you can get that will teach you how to do it.' It's like, then you learn to do it."
Recently, Reuss has taken to signing onto AOL under a name different from the one on his account and then checking his e-mail via AOL's web page, all in an effort to avoid Vliet.
"I don't want to be rude to the guy, since, believe it or not, I'm still not 100 percent sure he's a psycho," Reuss said. "But just the same, I think I'll keep him at a healthy distance. Especially after yesterday's e-mail, where he went off about how he got drunk the other night and woke up the next morning in a hospital bed with scorpion bites all over his arms. I mean, if that story's true, that's weird. But if it's not true, well, that's even weirder."