Trembling With Fear 04/23/2017
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Paying the Bills
We were about to lose our home, so naturally, I was distracting myself with the internet. I didn’t have a job, though not for a lack of trying, so I couldn’t help with the rent. Vacuuming, doing the dishes, folding laundry, that all fell to me, because Mom was busy working and my sis was always bogged down with homework. That’s okay. I didn’t mind jobs other people might’ve called “womanly.” Mom and Dad split years ago; I had to pick up the slack he left behind. There’s no gender involved with duty.
When the owner hiked up our rent, Mom begged him to reconsider. Didn’t work. She made a decent salary, but not enough to support two kids, car payments, incidental bills, insurance, and a house. As always, she stayed positive, insisting we’d be okay. Abby stayed quiet and finished her AP work. I was scouting for boxes, ready to pack up and move.
I’m not a homebody, but most of my time has been spent at home, so I’m pretty tech savvy. Now, I almost wish I wasn’t. Almost. Of course I had a PayPal account, and I thought nothing of it when Abby asked me to explain how it worked, and what my email was. I could’ve explained so much—how proxy servers work, what’s a VPN, how to use TOR. Anything, really. Her request was a simple one, easily obliged.
I always use TOR, because I don’t like the idea of some shadowy government operative tracking my browsing history, or our internet provider selling that information off. I don’t usually go on the deep web. That day, I felt drawn to these darker reaches of the internet, compelled to explore the fringes of virtual society. If anyone was likely to understand, and help with, my family’s situation, they’d probably be there, on a secret message board, sharing secrets on how to dodge taxes and come into some quick, if illegal, money.
On one such thread were links to sites no one should visit. Places full of hackers, testing the realities of their cyberworld, and indigents, looking to celebrate all the parts of life mainstream society was too polite to even discuss. Some offered ways to make money doing it. Tons of links to prostitution. Organ farming. Martyrdom.
This last one pulled me in, its little, unassuming hyperlink glowing like a beacon, luring me to shore. I wound up on a page full of embedded videos, a note at the top saying that all content was free, but donations to the “performers” was expected. Curious, I clicked on one at random.
A recording popped up, laid over the original page, with a note that said “Streaming over: donations still accepted.” On the footage, a tired-looking man with thick stubble and haunted eyes stared into the camera. He stared for so long I had to check and make sure it wasn’t paused. Then he whispered, “Please. Make sure my brother gets the treatment he needs,” and popped a pill. A few seconds later, he jerked, body beginning to shake. My stomach lurched. I’d seen enough movies to know what cyanide does: the seizure-like tremors, the foaming at the mouth. He collapsed, limp and unmoving, in his high-backed chair, head lolled to the side like a ragdoll cast into the corner of a child’s bedroom. In the corner of the feed, a donation count steadily rose upward.
In movies, this is where someone would puke, but I’ve always had a strong stomach. I stared, open-mouthed, hands numb on my keyboard. A new box popped up over the video asking if I’d donate to the man who posted the video, titled “Frank Hibbert’s ALS Care.”
I clicked the X in the corner, getting rid of the window. I closed the man’s video and almost left the site when a new Live Streaming notice popped up, demanding my attention, blinking angrily as I tried to click the address bar. The video was titled “For the People I Love” and a thumbnail-sized feed displayed a blurry, fumbling hand adjusting the webcam’s angle. I almost clicked “Not interested” when the hand pulled away. My heart stopped. I clicked “View now” to confirm what the tiny preview window suggested.
In the footage sat my sister, Abby. I didn’t recognize the building behind her. It looked like an empty warehouse or factory of some kind. One emptied recently enough that the power company hadn’t cut electricity yet.
“Sorry if the quality isn’t great,” she said, her voice shaking. “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’ve never live-streamed before.”
Messages started popping up—comments from those watching. I was too shocked to type, not helped by what the other users were writing. More like death-stream, from Jax818, and First time, last time, from MariaAntwonet.
“So, I’m here because… well… My family needs money. We’re broke. About to be homeless. Mom already works herself crazy. My brother… doesn’t have a job, but he’s sent out maybe fifty applications, didn’t get a single interview. He does the chores, which is more than I can say for myself.”
Economy’s shit right now.
Get on with it!
I’m not here for your sob-story.
“Right, sorry,” she sighed. “Just… figured you should know. They work really hard. They’re good people. Me, I know I’m smart and all, but college is my only real option. If we don’t have money now, how could I ask them to pay thirty grand a year so I can get a degree?”
Fumbling, I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone. Someone wrote, College is worthless anyway. I called her. If your so smrt, y u gotta pay? Genuises go 4 free. In the feed, her phone rang, buzzing along the table next to her. She glanced at it, then gave a sad chuckle. “That’s him now. Calling me.” Abby clicked the volume button, silencing the ringer.
I sent a text: I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. STOP. CALL ME.
An anonymous user wrote, This might be the only time you’re of use to the world.
Another: “JUST DO IT!” lmao
Abby read the text message, looking confused, then her face scrunched up and she turned away. “Wow. That’s… really? You’re watching right now?”
I clicked the message bar at the bottom and typed, Yes, it’s me. Stop, now, please!
She squinted at the screen, then gave a sad smile. “I… I wish I could. But I think this was a long time coming anyway.”
More like family bondage. Hehehehe giggity goo.
“Mom, Greg… I love you. Don’t ever forget that.” She picked up two power cables with clamps on the end, one red and one black, letting out a shuddering breath as I typed frantically, calling her phone, typing some more. I thought about 9-1-1, but even if they could get there in time, I didn’t know where “there” was. “For all you out there who want to know, these are hooked into a backup generator. The computer’s on the main grid. All the extra electricity… well, that’s just for me.”
She crossed her arms and snapped the clamps down on her wrists. Electricity cracked and snapped as her body began to jerk. I screamed, looking away, but wouldn’t mute it. I didn’t have the strength to watch, but I refused to cut myself off from it entirely. I was the older brother. I should’ve been providing for us all, should’ve walked the streets with resumes and begged for a job if I had to. If it could’ve prevented this.
When the harsh cacophony of her death finally stopped, I looked up. A flood of comments rushed in, blurred through my tears as I stared at her blackened, smoking body. If I hadn’t seen this footage, I never would’ve recognized her.
This just in: smart girl uses science for suicide! More at eleven.
And her brother watched? How… shocking.
Shame. She wuz hot. Would’ve given $$$ for XXX.
A button popped up in the top-right corner, no doubt enabled by a moderator. It read “Donate” and an account labeled Admin posted, Suggested donations for electrocution start at two bitcoins. Double if underaged.
I wept as my phone began to buzz with email notifications. “You’ve got money” “You’ve got money” “You’ve got money…”
Kevin Holton is the author of more than one hundred short stories, poems, and critical works. Specializing in horror and sci-fi, he has published with Siren’s Call Publications, James Ward Kirk Fiction, and Crystal Lake Publishing, among other companies. When not reading or writing, he is a student, actor, and coffee enthusiast who spends too much time talking about Batman.
You can find out more about Kevin at: www.kevinholton.com.
What Follows in the Fog
The fog was thick enough so that the rows of trees appeared like ghosts—there, but not quite. Thick enough that Jeff breathed vapor.
He’d just broken down camp, stalling afterwards with hopes the mist might clear. There was no way of telling from where he’d come, or where next to start out. Around him, echoes of clattering rock and snapping twigs unnerved him.
In three more minutes Jeff chose a direction and walked. Something was following. He turned, curious, and saw the children, dressed in virginal white, following him at a distance, fading in and out of the fog.
Erik Bergstrom spends his days crafting and editing digital content for automotive marketers, and his nights releasing steam by writing gloomy fiction. His other interests include movie clubs and attending local pro wrestling shows. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and too many pets.
Shay’s fingers raked down his back, drawing blood.
Laughing at his whimper.
Last night he had said he liked it.
Telling her to hurt him.
Smiling she dug in deeper.
Last night he had been on top when this was happening.
Now he was strapped in, facing a mirror.
He couldn’t see the blood running down his back.
She wrapped him in an embrace and dug into his chest as well.
Whispering in his ear that it wouldn’t be long now.
Licking the blood from his back as her fangs extended.
Shay just couldn’t help but play with her food.
The Midwest’s very own curvaceous author of strumpets, harlots, kink, fetish, and all kinds of other illicit and fun-filled naughty activities!
You can follow her work at http://sccornett.com.
Oddworth’s Silent Partner
“Congratulations,” said the hostess. “You’ve survived Oddworth’s House of Horrors. Exit to your left.”
The guest, still trembling from the experience, looked up. “It seemed so real,” he moaned, recalling the sagging floorboards, the shaking walls, the apparitions.
The girl shrugged. “Amazing what you can do with trick wires and holograms.”
As the guest left, an invisible presence slammed the door shut. The walls warped, and the framed certificate of poltergeist infestation fell to the floor and shattered.
The hostess braced herself as the air grew noxious. Then, an unearthly shriek:
“TRICK WIRES!? HOLOGRAMS!?”
Oddworth’s benefactor, it seemed, was offended.
Madison McSweeney is a writer, poet and communications student from Ottawa, Canada. In addition to horror and science fiction, she writes a lot about the Canadian and international music scene.
Her work has been published in Dark Horizons: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction, 365 Tomorrows, and The Fulcrum (the University of Ottawa’s student newspaper). Her fiction and non-fiction work can be found on rantsandwritingsblog.wordpress.com and cloudshadeblog.wordpress.com.
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