I didn’t order a package. And couldn’t they just stick it in the mailbox? The tan envelope peeking from the snow on his front stoop was just enough distraction for Reid to miss his footing, face-planting onto his icy front walk with a crunch of skin-against-stone. Grunting in pain he clutched the railing and yanked himself unstably up the stairs. His nose felt warm, which was bad because it had been freezing a moment before. Gah, it’s gotta be broken, he thought, a perfect end to this dumb week. Reid scooped up the packing envelope unconsciously on his way inside.
Once through his door he promptly clicked the lock shut behind him, stomping the snow off his boots in the front hall and unwrapped himself from his coats. Shouldn’t be goin’ out in this weather, too dangerous. Shoulda closed the office, I coulda frozen to death. He turned the thermostat up to 30°, just to be safe. In his kitchen, Reid bent down awkwardly and pulled the first aid-kit out from under the sink, picking out some rubbing alcohol and gauze for his nose. Grabbing a bag of chips from the cupboard, he settled down in front of his computer.
Seated, Reid’s attention returned to the envelope. The new doorknob for the bathroom? But I just ordered tha’ this mornin’. Forgetting the chips, Reid tore the envelope open and rummaged through it. Something small and rectangular hit his hand, and he frowned. Not the doorknob? He grabbed the item and pulled it out while he settled himself back into his chair.
Reid had covered his office’s window by cardboard to keep the sun out after the lights broke. He liked browsing in the dark. But it meant he had to squint hard down at the object. Unmistakable even in the dim monitor light was a flash drive. It was black, and Reid noticed as he ran an investigative finger along it that the plastic was sharp and hard, like the drive was brand new and had never been used before. A piece of masking tape was wrapped around it. Reid held the drive next to the monitor to illuminate the words scrawled on the tape:
His name wrapped around the circumference of the drive. It’s not mine. I haven’t needed a flash drive in years. In his stomach a small knot of dread was slowly tying itself, but Reid’s curiosity was also tugging at him. Other than the tape, the drive was spotless. Not even a scratch from inserting it into a computer. Someone mail me a blank drive? he thought. A small frown curled Reid’s mouth, but he found himself too curious to resist any more. Reaching under the desk to his computer, he snapped the flash drive into the PC. On the monitor, a window had popped up automatically, asking if Reid wanted to reformat the drive or view its files. It’s not blank then. He drove the mouse cursor onto the “view files” button and clicked. Almost instantly his screen filled with red.
It took a moment for Reid’s eyes to adjust. A picture, no several pictures, had been opened and covered the screen. When he realized what they were he instinctively stood out of his chair, mouth moving, silently failing to find words.
The pictures were of him. He was laying on a tiled floor, slumped against a wall, soaking in a red puddle. All over his body were gashes sliced into him, oozing blood. The shreds of his clothing were barely staying on him, barely glued down by the blood. His face was grimacing in one photo, what looked like crying in another one, wrenched open in a scream in a third. Slices of meat were peeling off him like he was a carved turkey. And from somewhere behind the camera, a figure was casting a shadow over Reid’s mangled body.
With a crash the monitor flew backwards into the wall and turned to black. Reid’s hand was shaking slightly as it unfurled from a fist. He had not thought, just moved in self defense. But even with the monitor off, the pictures were still glowing in his vision. The ink-black room was just a screen for his eyes to project the bloody wreckage onto. Reid tried to take a step but stumbled blindly into the desk. His chest was heaving. All he could hear was his breathing. In the darkness he could no longer tell how big his office was. If there was something out of sight, in the corner…
Reid burst into the kitchen in a huff, savouring the sweet incandescent light. Light. Right, light. A quick dig through the side drawer produced a flashlight, and with its bright cone slicing up the darkness ahead of him, Reid went back to the office. Couldn’ta been me though. I wouldn’t be here if it was. Once that thought crossed his mind he tried to relax, dropping back into his chair. Fishing a hand behind the desk, Reid hauled the monitor back up to its normal spot and brushed it off. Reid’s eyes kept falling back to the flash drive. His vision was tinted red with what he had seen.
That guy did look like me though. Reid let his mind wander back to the pictures, an almost flawless memory recalling each detail. Definitely my body type… He glanced down at himself. That’s my beer gut all right, he thought, and… holy shit. A splash of blue light told Reid the computer was back up and running. Hurrying through the flash drive’s menu, he pulled the pictures up again. Forcing himself to look past the gaping cuts, he did a tally of the clothes. They were the same as the ones he was wearing: a sweaty dress shirt, khakis, even his purple socks were there. The… exact… same…?
Panic rocketed through Reid. He slammed the keyboard and the pictures vanished. In a moment he was on his feet, tearing off his clothes, buttons popping and flying across the room, a strange perverse strip-show in the pale blue of his monitor’s light. Once he was down to his underwear he ran from the room to his closet and began redressing. With each new piece of clothing he felt himself calming a little, going a bit slower. When he was kitted out in sweatpants and a hole-ridden black sweater he finally let out a sigh of relief. Like clothes are gonna fix it, ya idiot. Get back down there and don’t run away this time.
As the sun finally set outside, it began to look more and more like the shadows from the dark office were seeping out into the hallway. Reid took a deep breath. One more look. See if I can guess where they were taken. Dropping back into the wheelie chair, Reid spun back and forth listlessly as he reopened the pictures.
They had changed.
Reid’s head went fuzzy and he had to force himself to stare at the monitor. In the pictures, his clothes had changed. The tortured bloody Reid was wearing a black sweater, complete with its holes and a few extras from the blade wounds. The sweatpants were doused with blood. Reid put his face almost onto the monitor: he could just barely make out a painful angle in his nose. It was snapped in the exact same way he had just broken it.
Gripping the arm rests of his chair tightly, Reid began rocking back and forth aggressively. It just a dumb, sick joke. Nothing else, that’s all it is. He snatched the packaging envelope from his trashcan and looked at the return address. There was none. Not even a postage stamp on the envelope. Reid mulled that over for a second before he jerked upright and ran to his front door. Locked, he thought thankfully. A quick scan through the peephole only showed his icy front stoop, darkened now as night approached. With forced confidence, Reid began pacing through his house. He had realized the envelope could not have been delivered by a postman, so whoever left it was the one who had created the pictures.
Back in the office. They can’t be just pictures if they changed. Still, they had all the data of an image file. Reid scrolled through the data of the most palatable photograph. Geotags just somewhere in the city, no specific co-ordinates or anything. JPEGs. Nothing about the user that created them, or anyone who resaved them.
Reid’s breath caught. The dates the photos were taken at. Or when they were logged as taken. Someone must have modified the file data.
The photos were dated that night. ‘Bout ten minutes from now.
Reid felt his whole body go tense. He leaned out of the office and reaffirmed at a glance that his front door was locked. Ten minutes. 9:34 PM. What’s gonna happen in ten minutes? Throwing himself out of his chair, he walked shakily to the kitchen, wringing his hands as his mind raced. ‘Kay, I need a plan. He wheeled around to his knife rack and tucked one into the waistband at the small of his back. Good, I’m armed. Next? What can I tell from the pictures? Reluctantly, he made the trip back to his office and looked at the pictures one last time.
Black-and-white tiles, the same as his bathroom upstairs. The same shower curtain too, except in the pictures it was slashed to confetti. Much like his chest. Hey, stop, keep it together man, Reid thought, smacking himself on the head. Stay away from the bathroom, it’s that easy. The pictures were lit, not just with a camera flash, but with an overhead light. Pushing himself off away from the desk, Reid began jogging around his house, first the top storey because the stairs were next to the office, then all around the downstairs. Every light he could find, anything from lamps to digital clocks, he switched off and unplugged if he could. Out of breath, he collapsed back into his office chair.
He gulped in air for a few seconds, then sat back. This could work, not doing that bad. A small smile crossed his face. With a tap on the keyboard, the horrible pictures vanished and his screensaver popped up, kindly informing him of the time.
Ice surged through Reid’s blood. Shoulda jogged faster. He stood and sat, and stood again, panic not letting him decide. What do I expect? What’s coming? The house around him was silent, offering no answer. The quietness sat heavy, like it was muffling Reid’s ragged breaths.
From the front hall, a thunderous blast cracked through the house. Reid dropped to the floor instinctively, covering his head. He heard his door bang open. After a moment where all he could hear were his own whimpers, slow footsteps crunched across his front walk, up the icy stoop, and crossed into his house.
Reid stumbled to his knees, and fearfully looked out into the hallway. At the far end was his front door, swinging slightly ajar with a splintered hole where the lock used to be. Next to the door, looking into the kitchen, was a figure. The lights were still off so its face was unclear, but its outline against the streetlamps outside looked bigger than a linebacker, easily big enough to throw Reid across the room should the need arise. Reid’s body went stiff, like he was made of wood, but with an effort he forced his mind to unfreeze. Police. The thought had barely crossed his mind before he remembered his landline was in the kitchen behind the figure.
A floorboard creaked, and Reid ducked back behind the doorframe. The figure was wandering down the hallway, peering into rooms so casually it might have been considering dishes at a buffet. Finally, it took a step into Reid’s living room. I gotta move. From this end of the hallway, the only options were to fight past the figure, or to go upstairs. Remembering the figure’s bulk, Reid began tiptoeing up the stairs while the living room was still being investigated. Gotta go somewhere, even if I’m just goin’ deeper into the house, closer… Reid stopped for a moment on the steps as he realized. Closer to the bathroom.
A bang below made him jump. He could see a sliver of his office, where the figure was wandering around in the light of his monitor. The wheelie chair had been thrown unceremoniously into the hallway. The figure’s pacing was getting quicker, more erratic. Reid reached down his back and found the handle of the knife, gripping it for confidence. He eased his way up the last few stairs and surveyed his options. To one side was the bathroom—No way, not tempting fate—and the other way was his bedroom.
A heavy weight on the stairs made them creak behind him. Reid looked back slowly and saw the shadow of the figure. It had stopped halfway up, staring up at him. In the blackness neither could see the other’s face, but Reid could feel the figure’s eyes on him. Then in a second the figure was charging up the stairs, faster than Reid could react.
Reid was knocked back onto the floor with an impact he could not see. Rolling away from the stairs, his head was cloudy. Somewhere in the dark hall a fist came down and smacked him in the gut, spitting his breath out in a yelp. His arm had twisted under him, but it still held the knife. Blindly, Reid swung, and a thud next to his head told him he had knocked the figure to the floor. On his hands and knees, Reid hurried in the opposite direction. Once he felt hard tiles under his hands, he lunged forward and slammed the door behind him.
Panting, Reid stumbled to his feet, something wet and warm running off the knife onto his hand. He groped for the doorknob to lock it before the figure got its second wind. Behind the door Reid heard the scrambling of someone regaining their footing. Where’s the fucking knob, he thought, his hand jumping all over the door trying to find it.
One finger looped into an empty, round hole in the door. Oh. Right. I had to take it out when it broke. As the thought entered his head, the door was blasted open by the figure’s shoulder. Reid spun over as he fell, smacking his sore nose on the tub sending a spark of white pain behind his eyes. He heard the knife clatter. Clutching his head, he slunk backwards as far as he could go, into the corner. In the dark he felt more than saw the figure bend over and pick up the knife.
Then a burst of light shot through the room as the overhead light was turned on. It took Reid’s eyes a moment to adjust. In front of him was the hulking figure, knife held loosely in one hand, the other holding a digital camera up to its eye, aimed at Reid.