Contains: Unaware dominant female, low sci-fi, contemporary.
Just an idea that I was really into, so I hope someone else likes it too XD I may do more.
‘Match-Up!’ sounded like some sort of dating site. Liam hovered the cursor over the link – he felt queasy every time a new page opened on his browser, as anything could be on the other side – then again, Unwor was considered the safest dark web browser out there.
He had found an interest in exploring the deeper, darker crevices of the internet, an unorthodox hobby encouraged by a friend he’d had in school. After all this time, he hadn’t quite built up the courage for this kind of thing, but curiosity always won over dread. Liam clicked the link, and the page went blank. Loading times on this browser were always sluggish, and that only made the anticipation worse. He slowly recoiled from the laptop, leaning back into his pillow. Any moment now.
The first thing he saw was a notification. It slid down from the top of the screen reading –
Welcome to our online community! We’re glad you found us! Just make up a name, introduce yourself in the main chat, and enjoy the 24-hour live feed! There’s all sorts of surprises in store when you Match-Up!
Liam had read enough spooky dark web stories; a cheerful and welcoming message like that was no guarantee things would go smoothly. If anything, he was now more unnerved. A few seconds later, the rest of the page loaded in, a video feed that took up most of the screen, and a selection of about twenty cameras views below. To the right, a dead silent chat space filled with strange messages from hours ago, and an option for him to comment. Liam recalled stories of dark websites identical to this, live broadcasts of gruesome event, and he shuddered. He hadn’t stumbled into one of those surely.
Thoughts about leaving and giving up web exploration for the night seemed very appealing right now, but Liam took a closer look at the video feed, and noticed it showed someone’s living room. There was nothing unusual, no torture or blood, not a soul to seen as he flicked through the cameras and saw no one, just different shots throughout a quiet house. Turning back to the chat, he made a quick id for himself, ‘Liam01’, and immediately regretted using his real name. Hesitant and uneasy at the thought of who he might be typing to, Liam threw a casual greeting together and posted it. A second notification leaped down –
Welcome Liam01! Thanks for joining! You’ll be making friends in no time!
These exclamation marks were getting irritating.
Your match has been processed! It is:
Enjoy the game!
What the hell did that mean? And where was the game in all this? Confused, he studied the rest of the page for information about who had created the “game”. No contact details, nothing. For all he knew, this thing was abandoned. A crude and outdated logo, clearly made in haste, hung in the top-left next to bold text that read “In association with Epic.unwor!”. The first sound the site made was a shrill beep, and it made Liam jump – a private chat had opened with a user named ‘Vergo’.
Vergo: You’re new?
The harsh beep still rang in Liam’s head, there was no way this was just some harmless game. Everything felt off here, but he assembled a response, brief and to the point.
He wanted to follow up with questions about the site, but he thought better of it. Vergo typed back within the minute.
Vergo: I’m not gonna call you a dumbass cos you had no idea. Now you’re here, you gotta know, things are gonna change for you – im sorry
That was not the introduction Liam wanted. He sat in silence staring at the screen, his heart thumping with violent force. The sickening pressure made him want to puke. Why wasn’t he closing the browser? Some morbid urge kept his eyes fixed on the screen, something deep within him that wanted to see how dark the dark web really got.
Liam01: what is happening?? this is kinda freaky :/
Vergo: Right. One thing you have to know is you can’t leave, you’re in the game now and that’s it – what match did ya get bud?
Liam01: uuuh you mean nighttime snacking?
Vergo: Not a bad one, ive heard worse haha
Vergo was clearly trying to lighten the mood. It wasn’t working.
Vergo: There’s this girl called Celia, she lives in the house where all the cameras are. We basically get to see her whole home life in full hd
Liam01: that’s sick does she know?
Vergo: Nope. She’s never noticed a single cam
Liam01: Ok dude I don’t think this is for me
That message drove a chill through Liam’s body. Apparently, he couldn’t leave, but staying wasn’t an attractive option right now either. Making his mind half-up, he edged the cursor up to close the window as Vergo continued.
Vergo: They must have someone watching her all the fuckin time, like even as she sleeps, or maybe it’s just really clever ai. Cos every time she does anything, some user’s match triggers
Liam01: Wtf does that mean?
Vergo: Well yours is midnight snacks right, so every time she eats something in the house in the middle of the night, your match activates
Liam wasn’t sure what to type next, perhaps this was some weird online experiment, or a kind of ARG. Still uncertain, Liam opened a new tab and searched for anything about ‘Match-Up’; just a bunch of useless dictionary definitions and unrelated nonsense. The site chimed again, catching Liam off guard with its unsettling ring.
Vergo: Does that make sense?
Liam01: what happens when my match ‘activates’?”
Vergo: Well, you would feel something
Vergo: I’m not trying to be cryptic bud, im explaining it best I can. Everyone feels something different, sometimes it’s a nice feeling, other times not. I dunno how the site does it, or why. if Celia does what your match describes, it’ll feel weird for you, I mean physically and mentally and every other way you can feel
Now Liam knew it was bullshit. There was no technology on Earth that could do something like that, and the whole thing seemed rather pointless anyway.
Liam01: thats gross
Vergo: Welcome to the internet. I don’t kno what the point is, it just happens. Just some fucked up game
Liam’s gaze darted back to the video feed. The sound of a rattle and click had grabbed his attention, and his cursor swooped to click on a camera set up in the hallway. Even though a part of him knew this was seriously wrong, he couldn’t help but want to see more. The front door swept open and a notification appeared –
A rain-soaked twenty-something tripped into the house and wheezed, shutting the door and carving long strands of wet, wavy brown hair aside. Revealing her face to untold numbers of voyeurs in her own home, Celia unzipped and threw her boots to one side, carrying bags through the hall and out of sight. Liam noticed another few cameras picked her up entering the kitchen, and he felt ill selecting one as she dropped groceries onto a counter and began to slip off her coat. She really didn’t know. That fascinated Liam as much as it terrified him, and he caught himself giving his own dim room a scan for any suspicious red lights. Vergo was quiet, probably in as much of a trance as Liam was.
Liam01: be real with me, dude. is this legit?
Vergo: fraid so
Liam01: how many people are on this? like have any matches activated yet or what?
Vergo: From what I can tell, there’s something like 200 users. And a match can be anything, her opening the door could’ve been one. Her taking off her boots, being wet, going into the kitchen, wearing that specific jacket, anything
Liam could only reply with an unsure “right” as he flicked through every other camera. It seemed to be a small house, but some shots covered different angles of the same room; he counted three in the kitchen as Celia packed the last items away and stood back from the fridge stretching. As far as he could tell, there was no corner in the place that did not have a camera fixated on it.
Giving a cursory look back at the main chat, Liam discovered it had blown up with messages. Ever since Celia’s return, dozens of users had come to life with haunting messages of fear and panic. Mentions of matches activating all over the place, some typing desperate pleas for Celia to stop, and for the site to shutdown. Liam shuddered at some of the comments he saw. Rifling through the shots, he noticed it looked to be the late evening on her side of the screen.
Liam01: where is she?
Vergo: Not sure exactly, that’s one of the things were trying to figure out. I’m thinking somewhere in Europe, England or France, or Ireland or something, but others disagree. It doesn’t help her voice is distorted, we could pinpoint an accent
Liam01: well I live in Europe, and its pretty bright dark here. Maybe she’s not too far from me
Vergo: Hm thanks for the info
Liam was finding himself getting sucked in. All of a sudden he was intrigued by this girl, and wanted to know more about what this site was and why it centred around her.
Celia slid her feet across the floor and out of the open plan kitchen, shuffling to the nearest chair in the living room. She collapsed, sitting sideways across the recliner with her legs hanging over the edge. She had whipped out a phone a while earlier, and now sat relaxed, tapping away as mass chaos ensued on Match-Up;
LeonT: stop make her fucking stop it!!
Demonster8: sorry dude, hang in there
LeonT: fucking easy for you to say asshole! you matched with smashing stuff bitch never smashes anything
Liam01: what’s happening?
Demonster8: Hey you new? yeah leon’s match is just acting up :( kinda shit
LeonT: yeah SHIT!! swinging fucking legs
Liam01: Oh sorry
Celia’s legs dangled back and forth over the edge of the armrest, pendulums that now hypnotised Liam as his gaze followed them rise and fall. To think, these simple, drifting, unconscious movements were causing unknown pain for some guy hundreds of miles away, even perhaps on the other side of the planet. Yet, thanks to the instantaneous nature of the internet, every casual arc of her legs translated into sudden agony on the other end. LeonT protested only a few seconds longer before falling silent. Celia’s feet were swinging faster now, her face didn’t seem to register it, as though she had no idea she was even doing it.
Liam01: @LeonT hello?
Liam01: uhh is he okay
Demonster8: yeah don’t worry, he’ll be alright. I think it makes his legs ache or something, like pins and needles I think
Liam01: but HOW?
Demonster8: beats me
Beatsgk: No one knows, I dunno if we’ll ever figure out. All you can do is hope your match isn’t painful, mine is okay, I just feel this tingling
Demonster8: scruff has it bad tho, his match is her using the phone right?
Beatsgk: Close, typing. I think he’s at work. Fuck, he got a nasty one :’( like a electric shock every time she types a character or something
Liam had to rest back from the laptop. He bent the screen down so the light didn’t blare into his face and he stared up at the ceiling, letting the subtle sounds of the real world take over for a moment. His heart was clenching in his chest. Just the thought of that man suddenly surging with shock at his workplace, it was too strange to believe. Even when away from the computer, a match could still be felt? The idea was nothing short of fantasy. Liam fell into deeper thoughts about the implications of such a fantasy, and at first didn’t notice the wave of new comments arriving in the main chat. Celia had put the phone down, leaving it to rest on her chest, and her eyelids grew heavy.
Vergo: Oh crap, @Morf96 hey it’s coming
Beatsgk: Yea yea we have to do something, quick
Morf96: No FUCK, please someone I’m begging you buy a fucking sign
Vergo: Relax, it’ll be okay, anyone have bitcoin? We need like 5 to get the thermostat
Demonster8: she won’t notice the fucking thermo, we need to get the tv
Morf96: i can fucking feel it !! its here shit
Liam01: guys what?
The private chat with Vergo pinged again, and Liam returned to it seeking answers. Vergo began by warning that some matches were more deadly than others and Morf96, while a relatively new user, was cut no slack. Celia had a lazy tendency to fall asleep wherever she liked in the evening, hardly bothering to drag herself to bed, and whenever this happened a deadly match was triggered. Apparently, Morf96 was already prone to panic attacks, but would dive into full on convulsions of torture when Celia slept where she sat. On these occasions, many users would try and pitch in to lessen the pain, and this very often include buying a “sign”. These could be anything, from making a light flicker a few times to causing Celia’s phone to vibrate, and they were available from a shop menu elsewhere on the site. Signs were, of course, obscene in price and were only purchased through bitcoin.
Celia dozed off, and Morf96’s panicked messages devolved into jumbled text. Users scrambled to find the right sign to buy, and agreed on the phone vibration to wake her up. The idea was that she’d be startled, get up, and go to bed. Liam watched in fascination as a user confirmed the purchase, parting with 7.33 bitcoin, Morf96 all the while managing to muster up a coherent sentence here and there, begging for help and stuttering about the stinging. What kind of heartless maniac could do this to people, Liam wondered. Even then, how? The dark web was taking on a new and truly sinister character.
Demonster8: ok dude do it
Vergo: Yeah, activate the sign now
Iconik: hang on ye I kno im on it
Liam held his breath in anticipation of some incredible spectacle. There had been enough build up to it at least. Seconds passed of silence, and the main chat slowed down as others seemed to wait in terrified awe as well. Celia sat motionless across the chair, her figure half-hidden in the dark, but Liam noticed the phone nudge a bit, shaking for less than a second before going dead again on her chest. She didn’t budge.
Iconik: WAIT I have 3 more tries
Vergo: Make em count dude
Iconik: well I can’t control much
Morf96: hgghjjjjesussstop itt
Liam01: oh god, the pain just keeps going as long as she’s asleep?
Vergo: afraid so
Liam01: that could be fuckin hours
Iconik: it wont be, trust me
Liam glimpsed the phone move again. It vibrated across Celia’s shirt, flattening and moulding creases in the fabric. In no time, it was still again, and she did not move.
Iconik: fuck dude
Vergo: What’s your strategy here?
Iconik: fuckin what? lol I told you I have no control. Im just makin it shake
Vergo: Wait for her to move so it can fall into her hand, make it vibrate in her hand
Morf96: gfgjbhhghhgvvvvv vvggv
Beatsgk: there’s no time to wait! and her hand is lying too far away
Iconik: no I can do it
Liam watched the phone shake again, skidding down the edge of Celia’s chest and landing in her hand. She nudged herself about a little in response, the cupped hand jerking to let the phone gradually slip through her fingers one by one. It was on its way to the floor.
Demonster8: make it vibrate quickly!!
Vergo: No! It’ll just fall down faster!
Demonster8: at least she might notice
Iconik: im gonna go for it
In that chilling instant, Liam braced. The phone shuddered one final time. It slid over the edge, clattering to the floor, and the noise struck a nerve in Liam. He couldn’t take it, this was a desperate way to survive. Then all was dead silent again, both the phone and Celia did not move. She remained fast asleep, peaceful, even in bliss as a slight, dreamy smile cracked across her face.
Morf96 screamed into the chat with all manner of digits and symbols, messages lost in the trembling fingers that typed out line after line of unintelligible blabbering.
Vergo: Try again! We have to try again!
Liam01: who has more bc?
Demonster8: the tv, try to turn the tv on
Morf96: hhhejejellllpp poil
Iconik: thats it! i have no more money
@Morf96, the system has detected you are sending spam messages into chat. Please stop or you will be blocked from sending messages.
@Morf96, your activity is against chat guidelines. Please stop or you will not be allowed to send anymore messages.
Morf96: jdugkciixix4847jcj vi ggxgg68hhel
Morf96 has been blocked from chat.
Minutes of quiet passed, then hours of arguing, and no agreement could be reached on what to do next. Alternative signs could be extremely expensive, and no one was either willing or able to cough up the payment. Iconik was silent for the rest of the night, but others were quick to assure him he was not to blame for what had happened. Liam watched in discomfort as the night gradually gave way to morning, and Celia woke up when she felt like it; he knew it couldn’t have ended well for Morf96, though Vergo insisted they couldn’t know that. Still, Liam felt sick. Not knowing was far worse than a horrible truth, and right now nothing seemed clear.
The night had felt like an adventure, and a horror story, and the mash of melancholy feelings stirring up inside him made Liam wonder - was it worth it to keep watching? He hesitantly tried deleting his account, but no such option was available. Celia’s feet hit the ground and she stretched, letting out a lion’s yawn. Picking up the phone and reeling through new messages, she hobbled to the kitchen, and the main chat erupted once again into terror.
Liam had a feeling, deep down, he was in it for the long haul. No one could escape.