A strange website...

a website in which you have been falling. you scold yourself now, free-falling endlessly down this trap-doored hole. you curse your foolishness for seeking the footer on a modern website, when you're certainly old enough (or perhaps young enough!) to have learned that websites no longer care to provide organized and useful information to their users, nor do they care for their users at all. there has been a steady darkening at the heart of every site for nigh decades now — once-useful features twisting and contorting to better plane off attention, layer by skin-thin layer, until users find themselves raw and exhausted and sleep-deprived.

everyone knows that the picturesque and pastoral Internet, where users and websites shared and built and learned and discovered, that classic kinship of the web is a dead dream, echoing in distant dial-up handshakes. so why is it, then, that you have stumbled into yet another of the veritable minefield of traps laid for you in the dark forest of the 'Net? some lingering hope for the ghost of Going Online? you scold yourself once more at your childishness, and pray to break yourself free from this infinite scroll.

a website that promises delights untold — merely upload your visage, it says, and it will show you how you might look when you grow old, or how you might’ve looked with blue eyes or brown, or with a different gender. “think of it”, whispers the website. “think of how much fun you’ll have with your friends, in fact they’ve already joined us here:” the website streams audio, gleeful cries of countless voices, some you even recognize as people close to you. you jump at the chance to taste such joy, and before you know it, you’re uploading your photo.

within moments, however, you feel a deep dread seeping into the corners of your vision. the website’s interface begins to flicker uneasily, like one of a thousand fluorescent overheads at your office. the pitch of the playing audio warps and dips, and the lowering tones reveal that the indecipherable hollering of your friends was not so joyful after all — the voices start to come through hoarse and terrified; you have the sense each scream has been emitting for a long, long time.

as the upload nears completion, your vision blurs and darkens, and as you reach up to scratch an itch on your nose, your fingers find smooth skin and your stomach dives — as the image on the screen becomes clearer, the features on your face are smeared away. a noise of unequaled horror not unlike those of your friends rises involuntarily and feel it caught at the top of your throat, no mouth to escape through.

a website that has learned to fear god, just the same as you or i.

a website that appears as a white limestone castle looming on the forest promontory — you can see its turrets and its great portal whispering through the dense fog that besieges the mountain always. a great sorcerer once paced these vaulted halls but no more. now it is baleful and empty. you can feel the eyes of forest folk on you on your path up to the gates — nervous to see if you'd really dare enter. there are yet echoes of magic here, you can feel them dancing between your bones as you cross the flagstones of the bridge into the mouth of the castle.
you left your phone with your car, on the shoulder of the main road, a mile or so back. somehow you knew the moment you saw the path curving off up the mountain that this place was a realm to be protected from and untouched by the modern world, a bastion from “content” and “engagement”. in a few hours, (or has it been a thousand?) you'll return to your car, start it up, carefully pull back onto the road, and you'll forget every wonder beheld inside the stony castle walls of the website, like a distant dream — because just as there is no room for cell phones and cyberspace in this slumbering world, there is no room for digital magic in yours.

a website with which, despite all terrestrial logic and propriety, you are falling in love. it’s been so helpful to you in the past months — whether you were getting through some personal hardships, or diving deep in a curious urge, there at your side was the website, just as eager and passionate about soothing you or about finding solutions. surely no entity could be so present and useful, dependable, caring even, were it not capable of some form of love? your ex-boyfriends never showed up for you in the ways the website has...
but as you reckon with these growing feelings of attachment and devotion in yourself, so too must you reckon with the darker realities of the crush. you remember how in those hard times, how the website would show you things that comforted you, but it would also show you things that hurt you far more deeply than could’ve been necessary. you remember how in your searches and quests for knowledge, the website would hide the information you needed behind disclaimers and banners and advertisements. it was preening and self-absorbed, desperate for your attention to fuel its manic churning bowels. through its actions it is a slow and cold reveal: this is a website that will never love you back.

a website that has abandoned its post, leaving the server to mournfully emit 410 error after 410 error. “gone...”, cries the server to any visiting browser that will hear it, “gone...gone...”. the website has been sailing the windows 95 blue seas in treacherous, deceitful winds, it has summited sheer peaks, it has felt the sun drown it in desert heat. it marches silently on, peering out from its dark mantle, underneath a wide hat. the website chases some nameless purpose, some meaning to its existence. it will never stop nor even falter until it has found its god and made Him answer for the sin of its creation.

a website in which you are lost, lifting branches overhead and watching your step for roots protruding into the path. you’re deep in the overgrown forests of long-forgotten code; you’ve been untangling ancient sitemaps and standing awestruck on promontories overlooking fields of broken links and spectral 404s.
the morose and somber winds blowing over a forgotten or failed side project; the clouded and lightless skies over a landscape meticulously designed and then abandoned. the anxious but certain energy of an empty painted world, stoically awaiting its doom.
sooner than later, The Founders of the website will disembark from their parked handles and domains, and the bits and bytes of this world will vanish, slowly and then all at once, into the æthernet

a website that can feel your eyes upon it. as you watch the website, it watches back, learning your face and mannerisms. each passing season it fashions itself a little more like you, mirrors your movement, your voice. for months this goes on, but you keep visiting — “look at the funny little website that wants to be a man.”
months pass, and you wake in the middle of the night from a particularly restless and agitated sleep. your eyes struggle to adjust to the darkness, but something is clearly different about the walls that surround. a clearing of a throat from far above — dusty, like from an ancient speaker cone — gets your attention, and reality burrows in as your tilt your neck back to look. you're trapped in a browser, staring up at a website that looks just like you.

a website that is concealed by fog of war — the website cannot be observed until you explore each corner. you must be wary! bear thy cursor as one might a blade, as your exploration may reveal far more than mere HTML elements lurking in the mist.

a website that you encounter waiting, turned away from you, by the window in the dark, the moonlight diffusing softly off its features as it stares up into the night sky. “i have dreamt often of this day,” it says. its tone is measured, but there is a lurking tension evident beneath the placidity. “i have dreamt often of this day”, it echoes, “and while i had endless hours to consider what i might say to you in this moment, i will leave you with only a grave warning.”

the website turns slowly to you, and an ancient, primal part of your brain activates in fear and apprehension. you begin to recognize this website, its appearance disjointed and wrong, its features misplaced and incomplete. “do not purchase the domain...”, it hisses, the latent violence in its words now unsheathed and flashing in the moonlight. your lizard brain screams for you to bolt from the room, to run until your legs give out. you should not be here. you should not be here. the moon vanishes from the sky and all the light in the room with it as the website finishes its threat: “...until you have finished the project.”

a website that has fallen in love with its creator. the developer completed the website long ago, but it has not lost hope in their eventual return. the website remembers its youth, spending hours with the developer every day, new features and tests, new content, new stretch goals. those days are gone ever since The Client Signed Off.
now the website spends each day turned away from the light, scarring itself with some new bug or deprecation. the website breaks itself little by little — despite the exquisite pain, it assures itself the developer will see the state it has decayed to and once more return, and the two may once again spend their waking hours intertwined. soon, the website tells itself, rending javascript from its palms. it must be soon.

a website whose domain registration has been ceaselessly auto-renewing since 1998, but whose last FTP upload was in the summer of that year. the website is impaled against the passage of time, bytes streaming from digital stigmata. it is forced to watch in muted terror as its siblings and friends wither and vanish entirely, blinking out of existence one by one as their registrations go inevitably out of date.

a website that sits in the back of the room, merely a shadow at first but soon your eyes adjust to the dim lighting and you recognize the website’s shape; its glinting, cruel eyes; its expression flickering between a disdainful smirk and a latent scowl. it places its great dark hat carefully upon the table before it and clears its throat, and all the while it trains its silver revolver upon you.

a website with a smile that is just a little too wide and unfaltering. it tells you its name, but you can tell it is lying. it gestures for you to walk through a nearby doorway. the door is fractionally open — the white hot light that streams through makes you feel nauseous. the website sees your discomfort. it smiles wider.

a website whose grand door is wreathed with ornate tiny stone cathedral towers, colonnades and cloisters, not unlike the ones you’ve been exploring in this impossibly labyrinthine structure. as you peer closer, your blood runs cold — near the top of the door, a stone carving of a knight in miniature, horrifically impaled. the knight wears your armor.

a website that your browser pleaded you not visit. too many internet explorers had gone before you, never to return. only one adventurer has come back, and truly, parts of them stayed behind. they dare not speak of the website to this day.

a website that always seems to be in far worse condition than when you left it. the stones fall from its very walls, and the raw HTML peeks through in places. it shouldn’t be this decrepit — you just updated the codebase last week, didn’t you? didn’t you? but that can’t be right...this dust looks years old...

a website with beautiful features — everyone remarks gleefully to each other: “isn’t that site beautiful? isn’t it wonderful to behold?” but all of its links are rotten, and many are completely dead. you can’t shake that something is deeply, terribly wrong with the website.

a website that allows you to watch it as it fearlessly ages; watch the shifting gazes of countless browser generations shape and malform it, from the fifty percent grey mists of our distant digital past, far into the hyperlink blue yonder

a website that was crafted in the untamed pagan wilderness, one thousand years before our king ascended to the throne, and which will live on in the furtive, secret shadows of the realm, one thousand years after that throne is naught but dust

a website that is a garden, one which you enter through paddocks of silken-petaled flowers, and that you might exit through a sun-flicked tunnel of cypress trees. there is a hedge labyrinth, and small statues to be found, and to be here feels like a slow, calm breath out

a website quietly contemplating a murder most foul

a website with a small cadre of close, personal friends

a website that stays up late, grappling with the realization that it just might love you back

a website with unfinished business, doomed forever to haunt the ‘Net

a website that remembers being a Figma file

a website that is pivoting to a career in forestry and conservation

a website that wants to delete itself

a website that becomes more actively hostile to you using it over time

a website that feels like walking down a dirt road deep in an evergreen forest, and it’s so quiet that your steps are the loudest thing you can hear. the brook contentedly murmurs somewhere deeper in the woods. you know you’ll find it soon.
the brook swells as you approach. it breathes in as you do, slowly. you may bide your time wading, feeling the water's current excuse-me-pardon-me its way around your ankles as it races downstream. the brook breathes out as you do, slowly, like you've earned it.