Something's wrong with the target behind the monitor camera

Submitted into Contest #24 in response to: Write a thrilling adventure of a special agent who is harboring a paranormal secret.... view prompt

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Thriller

You know the rumor about secret agents spying on your phones and laptops? If you somehow avoided the thousands of memes regarding FBI agents questioning your online search history, now I will inform you that it’s all true. 


We do exist, but please don’t panic or proceed to call the police. It’s not as if calling authorities will do you any good. Contacting the media is also a fruitless endeavor, it will be shut down as soon as my boss found out about it. Even if it somehow managed to make into the headlines, people will think it is one of those outlandish conspiracy theories that was too mad to have any real credit. 


Don’t freak out. Before you smash all of your electronic devices and decide to cover every lens with chewing gum for the rest of your life, I want to reassure you we are in no way more dangerous or extraordinary than you folks who are currently reading this insane thread. I struggle to pay rent with this government funded job, I have a girlfriend who is constantly - rightly so - complaining about the secrecy of my “confidential gig” and the office I work in constantly smell like an armpit in need of deodorant. 


Our work place looks like your typical accountant office. Fifty people crammed in a room with perfectly divided square boxes, separated by tables and glass that don’t serve any actual purpose of protecting one’s privacy. Those with family will take lunch boxes with cooked food inside that will emit a scent that resembles a slug slowly dying in the boiling summer heat. In contrast I’d rather prefer the Subway cabbages and gross chips that’s been stepped on sticking on the ground. 


What we do is sit in front of computers with ten tabs opened at the same time, each tab containing an uncomfortably tilted zoomed in angle of someone’s room. All the while trying to find a more comfortable way to stretch our bodies like rubber into different positions so none of our limbs go too sore that will render them completely numb by the end of an 8 hours shift. 


Let me tell you this, people really cannot put down their phone anywhere they go. I sometimes have to monitor the people on my tabs in the weirdest of places - public washrooms, facing backwards on the edge of a cliff, in a bush. I hate to sound like your boomer grandma, but modern technology has poisoned people’s - mostly mine, especially mine - lives. When I first started this job, I still had the decency to blush and turn my head away embarrassed by accidentally seeing someone in the shower or picking up their phone mid-shagging. 


However, as time went on, these glimpses into the most sacred and sensitive parts of people’s lives simply became a daily chore. I could be yawning while you scream at your husband in the background or picking my nails while your mother walked into you watching porn. 


I am sorry to invade your privacy. Now before you lose your shit, I’d like to inform you that your life is not that special at all. If I was the unfortunate wanker who was assigned purely by coincidence to monitor your sorry life, chance was that I have seen it all before through someone else's screen. People would be astounded by the rarity of authentic experience. Truth was that your worst heartbreak and your best resolution was all a pattern that would get recycled again thousands of times per minute by millions of other people across the country. They all merge together after a while. Your individual faces would all fade into one, alongside my guilt, being dumped into the garbage bin of my thought process by 5 p.m. when I leave my job. 


It is the perfect job if you want to experience nihilism in all its full force, or to lose your will to live. Some might find pleasure in using the occasionally glimpse at a poor female’s breasts to be this job’s saving grace, but personally I couldn’t see a simple redeeming feature to this job as a whole.


Then why? You are probably asking, why don’t just quit the job and find a better one?


It’s all rather convoluted and entangles, you see. Above all else, personal. That’s to say one of the tabs on my computer belonged to a teenage girl who goes by the name of Amy Anderson. The parents of that poor girl were hit in the head when they were younger to give her that stupid name they thought would rhyme. She’s currently living with her surviving relatives on her mother’s side. From what I observe on camera, she never mentions her parents much. 


She took up my day in and day out. I am obsessed with that little tab producing the images of her daily life. The phone was not affordable for someone like her, but it was the only thing she kept of her father, so it’s a blast that she’s still using it. Gives me a window into my obsession, so I can not really complain. 


Amy was not the only thing that kept me going. Sometimes there might be surprises in those other cameras as well. Just when you think you have seen everything the middle class citizens have to offer, there will always be something that opens your eyes up.


An old lady in a carer’s home practicing Kung Fu and chopping three pieces of wooden bricks in half. A boy who finally telling his older brother that he’s a boy despite having been born with the wrong body, his brother hugging him without any second words. A girl talking to things that don't exist, then the next day she would cry in front of the camera while realizing she had another psychosis. 


These flickers of humanity, in all its wonder and warmth and sorrows, which made me forgets albeit momentarily about how horrible this job is. I can’t say it’s satisfying, or even bearable, but I know if I didn’t do it, the person replacing me might disregard these moments.


At least I would remember. Even if the people on the other side of the camera would forget about the good stages of their lives and how remarkable they were. I will remember. 


However, all that was before her being allocated onto my list of monitored targets. 


For reasons I hope you can understand, I cannot disclose her name and physical description to you, but believe me when I say she was the freakiest person you might meet - and that comes from me, a secret agent whose profession is peeking into people’s personal lives through their phones. 


At the beginning, everything appeared to be boringly normal. She is a university student who liked to spend most of her time in her room. She didn’t appear to have any friends at all, the only time she talked to people was when she went to lectures and seminars. She spoke softly in a barely audible tone, trying to fold herself in as if she didn’t think people should notice her existence. 


We all knew one or two people like that in our lives, they are natural loners. In high school kids like this would be teased and picked on. But as kids grow up into adults, they’d also start to understand that some people are just like that, there’s nothing wrong and it’s not their place to judge. Or they might still judge, but it would be none of their business. 


I was a bit like that when I was younger, so I had no qualms with how she was living in her private space. However, odd things soon begin to happen. 


“You sure someone is watching us?” 


Her phone was placed up on the washroom table facing up. Her face was outside of the screen of the camera, all I could see was her neck being cut short. However, the phone camera captured her reflection in the mirror on the bathroom wall. It was her face, no doubt about that, but something about the reflection seemed foreign and wrong. 


The reflection of her parted its lips and muttered something, yet I didn’t hear anything from the microphone that resembles a person speaking. 


Then, she laughed. I heard loud and clear, the string of laughter like chimes in a cold dripping cave. Yet the reflection in the mirror remained expressionless, with its lips folding together like a pair of scissors unparted.  


“Interesting,” I heard she continued, sounding amused and delighted like a child getting candy on Halloween. “I always thought that was just a conspiracy theory, you know? Like Area 51.”


The blurry image of her reflection on my screen became even more ambiguous. If I wasn’t going crazy, then I would swear that the reflection furrowed its brows and shook its head disapprovingly. While the young woman’s laughter continued to rang through the microphone. 


I couldn’t control the chill that ran down my spine. 


The camera moved abruptly and swung out of focus into static motions. It is what happens when the camera was picked up. I suppressed the urge to puke my guts out and stared straight at my computer screen. 


Now she looked directly at her phone camera, a polite smile plastered on her face as if she was looking directly at a stranger that just introduced himself. 


“Hello, sir,” she said with the eerie smile on her face, as if there weren't thousands of electric signals blocking our paths. “I don’t think I have any way to persuade you to stop doing your job. But just keep this a secret between us, okay?”


I snatched back my hand from the mouse as it was a snake that just beaten my finger. Huffing with shortness of breath, I stumbled back and pushed my chair a feet away from my computer. The earphones that magnified the voice of her hushing tone fell off like a curse. 


Startled by my sudden movement, my colleagues turned their eyes worriedly to look at me. Someone sighed, as if recognizing that another person was finally driven crazy by this goddamned job. They soon turned back to their own screens and their own targets, without batting an eye. 


I set on the ground, cold sweat coated my back like the only armour I had. The one-sided conversation that I just experienced was like a distant nightmare as well as the only reality. It took me a few minutes to get up from the ground and return to my post, but a few more days to regain my sense of self. 


Fear or not, I obeyed her words and kept it a secret. Half because I knew my boss will think I have lost my mind, half because I didn’t know what she was capable of. I prayed that night for the first time while looking at Amy’s silhouette. Hoping when someone reviewed the footage, someone who was higher ranked than me, would notice the unexplainable and deal with it themselves.


Despite my shell shock experience, nothing magnificent or accelerating happened following that confrontation. The odd target never made any attempt to communicate with me afterwards. I continued to watch her life repeating the same pattern - dorm, lectures, seminars and the occasional cafe tours. 


Everything was normal with her, well...everything was normal compared to that first encounter. 


I could almost rationalized the interaction as my stress or her having schizophrenia like one of my previous targets. If there wasn’t more breadcrumbs of oddness going on with her. 


There were increasing number of drawings on her walls that consists occult-y looking magic circles patterns pinned upon every inch of white paint. She would observe those magic circles for hours while muttering to herself - or not to herself, per say. Like the first time she spoke directly at me, sometimes she would stand in front of the mirror and talk about “us” as if the reflection was another entity altogether. Other times, especially during a specific time period, her manner would change drastically as if a change in persona for people with dissociative personality disorder. 


The most creepy thing, though, was her stopping randomly outside to talk to others. It sounded as if she was talking to friends and people she knew when her phone resides in her pocket and all I could see was a flush of red and black shadows. However, when she took her phone out of her pocket and show me the surroundings of where she was at - she was at the cemetery. 


 She would smile at the camera - at me. Then I’d realized she was deliberately doing these things, as if it was all a game or a threat. It put ice in my stomach, but I couldn’t do anything about it.


She never uttered a word to me again.  


Until one day, I was half drifting in the realm of dream at the end of the work day. It was rainy, as if God was intending to be morbid. My eyelids were trembling while staring into Amy’s phone screen, the girl was sitting quietly in her room. From what I can tell, she was mourning for her mother’s death. 


That was when the voice that haunted by nightmares came up again in my earphones. 


“Mr Anderson,” she said as if this wasn’t a jump scare at all. “Can you hear me?”


What? My back was immediately straightened after those words touched my nerves. The fear that was bubbling throughout my last few months exploded like an atomic bomb in my chest. With my shaking fingers, I opened up the tab with her monitor screen behind Amy’s. 


She was there, in Amy’s room, with that smile spreading across her face like a slash wound. 


I screamed. Ignoring the terrified glances of my co-workers. She has gotten to my daughter. How could this happen? What is she going to do?


“Stop!” I yelled out, desperately, my voice sounded like a caged beast. “Please!”


“Dad? Is that you?”


Amy’s voice came through my earphones, from my daughter’s own tab and hers at the same time. 


“That’s my dad’s voice! Is he calling me somehow? (...), what’s happening?”


Amy didn’t sound terrified of the intruder in her room at all, she merely sounded confused, as if caught in a poorly prepared prank. 


“I don’t know how to explain this, Miss Anderson.” She said, her voice sounded apologetic yet unsure, as if this question was weirder than everything happened around herself. “I’m sorry to scare you, and your dad as well. Now give me your hand, I’ll do what I promised you.”


Amy’s face was too small on the screen to determine what her expression was, but I could smell the suspicion that was crawling through the screen. My daughter followed the weird instruction and gave her hand to the other girl.


The odd target began to chant a series of words that sounded inhuman. She clutched a piece of paper between her and Amy’s hand, it was one of the weird occult-y circle drawing on her dorm walls. 


My mouth hangs open, as the camera wavered and the lighting dimmed. I could hear the sound of wind blowing by from my earphones, almost as if whatever is happening on the other side of the camera is affecting me too.


A ball of light expanded from the palms of Amy and her. The presence of an invisible figure being brought through the veil, to the mortal plane. The figure extended her shapeless hand towards Amy, cupping my daughter’s face in her light. 


“My baby…” 


It was her. The love of my life. She was taken away in a car crush, by a stupid drunken driver. I used my government post to make sure that scumbag paid, but nothing could bring her back. 


Amy knew what I did, her mother’s death already broke her. She has never forgiven me, she lives with her grandparents now, refused to see me or call me father.


I could only see her through the camera, like a distant dream. My own daughter, a screen and a million miles away. 


“Lisa,” I whispered. 


“George,” my deceased wife answered. Now her face was transparent but visible, her voice sounded a little more sternly than when she was speaking to our daughter moments ago. “We need to talk about your unhealthy habit of stalking our daughter. Why can’t your sorry ass just call her? You know, like a normal fucking person.”


I was speechless. The audio quality of the monitor was wavering a little. After a bit of awkward silence, I heard the voice of my odd target. 


“Erh,” she said, “I guess I’ll leave now? Give you guys some space.” She turned around from my wife and daughter to her phone camera, to me.


The odd target blinked at me through the monitor camera. “Good luck, sir.” She whispered with that eerie yet sweet smile on her face. 



She went out of the room, leaving my family with our bittersweet reunion. 


That was the last time I saw her. The tab which connects with her phone camera mysteriously disappeared from the government database. That was when I realized that she always had the power to do so, and the grave she showed me was where I buried Lisa. 


I don’t think it makes a difference, to be honest, but I kept that girl’s secret from that day onward. This time without the strong urge for someone to find out our secret. 


Wherever she is. I wish good things are happening to her.


January 17, 2020 13:29

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2 comments

Happy Again
13:47 Jan 18, 2020

A beautiful story that goes deep into the heart of human feelings.

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Chenchen Du
17:33 Jan 18, 2020

Thank you!!

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