Sunday, February 17, 2019

Click The Link

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    Estimated reading time — 8 minutes

    I had always loved horror movies. In my younger days I may not have realized it, but I was a glutton for the terror that the films would instill in me. I subconsciously loved how they kept me up at night, small fearful eyes scanning my bedroom shadows for whatever sort of creature may be calling the darkness its home. It was to the point where I would wake up in the early hours of the morning, around 1 a.m. or so, to sneak into the living room and watch the late night screamers that would air. Often I would get caught by my mother or father about a half hour into my shenanigans, seated on the couch and wrapped in my ‘blankie’ while clutching a teddy bear with eyes fixated on the television screen. I would be sent to bed immediately, told that my punishment would come in the morning. It never did, my parents too tired at the time to actually remember apprehending me. On a rare occasion though, I’d manage to make it all the way through a film, from the time I’d slipped into the couch to the moment the credits rolled. At that point, the trudge back to my bedroom was a mad dash of fright, trying to evade any and all monsters or buggaboos that, in my impressionable mind, would grab at me and take me away. I was always successful in the return trip. It made me feel like Indiana Jones.

    I don’t love horror films anymore. Not after what happened.

    I was in college when the event occurred. While most people associate university with wild parties, copious amounts of alcohol, and finding as many people to have anonymous sex with, my version of the experience was more… tame by those standards. The evenings not spent furiously pouring over my projects and class work were spent with my one true love. My Netflix account. From the moment my last class of the day ended, I was wrapped in the sweet embrace the internet had waiting for me. I would return to my dorm, slip into my bedroom and into something more comfortable, and spend until about 4 in the morning watching whatever horrors the streaming site had available to me. And for the price of $7.99 a month, it was the best, and most cheap, addiction I’d ever encountered.

    The people I chose to interact with when I wasn’t glued to my laptop were often of the same ilk that I was. Individuals who were just as obsessive over movies. We loved to be scared, and we often spoke of it. We compared reviews, discussed theories, and often got together to partake in these pieces of nightmare fuel, usually once a week on a Saturday in a grand marathon session that was catered by the local pizza place and a large snack trip before hand to prepare for when we were sick of the smell of grease and cheese. Many of us were members of a horror-enthusiast forum, to meet and talk with more people who shared our twisted ideas of entertainment. I’ve since removed myself completely from that site.

    Due to the vast duration of time that I’d been with my Netflix account, I’d practically exhausted their selection of movies to stream that were of my tastes. I’d watched the classics, the cult favorites, the flops, the silent, the screamers, the spookers, the slashers, the foreign.. Short of paying extra for a DVD plan, my partner in crime was becoming repetitive. I’d even resorted to watching the 1-stars, the films that were too terrible to even consider horror but still somehow made the list, filled with poorly-crafted CG effects that were more terrifying than the monsters they were trying to scare me with. I lamented this to my forum-mates, complaining of the lack of fresh choices upon the site that filled my browser history. Many of my friends from school were having the same problems, and were voicing their woes within the same thread that I had begun.

    Looking back on it, I realize now that this was the worst mistake I could have ever made. Had I not started that thread, some of us might have still remained among the living, finding new ways to garner our thrills.

    ScreamQueen69 (her username from the forum, as I won’t refer to anyone by their true name to protect families) had approached us at the meeting grounds the following day. Our usual location of gathering was behind a campus building, an area of concrete that sloped downwards to a door that we all assumed led to the art department basement, the top of the wall that enclosed our cold stone hill blocked off by fence so none could accidentally fall and injure themselves. As our group sat and talked, SQ had arrived, looking a little worse for wear. There were dark circles under her eyes, looking tired, and her face was pale. She often looked so bright and sunkissed, full of energy.

    She had said that shortly after she posted on the forums the night before, she’d been contacted by another member asking if she wanted to watch something that, as she spoke and gave airquotes with her fingers, would ‘change the genre for her forever’, and then proceeded to send her a link to an obscure site she’d never heard of before. TweenWolf rolled his eyes, suggesting that they were only trying to suggest a film for her to watch and that she was being crazy for ignoring them. I was growing concerned, however, as she recounted that though she originally ignored the person, they sent her messages constantly afterwards. They started out mild enough, along the lines of “did you watch it?” and “what did you think?” and as the night went on, they got more violent. SQ showed me the chat history, and towards the end it seemed that her chat partner, named BehyndYew, was getting more and more agitated. The messages were becoming desperate.

    ‘Did you click the link yet?’
    ‘You should click the link. You won’t regret it.’
    ‘Click the link.’
    ‘Click on the damn link already.’

    It was at that point that I grew incredibly concerned for my friend. No one else had received these messages, only her. My only advice to her was to ignore it and perhaps stay off the site for a few days. If this person didn’t see her online, perhaps they would lose interest and back off. It wasn’t the case however, as SQ would come to us for the next couple of days looking more and more haggard, saying that she couldn’t rest at night. BehyndYew was still messaging her, and at this point it was just a repeat of the original link, pasted over and over and over.

    She was starting to get emails sent to her school email account. She didn’t know how they’d gotten it, her email address wasn’t listed on the forum, and it wasn’t even the same one she’d registered to the site with. The sender would be blank, the subject line empty, and the message was always the same. ‘CLICK THE LINK’. Her inbox was flooded with at least a hundred emails by the time she returned from classes, all the same.

    And then texts. An unknown number of all zeroes, at all hours of the day. ‘CLICK THE LINK’. Even when her phone was on silent, the sound would still ring out. It was turned off and it would ring. She would remove the battery completely and still be startled by the noise of her text tone. She had submerged her phone in water to try and damage it and get rid of the noise. Still it rang. She had put it in the microwave and turned it on for five minutes, knowing that if the appliance was broken she would have to pay for a replacement, seeing as the appliance was provided by the dorm building. Even burnt and melted in places, the battery removed and fried, it rang. It was getting to the point where SQ was growing more and more frazzled, each and every cell phone going off around her causing her to shriek.

    By the fifth day, she hadn’t shown up to lunch. Most of us assumed she was just trying to catch up on sleep from the incident keeping her up at night. We didn’t realize she had died until two days later when her roommate complained about a smell coming from her room.

    The police blocked off the dorm room, and her roommate was moved out to live with someone else in the building. They ruled it as a suicide, claiming that SQ had overdosed on sleeping pills. She had been found slumped over on her desk in front of her laptop, with the forum pulled up on her browser.

    I had managed to worm my way into her room a few days after cleanup had ended. Her family lived on the other side of the country and wouldn’t be in for another day or two to gather her things, and I had convinced the building RA that ScreamQueen69 had been in possession of a few of my items and I just needed to get them back before they were mistakenly removed with her belongings. The RA had left me there, saying that the doors would lock behind me once I left. Alone in the room where my friend had passed, I removed the laptop from her desk, not wanting to sit in her death-throne, and moved it over to the bed. SQ never kept her items password protected and left herself logged in on everything, so it was easy enough to turn the computer on and navigate my way back to the very forum she had been looking at when she died. I had found my way to her inbox, looking at the hundreds of message from her apparent ‘stalker’, when I noticed something different.

    Out of the mass of links, one of them was purple. It had been clicked.

    I grew curious. What was it about this movie that made this person so obsessive to show it to SQ? Was it the thing that had driven SQ to kill herself?

    I clicked the link.

    At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The video was dark, as though it were trying to slowly process the images. Then things were starting to come into focus. A desk. Posters on the wall. A person sitting on the bed. A person standing behind them with a large, toothy grin. It was at this point that I realized I was staring at my own face, sitting in SQ’s bedroom, her posters behind me.

    The webcam light was on.

    Please wait…

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