Thursday, July 25, 2019

DOOR-TO-DOOR


Genre: Horror



DOOR-TO-DOOR
By Randy Romero



It was a balmy and breezy afternoon in mid-April when Andy Goodman landed on Mrs. Landau’s front porch. Door-to-door salesmen are virtually obsolete. But that didn’t stop Andy’s employers from trying every sales technique. They advertised on TV and radio, placed ads in local papers, and they were one of the few companies left that employed door-to-door salesmen.

They used to call them drummers, an archaic term. Salesmen were sent from home to home to drum up interest in whatever new product their company was pushing on potential customers. Nowadays, they’re called consultants. Andy preferred the term to salesman.

Andy was in the neighborhood to push the company’s new wireless alarm system. He rang the doorbell twice before Mrs. Landau answered. She invited him in without hesitation. He barely had the opportunity to introduce himself. She led him to the living room and invited him to take a seat.

“Want some lemonade, dear? I also have iced tea.” She smiled; a sweet, innocuous smile.

“Iced tea sounds lovely, ma’am. Thank you.”

“I also have some chocolate biscotti, if you’re interested.”

“Sounds great,” Andy said with a forced smile. “I normally don’t eat chocolate. But I can make an exception for some biscotti.”

“You don’t eat chocolate? Who doesn’t eat chocolate?”

“No, I’m vegan. I normally don’t eat anything with dairy, including chocolate.”

“Vegan? So you don’t eat meat either?”

“Not in years. But like I said, I’ll make the occasional exception when it comes to chocolate.”

Mrs. Landau excused herself from the living room and went to the kitchen. She appeared old and frail, but she moved with quite the spring in her step.

Andy took a gander around the living room. Plastic covered furniture. Old, frayed brown carpets. An unsightly mustard yellow wallpaper that looked to be about fifty years old.

Andy had encountered her type before. Lonely old ladies who were desperate for company. She’d probably talk his ear off for hours and he still wouldn’t make the sale. But unfortunately this was part of the job.

She returned with a pitcher of iced tea and biscotti on a silver tray and placed it on the coffee table. She poured him a glass of iced tea and poured one for herself but left it sitting at her side of the coffee table.

“So, Mrs. Landau–”

“I guess you can call me Ms. Landau now. My husband’s deceased.”

“I’m terribly sorry for your loss,” Andy said, feigning sympathy. His tone was somber, but it was all an act. He still had his eyes on the objective. If listening to old stories or mourning over dead husbands and lost relatives helped make the sale, so be it.

He didn’t think of himself as a bad guy. He was just doing his job. He worked on commission. No sale meant no paycheck.

“Don’t be sorry. He was a brutish oaf. A heavy drinker. Rotten attitude. Truth be told, I’m a little relieved he’s gone. I know how awful that sounds, but it’s just how I feel.”

Andy didn’t know how to react to that. He sipped his tea quietly, helped himself to some biscotti. It tasted a little stale but he didn’t want to appear rude in front of his host.

“I don’t think we were properly introduced. My name is Andy Goodman. Thank you for letting me into your home. Are you concerned at all about security?”

“I suppose I should be at my age. This house could definitely be more secure. The neighborhood has really gone downhill. I caught a man trying to break in through my backdoor. Chased him off with a broom. Ha! You should’ve seen his face!”

“Well, I work for a large security company and we’re currently running a special promotion. A free wireless home security system, with free installation. Of course, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the offer does come with a two year monitoring agreement. But that’s two years of 24/7 protection. Motion sensors, door and window contacts, smoke alarms. We even have cameras available. As long as your system is armed, someone will be monitoring your home every minute of the day for signals. Do you have a cell phone?”

“Of course. I’m old, but I’m not that out of touch.” She chuckled and Andy forced a chuckle in return.

“If you’re interested in cameras, we have an app that allows you to remotely view the footage. That way you can keep an eye on your house even on the go.”

He finished his tea. She offered him a refill but he declined. He was a little nauseous and dizzy. The whole room started to spin. The mustard yellow wallpaper seemed to be swaying.

He tried to stand, but sunk right back down on the plastic coated couch, and his whole world went black.


***


Andy woke up on his back, condensation from a pipe dripping onto his face. The room was dark. He retched at the thick, pungent, unidentified scent that permeated the air.

He sat up, his vision still blurry. Flies buzzed around his head and landed on his face. He swatted them away and rubbed his eyes.

“What’s your name?” A voice asked.

“Andy,” he replied. “Where am I?”

“The cellar.”

“Cellar?” His eyes slowly adjusted and he gasped at the grisly skeletal remains.

“Mr. Landau,” the voice said. “He’s been down here a long time. I used to know the Landau’s. I grew up around here. They lived in this neighborhood forever and everybody knew they had money. I was desperate, and in my moment of weakness, I came back here to rob them. I’ve been here ever since. I’m pretty sure she killed her husband first, let his body down here to rot. But she didn’t stop there.”

"How long have you been here?”

“A few months. Apparently I picked the wrong house to break into.”

“Why are you still here?”

“Nowhere to go. No windows, and the door is metal. She locks it from the outside. She must have about ten locks on that goddamn door. I’m pretty sure the cellar is soundproof too. I screamed my lungs out the first day I was here. Nobody outside seemed to hear.”

As his eyes continued to adjust, Andy noticed the rotting corpses and collection of bones that plagued the dusty cellar floor. He covered his mouth and nose with one hand briefly, but there was no way to stifle the overpowering stench of decay.

The man stepped out of the dark, bite marks all over his arms, small chunks of flesh absent. The wounds were clearly infected from lack of medical treatment.

“Did somebody do that to you?”

“I did it to myself. You’d be surprised what a man will do when he’s hungry.”

“I’m a vegan. I don’t even eat meat, so I doubt I’d be able to eat myself.”

“Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about you eating me then,” the man quipped.

“You never told me your name.”

“Trevor. Not like it matters. We’re both good as dead. There’s no telling how many people this old bag has killed or left down here to starve.”

As soon as he said that, a horrible thought began to dawn on Andy. “How did you survive for so long down here?”

“I did what I had to do. Like I said, you’d be surprised what a man will do when he’s hungry. I’m glad you’re here, Andy. I thought this was the week I’d surely starve to death. Looks like I caught a break. Don’t worry, I’ll put you out of your misery before I eat you.”

He lunged towards Andy, licking his chaffed lips. Andy put his hands up to block himself. Trevor’s overgrown nails scratched at Andy’s arms and tried to claw at his face. Andy, who’d never even raised his fists in a real fight, felt a sudden rage boil up inside of him. He tackled Trevor to the ground and bashed his head repeatedly into the cellar floor. He didn’t stop until blood leaked from his mouth and sprayed from his ears. He didn’t stop until he heard the crunch of his skull.

“Impressive,” Ms. Landau said from the top of the stairs. “Now let’s see how long it takes for the vegan to eat raw meat. Let’s see how long it takes for your instincts to survive to kick in.”

She slammed the metal door and bolted it shut. A thick red pool had formed around Trevor’s head as he stared lifelessly up at the ceiling. Andy was left alone in the darkness, forced to make a terrifying, sickening choice. How long would he actually starve before he did what was necessary to survive?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

COLONIZATION


Genre: Science Fiction



COLONIZATION
By Randy Romero



Dried, decomposing leaves rustled in the breeze. Branches snapped under the passing innumerable feet. They traveled in large packs, traversing the boundless territory in search of inhabitable land, a place to settle down and call home.

A strong wind swept in from the east, whistling through the decaying trees. Some trees were still healthy and standing tall. Others had rotted away and died slowly. Most plants did not survive the fallout. But the group was unaffected by any lingering radiation.

The boy kept close to his father. He knew the others, but he was not at all familiar with the region. Everything was foreign to him. Strange and wondrous. Even the trees were a sensational sight to behold.

The group continued on their path, but the father stopped to examine something in the dead grass.

The boy clung to his father, both frightened and intrigued by the skeletal remains.

“Daddy, what’s that?”

“These are the remains of a human.”

Human,” the green skinned child repeated with curiosity.

“Earth was their home. The humans existed not too long before you were born. Wiped out by their own weapons of mass destruction. Much like our home planet was wiped out. Now Earth is ours to colonize and start a new life. This is our home now.”

“Tell me more about the humans, daddy,” the alien child begged.

“Come along,” he said and took the boy’s hand, their long symmetrical fingers interlocking. “Let’s catch up with the others and I will tell you all about the humans and their way of life, and the war that ended it all.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

LAST CALL


Genre: Horror 



LAST CALL
By Randy Romero



The neon “Open” sign blinked in the window of Nickel’s Tavern, but Ted would come around the bar in a few minutes to turn it off and lock the door.

He wiped down the counter as the last remaining barfly guzzled down his beer and walked out without saying a word. He left a few bucks. Just enough to pay for his last beer, with a dollar leftover for a tip.

“Cheapskate,” Ted muttered as he finished wiping down the bar. He scooped up the dollar and dropped it in the glass tip jar.

Ted was pushing forty. His brown hair was thinning and his skin had taken on a pinkish hue from years of alcohol abuse. He was a man of average height and average weight, but his gut extended a bit farther than he preferred. The price of being an alcoholic who works in a bar.

Once a teacher at a prominent ivy league school, tending bar was the best job Ted could get. No school would hire him after the scandal. Too much of a liability. He couldn’t even get a job as a substitute.

As Ted was sweeping the floor behind the bar, the door swung open. Crap, Ted thought, checking his watch. Forget to unplug the sign and lock the door.

“Last call,” Ted said without even looking up. “If you want something to drink, order it now.”

He raised his head and his eyes met with a beautiful young woman in a black hoodie. She had pale skin, scarlet red hair, and looked to be in her mid-twenties.

“Sorry, I’ll go,” she said.

“No, it’s fine. Stay. What can I get you?”

“Scotch on the rocks,” she said and pulled up a stool. “Make it a double. I’ll be quick.”

“No rush,” he assured her. His attitude changed. He never could refuse a pretty young thing like herself. He filled a glass and grabbed her a coaster.

“I’m Ted, by the way. Most of the regulars call me Teddy.”

“Well hello, Teddy. I’m Jade.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’ve never seen you around before.”

“I’m new in town,” she said with a polite tone. She was careful not to be flirtatious. She saw that glimmer in Ted’s eyes and wanted to make it clear she wasn’t interested.

“And what do you do for a living, Jade?”

“I handle business acquisitions. It’s boring stuff.”

“I bet it pays well, though.”

“Well enough, I guess,” she shrugged.

Ted checked his watch again. Almost 3:30 and she hadn’t even touched her drink. Her eyes wandered as she surveyed the bar to see if anyone else was around. The coast was clear. But Ted already knew that, and he was grateful for it. He could tell that Jade clearly wasn’t interested, but that had never stopped a man like Ted before.

Ted came around the bar, unplugged the neon “Open” sign, drew the shades, and quietly locked the door.

“Why’d you lock the door?” she asked.

He turned, recoiled at the sight, and bit down on his tongue, hard enough to draw blood. Her black hoodie was now a dark cloak. Her skin had been stripped away. She was nothing more than a skeleton with burning embers for eyes. One bony, skinless hand clutched at a razor-sharp scythe.

“Hello, Teddy,” it croaked. “You know, when I told you I was in acquisitions, I wasn’t joking. But it’s not businesses I procure. I acquire souls.”

“Dear God,” Ted whispered.

“God has nothing to do with this. Thought you were going to have your way with young Jade, did you? Tell me Ted, how many women have you hurt over the years? How many have you drugged and abused and taken advantage of? How many flowering young girls have you robbed of their youth and innocence? There’s always a price to pay for your sins. And now you’ll have to answer to the man downstairs. Hell was tailor made for the dregs of society such as yourself. I promise, you’ll feel right at home.”

The reaper touched one ragged, bony finger to his chest and Ted’s heart burst like an over-inflated balloon. The owner found him the next morning, crumpled up on the floor, a look of sheer terror etched on his frozen face.

Cause of death was determined as a fatal heart attack, attributed to Ted’s poor diet and health, and his excessive alcohol consumption. If only they knew the truth. If only they knew what was lying in wait for them when their internal clocks ran out.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

SELFIE






SELFIE
By Randy Romero



I don’t own a cell phone. Not anymore. Not after what happened to Tammy, Archie, and Shane. For the record, my name is Elizabeth Marsh. My friends used to call me Liz, back when I still had friends. Now I rarely leave the house. I know my story sounds bizarre, absurd, ludicrous, but the truth is often stranger than fiction.

It all started on Friday, June 22, 2018. Graduation Day. The last time the four of us were all together in one place. Tammy (Tamara Jones) had taken over a dozen selfies that morning for her Instagram page. Then after we received our diplomas, it was time for the group photo.

Shane (Shane Duggan) hated pictures. His Facebook profile picture was and still is a photo of his red Ford Bronco. Archie (Arthur Wright) wasn’t a fan, either. And this may come as a surprise since I’m a girl, but I absolutely hated posing for pictures. I didn’t have an Instagram or a Snapchat. If it wasn’t for my friends, I wouldn’t have even bothered to open a Facebook account. But we agreed to take a group picture to appease Tammy.

We all huddled together, arms on each other’s shoulders, while a fellow student snapped a picture with Tammy’s phone.

“You ought to smile more,” Shane told me when we were done, as I was notorious for never smiling in photographs.

“I smile all the time when you’re not around,” I said. That got a big laugh from Archie.

Tammy took her phone back and we all gathered around to see how the picture came out. Shane was the first to point out the strange, shadowy figure standing in the distance.

“What’s that?” he asked. “Is there something wrong with your phone?”

“My phone is brand new,” Tammy said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Maybe it’s a glitch or something,” I shrugged.

“Looks more like a person to me,” Archie said. “But you can’t really make out any of their features.”

“Maybe he’s in incognito mode,” Shane said and chuckled at his own lame joke.

Tammy simply shook it off and we went our separate ways for the day. We all had plans to go to the movies the next day, but Shane’s phone was turned off and Tammy wasn’t answering any of my calls or texts.

Archie and I drove to Tammy’s place first and knocked on the door for over ten minutes. Eventually, she let us in. It was eighty degrees outside and I knew something was wrong the instant I saw her answer the door in a wool sweater and jeans.

She was jittery, anxious, and she looked, for lack of a better term, disturbed.

“Everything alright?” Archie asked.

“Yeah what’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you what’s going on…That thing we all saw on my phone yesterday, the thing  referred to as a glitch…It’s not a glitch. Archie was right. It’s a person. I went through my photo album and it’s in every single photo that I took yesterday. And every time I take another picture, it gets closer and closer and closer.”

She showed us her phone and swiped through her photos. And with every picture, the shadowy figure drew closer and started coming into focus.

“I’ve been up since three o’clock this morning. Something…something attacked me in my sleep.”

She rolled up her sleeves and showed us the deep scratches covering her arms. She had them all over her legs, too. And she had a strange scar on her forearm, looked almost like a burn mark that resembled an arrowhead.

Tammy refused to leave the house and begged us to leave her alone. Archie and I didn’t know what to make of it. Tammy wasn’t depressed and she was never one to hurt herself. The wounds didn’t look self-inflicted. It looked like the work of a rabid animal.



We drove to Shane’s after we left Tammy’s. It took some convincing for him to open the door. Shane was much quieter than usual enthusiastic self. No smiles. No lame jokes. He was dead serious. It took him a while to let us know what was troubling him.

“Tammy called me last night. She was freaking out about the selfies she took during graduation. She insisted that the figure in the picture was a person and that it was getting closer. I made a huge mistake, guys. I just wanted to prove her wrong. I wanted to let her know that the thing in her pictures couldn’t possibly be real. So I stood in front of the mirror with my phone and started taking pictures. But Tammy was right. It’s in every picture. Every goddamn one. And it keeps creeping closer and closer with every picture.”

He told us about the strange dream he had that night, a dream about the shadowy figure in the photograph. In Shane’s dream, the figure was standing in the darkest corner of his bedroom. It lurched forward, revealing itself slowly. He described it in vivid detail.

It was a tall, lean man in a dirty polyester suit, with eyes as black as coal and long, symmetrical fingers with jagged nails. It crept towards his bed, reached out with one hand and rested it on Shane’s shoulder. That’s when he woke up with what appeared to be a rash on his left shoulder that took the shape of an arrowhead. He pulled down the collar of his shirt to show us.

It was at that moment that I tasted copper in my mouth and I realized I had been biting down on my lower lip the entire time, hard enough to draw blood.



Archie loved comic books. And he loved to doodle and sketch. “Every great hero needs an equally great villain,” he explained as he sat at his desk, sketching. He drew exactly what Shane had described. He even gave it a name based on Shane’s dumb joke at graduation. COG, short for incognito.

I stayed at his place Saturday night. He was gracious enough to give up his bed and sleep on the floor. I offered to take the floor but Archie insisted. I didn’t care where I slept. I was freaked out and I just didn’t want to spend the night alone.

I kept calling Tammy the next day. I must’ve text her at least thirty times. No reply. Finally I gave up and tried her house phone. Her mother answered. She had Tammy committed after seeing the cuts on her arms and legs. “No phone calls or visitors allowed,” her mom had told me.

I went home to check in with my parents and that’s when Archie called me with the news about Shane. He supposedly fell asleep at the wheel of his Bronco late Saturday night and crashed his car into a tree. He didn’t make it.

He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident and was ejected from the vehicle. Much later on, I made the mistake of Google searching the images of the accident. His neck was twisted in such a way that his head was practically backwards.

There were no drugs or alcohol in his system. No skid marks on the road or anything to indicate that he had actually fallen asleep or lost control. The police were baffled. But Archie and I knew better. We knew that COG had gotten to him.

That night, I got the call from Tammy’s mother. Tammy was hysterical and they had to restrain and sedate her in order for her to get some rest. She died in her sleep. Doctors couldn’t really explain it. They called it “sudden heart failure.” Her heart simply stopped beating. But again, Archie and I knew the truth. COG had gotten to her, somehow, someway. Maybe while she was sleeping. Maybe in her dreams. But COG had taken her from us.



I slept over Archie’s house again on Sunday night and woke up around three in the morning. Archie was in a trance, standing in front of his bedroom mirror, shirtless, snapping pictures of himself. Click. Click. Click. Click.

“Archie! Archie, wake up! Wake up!”

I smacked the phone out of his hands and he snapped out of it.

“What happened? Where am I?” He didn’t remember a thing and attributed it to sleepwalking. But I had a feeling there was another factor at play. Someone, or something, had been pulling his strings, controlling his actions.



I left his house that morning and went back home. I needed to be alone, to think, to clear my mind. I managed to eat something despite my lack of appetite. Then I took the longest nap I’ve ever taken. I woke up and it was almost dark outside.

My phone rang. It was Archie.

“He’s marking us,” Archie said. “We’re all marked for death.”

“We don’t have any marks yet. Maybe it’s not too late for us.”

“It is for me,” he said and text me a picture of the red mark on his wrist shaped like an arrowhead. “He was in my bedroom last night, right before you woke up. I thought I was sleepwalking or dreaming, but it was no dream. He was here, in the same room with us. I’m not going to let that son of a bitch get the best of me. I’m going out on my own terms.”

“Archie, please don’t do–”

“I’m sorry, Liz. Goodbye.” The line went dead.

I tried calling him back, but he turned his phone off. I tried calling his parents, but they disconnected their phone a while back. I thought about racing over to his house, to stop him from doing the unthinkable. But Archie was a bright kid, the smartest kid I knew. I never thought he’d be foolish enough to take his own life.

His parent found him in his room that night. He had smashed his mirror and used a jagged piece of glass to cut his arms vertically. He left a few notes along with his sketches. One simply said “Beware of COG.” The other said, “He won’t let me go. I’ve seen his face. He left his mark. He won’t let us escape. This is the only way out.”



I decided to put this to rest once and for all, to prove that COG was not real, just a figment of our vulnerable imaginations. I grabbed my phone and stood in front of my bedroom mirror and snapped picture after picture. I thumbed through them. COG was in every photo, drawing closer and closer until he was practically standing over my shoulder.

And there it appeared, standing right outside my bedroom window; tall and slender, wearing a dirty polyester suit. Pale, milky skin, and eyes as black as coal, just as Shane had described. It waved with its long symmetrical fingers and tapped against the glass with its ragged fingernails. A creepy grin edged across its face, a wide, angular smile. It was grinning from ear to ear, if it had ears, but they appeared to have been severed.

I screamed and hurled my phone to the floor, stomped on it repeatedly until I smashed it to pieces. I looked up and it was gone, but my right arm was itching like crazy. The pain was searing.

I still bear the mark of COG to this day. I don’t know why he hasn’t tried to claim me like the others. Maybe he wants me alive to spread the word of his existence. But I know he’s out there, waiting. Just a selfie away. He preys on our vanity, on our weaknesses. Narcissism is the downfall of our generation. And COG is the one waiting for us to fall.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

DON'T WATCH IT







DON’T WATCH IT
By Randy Romero




I struggled for weeks to come to terms with the death of my friend. Brandon was so cheerful and full of life. He always wore a smile. Such a positive and uplifting individual. Nobody had a clue what could have pushed him over the edge. Nobody could figure out why Brandon chose to take his own life.

We tried to tell the cops about what we found on his email account. But they refused to hear us out. After they saw what Regina had done to herself, the cops weren’t interested in hearing our stories. They wanted to close the case as soon as possible and write Brandon’s death off as a suicide, and write Regina’s “accident” off as a case of temporary insanity.

It was just a few short weeks after Brandon’s funeral when Evan, Regina, and I (Kathleen, but all my friends called me Kat) gathered at Regina’s place. Her parents were out of town for the weekend and she didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t blame her after everything she’d been through. I thought Brandon and I were close, but Regina and Brandon were inseparable.

It was a fairly uneventful night. We ordered pizza, watched a couple of movies (mainly romantic comedies, which Evan wasn’t too crazy about), made a bowl of popcorn, and talked after we finished the movies Regina had rented.

Inevitably, our conversation gravitated towards Brandon. None of us really wanted to speculate, but it was gnawing away at us. We wanted to understand why he did the unthinkable.

I’m not a nosy person. I’ve been one to pry or snoop. But Evan was a different story.

Evan was using Regina’s laptop to check his Myspace page when he asked, “What was Brandon’s email?”

“BrandonSkywalker223,” Regina recited it from memory. “Why?”

“I know it’s none of my business, but I’m going to check his email account. Maybe there’s something there, a clue, a private conversation he had with someone. If I don’t find anything there, I’ll check his Myspace account.”

“How are you going to get into his email account? You don’t even know his password–”

Before I could finish my thought, Evan said, “Done. I’m in.” Evan was a wiz when it came to computers. I’m not going to lie, it was a little unnerving. If he could hack into someone’s email account in under a minute, what else could he find out about his friends? But I cast those thoughts aside for the time being and let Evan do his thing.

Evan sifted through Brandon’s inbox and found a peculiar message from an unidentified account. He opened the email. There was a link to a video, accompanied by three ominous words: DON’T WATCH IT

Of course, Evan’s first thought was, “Hey, let’s watch it.”

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to go snooping through his emails?” I asked.

“This could be the key to his suicide, to understanding why he did what he did.”

“Or it could be nothing,” Regina said, sounding skeptical. “Why would anyone send a video link and then leave a message saying not to watch it?”

“Maybe to trick them into actually watching it,” Evan said. “It’s like when you were a little kid and you’d see a sign that said ‘Adults Only’ or ‘Do Not Enter’. You always wanted to take a peek and see for yourself, right?”

“It could be a virus,” I pointed out. “I wouldn’t open it.”

“You guys aren’t the least bit curious?” Evan said, trying to egg us on.

“I’m very curious,” Regina said. “But I’ve got a funny feeling about this. What do you think, Kat?”

“I don’t know,” I said. Part of me really wanted to know what was on that video. And part of me wanted to leave it alone and forget all about it.

“Fine, let’s take a vote,” Evan said. In the end, we outvoted him two to one and he finally let it be.

We went to bed just after midnight. Evan stuck around and slept on the couch downstairs. I crashed on Regina’s floor since her bed wasn’t big enough for two people.

I fell asleep fast and woke up some time after 3AM, a cold sweat trickling down my forehead. The room was dark. But through the darkness, I could see the faint glow of Regina’s laptop screen. I sat up, my eyes still half closed. “Evan, what are you doing messing around with Regina’s laptop again? Just let it be.”

That’s when I heard that horrific noise, that intense scratching sound. It sounded like an animal scratching at the door. But Regina didn’t have any pets. And it took a few seconds for me to realize that the sound wasn’t outside her door, but in the room with us. Regina stood in the corner by her computer desk, her back turned to me.

“Regina? You okay? You sleepwalking?”

Regina twisted around, her hands at her face. The sound that I had heard was Regina’s nails, scratching and clawing at her own eyeballs.

“I watched it!” she screamed, loud enough to curdle my blood. Evan had never signed out of Brandon’s email account and curiosity had gotten the best of her. “I watched it! It’s worse than I thought! It’s worse than you can ever imagine! The things I saw…I can’t unsee them! Don’t watch it! For the love of God, don’t watch it!”

Her eyes sounded like two soft, squishy grapes as she dug her nails in deep and gouged them out of the sockets.

All I could do was scream for help.

Evan ran up the stairs and stood in the doorway, aghast. He saw the open laptop and snapped it shut before either of us could see what was really on that video. And I’m forever grateful that he did. Whatever Brandon saw on that video was disturbing enough to make him take his own life. And whatever Regina saw on that video was enough for her to permanently blind herself.

She’s still alive, if that’s any comfort to whomever is reading this. Though she refuses to speak a word about what she saw that night.

And the video spread like wildfire and was attributed to a rash of suicides and acts of senseless violence and self-mutilation. The police could no longer ignore our story. But they were never able to locate the original source. The internet providers were unable to track the IP address. The original sender was a virtual ghost.

So now, all I can do is share my story with anyone willing to listen. I implore you, if you ever receive a strange email with a link to an unknown video, do what it says. Don’t Watch It.