Have you ever met that one kid who always brings his laptop wherever he goes? Like to classes, to the library, into bed, and even into the bathroom? Yeah, that kid was me. I say was because now I’m almost too afraid to look at a computer screen.
It all started maybe three months ago when I bought myself a brand new laptop. I didn't buy it from resale, didn't find it on the side of the road with a “DO NOT USE” sign taped to it. I just walked into a store, plunked down my cash and bought the sucker. It worked just fine, no strange files, no flashing pop-ups, nothing was out of the ordinary. Hell, even if it had been, I wiped the entire hard drive within a few days to change the operating system. I've never been a fan of the… for lack of a better word, tablet-y feel that Windows 8 has. So I swapped it out for some good old fashioned Windows 7. Again, I got the Windows 7 copy from a reliable source. An old family friend of mine did the whole installation for me. He’s always been my go-to guy for computer work and he didn't let me down this time either. My copy of Windows 7 ran perfectly. I had the full Microsoft Office set, got my internet set up with Chrome, and set about using my laptop.
Nothing about it seemed strange, until one day about two or three weeks ago. As I was surfing the web, I got a pop-up. As someone who stored a lot of important files on my laptop (school projects, some fiction writing I had done, and my iTunes library to name a few) I kinda freaked out. It wasn't one of those, “You are our millionth visitor, click to claim your free iPad!” kind of pop-ups. It was the worst kind of pop-up. A talking one.
“Your computer is infected with malware!” A rather upbeat voice told me. My blood immediately froze. Great. Just fucking great. Now I get to deal with this stupid scare-ware virus. To get rid of it would probably require another hard drive wipe, and even if it didn’t, my files had already been corrupted. But then, the voice continued. “That’s right! This computer has been infected by some of the shittiest comedy known to man!”
I wasn’t really sure how to react. Was this virus messing with me? I watched in fascination as the fake “malware report” faded away to a white screen. In dark blue block letters, the words, “Jason and Dan’s Comedy Hour” popped up. Slowly my fears were alleviated. This wasn't a virus, so much as viral marketing for some new comedy show. Out of curiosity, I stuck around and watched it. To be perfectly honest, it was pretty funny. The set up was that these two guys, Jason and Dan, ran a goofy talk show. The first sketch I ever saw was them interviewing Batman, who in true Dark Knight Rises form, was almost completely incomprehensible. Of course, here he was also chomping on a cigar, and constantly changing the topic back to smoking. I got sucked into it. And before I knew it, I had finished the entire episode. It concluded with a link to a website that would be hosting a new episode every week.
I was hooked. Every Friday, a new episode was posted for download, and I was immediately there to watch and save the file. They all followed a similar formula, with them poking fun at movies, celebrities, and pop culture. Both of the characters were interesting as well and really played off of each other. Jason was a fast talker. His motor mouth prompted him to spout off wisecracks and one line zingers almost non-stop. Dan on the other hand, was more laid back and quiet. But was always ready with a snarky comment whenever the time came. It was funny, often off the wall absurd and all-round fun to watch.
Then came the episode that got me where I am today. I got home from classes for the day, grabbed my laptop, and logged in. I made a virtual beeline for Jason and Dan’s website, and found their latest episode. I started the download and it saved to my computer as Keep_Em_Laughing.wmv. I clicked to start the video, and treated myself to yet another great episode. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, they cracked a few jokes, did a few interviews, but something just felt… wrong with this episode. Then it dawned on me. Dan hadn’t said a word.
In the middle of their current sketch, which had been them just poking fun at Michael Bay’s movies. Dan just walked out. Jason seemed to be a bit confused by this and kept calling for him to come back. Suddenly, he too walked off screen, still calling after Dan. Then I heard the sound that I have since been trying to wipe from my memory. Jason screamed. It didn’t sound forced or faked, though. This was the real deal. When we saw him next, he was running at a full sprint and paused in front of the camera. His shoulder was oozing red through his shirt. He began to cry, to beg, and above all, scream. He fell to his knees blubbering like a baby, as Dan suddenly strode back onto the screen. In his hand was what appeared to be a small knife, the same sort one would use to whittle at wood or skin apples.
Without a word, Dan grabbed his partner by the hair taking a firm grip on it. He then began to repeatedly stab Jason, his blows fast and rapid. Jason’s screams had risen to a blood curdling shriek as the knife descended again and again. Streams of crimson began to streak down his face, mixing with the sweat of his brow and the tears of his cheeks. Finally, with a low gurgle, Jason’s body fell to the ground. I was in such shock I couldn't tear my gaze from the screen. I had at first thought this was all some sort of sick joke, a twisted scene of dark comedy gone horribly awry. I simply stared at the screen in awed silence.
Dan turned his face to the camera, and I felt a chill run down my spine. His eyes. His eyes were so… wrong. They weren’t glowing red, or black soulless voids, they were perfectly calm and normal. That was what terrified me. These weren't the eyes of a monster. They were the eyes of a fellow human being. One who had become a worse monster than my mind could conjure.
Dan stared into the camera and spoke two words, “Cody Stuart.”
He knew my name. My jaw dropped in shock. I frantically tried to close the video, but to no avail. My mouse cursor was frozen and motionless.
“I’m going to ask you a question.” He continued, “What do you know about magic tricks?”
I didn't reply.
“Not much of a talker? Well, let me tell you a little something. Magic is all about misdirection. You've been staring at this screen for weeks, Cody. Why don’t you take a look above it?”
My heart skipped a beat. Just above my laptop screen, the little green LED light beside my webcam was on. How long had it been on? Had it been recording this whole time? How did it even get turned on anyways?
Those thoughts were pushed from my mind as Dan’s voice went on.
“Your name is Cody Stuart. You’re roughly five feet six inches. You have thick black hair and brown eyes. You live at the street address of 15829 Palm Drive."
I threw the laptop to the floor and slammed it shut. Dan’s voice still came from it.
“I know where you live Cody. Expect me soon.”
At that point, I did the only thing I could think of doing. I grabbed that laptop and began slamming it repeatedly against my desk. I kept smashing it long after the screen and plastic casing had cracked. No, I beat that thing until it split in half. I snatched my phone, called up Dale, an old friend of mine. Practically screaming into the phone, I tried to explain my plight. I don’t think he actually knew what was happening, but he let me stay with him nonetheless. I’ve never gone back to that house. I don’t think I can.
Needless to say, I don’t use computers much anymore either. I very rarely can even be convinced to use a desktop, much less a laptop or tablet. When I’m forced to use those, I always ensure that I have a piece of tape over the webcam. He’s still out there. He’s still looking for me. And for all I know, he’s still watching me.