Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I’m posting this here, as well as on a few other forums, because I’m hoping that some tech-savvy user among you will be able to explain what happened on my iPhone a couple of nights ago. Maybe you’ll know where it came from? Maybe one of you will have seen it yourself?
I really do hope you can help, because I’m not sure I want to go to the authorities, not after what I think I saw on that video.
It happened at about 10.30 in the evening.
I was at home (I live alone so, sadly, nobody else saw what happened) and my phone was plugged into its charger. It’s an iPhone 5S and, even though it’s a few years old, the phone has never given me any cause for concern.
I’ve got a nagging ankle injury and was reading a book in my armchair with my foot up on the coffee table (not in contact with the phone at all, I hasten to add), when I heard a strange, hissing sound.
It took me a few seconds to pinpoint the source of the noise, but eventually I realized it was coming from my phone, or more specifically, the video that had started to play on its screen.
The hiss was actually ambient noise, the empty sound of nothing as a microphone struggles to record any discernible soundtrack. It took me a while to realize that the screen wasn’t actually blank either, instead it was depicting a black screen, empty except for a series of eleven letters in the bottom right, letters that seemed to flicker and constantly change, seemingly scrolling through the alphabet at random. Every now and then these letters would cease their constant shifting to flash a brief message at me.
I can’t remember what a lot of these said, to be honest I didn’t think it was that important at first.
Among the messages I do remember were PleaseSMIle and saveTHEMall, but there was one that cropped up again and again.
It simply read: THeTortOise.
I thought that maybe I’d left YouTube running, or perhaps this was an autoplaying Facebook video, but as I reached out to hit the menu button, the screen changed once again. Slowly the camera pulled back and I realised that the black background was actually a grainy, black-and-white extreme close-up of the pupil of an eye. In time the iris became visible, then the tiny network of blood vessels that crisscrossed the white of the eye.
The camera continued to pull back and, for a split second, I realised that the eye was not actually attached to anybody, that it had been removed and was laying on a dirty stone floor. Then, as soon as that realisation dawned on me, a scuffed black boot dropped into frame, stamping down onto the loose organ and causing it to burst, splattering a dark ichor across the floor.
Then the camera panned up, revealing a long hallway. It was very poorly lit so it was difficult to work out what exactly was happening but at this point a tuneless whistling started up and the camera jerkily advanced along the dark hallway. At the end of the corridor it was possible to discern the shape of a door, closed but with a dim pool of light emanating from the crack beneath it. The light flickered and ebbed, as if cast by an open fire or perhaps a candle flame.
The whole time this was going on the letters kept shifting, giving me message after message:
And, of course, THeTortOise, over and over again.
I think the whistling may have been coming from the camera operator as he proceeded along that darkened hallway. There were closed doors on either side, but no windows, no visible source of light except for that quivering glow at the end of the hall, spilling forth from the plain, dark, wooden door.
At first I thought it was an arty film project, all style and no substance. I still hope it is but I’m struggling to convince myself. I might have managed to if it wasn’t for what happened next.
The film started to cut away from the cameraman’s procession along the hallway, but not before I noticed he moved with an odd gait, a hitching, uneven movement. The film then started to flash a number of very quick, micro scenes on the screen, each just a couple of frames long, before cutting back to the slow advance towards the battered, closed door.
It was those snippets of film that first scared me. At first they were disturbing – a battered, one-eyed teddy bear with a ragged tear in its stomach, something wet and twitching inside; what looked like an old iron bathtub filled to the brim with writhing maggots; a burlap sack that suddenly spasmed as if something within was struggling to get out — but as they continued, still intercut with the lumbering advance of the whistling cameraman, they became worse and worse.
A hand nailed to a wall.
A burning car, human shapes thrashing inside.
A razor slicing open pale human skin and a gout of dark blood from the wound.
All along, the steady tick of the text in the corner continued:
The last few images were flashed so quickly that I couldn’t quite work out what they were, but… what I think I saw there is too vile, too nauseating to repeat here. I hope it was fake, just sick but well-executed special effects and clever camera work.
I really hope it was.
Those images, the quick flashes of the worst, most vile acts of obscene cruelty, left me feeling sickened, sweat running down my brow even as I was unable to tear my gaze from the screen.
As the anonymous cameraman continued his uneven, loping procession along the corridor, still whistling in that sad, shrill, tuneless way, I realised I could hear another sound — something barely perceptible but slowly becoming louder, as if he was drawing nearer to it.
It was a noise that made my head spin, my pulse quickening as I realised what it was.
The sound of children crying inconsolably.
As the cameraman grew ever closer, I realised that the helpless sobs were coming from beyond the door.
With every heavy-footed step they became louder, even more terrified, as if they were aware of a terrible impending fate.
I wanted to look away, to turn off the phone, to throw it far, far away, anything to avoid seeing the unspeakable horror that I was now so sure would unfold, but I froze, too scared to move.
Finally, the cameraman stopped, mere inches from the door, and then a grubby, grimy hand came into view, coated in a dark viscous liquid, and rested gently against the dusty wood.
All at once, he stopped whistling.
He stood like that for what felt like hours but in truth could only have been a few seconds, listening to the increasingly agitated crying coming from the room before him.
In the corner the text flashed away.
Then, without warning, the silent cameraman whispered something, so quietly, so softly that it was almost impossible to detect, before suddenly pushing the door open.
As he did so the voices within suddenly rose into a panicked crescendo of screams… and the film abruptly ended.
I sat there for a few moments, heart-pounding in my chest. I hadn’t even realised it but I’d been holding my breath for christ alone knew how long now and I, finally, let loose a long shaky exhalation as I wiped my brow and blinked back tears.
It took some time before I was able to touch my phone, almost as if I expected it to bite me when my skin made contact with it, as if the… evil I’d detected in that video had somehow contaminated it.
Finally I did so and pressed the menu key. The phone switched on as normal. As I quickly checked my apps, my emails and my camera, each revealed the same result — not the slightest hint of anything out of the ordinary.
YouTube wasn’t active, there were no videos on my Facebook feed, I hadn’t received any new WhatsApp messages or emails. Everything was exactly as it should be.
It took me a long time to get to sleep that night, even after pouring myself what was probably a quadruple scotch with shaking hands, then hurriedly gulping it down.
After a night of fitful sleep I decidedly to recruit some assistance to get to the bottom of what had happened.
I’m close friends with this guy Dan who works in our IT department. We regularly do lunch together and I made sure to seek him out in the office before we went out to our usual burger joint to discuss the video.
‘The Tortoise?’ he asked, spraying crumbs as he ate his cheeseburger. ‘Never heard of it, why?’
I explained and he listened carefully, chewing away at first, then putting down the burger and listening more intently when I got to the more disturbing parts of the film.
Finally I finished explaining and Dan paused a second, before asking me some straightforward questions (‘Are you sure you weren’t running video from an app?’, ‘Have you checked your videos for the film?’, ‘What about the Cloud?’, ‘Is your phone jailbroken?’)
I answered each one thoughtfully and carefully, and I could see that he was genuinely curious about what might have caused this phenomenon.
‘Could it be a virus?’ I asked.
‘Well, in theory, yes, it COULD be…’ Dan replied, rubbing his stubbly chin absent-mindedly as he thought about it. ‘I mean, iPhone viruses do exist, but there are hardly any out there in the wild, least of all ones which can infect an un-jailbroken phone. It’s common knowledge that security companies and other tech firms have created viruses, purely as a proof-of-concept and for research purposes, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across one ‘roaming free’, if you catch my drift.’
‘So, what happened?’ I asked.
‘You say it was called The Tortoise?’ Dan asked as he pushed the last of his burger into his mouth. ‘I’ll do some research tonight, trawl around the right places online, then, if you bring your phone down to the IT office tomorrow morning, I’ll take a look at it and see what I can find, cool?’
‘Very,” I replied, relieved and promptly picked up the check. It was the least I could do.
That night nothing happened… probably because I switched off my iPhone and didn’t touch it all night.
I even started to think that everything was probably going to be ok, that Dan’s expertise in the field would soon yield a logical explanation for the bizarre events of the evening that I saw THeTortOise.
As reassured as I might have felt during my waking hours, that night my dreams were disturbed, my sleep fitful. All night I heard that whispering voice, harsh yet soft, the words familiar but just beyond my comprehension.
When I woke the next day I once again felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and I travelled to the office with an uncommon sense of urgency. I wanted to talk to Dan, to find out what he had discovered, to give him access to my phone so that he might unlock the secrets of that nightmarish video.
Upon reaching my place of work, I hurried to the graveyard of broken and outdated computers that served as the IT Department’s office. It was quiet, which was unsurprising since I had arrived more than 30 minutes early.
I knocked on the door only to be greeted by a familiar voice, not Dan but Richie, his colleague, a tall thin guy with long dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard that I’d spoken to a handful of times before when my Mac was acting temperamental.
He explained that Dan wasn’t in yet, and after he asked whether he could help, I explained (with more than a hint of disappointment) that I’d come back later and talk to Dan then.
Come one o’clock I hurried down to the dingy office once more, only to be met by a decidedly stressed looking Richie.
‘He hasn’t turned up,’ he huffed, clearly very busy. ‘Didn’t even call in sick. I’m furious.’
Even then, as I apologised for taking up his time and backing out of the doorway, I still didn’t piece it together.
That was three days ago and Dan hasn’t come to work since.
He isn’t at home, and any attempt to call him is met with an automated message informing the caller that his phone is switched off.
I’m worried, genuinely, that his attempt to uncover the truth behind THeTortOise could have brought him ill.
And now, with that in mind, I’m starting to become terrified for my own well-being.
This is why I’m reaching out to each and everyone of you for help. I think I might be in real trouble, the very worst kind.
Yes, because I received the video, but for one other reason.
Last night my dreams were again haunted by that lurching march along the dim hallway.
I heard the tuneless whistle and those heart-breaking sobs from the children beyond the dark, filthy wooden door.
Then I heard something else, the thing that woke me with a terrified cry, my heart thumping as I clawed at the cold, sweat-drenched blankets tangled around my flailing limbs.
Once again I’d heard those whispered words that came before the screams, before the cameraman had stopped filming.
I heard those whispered words but this time I understood them, my mind finally deciphering them.
Before he’d advanced into that room, before he’d committed whatever unspeakable atrocities on his helpless prey within, he’d said my name.
Credit: S Hickey