Local Area Network
Somebody’s fucking with me, and I can’t figure out why. For the past two nights, I have seen a phantom computer connected to my wireless network.
Let me explain. Four years ago, I accepted a job in technology that gave me the freedom to work from home. It ended up being a dream come true, at first – the company had also agreed to pay for my relocation. I settled on my life long goal – a big house with a lot of land, nestled deep into the woods and connected only by a local highway. It was absolutely perfect; away from the drone of city life, away from the constant hum of planes, trains, and automobiles. Away from people.
Up until now, it had been heaven. I spent the first few months in complete solitude, rarely leaving my house except for the occasional grocery store run and liquor store pickup. When the snow came last winter, I just ordered stuff online. Between you, me, and the keyboard; there was a period of two-three months where I never left my property at all. And the perverse reality is that I loved every minute of it. I dreaded the days that necessity required I leave weeks in advance, marking it off on the calendar on my fridge like the Mayan’s prediction of the End of Days. I spent hours in the yard with my dog the day before a trip, wondering incessantly if it would be the last time I’d do so. The outside world had become a web of horrors reported through the 50-inch flat-screen in my living room and the cackled nervous voices on the other end of my conference calls. I could be in jail. I could be dead.
I guess everybody’s different.
I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking it too. A couple nights ago, I tried the local college bar scene for the first time. Maybe that’s where this all started.
That night, I sat on the stool at the nearest college pub, doing my best to look cool with my White Russian as I posed like something I saw in the movies. After an hour, I was on my fourth Caucasian and still awkwardly perched over a group of eight or so college aged kids at the table in front of me. They bickered with each other over politics, their latest classes, their room mates. When they all got up to dance, I sat poised like a statue as I watched them sashay and grind across each other. I was hopeless. In the flashing lights of the dance floor, I couldn’t help but think they looked like ghosts. If I squinted my eyes I saw the shapes of my old college friends, laughing and swinging each other back and forth to the too loud music they were screaming off key. In that moment, years of disillusion and not talking melted around the edges, and I was right back there with them. I closed my eyes and dreamed.
After a few songs, I decided it was the end of my social experiment. I stood like an awkward, coerced rag doll and downed the rest of my drink as I picked up my jacket and shimmied into the tight, unused sleeves. As I turned to leave, I caught one of the girls heading to the bar for a drink on the shoulder.
“I’m so sorry,” I mumbled, shuffling around her as I headed for the door.
She paused, offering a soft smile as she quickly placed her empty drink on the bar and turned back to face me.
“You leaving?” she asked, still smiling.
I couldn’t believe it. This girl was beautiful – far from the reality of what I imagined to be ‘in my league’. She was my height, or an inch shorter, with beautiful straight black hair that fell and rested on her shoulders. She was wearing a short black dress with equally black leather boots tied up to her knees. She had wide, inquisitive brown eyes that studied me like a picture as I shifted and fumbled uncomfortably in front of her and reached for my phone.
“Yeah, going to meet some friends at another place,” I lied, giving her an assuredly hideous smile as I mimed a text to the blank screen.
“Ah, I see, well that’s a real shame,” she said, still smiling, looking down at my phone for a slight second.
I smiled again to her, sliding my phone quickly into my pocket as I turned to leave. Not that I necessarily wanted to leave now, but I had no idea what else to do in this situation.
She called over my shoulder as I walked away cursing my stupidity; “Maybe I’ll see you around!”
I spent the rest of that night like any other weekend. I killed a fresh six pack of beer, caught some episodes of my favorite show, and poked around on my computer for hours. The desktop was awfully slow the whole day, and I wanted to try and fix the problem before bed. I opened up my C:/ drive to see how much space I had. Definitely not the issue, just under 1TB still completely unused. I jumped up to the root folder, and eventually landed on my Network folder
There was my computer, aptly and simply named “Matt-PC”. And right underneath it, there was a second.
“BlackBetty” was all it said.
A year ago, this wouldn’t have been too out of the ordinary. In the city, a local network can extend easily onto the street in front of an apartment, or to nearly all the apartments in your building depending on the size. If it wasn’t protected, you were fair game. If it was, there was still the chance that someone in the wide range of people could have guessed your password or hacked you.
But here I was, in the middle of the woods, with a VPN and strong WiFi password, and another user somehow logged onto my network. I was worried, but I wasn’t necessarily panicking yet. I was still holding onto the belief that the interwebs had somehow gotten crossed. I double clicked on the icon, chiding myself for holding my breathe as it slowly loaded in a new window.
After a minute, a warning box popped up. You were unable to connect to the host computer.
I exhaled, groaning as I realized that this computer was probably password protected. I tried again.
You were unable to connect to the host computer.
Immediately after my second attempt, “BlackBetty” disappeared entirely.
I took this to mean the glitch was confirmed. I locked up, put some food in the dog bowl much to my Labrador Dexter’s delight. He took a few mouthfuls and followed me giddily up the stairs. After a quick circle pace, he hopped onto the bed and settled in his usual spot cradled under my leg at the foot of the bed.
I fell asleep pretty quickly, but a couple hours later I was waken up by the sound of Dexter growling at the foot of my bed. I could see that all of the hair on his back stood up in a straight line, and he was staring out the open doorway, down the hall towards the screen door. When I sat up, he bolted down the hallway. As soon as he got to the door, he let out a vicious growling, barking noise that I have never heard my dog make.
I got up, grabbing the metal bat I keep under my nightstand and walked hesitantly towards the door. Dexter was still growling, but as I got closer he looked back at me apprehensively with his ears flattened and tail between his legs. I propped the bat on one shoulder and reached down to pet him, smoothing out the raised fur as I looked out into the darkness.
“Take it easy Dex, jeez” I mumbled into his ear.
I squinted for a moment, then flicked on the indoor floodlights.
And there was nothing there.
I patted Dex on the head as he huffed loudly and started pacing back and forth in front of the door. His eyes were locked somewhere in the distance, just beyond the stretch of the floodlights. I fidgeted nervously for a couple seconds, scanning the area to look for a hint of an intruder. The backyard looked completely normal, at least from what I could see of it. I flicked the lights on and off a few times, hoping to scare whatever it was out into the open. Dexter plopped himself in front of the door, exhausted from the stress of his encounter.
I chuckled to myself. “Okay bud, you’ve got this shift’s lookout.”
The next day (yesterday) was uneventful. Same monotony; eighteen meetings jam packed into twelve hours of torture. I posed myself in front of the video cam for most of them, making sure the camera was only angled to my shirt and tie as to not show the boxers underneath. Around 8:00, I was finally done with the actual work I needed to accomplish for the day. As soon as I did, I hopped down the stairs two at a time to my basement, pulled open the fridge and grabbed a fresh IPA.
Once I was down in my cave, I fired up my at-home computer in the hopes of catching the season finale to one of my favorite Stories.
This time, Explorer could barely open up my hard drive. I felt my blood boil in frustration as I sat back and waited for it to load. And there it was, again.
I double-clicked the computer icon, fully expecting the same message from before.
After a couple seconds, though, I was shocked to see it open without restriction. There were three folders, labeled the following:
I looked around the room, half expecting someone to be in there with me as I clicked the ‘Pics’ folder.
Immediately, the screened pulled up a picture of hundreds of tiny photos. I double-clicked the first one, taking a long swig from my IPA as the photo app opened up.
And there I was. Staring back at myself from the screen. It was a picture of… me.
There were hundreds of them. I clicked through anxiously, creating what looked to be a slow-motion comic of myself arguing through a conference call. I was wearing the same shirt and tie boxer combination from today.
I went back and opened the Vids folder. There was just one, an Mp4. It was a small file, only a couple minutes long. When it opened up, the video started instantly with what appeared to be a shot of the grass. There was no light on the camera and it was pitch black, so it was hard to see. After a few seconds, the camera picked itself up and began to move, slowly through a near pitch back forest. Suddenly, a loud BARK pieces through the quiet night, and in a moment, the camera fell to the floor. It paused there on the ground, then slowly turned to the source of the bark. And then I realized…
It’s my backyard.
There is Dexter, standing at the screen door, barking directly at the camera. Soon after, I lumber down the hallway, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as I squint out into the darkness with the bat on my shoulder. I flicker the light a few times, which causes the camera to jerk backwards nervously. After a minute of staring, I turn and go back to my bedroom.
But the video doesn’t end.
The camera is lifted off the ground, and walks slowly towards the glass door in melodic rhythm. Dexter waits, sitting there against the door with his teeth bared and the hair on his back rising once again. The camera stops when it is inches from his face, and is rested carefully on the glass of the opposite side. A man’s voice begins to slowly chant (I don’t recognize the words) while the camera is focused on a close up of Dexter’s eyes. And then, as abruptly as it began, it ends.
I closed the video and immediately tried to collect evidence. I clicked the Mp4 and tried to drag it onto my desktop.
“You are unable to connect to the host computer.”
I tried to go back to the Pics folder, grabbing only a single image and trying the same thing.
“You are unable to connect to the host computer.”
In a minute, BlackBetty disappeared from the network once again.
I found this video last night, and I have absolutely no evidence to prove it happened other than my story. I’m not fucking around anymore, who is doing this to me?
I felt I owed you an update. Yesterday, I called the police.
I hadn’t seen BlackBetty again all morning, but the feeling of someone watching me had whittled me its way into the back of my mind ever since the video. What had once been the Fortress of Solitude now felt like a house with a hundred windows. I tried all the easy network security stuff; I changed the LAN password, disallowed new IPs, and even started using Ethernet over WiFi. My last measure of defense was a set of security cameras ordered online, which the online service had assured would take three to five business days to get here. I had hoped one of my hundred solutions had done something to keep BlackBetty at bay, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety.
Late in the afternoon, a solitary squad car rumbled up my long driveway with an exceedingly overweight officer stuffed into the driver’s seat. He opened the door and slowly shuffled his way down the walkway. Before he even reached the bell, I swung open my door.
“Hi sir, thank you so much for coming, I need your help.” I explained, gesturing into the hallway behind me.
He nodded, offering a curt smile as he brushed past me, shamelessly taking in his surroundings as he did.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I hope he didn’t think I meant alcohol. Another experience where I shouldn’t be trusting what I see on TV.
“Bottle of water would be great if you’ve got it.”
I nodded, ran into the kitchen and grabbed one, forcing the recycling can full of empty beer bottles further under the sink before heading back to the living room. When I got there, I found him already staring out the sliding glass door in question.
“Nice place you’ve got here. Know anybody who’d want to get in it? I see your valuables are on display.” He spoke, as if each word was laced with a surly, prewritten defense. He took a swig of his water without a thank you and nodded towards a large bookshelf full of video games and collectibles.
I sat down on the couch, beginning the best explanation I could muster up.
“Not really. I work remote, from here, and don’t have any family or friends in the area. As I explained on the phone… I don’t really go out much at all. I don’t interact with the local community and outside of a girl at the bar and the occasional grocery store run, I don’t see how I could have angered someone around here enough to do this.”
I wasn’t ashamed of anything at this point. I just wanted answers.
He nodded, wiping the quickly accumulating sweat off his brow. “So you think a prankster, then.”
“Well, I didn’t say that, but…”
“We do have a lot of young kids in the area because of the college. I’ve never heard of them filming someone in their own damn house but I wouldn’t say it’s outside of their usual bullshit. I put a notice into the school to let them know that this happened, but given that it’s the weekend we’re not going to hear anything official until Monday.”
“Unless you have any better suggestions at this point,” he added, seeing my skepticism.
“Well, I told you about the fact that he was able to get onto my network…” I started.
“Yep. I talked to, er, consulted with our local IT guy on the issue you described. He asked..” he reached into his pocket for a piece of paper and read it aloud as if it was in Latin “if you tried turning off the guest network. A lot of college are wise to the hacking stuff these days.”
I sighed. “I explained during my phone call that I don’t have a guest network. The only way this person could have gotten into my network was if they knew the password, and no one other than me has it.”
He frowned. “You’re lucky in the sense that no one has actually broken into your premises. There’s a chance your suspected attacker never wanted to get in, or couldn’t get in. A lot of this IT stuff is mumbo jumbo to me, but I’ll give our guy a call when I get back to the station and share my notes with a few other folks to see what they say. We’ll get back to you in the morning. In the meantime, if anything new happens, please do call us immediately.”
I thanked him (regrettably) and escorted him out, leaving myself alone in a big empty house. At that point, I was lost.
So I decided to do the only thing I thought rational at the time – I set about making my house of glass into a prison. First, I started with the windows. I grabbed my stash of beer boxes waiting to be recycled and turned them inside out; duct-taping them over the frames to block any view inside or out. Next, I went to work on the doors. I locked all of them with the same metal locks that had previously been installed, but also made sure to wedge a chair or some small piece of furniture in front of each. There were three doors that lead outside in total; the sliding door in the living room blocked by my couch, the the basement door downstairs which was blocked by a spare bookcase, and the front door, which was blocked by some wood planks and nails I had found in the basement. Dexter trotted along behind me anxiously throughout my work, sniffing doorways and keeping me in sight at all times.
When we were done with the fortification, I locked myself in the last room I felt I could be safe – my bedroom. It was windowless – and I placed the full weight of my dresser directly in front of the door and sat on the bed, resting comfortably in my defenses. Dexter seemed satisfied – he jumped up on the bed and rested in his usual spot while I thumbed through a book on my nightstand, and for a while, that was peaceful.
But it wasn’t more than an hour or so later when I heard the sound of wood cracking in the basement.
At first, it was quiet; barely detectable even. Dexter sat with his ears pricked and the hair on his back slowly starting to climb again. After those first few cracks, I heard what I assumed to be the bookcase falling backwards and slamming onto the floor behind it. For about 15 seconds, there was silence. I played on my optimistic side, hoping a gust of wind had blown it back as I sat upright in bed, weighing the likelihood with my hands gripped tight around the baseball bat.
And then, chaos.
The first thing I heard were fifty feet bursting their way into the basement and across the finished, creaking wooden floor. There were no words, no grunts of effort, no communication at all, just… movement. They hurdled up the rickety basement stairs – an endless stampede of feet that each ended with a separate set of pounding on the door to the kitchen that I didn’t even bother to lock. There must have been at least a dozen of them, because the wood soon snapped at the seams and caved to their pressure as they burst into the kitchen. In seconds, the stampede entered the living room and hurtled down the hallway.
In a minute, each set of footsteps landed at my locked door with a sickening thud; like a poorly coordinated set of Dominoes.
And then… they stopped. Silence. I stood there, screaming nonsense at the nameless and voiceless footsteps outside my door… but was met by an absent void on the other side.
Soon after, the pounding began. Dexter was snarling, hurling out his voice as he growled at the noises snaking through the space between the door and the floor. I pulled out my phone, speed dialing 911 before realizing it was already dead. No battery. I threw it to the floor as Dexter and I both prepared for the door to cave and the attack to begin.
But just as abruptly as the pounding began, it stopped.
The feet picked up and reversed their direction, hurdling themselves backwards, through the living room, into the kitchen, down the stairs, and out the basement door with the same urgency they brought in.
In the aftermath, Dexter stood like a statue, cowering with his tail between his legs and his eyes on the bottom of the door. We both sat there, dumbfounded. The wood on my bedroom door was splintered, enough for a hole to be visible in the now pitch black house. After about 10 minutes of shock, I peeked through it, checking down the hallway for anyone left behind.
I moved forward cautiously. Dexter snapped at me and growled, but I rested my hand on his back and slowly turned the door open. He took off like a bullet, sprinting down the empty hallway and into the living room, barking all the way. He hurled himself against the wall on the turn in his excitement, letting out a yelp in pain, but continued onward. I chased behind him, keeping him in my eyesight as I held onto my bat like a cross. The living room was untouched, but the door to the basement was completely destroyed, with fist sized holes decorating the front as it lay on my kitchen table in ruin. The stairs to the basement were open and inviting, with seemingly nothing beyond a shattered door amiss.
Dexter was five steps ahead of me and jumping down the stairs two at a time. I paused at the entryway, listening for his footsteps as he circled the basement in a sprint. I didn’t hear any, but I did hear… music.
As I got to the bottom of the stairs, it got louder. I held my bat over my head like I was a samurai as I poked around the dark basement like an idiot. Should have brought a flashlight.
When my eyes adjusted, I saw I was alone. The wood basement door was destroyed, and yet, poorly propped back into place. Other than that, the only thing out of place in the entire room was a silver laptop sitting in the center of the carpeted floor like a prop.
That was the source of the music, horrible as it was. The song playing sounded vaguely familiar, like a cover of something I had heard before. Any type of rhythm was impossible to pick up over the drone of a poorly played guitar and shitty speakers. However, one part was pretty clear when it got to the chorus:
Whoa-oh Black Betty, bam-la-bam.
I was about to kick the stupid thing to shut it up before I realized there was probably a reason a long wire was still connecting it to my router across the room. I turned off the sound with a shuttering click before I ran over to the basement door and shoved the bookcase back into place along with an extra chair for good measure. After I was done, I got down on the floor and flicked open the laptop while Dexter paced behind me.
This device has been properly ejected.
I clicked okay with the mouse-pad and squinted at the underlying document open on the screen.
In it was a picture. It was dark, but the subject of the photo was an areal view of a house surrounded by woods. Immediately, I recognized the newly finished Timberline.
Surrounding me, each in separate corners of the endless woods, was a single torch poking out from the highest tree. There were five in total, with my house seemingly at the center of the flames. Underneath the picture was one simple line, in crisp red text and quotes.
If a sheep falls in a forest, and none but devils are around to hear it fall, does it make a sound?
After a moment, the computer shut down on its own.
What does a rational person do when a mob of ten to twenty people breaks into their home?
I’d like to tell you I got out of there. Packed my bags and moved into a hotel; accepted my defeat and allowed whatever carnage to take place at my house while I was tucked away safely in some Super 8. But running is what led me here. To this state, to this town, to this house. I’m happy for the first time I can remember, and I’m tired of running.
So I’m still here.
I haven’t slept much, if at all, since we last spoke. The night they broke in I was locked inside the house all night. I discovered soon after they left that my phone lines were cut and my Internet was not working. After a picture of torches surrounding me in the woods, I wasn’t going to risk leaving in the dark. So I did what has become routine – I built up my defenses in the basement and waited; all night. Dexter slept beside me, but other than him my only real company was a few leftover Steel Reserves in the fridge. They never showed up.
Once daylight came, I had to see if I was at least able to get out. I took Dex with me, and he seemed more relieved than I was to scurry down the long driveway to our car. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder with every step. I scanned the treeline for any sign of our attackers, but was met with nothing but the stillness of an early morning summer rain. So we hopped in my car and left.
As we drove away and made the turn onto the country highway, though, I saw one. Waiting at the bottom of my driveway in a speck on my rear-view was a man in a white mask. He didn’t move, just… stared.
My first stop was the Public Library, where I tried to jump-start the laptop with a rack of spare chargers I knew they kept. I had no luck, but in my insomnia, I wrote my update to you for forty cents a minute in the car outside. Dexter slept in the backseat with the windows cracked. From there, I went to the Police Station in person.
As soon as I got there, the police officer whom had already been to my house caught me by the secretaries desk. He was wearing his bronzed name tag this time, luckily, and stenciled into the metal was ‘Sergeant Phillips’. After seeing my haggard appearance, he gestured me over and waved off the pointed secretary at the desk who chased Dexter down the hallway with her check-in questions.
“You can’t bring that dog in here!” she shouted over my shoulder.
“He’s here for medical reasons,” I called back.
“Have there been any changes since we last spoke, son?” Phillips asked over his shoulder.
“Yes… they broke in last night.”
He turned around immediately, finally seeming to understand the urgency of the situation as shock crept up the chubby folds of his face.
“In here,” he pulled me into the nearest available office, slamming the door in the secretaries face. “Sorry Katherine,” he called out to the closed door. “What do you mean they?”
“There were lots of them. I heard them. I barricaded myself in my house last night because I knew they were coming and you would do nothing. It must have been a dozen of them. I have to go home. You have to help me!” I ranted.
“Calm down, son. You stink of drink. Tell me what happened.”
I sighed, catching my breathe and my surroundings as I started a more clear explanation. “Last night, a group of twelve people broke into my house. I know this because I had barricaded myself in my bedroom and I heard them come in. They destroyed three doors during this, and they tried to break into my bedroom as well to get me as well. After that… they just left. All they left was this laptop, which had a picture of my house surrounded by torches.” I held up the computer that I had brought with me.
“That’s a mouthful,” he sighed, pulling the laptop out of my hands. “I think the obvious answer here, Matt, is that you can’t go home. At least not for now.”
“I have to go home. I can’t my life in a hotel. Not to mention the expense it would cost me… just give me a protective detail and let me be.”
He laughed, a guttural sound that made him break out in a fit of coughing. “You got the budget for that? I have a current staff of ten in a town that’s one hundred square miles. If I spend one officer on you, I need a damn good reason.”
He took off his glasses and rubbed his temple as he spoke, clearly preparing me for something I wasn’t going to like to hear. “I spoke to the college this morning as well. I described the entire situation to the Dean over there, and she told me that a local fraternity used to do something like that for initiation. But as far as her and the fraternity chair are aware, that type of hazing hasn’t been done in thirty years.”
“But; I’m not in a fraternity. I’m 26 years old.” I responded, feeling my blood pressure rising.
“I know. I know, I’m not saying I believe their story either. But if we want to move forward with this thing, we’re going to need proof of something. And that requires you giving me this laptop and us going to your house to survey the damage. Are you okay to drive?”
I nodded and stood up too quickly, nearly losing my balance.
“Okay, I’m driving.” He opened the door and led me out to the front of the station before he called over a deputy and spoke to him quietly. The man gave me an apprehensive look and nodded before he pulled his keys and went out the door to our squad car.
Sergeant Phillips came back to me and led me out to his own squad car. “Brady is going to follow along and do some cataloging. I told the Dean to meet us over there as well.”
I nodded from the back seat, feeling like a prisoner already. “What is Brady cataloging?”
He gave me a smile he clearly reserved for the dim witted.
“Evidence, of course. We’re reporting a crime.”
The rest of the thirty minute drive was silent. I closed my eyes and tried to get fifteen minutes of sleep. I slipped in and out a lot while the car bounced up and down through what seemed to be every pothole on the road, but even in that discomfort I felt the safest I had in a week.
When we got to the house, Officer Brady and the Dean were already waiting for us at the foot of the driveway. The Dean was a tall, thin woman in a black pant suit with dark red lipstick and short cut blond hair. It bobbed up and door while her heels click clacked over the imperfections in the asphalt.
“Hi there Sir. I’m so sorry to hear about the break-in at your home. I do hope our school was not involved in any way, but I also hope for resolution in your dispute.”
“Dispute? I’ve never met these people,” I snapped at her.
“..Of course, my mistake,” she replied with a compassionately fake smile.
I led them up the driveway, no longer in the mood to scan the treeline with my entourage in tow. When I walked up to the front door, I pulled out my keys and swung them into the lock, preparing for the usual resistance. But there was none.
The door was already unlocked.
“That’s not right…” I mumbled, pausing.
But my entourage was already ahead of me. When they were more than a few steps into my house, I could hear the Dean let out a gasp.
The Sergeant called for me in as I fumbled to pull my key out of the lock.
“Hey Matt… you want to explain this to me?”
I walked in and found my living room in total disarray. There were bottles of liquor everywhere. A handle of gin decorated the wall while five forties of Colt 45 sat empty and propped by the couch in front of the TV. Empty bottles of whiskey and vodka cluttered the floor as I stumbled into the room, nearly tripping. The room stunk of alcohol.
I stood there staring with my eyes wide open, unable to form a response.
“How much did you have to drink last night, son? That’s enough booze to kill a horse. Did you throw a party last night…. after your house was vandalized?” the Sergeant asked.
“I didn’t do this.” I sputtered. “I told you, there were burglars or something here. They must have done this when I went to see you.”
I felt their eyes burning into me like a hot laser as my eyes teared.
“Excuse me Sir… is this yours?” the Dean called out from the kitchen.
She held up my bat while Brady’s camera flashed in the background. It was covered in splintered wood and lying next to the beaten down door.
“Yes. But I swear, I did not use that for… that. They must have came back and altered everything while I was gone.”
The Sergeant interjected while the Dean put down the bat and started for the door. “Why didn’t you call me last night, when this break-in supposedly happened?”
“I told you, they cut my phone lines and Internet,” I pleaded.
“You never told me that,” Phillips replied grimly, pulling out his notepad as he did.
“I have a signal here,” The Dean piped up. “Black Betty. That’s you, right? Can’t see who else it would be…”
I had to sit down.
“So, the Internet’s not busted. What are we talking about here, son?” Phillips was on his way towards the door.
“That is not my router. My router is just a generic name. That one has to be the attackers,” I stuttered back.
The Dean snorted out loud.
“Son, the only thing we have evidence now is of your drinking problem and falsely reporting a crime. You mentioned you have security cameras on the way, right? I don’t appreciate you dragging us out here because of your drinking problems. I’m sure the Dean doesn’t either. Send us any evidence you have of an actual break in, and that’s when we’ll pursue this. As of now, you’re lucky we don’t charge you for falsely reporting a crime. Folks, let’s get going.” With that, Sergeant Phillips opened the door and left, with Brady and the Dean in tow.
I sat on the couch, dumbfounded and at a loss as I pulled out my phone and checked the Wi-Fi.
BlackBetty was accepting guest connections. I selected it with a heavy thumb, and began writing.
I know I’m not fucking crazy.
Are you still listening? I know it’s been a while. In a moment, I think you will see why this took so long.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to you about about someone or something stalking my house. After a useless week with the police, Captain Dipshit and company all but informed me that I was lucky I wasn’t spending the next few nights in a jail cell for ‘misreporting a crime scene’. Whatever that meant.
The bottom line was that my house was destroyed, and there was no one left but me to pick up the bits and pieces. That included overturned furniture, shattered glass, liquor bottles, beer cans, broken computers, broken televisions, broken pictures… it looked entirely like someone had lost their mind and destroyed whatever was around them.
And that’s exactly what he wanted.
I picked up my crushed and fractured pre-made Ikea life in a daze. The entire thing had become like a slow motion movie… in this scene, the hero paraded through like the atypical hungover zombie after a party. Except, there was no party.
The worst was the one part vodka, one part whiskey, and twenty parts malt liquor combination that covered the floor. At this point, it had caked its way into a slick level of slippery grime. Whomever was here destroyed the place hours ago, because the entire house already stunk of it. The broken glass really didn’t help, either; I cut my foot more than once, and dark red blood had begun to pool with the alcohol in the spots I had missed.
It was disgusting.
By nighttime, I was done mopping and sweeping away most of the mess. I hadn’t even noticed that it had gotten dark, to be honest, but that also could have been due to the personal pity party thrown with a squirreled away bottle of Jameson. At least the savage left from some booze for me. It only took me an hour or so to get drunk – I usually stayed away from the hard stuff.
With my buzz in full effect, I stumbled out onto the front porch, hoping to take in the breeze and yell at the trees a bit. I almost fell flat on my face after tripping over a neat brown box positioned just on top of my doormat.
I picked up the giant box and ripped into the center with my keys, cheering out loud as I pulled out my prize. Six night vision cameras, equipped and attached to a trip wire that would alert me if anyone were to step foot on my property. As the sun was quickly going down beyond the hills, I got to work and began setting them up in the six corners of my property I had seen in the picture.
I talked out to my problems to Dexter, who sat guard next to me while I worked. It felt good to get a little rage out of my system. Maybe he could hear me, somewhere out there in the darkness. But I didn’t care anymore, and nobody responded.
The trip wires were the most difficult part. I wanted them to look indiscreet with some leaves and brush on top, but I realized soon enough that every time a squirrel ran across I would get a happy little notification sound on my phone. Given the quickly setting sun, I compromised with the fact that at this point, I would assuredly want to see this squirrel regardless. Afterwards, I headed back inside and collapsed on my shredded couch.
I had an old TV that was still working, even if my computer and nothing else did. I dragged it up from the basement and plugged it into the still functioning power. For an hour or so, I flipped through the channels, completely oblivious and uncaring to my surroundings as I numbed myself with the Jameson. I settled on a nature documentary, one I had definitely seen a thousand times, and felt myself start to drift off to sleep to the pleasant British accent. The subject had something to do with ‘gators, one of my favorite animals. My dreams were filled by a monster in a white mask, waiting just beneath the black water for an unsuspecting prey to come creeping up to the local water hole.
My phone jingled happily in my pocket as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sat up.
Trip alarm triggered. View video
I opened up the beautifully designed app. Time to see my intruder.
Which was, naturally, a raccoon.
Nevertheless… it was pretty cool to see him in the bright light of night-vision, stumbling obliviously over the wire and into the open grass of my surrounding property. After a few moments, he paused and sniffed the air, looking around suspiciously as if he caught the scent of something downwind. Then he darted in a moments time.
Then, footsteps; slow and methodical. A large, tan Timberland boot stepped into the frame. I knew they were Timberlands because I had the same boots. There was a pause, for a second, like he wanted to make sure I saw them. Then in one swift motion, the foot raised and the screen cut to black.
Video ended transmission
I was frozen for a few minutes, following my only instinct to grab Dexter’s collar in one hand and my bat in the other.
In a moment, the basement door opened and slammed shut.
I should have chose the front door. For reasons unbeknownst to me even now, I darted for the bathroom. I had jumped inside and locked the door as I heard the footsteps on the stairs. The same footsteps I had heard before. The exact same footsteps.
What accompanied them was even stranger. The voice of a crackling radio and a man’s voice filled the house.
My surround sound speakers. Accessible by Bluetooth if you were in the basement.
At first, the sound that played was a clamor of applause, combined with the dozen footsteps I had heard earlier. In that moment, I was able to realize that they weren’t actual footsteps, just an audio track played on my own gaudy speakers. After the applause, a voice spoke. I recognized it almost immediately, but it’s context is beyond me.
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious
The footsteps got louder.
“Makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”
The footsteps drowned out the audio track to a whisper. Whomever was controlling this in the basement must have been playing two tracks at once. I cowered in the bathroom nonetheless, with Dexter barking ferociously at the door as we both waited behind it, expecting the worse.
“And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
And then both audio tracks stopped. In that moment, it became very clear that there was never a group of people. There was only one person fucking with me. And he was here, in my basement right now. He was admitting to it, even – taunting me.
In a heartbeat, I burst from the bathroom and turned the corner to the kitchen. The living room was unchanged, so I advanced for the kitchen. Dexter hurled down the basement stairs ahead of me, and I followed soon after, no longer hesitant or worried about a crowd of people waiting. As I hit the top step, I heard the door below slam shut once again.
When Dexter and I got downstairs, we found it empty yet again. Nothing looked different, not so much as a book out of place. Dexter swept the room, furious to be too late yet again, but this time, he paused over an oddly placed mat on the floor. He sniffed it angrily, pulling back the mat piteously with his paws. And I realized… I had never moved it. I had never even given that mat so much as a second thought in all my time in that house. It was there when I bought the house and it was still there now.
I ran over to him and pushed the mat out of the way. Even Dexter slid backwards and growled at what was underneath.
An old metal latch attached to an older metal door.
This thing must have existed for decades, if the rust could attest. Muttering a fuck it to myself, I tried to pull it open and felt a fair bit of resistance on the latch. After a minute of grounding myself and catching my breath, I leaned all my weight into it and fell back when it finally opened with a sigh.
Underneath was a set of three old wooden stairs, going down.
I called down, bat at the ready, but no one answered. With my new found confidence, I grabbed onto the decaying wooden rail and made my way down the rickety stairs. What I found evicted every single breath from my body.
There was a bed encompassing the entire 4×4 room, made up with once white sheets that were covered with sweat stains that must have been years old. Resting peacefully on top of the bed in some sort of macabre order was a few simple items – a mask, a knife, an iPod, and what looked to be food squirreled from my cabinets and stacked up neatly on a carved out ‘shelf’.
When I looked up and found several little holes carved into the floorboard above. Air holes. Or eye holes?
I rifled through the blankets, bearing in mind that they were likely infested with this man’s diseases but uncaring. There was nothing there, except for one small photograph stuffed into the pillowcase. It was sepia stained and clearly taken many years ago. At the front of the muted background were a small boy, an older man, and an older woman. Behind them rose a great, big house that towered over the neighbors.
That night, I called the police for the final time. Dipshit and company came over and apologized profusely once they discovered the basement, but it fell on my deaf ears. I had grown numb to the whole experience and just wanted to be done. They sheepishly assured me they had their ‘best men’ on the case. What a cliché. In the meantime, I was forced to leave my home per a direct order.
I chalked up my losses and sold the house, earning enough profit to get myself into a place a few towns over. Moving my life away is what took me so long to get an update to you.
I haven’t learned much about the case, which is now an active police investigation. But during the interview Captain Dipshit slipped up some details.
The man and woman in the photograph were easily identifiable; they owned the properties in the 60s and were well known in the town, but had each passed away years ago from various illnesses. But the boy in the picture is what has held up the case this long. You see, the couple never had any children. It was well known in the area that the woman was unable to carry a child. So, at the end of the day, the questions remains for both the police and I.
Who was the man living in my basement?