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My cousin Patrick was murdered a few months ago. Yeah, Patrick was weird and self-absorbed, but at the end of the day, he was only twenty-four.
I didn’t know much about what happened other than what his friend Jamal told me. Jamal had even posted on Reddit about it.
The whole ordeal sounded truly terrifying. Patrick had been murdered by a weird girl he matched with on Tinder. She’d worn a female mannequin mask, a design made even creepier by its permanent crooked smile. Like a mask made from human flesh rather than plastic or latex. Her name was “Shannon.” Or at least, that’s what she called herself.
Jamal had even showed me her profile. Sure, Shannon was pretty. An exotic black girl with striking eyes. But I could tell she was just being herself. No extravagant make-up or delusional vanity. Not like the lens-crazed models I’d see on all the other apps. She was genuine. And all too real… like a sexy horror movie villain brought to life. All mystique and mystery… but still fucking terrifying.
Like a haunting memento, Shannon’s profile was still right there on Tinder for all to see. Her mannequin mask concealed everything but those hypnotic eyes.
The police never found her. And at this point, I doubt they ever will.
When I was younger, me and Patrick were close. But we grew apart over the years… I guess that was normal considering how far we lived apart. I was in Rincon, Georgia, he was in Stanwyck. But I still felt terrible when I found out what happened. His issues didn’t make him evil. He wasn’t *that* weird. Then again, I guess I was more empathetic because I suffered from the same low self-esteem. Even with my attractive face, I was very much unconventionally handsome. Not hot enough to be a pretty boy. 5’9 and slender. Not athletic. Long brown hair, bright eyes. Pale as fuck. Shitty fashion. Yeah, all I could ever attract were guys. Not that I was mad since I was bi… but I preferred women. But for whatever reason, they didn’t seem attracted to me. And in a conservative, one-Wal-Mart town like Rincon… I mean being openly bi wasn’t exactly encouraged. And unlike with bi women, people always acted disgusted rather than aroused when they found out I liked men too. Maybe most women were hesitant to say they were turned on by it… I don’t know. Goddamn double standard.
I was also *horrific* at talking to girls. Here I was, twenty-one-year-old James Fulton and I could use one hand to count the number of times I’d actually had sex. With men and women. I guess my anxiety carried over into these real-life conversations. That and I wasn’t hot enough. Or confident enough for that matter. Not to mention I was taking all my illustration courses on-line at SCAD… Rincon was about forty minutes from Savannah, so yeah. Kind of a hectic drive just to go flirt with SCAD’s finest. Not that my social skills would let me score anyway.
So like a compulsion, I’d resort to Patrick’s hobbies. Yeah, I’d show off my body to people on-line. About the only way I could alleviate my loneliness. And on the internet, well, my social awkwardness didn’t carry over. I could see why Patrick did this, even when it almost got him killed and even when it ultimately did get him killed. There was excitement to sexting. To being an exhibitionist. I felt wanted. I felt so… sexy.
But I did get bored from time to time. Even on-line, I couldn’t make myself look better. Yeah, I was attractive but still kinda weird. I got called ugly pretty often… at least, I had my body to fall back on. Still oftentimes, there was only so far I could go by being well-hung. I mostly only attracted dudes.
I think the breaking point finally came on Bumble. This fucking app was literally tailor-made for women to go on sexting sprees with guys of their choosing. They were the ones who matched and then had the option to message the guy. And yeah… even when I used my best photos, I got three matches from over 500+ swipes. So, 497 out of 500 women found me unattractive enough to not even bother with a fucking swipe.
Then inspiration hit me. I was gonna make a fake profile. Rather than me, I’d use a super-hot guy for the pics.
I figured why not? It was Christmas break, and my parents were at my sister’s house for another week. I was home alone on a Friday night. No date as usual. Literally frozen in by the horrific frigid rain that may as well have been snow. Just trapped in our suburban fortress.
Sitting on a couch in the living room, my eyes stayed glued to my phone. A couple of empty beers on the coffee table.
I found my “actor” for the night. Logan McCarron. Some Instagram model and workout freak. Handsome in the country star Blake Shelton/Luke Bryan way. Like Bieber or the Kardashians, his Instagram was full of obnoxious vanity. A scrapbook of pics showcased his sexy face, warm smile, muscles, a trimmed beard, bubble butt, etc. He was a consensus All-American hottie. The perfect choice for the night.
Like a mad scientist, I set the profile up. For added realism, I even included links to Logan’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Everything was set. And within seconds, the matches piled up. Like a nude Matt Bomer had stumbled into a divorced housewives meeting (okay, a theoretically straight Bomer). Holy fuck, I hadn’t even begun swiping, and I had fifty matches… talking about easy living when you were traditionally attractive.
My swipe-a-thon began. And through the process, my phone buzzed with the ferocity of a dying bumblebee. The women messaged me first, and before I knew it, my inbox was fucking swamped. This wasn’t Farmers Only, and “Logan” was still a fucking beefcake dream. A tantalizing beacon for the app’s single horny women.
The messages ranged from innocent flirtation to awful pick-up lines stereotypically attached to loser men. Not to mention some outright lewd come-ons:
Damn, you’re fine
Dat ass doe ;)
Show me that butt, sexy
Fuck, come here now!1!
Excitement surged through my veins. I felt exploited and coveted. Fetishized. Like how I always wanted to feel but was never considered “hot” enough. If this was gender equality in on-line dating then sign me the fuck up. Just to sit back and bask in the glow of female admiration was fucking amazing.
Logan McCarron’s hotness was like a cheat code to a complex game. Flirting with women had never been easier. Once the conversations got rolling, I’d even tell girls my “friend” thought they were hot. Of course, that friend would be me. And the crazy fucking thing was that these ladies would be like “oh, he’s so cute.” Then sure enough, I’d be talking to them on Snap and sexting them. Logan was like the greatest wingman I never had!
Soon, I got a message from a short-haired brunette hottie named Taylor. She was 22 and a Georgia Southern student. Cute smile, a total coed. Hey sexy, she said.
Grinning, I sent a reply: What’s up, hot stuff?
From there, the conversation flowed like a smooth river. Constant compliments were traded. We made small talk about college. She’d even been to Rincon before! She had family here… I mean I actually had a shot at meeting Taylor if I played my cards right.
Then Taylor sent a message that caught me off-guard. Not from shock or terror. Just amusement. I have a secret to tell you.
Curious, I replied. Whats up?
Within seconds, I got a quick reply. As if Taylor already had the message ready: These photos aren’t me
I couldn’t help but crack a smirk. Oh, the irony!
Taylor continued: I’m not as pretty as that girl. I just know guys would ignore me if I used my real face :p
Chuckling, I responded: I doubt that. But I understand tho
With her typical ferocious speed, Taylor replied: It’s just guys always go for the superhot girls. And I want those sexy guys… I like getting their pics :p
Before I could reply, Taylor’s picture message dominated my screen. Like an Amber Alert, it conquered my iPhone.
The image made me jump back in fright.
There was a female college student sitting in a dark room. Dressed in a black hoodie and leggings. Even a vampire cape. Like a Halloween reveler who celebrated year-round. The mannequin mask concealed her face. The mask’s eternal smile taunted me.
I recognized the outfit all too well… the same mask Jamal had shown me. Shannon. Patrick’s killer. Only now, months later, she had returned. Only on a different app.
A roaring buzz from my phone made me jump again.
Uneasy, my trembling finger closed the photo.
Shannon’s latest message awaited me: That’s me :)
Too scared, my breathing grew heavier. I heard the rain’s incessant rhythm outside, but not much else. In this terrified state, I could only feel my gut twisting as if Shannon was crushing my soul. The doll mask forever emblazoned in my mind like a vision of Hell… I realized Shannon could elicit such fear merely through a keyboard. She had me too scared to even send a fucking message.
Another message hit me: What do you think sexy? :p
I struggled to type a reply: Where’s Taylor?
In a split second, Shannon responded: Don’t worry, she’s right here with me ;)
Then another picture swallowed my screen.
Just judging from the pretty short brown hair, I knew it was Taylor.
The twenty-two-year-old coed’s body was sprawled out on a bed. In the same dark room Shannon was in. Everything on Taylor a slaughtered mess. Aside from the brunette hair, all I could see was a smorgasbord of redness. Taylor’s blood gave the bed sheets and covers a new color. Her face sliced into smithereens like grotesque plastic surgery had been performed. Taylor’s body a mangled corpse save for the untouched brown hair… as if Shannon had kept her hair unscathed for a color contrast to all the crimson. Like a disturbed art project. And judging by the amount of time it would’ve taken Shannon to “operate,” I figured Taylor had been dead for several hours. Well before she matched and messaged me.
Horrified, I turned away. I felt my gut sink to even further depths. Straight to Hell. The montage of the mannequin smile, Taylor’s slaughtered corpse, and all the blood blared through my mind like a torturous montage.
My phone buzzed to life and the pic slid off my screen. I was back in my inbox.
A new message from a hot meathead guy was up top. J.R. I had sexted him earlier.
Hesitant, I clicked on it: Hey, gorgeous
I got ready to reply when another picture message popped up.
The photo was in a bright living room. There was J.R. laid out on a sofa. His throat slit in a thin line. Another surgical cut. Dry blood was strewn all around his throat like a gory necklace. His eyes wide open and staring at the camera.
Like an evil Angel, Shannon stood right above him. Her cape fluttering, a long knife in her gloved hand. Blood decorated the blade and Shannon’s mask. Like J.R., her eyes too stared at the camera. Only rather than a lifeless gaze, those cold eyes were focused. From my perspective, they seemed to be marking my soul.
“Fuck,” I said, my voice trembling.
I exited the pic and went back to my inbox. Too scared to even look at the array of pretty faces overpopulating it. For all I knew, Shannon had killed each and every one of them…
My phone vibrated once more, sending shockwaves through my fingertips. I saw a new message up top. From Shannon herself.
The profile pic was a close-up of her photo with J.R. Blood covered Shannon’s mask like make-up. Her eyes latched onto me and never letting go.
Looking back, I should’ve called the police right then and there. I should’ve told them about Patrick. About Shannon. And that she was back on the on-line dating scene. But I was drunk… and terrified. And I was alone. Besides, I knew what happened when Jamal called. Nothing. Like a ghost, Shannon always managed to disappear into the night.
Curiosity joining my horror, I clicked on the message.
Hey, cutie, Shannon had said in one of her typical teases.
I couldn’t make myself type a thing. All I could do was stare at that creepy fucking mask.
Shannon’s next message sent a chill down my spine. A scare that sliced through my dread like a powerful crescendo.
I’m coming for you now, baby ;)
Seconds later came another one: I’m ready for you. I just hope ur ready for me :p
Trembling, my eyes darted over toward the kitchen. The front door. Various thoughts plagued me… was the door locked? How far away was this crazy bitch?
Georgia Southern was just on up the road. And she’d killed fucking Taylor several hours ago… she could be in Rincon this very second.
I remembered what Shannon did to Patrick. They found his body hacked like a jack-o’-lantern. A knife had been jabbed through his eyeball… while he was still alive.
My phone vibrated once more. Startled, I checked it.
Shannon’s next Bumble text: I’m on the way now, baby
Regardless of the cold Winter, I felt sweat build up in my palms. My heart pounded at the speed of a helicopter rotor. The incessant raindrops echoed through my mind like bell chimes in a cemetery.
So you better get ready, Shannon went on.
Then she sent another message: Logan :)
Relief hit me hard. Of course! She didn’t know who the fuck I was. My name. My location. To her, I was Logan McCarron. The traditionally handsome country boy.
Shannon kept sending me more texts. And each one only gave me more hope. They hit me like blanks.
She sent me Logan’s Facebook link. His Instagram. A screenshot of the hometown he had listed on Facebook (Brunswick, Georgia).
Then she said this: 1306 Flowers Road
Like a dutiful detective, she even included a screenshot of this address she’d found on Google. Logan’s home address.
By now, a weak smile crossed my face. That wasn’t Rincon, Georgia or 1610 Wayne Road. Much less my fucking name. Catfishing had saved my fucking life.
Like a passive-aggressive avalanche, Shannon’s threats piled up in our chat.
I’m on the way, sweetie
I can’t wait, Logan
I’m gonna have a fucking blast cutting you open for everyone to see
Answer me, bitch!!
Like a deranged survivor, I cackled at them. And I didn’t respond to a single fucking one.
“Fuck you, bitch!” I yelled at my phone in triumph.
With authority, I tossed my phone on to the coffee table. My grin lingered longer than Shannon’s mask’s smile. Relaxed, I leaned back on the couch.
Ghost Adventures was still on. And rather than being distracted by the weight of dread, I could now watch this shit in all its cheesy glory.
Hearing my iPhone vibrate with steadier precision than the rain, I looked back at it. Shannon was relentless. And pissed.
Then some fear reappeared. I now realized she was about to track down Logan McCarron. I didn’t wanna think about his fate. Or the fact that if Shannon were to slaughter him, it’d be my fault. But I couldn’t lie to myself… for all my selfish vanity, I had a conscience. I had empathy.
Like I was confronting a traumatic photo, my cautious grasp snatched the still-buzzing phone. Then I did the right thing: I called the police.
If I thought my anxiety was bad with women, it was overpowering when talking to the dispatcher. The fact she was a female with a pretty voice didn’t help. But I did it anyway. I had to. And I managed to explain my crazy story. I mentioned Patrick, I told her about all the death pics I got. But at the end of the day, all I could really do was request a welfare check. The dispatcher was kind and patient, and that’s all I could ask for. A squad car would be heading on over to 1306 Flowers Road soon enough. And hopefully, before it was too late.
Anxious, I hung up and went back to Bumble. And like the ghost she always was, Shannon’s profile was gone. As were Taylor and J.R.’s. All the disturbing photos gone with them.
I was disappointed… yet I couldn’t help but feel some relief. Shannon was out of my life now. Out of my fearful mind. And off my Bumble. With sickened amusement, I couldn’t help but wonder which app this killer Cupid would end up on next? The bitch was a literal heartbreaker.
Over the next few days, I stayed off the apps as much as I could. But my loneliness only increased over the break… especially since my parents wouldn’t be home for a few more days. Like a drug addict, I needed those compliments. They cured my awful self-esteem. Even if it was just a temporary fix. They made me able to handle the isolation I felt. How weird I was. How ugly I felt. How much women weren’t interested in me.
About the only distraction I had was checking on Logan. Jesus, I felt like I was checking on a missing best friend at this point. And I didn’t even know a damn thing about the guy other than his attractive face and body. But there I was stalking his Instagram like a fanboy. I was scared for him…
But there were no updates. Every day and night I’d check, but there was nothing. And for an attention whore like I figured Logan was, I knew the silence wasn’t a good sign. This guy did multiple uploads a day. Gym pics like they were his religion. Him not posting wasn’t normal.
I felt like shit. And deservedly so. Even if I had survived… I caused the murder of an innocent guy. All because I wanted to show off to prettier women. Like a Catfish nutjob… only I was so bad at catfishing, I got my Goddamn cover murdered.
Deep down, I prayed Logan was okay. I hoped he was. Maybe the welfare check scared Shannon off.
Then in a sick cycle, I wound up back on Bumble. This time back to my own profile. The loneliness had finally gotten to me. The stress. And yes, the guilt. I had to jump back into my hobby. My exhibitionism ecstasy.
So here I am tonight, back to scoring with my usual unattractive women. Regardless of how conceited they are, I’ll still show them what I’m working with, at least. I’ll still get that thrill.
All was going well too. My usual session of frisky fun until I got a new message moments ago. The ghost had returned.
My phone buzzed like a taser hitting my hands as several more messages from Shannon poured in.
Feeling a chill, I stared at her profile pic in dread. Right at the eerie blood-stained mask. And at those piercing eyes.
My insides contorting, I clicked on the message.
Many different photos greeted me. All of them of Logan. The same sexy ones I’d used.
Like a scrapbook, I scrolled through the many pics. They led down to screenshots. One of them showed the fake profile I made. Then I saw where Shannon had sent me several other fake profiles that had used the same pics. All with different names and locations. Poor Logan had been an unknowing Bumble whore all along…
My heart fell like a collapsing roller coaster when I saw Shannon’s next message: You can’t fool me, asshole! This ain’t you!
Conflicted, I didn’t know what to do. Again, she’d avoided the cops. Shannon was still here. Still with me.
A new picture message hit me in the face. One of my smiling sext messages. Like the proud exhibitionist I was…
Whatever confidence I felt evaporated right there. Fear took over. I couldn’t control my trembling fingers. My pounding heart. My scared tears.
The picture went away. Then another message from Shannon greeted me: That’s you! ;)
“Fuck,” I said through the sobs. The iPhone shook in my grasp. I felt a mental breakdown erupting through my panic.
Here’s your friend, Shannon replied.
Another picture popped up. Even in my current state, I felt more tears pour down my face at a rapid rate.
“Aw, God…” I muttered in terror.
The photo showed Shannon holding up a pretty severed head. The coiffed beard made it obvious who he was even without the rest of his body. Logan.
Like red dye, blood smeared over Logan’s beard. His mouth was open to scream. His eyes wide open in fright. Logan’s neck was hacked in one cool slice. Surgical efficiency. One of Shannon’s trademarks.
And there was Shannon holding the severed head with pride. Her eyes stared on at the camera, and I could see how excited they were. How much sadistic fun she was having. I could even picture her own beaming smile behind that fucking mannequin one.
The photo went away and Shannon’s next message appeared.
Through the tears, I had to read it. I felt helpless and hopeless. There was no getting away from Shannon now. She had me trapped on Bumble. In my own exhibitionist comfort zone.
I knew you looked familiar, she said.
Shannon sent a video message. The footage of Patrick’s death. All the stab wounds he had to endure. His screams so tormented. The final jab in his eye a brute flourish of a finish.
I cried out in anguish.
Like an aggressive cop, Shannon continued hounding me. Taunting me. Torturing me.
Her next message arrived: I can tell y’all are related :)
Weeping, I tried to wipe away my tears. But they kept falling. Gallons of them splattered across the iPhone screen. Over Shannon’s confident profile pic.
I’m gonna find you now, Shannon went on.
“Oh fuck!” I yelled. “No!”
At the mercy of my phone, all I could do was stare at the screen. My emotions paralyzed me to the living room couch. All the terrifying murders I’d seen replayed through my mind. And the dread of what would happen next consumed my soul.
Like she was teasing a final stab, Shannon deliberated on her next message. Then, it arrived with a cold vibration:
You’re next, James :p