Technology is really starting to creep me out.
I installed Apple’s new operating system, iOS12, on my iPhone last night. I don’t know why I did it so soon. I am not a technophile or anything. Usually, I listen to reviews and wait around for a major update. But something about that red little Settings icon begged to be clicked. Call it curiosity, or my incessant need to stay up to date, or just some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder restricted to technical updates; I clicked it.
Five minutes to download.
The progress bar ticked away steadily and without issue. My phone still worked fine at the time. I popped back into messages and texted my best friend. It was past midnight, but he always stayed up late. Jason is also an Android nerd – the type to turn a conversation about cell phones into a political debate. He sounded eager to talk shit.
“Let me know when that huge file bricks your old shitty phone lol.“
I tried to write back a witty reply, but my cell restarted. The logo appeared on screen. I tossed it to the side and went back to watching TV while it went through the usual steps of installing a new operating system. After a few minutes, the light turned on, and I picked it back up and entered my password.
Welcome to iOS 12!
The new design looked pretty sleek. I clicked through an introductory message that listed out some new features. They improved the ability to edit videos. You can now measure objects with your camera. There’s a bunch of other cool stuff, but in the end, the one that really piqued my interest is Animoji. For those of you who don’t know what that is; I don’t blame you. Animoji are puppet-like cartoon characters, shared through text message, that can be designed to look like the user. Now, with the addition of front facing cameras, Animojis can also react like you. All in real time.
I decided to take advantage of this feature by playing a prank on Jason.
I quickly clicked through the options to customize my character. I added a light skin tone; with a bunch of freckles, a beard, small nose, small head, and short black hair. My eyes are an unusual shade of blue, so I included that too. I gave him a grey hat to match the one sitting on the rack by my desk and called it a wrap.
For a shoddy effort, at best, I was impressed.
That corny little cartoon creature could have been my clone.
I opened up Messages again and steadied the camera to record my motions. The Animoji responded perfectly. If I opened my mouth to speak, the character did the same. If I batted my eyes, it batted them back. If I stuck out my tongue, it stuck out its tongue. You get the picture. Its eerie, really. I don’t know how this could be considered fun for children.
My message for Jason was a pretty childish one. The Animoji also has the unique ability to record your voice. I sung a fuck you medley and shook my character’s head back and forth like a rag doll. It was stupid. I tried to make it seem like a ‘dickhead puppet’ kind of thing. After a quick review, I sent it over and laughed at the accuracy, and my own idiocy.
It took a while for Jay to respond.
I thought that was weird. We had just talked a moment before. This seemed like prime Jason-shit-talking material. He did not go to sleep. His status on Facebook still showed active. I messaged there a couple times and asked if he liked my ‘gift’; as a joke. He replied a minute later.
“What is that voice? When did you get diagnosed with Emphysema? I can barely hear you, man.“
His response surprised me. The feature never said anything about modifying my voice. Before I could understand anything, Jay replied again.
“Okay, I just got the second message. What the fuck, man? I never told you that.“
I stared at the computer screen. Then I looked back at my dimmed phone.
I never sent a second message, what are you talking about? I said.
I waited another couple minutes for a response. Then Jason came back with a flurry of replies. They all arrived at the same time. Like… a delay, of some sort, had held them back. Then he signed offline. I thought he blocked me.
“Stop sending me these videos.“
“I know it’s you. Its your number and its your fuckin face, man.“
“Adam you are freaking me out. I never told you about my sister.“
“Why did you say my address?“
The last message arrived at 1:55 AM.
“What is that voice?“
I grabbed my phone off the desk and turned it off. I didn’t stop to close out the apps or anything like that. I don’t know if that matters. If someone technical knows more, maybe they can help. In the next half hour, I paced around my room and waited for a reply from Jason that never came. I called his house a thousand times. I even thought about driving over there in the middle of the night.
But I didn’t.
In the end, I chalked the whole situation up to some creepy, reasonable phenomenon. It had to be. Maybe the wires in the cloud got crossed, or some shit. I fell asleep with the cell under my pillow and the family German Shepherd by my side.
I woke up this morning to an incessant vibrating in my ear.
The phone must have turned itself back on while I slept. I had several missed calls, and two unread texts… but Jason never replied. The messages were from an unknown number. As soon as I opened the dialogue box, the bright blue eyes of my Animoji greeted me with a sardonic grin. I hit play on the video, and immediately recognized it as the one I recorded last night.
“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” my childish voice chanted.
I scrolled down to the next message. The clip played automatically.
My Animoji seemed a lot more serious in this shot. It did not move its mouth. First, it tipped its head to the left, curiously. Then it tipped to the right. It smiled again. Then, thirty seconds in, the character’s head continued on its axis until it rotated all the way around to its original point.
I felt myself grow nauseous. Something about that movement and the positioning it suggested made me sick. It looked like a scene out of the exorcist. Human head and necks are not meant to work like that. How can anyone move in that direction? How can anyone replicate it? The feature is brand fucking new.
The character spoke, too.
The voice seemed to fit Jason’s description pretty well. It sounded as if the male speaker had just finished smoking a carton of cigarettes. He coughed, at first. My character reacted accordingly by covering its mouth. Then it leaned in close to the camera. My blue eyes grew wide. My mouth mouthed slowly. It enunciated three symbols alongside a gravely and unmistakable rusty tone.
“I see you,” it said.
I closed the app. I threw the phone across the room and left my apartment. Again, I didn’t know enough about technology to know whether this is concerning, but the entire experience shook me. I needed to get it out of my head, and I could think of only one way. The drive to Jay’s house is only five minutes away.
Angry sirens streamed down the block before I even pulled out of my driveway. I told myself that they couldn’t be related. The voice in the back of my head told me they were.
I returned the missed calls during on the drive. Two unknown numbers, one known. My mom called from home. I dialed her back first, and her tear-choked tone confirmed my absolute worst fear.
“Jason’s mother called. They found him in his house. He died, Adam. I’m so sorry.”
My mom continued to tell me that the killer made an absolute mess of the scene. Blood covered every inch of the house. The front door was splintered into two pieces. She probably didn’t mean to say these horrible things but the words spilled out of her like a disease. The suspect, ultimately, walked free.
I hung up and returned the other missed call. It was a voicemail.
The cops checked Jay’s phone. They want to talk to me.
I turned around and drove home. I am freaking out. I don’t know what to do. My only defense is to pin my best friend’s death on a fucking Animoji.