08 Feb A Strange Device
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"A Strange Device"Written by Alice Thompson
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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
My name is Erika Stanton. You need to understand why I am posting this.
The following are replicas of two posts that a friend of mine by the name of Alex Garvey made on a comics forum we both spent time on together.
The posts were made in one of the ‘general chat’ sections of the site. Both posts were swiftly taken down soon after they had been posted.
I was in the process of replying to the second when it was taken down so could copy and paste the whole text which I decided to do given how strange it was.
The first two lines are from the first post as best I remember them. The wording may not be exactly right but it’s as close as I can get it.
I need to write this down.
I need to write this down before it
There is a gap of four hours between this post and the next.
It happened again I don’t even remember hitting the button to submit that first post. The gaps in my memory are getting worse
It all started with my friend’s husband. Elena had been married to Nolan for a while, since before I met her, in fact. They were both the nicest people you could hope to meet, though Nolan was a little shy around new people. Kept to himself mostly, didn’t talk much but when you got to know him you saw that he had a good heart. Would always make time to do little acts of kindness for people, even those he didn’t know. Whenever he passed any homeless on the street he’d always give them a few bucks, always happy to be the first to offer a ride home to friends who needed it and to be the designated driver when we were having a few drinks, that kind of thing.
Anyway, one day while I was talking to Elena she told me that Nolan had started acting weird. “Ever since he brought that ugly thing home,” she said.
Now, this kind of piqued my curiosity so I asked her what she was talking about. She explained that about two weeks previously Nolan had come home after a long day at the office with something under his arm she’d never seen before. It had looked, she said, like a laptop… but a laptop that had been partially dismantled, taken apart in random sections. And there were various extra ‘Bits’ that didn’t seem to do anything. Wires and things plugged into it that she didn’t recognize.
She’d asked about it and he’d simply replied that it was for work. Nolan worked in computer programming so this seemed like a reasonable enough explanation and she’d not thought much of it until a few days later. That was when she came home from shopping to find him just sat at the thing, staring at a bright blue screen.
Occasionally he would type a few things into it, just gibberish as far as she could tell… random letters and numbers in no real sequence. Then he’d stare at the screen until a line of the same would appear in reply, which she guessed must mean that it was connected to the net. Except that she’d noticed later that day, when Nolan was still typing away, that the modem was switched off.
She told me that this had been going on for a while now and that whenever she tried to talk to Nolan about it he just looked confused for a few moments like he genuinely didn’t even know what she was referring to when she asked about the device. Then he would just go back to saying that it was ‘For work’ and wouldn’t talk anymore about it.
This sounded seriously strange to me so I asked her if she would be able to snap a pic of the screen while he was typing, using her iPhone or something and then send me it. I told her how it sounded almost like Nolan and whoever he was talking to were communicating in some kind of code and that a friend of mine was kind of a genius at cracking those things. She agreed, clearly concerned about her husband. She told me that he had been increasingly distant a lot of the time, followed by moments when he was almost… too outgoing. Not the usual shy man she knew. She looked genuinely worried about him so I got the feeling that this wasn’t just someone making a big deal over nothing… that there might be something wrong here.
We got a photo of the screen with a line of code on it a few days later and I and my friend Jack got to work trying to decipher it. Well… he did most of the work, to be honest. Okay, all of the work. But I supervised.
It took him a while, but finally, he figured it out. What he found really didn’t make much sense to me.
Nolan’s line of code read ‘Waiting’. The reply from whomever he was talking to read ‘Wear only white for the remainder of the day’. There was an ‘Acknowledged’ from Nolan and then that was it.
When I told Elena about this she seemed even more unsettled by the whole thing. She told me that soon after she’d taken that picture, Nolan had indeed got up, gone to the bedroom and changed into an all-white outfit. White shoes, socks, pants and a shirt with a white belt. He normally preferred darker colors, black and gray mostly, so she’d taken note of it as being odd… and odder still was that she honestly couldn’t remember seeing the outfit he was wearing in their cupboard at any point before.
This went on for a while. Nolan would act oddly, behaving or speaking in ways that weren’t normal for him. He would often seem distant or distracted, and started coming home late more and more often. At one point he came home with cuts all over his hands, like scratch marks of some kind. He didn’t seem to know how he’d gotten them.
Something else that troubled her was the way the device never seemed to run out of power.
Over the weekend it would be on 24/7 but it was never plugged in to charge. It simply kept on running throughout the day, whatever battery it ran on never running out of juice. And no matter what room of the house he was in, when a line of code appeared on the screen Nolan would come running, like Pavlov’s dog at the sound of the bell.
It was a week later that Elena called me, in tears and sounding frantic. She told me that Nolan had disappeared.
She’d woken up in the middle of the night and he’d been gone. She’d tried his phone and there had been no answer. She called the office, their friends, his relatives, her relatives… nothing. She’d called the police but they said that not enough time had passed to report him as missing. And she’d said that when she’d come down into the living room ‘That damn thing’ had been sat open on the table, the blue screen casting its dim light against a sofa that looked like someone had been sitting in it until recently.
I and Jack offered to take a look at the device, to try and see if there was anything on there that could give some hint as to what the hell was going on here. She was so desperate for some clue; ANY clue as to what had happened to Nolan that she agreed and we picked it up from her place the next day. The police wouldn’t do anything until he’d been missing for a few days anyway so we figured we would take a crack at it and if we couldn’t find anything we’d hand it over to them when they began officially searching for Nolan, if he hadn’t come back before that of course.
We found that every interaction between Nolan and whoever he had been talking to was viewable simply by hitting the ‘Up’ key and scrolling up through the various lines of code. When it finally wouldn’t go up any further we figured this was the start or as close to it as possible and so Jack got to work ‘translating’ while I wrote down what he said. I didn’t know what we were going to find. I don’t think there’s any way either of us could have guessed.
The first message was simple. It read
Please, stand by.’
It then said
‘When asked about this device you are to say only that it is for work.
We shall supply further instruction if necessary.’
The next one was presumably from his unknown contact as well. It read ‘Eat only vegetables today.’
Another instruction. Jack went on to translate the next. Nolan would indicate that he was at the device with a simple ‘I am here’ and then an order would follow. ‘Slow down by five miles at the first green light you see after work.’ ‘Kiss your wife only on the cheek for the next twenty-four hours.’ ‘Do not smile until told otherwise.’
I jotted them down, wondering what on earth all this was… Nolan had been having some kind of kinky master/slave affair behind his wife’s back. Was this part of some really, really weird reality show he’d been taking part in? Some kind of hidden camera stunt? What the hell was all of this?
Then Jack went quiet. He swallowed hard. And he read the next instruction.
‘Eat a child’s skin.’
I turned to look at him, and at this point, I was fucking terrified. This had been creeping me out the more we’d gone on and I genuinely thought (And hoped) that this had to be him messing with me. I even said ‘You made that one up’ and I wanted it to be in a casual, joking kind of way… it came out more like I was pleading with him, begging him to tell me he’d made it up. From the look on his face either he hadn’t or he was a much better actor than I’d ever thought he was.
The next instructions we translated were more mundane nonsense. Orders about what to wear, how fast to walk, what route to take to work, what to eat. I almost made myself believe that one had been a mistranslation that Jack had gotten it wrong. Then he read out the next one.
‘Remove the eyes and tongue of the first homeless man you see today’
Now I’m pretty sure most people would be creeped out by that. But me? I wasn’t just unsettled I was feeling physically sick. Because I could remember reading a news story, not long ago, about a brutal slaying of a man believed to be one of the various homeless that occupied the city. He’d been found in a shop doorway in a pool of blood, with his eyes gouged out, and his tongue removed.
The remaining instructions were all mostly more everyday ones, not that it mattered at this point. Some morbid curiosity made us press on though. And scattered throughout were ones like ‘Strike the second stray animal you see before 6 PM’, and ‘Destroy the third vending machine that you walk past.’
Then, came the final line of text. It simply read:
‘We are coming.
Wait outside for collection.’
And then it stopped.
That was the last message that Nolan had received, the night he vanished from his home.
Jack and I had no goddamn idea what to do with all this. This hadn’t answered our questions it had raised even more. What the hell was this thing? Who was Nolan talking to? Was this some sick joke, some kind of ridiculously elaborate prank that he had pulled on us?
Jack said he had to get a drink and headed to the fridge. While he grabbed us some beers I glanced at the device, staring at the glowing blue screen. And that’s when I noticed all the text that had been there before had vanished. Just gone, leaving the screen completely blank.
A new line of code appeared. And somehow… and I have no idea how… I could read it.
Please, stand by.’
That was three weeks ago. Jack has just disappeared off the face of the earth…and I don’t know what scares me more, that I don’t know what happened to him or that I think some part of me does. I know that I get instructions from that thing regularly. I have whole hours, even days of my life that are just one big blank where I can’t remember a single damn thing that I’ve done.
I’ve got bruises and scratches all over me. I come home some nights and I’m wearing different clothes than what I left in and my old clothes are gone. There are faint stains in the boot of my car. And a horrible smell. My head hurts all the time and when I sleep I see something. When I wake up, I can’t remember what, but I know it was bad.
My body feels different. Everything feels wrong. Everything feels strange, I think.
The post ended here.
I’ve not heard from or seen Alex since then. I don’t know where he is but I think I’m going to find out.
Remember how I told you that it was important you know my name?
I went to Alex’s apartment about a week after we lost all contact. The door was unlocked and in his bedroom, on the desk, was what looked like a weird laptop with a blue screen.
Two new lines of text appeared on it, written in a code I shouldn’t have been able to read:
‘Hello Erika, please stand by.’
Credit: Alice Thompson
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