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I thought I could take this to the grave. I thought 7 years later it would be a shadow of a decaying memory pushed far back into the depths of my mind. I actually envy those people who completely block out a traumatic experience as though it never happened. But this did happen and I don’t even care if they find me anymore. I need to try and relieve the guilt I am plagued with, the guilt of not being able to do something. So here goes.
Although I was only going to university in the city, a mere 25 minute drive from my home in the suburbs I decided I wanted to live on campus rather than commute during the first year of my law degree. If only for my first year I wanted to immerse myself in the university life before considering living at home and traveling in for my second and third year.
In between nights out and lectures, I enjoyed perusing Netflix which I played through my TV using my Xbox 360. I loved settling down to a night in watching a combination of comedy TV series or horror films if I could coerce one of my 6 other flatmates to join me as I’ve never been able to watch horror movies alone.
Our first reading week soon came about which is essentially a week’s holiday disguised as a study break. The rest of my flatmates returned home to see their families along with the majority of students living on campus. All that remained were a few stragglers including myself. I often visited my family, returning home almost every other weekend clutching my latest accumulation of laundry ready to make my parents feel needed and to spend some time with my older sister. Due to my frequent visits, I decided to remain in my accommodation during this reading week and spend my days both studying and procrastinating in the library before winding down in my bedroom watching some Netflix.
It got to Tuesday evening and I had propped myself up on my bed, Xbox controller in hand, bowl of baked beans in my lap. I was always eating baked beans and my flatmates always joked about the fact I had cans of Heinz baked beans stacked next to my bed and stated I probably ate them straight out of the can during my sleep.
I turned on my Xbox and navigated to the Netflix app. Netflix opened as normal however I immediately noticed a difference. When the user selection came up, I noticed a new user had appeared. The usual users were still there; Emily (my older sister), Little sis (my account) and Guest. However a new user called ‘Shnuck’ took its place alongside the usual user names. As it was my sister’s Netflix account, I initially assumed this new user to be one of my sister’s friends who had also been granted passage to piggy-back off her account.
The name Shnuck was not familiar so I curiously selected this user to see if I could work out which of my sister’s friends it was based on their viewing history.
The next page loaded and although familiar did not conform to the usual Netflix display, namely there were no genres visible or an ability to search for an item. The only visible category was the ‘Continue watching’ category and these were spread out into dozens of rows so I toggled my controller to the first bar to have a look.
A string of ‘episodes’ appeared in a row and each one had a bizarre series of numbers as its title. The thumbnails appeared to be stills from a camera close to someone’s face as though filmed through a webcam on their computer screen. It was at this point that I realised the titles of the videos were in the format of IP addresses.
Had I inadvertently been given access to some sort of Netflix administration? Did they use hidden cameras to conduct market research about their viewers? I pondered calling Netflix support to report this but at the same time the budding lawyer in me wanted to see what I had actually found in case I had stumbled across something they wouldn’t want people to know about and would just delete all traces.
So I decided to click one of the videos to see what exactly I had discovered. I selected a video from one of the rows. The row of videos consisted of 5 videos, all with the same thumbnail and they were all titled 188.8.131.52 with a number added to the end, presumably indicating some sort of order and so with bated breath I selected play on the first video titled 184.108.40.206 – 1. I remember I was actually excited at this point and felt like some sort of private investigator.
The video started to play but there was no audio. At first I was somewhat relieved by this realisation but soon the eerie silence gave it a more sinister feel as I acknowledged the fact that the purpose of the video surely couldn’t be for research if there was no audio to gather viewer’s opinions.
The video was shot from what appeared to be the webcam of a laptop. The person on film appeared to be of a similar age to myself, a young blonde girl around 18 or 19 years old wearing what I deemed to be a university hoodie although I couldn’t make out the university from the stitched logo on the top left of the hoodie. She appeared to be wearing some white headphones and sat with one knee up to her chest. The background didn’t appear to be that of halls of residence and instead looked like the bedroom of a house. There was a wardrobe to the right of the shot and a single bed along the back wall behind her. The young woman was leaning in towards the screen and her eyes appeared to be reading something on the screen.
I continued to watch the video during which nothing out of the ordinary occurred, although I’m not sure what I mean by ‘ordinary’ in this clearly bizarre situation. The whole duration of the video showed the girl simply reading the screen of the monitor and occasionally readjusting her seating position or glancing off screen to what I had guessed was either a window or a TV she had in the same room. After 8 minutes the video ended abruptly and the next video titled 220.127.116.11 – 2 began to countdown ready to begin playing automatically.
I lit a cigarette, taking a deep nicotine infused breath as the next video started to play. Again, there was no sound and the video started in much the same fashion as the previous one. It showed the same blonde girl looking into her screen although she was now wearing different clothes indicating this was a different time or day from the previous video. After about 45 seconds, she appeared to receive a phone call as she pressed a mobile phone to her ear. After a couple of minutes she put the phone down and proceeded to stand up and walk across the room. She opened what appeared to be a wardrobe and took out some items of clothing, laying them on the bed. She then lifted her t-shirt off over her head and slipped out of her jeans leaving her in just a bra and knickers. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably. What the hell was this? Had some pervert hacked this poor girl’s webcam to make secret videos of her undressing? I felt an undercurrent of nausea at the thought. Within moments she had put on the clothes retrieved from the wardrobe and gathered her handbag and phone before leaving the room. After a few more seconds the video ended.
My unease was steadily building but I let the next video play. Video 18.104.22.168 – 3 began playing and I braced myself for another seedy video. The video started with the girl’s empty bedroom. The room looked a lot lighter than the previous videos suggesting this was daytime and the others had been recorded at night time. After about a minute, the girl appeared through the bedroom door wearing a dressing gown and a towel on her head. She leant forward and pulled the towel off her hair and towel dried her hair for a few moments before flinging the towel to the floor. Following this she flung open the dressing gown and let it drop past her fully naked body to the floor. Now I was certain this was part of some absolute creep’s wank bank. Thankfully the blonde girl quickly slipped into some tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt before sitting in front of her screen once more. The video shortly concluded following this.
The next video started to auto-load but before it could count down past 7 I clicked cancel and took a moment to collect myself. I had a sick feeling to my stomach and my hands were slick with sweat. I felt like a criminal even though I was just a voyeur in some sicko’s game. I pushed myself back from my desk and went into my bathroom. Once I had returned to my bedroom and perched myself back on the edge of my bed, I noticed that in my absence the screen had returned to the ‘Continue Watching’ menu and I saw that there were DOZENS of rows of these video series all lined up. Most of the thumbnails showed women but I spotted a few men too. I scrolled down the rows and surmised that most of the series were 5 videos long however I noticed a couple that contained only 3 or 4 videos.
I navigated back to the top and clicked video 22.214.171.124 – 4, taking in an unsure breath as it started to play. The video once again opened with the blonde girl sat in front of the camera and I glanced down and saw that this video was only 94 seconds long. I looked back at the girl who was leaning closely towards to the screen. She looked like she was studying something in great detail or possibly reading some very small text. All of a sudden a pure look of terror crossed her face as she screamed whilst simultaneously jumping out of her seat and crashing onto the bed behind her. She looked to be breathing heavily with a hand on her chest before starting to giggle and move back towards the screen, sitting back in the chair. If I didn’t know any better she looked like she had just been scared by one of those pranks you used to get sent during the days of MSN Messenger. You’d follow a link to an innocent looking brain teaser; a spot the difference or similar task and you’d stare intensely at it before being scared half to death by a face jumping out at you on the screen right in front of your eyes accompanied by an intolerably loud scream. The video abruptly ended once the girl was back in her seat. I was perplexed to say the least, why on earth was there a video showing someone being scared? It wasn’t even remotely sexual in nature compared to the last 2 videos.
The 5th and final video, 126.96.36.199 – 5 started to countdown and I settled back against the wall. This video had the longest playtime by the looks of it at just shy of 6 minutes. The video started with the blonde girl in her usual spot in front of the camera. The room looked quite dark and I guessed it must have been night time. She was wearing white headphones again and sat with both knees to her chest. After a few minutes of nothing happening, I noticed her bedroom door open behind her.
My heart jerked as two men entered the room. They were both wearing black suits and their faces were pixelated and blurred to destroy any chance of recognition. The girl didn’t notice them and I found myself yelling at the screen for the girl to turn around. The way they moved so calmly made me feel sick. Within moments one of the men unveiled a roll of duct tape and with one swift motion he had grabbed the blonde girl by the head, stuck the tape across her mouth and dragged it around her head several times as the other man held her in place by her arms. The familiar look of terror I had just seen was spread over the girl’s face and tears streamed down from her eyes.
The man holding her arms yanked her backwards off the chair by her under arms causing the chair to spin across the room. The man held her upright from behind ensuring she was in full view of the camera whilst the other man pulled what looked like a stapler from inside his blazer. I watched in horror as the man grabbed the girl by the left side of her face and forced her eye open before stapling each eyelid to her face. He gestured for her to look at the camera and gave the camera a double thumbs up with gloved hands.
The girl was screaming in pain and fighting fruitlessly to get out of the grip of the man holding her from behind. The other man calmly put the stapler back into his jacket pocket before pulling a knife from another pocket. He proceeded to slash open the white t-shirt she was wearing which hung off her arms as she tried to kick him away.
I screamed at the screen as the man slowly and meticulously dragged the knife down her body from in between her breasts to the bottom of her naval. The girls’ insides clung on before the man reached in and the girl watched as her own entrails were pulled out. I threw up onto my floor at this point as tears streamed uncontrollably down my face. I lifted my head back up just in time to see the two men standing in front of the girls’ now lifeless body as they joined hands and bowed to the camera as though just finishing a stage performance. And with that, they left the room leaving the girls’ body on the floor with her empty pained eyes burning into the camera before the video ended.
The screen went back to the ‘Continue Watching’ menu and with shaking hands I started selecting the 5th video of several of the other series. All were women or men being brutally murdered by the suited men. A young man was strangled, a woman was suffocated with a plastic bag over her head, a man had his tongue cut out, an older woman had her throat slit. After a few minutes of being utterly useless I retrieved my mobile phone and pushed 999 into the dialling screen. As I went to click call though my attention was diverted back to my TV screen. I had scrolled down several rows of these series and suddenly one of the thumbnails caught my eye. I felt like my heart left my body as I saw that the thumbnail was Emily. My sister.
I felt my stomach turn and my blood run cold. I saw that the series was made up of 4 videos. Just 1 video short of a complete series.
And with that revelation, my body finally obeyed me as I jumped up and grabbed my car keys. I was out the door and in my car within seconds. I frantically dialled my home phone number. It rang out with no answer. My dad would usually answer but I remembered with frustration that my parents were away for the night. I cursed and dialled Emily’s mobile number. No answer. I accelerated out of the city and tried to regulate my breathing as I raced onto the motorway. It would be no good if I had a crash I tried to tell myself as my car hurtled along. Fortunately it was around 1am at this point so there weren’t many other cars on the road.
I made it home in just over 15 minutes and burst into the house, shouting Emily’s name. I ran upstairs and ran straight into my sister as she was emerging from her bedroom. I sighed in relief that she was ok and Emily demanded to know what was wrong as I pushed past her and slammed her laptop shut. I tried my best to explain what I had seen and not long after we were in her car driving to the police station.
Not long after, I was sat in an interview room doing my best to coherently run through all the details of what had happened to a policeman. I was a blabbering wreck and from looking at the officer, he looked frustratingly sceptical. He asked if I was on anything and tried to suggest I’d just let a scary movie and being alone get the best of me. I was furious and yelled at the policeman to listen to me. Eventually after he’d calmed me down slightly, the officer agreed to escort me back to university so I could show him the videos myself.
Once we arrived back at my flat the door was already open. I assumed I had left it open in my panicked rush to get out the door and breathed an insignificant sigh of relief when I saw nothing had been stolen. I dashed to my laptop on the desk and quickly booted it up and navigated to Netflix. When it finally loaded my heart sank. There was no trace of the Shnuck user account. It had disappeared from the user accounts screen. I slammed the laptop shut and frantically booted up my Xbox; maybe it was only on my Xbox that I had been able to see it. Again there was no sign of the Shnuck user account. I shook my head in disbelief at the TV, my mouth hanging open.
Emily and the policeman left the room shortly after and I could hear them talking quietly outside. The policeman left shortly after and Emily explained that I needed some rest and that I’d feel better after a good night’s sleep. She told me the policeman advised her I was likely suffering some sort of hypomania, likely due to work pressures and lack of quality sleep. I snorted at the ridiculous suggestion but the look in my sister’s eyes made me bite my tongue from speaking further. She didn’t believe me.
Emily stayed in the living room of my flat that night as I insisted she didn’t go home. She humoured me and settled herself onto the sofa before reassuring me I wasn’t crazy and had probably just got excited about a horror movie I had watched.
I slunk back to my room and it was only then I noticed a small brown parcel was sat on my windowsill. I picked up the parcel and slowly opened it. I reached in and pulled out a single can of Heinz baked beans. Attached to the can was a piece of paper which simply read:
Credit: Emma Hillier
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