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THE DEMON
by Sean M. Thompson

Prologue
July 22, 2016

She paced the room, trying to gather her thoughts while it was still possible. The quality of the light spoke of broken people soon to be lost forever. Every sound was excruciating, from the ticking of the clock on the wall, to the faint splashing sounds of the cars on the street outside.

She needed to do this while she was still in control. While her grasp was tight, effective, true.

A car horn startled her, made her scan the room, frantic, desperate to find the space remained as ordinary as seconds before. Never had she been so cognizant of the passage of time, of the effects of perception.

A cursory look confirmed the kitchen, the bathroom, the furniture, everything in the apartment was normal. Haphazardly strewn like clothes after a night of heavy drinking, sure, but not in completely different places as she’d found it so many times before.

This was important.

This was very important.

Her sense of reality of late had grown thin as early spring ice, and she needed the room she sat within to stay, to remain as it was, as it always had been; before this whole mess had started: before the very world around her began to constrict tight as a boa, cold-blooded, ravenous.

She sat at the desk, opened a tab in her web browser, went to Facebook, and started to type a new post. Outside, rain beat a steady rhythm on her window, and set her confession to a tune.

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She shut her eyes tight, leaned back in the leather chair. Gritted her teeth. Pushed the breath out of her lungs like focusing her energy, like meditation: a gathering of all her sanity into one last stand.

One final push.

To reach out.

To stop this thing.

She wasn’t strong enough to do it on her own anymore.

She was about to click the trackpad to post the status, and stopped.

In that moment she knew all that she had been, all her hopes, and dreams, loves, and hates, everything that formed her, made her unique, all of it, all of the memories, and the photographs stored in her mind, every aspect…

…it was all lost forever.

Where she had once seen a full status, many words, now there were only five.

She posted the status, grabbed her coat, and left the apartment.

Out into the storm.

On the bright screen in the empty apartment, the five words shined through the darkness.

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Chapter One
July 27th, 2016

Cort sat on his leather couch, the hum of the air conditioner mingling with Alice Cooper screaming about being eighteen, and liking it, loving it. He had his phone open to Twitter, as he so often did after work in the evenings. A half eaten chicken parm with ziti sat on the coffee table in front of him, beside an empty can of cheap light beer.

Thirty one years of age, single, and a relative loner save for a handful of friends, Cort thought his lot in life was, more or less, acceptable. His apartment was in a nice part of Boston, close to the waterfront, which he could afford mostly due to a mutual friend of the family who owned an apartment complex in this location, and cut him a discount. Not that he couldn’t have afforded it without the discount, but it made life a little easier, and provided him with a monetary cushion having a few hundred hacked off the rent every month.

He didn’t have any pets, and for the time being, he didn’t have much of a desire to rectify his lack of cuddly creatures hovering by his legs. Maybe, someday, he told himself, he’d get a dog, or a cat, or both, but as it stood currently the half-listened-to television was good enough.

Cort was scrolling through his Twitter feed of friends, celebrities, and strangers posting out their thoughts about the upcoming election, food they’d just eaten, or memes of cats, when he came upon one of his friends, Scott, or rather @ScottiBGood, and a tweet which alarmed him.

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There were a few comments under the tweet, one of which was from a mutual friend named Abie, saying she hadn’t seen Katie, and stating she’d read a weird status from her a few days before her disappearance.

Cort opened up his Facebook app, and searched for Katie’s profile. He went back a few days, reading through posts, hoping for a clue as to either Katie’s whereabouts, or what Abie meant about Katie posting strange things.

Right away, it was obvious what Abie was talking about. There were posts about “the things in the basement”, “the people in the walls” and “furniture rearranging itself”. And some of the posts were even less cohesive: hard to pin down in the way a piece of abstract art is hard to interpret, which is a good thing when it comes to paintings, and a bad thing when it comes to reflections of the human psyche.

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Going through one particularly odd status about a burning sensation (which Cort assumed had to do with some sort of rash) he noticed a guy had commented with “#TheDemon”. Cort googled “The Demon” and couldn’t find anything substantial. There was an IMDb listing of a really low budget looking film from 2013, an Amazon listing for a book, but the third link seemed to explain what the guy on Facebook was referencing. It was a short Wikipedia entry, and anything read off a Wiki link had to be taken with a grain of salt, but Cort dove in anyway.

Reading through the article, what he gathered was “The Demon” was some sort of new computer virus. However, there really wasn’t anything of note described, such as how to avoid getting the virus, or what the effects were on your computer, or phone, or tablet. The main thing the entry emphasized was a red flash on the screen:

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“Weird,” he said.

Below this was a curious entry to the page, at the bottom, which appeared to be added only a week prior by what he assumed was another person. This short paragraph mentioned possible “changes in behavior” and “hallucinations”.

It had to be bullshit though, and it was just a Wiki entry, so Cort shrugged it off.
Cort was about to check twitter for #TheDemon when there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” he called out.

“Scott. Let me in, dude.”

Cort, annoyed at someone visiting without an invitation, begrudgingly let his friend inside. After all, Scott was someone he’d known since college, and one of the few friends who would actually visit Cort, so why alienate him?

“I just read one of your tweets about Katie. Any luck yet?” Cort asked.

“No. None. It’s like she just fucking vanished.”

“Yeah. What was up with some of that bizarre crap she wrote? Some of it was pretty damn spooky.”

“Definitely. And that’s what she didn’t delete,” Scott said.

“She deleted some stuff she posted?”

“Oh yeah, man. The stuff still up is tame compared to some of the ones I read before she deleted them.”

Cort didn’t know whether he should be excited he was getting involved in a mystery, or freaked out someone he considered a casual acquaintance was missing, and may or may not have had a psychotic break. Far off, he heard the horn of a boat coming into Boston Harbor. He’d gotten used to the sound, the way anyone in a city takes for granted certain noises, such as cars outside, or, more accurately, car horns.

“You want a beer?” Cort asked, already getting up to grab one for himself.

“Yeah, but just one. I told Katie’s mom I’d ask around at a few places for her tonight.”

“I’ll come with if it’s close by,” Cort said.

Cort had been on the fence on whether he wanted to go all in with the search, but it appeared that in a split second he’d decided his docket was empty enough that he could get involved in the disappearance of a friend of a friend.

“Yeah, one’s a few blocks down. Other is near MIT, so I was just going to Uber there.”

“Is it Stacy?”

“Hey, don’t get any idea Casanova.”

They sat in silence for a few, Scott drinking his beer, looking like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t quite sure how to start.

“You look like a bug crawled up your ass. Spit it out, what do you want to say?”

“I was just thinking about something Katie told me about two weeks ago.”

Cort waited, but Scott wasn’t going on. He got frustrated, and moved his hand in a circular motion, the index finger in a wheel in front of him as if to say go on.

“She told me she got that Demon computer virus.”

***

Stacy Danver’s place was only a few blocks from Cort’s. He’d had been trying to get Stacy in the sack for many years, and had only recently stopped his attempts.

“Hey, Stacy,” Cort said.

Stacy just stared at him, then turned her gaze to Scott.

“I haven’t talked to Katie in over a month,” Stacy said.

Scott thanked her, Cort gave her a wave which was summarily ignored, and they walked down the street to a bench, while Scott used his phone to arrange for an Uber to drive them to Abie’s house.

“Do you know a lot about computer viruses?” Scott asked.

“I know very little about them.”

This was actually an understatement. Despite having grown up around computers, Cort barely knew the ins and outs of the machines, or really about a lot of technology in general. If he ever ran into issues with technology, he’d either call his dad, ask a friend, or browse the web (if he still could) for an answer.

“My dad might know a little, he works in a government office.”

Thinking of his dad, Cort checked his text messages, and saw the one from the day before which read:

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“Do you think that’s even possible? A computer virus making you go nuts?”

“I think it’s kind of nuts to even assume that’s possible,” Cort said.

“But think about it. We’ve got this huge influx of information coming at us all day with these fuckin’ things,” Scott said, shaking his cell phone over his head.

“But I think people just have shitty attention spans from that, Scott. People don’t go nuts like Katie because of it. Maybe she just had a history of mental illness, have you ever thought about that?”

A blue sedan parked by the curb, and Scott got up, made his way to the car. After confirming that this was in fact Emmanuel, the right driver, they got in and the man, smiling, told them to buckle up.

Some alert or another set Cort’s phone to vibrating in his pocket, but he ignored it. He was content to stare out the window at the city as they drove, and lose himself in his thoughts for a while.

Cort had always liked Boston, despite having only lived in his apartment for a little over three years. He found the city to be clean, and enjoyed that it didn’t quite reek of piss as much as some of the bigger ones did. Sure, the rent was absolutely outrageous, and a lot of the people could be aggressive and standoffish, but it was a place which felt as natural to him as breathing.

His job was fairly mind-numbing, but it paid the bills, and he was getting by, despite living alone, or perhaps because of it. And really, nowadays, did anyone like their job?

Dusk crept over the brightly lit office buildings across the Charles river, and the view was postcard perfect. Even with all the craziness with Katie going missing, Cort was enjoying his week, despite it being only Wednesday.

He’d always enjoyed the summer, probably run off from when he was a kid. Summer meant freedom: meant fun in the sun, bikinis, and doing stupid shit you hoped wouldn’t lead to lasting injury or a short, stern talking to by the cops. Summer meant food that would likely give you a spare tire, and perhaps a drunken hook up with someone who never called you back even after you’d left several messages.

Cort had grown up in the suburbs roughly twenty minutes outside of Boston. His father was of Mexican descent, and his mother was Irish. His mom always liked to joke that it was a role reversal of sorts, as she’d know a lot of Latino women who got hitched to Irish men. Of course, come to that, his mother didn’t always exercise the most tact when it came to discussing…well, anything, really.

He was glad his parents still got along, despite the divorce. Thankfully, they’d stuck out the marriage until Cort had graduated from college. Well, thankfully for him. The holidays were difficult, but he understood, and still loved and got along with both of his parents the way they still loved and got along with each other.

“We’re here,” Scott said.

Cort pulled himself out of the past, back to the present.

“Let’s go see if Abie’s home,” Scott said, and they exited the sedan and waved back at Emmanuel as he drove off.

***

“Come on in, guys.”

Abie’s place was small, but it was cozy. She made them tea, and offered them Girl Scout cookies, which Cort declined due to a diet he was more or less failing to adhere to already. Scott grabbed a handful of cookies, and Abie deposited the box back in the kitchen, then grabbed a stack of papers, and handed them over to Scott.

“What are these?” Scott asked.

“I screen-grabbed some posts on Facebook and Twitter before Katie deleted them.”

“Jesus…these are fucking horrendous,” Scott said.

Scott handed Cort a page of Facebook posts.

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“Holy Christ,” Cort said.

He read further.

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“I can’t read any more of this shit right now,” Cort said, thrusting the papers back to Abie.

“Oh, it’s really wretched stuff. Katie loved animals. I’m telling you, that’s not Katie,” Abie said.

“Did she have any mental illness in her family?” Scott asked.

“No. Both of her parents are still around, in their eighties. Both sharp as tacks, neither one had any obvious mental stuff. I mean, her dad gets anxious sometimes, but not enough that he ever needed treatment. I’m telling you, I’ve been friends with Katie since middle school. She’s as stable as they get.”

They sat in silence, neither of them willing to speak first. Finally, Cort broke the silence.

“Do you think she actually did this stuff?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Abie said, and ran her hand through her auburn hair, a nervous gesture.

“Shouldn’t we call the cops?” Cort asked.

“Already did, and they can’t find her. Also, you know, they got more to worry about than a fully grown woman who might just be in a motel on drugs for all they know.”

“Did she do drugs?” Scott asked.

“No. She’d have a drink every once and awhile, smoked pot a few times in college, but that was it,” Katie said.

“So do you think there was any sort of trigger that set her off? Anything really stressful she’s been going through?” Cort said.

“No. She loved her job, she was single but had been seeing a new guy, and they seemed to really be hitting it off.”

Abie stood, made her way to the window, as if the sight of human beings was too much for her at the moment. She stood with her back to them, and stared out at the street.

“I just keep thinking how she told me she got that computer virus.”

She turned back to face them, slowly.

“That’s ludicrous, right? There’s no possible way something you see on the internet can make you go insane, right?”

Cort got up his nerve, and grabbed another paper, this one with a list of tweets. He scanned down to the last one on the page, and felt the temperature in the room drop twenty degrees.

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To be continued
August 13th, 2016.

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