Things began to spin out of control over the weekend. The spark was a nothing event, a handful of students discovering that their campus had some racism in its past, but the tiny spark landed in a pile of reactionary grievance, where it was fanned expertly by a kid with social media skills and right-wing connections. It turned something insignificant into a dumpster fire, boosted by Eventive’s amplification algorithms.

Fox News picked up the story, framing Michael Knutson as an oppressed conservative student. Their loudest blowhard played it up as yet further evidence that political correctness was running amok on college campuses where innocent children were being brainwashed by socialist professors who were probably in the pay of evil globalist financier George Soros.  Bonus points for antisemitism.

I got an email that had every appearance of authenticity, claiming to be from a genealogy buff who wondered if I might be her cousin, because GEDMatch suggested she and Maggie Farnham had DNA in common. She asked questions about relatives and places where I had supposedly lived. It looked like the kind of sophisticated phishing attack Eventive routinely designed for its customers, an attempt to check my identity. Whether it was genuine or not, I didn’t respond, though the automatic away message I had set up would have gone out to whoever it was.

There were memes circulating across multiple platforms that put my face on the body of a BDSM dominatrix. (Nice boots.) There were also various video clips that altered movie or cartoon footage to show me being gruesomely attacked or grossly humiliated with jokey commentary. A video of one of Oak’s lectures was edited so that it sounded like he was promoting violent action. You wouldn’t know he was actually reading primary documents from the Dakota War of 1862. It made the rounds, accruing layers of outrage and shedding factchecks effortlessly.

Dr. Mishkin’s one and only public photo was also going viral, but fortunately in the form of a popular but harmless meme about calculus.

I was doxed. Dr. Mishkin was doxed. Our address and other personal information was shared around the darkest, dankest corners of the internet where troll armies harass people for shits and giggles. It didn’t matter who we were or what we were accused of, they were on it, in droves.

Saturday afternoon, Dr. Mishkin saw a retired neighbor peering through the windows. He was trying to see if she was actually being held hostage by a crazy man with a gun, he told us when she invited him in. He was a member of the county sheriff’s auxiliary and heard it on the scanner, a 911 call reporting a hostage situation. He called the local police to tell them they could call off the SWAT team that was on its way from St. Cloud. False alarm. He stayed for dinner.

Dr. Mishkin’s daughter threatened to rescue her from the maelstrom. Dr. Mishkin threatened to disown her. It was only a busy schedule, with a kid’s soccer tournament and a book club meeting that Lara was hosting at her home, that prevented her from coming to town to forcibly move her mother to a safe place. She tried to enlist me in her campaign, but I told her I was a neutral party. If she didn’t want to pay me for my services anymore, that was okay. I would still do everything I could to ensure Dr. Mishkin’s safety, even though there wasn’t much I could do to stop the absurd claims being made about her online.

Oak called Sunday morning. His sleep had been interrupted again, this time by a group of ATV riders who drove in circles around his van, shouting taunts and threats. He didn’t want to stay out in woods that suddenly felt full of danger. We parked his van in Dr. Mishkin’s backyard, out of sight from the street, and he moved into the spare room with her blessing.

The doorbell kept ringing. Gossip-seeking neighbors brought food, as if it were a funeral. Reporters showed up, too. Dr. Mishkin set up a schedule so we could take turns at the window to decide whether or not to open the door. By Sunday afternoon, Oak disconnected the doorbell and we drew the blinds.

Sunday evening Oak showed me a message from a friend whose dissertation project involved measuring pop culture trends through social media networks. She’d never seen anything blow up so fast. It wasn’t the biggest trend she’d ever analyzed, but the exponential growth was unlike anything she’d ever seen. I took it as proof Eventive was involved, using its tools to fan the flames.

“Which means they know, or strongly suspect, I took Emily’s identity after the accident,” I told Oak, picking up a book Dr. Mishkin had loaned me and opening it. “I don’t know if Graham is going to write a story, and even if he agrees to do it, it will take time.” I grabbed a pencil and jotted down a URL and password in the margins. “Hang onto this. On page fifty there’s a link for the server where the documents are stored. On page one hundred, the password that will get you in.” He gave me raised eyebrows. “Just for backup.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“Just being practical in case, you know, something happens before Graham writes a story.”

“Are you getting ready to leave?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know where I’d go.”

He frowned and nodded, then wandered off, typing on his phone. Half an hour later he found me in the kitchen and said “I have a place lined up if you decide you need to go. An old lakeside cabin in northern Wisconsin. It’s rustic, and there’s no internet, but there’s decent cell phone coverage. A friend of mine uses it on weekends. He says we can stay there whenever we want.”

There was that “we” again. I was getting used to it.


Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had my final class meetings on Monday. The students were restless. The drama was getting old, and they were resentful of the tone of the national attention and the way their campus was being portrayed. “It’s not like we’re a hotbed of radicalism,” complained one of the Kristens (or Kirstens, I still had trouble keeping those names straight). “We’re in Mitagomee. It’s not a hotbed of anything!”

“Which is why my parents wanted me to go here.”

“It bugs me that we’re being misrepresented as a bunch of lefties,” said Leo, who grew up on a farm and politely took off his MAGA hat when he came into the classroom.

“Or like, we’re being brainwashed. Sure, my sociology prof is pretty out there, but I can think for myself.”

“Or like all we do here is talk about is politics. I’m a biochem major. I even don’t care about politics.”

One of the Madisons said, “Guys, my boyfriend has a mixer and a good microphone. We should produce our Curious Campus podcasts. Like, for real.”

Enthusiasm rippled through the room. They had been good sports, handing in elevator pitches, doing interviews, digging around in the archives under Zoe Chen’s direction. They had appeared to enjoy the assignment, but now I sensed a different kind of energy.

“I’m emailing the other classes,” somebody said.

“I’ll start a Google doc for episodes.”

“We’ll need a Facebook page.”

“How do we get on Spotify?”

“Whoa, guys, wait,” I called out. “I don’t think this is a good idea. It’s risky. People are riled up. You might get weirdos coming after you.”

“So? That’s already happening,” Luis said. “Why not go public, try to set the record straight? I mean, my group? Our episode is about the hockey team. We’re regular people, we’re not what they’re saying about us.”

“We got a great interview with the custodian for my dorm section. She’s awesome, and she really cares about the work she does. Who’s speaking for her? If the only thing people know about Magnusson is that some people in the past were kind of racist, that’s not cool.”

“Yeah! Plus I could really use it on my resume. I’m trying to line up a summer internship.”

I tried to calm them down. “But I told you from the start, this isn’t real. It’s just an assignment. It was never intended to be public.”

Luis sat back, his arms crossed over his chest. “Yeah? How are you going to stop us? Give us all Fs?”

Maybe it no longer mattered. I didn’t have to worry about Adam Barton tracking me down. He already had. And the students’ reputations were already being trashed. Putting their stories on the internet might actually bring some reality into the situation.

I threw up my hands in surrender. They got back to work.


When I finished my final class that day, I stopped by the office where I found Oak and Beasley chatting about the event Liv and fellow activists had organized for Tuesday night, in the plaza in front of the library. It was being billed as an old-school teach-in. In addition to student speakers, several faculty had agreed to speak on subjects like “Academic Freedom From McCarthyism to Today” and “Systemic Racism and Higher Education.”

Beasley planned to read a poem by Pablo Neruda.  I opted not to be involved in the program, but Oak planned to speak about the parallels between the romantic “lost cause” version of the confederacy and the current pressure to erase racism from US history. Unsurprisingly, Michael Knutson and his far-right national student organization were planning a counter-demonstration with alumni support stirred up by his post to the Magnusson Traditions Facebook group.

“Knutson missed class again today,” Oak said. “It was so peaceful without him.”

“He skipped mine, too. Said he was tied up with a television appearance. Is that the new ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse?”

“Oh my god, you haven’t heard the rumors?” Beasley squealed. “He and Peter Van Meter are going on Tucker Carlson. Or maybe it’s Laura Ingram, one of those Fox talk shows.”

We looked at each other and started to laugh. The idea of Van Meter taking a stand for the literary canon and his freedom to harass women without a hassle was just too absurd.


Oak had a meeting scheduled with a student, but I was finished for the day, so I headed home. As I reached the house, two men were descending the porch steps, headed toward a dark SUV parked along the curb. Both were dressed formally in overcoats and wearing shiny shoes, an unusual sight in Mitagomee, and both slid on Ray-Bans as they climbed into the car. I crouched down, pretending to tie my boot laces until they pulled away and rounded the corner. My heart was beating so fast I could feel it in my ears, like a loud bass line.

I had been ready to make a joke about the Blues Brothers, but Dr. Mishkin was looking frail and shaky. “Who was that?”

She made her way to an armchair and lowered herself carefully, as if she might break something. “They gave me their cards. I put them somewhere.”

I spotted them on the windowsill and picked them up. “FBI?”

“From Minneapolis.”

“So they said. Anyone can print cards.”

She looked up, fixing me with a look, as if someone had given her an injection of her old self. “I’m not a fool. I called the field office. Those two work there.”

“Was this about the swatting? The fake nine-one-one call about the hostage situation?”

“I don’t think so. Apparently people have been sending in lots anonymous tips about me. Who’s doing all this?”

“There are a lot of people out there with time on their hands and a warped sense of humor. They think it’s fun.”

“It’s alarming to have government agents come to your door. Reminds me of the old days. They didn’t say anything about the tipsters, they were mainly interested in my history—or rather, the lack of it. I finally gave them the name of my last CIA handler. One of them made phone calls while the other kept questioning me. They were polite, but it was … unpleasant.”

“Did they ask about me?”

“Yes, but I didn’t tell them anything other than that you worked at the college and my daughter pays you to help out around the house.”

“I’m really sorry I got you into this.”

“Why are you always apologizing? The blame belongs to those small-minded bigots trying to get a bigger audience for their YouTube videos. It’s straight out of a totalitarian playbook, and your former employer promotes all this nonsense. Did you not understand when you worked there where it could lead?”

“Not for a long time. I just thought it was cool, the technology. The code. It was intoxicating.”

She nodded. “Andrei Dmitrievich talked about the early days of nuclear physics, how exciting the science was. How he didn’t anticipate how stupidly people would handle that power.”

“For me, the code was beautiful, but the system I was selling to customers was just a fancy way to get people to click on ads. The same code was used in political campaigns, but I wasn’t interested in politics, so I didn’t even think about the consequences.”

“And now you understand. Perhaps you should warn people.”

“I’m working on it. I’m going to make some tea. Do you want some? Or would you rather lie down for a bit?”

“Lie down? You sound like Lara. I’m not decrepit.”

“Of course not.” Not decrepit, but I didn’t like seeing her so shaken. “She’s texted me a few times. I keep telling her things are okay, but she seems pretty worried.”

“That’s her problem. Tea, please. And would you also bring some of those chocolate biscuits? I’ll be in the study.”


Tuesday was usually a day when I could catch up on marking papers and reviewing Maggie’s detailed lesson plans for the rest of the week. Not this Tuesday. I knew it would be different when I got an early call from the assistant to the assistant to the provost. He had scheduled a meeting with me for ten a.m.

When I arrived, I was escorted to a meeting room and introduced to the head of campus security and the executive assistant to the president. My department chair was there, too, and Charlie, the pudgy media relations guy who was supposed to write an article about my podcast assignment to tamp down the controversy, but so far hadn’t.

“We’ve been discussing our options,” the provost said. “Apparently your students will be putting their podcasts on the internet. Are you sure that’s wise?”

“No. I told them it was a bad idea.”

“We hear they’re going online.”

“I told them not to, but they want to do it anyway.”

“Can’t you stop them?”


“We’re getting pressure from the board,” the president’s emissary said. “They want this whole thing to go away.”

I was losing whatever niceness I had previously adopted as part of my persona. “Sure. Just go away, poof, like that. Do they each want a pony, too?”

“Maggie,” my chair groaned.

“Do you think this is funny?” the provost said, his face reddening. “My phone is ringing off the hook. We have parents who want to pull their children out.”

“Why aren’t you talking to Michael Knutson? He’s the one who made all this go viral. Oh right, his dad is on the board. Look, I can’t advise you how to stop the internet. It’s bigger than Magnusson.”

“The least you can do is tell us about this protest planned for tonight.”

“I’m not involved.”

The head of security leaned forward, pinning me with an interrogator’s glare. “That’s not good enough. Who’s running the show? Where are they meeting?”

“I have no idea.”

“Who are you protecting?”

“You’ve been watching too many Law and Order reruns. The students are organizing the event. I have no insider knowledge.” I almost added “and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” but decided I was already on thin ice.

“The VP for admissions shared some relevant figures with me,” the provost said, reading from his phone. “More than half of our students have a close relative who graduated from Magnusson, and nearly half of those live in red counties. Keeping alumni happy is crucial for recruiting, and our budget depends on tuition. Even if we lose only ten or fifteen students in the next entering class, we’re in trouble. We have to respect their feelings.”

“I have students who are getting hateful messages shoved under their doors. What about their feelings?”

“Let’s focus on the problem at hand,” the woman from the president’s office said, clasping her hands in front of her, all business. “Maggie, there’s a news crew coming to campus, a network affiliate from Minneapolis. We need you to make a statement on camera. You want to correct the false narrative the media has created about the Magnusson community. You have always found it to be a  warm and caring place that has a long tradition of excellence. Charlie can draft it for you.”

“I’m on it,” Charlie said, wagging his pen to show how ready he was.

“I don’t want to be on TV.”

“This isn’t about what you want,” the provost said. “We have to present a unified message, and we need people to see that you’re not some flaming radical.”

“Be reasonable.” The chair leaned across the table, practically prostrating himself. “The board’s talking about retrenchment. They might cut our major. Think of the department.”

What would Maggie do? It was her assignment that set all this off, and the students loved it. She would lead with that, I decided. “What about my students? As far as I can tell, they did nothing wrong. They found out Magnusson has some racism in its past, just like every institution in this country. The only one who turned it into a shitshow is Michael Knutson, who is more interested in his influencer metrics than in the reputation of his school. What his father hopes to get out of it, I’ll let you all figure that out. I can’t help you with the TV spot.”

“I told her to drop that podcast assignment,” the chair muttered to the provost, who ignored him.

“You refuse?” the woman asked, pretending to be shocked.

I was fed up with being bullied by these people. “Yes, but here’s something you can tell the TV crew: I quit. That should make the board happy.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. “You’re resigning?” the chair said. It felt good, hearing him say it with a note of panic in his voice.

“Effective when?” the president’s executive assistant asked, all business.

“Immediately.” I looked at the department chair. “I’ll send you my course materials.” I gave him a kindly Maggie smile. “I hope they will be useful for whoever takes over my classes.”

“You signed a contract.”

“No, this may be for the best,” the provost overruled him. “Check in with your department’s administrative assistant. She’ll explain how to turn in your keys and laptop and so forth.”

“Does this mean you’re funding a replacement?” the chair asked him.

“Don’t be silly.”

“You can go.” The executive assistant pointed at the door, saying to the others “Let’s hammer this out.”

I left, feeling reckless. Feeling happy.


Heading back to my office, I stopped first to talk to Shirley Anderson. “I hear you had a meeting,” she said.

“Yup. They’re still at it.”

“It better not take too long. I need the chair to sign some invoices before lunch.”

“Um, listen. I need to make some copies. A lot of copies.”

“How many?”

“I’m not sure exactly. Hundreds of pages.”

She squinted at me, disbelieving. “That’ll tie the machine up for ages. And the last time you wanted to print something, it broke. Who’s going to pay for this?”

“I will. Oh, the other thing, I just quit my job, so I’ll need to turn in my keys and laptop. Do I give them to you?”

“You quit your job? Your teaching job?”

“They were so pissed off at me, it seemed like the thing to do.”

“That’ll ruin the chair’s day,” she said, visibly cheered. “Put the stuff you want to print on a stick. You can use the computer over there, it’s faster than using wifi. I want to see the money up front.”


“I quit my job,” I told Oak and Beasley when I got to the office.

They looked stunned, then Oak gave me a hug. “How do you feel about it?”

“Good. Really good.” I described the meeting and accepted their congratulations. Beasley was openly jealous.

“Oh, hey. I printed a map for you,” Oak said, handing me a sheet of paper. “It shows where that lake cabin is.”

“How come you can always use the printer without a hassle?”

“Shirley likes me. If you go, I assume you won’t be using GPS, so I wrote down directions.”


“Or I could show you. It’s kind of tricky to find.” He turned to Beasley. “Say, you know how Maggie has been doing light housekeeping for Dr. Mishkin? Cooking dinner, running errands, nothing too time-consuming. If we went out of town for a few days, could you stay at her place and do a few chores? It would save you the commute to the cities, and Dr. Mishkin’s good company. Her daughter wants to know someone is around, and she pays.”

“I suppose I could manage that.” Beasley pretended to be put out, but she was obviously pleased.

“I just talked to Shirley about printing out the stuff for Graham,” I told Oak. “I’d better do that now.” I would have preferred to use Maggie’s old Toshiba, with its improved security, but I didn’t want to waste time.

I found a USB from a textbook sales rep and wiped it, installed the Tor browser, then logged into the Swiss server and began to copy files. While I waited for them to finish downloading I sent off a short email to the aliases for my four course sections telling them I had resigned and the department chair was the person to talk to if they had questions about the rest of the semester. Then I sent an email to the department chair, attaching Maggie’s course materials.

My phone rang. It was Graham Turlow. “So far I only reached one of the two engineers who used to work for Eventive, but he told me enough to confirm the general outlines of your story. I also spoke with Brian Friedman.”

“He was willing to talk to you?”

There was a pause as he parsed my words. “Of course he talked to me. I’m Graham Turlow.”

“Sure. It’s just, he was so pissed off at me, I thought he might not want anything to do with it. Does this mean you want to write the story?”

“Graham?” Oak mouthed. I nodded, and he pumped his arm.

“Didn’t I say so? Brian’s fine with it. He already sent me his notes and the article he was drafting. Not the documents. He kept those on a separate laptop, which got stolen. We can guess who made that happen. His article’s not terrible, though he got into the weeds too much. The average reader would tune out. Also, he screwed up, asking Adam Barton for a comment before he had an editor committed to it. You only talk to weasels like that if you have a law firm backing you up, one that someone else is paying for.”

“Makes sense.”

“I’ve been thinking about the pitch. I have an in with the Post, and some connections at the Times, though their lawyers are too cautious for my money. The one I’m toying with, though, is the Journal. What do you think? Their opinion pages are shit, but they’ve done some solid reporting on big tech and privacy. Or we could pitch it to the Post. Anyway, we can talk about it after we go through the documents. Did you get them printed for me yet?”

“Working on it right now.”

“Good girl. I mean, good twenty-something-year-old woman. I’m going to book a flight to MSP for tomorrow. I’m not up for driving all the way from Chicago, it wrecks my back. How far is it from the airport to Michi Mochi or whatever it’s called? Never mind, I’ll pick up a map from the rental agency. I’ll give you a call once I know the timeline. And look, clear your calendar. I know you gotta work, but—”

“Actually, I don’t. I just quit my job.”

“Really. How’d that go down? Never mind, you can fill me in later. My cat sitter is at the door. I have to show here around and introduce her to the beasts.”

As I put my phone down Beasley made a squeak. “Have you checked your email? Word is out.”

“I emailed my students.” I opened the app. Messages began to flood in. “Shit. I didn’t think they’d be so mad about it.”

“They’re not mad at you. They’re demanding the admin rehire you.”

I started to open random messages from students, ignoring the copy-pasted hate mail that had piled up. “This is wild. They’re acting like it’s the best class ever, which it isn’t. I know it isn’t. They’re just mad that the college tried to shut their podcast down, which—guess what, I also tried to do that.” I saw one arrive from a familiar name. Sidonie. She’d written in haste but, as usual, it was lovely. I had to blink away tears. “Man, this is amazing. I should have resigned weeks ago. Just kidding.”

“Hey, Maggie?” A couple of students poked their heads in the door. “We wanted to tell you how bummed we are. They really railroaded you. Also, could you look over our script when you get a chance?”

“Sure. I have to finish a thing here, but we can talk. You’re doing the … “

“The custodial staff. We want to go first, but we just want to be sure it’s ready.”

They started to tell me about their podcast episode as another group showed up at the door. “Hey. It sucks that you got fired.”

“Actually, I resigned.”

“Right. We really like your class. Do you know who’s going to teach our section, because we really don’t want Van Meter, he’s creepy. And most of the English faculty are too old.”

“Will our podcasts count for the grade?” another student asked. “We already put in a ton of work on it.”

“You’ll have to ask the department chair.” The downloading completed, I ejected the thumb drive. “I need to do a bunch of printing. Maybe we can meet later today?” I said to the pair of students who showed up first.

“I have choir practice,” one of them said.

“Let me check my sched,” the other said, tapping her phone. You’d think I was asking her for a favor. I was going to miss these kids, but not their cluelessness.

“Maggie?” Shirley Anderson bulldozed her way through the crowd at the door. Her cheeks were flushed, her chest heaving. “There’s a man looking for you. He’s acting weird. Says he’s your boyfriend.”

The world froze. I had been on a slight high, feeling good about impulsively throwing a resignation on the table, about Graham Turlow planning to tell my story, about Sidonie’s sweet message. But suddenly I was thrust back into a dark place. I felt my scalp prickle, an embodied memory of the night when he had had grabbed a hank of my hair to drag me across the room. I couldn’t breathe, as if he already had his hands around my throat. Someone whimpered. It must have been me.

“Where is he?” Oak asked.

“He was headed this way. A gal who works for admissions called me. He asked directions. She says he’s pretty…” She whistled and circled her ear with a finger. “You go down the back stairs. I’ll head him off.”

“We’ll help,” one of the students said.

“Is that what you need printed?” She pointed at me. “I’ll take care of it. No charge.”

I handed her the thumb drive numbly. “Don’t let him have it. It’s important.”

“Don’t worry, hon. We can handle this.”

“Can you hold him up for five minutes?” Oak asked her. “So we can get away?”

“You got it.”

“You’re the best, Shirley,” Oak said, pulling on his jacket and handing me mine. “Let’s go.”


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