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Terms of Service  

Terms of Service was inspired by the antics of David Thorne, whose audacious attempt to pay off a debt with his drawing of a seven-legged spider led to a hilarious volley of emails. The absurdity and wit in Thorne’s recounting of this tale is a study in master-trolling from an ingeniously off-kilter mind.

Johnny was the perfect partner to twist a fictionalized take of that premise into a story. His ability to blend humor with whatever other darker emotions might be required by any given narrative took us past comedic rebellion into a more layered tale.

Here is a short synopsis of the story you’re about to read: 

Eli is a notorious blogger, known for his scathing email exchanges and tirades against companies and individuals, who finds himself ensnared in an unexpected conflict with BergerTech Science Camp. After sending his son Dashiell to the camp, hoping for a transformative educational experience, Eli is baffled by an email stating that the camp intends to keep Dashiell. 

Confused and angry, Eli engages in a series of email exchanges with camp representatives, who inform him that, according to the terms of service he unknowingly agreed to, the camp has every right to reassign guardianship of Dashiell if deemed beneficial for the child’s welfare.

Terms of Service is another short that Bonnie flagged as a possible feature film, assuming we could make some comprehensive changes to the story for a treatment that promised depth, complexity, and cinematic appeal beyond its original scope in the potential script. A movie would obviously need more than a series of email exchanges. 

Bonnie and I expanded the above story into this: 

Eli, famous for his scathingly hilarious complaint letters, has turned his talent for crafting insults into a career of bestselling books, a popular merchandise line, and a TikTok channel dedicated to sharing his latest grievances with a captivated audience. Life would be great if his family wasn’t so goddamn annoying. 

Faced with the forgotten urgency of his son’s imminent birthday and Maxine’s persistent reminders, Eli impulsively enrolls Dash in a high-end science camp, disguising his last-minute decision as a thoughtful surprise coupled with a vacation for Maxine. Blindly agreeing to the camp’s extensive Terms of Service without scrutiny, Eli’s neglect comes to a shocking head when he discovers the camp is really a sinister experiment on its attendees, with legal documentation unwittingly signed by Eli granting them the authority to retain his son in this starkly unnerving sci-fi nightmare.

That second version is only a treatment, but please enjoy the original right now if you want to laugh, perhaps shudder a little, and after you’ve read it, reflect, on the power of words.

Enjoy the following excerpt and link to your free copy below!

“Dear Consolidated Bottling Corporation, Incorporated,
I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with your Xtrem Juice soda drink. After consuming it, I do not feel any younger or more extreme.
Eli Parker

I am sorry to hear that you were unsatisfied with our product. Please contact customer support using the phone number listed on the can, and they will issue a prompt refund.
MARCY Dennis
CBC, Inc.

Thank you for replying personally. I must admit to a brush of nerves after my last email. I was afraid that I might have contacted the wrong company because frankly, your corporate name doesn’t sound very extreme. I was also concerned that I might be misunderstood after failing to spell “extreme” in the way your company is used to. I meant “xtrem.” I am also curious if the removal of 67 percent of the E’s normally spent on the word “extreme” saves wear and tear on your keys. Could you please send me a photograph of your keyboard? I would like to compare your E key to mine, as mine is entirely faded because I use too many E’s. I may follow your lead from here on out, in the interest of efficiency.

li Parkr

I am sorry that you have been dissatisfied with our product. Please contact the customer service support line at 1-800-451-4545, and they will issue you a refund.
MARCY Dennis
CBC, Inc.

I would like to retract my earlier complaint. Since our last email exchange, I have consumed several more cans of Xtrem Juice and am feeling much more xtrem. Yesterday, I stood on a moving dolly and had a friend pull me behind his car for several blocks. We stopped when I slammed into a mailbox, but thanks to how xtrem I now am, I quickly recovered. In fact, I’m a medically controlled epileptic and have decided to stop all medication because your soda makes me feel so alive, young, and xtrem. It’s like medicine for poseurs. In fact,…

“Dad?” said a voice.
Eli looked up from his monitor, pausing his latest rant mid-sentence. Dashiell was standing in the office doorway, holding a block of wood.
“I need you to cut out my Pinewood Derby car.”
“I’m working.”
“You’ve been working all day. It’s, like, 8 o’clock. You promised when I came home from school that you’d do it tonight.”
“Yes, Dash, I work all day. It’s part of being an adult and keeping a roof over your head.”
“I just need the block cut out. I can do the rest.”
Eli sighed. Yes, he’d been working all day, but he wasn’t tired, because working had mostly consisted of checking email and browsing through the online social networks. Some of it was fishing for new and insulting ways to annoy people for profit, and some of his energy had been consumed by replying to emails like those to Consolidated Bottling Corporation, but mostly he’d been screwing around.”

You can continue reading the story here!