Tuesday, June 18, 2019
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
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.