The neon sign lodged within the front window pane of Parrot Bay has illuminated the litter-infested sidewalk of my street for the past nine nights. I know this because my apartment-a shitty studio with barred windows, one mattress (no bed), and a rusted sink-is situated right above the establishment; each night, after working the graveyard shift, I have returned to find it alit. It’s odd, the turquoise lights may shine brightly, but I can tell that they are dimming, and that worries me because Simone never forgets to turn off the light when she closes her business for the day. On day ten, which happened to be today, I decided to check on her.
I was initially introduced to Simone Douglass when she came to scope out the location, maybe three years ago. She wasn’t striking or eye-catching at first, and she partially resembled the morally-guided brunette sidekick that was the second to last person to die in teen-slashers, but what she lacked in physical beauty, she made up for in her intellect. I learned that she was the first woman to graduate from community college with a degree in Computer Science and that she intended to open a used technology store that doubled as a repair station. However, I also learned that with her supreme intellect came with a few side-hustles (student loans cost a soul nowadays). I’m not exactly sure what she did in that space below my apartment, but I often witnessed a variety of customers coming at any given time of day. By 9:00 PM, when I prepared for my night shift, the store was empty, and Simone was on her way back home; that’s how things went, at least until ten days ago.
On this particular evening, my alarm was set for 7:30 PM, but I awoke due to a quaking from below (my mattress is on the floor). Had Simone finally returned? I threw off my comforter and dashed to the window. The only remarkable sight was the eerie blue hue from the neon sign that bathed the steel gutter under the sidewalk. The noise persisted; it was erratic and lacked any coherent rhythm or melody. Initially, I thought it was her stereo system, or maybe one of the many televisions in her shop had accidentally powered up-occasionally this happened due to the amount of energy the store used. I pressed my ear against my splintered floor and listened as the noises transitioned into voices.
Simone has a distinct whine, a nasally shrill that she was very much aware of-she claimed her shyness stemmed from this speech impediment-so I immediately recognized her voice. The other, well, it was hard to accurately listen for there were other noises that interfered whenever they spoke. It sounded like static, but instead of it having that uniform cracking and rushing sound-like a raging whitewater rapid-it was ominous and hollow as if it the source were in some uncharted seaside cove.
Now, I’m aware of what you’re thinking, and yes, I am also aware that eavesdropping is wrong, but you must understand that I had a legitimate reason for my actions. Not only had the neon light been burning throughout the past nine nights, but I also required Simone’s assistance as a dealer of goods. Each time I came to visit her store to pick up my order, the door was locked, and she was nowhere to be seen-and hiding is near impossible in a store with quadrilateral window panes instead of a front wall. Try to sympathize with me, what would you do when your neighbor has neglected their duties, and, as if fate would have it, you overhear them conversing with a stranger on the day you decided to investigate their timely disappearance? To the common man, this would’ve been enough evidence for them to put to rest their concern, but I’ve been told that Pisces are too empathetic, and my parents happened to consummate their love on a summer evening in June. Company or not, I had to see Simone and, if I were fortunate enough, she’d have my order ready for pick-up.
Parrot Bay. The letters pulsed back and forth as I peered through the front window. The store itself was empty, and the overheads bulbs were powered off, enhancing the luminosity of those lights still lit (the neon sign and some other unidentified source in the back office). I tried the handle, but the door was locked.
I tapped on the glass with my knuckles, but the echo died somewhere between the entrance and the office. I even called out her name while I was on the street. A dumb move because a nearby tenant verbally assaulted me from the third floor ( he dropped at least three “F-bombs” on me). Again, I looked through the glass, waited, tapped the door, and even considered picking the lock, but still, there was no sign of Simone. Something told me-maybe the neon lights-that I should’ve stopped or given up, but what of my order?
I know this may be hard for you to believe, but I promise that I am not in the business of crime; it’s a lucrative hustle that only the wisest, or foolish, can handle. And, when I broke into the back door of her shop, situated between the two olive-green, industrial-sized trash bins, I was not trying to steal anything. If you can somehow put your authoritative opinions to the side and entreat my confession, then you will soon have all the answers that you seek.
Now, I’ve been in Simone’s shop quite often, and I’m no stranger to her wares, but when I entered on this evening, I knew that something was amiss. Amiss might actually be an understatement because after finding the circuit breaker and bringing light to the building, my eyes were met with destruction. Nearly all of the television screens positioned on the back shelf had their faces shattered, black and copper wires undulated and constricted in a sphere like pythons caught in a breeding ball, and various green microchips and computer circuit boards were in fragments on the floor. Naturally, I called out to Simone, but not once did she reply to me; instead, she carried on her conversation with her company. The store was in shambles, and my first thought, just like yours, was a break-in. But why would someone break into a technology store and not steal anything? Deducing an answer to this question is what motivated me to proceed to the back office.
I must admit, I did consider calling first, but when I heard a bloodcurdling battle cry followed by a thundering boom, I dispelled the idea and rushed into the office. As I crashed through the door, a flash with the intensity of a solar flare temporarily blinded me. I expected myself to bear witness to two silhouettes: Simone and her company. However, when my eyes adjusted (it felt like an eternity in that white, hot light), I only saw one figure, if you could call it that.
In her hands was a rusted crowbar, presumably the one she kept under her desk (the neighborhood’s high crime rate called for “personal security measures”). Around her were more destroyed computer modems and accessories, and it looked as if the final blow had been recently dealt. The way she was wielding her weapon reminded me of that scene from Berserk when Guts defeated the one hundred men: exhausted and wounded, yet filled with a primal lust for battle…or death. She didn’t take notice of my entrance or even my presence for that matter; she simply continued her bashing. Shards of LED screens flew with each downward swing. I wanted to rationalize with her, maybe talk her out of her rage, but what words could I use when witnessing such a sight. Again, must I remind you that Simone is the same woman who used the last bit of her savings to procure this place as well as the products that lined its shelves; and here she was, ending the life of every digital object within her reach.
She stopped. So abruptly that my heart, which had been anticipating another blow, experienced a bit of tachycardia. Simone remained still for a few seconds, hovering over the remains like a seasoned hunter watching the soul leave its intended prey. And then, she approached me, with crowbar tightly gripped. Maybe it was fear that kept me frozen, or maybe it was the fact that if I moved I was probably going to need a new pair of underwear (and I was already down to two).
The distance between us shrank to only a few feet; I closed my eyes and foolishly threw my arms up as if they would shield me from her strike, but it never came. Instead, she opened her other hands and asked me for my phone. I did as instructed because the coward in me had no intention of forming any counter-arguments, especially against one who was armed. Strangely, she politely accepted the device, laid it on the floor, and smiled at me. Just briefly, because her grin was instantly replaced with a stiff lip. With the strength of the Norse god of thunder, Simone brought the curved edge of the crowbar down on my phone screen. Of course, I reacted, wouldn’t you if you just watched your digital lifeline get destroyed; and, after a series of increasingly tiring blows, I gave up any notion of salvaging the device or data. However, I was not enraged or angered enough to retaliate, plus she was still in possession of the makeshift (read: poor man’s) weapon.
As the carnage finally settled, and my muscles loosened their contractions on my bladder, I became mobile again. I inched closer to the door, preparing myself for a quick exit, but it seems that Simone was the one ready to escape. She heaved one of the boxed computer monitors that had a hole in the center with jagged edges and carried it to the chair. With the wall against my back and an ample amount of space between us, I considered the possibility that she was no longer a threat to me. So I stayed, at first to try and communicate with her, yet she remained silent throughout her task-unflinching as if taking a direct command from a superior who could seal her mouth. Unable to break free to her, I decided to observe her actions. They made little sense at first: tying a few wires around the legs of the chair, propping the crowbar up on the desk, and angling the large computer on the edge of the seat. Once again, fate came to the foreground; Simone took one look at me, repeated a single phrase, and then went prone on the floor.
By the time I realized what her apparatus was, and where she’d positioned herself, Simone already kicked the crowbar; as far as the laws of physics are concerned, gravity will always bring objects down. The enlarged modem she’d just been carrying landed on her face, instantly crushing the frontal bones in her skull while the jagged edges sliced through the fatty deposits in her cheeks (even now, I can still hear that god awful crunching noise). Now the floor and my outfit were covered in her blood and other fluids; I assumed she was dead. Horrified, I went to check out the body; how firmly terror held me when her hand shot up and latched onto my arm. Rigor mortis reflexes or not, she would not let go. I eventually had to break one of her fingers to release myself from the grip. With the little first aid knowledge, I knew-my only instructors were actors on General Hospital and other soap-dramas set in a medical field (blame cable TV)-I checked the woman’s pulse.
Nothing. Yet, as if her spirit had not yet fully fled, a breathless cackle slipped through the holes in the computer modem. It sounded almost like a laugh, an innocent and sheepish giggle that a child would employ when entreated with sweets.
With terror and disgust as my two guides, I hastily made my way back to the entrance of the office and was about to leave when I remembered the other reason I came here: my order. I spent the next few minutes tearing away at what remained of the office, shuffling through her desk and filing cabinets. Eventually, underneath the bottom shelf of her closet, I found a box marked “Treasure Chest.” Inside it was dozens of digital compact discs, each neatly wrapped in a pre-made package. At the top right corner were the names of each of her customers, the particular patrons who made good use of her exceptional skills. Why was it called the Treasure Chest, and why was her store called Parrot Bay? Because…Simone was a pirate.
You already know this though, don’t you? A pirate, a person who bypasses the copyright laws and sells unauthorized works. She was the best I’d ever met. With only just a few hours of meticulously scouring through the reaches of the dark web, Simone could procure nearly any software that one desired: Adobe Creative suites, episodes of primetime television shows (remember the Game of Thrones hack?), virus installation software, and even modified versions of international video games. And now as I explain this, I realize that I may, in fact, be a criminal as well but that depends on what one considers a crime in this rapidly changing digital world. However, what I wanted was not of monetary value, it was a lost program that I’d heard about on some online community boards. Software that can enhance the internet experience. This was my first order from her-my only order-and I’d requested it over two weeks ago…before everything happened.
Unable to locate my order after a few moments of fruitless searching, I left the office and the remains of the owner. The switches of the circuit breaker flipped with ease and, once again, the store was bathed in darkness, except for the blue hue of neon light. Aggravated and slightly delirious (think you can watch someone die a grisly death and remain sane?) I ran through the shelves to the light. From my point of view, I could see the entire street, and it was empty. I found the plug that connected the sign to the outlet and yanked it out of its socket, but the blue pulsing persisted. I lifted my head from behind the counter and was about to tear down the sign completely when I saw the first police cruiser pull up to the sidewalk. How stupid had I been not to consider the chances that Simone the tech wizard and illegal software smuggler would have a silent alarm? I peered down the hallway at the back entrance, and was about to make my daring escape (just like I do on GTAV) until I heard the static from a walkie-talkie followed by a “FREEZE!”. With nowhere else to run, or even hide, I regretfully raised my hands, and chose the only other option…and here we are now.
“Mhhm. Would you state your name for the record once more? It seems our recorder was having some difficulty?” the bald investigator asked.
“Jean-Paul Holden, but I go by JP.”
“And, the events you’ve recounted to me are valid and true?”
“Certainly. I have no reason to hide the truth from you.”
“Indeed…” he clicked his pen against the clipboard. “And, what of this other person…you said that Ms. Simone was having a conversation with someone correct? Did you cross paths with them at any point?”
“Um…now that you mention it, I didn’t. It’s possible she could’ve been on the phone.”
“So you did hear her talking with someone else, you just didn’t see them?”
“Do you remember what was said?” Jean-Paul shook his head. “Nothing? It doesn’t have to be out of the ordinary,” he added.
“It was hard to hear anything over that blaring static. I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“Static, hm. Now, could you tell me your relationship with Ms. Simone?”
“She was a business owner who happened to live below me; I bought a few items from her in the past, but that’s as far as our relationship goes.”
“Was she involved with another person?”
“Not sure. I don’t pry into people’s lives,” JP expressed.
“Okay,” the investigator took the hint, “last question, what exactly did Ms. Simone tell you before she…before she perished?”
“I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a saying.” JP wiped his lips with his hands and took a deep breath, “She just kept repeating the same phrase.”
“Then what was that phrase?”
The investigator set his clipboard down on the metallic desk. “Does that ring a bell at all?” JP put his head back down in his palms, still in disbelief that Simone Douglass was dead. He loosened his tie, “Is there anything else that you can remember? Anything out of the ordinary?”
“No, sir. Are we almost done? I’m not trying to rush or anything, but I was expected at my job two hours ago.”
“You’re free to go but before you do, take this,” the investigator reached into his back pocket and removed a business card. “If anything changes or you remember something, don’t hesitate to call.” JP lifted the card from his hand and read the name, “Detective Carl Alison.”
Carl signaled to the guard who was standing watch at the door. He entered the room and collected the pair of handcuffs previously bound to JP’s wrists. “Would you mind showing Mr. JP to his belongings?” The guard tipped his head and gestured for JP to follow him throughout the precinct.
JP arrived at the entrance of his apartment complex. The first floor was dark, but he could see the strands of caution tape fluttering due to the ventilation. Luckily, the establishment lacked any security, and that the police disengaged the silent alarm; using the same pathway as before, JP entered Parrot Bay. He snuck past the miniature yellow tents with numbers on them, doing his best to avoid tainting the crime scene. When he arrived at the office, he peered through the cracked door and half expected to see the body. The coroner’s staff had already cleaned up most of the mess; however, the shrine of broken devices stood tall like an altar that once held a sacred object.
JP left the peephole and crawled from the office entrance to the cashier counter. He dug through a gap between the wall and the neon sign. His fingers tapped a solid object, a smirk now stitched on his face. JP retrieved the flash drive from the hiding spot and headed straight for the exit without so much as a second thought. All in all, he’d only been inside for three minutes.
Back in his apartment, JP wheeled his desk chair around. The flash drive was connected to his PC modem. While the system booted, he fixed a meal for one. The shrill cry of the microwave alerted him when his meal was complete, and he pulled the laminate film off of the plastic container. He stuck his finger in the macaroni and cheese, tasted it, and chewed on a bit of ice. “Still frozen.” Just like his computer screen.
JP tried toggling with the mouse, but the crosshair remained stuck in the top left corner. Frustrated, and exhausted from the interrogation, JP slammed the device twice. On the second smack, the screen glitched. White static shot across the screen and the pixels frenzied. JP jumped back, nearly knocking his dinner off of the desk. “Piece of shit,” he cursed as the screen remained still frozen. A beam of sunlight slipped through the shielded blinds; morning had come, and the status of his computer hadn’t changed since he inserted the flash drive.
He finally decided that enough was enough and that he needed rest. JP removed his uniform-his shirt had droplets of Simone’s blood on it. Standing naked in front of his device, he contemplated shutting off the power, but the risk of data corruption stayed his hand. Instead, with his options exhausted, he slipped into bed and reached into his bedside drawer. The container rattled as he set it down, counting out three pills. JP tilted his head back, dropped each of them in his mouth like a Sunday school treat, and prayed that the images of Simone’s skull being shattered would stop replaying in his head.
He awoke when the orange glow of the sunset started to diminish. JP relieved himself in the bathroom and cracked open a room-temperature Mountain Dew. He’d examined the computer but, to his dismay, the machine had yet to process the program. Still frozen. However, while JP had been fighting through nightmares, his computer had downloaded twelve gigabytes of data from the flash drive. Irritated, he shut off the computer by pulling the power strip out of the socket. Enraged, he expelled a series of curses and indecent remarks about anatomical appendages, before leaving his apartment. He needed to replace his cell phone-it’d only occurred to him when his dosage alarm failed to ring that he lacked one.
Dressing in the clothes that he wore the previous night, JP, hurried out of his apartment. When he reached the entrance of his complex, and the front of Parrot Bay, he stared through the glass windows. Inside the store were officers, men wearing their badges and hats tipped to the side, drinking coffee while aimlessly wandering through the aisles. He decided not to linger, for out of the office where Simone had taken her life came Detective Alison.
JP arrived at the pawn shop a few blocks from his home. The shop was a shoddy excuse for a legitimate business (they’d been investigated for the sale of stolen goods). The establishment was less than appealing, the windows had streaks and stains, the lights were pulsing like a dying heartbeat, and the items for sale seemed to be scattered and tossed into corners with no definite scheme for decorations. However, now that Simone was no longer in the business of providing electronics, he needed to take his business elsewhere.
A greasy six-foot giant tucked a glob of snuff underneath his tongue-there was a cold sore the size of Texas on his lip that made JP wince as he entered. They exchanged pleasantries, or what could be considered pleasantries, because JP had little to say, and the cold sore cashier had a mouth full of tobacco. Cold Sore directed him to the electronic section, which was just a locked steel cabinet. He removed the key from underneath his desk, opened the door, and let JP have a glance at his wares.
In the corner of the room was a black and white television, its antenna jutted and bent like an elbow with a compound fracture. On the screen was static, but when JP reached for his phone, the digital haze broke, prompting the shopkeeper to glance at it. What he saw was a miniature image, a small insectoid like graphic appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. It crawled upwards, and when it reached the top of the screen, it glitched and disappeared. But not before an eerie noise erupted from the static that caused JP to freeze in place when he took hold of the phone. He stared at the television, but the screen was showing a commercial about snow cones. Still frozen.
JP powered on the iPhone 3 and waited for the recognizable logo to appear, however, instead of an apple with one bite in it, there were multiple holes as if a worm or some other creature had made a quick meal out of it. Unfortunately, he paid it no mind, because blistering Cold Sore was demanding payment-now that his television was active, he wanted to catch the next seven reruns of “Cops.” A handful of crumpled twenty dollar bills were exchanged, and JP stuffed the phone in his pocket. The bell above the door chimed as he exited; a shout broke out behind him. He doubled back just in time to see Cold Sore banging the television and bending the fractured antenna into an even more broken angle. Out of frustration, he threw the antenna across the room, crashing against a shelf full of band instruments, but JP was already on the next block at the time this happened.
Relief was the first emotion that settled into his system when he arrived back at his apartment; the officers were gone. The yellow caution tape that barred the entrance delicately flapped like petals kidnapped by the evening gale. As the fluttering continued, JP looked beyond himself in the reflective glass. His face still bore the shock from Simone’s death, but something else loomed in his eyes. It wasn’t fatigue, because he was used to sleeping for roughly four hours per night; it wasn’t fright, he’d seen worse sights while living with his parents who happened to be self-prescribed (his arm still bore signs from injections); it wasn’t even disgust, the television had more graphic content than what he’d witnessed. No, what lurked in the depths of his pupils was wonder. What thing could trigger someone like Simone to commit suicide in such a fashion? And, what of her last moments? Before his mind could formulate an answer, JP retreated into his hovel, fearing that realizations may alter his reality once again; he also believed he saw the gray coat of Detective Alison in the background.
The desk chair squeaked across the wood. The plastic tipped wires were carefully plugged into their appropriate sockets, and another swig was taken from the Mountain Dew (lined with stagnant backwash). It was time to update his phone, and transfer his data. JP plugged in the device and waited for his computer to load but, to his astonishment, the phone background matched his previous one. The apps were in the same order, and there was even the exact number of unchecked notifications. His name, his twelve contacts (two of which were no longer valid numbers), and even his dosage scheduling were set too. But, his machine was still rebooting, and there was no way that the information could’ve been the-
The computer screen skipped past the opening cutscene, and from the bottom left side crawled an elongated figure. Its legs, which were one-hundred digitized appendages, scrawled and glitched as it moved towards the upper right corner. As it marched, it jittered and made a distinct sound, one that made JP spit the rest of his Mountain Dew into the bottle.
It reached its destination, and it stopped as if each leg was being controlled by a single, unified neuron. The “centipede” rotated its body in the digital sphere and brandished a face. It had no eyes, a smile-made from its extended mandibles-stretching across his head, and a pair of antennae that bounced each time it twitched. And then, it spoke:
“I’m Mr. Akiki!” its lips moved, and the words appeared next to its mouth with a bubbly caption. “I’m here to help you, Jean Paul. If you have any questions, type them in the box below, and I will find the answer to them.”
He rolled his chair back in shock; the avatar seemed to laugh in response to his actions. Its sentience was staggering as if it was able to register JP’s astonishment visually. But, no way was it possible because it only existed in the digital realm (plus, he’d covered his webcam with black duct tape). He glanced at the USB sockets; stuck in the second slot from the right was the flash drive. He unplugged it and stuffed it in the drawer, underneath a collection of empty prescription bottles. Was this the program that was stored on the device, he thought as he rested his fingertips on the keypad.
The avatar rocked back in forth, swaying as one does when they are waiting for their turn to speak in a conversation. The mouse inched closer to the box, and, as it did, the grin expanded-or at least that’s what he thought. Mr. Akiki repeated himself, and the bubbly text box flashed twice, demanding the undivided attention of JP. He clicked on the open space, and his hands began to move without guidance.
The letters appeared on screen, “How do you know my name?” Mr. Akiki twitched and shivered, and its legs tapped against the screen as it prepared a response.
“I found it here!” The avatar glitched and the screen flashed. There was a photograph in place of the text box. It was JP’s license.
“How did you get that?” he typed.
“Mr. Akiki can find anything on the internet!”
“Were you the program that I downloaded?”
JP’s fingers moved across the black keys. Mr. Akiki physically flipped his bubbly text box into a blank square. He brought one of his legs, a slightly larger appendage with digital attachments that resembled fingers, to the screen and pressed a button. The screen flashed and enlarged until it engulfed the entirety of the screen. JP leaned in, anxiously waiting for the cybernetic apparition to explain itself. Finally, Mr. Akiki crawled towards the center, except its appearance had changed. The avatar was wearing glasses, large plastic frames that a first-grade teacher would wear (he half expected an apple to be in its hands).
“I am here to make your internet experience unforgettable! You name it, and I can share it with you, Jean Paul! I will show you everything that’s out there!” The screen fazed out for a second, and when it returned to normal, there was an image of Google or at least something that resembled it. After carefully examining it, JP realized that the letters were not just jumbled together, they were all connected. They resembled the body of a…centipede. Mr. Akiki scurried through the “O’s” before making its way to the search bar. Once inside, it dragged its body across, and letters came out. JP watched as the phrase “funny videos,” appeared in the box. And then, without having to click a single link or even the mouse, a media player materialized on the screen.
Soon, JP found himself wiping away tears of laughter as the internet’s most comical videos played: a soccer ball bounced off of a goal post and hit a player in the nuts, a young toddler shouting for blueberries lost her balance and brought the bowl of yogurt down, a wedding party fell into a river after the pastor lost consciousness (due to locked knees). And as he laughed throughout the rest of the night, until his eventual bedtime (somewhere around 3 AM), so did his new digital avatar, but for reasons unknown to JP at the time. “I will show you everything…”
He closed the manilla folder and set it back upon his desk, next to his coffee and badge. The precinct was unnaturally cold this morning; the incoming winter weather had the facility manager continually altering the thermostat. Only a few early birds were present, each of them slurping down their first cup of instant coffee (they’d yet to invest in repairing their brewer); Detective Alison was already on his third.
A week had passed since the death of Simone Douglass, and the third-year investigator was at a dead end. The cause was apparent: the coroner’s report stated that the brain suffered severe trauma which lead to an almost instant neural disconnect. According to his only witness, Simone had enough sensibility to utter a final phrase. Much to his dismay, the toxicology report that he’d received the previous night ruled out his hypotheses; he’d insisted that her motive was related to drug usage, primarily the psychedelic and hallucinogenic variety. How else could he explain the level of destruction Simone caused to her wares? However, the lack of any substances in her system (not even marijuana) set him back to square one. And square one was not where he needed to be because the Chief was steadily closing in-Alison had already been under the watchful eye due to his blunder in the previous case he was assigned (a double homicide in a community college computer lab). The Chief also believed that there might have been a connection between the two cases, but that failed to motivate Alison. With a case this challenging, Alison made it a point to arrive early with the hopes of cracking it, but as temperature fluctuated, so did his patience.
If only it were something missing, then maybe he could use his investigative skills to scour a lead; however, there simply wasn’t enough information to know if something was lacking. Simone Douglass was an anomaly. A recluse that left no trail, especially on the internet. As one of the younger members of the force, Detective Alison was the ideal choice for any crimes related to cyberspace. Truthfully, this was an agist inference-his superiors assumed that since he was closest to the Millennial generation that he knew technology, but Alison was about as digitally dimwitted as a recently divorced, single parent on an online dating site. Even his lack of internet expertise wasn’t a valid enough excuse for this challenging case; he was tempted to say that Simone Douglass did not exist.
He opened the folder again, hoping that some minute or overlooked fact would catch his attention and lead him to his breakthrough, but the report displayed only the known. As he gulped down the last of his coffee-black with a helping of frustration-Detective Alison swept his hand across his desk with one swift stroke. Papers went flying, and the folder landed in an oblong shaped tent, only a few feet away from the Chief’s door (luckily, he only came in on the afternoons to handle logistics). The rest of the officers minded their own business, opting to focus on their conversations about ride alongs, busted drug dealers and the weight of their products, prostitutes and pimps caught in the act (and which ones to “extort”), and their favorite type of case: wiretappings.
Alison went to retrieve his documents, after adamantly vocalizing his anger through a series of slurs. When he finally reached the pitched tent, it was quickly dismantled by a blonde haired officer dressed as if he were about to go undercover as a high-school student. His lazy green eyes suggested that he’d just awoken. He handed the parchment to him and bared a grin laced with understanding.
“Yeah, and I’m afraid it will go cold soon,” Alison stated.
“What’s the sub?”
“Suicide…but there is evidence of foul play. I’m wondering if my witness was telling the truth?”
Blondie tilted the lustered badge on his right breast, “Ah, so you’re working that case?” His tone made it seem that it was the talk of the precinct (it wasn’t). “I was there, first to arrive on the scene. Was soaking up some sun while on patrol when I got a call about a silent alarm being triggered.”
“Did you notice anything suspicious? Anything that may have seemed out of the ordinary?” The espresso in his system had him speaking at the speed of a southern auctioneer.
“Well, all of the devices in her shop were broken. There was, probably, a couple ten-thousand dollars worth of equipment in there. Televisions, laptops, wiring, even the computer modem that ran the security system, all of it was just destroyed. As if done in a rage. But,” he rolled his thumb against his index, “there was this shrine.”
“Hard to call it anything else. Makes you wonder what she could’ve been worshipping.”
Alison pointed towards the upper left corner of the main hall; whenever he needed to remember a specific fact and had no access to a notebook, he mentally set the note in the corner, so he could return to it when he was ready to jot it down. Of course, this action made Blondie consider ending their conversation, and returning to the dossier he’d been reviewing.
“And, you were the one who arrested…” his eyes darted around the room, “Jean Paul, no?”
“Yeah, that was me. Caught him trying to slip out of the back office, right where the body was found.”
“Did you happen to see him before then?”
“Well…” Blondie’s memory had to still be intact; he looked no less than twenty-five. “When I passed through the neighborhood earlier, I do remember seeing him just peering out of his apartment window. It was sort of eerie; he didn’t acknowledge me. Just kept staring with no real focus.”
He was about to walk to his desk, believing that he was done with this interrogation when Detective Alison gripped his free hand.
“And then, you made the arrest.” Blondie nodded. “What was he doing?”
“He was near the counter.”
“Tampering with the register?”
“No…he was, hm.” Glowing like a star student, Blondie snapped his fingers. “The neon sign. He was doing something with it, but didn’t turn it off.”
“The neon sign,” Alison muttered, his attention directed back to the corner while Blondie shook himself free from the vice grip.
With this bit of information, Detective Alison returned to his desk but refused to sit down. Although it wasn’t much, it was still enough information for him to bring his sole witness in for further questioning. He removed the file that contained Jean Paul’s phone number and address. If he was in the store, then he had to know something; and, if he knew something, then Alison was sure that he could extract from him. He had to, had to prove to the Chief (and the rest of the force) that he was capable of being a detective.
The caution tape prohibiting entry into Parrot Bay had weathered due to the band of storms that hit the city. The driving conditions were so hazardous that Detective Alison delayed his house visit to Jean Paul for two evenings, thus bringing him a day shy of ten-when a case is exponentially more difficult to settle. He’d opted to make a house visit because every call that the detective put through was unanswered. There wasn’t even a voicemail set up. Before he decided to venture to the abode of his witness, Alison reached out to a fellow officer who ran communications. His bifocals fogged from his excessive mouth breathing. He’d asked to tap the wires of JP’s house to see if he were home, in exchange for a favor that could be settled at a later date.
When the line was finally established, Alison and Bifocals were shocked at what they heard. JP was alternating between laughter, banshee-like screaming, and insufferable fits of crying, only to repeat the cycle. And then he stopped as if he were…aware that they were listening. His laugh crawled through the microphone as Alison bit his knuckles until the blood drew. Then he said a name. “Mr. Akiki”. The glasses of Bifocals fogged as the detective blankly stared in the upper left corner of the room. What was he loo-
A deafening screech caused both eavesdroppers to dart away from their headphones. The carotid pulse throbbed against his neck while his temples tightened. The detective locked eyes with his reflection as he glared into Bifocals glasses. After that, JP went silent. Alison wanted to continue listening, even though the officer repeatedly informed him that he could no longer establish an open line, and retap JP’s wire.
“Something’s interfering with the channel. Storms nearly here.” Alison agreed, he’d wore his trench coat to protect against the slapping rain. “That’s a possible explanation for the shorted line,” Bifocals stated as he set the headphones on the hook, but Alison disapproved-he showed no signs of his opinion, on account of being in debt. “My best guess though is that this comes from the source.” Alison tore out of the precinct, stopping by his desk to grab his keys, badge, and gun holster. On his way out of the lobby, he ran into the Chief. The thick neck police force veteran (the office celebrated his 35th year of duty) halted the detective.
“Alison,” the scent of the Chief’s cigar coated his tongue as he spoke.
“Chief, I’m in a rush. I’ve got a lead on the Douglass case. The witnes-”
“You’re too late.” He then explained to the detective how a higher institute (he muttered something about the NSA) decided to freeze any investigations into the case. Their team was en route and would arrive at dawn. “Should’ve handled it sooner. Your recent performance has been shit. Therefore, you will be meeting with me tomorrow afternoon. There are matters we must discuss.” Alison nodded, swallowing his anger. He kept further responses short, hoping to end the chat with the Chief. When he departed, the gray-bearded veteran warned him not to interfere anymore, or he’d revoke his badge.
He ducked underneath the yellow and black tape as his signature (and only) gray trench coat skirting against the sidewalk and unlocked the door with the keys that he’d rented from the evidence room. The air inside the establishment was stale, and there was a lingering scent of ferrous blood in the air (the ventilation systems had been shut off by the property manager). He reached into his trench coat and removed a chrome pointer, a handheld utensil that he carried around when he was inspecting areas, and trying to avoid tainting the evidence.
Detective Alison’s search began in the office. He pushed the door open, removed his flashlight, and examined the perimeter before shining the beam at the center. It was still erect, the shrine of destroyed electronics. Alison knelt next to it: the foundation contained computer modems that had been pierced and jabbed, atop of those were the wide and flat screens, and every single one of them had a shattered hole the size of a dinner plate. The edges of the altar were lined with various gadgets and accessories (mouses, headphones, and speakers, web cameras); they suffered the same fate as their counterparts. Judging by the integrity of the structure, Alison deduced that the equipment had been destroyed before it was set into this position, and he also determined that setting them up in this manner required an ample amount of time. However, he still had no conclusion regarding its significance, if there even was any to be had.
He snapped a quick photo and then migrated to the right side of the room, where a tent with the number one had been placed. Around it was still stray stains of blood, and underneath the desk, he could see a pearly white object with rotted tendrils; someone missed a piece of the skull. Alison gagged at the sight, but then returned his flashlight beam to the site. A pair of latex-free gloves were removed from his pocket, and he strapped them up individually, slapping them loudly as a surgeon would before conducting an operation. His fingers traced the chalked line, noting the angulation and body placement of Simone. According to his witness, she’d been lying prone on the floor, when the modem came crashing down on her. As he examined the outline, he grudgingly accepted the claim. What could make someone remain still in a fatal situation? Some primal reflex should’ve overridden her nerves and made her dodge.
He came back to his feet and exhaled; there was nothing more to be learned here. Alison popped his knuckles and re-entered the main room of the shop. Leaning to the admissions of Blondie, he decided to check the counter. Just as the young officer had said, the register had not been tampered with, and it even seems that the front desk as a whole was untouched. He turned to the left and saw the neon sign. The wires had been unplugged; this had not been the case when he closed the scene a week ago.
“Someone’s been back here,” his finger shot to the corner. Alison then spent the next dozen or so minutes combing every inch of the neon sign. He peered in the crevice where the fuses connected with the base, scoured through the steel and cylindrical pipes and even removed the entire sign from its perch to see if something had been placed on the front. When he did this, a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. Using his pointer, Detective Alison flipped it over. A bellow of distant thunder crackled, and the scruffed cheeks of the detective curled into a satisfactory smile as he read the inscription.
Three knocks came to his door, yet he remained unfazed, or rather, he was so concentrated on the visual stimuli that his auditory senses had not registered the sound. His room was pitch black, except for the screen of his computer, and the occasional bolt of lightning brought a temporary flash to the habitat. At this point, he was unaware of what he was even watching; he just knew that he had to watch it. It’s what he’d been told to do. He needed to know everything.
The door banged again, and this time, he was able to hear the heavy pounding; yet, what could be more important than the images that he’d been seeing? Shots of recently freed slaves trying to start again; the mitochondria, or powerhouse of the cell, suspended in the matrix; metal bands recording tracks in the studio; blindfolded bodies standing in a line, the rifle squad taking aim; an eyepatch-wearing cat explaining how the lunar landing was a hoax; behind the scenes footage from The Shining; a Google drive document with the title Ingilaef, and flashes of photographs at the speed of light. Finally, a voice broke through the haze, identifying itself as a Detective Alison.
His legs uncurled from his chest and his feet planted on the floor. JP wobbled and nearly lost his balance; what happened to his body? His hand grasped the doorknob, and a thin, watery mixture of Mountain Dew and mucus escaped his mouth. He wiped it away and glanced at his hands; the cuticles were long, dirty, and brittle, and minor sores were sprouting on his skin. He felt a jolt in his arm when he turned the doorknob as if the simple act required him to use the momentum of his entire body.
JP nearly fell into the arms of his visitor after the door finally opened. Detective Alison retreated to a safe distance, his hands instinctively reaching towards the holster on his hip (although, he’d never shot his gun except outside of the gun range). He hurriedly shackled his fear of assault, and regained his balance, although the same could not be said about his witness.
“JP…?” he asked, with a mix of confusion and shock.
The person in front of him looked disheveled, almost delirious. His hair jutted in various directions, there were voids underneath his bloodshot eyes, and his entire face had dried flakes of flesh peeling off (there were even a few covered in a yogurt-like pus). And, how horrid he smelled as if he’d been spending his days inside of a morgue. “Come in, Detective Alison,” his frail hand gestured towards the opened door.
Reluctantly, Alison accepted the hospitality, but when he entered, he immediately regretted the decision. Where JP smelled like a rotting corpse, his room reeked of feces-human at that. Everything was in disarray: The mattress, now soured, was flipped upside down; the refrigerator was open (and smelled as if it had been for quite awhile). The home had been tarnished, except for the desk where JP’s computer was situated. On the right-hand side of the black, steel desk was a miniature figurine. When he glanced at it, he noticed that it was a foundation made from the speakers, USB wires, external hard-drives and flash sticks. A shrine-what was he worshipping?
JP closed the door behind him and returned to his chair and monitor as if the detective were absent. Entirely indoctrinated by the flashing screen, leaving Alison to his anxieties. No amount of mental notes could bring him any clarity in this situation.
“Aren’t you curious as to why I came?” Alison tried.
“He says you came here for answers. He’s given them to me, but he also says that I couldn’t give them to you.”
“Why not? And,” Detective Alison approached JP, “who is he?”
A hysterical laugh echoed in the dismantled apartment, and the thunder bellowed, signifying the storm’s presence above the complex. “He says you will know soon.”
“Why not now?” But, his question remained ignored as JP returned to the racing imagery.
Alison removed the bit of evidence he’d recovered from the neon sign and set it on the desk. “JP, I don’t have time for games. I need answers, and you’re going to give them to me. I don’t care if he says you can or can’t; you will give them to me because it’s the law.” JP brought his phone to his ear and nodded his head as if instructions were being beamed directly to the device.
“He says that laws are foolish constructs of weak people, used to exert an imaginary power over their fellow neighbor. He also says that there is a law that states you cannot extort information from a witness outside of an interrogation room. It’s Article 19. Section 5. Subclause ii.”
Baffled, Alison stepped back. According to his education records, JP had no history of law, yet how did he know the exact clause? “The law is what protects us. It governs us,” Alison stated.
“Our physical bodies, perhaps, but what of our digital existence? Your laws are not applicable where I plan to go.”
“And…where is it that you’re going?”
“With Mr. Akiki.” JP cheerily slapped his hands as if he’d won the lottery. “He’s invited me to join him. And, he’s told me that you can join him too. He’ll show you everything!”
He rolled away from the desk and gave Detective Alison a clear view of the screen. Believing it to be some prank by the lunatic that had replaced JP, Alison hardly expected to see anything; but, when the hundreds of legs glitched their way across the rectangular box, he pressed his investigation.
“JP! Listen to me,” lightning struck the ground, and the furniture rattled. “I am going to arrest you if you don’t comply with me. Now, I also don’t believe it has to come to that, but you must work with me.”
“Mr. Akiki says I cannot.” JP’s finger stretched towards the critter now shuffling with the images.
“What!? That little avatar is Mr. Akiki?” At the mention of its name, the avatar waved with all of its right legs. Alison gawked at the sight but returned to more pressing matters. He needed a resolution, now. “You’re letting a simulated program dictate your decisions?” His right hand curled over the young man’s shoulder, which caused him to twitch. “JP, I’m here only because I want to know the truth. Now, I know that you went back to the scene and that Simone did have that order you requested. You hid it, right? Put it on the neon sign so that none of my officers would find it, right?”
It was impossible to tell if the young man was even coherent, his eyes were glued to the screen and the playfully frolicking avatar.
“He says that I can answer you now.”
Alison wasted no time with this interrogation interval, “Did you come back to the scene?”
“Yes.” His tone was cold and devoid of any emotion.
“And, what was the order that you placed?”
“The rumors were about software that enhanced the internet experience…but, it was actually Mr. Akiki.”
“What is Mr. Akiki?” Detective Alison finally asked.
“He says he’s a sentient entity that has dwelled in the digital dark, ages before man discovered the world wide web. He assumes the form of the Scolopendra gigantea, or cave centipede. Mr. Akiki is the one who gave me the answers to everything. Ask me, ask me anything!” JP bounced thrice on his chair before it buckled under the weight and threw him to the floor. With a giggle, JP regained his footing. Again, he repeated his question.
“How did Simone Douglass die?”
“No, not that kind of question.”
“Why not? What will happen if you answer it?”
“He won’t let me come with him,” JP sucked on one of the sores on his hand.
“Where,” Alison felt stupid playing into this farce, “where is he going?”
“Everywhere. He’s got a plan. Now that he’s no longer trapped, he’s going to travel the world wide web, and he’s inviting us to be his legs.”
“His legs?” The lights flickered for a brief second, and the computer screen flashed, for the lighting struck a tree in the distance.
“Yes, he says that Simone is already there. And, that he has space for me, right next to her.”
“Simone…? JP, did Mr. Akiki…did he make you kill Simone too?” Maybe his fractured mindset hid the memory of the murder.
“No. She did it herself; I told you that.”
Detective Alison calculated the distance between his position and the door, just in case a hasty escape was necessary. JP’s constant shuffling proved the detective’s fears to be true; he was spiraling. Eventually, he would reach a point of no return. But, before he was able to calculate his route of retreat accurately, the lightning struck again, this time splitting a powerline routed to the same grid as JP’s apartment. The apartment was bathed in blackness. Detective Alison gripped his holster when heard JP’s voice.
“Ask me a question! Like Jeopardy. Or, should I just tell you what Mr. Akiki has shown me?” He was unable to locate the source of the JP’s voice in the dark for it sounded as if it were coming from every direction. “Carbon is the molecular key because it is capable of sharing its valence electrons and opening its orbitals to accept others; Mary Shelley’s inspiration behind her world-renowned novel, Frankenstein, was stemmed by the previous miscarriages she’d suffered; in 1518, a dancing plague sent 400 people into a Footloose frenzy, it occurred when a woman named Mrs. Troffea broke out into a routine on the street; a double homicide occurred at a local community college and the case went unresolved; Detective Alison is a rat bastard, he lied to me about my daughter’s murder; internal investigation discovered that Carl Alison forged evidence to steer the case.”
“Stop it! How do you know that?” his fingers slipped around the grip of his gun. His pulse raged loudly as the darkened room started to meld into a singular, black expanse. He tried to find the corner, but the lack of light made it impossible for his eyes to locate the exact vertex. Alison needed to leave, needed to escape this situation before it became worse. How had he known about his faults? He’d only lied because the Chief was hammering him about results-the mayor and parents of the victim seemed to be doing the same to him.
“Mr. Akiki. It was Mr. Akiki.” JP’s silhouette appeared against the computer modem. “He showed me the reports.” Detective Alison started backing towards the door. “Mr. Akiki is done talking though. He says you can’t leave yet.”
“JP, don’t do this…” Alison warned.
“He says that you can’t leave yet! He says that if I let you leave, that he won’t take me with him. Then, he’ll no longer show me everything.” JP’s voice scattered against the walls as heat lightning continued to thunder in the sky. “I need to know. I Need To Know. I NEED TO KNOW. I NEED TO KNOW!”
An eerie chatter resounded from the speaker of the clutched cell phone. “JP, this is your last warning. I’m asking you to please stand down. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Mr. Akiki says that you’re a liar. Liar. Liar. Liar. LIAR!”
The lights returned while the madman wildly howled; suddenly, his erratic rampage halted. A faint alarm was echoing from the cell phone. JP’s stained teeth glimmered in the light. “It’s time! It’s time! It’s time for my dosage!” Detective Alison’s eyes were readjusting from the darkness; when sight did return, he was transfixed by the subject in the line of his pupils.
Shoved into JP’s mouth was the iPhone, and the teeth that had once been apart of his simple smile were scattered on the floor, the roots trailing across the carpet. After he collected them, he ran to the edge of the desk. JP then started stacking the saliva soaked phone atop the miniature shrine that was previously erected. The missing teeth were placed around the perimeter as if they were a patrol unit on a wall. Once his task was completed, JP bared the remnants of his smile, the blood and tendons hanging out of his bottom lip.
“He says that I have to do it. I have to kill us.”
JP rushed the detective, throwing the keyboard at him. He blocked the device with his arm, but the assailant was already ready for his next attack. The base of the mouse slapped against Detective Alison’s temple and nearly shattered the bone above his eye. Blood drew and made his vision blurry; the clip on his holster was clicked. However, as Alison drew his gun, he temporarily lost sight of JP.
“KIIIIKIKIKIII!!!” the lunatic appeared in his peripheral, and suddenly he felt the grip of constricting wires. The black rubber dug into his skin as JP, who was hysterically laughing, continued to tighten it. Unable to see what was happening, and also unable to locate his gun, Detective Alison used the brunt of his back to slam his assailant into the wall. That proved to be fruitless, for the wires slipped up to his neck.
“MR. AKIKI! LET ME JOIN YOU! PLEASE, SHOW ME EVERYTHING!” JP’s arms flailed, and the wires crawled along Alison’s neck, pinning his thyroid between the walls of his windpipe. And then, he felt himself being dragged, slowly, then rapidly as the lunatic sprinted across his bedroom.
Shards of glass rained down on the sidewalk as JP hurled himself out of the two-story window. Lightning cracked across the sky just as his spine snapped from the tense wire (that he’d also wrapped around his neck). But, instead of him propelling down to the ground immediately, his limp body was suspended in mid-air. Still inside the apartment, clinging onto his life, was Detective Alison. The wires crushed the cartilage in his neck, and cut off any circulation or airflow. His eyes were bulging as his puffed cheeks turned cyanotic. In front of him was the computer screen, flashing brightly. It suddenly stopped, and from the darkened rectangle appeared the avatar. The centipede bared its malicious, faceless mandible:
Consciousness slipped away as the digital avatar raved in the darkened room. With nowhere to go-and no possible way of escaping the wires-Alison closed his eyes. He relaxed the muscles in his legs, and allowed gravity to take over.
The two bodies came crashing down on the moist concrete, landing behind the yellow caution tape that guarded the entrance of Parrot Bay. A nearby taxi driver who witnessed the sight phoned emergency services. When they arrived, JP was declared dead-the official cause being a broken spine and brain trauma.
The NSA agents-at least they claimed to be NSA agents-arrived the next day, their travel had been delayed by the band of storms that raged through the night. The Chief assigned Blondie to assist the agents. He removed his black aviator frames as he stepped foot into the apartment; nearly vomiting his morning coffee after catching a whiff of the foul stench in the air. Two agents, one dressed in a blue blazer, the other in a cheap, band graphic tee from Target, accompanied him as they investigated the crime scene. They meticulously marked each site: the window where JP had fallen out of, the puddle of blood where his teeth had been recovered, and the desk that had housed his computer, and wires that had been used in the assault. According to the Chief, he was instructed to search out for any clues that could answer why their crucial witness hung himself, and that one of their detectives was now paralyzed in one leg. The team of three set up their tents, and collected any necessary evidence, before ending their search around three PM when they discovered an intact flash drive. He’d found it atop the shrine-like structure built on JP’s desk-and slipped it into his pocket while the agents were discussing their next strategy.
When he returned back to the precinct, Blondie passed by Alison’s desk. It was covered in various potted plants, cheap “Get Well Soon” cards, and Playboy magazines (“Rather have a limp leg than a limp dick!”). Ignoring the sight, Blondie pulled out his chair, toggled with the flash drive in his modem, and logged onto the police database network. The drive, classified as evidence, was Blondie’s choice for a starting point. He’d inserted it the night before but was unable to check the downloaded contents, on account of having to visit the crime scene at the crack of dawn-the Chief was demanding answers again. When his screen finally booted, Blondie was somewhat surprised and humored by the sight of a multi-legged digital centipede making its way to the center of his screen.