[Story] A Story a Week 9: Proxy

[[ Prompt: A creepy story

I enjoy a LOT of horror literature/movies, so this was kind of a challenging one. I could name probably a dozen stories that I find really creepy, but of course I didn’t want to copy them outright. I found the idea of stumbling onto hidden, dangerous knowledge really interesting though, and paired that with the concept of the “deep web”: the hidden, secretive underbelly of the internet. Disclaimer: I didn’t go to any of these places, please don’t arrest me 😛 ]]

David was working on his history paper, or more accurately the word processing document was open in the other window as he flipped through pages on the internet. It was already late, but the professor said he could submit it by the end of the week for partial credit, and partial credit was a lot better than flunking outright. He’d had too many close calls already, and the last thing he wanted to do was have to slink home with his tail between his legs, and go work at the food court in the mall or something. The class wasn’t one he wanted to take, but it was a required one, and he’d never been very good with writing papers. The deadline had just slipped away from him. This week there were no distractions: it was winter break, and nearly everyone had gone home except for the international students. Almost everything on campus was closed, and the weather was growing unpleasant. There was really nothing else to do except write his paper. And yet David found a way. He tabbed back to the blank page, looking at the two lines typed there with disgust. He didn’t even have a thesis down yet. He highlighted the text and tapped the delete key, leaving only the cursor blinking on the stark white page.

With a sigh, David got up from his chair. Maybe something to eat would help. He and his roommate Trevor had a mini-fridge, and David had stocked it with a few supplies after Trevor had left for the week. He took out some string cheese and an old bottle of light beer that they’d snagged from an illicit room party. Frankly, David thought it tasted like piss. After a swig or two, he made a face and dropped the bottle into the trash, fetching a can of Coke from the mini-fridge instead. No one was here to see him wimp out. Trevor’s stuff was strewn over his half of the room, encroaching onto David’s. He hadn’t taken the laptop, it was lying close atop a faded wool blanket on Trevor’s bed. David figured that guy probably had about a half dozen laptops, it seemed he was always acquiring them, fixing them up, and selling them. This one he remembered though, the case papered in stickers from bands and underground logos that David had never heard of. Trevor called it his “business laptop”. One night he’d shown David something he’d heard about from one of his computer science professors, something called the deep web. According to Trevor, the internet that people normally use only accounts for about four percent of all the data out there, the rest is hidden behind passwords, unindexed, or only accessed using a special browser. Trevor had set up the “business laptop” to do just that, and it navigated these deep, dark waters. It was too dangerous to use one’s regular computer, due to the danger of viruses and the illegal nature of many of the sites. Most of the sites were very simple, and they loaded really slowly. It was what David imagined the internet was probably like back when they were born. It was strange to think they were younger than some of those sites. The one that Trevor visited the most was a sort of marketplace, an even more dodgy version of craigslist, if that was even possible. You could buy just about anything there, including stolen electronics, guns, and in Trevor’s case, drugs. They never actually came to the dorm, Trevor would go out and collect them from an agreed upon location. David assumed they were delivered by drone or something like that. Trevor would then re-sell the product to people on campus for a healthy profit. It was stupid, but at the same time David couldn’t help but be a little jealous. He wished he could be so self-reliant instead of having to use his parents’ debit card anytime he wanted something.

David finished his Coke and tossed it into the trash with the beer bottle. He picked up the laptop and opened the screen. There wasn’t any password on it, thankfully. The home screen was the deep web market site, simple green text on a black background. He glanced over the categories, briefly considering ordering something. That sure wouldn’t help his studying, but at least it could be interesting. David imagined what the drop-off would be like. Too risky, and besides, he didn’t want to go out into the growing storm. Another browser tab was opened to a wiki, an index of sites around the deep web for various subjects. These David found a lot more interesting — allegedly secret documents, entire books, bootlegged movies and albums. There were images too, but Trevor had already warned him to stay clear of those, most of them illegal or at the very least deeply disturbing. There was enough weird stuff here that David didn’t need to go digging into those. One subcategory was headed “MAGICK” — of course it was. It wouldn’t be real magic without the “k”. Underneath were links to articles with instructions for different kinds of spells: love spells, spells to bring money, even voodoo. Even if it was all fake, it was distressingly detailed, someone must have put a lot of time and effort into these things. The very last link in the list was titled “Binding a Demon”. David clicked over to the page, bright red text on a black background. WARNING, said the large text at the top. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE OUTCOME OF USING THIS SPELL. Nice touch, David thought. The process was detailed step by step, including the words to recite in order to complete the binding. There was even a list of required materials. Most of them were ordinary items, David was surprised to see no eyes of newt or anything of the like. One item was underlined, a link: name. He clicked it, expecting a list of demon names. Instead, it took him back to the market page. The listing was for one demon’s name, “Immediately delivery!!!”, “***Guaranteed authentic!!!***” David wasn’t sure how one could even verify such a thing. He looked at the price, like most things on the deep web, it was priced in bitcoins, a sort of electronic currency. They could be bought with a regular card and converted. Say, with the debit card that was in his wallet. David brought up the calculator on his phone. The demon’s name came out to about fifty bucks. Well, if it was a scam, it wasn’t like it was his own money. He could easily explain away the charge as an emergency book that he needed for class. David pulled up the order form and input his card number and expiration date. A few seconds later, and the bitcoins were in his account. David tabbed back to the market site, and clicked “buy”. The cursor paused, turning into a small loading circle, and he was redirected to another page, blank with only one word in bold text at the top:  Zamviesach

David shook his head. It looked like someone had just used some random name generator or something. What a waste of fifty bucks. He clicked the laptop closed, and went back to his own computer. He pulled up the document to begin typing on his paper again, but the page was no longer blank. WHO SPEAKS THIS NAME was typed across the top. Very funny, David thought, deleting the line. But he didn’t remember typing anything, in fact he was pretty sure the page had been blank. He didn’t have any solid ideas for his paper yet, but he started typing in hopes that something would come to him. He got another couple of sentences down — surely no better than the two he had before, when he noticed the other open tab flashing. The page — a wiki entry for the subject of his paper — was blank, replaced by a glaring white screen.

YOUR WILL IS WEAK was typed across it in bold letters. This one he couldn’t delete though. David frowned and clicked the tab closed. Probably some kind of prank, he thought. Trevor was good at computer stuff and probably set the whole thing up, maybe that’s even why he’d left the laptop behind. Or even a virus. David double clicked on the virus screening software and looked at the report. There wasn’t anything caught in the latest scan, but that was yesterday night. He ran it again to be sure. The idea of spending the rest of the night reformatting his computer filled him with dread and would be simply another delay in finishing his paper. While David waited for the little green bar to fill, he looked out his window. Dark came early at this time of the year, and the snow had begun to fall early in the afternoon. Now it was coming down hard, the wind pushing gusts of flakes against the windows. He could hear the pane rattling now and then. For a moment, he thought he saw two burning embers in the distance, too dim to be streetlights, too red and too close together. It was probably a car’s tail-lights, he assured himself. He closed the curtains just in case.

The anti-virus beeped, and David clicked on the report. Clean. So much for that idea, he thought. The closed browser tab had opened itself again, and had a new message for him: YOU SHALL NOT BE RID OF ME. We’ll see about that, David thought, as he selected “restart” from the system menu. As he waited, he got up from his chair and checked the curtain again, then the deadbolt of their room’s door. David didn’t want to admit it, but he felt a growing sense of unease. He probably shouldn’t have been messing around on Trevor’s laptop. Trevor said it was anonymous, but maybe they had a way to track him. Whoever “they” might be. David’s computer whirred to life again, but suddenly began a strident beeping. That wasn’t good. The screen was black, with red text.

YOU ARE NO LONGER IN CONTROL was printed in the pixels. There was no menu, no option to escape or start. Shit, thought David. He would have asked Trevor to fix it, but Trevor wasn’t here. The computer shop down the street wouldn’t be open until tomorrow, and even then they might be closed for the holidays. How was he supposed to write his paper now? And who was doing this? David had had blue screens and computer crashes before, even a virus once — which had prompted him getting the anti-virus software — but nothing like this. He couldn’t look it up, either, not with his computer in this state. There was the laptop, of course. David glanced over at it.

David flipped up the lid, opening the deep web wiki page. Hopefully there would be something here. What would he even search for? He typed “weird computer problems” into the search box. Not really specific, but at least it was a starting place. The first result looked promising; a list of various errors and how to fix them. David began to scroll down through the page, looking for anything that resembled what was happening. The other browser tab flashed. Oh no, David thought.

G E T  O U T

The lights in the room flickered once and went out. Just the storm, David assured himself. The laptop still glowed brightly in the darkness, and he used it to guide his way to the window. He couldn’t see any street lights on there, either. The whole block must have gone out.

The burning embers had grown closer, perhaps only twenty feet away. They certainly weren’t tail-lights. David could see the form of whatever it was, silhouetted dark against the white of the snow. Steam rose from where its mouth would be.

Just a dog, David told himself. Or a — what was it called? His mind raced, unable to find the word. If this was a prank, it was a damn good one. Where was he supposed to go? Not out into that storm. He could try the other rooms, but no one was in them. He could call for help, but what was he going to say? Yes, 911, my computer is acting funny and there’s a dog outside?

He heard claws rake the frigid glass of the window.

M I N E  N O W was printed on the laptop’s screen.

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