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Science Fiction Thriller Mystery

Norwool Town, 2004

Tony's sister, Berka, regarded him as though he had just grown a second head. Her quick, small eyes surveyed his face attentively for a long time. He felt foolish, but he was not delusional. He wished that Berka would stop looking at him like that.

Finally, Berka stood up, not removing her gaze from his face. "Well, you appear to be genuinely distressed," she noted.

Berka would know. The two of them had a long history of playing practical jokes on each other. Tony had his fair share of success in throwing her into wild states of panic. At times, he did get a bit carried away and admittedly rather cruel with his games.

One time, he had a friend of his, Ralph, tie him to a chair in his bedroom, which he had turned upside down to make it seem like there had been a break in. They’d had household items laying haphazardly along the floor. They’d shifted the furniture. They’d overturned the carpets. It’d seemed like a legit break-in.

He had Ralph hide out in the living room, and they had both awaited Berka's arrival home from school. Their parents would not be home until late in the evening. She had entered the house to a sight and further events which, upon finding out it had just been a stupid prank, had left her unable to forgive her big brother for weeks.

So yes, it made sense that Berka found it hard to believe the so-called tale that he had just told her, especially considering its unlikeliness, but Tony was telling the truth this time. This was not a practical joke. She had to believe him. She had to.

"That's because I am genuinely distressed," he said with conviction, gesturing his hands in frustration. "I am not that great of an actor, OK? You need to come with me to my bedroom right now."

They sat in the living room lounge, cartoons playing on the television. Tony had come rushing down from upstairs in a panic and found her sitting there with ghost pops in her hands, eyes focused on the television screen, expression bemused. He never did get her obsessive interest in cartoons.

"So," Berka began, putting her hand in the bag of chips and producing a handful of fluffy red balls. "You expect me to believe that your computer came to life, spoke to you in malevolent terms, and deleted the project that you've been working on for two weeks, without any instigation on your part? You just sat there and watched it all happen?"

"Yes," Tony nodded frantically. "It was the most bizarre thing I'd ever seen." Tony began to pace. "That project is due tomorrow!"

Karla popped her pops into her mouth, one after another. "Tony. I don't believe you."

"You have to believe me," he pushed, and then stopped pacing. The television screen caught his eye. Looney tunes was on. Tweety was on the screen. The bird had somehow stopped running from her assailant. She was facing the screen from inside the television. She was looking right through the screen. Looking past the back of Karla's head. Looking right at him. Tweety's cute little face changed. An abnormally wide, sneering smile stretched wider than her little bird face. Her cute, blue eyes morphed into glowing red devil eyes and her bright yellow feathers peeled from the skin underneath, which in turn shed to reveal bare bone. Tweety's horrid, bony and overstretched face zoomed into the screen, smile flashing, eyes glowering at him. "Tony likes games. Tony's going to die. Tony likes games. Tony's going to die." Tweety's voice was no longer Tweety's. It was guttural and deep and monstrous. It reminded him of those evil demon movies he used to watch. "Tony likes games. Tony's going to die."

Wide eyed and aghast, hardly believing what was in front of him, Tony staggered backwards and tripped on an untied shoelace.

"Tony?" Berka was next to him in a flash, chips in hand and a confused expression on her face. He quickly stood up and with his hands, frantically forced her to face the television. "Look! The bird!"

They both stared at the television screen.

Tweety was back to normal, nothing more than a cartoon, chased by a mean-looking black and white cat, playing out her role as she was designed to. Not looking at him. Not talking to him.

Tony could hardly believe what was happening. Was he losing his mind?

“She was looking at me,” he told her anxiously. “She was saying the same thing that my computer typed out. She turned into this scary bird monster - she was looking and speaking to me.”

Berka just stared at him. “Tweety?”

Tony grabbed Berka by the shoulders and shook her. “Don’t stare at me like that. It’s the truth!”

She squirmed out of his grasp. “Ok. This is definitely one of your stupid pranks,” she walked to the couch and threw herself on it. “ Tweety transforms just as I stop watching the screen and not a moment sooner or later? Do you really think I’m that stupid so as to fall for that dumb joke?”

“Berka. Please. You have to believe me.” Here he was, begging his sister give him the benefit of the doubt, a thing he never, ever thought he would do.

“I’m just supposed to believe that you’re being haunted by some techno-ghost?”

“I don’t really know what’s happening. I swear. I’m not making this up…”

But Berka was turning up the volume. “I’m done listening to this. Go away and find someone else to bore with your outdated jokes.”

Tony stared at his sister, completely at a loss of words. He decided to leave her alone. Once the girl decided to switch off, no one could succeed in changing her mind.

She was right. Maybe she was not the right person to talk to about this. She was smart enough, but she was just a kid of fourteen. He had to speak to someone a little bit matured. Someone who would be able to rationalize his experiences.

Berka’s stupid fluff balls had made him realize that he was hungry. Without a word, he strode to the kitchen and headed for the fridge. It was a metallic grey fridge with double doors and a water dispenser. He quickly grabbed a glass and positioned it under the tap in front of the motion sensor to release the water. Meanwhile his mind was running through all possible explanations for the horrid image of that he had just witnessed.

When the glass was halfway full, the steady trickle of the running water suddenly turned into a forceful gush, overfilling the glass and causing Tony to jump backwards in surprise. The glass slipped out of his grip and went crashing onto the tiled floor. Shards of glass ricocheted across the floor, blobs and rivulets of clear liquid spreading amidst the debris.

The water continued to flow uncontrollably, pooling across the floor. It gushed until the dispenser was empty.

Tony stood there wide eyed and mouth hanging.

“Cut it out, Tony!” Berka’s voice sounded from the other room. “This is not working.” The volume of the television increased.

Tony did not bother responding to his annoying, little sister. He did not bother cleaning up the mess on the floor, either. He wanted to leave, to get out of the house. He would go to Ralph’s house the street next to his. It was only a few minutes’ walk.

He rushed towards the kitchen door and stepped outside. The sky was overcast, the wind whistling as it blew colorful autumn leaves about.  He ran towards the gate, snatched the remote controller from his front denim pocket, and pressed the button to open the electric gate.

As it jerked open, Tony recalled the refrigerator incident. He realized that he was breathing hard. His heart palpitated uncomfortably in his chest. Whoever was doing this to him knew what they were doing. This had to be somebody’s doing.

The gate jerked to a sudden stop. Tony pressed the remote button again.

The gate started to close, then stopped. He pressed it one more time. Nothing happened.

Tony began to press the button repeatedly with a frantic finger, but the gate would not move. It had opened just enough that there was enough space for him to squeeze through.

Stuffing the remote back into his pocket, Tony walked forward and squeezed his body into the opening. He was standing sideways within the small space, halfway though, when the gate suddenly moved again, closing shut.

With a moan of surprise, he quickly threw himself to the other side and recoiled, staggering onto the tarmac road with an audible thud.

The deafening sound of an impatient hooter echoed in his ears, and he shuffled backwards onto the sidewalk. An old woman glared at him as she drove her Subaru past.

This is really freaking me out.

Feeling increasingly desperate to speak to someone who would listen to him, Tony jumped onto his feet and began trotting along the sidewalk to his friend’s house.

Ralph’s dark, intense eyes were focused intently at one spot ahead of him as he contemplated what Tony had just told him.

“Well, what are you thinking?” Tony asked impatiently, precariously regarding his surroundings. Ralph’s room. Bed. Computer. Mini library. Bedside lamps. A ceiling fan. Two blue beanbags. Self-built ledges on all walls supporting strange and antiques which Tony had never been interested enough to allow Ralph to get into any history lessons about.

“I don’t know, man.” He finally admitted. “I mean, you seem to really believe what you’re saying.”

“You sound like Berka,” Tony exclaimed. “What’s next? You’ll be telling me that I’m just trying to scare you and to find someone else to tell my stupid jokes to?”

“No,” Ralph said quickly. “I don’t think you’re kidding. But. If what you’re telling me is true-”

“It is true-”

“Then you are probably dealing with something that nobody can control.” Ralph watched him carefully, black, curly hair standing wildly on his head.

“What do you mean?” Tony asked.

Ralph stood abruptly from his swirling chair. “I have a theory,” he said, headed for the doorway into the passage. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“To the kitchen. To grab some snacks,” Ralph answered, already in the passageway.

Whatever his strange, nerdy, four-eyed friend had planned out, Tony felt relieved that he was at least humouring him. He knew Ralph would listen, no matter how crazy his story sounded.

Just as he was about to follow Ralph out, not eager to be alone, Tony’s peripheral vision caught movement on Ralph’s computer screen. It was off, but red text, big and bold, began to appear against the backdrop of black. “There is no escape. I see you and I am everywhere. You are my chosen victim in this town before I revisit again to claim my next. By end of day, I will get you. What I told you earlier will come to pass. I will get you all, one town after another, one human after another. Until no one is left.”

As Tony read the text in sheer horror, a shrill, piercing sound filled the room. It sounded like an alarm, except it was loud. Louder than anything Tony had ever head. So loud he felt as though his eardrums would shatter.

Tony slapped both hands against his ears and ran out of Ralph’s room.

But as soon as he turned a corner, Ralph was right there. He had not gone anywhere.

He had stepped out of the room to see what would happen when he left Tony alone. That was his plan.

The shrill sound of whatever was ringing in Ralph’s room came to an abrupt stop, and all was silent again. Tony’s ears throbbed and he felt as though there were little pins and needles stabbing at the insides of his temples. He felt beads of sweat begin to trail down his forehead. His hands were clammy as he curled them into fists, ready to punch something.

He had been distraught before, but now he was afraid. He was entering a state of defence, he was ready to fight. “Ralph, what’s going on? What was that? Are you behind this? Are you playing some kind of game with me?”

Tony was ready to plant one right into Ralph’s face. Were it not for the stunned expression on his face, he probably would have.

“Of course not,” Ralph said, eyes wide behind his thick-rimmed spectacles. “Holy shit, Tony. You’ve been marked.”

“What?” Tony grabbed his friend by his well-ironed T-shirt. Under normal circumstances, Ralph would have angrily protested. This time, he gently grabbed Tony’s wrists and pulled his hands away from him.

Tony tried to compose himself. He steadied his breath and wiped away the sweat from his forehead. He did not want to seem like a scaredy cat in front of his friend. He was supposed to be a bad-ass prankster. Not the victim of some sick, stalker-type game. “What was that sound, Ralph? Did you set it off?”

“Follow me,” Ralph said, walking back into his bedroom. Against his will, Tony followed. Upon his friend’s gesture, he motioned towards the beanbag at the corner of the room and sat. The computer screen was clear of the disturbing text that was glaring at him just a few minutes past.

“That was my in-built alarm system,” Ralph said as he settled down onto his swirling chair. “It goes off when someone tries to break into my computer. It never just goes off like that. And never that loud. I would say it was some kind of system glitch, but…” he shook his head, removed his specs, and rubbed his eyes. “I was right here. There was no reason for that to happen.”

“Did you see the text?”

A frown. “What text?”

Tony’s stomach dropped. He did not answer.

“There has been word going around about a mysterious figure who can control technological devices with his mind,” Ralph began. Of course, Ralph would be a part of such conspiracy theories, what with all those weird nerdy online groups he liked to be a part of. “Word is that he claims one victim every day. Circulating randomly through different towns across the world so that he’s never located.  He’s elusive and faceless and never claims more than one victim at a time, and never the same town in succession.”

“Are you sure you didn’t read the red text on your computer?” Tony interrupted.

“Will you listen to me? This has always been something the likes of folklore to me until now. The fact that I believe you should say enough of the fact that I have nothing to do with this. You know me enough to tell that I’m not playing with you.”

Tony remained silent. Ralph was right. They’d been friends since they were toddlers and not once had he played games to scare him.

“When you’re marked, a succession of events will happen which will eventually see you to your-”

Ralph abruptly stopped talking.

“To my what, Ralph?” Tony pushed.

“You need to lock yourself away, Tony. In a place where there are no lights. No gadgets. No devices,” he paused, looking at a bulge in Tony’s pocket. “You need to forfeit your phone, too.”

“This is madness,” Tony said, suddenly standing up. “I’m not listening to another word of this.”

“Tony, wait!”

But Tony was not listening. He rushed out of Ralph’s room, raced along the passage and down the stairs. He felt as though he was going insane.

As he hurried out of the house and into the sidewalk, Tony took his phone out and dialled his mother’s number.

“Mom, where are you?”

“Tony,” her mother said on the other end of the line. “I’m on my way back home. I’ll be home within a few minutes. Baby, you sound distraught.”

Tony did not remember the last time he felt so much need to be with his mother than he did then. He longed for her loving embrace and her assurance. He knew that she would make everything OK.

“I’m heading home, too,” he turned a corner into his own street, slowing his pace, his breathing, when he felt a comfortable distance from Ralph, who he was now sure was as crazy as he was.

Mommy will make sense of it all, he told himself.

He began to cross the street, ambling about, staring at his untied shoelaces as he went, listening to the soothing sound of his mother’s voice.

“I just hope that you and your sister did not get up to your old, silly tricks again, frightening one another with pranks – OH, MY GOD –”

Tony heard a sudden, deafening screech. He whirled towards the sound, and froze.

“TONY, RUN!”

But it was too late. The impact was so sudden that he did not even feel it. He heard a sickening crack as he rolled down the front of the car and landed hard on the asphalt. His phone landed right beside him. His mother’s scream reverberated from both the phone and the inside of the car that had just hit him.

Tony felt a strange sense of calm as his mother stepped over him, took his head onto her lap. Her lavender scent entered his nose, and he let his eyes close.

“THE BREAKS WOULDN’T WORK!” Her mother yelped at someone. “CALL THE AMBULANCE!”

Maybe Ralph was right all along. If that was the case, Tony’s techno-foes, who for some reason decided he would be their next victim, would easily finish their job at the hospital. They would do it as soon as everyone left him alone to rest.

Berka is going to regret that she didn’t believe me, he mused with resignation, slipping into oblivion. She’s going to regret it for the rest of her life.

July 12, 2021 19:30

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