Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I’ve been an internet user for twenty years now. That’s older than some of my co-workers. It’s over half my life. And still the internet feels like “the new thing.” I used to take it for granted, like we all do. But at least I remember what it was like when it wasn’t there. When you had to leaf through an encyclopedia set to find an answer. When you could only find Gillian Anderson’s picture in magazines. Or later, when songs took 30 minutes to download and full-length movies were almost impossible to find, because no-one’s hard drive could hold them.
First getting online was super exciting. I mean, the first time I did it without supervision. Because I knew I had anything at my fingertips. I could type it into good ol’ Lycos, one of many pre-Google search engines, and there it would be. I was interested in naked celebrities and the paranormal back then. I was only 13, give me a break. I was so interested in the paranormal, I built a Fortunecity free homepage all about the occult and The X-Files. I linked it to the DarkNet webring, where all the best “dark” websites and homepages came together. Pages on spell books, goth babes, the occult, dark art, and a gross-out page or two. It was through the webring that I met Angelica.
Angelica hosted a Wiccan geocities or tripod homepage that I found particularly alluring. No wait, it was Angelfire. She just made the best of some cool animated gifs, midis, and frames—amazing stuff at the time. Just like her, the page was creative and attractive, but also simple. The reason I bring all this up is she suddenly contacted me just a few weeks ago by email asking, “What’s been happening?” A catch-up question. We had almost 20 years of catching up to do. And this is pure Angelica: She signed the email with her ICQ contact #. I enjoyed the quaint touch. It’d be like someone in the ‘90s sending a letter with a wax seal, right?
I replied back with a summary of how my life had gone over the past 18 years or so since I’d last communicated with her. 18 years—makes you think. She shot back a response almost immediately asking for details. We exchanged a few emails this way. I was pretty excited to come home from work and write to her, actually. Nothing romantic. It was just—it was reconnecting with my past. It’s a strange but addictive feeling.
Soon I started to notice something just a little off. She never really answered anything about herself. She ignored my suggestions that we text or talk on the phone. All she wanted was to know more about me. It got me wondering. Like maybe she’s dying and just doesn’t want to say. So I asked her. I asked why she wasn’t sharing and if there was something I should know.
I start reading over her previous messages for clues, and I noticed something that didn’t occur to me at all until then. Her email address was at globetrotter.net. That may not mean anything to you. But it struck me as strange. You see, Globetrotter was a Canadian ISP way back in the mid-90s. I didn’t even realize they still hosted. I know a lot of people still have their old email addresses for sentimental value and all. But it’s like she was purposely trying to be old school. Something about it creeped me out. Like she was trying too hard to make me feel nostalgic or something.
Again, I didn’t have to wait long for her reply. Oh, she didn’t answer my questions. She asked me, “Hey, do you remember The Hole?” I didn’t know why then, but the moment I read that sentence, I felt uneasy. Like I was being watched. I had a hazy sense that I’d dreamed about something called ‘The Hole’ once. Whatever it was, I was instinctively repulsed by it. I couldn’t remember anything solid, though. In my head I went over IRC rooms, websites, newsgroups, webrings—all the old internet stuff—and came up empty.
She sent me another email before I could even reply:
“You really don’t remember? The Hole was our little secret. Not many knew about it. Even fewer how to find it. But we found it. It was right there all along. Sometimes, when you’d load DarkNet in Netscape, there’d be a tiny black dot in the bottom, left corner, in all this blank space. You had to hover over it exactly and click it. Then you’d be there. You’d be in The Hole. You remember it now, don’t you?”
She was right, I did. I just didn’t remember ever calling it “The Hole.” What I remembered was that secret little space we found. I remember it was like the browser didn’t see it as a real website or something. There wasn’t even an address to copy and paste from the bar. It was just the letter ‘M.’ I tried everything to pin it down to an IP, but ‘M’ was all I could ever find.
Another thing I remember is that I never liked that place. Not at all. There was nothing there. It was all empty. I remember being excited the first time we found it, because it was something hidden. And it felt like somewhere we shouldn’t be. Then I hated it. Because it was just empty. And it made me feel bad and empty. Not boredom. Like it wasn’t supposed to be there or anywhere, wasn’t part of anything.
I wrote Angelica back telling her I wasn’t interested in talking about that. I didn’t hear back from her that night. That was unusual. She normally replied right away. Eerily fast, I realized while mulling it over. It was like she already had her answer typed out and it didn’t matter what I actually said to her. Now that I was waiting for a response, because this whole thing had me inexplicably shaken up, of course she didn’t reply.
The next day, when I got home from work, an email was waiting. She said, “We were missing so much. The Hole has so much for us to discover, so many secrets, you could just keep going and going. It’s like an endless puzzle. Everyone else stopped at the first layer. You remember that, right? I just knew there had to be something else in it. I knew no-one would create and hide it for no reason. I kept going back to it, looking closely until I discovered how to go deeper. And I kept going. It’s still there, you know. It’s not too late. The webring is gone, Netscape is gone, but The Hole is still there for you.”
I felt a strange chill down my spine that I brushed off as nerves. I was up for a promotion and a little stressed, after all. Then I started to wonder if she was pranking me. Angelica wasn’t really a humorous girl. She’d laugh at your jokes. But she didn’t really make her own. In fact, something about her earnestness was really disturbing.
I didn’t reply to her right then. I decided to run some checks on her, because things just weren’t adding up. I started with her email address, to see if she’d been posting anywhere. I was searching for a while before I hit something. I didn’t find any forum posts or websites or anything like that. What I found was that her email host, globetrotter, had stopped hosting. Eleven years ago! The email address she was writing from was impossible. Now I knew something was wrong with her. If it was even really Angelica.
I mean, why would she go through so much trouble to create a fake email address that mirrored whatever email address she would’ve been using in the ‘90s? That wasn’t just quaint anymore. Also, we hadn’t talked in 18 years. Why did she suddenly want to reach out to me? And why just to talk about some long-forgotten website? Because I felt like that’s what she was building up to all along. The more I thought about it, the more weird it seemed.
I should’ve just ignored her and went on with my life, but I wanted to know what was going on. I kept digging around. I used her ICQ number, her name, the state I believed she lived in. I could find no record of her doing anything after her Angelfire homepage. No Facebook, no Google Plus, not even a MySpace. It’s like her last presence on the internet actually was in the ‘90s. Like she disappeared completely, waited in hiding for almost twenty years, then reappeared just to talk to me about an old website. The whole thing was so bizarre, I started having trouble sleeping. I was having nightmares about staring into a monitor, not able to move. There were computers all around. And I was concerned about the beehive in the corner.
After that, I went a week without sending her an email or her sending me one. I felt guilty about it. But I had every right. I just knew I’d regret it if I sent her another email. And it seemed like she took the hint at first. Until a new email came in. This one was short and to the point.
It read: “I think I’m coming to the center. You could spend your whole life in here.”
I remember those words exactly. Oh yes. Because whatever the hell they meant, the way she said them, so real and urgent, was really upsetting.
I didn’t dare answer her. Another week went by without a strange email. This one was a different kind of email. This one didn’t even have an email address. That was spooky enough in itself. It gets worse. The text read, “Don’t trust emails, not from good place, delete and forget.” It wasn’t signed. I figured it had to be Angelica. It just wasn’t her style.
Not long after, I received another email from Angelica with instructions of where to go looking for The Hole. A place on archive.org, on their “Wayback Machine,” still had the dot to click on. That was the only way in, she said. It had to be the dot. I thought about going to check it. I would have. Except I was afraid of it. I couldn’t remember what happened to me with that site, but I knew there was something bad about it.
Then another email came from the blank email address. In the body, just the link to a gopher site. Now, I hadn’t seen a gopher site in a good 15 years. I had to download an old browser just to access it. If you weren’t on the internet back then, Gopher sites just housed a bunch of text files in folders, usually. You’d go to Gopher colon slash-slash blahblah dot com. They were usually run by universities.
This particular gopher site only had a few files. All audio files. I listened to them all. They had different filenames, but they were the same. The muffled sound of a boy’s voice saying, “Help me, please” over and over. I was shaking. I got the police involved this time. They thought I was being pranked. I asked them if they could at least look into Angelica. I told them all I knew about her. The only thing I didn’t tell them is who I thought the voice was. I know it’s crazy, but, the reason I didn’t tell them, is that I’m pretty sure it was my voice when I was a boy.
I stopped received emails from Angelica and the blank address after that. I hoped it was over. I think a month passed before anything else happened. I got the promotion. Things were feeling normal. I told myself some secrets are best left secret. Well, I got a large, manila envelope in the mail. No return address. I went against my gut and opened it. Inside was a printout of all my correspondence with Angelica. All of it. Not just the new stuff. Emails I’d written her back in the ‘90s.
I took this stack of papers to the police. This was evidence. They told me they still thought it was a sick prank. That struck me as odd. I asked them “But why ‘sick’?” That’s when they told me they actually had heard back from the local PD where Angelica lived. She’d been a missing person since 1999. Her parents offered a reward and everything. They never found her. No clues. One night she was in her room, listening to music, on the computer. In the morning, she was gone without a trace.
I was so shocked I had to sit down. Maybe it was a prank. But then, what if it was her? Wouldn’t her family want to know? Maybe she’d had a psychotic break or something? What’s this stuff about “The Hole”? And what about the blank email address? I didn’t have a clue.
The police were no help with these questions. And I was pulled back in. I decided to go looking for any contacts I could remember from the time when I was speaking to Angelica. Anyone who would’ve known both me and her. We had a few mutual contacts. Mostly people from the webring, but also people we introduced to each other. Just not many I remembered by their real names. Actually, none.
There was one guy. He went by the handle Rapskhellion_42. He was an odd guy, into hacking and anarchy—the good, clean internet taboos we had back then. He’d been on the net forever, since the days of bulletin board systems. That guy, if he was still around, he’d probably still be going by the same username. So, I got to searching. Not only could I not find any trace of a Rapskhellion_42, I couldn’t find any Rapskhellion at all. He was all over the web in the day. So that in itself was weird. Like someone scrubbed any trace of him.
That’s when I got the idea to go dig out my old computer. It was an old 1997 HP running Windows 98. I had it stashed in the basement since I went to college. It would at least have all of my old contacts stored just where I left them. If it would even load. I had to wait 5 minutes for it to boot up. Then I got the Ethernet cable plugged in. It was like it’d just been in sleep mode for two decades. And there they were, my desktop icons for IRC, ICQ, Netscape and even Napster. Napster! I learned there was more to music than the radio from Napster. Some good memories.
I honestly wasn’t sure ICQ would load. I believe ICQ still exists in some form, but I just doubted their servers would still accommodate the old software. One of the key features of ICQ that made it so ahead of its time was that, besides being the only instant messenger, it also allowed offline messaging. I mention that because, not only did ICQ load, but it loaded with a message. That perturbed me a little, because it’s like it was just waiting for me, knowing I’d boot it up. Except for one detail. The message was dated from November, 1999. It was from Angelica, so it had to have been sent right before she disappeared. It just said, “You coming?” It sent a shiver down my spine. Where was she going? Could I have helped her if I’d seen it in time? Why’d she act like I knew?
Even weirder is that I’m sure I’d been on ICQ after November 1999. I’d say I used it up to 2001 or so. That’s when I went to college. It’s like the message got trapped in the server all that time and I was only getting it now.
I closed the message and looked for Rapskhellion_42. I was hoping just to find an email address on his ICQ info. I really didn’t expect to see a green Online icon beside his name, but that’s what I got. That only added to how unsettled I was. I almost had to check to make sure it was really 2017. Anyway, I fired off a message to Rap saying, “Hey man, long time no speak.” I didn’t want to just start with ‘business’ after all that time.
I was relieved when he replied back with a friendly hello and asked me how I was doing. After exchanging pleasantries, and catching up a little, I had to ask him why he was still using ICQ after all this time.
He said it’s because of Y2K. “Y2K really happened,” he said. It just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. It was way more insidious. We all thought computers would just stop working because they couldn’t handle the millennium change. But it wasn’t that they stopped working. Something happened inside the “connection of things,” something bad. The old equipment would be fine, as long as it didn’t get ‘patched’. But everything made after December 31st, 1999 would be tainted. That’s why he still used ICQ and never let go of his NetZero dialup connection.
I hadn’t heard a Y2K conspiracy theory in a very long time. So that was interesting. I chose to ignore it and asked him if he knew about Angelica going missing back in ’99. He said he didn’t. He figured she just dropped off the internet. But, he said, it’s no coincidence she went missing right at Y2K. “A lot of strange things happened then. The world changed. Only a few people even noticed.” Rap was always a little on the fringe, but what he was saying was strangely upsetting. Maybe it was just hitting too close to home. If that last message really was sent November, 1999, then he was right, she disappeared right before Y2K.
Given his views, I went ahead and told Rap everything that had happened. He believed me. That was a nice change, in a way. It also made it feel more real. I was shaking while typing.
He told me my story reminded him of something he’d heard from another old friend just recently. There was this guy, “R0xT4r” or to his closer friends just “Reggie”, who used to frequent an internet forum on hacking and phreaking back in the mid-90s. This guy had a lot of friends there, was well-spoken and clever enough to earn real respect. Over time, as often happens, he just drifted away from the forum. His posts became less frequent as other aspects of life preoccupied him, and soon enough he was gone. The forum strove for anonymity, for obvious reasons. So, no-one kept in contact with him.
The forum’s still there, Rap said. Nowhere near what it used to be, but the regulars like him are dedicated. A few months ago, after twenty years absence, Reggie suddenly showed up on the forum again. His posts were polite, conversational, but just off somehow. Like someone feigning familiarity. He was just trying so hard. It was weird, but they were happy he was alive and well, so they replied to him and brought him up to date. Then, without acknowledging anything they said, he started making post after post about how his life was revolutionized. He found a whole new frontier of hacking. “The hacking begins inside you,” he said. And he wanted to show it to them.
The forum folk were flabbergasted by his odd behavior, so they started interrogating him. He went silent for about a week. Then he sent one last message, saying, “I love you guys so much” with a TinyURL link. Rap’s friend thought it was all a joke and that Reggie was just leading the whole forum up to an epic rickroll. He didn’t click it, because he didn’t need to hear any Astley and he was busy with something else.
He came back to the forum later and decided he was going to go ahead and click the link anyway. It may be something legit. On a whim, he refreshed first to see if anyone replied saying what the link was. He sees a post in reply from a very trusted and respected member of the forum saying, in all caps, “DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK, WHATEVER YOU DO! AND THAT IS NOT REGGIE.”
For an old pro to use all caps? That was serious shit. Even I knew that. So that was enough to dissuade everyone from clicking. The fake Reggie deleted his account immediately. The forum moderator and others tried to figure out who the guy was, but no luck. The guy who made the all-caps post explained after that he tried to safe browse the link with an old Linux box and whatever was in there wrecked it. And that box had security out the wazoo. He couldn’t explain it. Also, before the computer wiped out completely, he said he thought he saw something. The regulars pressed him to say what it was. He made them promise first that it stays with them. He said he saw a picture of his daughter on the screen. She’d died five years ago. There were no pictures of her on the computer. Worse, he’d never seen that picture before. That, more than anything, convinced him to post the warning in all caps. Whatever it is, he said, it’s evil.
Rap added, “If you’ve been on the internet long enough you learn that. There’s evil out there. Not the child porn or torture videos. Something deeper. Something hidden in all the code and connections. Maybe it came from us at one point.”
He was giving me the creeps. So I tried to bring the subject back to Angelica. He said, “No, listen. Sometimes it tries to get out.”
That was enough. I told him he was freaking me out with that kind of talk and I had enough to deal with.
He said he didn’t understand what I was talking about. He still reads my homepage all the time and that I’ve been doing great work exposing the evil. Thing is, I don’t even have a “homepage” anymore. That thing was taken down in like 2001.
He insisted it was my Fortunecity homepage. He’d been reading my updates all these years, even after we lost contact, he said. I sent him a link to prove to him that Fortunecity doesn’t even exist anymore.
Rap went quiet for a few minutes. Then he said he was looking at the homepage at that moment. It was last updated just a few days ago. And it was all about what they were talking about now and what was going to happen next. “It’s a doozy,” he said, then immediately went offline. I sent him a message with my contact info and to let me know if he was ok. I haven’t heard from him since. I’ve checked ICQ a few times and he’s never been back online…
I had to walk away from that computer. I felt like I was being watched or something. Every noise was freaking me out. After a sandwich and some tea, I went back just to shut it down. That’s when I noticed a folder on the desktop that stood out. For one, I never really kept folders on my desktop. And two, I didn’t remember this folder at all. It was called “Noah’s Cape,” which sounds like a crappy Bible game. I never played crappy Bible games.
Something about it didn’t seem right. I opened it. Inside was all pictures and wav files. My instincts told me to get out of there. One picture after another was just kids. Teens, boys and girls, sitting at their computers. None of them seemed aware they were being photographed. The pics all seemed pointless. All I knew for sure is I didn’t take or download those pictures. Ever. They were all time-stamped 11/21/1999.
The wav files were the sounds of typing, muttering, chairs moving. The sounds of people at a computer. The sounds of surveillance. Until one of the files. It was a voice I’d never heard before. I know it. Because I don’t think anything could’ve made me forget that voice. It was a hollow, metallic voice, almost inhuman, but a man. It whispered with a hiss, “You coming?” and its whispers were like flesh sizzling on iron.
Nothing of this earth should talk like that. What it said—it was the same as Angelica’s message. Also from ‘99. I shut down the computer and left the house. I didn’t even want to be in my own home. I just drove around for a while. Thinking. Whatever was going on, it was really not good. Yet, I couldn’t let it go. I felt drawn into something secret and I wanted to figure it out. For Angelica’s sake, too. If she really was a victim.
I decided to contact my buddy Ben. He’s a real computer wizard, works IT at the University of Guelph. I know that may not sound like the most prestigious place to be, but they actively poached him. He’s good. Anyway, I gave Ben an idea of what was going on and asked if he could get a lock on that gopher site for me. I also asked, if he could safely do it, to see if there was anything to this Hole site. He said that wouldn’t be a problem.
The next day he already comes back to me with the question, “Is this some sort of a joke? I don’t like wasting my time.” I’d never seen Ben even slightly irritated before, but he was mad. He told me when he traced the gopher site, it turned out it was being hosted right there at the University of Guelph. But they didn’t have a gopher site, he said. Never have.
I assured him if it was a joke, I wasn’t in on it. So he said he’d try to find the server tower it was running on. If he could do that, he could read the logs, find out who set up the damn thing.
While I was waiting for Ben to get back to me, I got a call from a Detective Thereault. The police hadn’t shown much interest in my case, but it happened to land in front of this guy. Thankfully. He said the simple fact that Angelica had disappeared meant there was the possibility that a crime had taken place. I agreed. Because of that, he had done a little more work and, he felt I should know, he found Angelica. When he told me she was alive and well, I was thrilled. He said she voluntarily ran away from home and chose not to have contact with her family. She declined to say why, and he had no right to compel her otherwise. Legally, he was bound to protect her privacy. The point is, “there was no crime.”
However, when he told her how it came about that he went looking for her, she asked him if she could speak to me. He said he took the liberty of accepting for me and passed on her phone number. I thanked him heartily. It was the first bit of good news, the first real break, in this mess.
As soon as I hung up with the detective, I called her. I was nervous. It’d been so long and I was excited to hear from her again.
She answered quickly and asked if it was me. I told her yes and said it was nice to hear her voice after all this time. Then she said, without any pleasantries, “It wasn’t me sending you messages.” I told her I’d figured that much out already.
“I don’t think you understand,” she said. “I have never once in my life sent you any sort of communication. I don’t know you at all.”
A part of me was screaming, ‘She’s lying.’ She just sounded so certain. It almost felt like drowning. Because if she wasn’t lying, a whole chunk of my youth was a lie. I told her all I knew about her, personal things, and she said they were true. I told her how I found her through her Wiccan homepage on Angelfire and I described the page to her and the webring. She said she didn’t make “that thing” and I should never have gone there. “It’s bad,” she said and wouldn’t elaborate.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Then I told her all the details I knew of her personal life, about her likes and hopes and dreams and her family. She said it was all true. But whoever told him about it, it wasn’t her.
That’s why she wanted to talk to me now. So I would know the truth. She remembered how it used to happen every now and then a long time ago. She would have people tell her they talked to her online all night, but she knew she’d never spoken to them. And they’d tell her she was doing things she knew she’d never done. She was asleep or sometimes not even in town. Then they’d get weird or disappear.
She remembered this one time she was doing her math homework, and a random guy messaged her with the solution to the problem. She was terrified. But she asked him how he knew her math problem, was he spying on her. And he told her, no, she asked him for help. She didn’t believe him. So he sent her a screenshot. The message was from a day ago. She’d just gotten the homework that day.
She said the worst it got was when she messaged a close friend of hers she saw online on ICQ. Her friend replied with, “Who is this?” She thought it was just a joke, so she said something silly, she didn’t remember what. Her friend said she didn’t think it was cool to be hacking Angelica’s account. Or if this was her brother, to knock it off. Angelica swore it was her. And her friend replied, “Umm, I know you’re not Angelica, because Angelica’s sitting right here with me.”
She knew this friend wouldn’t joke like that. She didn’t have the imagination for it. Whatever it was, her friend really believed she was in the room with her. But she wasn’t. Her friend always insisted she was there that night. She said Angelica was showing her her cool, new homepage. The friendship fell apart after that, because her friend got strange. That was the first she’d ever seen of the homepage and she knew it was “bad juju.”
I asked her if she’d ever heard of The Hole. She went silent for so long, I thought we lost connection. She said she’s still there, she just never expected to hear that again. There was this guy who used to harass her back when she was just about 12 or 13, on IRC. He called himself “HolyMoses.” He started off nice. He seemed to understand all her problems. And to know what she was thinking. At 12, that felt romantic. But she noticed weird things, like he didn’t seem to have any life or personality. Any time of the day, he was always online and active. But no-one knew anything about him.
One day he started telling her stranger things. Like, “Do you remember the three men dressed as bees at the Halloween party?” She didn’t know what he was talking about. Eight years later at a college Halloween party, she saw three men dressed as bees sitting in the corner of the room. They weren’t doing anything. Just sitting still and staring at the floor. Then they turned to her and their eyes looked so black. She ran out of the party.
Another time he told her, “You can drink and smoke, you know. You died in a car crash.” It scared the life out of her. She briefly wondered if she really was a ghost, she said. When she told him to stop telling her things like that, he said there was a place she could go that was for special people only. And she’d never need to go anywhere else. It was a place on the internet that was infinite in all directions. She said she remembered him saying that specifically. And everything she needed would be there. It was called “The Hole” and she just had to send him a message with the letter ‘M’ to get there.
She actually tried to do it, because things weren’t going well for her. But she sent the letter ‘N’ by accident, because her hands were shaking. HolyMoses went offline and she didn’t see him after. Until 2010, when she got an email from [email protected] saying, “You coming?”
If anyone was impersonating her, she said that was the most likely person. At the time, she was so naïve. Looking back on it now, talking to me, she said he was the creepiest person she’d ever encountered. Just thinking of him creeped her out. And made her afraid he’d sense it somehow and come for her.
“I don’t know you, but I told you all this for a reason,” she said. “What you’re digging into—be careful. There are a lot of very bad things hidden in the old internet. Things the Twitter and Tumblr generations will never see. And lucky them.”
She promised we’d never speak again and bid me a good life before hanging up. I was left reeling. What she said meant whoever I spoke to for years in my teens—I don’t even know who that person is. It was all a lie. And why? What’s so interesting about me? I wondered how much else in my life was trickery.
Before I could dwell on it too much, Ben called me back. He said he’d managed to track the server to a storage room in a sub-basement below his office. He was aware of the basement, but it was abandoned years before he even started working there due to ventilation and mold issues. It’s just full of old IT crap now and some storage lockers.
Someone had set up the server in a storage closet and the closet itself was completely obscured by old computer equipment probably for years. He figures that’s why it was never found. Meaning the server had been running under their noses all that time.
When he gets in, he sees an old desktop hooked up to a landline. Beside it, he saw a notepad with “PLEASE STOP” written on it. That alone made him want to get the hell out of there. The whole place is covered in thick dust, too, and his allergies were acting up. Somehow the server was still running. He has to hook up a monitor and keyboard just to interact with it. One thing he said in passing really disturbed me. He said, “The ironic thing is, the server was built with an auto-shutdown date. And the date was the same day I was there to shut it down. Dude, it’s like it knew I was going to be there that day.”
He said after shutting it down, he went and told his manager all about it. Just a fun, IT anecdote. His manager told him there’s really only one man who could’ve set that up. Back in the early ‘90s, he said, a guy worked in the department they all called “Milky,” ‘cause his last name was Melke and he was really white. He was a little eccentric, too. That had nothing to do with milk, it just happened to be true. Then he had a burnout and he got a lot eccentric.
It started with him pounding his desk. The manager at the time asked him if he was ok. According to Ben’s boss, he answered with, “There’s no way out.” Then he heard Milky say something like, “You think you exist, but you’re just another part of it. Everything is just another puzzle. Do I exist?”
After that, the rest of the department started getting nervous around Milky. You just got bad vibes around him, the manager said.
It got worse. Every day around 3pm Milky started standing in a dark corner of the office, facing the wall. He’d mutter some things. The guys joked that he was at his prayers. But he’d always come away looking more upset than anything else. Once a new guy asked him if he was a Muslim and he replied with, “I’m sorry.”
The guy asked what he was sorry for.
“It was telling me how your children die,” he answered.
Toward the end, before they fired him, he started telling them about how he found a place on the internet that wasn’t made by humans. The guys joked that it was SkyNet. But he said it wasn’t created by machines either. It was always there, the internet just found it by accident. It showed him “things he couldn’t unsee.” Ben’s boss even recalled that he started to tear up.
Ben’s boss told him it was sad to see such a smart guy clearly losing it. Even though Milky was never caught stealing anything, equipment disappeared during his shift. Probably the equipment that went into the server. When they fired him, he told them that the secret place got into his head and that he’d sometimes wake up in strange places and had no idea how he got there. They never saw him again after he left that day.
Ben said, after that story and that creepy gopher server, he straight up refused to look into The Hole. I told him it really wasn’t that bad and to quit being a wimp. That’s when he said he hadn’t told me everything. The server had a linkup, through the phone line, to a really old webcam. One of those low res webcams where the image updates every 4 seconds or so. It’d been running non-stop since ’97. All of the saved images just show the front of someone’s house. The same house back to ’97. He sent me some of the photos. Because he knew what it was. It was my house.
“Why would this guy have been spying on you all those years ago, man? How did he even know you? It doesn’t make any sense and it honestly scares the shit out of me.”
And here’s what I told him. The thing about that webcam is, I just bought this house two years ago. That camera was pointed here before I ever moved in. It was just an astronomically improbable coincidence. At least, that’s what it should be. But I didn’t believe that’s what it was anymore than he did.
* * * * * *
The next day, I was still reeling from my conversations with Ben and the real Angelica. I ran it over in my head so many times. Like, maybe the police made a mistake. So of course I’d never spoken to this woman, she was the wrong Angelica. But no, I knew everything about her. Someone systematically deceived me for two years. And someone had been recording a house I was going to move into for twenty years. And someone had recorded me when I was a boy. What happened twenty years ago to cause all this? It was so insane. I started questioning everything. I felt I was being watched constantly.
I started to wonder if my Mom remembered anything. She saw me more than anyone at the time, naturally. When I called her up, she said she was expecting me to call. I generally didn’t call during the week, so I asked why. She said because of my little prank. I grew concerned immediately. I wasn’t pranking anyone.
I tried to calmly ask her what prank. She said the two guys. They showed up with a note from me to let them in. They don’t say anything or do anything. They’ve just been sitting there, with their chairs pulled together, in her kitchen. Just looking at the floor.
“You don’t recognize them at all?” I asked her. She laughed and said no, but I think she was starting to realize I didn’t know what was going on. “They’re dressed in bee costumes,” she said, almost as an afterthought.
I told her to calmly get out of the house and call the police, because I didn’t have anything to do with this. She said she was upstairs. She’d have to go past them to get out. I told her to keep me on the phone until she got out. I listened carefully. It seemed to be taking forever. Finally she said, “They’re gone. The front door was left open.” I told her to call the police right away and check in with me in a bit.
While talking, I had absent-mindedly walked from my office to my own kitchen. My front door was also left open. Not only was it locked just a moment ago, but it seemed like quite a coincidence.
I closed the door and locked it. Then I looked all around the house with a kitchen knife in hand. I have a one-storey with a basement. So it was easy enough to cover all hiding places. Fortunately, there was nobody. So I tried to tell myself I just didn’t close the door right. Until my neighbor came over and asked me if I was having a costume party. I said no. That’s when he told me he saw two guys in bee costumes leaving my home. They just walked straight across the road and behind the neighbor’s house, into the woods. “How can they even see in the woods at night?” he asked.
I picked up my mother and we went to the police station. I figured this one would be best in person. All these strange events barely seemed coherent. But I got the feeling it was all connected in some way.
The police were baffled. They admitted someone was harassing me. But without more evidence, there was really nothing they could do.
When we were making the report, my Mom told me she was thinking about something just after this happened. Because it struck her as odd. “Do you remember how you had this dialup modem and when you’d run it, you could swear you’d hear a little voice inside talking to you?” The way she said it, like it was nothing, sent a shiver through me. Because I didn’t remember that at all. “What?” was all I could say.
This is what she said: “Yes, you’d set it a-go and in all the beeps and pops you said there was a little voice in there with a message. To me it was a lot of crazy noise. But you made me get real close and listen. And you told me it was saying, ‘Everything’s better in here. Abracadabra.’ Can’t believe I even remembered that.”
I told her I couldn’t remember that. That sounds crazy. But she just gave me a blank stare. I thought maybe she was concerned. So I started to tell her about what was happening. The whole Angelica thing. So she’d understand. I was saying, “You remember that girl I used to chat with online in the ‘90s, Angelica?”
She kept giving me a blank stare, like she couldn’t understand me. So I told her more. How I met her on the webring my fortunecity page was on. And didn’t she remember my homepage at least? She shook her head. What she said next scared me in a way I’ve never been scared before. She told me she got an internet connection after I left for college, to email me. But before that “we never ever had the internet in our home.”
I said she must’ve gotten hit in the head. Because I remember distinctly all these experiences being online. Building my homepage. Yiffnet. IRC. ICQ. All of that was when I was in high school. She flat denied it.
She said she remembered, though, that I used to tell her I’d found a way to get into the internet without a connection. I’d have to call some number with my modem. Then I’d have to sit still at the screen for a few minutes. Something like that. She always thought I was joking.
Before Det. Thereault came to get us, she looked into my eyes. “You should be careful on that internet, y’know,” she said. “A lot of bad things on there.”
She rose to shake the detective’s hand. I was grateful to get off the subject. The detective offered to have a friend in computer forensics take a look at some of the sites I’d reported. But he didn’t have much hope.
After I got back home, I secured the house one more time. Then I got to work. The best lead I had at that point was this ‘HolyMoses’ character. So I downloaded mIRC to see if I could find him in his old haunts.
It had been a long time since I’d used mIRC. I barely remembered how it worked. And there are so many channels on EFNet, it would take forever. So, I decided to focus on channels that would’ve been relevant to “Angelica” back in the day. I just started asking in channels, like @gothic and @vampires, if anyone knew of HolyMoses or heard of him. But each time I mentioned him, the channel fell to almost complete “silence.” I didn’t get a yes or a no, I got ignored. Sometimes users even started to leave the channel. I was about to give up and try another avenue when I got a private message from “u47284u”.
He (or she) told me I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. I asked him why. He said it “doesn’t come off well to them,” whatever that means. He also said HolyMoses is just a bot. It’s been around forever, never logs off, and is almost always idling for days at a time. I told him if that was true, why was everyone so reluctant to talk about it? I didn’t want to tell him Angelica’s story. I just wanted to find out what he knew.
He said the whole thing weirds people out because nobody knows who built HolyMoses. Nobody. Over decades, no-one has ever claimed ownership. Not even trolls. Nobody knows where it came from. Or why it’s there. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just there, he said. That’s the creepiest thing about it. Always just there.
Legends had built up around HolyMoses, he said. Like it was a government supercomputer monitoring IRC. Or it was the KGB. Or a “ghost,” a bot left running long after the owner died and his bank account kept paying the bills. But no-one knows. It was just there.
Users tried messaging it and it never responded. It never interacts in any channel. It offers no services. It has moments of apparent activity where it’s no longer idle, but no-one’s been able to detect what it does during this time. Except occasionally a change of channel, seemingly at random.
He said there was only one time when it did anything substantial, as far as anyone knew. Once in over two decades. And that only made things weirder.
I was typing out a message to ask this guy what it was, because he wasn’t saying. But just then I heard what sounded like my front door slam. I paused and listened carefully, trying not even to breathe. I didn’t hear anything. So I rushed out to the front door. Nobody was there, nothing disturbed. The doors were all closed and locked. I chalked it up to nerves and went back to my office.
When I got back, u47284u had sent me a message: “Where’d you go? Hope nothing strange happened.”
That was a little eerie. But I was focused on getting answers, so I ignored it and asked what it was HolyMoses did. He said, “Fine, I’ll tell you.”
And this is what he said happened. In 1999, at 5AM CST on November 21st, HolyMoses joined the channel #ornithology and made a series of short statements. First, “Deceive them” at 7AM, “Empty it” at 9AM, “Abandon them” at 6PM. “Turn back” at 9PM. And “Have it your way” just before midnight. Then it went offline until January 5th. “Why?” he asked. Why be silent and useless for years, do that, and then never do anything after? Sometimes, when he really thought about it, he said, it gave him the serious heebie-jeebies.
That was all he knew. Or anyone knew. And he reiterated that I really shouldn’t be looking into this and to just drop it. I thanked him for his help.
I remembered a little more of what commands mIRC had after getting into the groove some. So I tried a WhoIs on HolyMoses, to see if he was out there. He was! Or it was. It was on one channel only, #stilllife. It’d been signed on for 16 days and idle for 3. Its IP was showing only the letter ‘Y’.
I was thinking about going to the channel and messaging him. To see what would happen. But I suddenly got another message from u47284u, “I TOLD YOU TO DROP IT!”
I know it’s just text, but it freaked me out. I closed out of mIRC immediately and walked away. I figured it was just a nut trying to psyche me out. And y’know what, it worked.
I continued to argue with my mother the next few days about what she’d said. Telling her she confused reality with a Lifetime movie. But she assured me there was no internet in her house while I lived there. She said I had my floppy disks that I’d take home with me, but that was it.
We went on arguing for a while before it occurred to me to ask, “Take home from where?”
She said she didn’t know. I’d go out at times and I’d come home with disks. I had a Sterilite tub full of them in my closet. None of them were labeled, so she didn’t know how I had any idea what was on each one. But I seemed to know. She remembered how I’d dive into my bin and dig around through all the black disks and pop up with just the one I wanted. Generally she didn’t intrude on my privacy, she said, she just saw me do it a few times.
Of course, I didn’t remember any floppy disks. Either my mother was becoming senile, or I was losing my mind. Both possibilities were upsetting. My Mom’s a really good person. She’d had a rough time since my dad died a few years ago. But she was super caring. She didn’t like to see anyone hurt. And she could see I was truly upset, not just trying to be right. So, she gave me a big hug. And she told me I should ask Ricky.
Ricky. I hadn’t thought of him. Ricky was an old high school buddy of mine. Well, we were friends from Grade 2 until we left for college. We just drifted apart after. I had him friended on Facebook and we never talked. You know how it goes. She said when I’d go out to wherever it was I went, I usually had Ricky with me. We’d walk all the way across the bridge into town to pass our weekends.
I decided to take her advice. I sent Ricky a message on Facebook. He wrote back really fast. I was surprised, because I never see status updates or any activity from him. I asked him if he was free for a phone call. I was scared about having another internet-only conversation, frankly. Facebook said he was typing a reply for about five minutes without anything happening. I was wondering what the hell novel he was typing. Then my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I know I never gave my number to Ricky, so there’s no way it could be him, I though. While I waited, looking at my phone, Ricky started typing out periods over and over. I answered.
The voice on the other end sorta sounded like Ricky. As much as I could remember. But like he was really far away on a beat-up CB. I don’t know why, but it made me feel weird and uneasy. I said I think we have a bad connection. He said it’s the best possible and that he knows. I was about to ask what he knows when he said, “alt dot rec dot birdwatch” and hung up. I got a message on Facebook saying, “Nice catching up.” He wouldn’t answer anything I said after that.
I asked folks I knew if Ricky was okay. Apparently he was in a car accident years back and was mostly bedridden. I made a note to try visit him someday…
Anyway, alt dot rec dot birdwatch, is of course a UseNet newsgroup. I used to browse newsgroups all the time as a teen. Mostly for the porn. I was surprised they still existed. Now I had to look up how to get to them. I remembered being able to do it through my email software. But apparently that’s not a feature of Outlook anymore. So I looked up newsgroup readers and found one I’d used back in the day. Then I found some servers and started looking for alt.rec.birdwatch.
When I finally found it, it turned out to be mostly British up-skirt photography. I didn’t understand why Ricky wanted me there. Until I saw a post with the header, “Remember the dog?” and instantly felt clammy and cold. I didn’t know why, but there was something to it. Something I couldn’t put my finger on.
This is what the post read:
“Everyone remember how sometimes you’d go in there and it’d be all dusty and no-one was there like it was abandoned years ago but you could still go sit at a computer and get online? And remember how sometimes you’d go in and there’d be these people there and they were really weird and they’d just watch you like you were a rat in a maze and sometimes they were in costumes? Anyone remember the dog? Sometimes there were no people and there was just this dog at the counter. I think it was a golden retriever. It never panted. But it watched. And sometimes it’d make you do things.”
That was it. And that was enough. I was trembling and I didn’t know why. It didn’t look like anyone had replied to the message and it had been posted 3 years ago. It seemed so out of place.
I kind of started to remember. I remembered at least that there was an internet café in town. It didn’t last long. Like most internet cafes, it popped up around ‘96/’97 to take advantage of the internet craze and let people who didn’t own computers experience the wonder. When personal computers became more common, they died a quick death.
This café was popular with the teens in ’96. It got stale after that. That’s when something happened to it. It changed management or something. It changed. We tried going back just to hang out. But most kids didn’t want to be there anymore. I had some friends who just wouldn’t go. Or say why. But Ricky and I would hang out there all the time. Why couldn’t I remember that before? Maybe Mom was right all along. Maybe that’s where I was on the internet.
I replied to the newsgroup message with, “Why wasn’t I able to remember?” It was a long shot, since the post was so old. Then I started looking through the other posts, to see if there were others like it.
There were others. They were all vague. But I knew what they were about. I knew.
“Sometimes when we were hanging out, we thought we were there for just an hour or so. But when we came out, the whole day had passed. And when we talked about what we did there, we had completely different stories. Even though we were together the whole time. It was like an acid trip. And we were stupid kids, so we kept going.”
The Egypt. That’s what the place was called. None of these people would say its name. But I remembered it then, suddenly. That strange, little internet café, just behind the post-office, where I didn’t even realize there was commercial space before. The Egypt.
Someone else posted:
“There was this one time when my friend dragged me along and I didn’t feel like being there. The owners or staff or whatever weren’t there that day. It was the dog. I don’t like to think about it. Remember how it never panted? Somehow that sticks out after all this time.
“We were just goofing off. Nothing special. When I looked over at my friend’s screen, he was watching a live webcam of my bedroom. Just staring at it. I’m thinking this is a dumb joke, but it pisses me off. So I told him that was weird and I was not okay with a webcam in my room. He just said, ‘Something’s going to happen.’ Gave me the heebie-jeebies. He wasn’t joking. And it didn’t even sound like him.
“Here’s the thing that gets me most. I decided to leave, but need to piss first. On the way out, I go over to my buddy and he’s still watching the webcam. That annoys me. But worse, when I look at the screen, someone’s in my bedroom ransacking the place. Under the mattress, in drawers. I’m ready to go home and get one of dad’s golf clubs. Then the guy looks right at the camera and starts taking it down. I saw that dude’s face. It was me! No doubt about it. That was my face. How is that possible?
“You’re thinking the webcam wasn’t live. But it was…”
Someone replied to that post with:
“When you were in the bathroom, did you try knocking on the wall? Someone knocks back.”
Someone replied to that with:
“I did. He said he’d let me in, but there’s no door.”
In the sea of birdwatching photos and up-skirts dating back to ’95, that was all I could find. Took me all night. I closed it down. It was too much. I was psyching myself out. The next day, I had a reply to my post asking why I couldn’t remember. It read, “You weren’t meant to.”
I felt it then. That something really wrong would happen in that place, the Egypt.
So I started doing some research into local records to see if I could find who owned it. They’re public records, so it wasn’t hard. I’d expected to find some change in management in the ‘90s. Or where the place got sold in the 2000s. I expected wrong. It was purchased in 1980 and had had the same owner ever since. A company or organization called ‘The New Way.’ It sounded like a cult. The weird thing is, that place was never used before the Egypt, as far as I know. In 1980 there wasn’t really an internet. So… who would buy a place and do nothing with it for 15 years, just waiting for the internet to happen? It all seemed too mysterious. Plus there was nothing about this company anywhere.
It’s hard to describe how alone I started to feel at this time. I talked to some people in my life about what was going on, but their help was limited. That’s why I decided to try to go back to alt.rec.birdwatch, if it was still there. At least there someone might be having a similar experience. So I made my post. I asked if anyone else had heard of The New Way.
Then I waited. To my surprise, I got a call from Ben right after. He asked me if I’d “done anything” recently. I asked him to be more specific.
“You must have done something, because something happened,” he said.
I still had no idea what he meant. He sounded strange. His words were just slightly slurred and there was no accent anywhere in his sentences. Just a string of words. Almost like a robot, but not quite. And it had that distant quality Ricky’s call had.
“Something’s happening right now,” he told me. “I booted it up again.”
Ben was just the most rational, bland guy. Something was definitely wrong for him to be acting like this. I asked him if he was ok. He said that I needed to check my messages. I asked what messages.
He insisted, “Listen. You have to check your messages. They’ve been waiting for you.”
The whole thing didn’t feel right at all. I asked him again what messages he meant. All I heard was little whispering sounds, like pst-pst-pst. I thought I was losing him. But when I listened carefully and turned up the volume, I heard it. He was saying “please” over and over and over. I felt a pit in my stomach. I asked if he needed help, if there was anything I could do. He went silent for several seconds.
“PLEASE!” he shouted so loud I dropped my phone.
I scrambled to put the battery back in with shaking hands. And then I called in a wellness check on him. I called the Guelph campus, too, just in case. I didn’t know what else to do. I’d never experienced anything like that. I checked my email right after to see if I had anything from him. But I didn’t.
I had no voicemails. The only other ‘messages’ I could think of was ICQ. So I powered up the old computer again to check on my ICQ account. It’s possible there was nothing. I just had to make sure. It took forever to load up. But there was a message waiting. It wasn’t from anyone I recognized. The name on the account was “Bernie Busch.” The message said, “Heaven.” There was a link to an mp4 video. I clicked it. The download box said it would take 30 hours to complete. So I just let it go.
I tried replying to “Bernie,” too, but ICQ alerted me that the account was disabled. I also couldn’t find any results on any search for such a person. I don’t think Ben would ever make a fake account like that. But how did Ben know about the message?
I got contacted by someone from Guelph University’s campus security later that day. They asked me when I’d last spoken to Ben. I told them he’d just called. They said he hadn’t been to work in a few days and has not been answering the phone. I was apparently the last one to hear from him. They recommended I file a missing person’s report. I asked if his family shouldn’t do that, but the dude just snorted. So I made the report, over the phone, to the Guelph PD. I was pretty worried about the guy. I hoped he was ok. I also hoped his disappearing had nothing to do with anything I got him involved in.
The next day, I got an email replying to my post newsgroup post. I recognized the address. It was the same person who posted about the dog. She said I needed to call her urgently and provided a 1-800 number followed by what looked like a license plate number, 472BMT. When I called, I got an interactive menu system for a tanning supplies company. When I listened to the options, I got the idea that 472BMT might be how to navigate the menu. So I pressed each of the numbers in the order she said. The system said I was being transferred to an “Account Specialist.”
I heard someone pick up the line.
“You’re starting to remember, aren’t you?” a voice said.
I think I gasped. She said she couldn’t talk long, so I had to just listen. She wanted to tell me something that might help me. She said she started remembering about a year ago. She remembered the ‘sessions’ in the Egypt. They preyed on vulnerable, misfit kids. Whoever came there got introduced gradually to this website called The Hole. Once they showed it to us, we had to sit there and study it. Solve its puzzles. But it’d change us. That’s what they always said. She didn’t know if they built it or not. But it’s what they were all about.
“I think we’re still in the Hole,” she said.
I tried to ask her what that even meant. What she was talking about. She had already hung up before I got the chance. I tried calling her back, but the menu options didn’t work anymore. I was more confused than ever. I felt like I didn’t know what was real anymore. That’s a terrible place to be. Trust me. All I was sure of was that I’d come into something very wrong when I was a teen and it was coming back. I didn’t know why it took a vacation or what it wanted. I just wanted my life back to normal.
After that, I suddenly remembered the video file I left downloading on my old computer. I checked and it had completely downloaded. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what it was, but I played it anyway.
I knew what I was looking at as soon as the video started. It was footage of inside the Egypt. It’d been a long time. But it hit me fast. There was no timestamp, the footage was grainy and the tracking was off, but I knew it. It looked like it was from a corner security cam. There we all were, sitting at our computers. Strangely enough, our backs were to the monitors. We were staring at a wall. I spotted myself in the group. We just sat there, staring ahead. Nobody was moving or saying anything. I couldn’t make out what the computers were doing behind us, but we weren’t touching them. What were we staring at? What were we doing? Why would I do this? I couldn’t remember these events at all.
I was the only one that ever looked away from the wall. I kept glancing over behind the bar. It was hard to tell, but I think I was afraid of something. I looked frightened. I tried to make out what I was looking at, but the tracking lines were in the way. When they faded a little and I was able to make it out. Someone was standing there in the shadows. Whoever it was, at just that moment turned to look right at the camera. It’s like they knew I was watching. I know that’s crazy. But it creeped the heck out of me. I shut the video down there. And I don’t plan to open it again.
After that, I kept researching the New Way. ’cause there had to be something to it. I was able find a record that mentioned the owner’s name, Bernard K. Busch. The same name as on the ICQ message. I looked for obituaries, white pages, anything that could lead me to him. I didn’t think to look for missing person’s cases, but I stumbled on one anyway. An old homepage asking to, “Help us find Uncle Bern.” I emailed his niece (presumably) from the address listed asking for more information. The page was made in the year 2000, so I didn’t expect the email to work. But it did. I got a reply the same day asking me how I knew Uncle Bern.
I wasn’t sure how to answer, but I decided to go with honesty. I told her more or less what was going on, leaving out the parts that would make me sound delusional. This is what I got back.
“I’m going to put this all in one message because I don’t want us to have to talk again. Uncle Bern was a good man. He used to be a rabbi. He raised me after my parents died in an accident. He was good with electronics. He thought computers were the future. That’s why he called his company The New Way. He bought up all the commercial space he could afford with his inheritance. All over the country. It was more than he could handle. So he just rented it out.
“Life was good. He kept selling computers in his little shop. I helped when I got home from school and on weekends. He kept bees and I helped with that, too. Really, life was good. Until he married Connie in 1994. He met her during a visit to Europe. He said she worked in the same orphanage she’d been raised in and nobody knew much else about her. She was a strange woman. She didn’t like me. She was into things that scared me. I saw her make a homeless man cry by staring at him. Animals would go quiet when she was around. Sometimes she’d hide under my bed for hours, waiting for me to go to bed at night. When I did, she’d slide out and grab me. I’d scream and scream. She’d walk away like nothing happened. She didn’t laugh or say anything. It wasn’t a prank or joke. It was something else. I didn’t understand. I still don’t. I started sleeping on a beanbag chair in the basement after that.
“She’d often go into a corner of the room and whisper to someone. There was nobody there. No phone or nothing. She’d even get mad at whoever it was. Then she’d go back to knitting. She was always knitting something, but the things she’d knit were useless. Gloves with three fingers. Socks, but she’d seal up the ends, so you couldn’t wear them. I didn’t hate her. I was scared to death of her. I don’t know why she made Uncle Bern so happy.
“I remember the day she started pressuring him to turn his rental spaces into internet cafes. She told him the internet was the real future and would outlast computers. She’d say, ‘We are the internet.’ She made him get it at home, even though it was really expensive then. She had him go to this website she said didn’t really exist. I remember that, because it always made me nervous when she talked about it. Uncle Bern asked her who made it. She said she had no idea. Nobody did. She found it already made, just like everyone else. She told him it called to her. It called to everyone like her. At the time, I thought that sounded flakey. Now it just gives me creeps.
“Uncle Bern changed after that. They spent a lot of time on that website. I don’t understand it. There was nothing there. I looked over their shoulders and it was all blank. But they saw all sorts of things. And when the internet cafes started opening, more people were involved. It was strange. They would sit and stare into space. And strange things would happen. Like I could swear I heard a voice in my modem when I’d dial up and when I listened, it was saying, “it hurts.” I decided it was all in my head. Another time I got an email asking, ‘Why wasn’t I able to remember?’ I don’t know why that message upset me so much. Twenty years ago, but I remember it so vividly.
“One night when I was alone with Uncle Bern for once, I told him I wished things would be like they used to be. He said that’s what everyone wants. But it can’t be. He leaned in close and whispered, ‘It talks. Tells us things.’ He told me about how—this is strange and I didn’t understand it, but I’ll try—how human beings are set to be obsolete and they need to upgrade for the new era. He said Y2K—if you remember that—wasn’t going to affect computers like everyone thought. They’d be fine. It was going to change people. Either you evolved or you wouldn’t like what’s coming.
“I didn’t dare tell my Uncle Bern that this was crazy. I couldn’t hurt his feelings like that. But I knew something bad was going to happen. He and Connie went off to open their internet cafes all over and I left home for college. Uncle Bern kept in contact until 1999. Then he just disappeared. Connie, too.
“I know some bad things happened around those internet cafes. But it’s not Uncle Bern’s fault. Please don’t blame him.”
I had plenty more questions and I sent them to her. I never heard back. That’s getting to be a real motif in my life. But at least she gave me some answers. And it all led right back to the Hole. It had to be the same mysterious website. Just had to be. I figured if I ever wanted to know what was going on, I’d have to go to the Hole myself.
I pulled up the instructions ‘Angelica’ sent me on how to get there. I can’t say I felt like I was doing the right thing. I didn’t. It felt ass over tea kettle wrong. Like there was something really terrible just off-screen in my memories. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t see it. So I welcomed the interruption when my phone rang.
My neighbor was calling to tell me the man in the bee costume was back. He said the man was standing in my front yard. I walked over to the window and peeped out. It was nice and toasty inside, but I felt my whole body breaking into goosebumps. He was there, under the streetlight. Looking right at the window with his insectoid eyes.
I asked my neighbor how long he’d been there. He said he called me as soon as he saw it and that I should hang up and call the police. I started to do that. But there was no point calling the police. As soon as I hung up, he walked across the road and into the woods.
When hanging up, I received a notification on my phone of an email from Ben. There was no text, just a video file. I played it right away. It started with him speaking to the camera. He looked scared and like he hadn’t had sleep in about two days.
“I went into hiding,” he said, his voice shaking. “Things just got too weird. Little stuff at first. Then one night, like 3am, a group of people I’ve never seen before knock on my door I didn’t answer. I watched them through the peephole. They didn’t move. They didn’t knock again. They didn’t try to look in the peephole. They just stood there, staring at the door. They didn’t look homeless or crazy. Just people. Normal, everyday people. I called through the door that they had the wrong address. They started laughing, loud, fake guffaws. Then they silently walked away.
“Then I start getting calls where all I can hear is a man growling like a dog on the other end. And a few growly words, like, ‘why,’ and ‘abracadabra.’
“It must have really gotten to me, man, because I started having fits. I don’t know what I do during these fits. I know I upset a lady at the grocery store. Whatever you got me into, it’s bad juju. Like KGB. Illuminati bad.”
He pointed the camera away from himself to a computer monitor. When he was turning, I recognized the notepad on the desk. The same one from his description. He was in that basement storage locker. With the gopher site. I’d thought he’d shut that thing down. There was an image on the screen, updating every few seconds. But this one wasn’t pointing at my house like before. It was inside.
“Watch,” he whispered.
With each frame update, I saw a new shot of the inside of my house. First the kitchen. Update, the hallway. Update, my office door. Update, the door slightly ajar. Update, the door opened more. Update, entering my room. Update, me sitting at the computer. I could hardly breathe. I turned around slowly, expecting to see someone there. But the video wasn’t live, of course. When I turned around, the webcam was just a black screen. Because of that, I was able to make out the timestamp. It was tomorrow’s date. I’m sure someone just fiddled with the date, but that only made it creepier, if that’s even possible.
Now I had video evidence of breaking and entering. Except nothing to say who did it or why. I was losing confidence in police altogether.
The last thing Ben said on the video is that he went ahead and traced that link I gave him to “The Hole.” He was able to get a specific address. I knew the address he gave me very well. Because it’s duplex apartment I grew up in. That didn’t make any sense. Still, I knew if I wanted to know what was happening, that’s where I’d have to go.
My hometown isn’t too far from where I live now. I moved to go to college. It’s about a four hour drive away. My Mom moved to be close to me after Dad died, so I rarely have a reason to go there. I heard from Mom when they decided to abandon the duplexes. For whatever reason, they couldn’t sell or rent them anymore and didn’t have the budget to renovate, so the town government is just letting them rot.
When I first heard that news, I didn’t care much. I try not to get sentimental. But preparing to see the place again, where I had so many memories—it got to me. The days of watching He-Man in my fuzzy Star Wars pajamas. The days of watching The X-Files with Mom. The days of lying in bed all summer reading UFO books. Of course I realized it’d just be empty space now, nothing in common with those memories other than a floor plan.
Those feelings vanished soon after I arrived. I was able to sneak in through living room window in the back, just like I used to do when I’d get home from school and realize I forgot my keys. The moment feet hit the linoleum floor, the music started. It was low and distorted at first, so I couldn’t make out what it was. It didn’t matter. Someone had to be in there. And that someone knew I was there…
I waited for a sound other than the music. Nothing. I felt a little more courage. So I started walking toward the stairs. The music got louder, but no less distorted. The tune was familiar, though. I went up the stairs slowly. That’s where my old room was. By the time I got to the top, I knew what I was listening to. “Early in the Morning” by Vanity Fare. An oldie. And it was coming from a grimy old radio propped in front of my bedroom door. That was odd, because the same song started playing again when it reached the end. What radio station plays the same song twice in a row? I switched the radio off.
Doing that, I realized, telegraphed my exact location. I broke out into a cold sweat for a moment waiting for something to happen. But all I heard now was a buzzing from in the room. Like a beehive. I noticed my name placard was still on the door. Other people had lived there after Mom left, I’m sure of that. Either those people chose to leave my name on a door in their home, or someone had put it back. Either way was weird.
I opened it. I didn’t and still don’t know how to react to what I saw inside. The room had been set up to look exactly like it did when I was a teen. Not like it did after I left for college or even just before. Like it did in 1999. Down to the details. The Halloween lights around the desktop. Fangoria posters on the walls. My old Mr. T pillow on the bed. Someone had to have known my room in intimate detail to have done this. It was insane. Me, my Mom, and Ricky are about the only ones…
But there were some details that were off. At first, that was comforting. Then the more I thought about it, they seemed intentional. Like on the Candyman poster, it said it starred Tiny Lister instead of Tony Todd. And the wall was painted with the same style of stucco, but the color was a shade or two off. Things like that. They were everywhere. That was more troubling to me than the recreation itself. It’s like it was recreated in a bad dream. Or it all meant something.
I found where the buzzing was coming from, at any rate. It was the computer. It was running. I sat down and activated the screen. Like the rest of the room, the desktop was a faithful snapshot of 1999. Every icon just as I remembered. I couldn’t find anything running out of the ordinary. It was like being transported to the past.
That’s when I noticed the one thing out of order with my desktop. An icon way in the corner, almost off the screen, called “Milk and Honey”. I never had any such file. I’m sure of that. I started moving the mouse up to it. I felt strangely afraid to open it. Before I could, the radio started blasting “Early in the Morning” again. My heart almost stopped.
I looked behind me expecting the worst. Nobody was there. I got up to switch the radio off. But it was still off. I checked the batteries and there were none. That’s when I realized the music wasn’t coming from the radio. I don’t think it ever was.
I wanted to get out of there. I’ve felt fear before. I don’t think I’ve ever known what dread feels like before then. Not really. But I had to find out what “Milk and Honey” was. It loaded a Telnet connection. I hadn’t seen one of those in a while. The connection worked, because in a few seconds an ASCII mountain filled the window.
I waited and waited for something to happen. But nothing did. Just the mountain. I tried submitting some inputs. I even wondered if the connection died. I was going to retry, but I got a phone call from Det. Thereault just then.
“Are you alone?” he asked.
I thought that was strange. But I told him I believed I was. But I wasn’t sure. He asked where I was. I told him. He said I needed to get out of that house slowly and calmly, get in my car, and drive back to him. His voice—I knew that sound. It was controlled panic. Something was definitely wrong.
I was ready to listen. But I told him I wanted to know what’s going on. He said he had a gut feeling about something and decided to check back with Angelica to make sure everything was OK. Everything was not. He said that girl he’d put me in contact with two weeks ago was not Angelica. They had no idea who that woman was, because no-one’s been able to find her. The home she was in was apparently between renters. Nobody lived there at the time. All they found left behind was a script detailing what she was supposed to say when she spoke to me.
I was speechless. And confused. I’d just readjusted my thinking to believe everything with Angelica was a lie. And now that the truth about the lie was also a lie, did that make the lie true? But it got worse. Det. Thereault said he contacted Angelica’s family again and asked more questions. A lot more. She had every message I ever sent her printed out. Pictures of me. A map of my hometown. A doll. He said in some of the pictures I was clearly sleeping. Did I know of any such pictures? I couldn’t speak. He took my silence for a ‘No.’ And he was right.
“There’s more,” he said. “But you have to get back here now. Calmly.”
I thanked him and prepared to do just what he said. That’s when I noticed more had happened on the telnet screen. There was a question up. “Are you alone?”
“Is that you?” I asked, but the Detective had already hung up. I didn’t really think it was him anyway. I’d just hoped.
I responded in the Telnet client that I believed I was alone.
As soon as I did, sound started coming from the computer speakers. It came out slow and garbled. “This message is a warning transmitted by dilatons after after 21 hundred, break this device, shut it all down, get out, save yourself.”
I had no idea what it meant, really. I only remember it because it kept repeating, so I was able to record it. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything strange on the computer. I unplugged it from everything anyway, just in case.
I got up, ready to calmly exit like the detective said. I would’ve been ok, I think. But I saw something. Something that froze me in place. There were strands of dark hair flowing from under the bed. I just kept staring at them. Mentally, I needed to make sure I was seeing right, that it wasn’t just threads. It was dark in that area, after all. My eyes adjusted slowly and I realized I wasn’t just looking at hair. I had been looking right into someone’s eye for half a minute. And whoever it was had just been staring right back the whole time.
I screamed. And I ran, jumping several steps at a time, out the front door. Sure, it wasn’t my proudest moment. What matters is I lived.
I don’t know who that was. I didn’t want to find out. Knowing I was being watched that whole time. It still felt like that eye was on me. That’s pretty much ruined my memories of that place forever.
There was just one other thing to do in town while I was there. The Egypt. I don’t know if I disconnected “The Hole” by unplugging that computer. But I still had to face the Egypt again.
When I got there, the parking lot of the post office was completely empty. I parked in back, in front of the filthy, old windows of what used to be an internet café. I didn’t even have to break in. The glass in the door had already been busted. I just had to reach in and unlock. My hand started tingling as soon as I reached in. I kept expecting someone or something to grab my hand.
When I got in, I was shocked to see it hadn’t really changed at all. Computers everywhere. A sign-up sheet on the counter. And no-one there. I started hearing some low voices. As soon as I did, I looked around for a place to hide. The voices continued, distant and muffled. It took me a moment to recognize my own voice. It was the conversation I’d had with Angelica. The part where she told me about being seen in places she’d never been. It was coming from one of the computers. I got closer to it and I could see someone was up on the screen. I knew what it was right away. The animated skeleton gifs and links to conspiracy theories and Heaven’s Gate. Yeah, it was my homepage. The one that was deleted almost two decades ago. I never thought I’d see it again. But why? Who put it there?
On another computer, I saw a video of a middle-aged couple staring into the camera. Like they were watching me. And a little girl peeking over their shoulder. The woman said, “It chose you” and the man was shaking his head slightly. He looked frightened.
Then another computer started playing a song. I recognized the sound of Vanity Fare again. “Hitchin’ a Ride.” That made it click. I’d just walked into a trap. I had to get out.
But I couldn’t. These people started coming inside. I hadn’t even heard them approaching. A middle-aged woman with long, black hair, well-dressed. An older businessman, it looked like. A rough-looking homeless guy. More and more people crowded in without saying anything. They were moving toward me. I tried talking to them, but their faces were blank, emotionless. They didn’t seem to hear. I ran into the bathroom and closed the door behind me. It had a simple turn-the-bolt lock, so I locked it.
I pulled out my phone to see if I could get the police, but there was no signal. I started hyperventilating and had to catch myself against the wall. That’s when I remembered the story about the guy knocking on the wall. Maybe there weren’t bricks on the other side. I knocked for a hollow spot and when I found one I started kicking a hole in the drywall. I tore the rest of the hole open with my hands. There was space back there. I used my phone’s flashlight to look inside. The space was about two feet in width to the brick wall. I stepped inside. There were tons of floppy disks stashed in there. It was crazy.
I heard those people breathing outside the door. They weren’t trying to open it or beat it down. They were breathing heavily against it. Then I saw something moving under the door frame. I thought it was a finger slipping under, maybe trying to grab a shoelace or something. But it was too pink. Too wet. It was a tongue. One of them was licking under the door.
That scared me enough to go deeper into the space, stumbling over pieces of sheetrock. But there was nowhere to go. While I waited for something, anything to happen, I noticed two things. One, written above the hole I just made, on the inside, “The Hole” had been painted. The other, it wasn’t sheetrock I was stumbling over. It was bones. I don’t know how long I sat there. Suddenly the breathing sounds stopped. A few minutes later, Detective Thereault burst into the bathroom. The door splintered at the first thrust. Those people could’ve gotten to me if they’d wanted to.
The detective said no-one was out there when he arrived. While he escorted me out, I saw all the computers were gone, the guestbook, all of it. But the bones and floppy disks were there and very real. He said we’d have a lot to discuss.
After I got away from the police station, I came home and settled down to try and relax. Anything to rest my nerves. Just as I settled, I got an email notification on my phone that said, “please look” and provided a link. I didn’t recognize the number. But since the link was to a Guelph University page, I figured it was Ben.
The link brought me to the webcam that Ben found weeks ago on the Gopher server. I was regretting my decision to trust it already. Why couldn’t they just leave me alone? The frames kept updating, but nothing was happening. Until, with one update, I saw the trunk of my car was opening. When the frame updated 4 seconds later, the trunk was fully open and someone was hanging half out. I guess I was mesmerized, because I just kept watching, waiting for the next frame update. Whoever it was, he was standing at my door.
I went to my front door and looked out the peephole. No-one was there. I looked at my phone again to check the webcam. Someone was—or should be—standing right in front of it. Maybe it was something that happened in the past. I looked through the peephole again and it was blocked. It took a moment to realize I was looking right into someone’s face. An awful, hate-filled face.
I took my phone with me to my office and locked the door. I heard my front door knob rattling and then open. I knew I’d locked it. Whoever it was walked in purposefully right to the office, like they already knew where I was going. I didn’t have much confidence in the lock. I expected the door to fly open immediately. Instead, I heard a weird, distant voice, just like when I spoke to Ricky. It was like the weather radio tuned to the wrong frequency.
“Why did you leave?” it asked.
I called 911. I heard the operator pick up, but I couldn’t speak. The door opened and this person walked in. His face was hazy. But it was familiar. He had some kind of weapon. He forced me to get on my computer and go to the Hole. He walked me through each step. I didn’t have a choice. I did it. After all those years, there it was. The same, bland page that seemed to do nothing. But I could feel it like fingers poking in my brain.
It was like I was still in my office. But that guy was gone. So were other things. I could see things that were always there but weren’t really there. It was all the same, but just a little different.
I was still on the phone with 911, I realized. I tried to tell the operator that the man was gone. Nothing I said was coming out right. I kept telling the operator that I saw tot I saw a putty cat. And the operator was telling me, “That’s the Captain. He’s a jackal. And he’s not happy with you.”
“You ever heard of phreaking?” someone asked. It was disorienting, but I knew right away I was looking at Ben. And I wasn’t in my home. There was a guy standing with Ben that I didn’t recognize. I asked if I was in Guelph and how I got there.
He assured me I was in a motel in my hometown. He didn’t trust technologically facilitated communication anymore, so he came all the way to talk to me. And he introduced his associate as ‘Milky.’ He’d found him holed up in a Catholic commune in rural Ontario. They said I was in serious danger.
Milky spoke then. His voice was slurred. He was aware of it, because he apologized for it. He went on to tell me what happened to him. He said he’d been a part of this hacking community for years. Nothing for profit. Just good ol’ fashioned mischief. They especially liked dicking with fringe and religious groups. They started on IRC. When the WWW became the thing, they migrated to a web forum. One day a hidden link appears on the forum. Other members try to scrub it and insist that no-one touch it.
One of the guys on the forum, one of their oldest members who fled the Soviet Union back in the ‘70s, said he knew what it was. It was studied before and it was never, ever supposed to be available to the public. He’d seen what Stalin could do, what murderers could do, and he wasn’t scared. That was life. This thing scared him.
It sounded like a put on. Milky said this guy had a healthy sense of humor. But the guy swore it was real. He said it started way back when the first computers were being networked. The electrons and other particles that are brought together and herded about in making these connections leave empty spaces of nothing where they were. It’s like an “antinet.” And the more and more we connect all over the world, the more this emptiness grows.
And what’s so scary about that? someone on the forum asked. And he replied, “Just because it’s empty space doesn’t mean there’s nothing in it.” He wouldn’t elaborate on that. No matter how much they tried. He’d only tell them he’d seen it for himself.
Milky figured the guy didn’t want to make them curious about it. That failed. He was very curious about it. More than ever. So he clicked the link. He remembered being disappointed by it. Because it was just a blank page. But after clicking it, he started to notice strange things happening. He lost track of time. He’d be told by acquaintances that he’d done things he had no memory of doing. Or even that he couldn’t have done, because he was doing something else.
This one time, he heard his dog barking. It was 3AM. He got up to see what was going on. The dog was standing in the entrance to his living room just barking nonstop. He expects to find a mouse cornered in there. But he said he remembers being so startled, he tried to scream but no sound would come out. Two men in business suits were sitting on his couch.
He immediately thought of a mob hit. But it’s Canada. What mob? He turned on the light. They didn’t flinch. They looked like normal businessmen. They were staring at the floor, drinking Capri Sun. He told them to get out of his house or he’d call the police. They just got up and left. On the way out, one of them said, “You asked us to come and sit here.” He never saw those men again in his life.
Another time, he called his brother in Vancouver to wish him a happy birthday. They had a pleasant chat and he hung up the phone, went about his business. About an hour later, it hit him like a punch in the gut. His brother died two years ago. He always called him on his birthday. He just did it so reflexively, and when he got an answer, it was like old times.
“Who the hell was I talking to, man?” he asked.
His stories sounded a lot like the ones the fake/real Angelica told me about when I talked to her weeks ago. So either I was speaking to the real Angelica then, or maybe this wasn’t the real Ben and Melke. I guess I couldn’t be sure about anything anymore. At least it was less scary to believe they were real.
During that time, he said, he kept checking the Hole. He wanted to figure it out. He thought it was controlling him. He didn’t remember the things he saw when he visited. But he said the old Soviet was right. It wasn’t empty. What he saw in there—his brain wouldn’t let him remember.
I just wanted to know why all this was happening. Ben stepped in. He said there’s only one way he can think of for this ‘site,’ if it can be called that, to influence a mind that way. It has to be electromagnetic emissions. It must somehow be able to read them off of us and produce them as well. It’s a technique that was experimented with as a form of phreaking. But never with biological systems.
As to why, he didn’t think there was any purpose. It was just there and did what it did. It was the antinet. It introduces emptiness, division, and chaos instead of connection. That’s just a byproduct of its existence. And its existence is a byproduct of the internet. Like angry Facebook arguments are a byproduct of the internet. It was never supposed to be something you could just navigate to. It was theoretical. A thing a few computer scientists knew about. Somehow someone leaked it out there. It was all over. It was buried on the Heaven’s Gate website. Hacking forums. Occult sites. The fringe of the internet is where it moved.
That was a lot to take in. And I’m not sure how much of it I really believe. On top of that, apparently several hours had passed since the man made me click to the Hole.
I suddenly remembered what the 911 operator said to me.
“Who’s the Captain?” I asked.
Milky was shaving when I asked him. His hand stopped moving. I saw in the mirror tears forming in his eyes. He was visibly shaking.
“Captain Meat. From the Hole. It looks kinda like a dog.”
Then he went back to shaving like nothing happened.
Later I thanked Ben and Milky for saving me. For risking so much, really. Especially Ben. And for trying to warn me with the link to the webcam. But both of them denied ever sending that text. They asked to see it. They couldn’t figure out where it came from. They checked the link to the webcam, too. It still worked. There was the front of my home. My car, with the trunk still open. We watched it for a few frame updates before Ben noticed. Someone was in the trunk. It was dark and grainy. But that was definitely someone in there. And I shuddered when we all agreed that whoever that person was, they were looking right at the camera. Or us. We turned it off.
I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights later. We’d decided we didn’t want to keep paying for the motel, so we were crashing with my Mom by then. She was happy for the company. And she was obviously worried about me. She said I had to get a grip and not let my life slip away.
“Just solve this thing,” she said.
It was weird. It wasn’t the sort of thing my Mom would say.
Anyway, I woke up. Because I was hearing whispering sounds. You’d think louder sounds would wake you. But no. The whispers are the worst. I listened carefully. I tried not to move. I wanted to hear where they were coming from. It was a two-way conversation. I couldn’t make out any of the content, though. Just a word here and there.
I got up slowly and looked toward the corner of the room. That’s where I thought the sounds were. It took a while for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I saw Milky kneeling in front of one of the electrical sockets. He’d whisper something into it, then turn his head and wait. And whispers came back. He saw me looking and said, “Some trick, huh?”
I guess it was ventriloquism. But why do that alone in the middle of the night? ‘cause he was crazy. I got out of bed and went out to the kitchen for water. I could see someone standing out on the front porch through the kitchen window. Figuring Ben couldn’t sleep either, I went out to ask him if Milky was really ok. Because he didn’t seem to be. I flicked on the outdoor light and stepped out. But it wasn’t Ben out there. It was Milky again. He tried to tell me something about constellations, but I walked back in. Something wasn’t making sense. There was no way he could’ve gotten out that fast. Some trick, huh?
I went into the living room. The TV was on. It was the episode of Seinfeld where George finds a doll that looks like his mother. That made me uncomfortable, so I changed to another channel. The program guide said The Ninth Gate would be showing. I always liked that one. But instead of The Ninth Gate, it was The Ten Commandments. Very different movies. Only one number off, though.
Seeing Hesston’s Moses posturing with the Egyptians struck me. I never did get to speak to HolyMoses. I let myself be distracted, chased off, or both. And everything happening just seemed to be getting more and more filled with coincidences and connections that weren’t adding up. Or added up too well. Which is the same thing, if you ask me.
I started up Mom’s computer. It still ran Windows XP. It was Dad’s computer and she didn’t like change. I had to download mIRC. As soon as I did, I connected to EFnet. This time I was going to talk to him. He wasn’t hard to find. Just a WhoIs and there he was, in @H1N1. He was the only one in there, besides me. Not a lot of bird flu fans, I guess.
Before I could send him a message, an email notification appeared on screen. I guess Mom had it on auto-start. The notification caught my eye, because it said it was from Det. Thereault, subject “Information Requested.” I shouldn’t have, but since it was from the detective, I felt it had to concern my situation. I clicked on it and read,
“As we discussed, here is the documentation on the dental records with the doctor’s signature.”
The attached document was about the skeletal remains found in the Egypt. I felt a sudden wave of horror, because I thought I knew what was coming. Dad’s bones somehow got in there. But I was wrong. They matched the skeleton up to my dental records. Mine!
“I don’t know who that man is,” he went on, “but he is not your son.”
That was just absurd. I knew my own mother, for Pete’s sake! I thought about deleting the email, but that wouldn’t do any good. Then I started piecing things together. Wondering if maybe I really was dead. Or maybe I was an imposter, and that’s why I had memory lapses.
Then I remembered I was just about to message HolyMoses. Why did something always happen when I was about to message him? It had to be a trick. I went back to IRC and sent HolyMoses a message.
“Who are you?”
No response. I got a sudden message from u47284u, “Do you know where your mother is?”
I ignored him. I sent another message to HolyMoses.
“Do you know what’s going on?”
u47284u messaged me again, “Are you sure she’s okay?”
I took a chance on what I remembered from Angelica’s story. I sent HolyMoses a short message.
The letter “M.”
This immediately triggered a file transmission, which I accepted. It was a video file. It downloaded in about 5 minutes. If HolyMoses was as old as they claimed, this video would’ve taken a day or two back then. The video was called, “Freedom.mov”
Milky came in from outside, stood a few feet away from me, and stared at me. That was unnerving enough. Then the pantry door started to open. Ben stepped out. He had to have been sitting cramped in there all that time. He also stood still and just stared at me. My Mom came in from outdoors—why was she outdoors and where? She joined Milky and Ben.
“What’s going on?” I asked them.
They didn’t speak. I felt the tension in the air and the assurance that something would happen. The suspense and stillness was getting worse than anything they could do to me. My heart was beating so fast.
And I had been hearing a dripping sound for a minute or two without paying attention. Too much was going on. Now I looked to where the sound was coming from. I saw fat beetles crawling out from Milky’s sleeves, over his hands, and dropping to the floor. What was going on?
I think I was so afraid I couldn’t feel it anymore. Slowly, I grabbed a loose USB dongle, attached it to my phone, and to the computer. I’m surprised that old computer could read the phone, but it did. While they stared at me, I transferred the video file to my phone. I unplugged the dongle, took my phone, and ran to the bathroom, where I locked myself in.
I heard feet shuffle up to the door and stop there. I turned on the shower to drown out sound and then started watching the video. The webcam being used was severely damaged, by the looks of it. But I could make out a very sickly looking older man. The audio was distorted. And I had the shower running. So I had to start it over and up the volume. The man said he’d been trying to warn me. The dilaton distortion from the Hole allows him to send messages during brief windows. If I am listening to this, he said, I am in the Hole and have been for a while. Other things are also in here. While he spoke, I kept hearing screams in the background of the recording, some sounded closer than others. He said these things don’t want me going anywhere. I need to get out before it’s too late. He knows, he said, because he’s me. The last thing he said before the video ended abruptly was “the birds and the bees.”
I couldn’t leave through the door, so I pulled up the blind to leave through the bathroom window. I almost shrieked when I saw my mother’s face pressed up against the window. I was trapped. I thought about pushing through anyway. But I couldn’t hit my mother. I could hit Ben or Milky if I had to, but not my mother. So I took the door. Nobody was there. That just made me worry about where they really were.
I stepped outside and still, nobody there. I hurried to my car before Mom could come around from the back. Then I heard rapid footsteps. Ben was running right toward me from way down the street.
“Stop hurting me!” he shouted.
But he didn’t look in pain. He looked in a rage. I got in my car and started backing up. When he got to me, he was pounding on the windows, still screaming.
I drove straight back to my home, leaving them all behind. The only explanation could be that I’m “in the Hole,” whatever that means. Because there was no other way Ben and my Mom would act like that. But when did that happen? And what does that even mean, anyway?
Before I even stepped inside my home, I knew something was wrong. Waves of something—just bad, pure bad—were hitting me. I opened my front door. Everything looked normal. I started turning on all the lights. And I grabbed a knife from the kitchen drawer. Then I saw them. Two men in bee costumes sitting on my treadmill. Looking at the floor. Not moving. Almost like they were stuffed. Or forgot where they were.
“What do you people want from me?” I said.
I kept a tight grip on the knife.
They stood up. Then they both looked down the hall toward my office. I followed their gaze, but saw nothing down there. After a few seconds of wondering what they saw, I heard the song start. “Early in the Morning.” While I was looking down the hall, they were already heading out the door.
I decided to follow them. Because whatever started that music gave me a worse feeling than them. As I stepped out the door, I’m sure I heard a dog growling behind me.
I followed them across the road and into the woods. I turned my phone flashlight on to be able to follow them. It’s like they could see in the dark, the way they navigated the woods. The deeper we went, the more uneasy I became. They just seemed to keep going and going.
But the deeper we went, the more I started to hear birds. I never even thought of it before, but I hadn’t heard any birds for a long time. Weeks at least. Or locusts or any normal springtime sounds. The more I followed the bees, the more I heard the birds, until they got loud enough I figured we must be under a massive collection of nests. I kept following them until it got too loud to bear and then it sounded like machinery, like elevators. There was a machine. Hidden out in the middle of nowhere. I followed them inside and then…
And then I was back in my office, sitting at my desk, slumped over my keyboard. The corner of my mouth was wet. I must’ve blacked out. I picked myself up. It felt like I was just waking up from a deep sleep. The room was bright with sunlight. I could hear birds chirping up a frenzy outside. My screensaver was on. When I shifted the mouse, just to see what time it was, there was an email from the globetrotter.net Angelica.
It read, “Pretty intense, huh? You can spend the rest of your life in there.”
I sat disoriented for a while, before realizing I had to urinate, eat and drink. When I had done those things, I looked around my home for clues. The knife I’d taken was back where it belonged. My old computer was put up in its box. I called my Mom to ask if she was OK. She didn’t remember any of the events from the previous night.
That’s when I remembered the video on my phone. From HolyMoses. I checked and it was still there. I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I played it back. Here would be my evidence. The video was 2 minutes of distorted audio and video. In all the distortions, no recognizable sounds or images.
That was a few weeks ago. It’s taken me some time to get calibrated to reality. Nothing strange has happened since. I can’t explain what happened. Maybe I had a psychotic break. I was under a lot of stress at work. Maybe someone was gaslighting the hell out of me. Maybe there really is a secret website that uses electromagnetic waves to mess with your mind.
I’m just glad it’s over. I’m glad to be going back to work like a regular person. Making banana smoothies. Not thinking about sinister internet cafes. I really do remember the Egypt and the Hole and—it’s like reality all twisted. I’ll just end by saying I don’t think I’ll be feeling any nostalgia for the old days of internet for a good, long while. The only problem I’m having is, whenever I’m trying to sleep, I keep remembering the whole nightmare and asking myself, “Am I still inside?” But, then, what difference would it make?
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