Trigger Warning: Suicide & Self Harm, Violence, Drugs & Alcohol, Bullying
A psychology professor droned on at the front of the classroom, discussing the topic of parapsychology. Shaun, in contrast to his peers, felt a certain fascination with the subject. He was hunched over a worn-out mechanical pencil, scribbling furiously in a tattered notebook. All around him, his fellow college students clacked away on their sleek laptops, taking notes electronically, but Shaun couldn't afford such luxuries. While his classmates scoffed and rolled their eyes at the mere mention of ghosts and the supernatural, Shaun couldn't help but wonder if there was more to the world than met the eye. As class ended and the professor let the class leave, each student passed by Shaun without so much as a word, a hello or a goodbye. He rose from his seat alone, and followed the crowd as they piled through the double doors of the auditorium.
Pleasant Pointe wasn't a college town, but it sat precariously teetering on the border of the campus. Some students commuted to the university to avoid the exorbitant rental prices for housing closer to campus. They called themselves "townies," and Shaun found himself in the dregs of their lot - not just renting a room in Pleasant Pointe, but doing so in a rather rundown, shared home. Shaun, in particular, felt like an outsider among the more privileged students that filled the college classrooms.
At home, Shaun sat alone in his dimly lit room. The evening sun had long since dipped below the horizon, leaving only the eerie glow of his laptop screen to illuminate the space. Shaun had managed to secure a used laptop through a Craigslist ad, which was a necessity for his studies. It wasn't top-of-the-line, but it got the job done. It would be enough, he reminded himself - pleased with the new acquisition.
As the evening wore on, Shaun received a message on his laptop. It was from a group chat of his previous high school friends, planning to meet up later for a Halloween costume party. They decided to kick off the festivities with a video conference call, a way to bond before heading out - or at least that’s what Brandon called it as he tried to persuade Shaun to join in on the call.
20:30:42 Brandon: Hey, the gang is getting on a call. You’re coming to the party right?
20:31:12 Shaun: I dunno. Maybe.
20:31:58 Brandon: Come on, bro! It’ll be great! Allison will be there.
Message Read 20:33:10
20:34:29 Shaun: Old news.
20:35:22 Brandon: Come on bro. At least jump on the call with us.
Eventually, Shaun agreed and Brandon sent him a link to the call. Shaun clicked it, and a new window popped up, showing familiar faces, if a bit older than he remembered.
The call began like any other. The three boys teased each other, with Eddy, the self-proclaimed "lady's man," bearing the brunt of their jokes and taking it all with a shot being chased with a slug of beer.. They poked fun at his recent escapades with an older woman at a local bar, calling her a "saber-toothed tiger" instead of a cougar - alluding to her being far older than the average cougar. The girls joined in on the laughter, complicit in the playful banter.
However, the jovial atmosphere quickly shifted when an unexpected participant joined the call. The video showed a muted microphone and a blurry profile picture. Confusion rippled through the group as they questioned each other, wondering if someone had accidentally - or purposefully - shared the call link. Eddy opened another can of beer and haphazardly tossed the empty can offscreen, and the group can hear the can rattle on the floor, obviously missing the mark.
Despite their efforts to remove the mysterious participant, they remained. Suggestions of technical glitches or accidental invitations were thrown around, but the intruder's presence persisted. Frustration mounted as they attempted to regain control, but after several failed attempts, they decided to ignore the intruder and carry on with their evening. More laughter and conversations filled the call, but an unsettling tension lingered in the background.
The Stranger, as they referred to the unidentified participant, suddenly sent a text message into the group chat: "Haven't you had enough, Eddy?" The message triggered a collective shiver among the group, as if it alluded to a painful memory they shared.
Years ago, during their high school years, the group had relentlessly bullied a fellow student named Billy Meiers. They had invited him to a party as part of a cruel prank, and it had gone terribly wrong. Billy had ended up drugged and, the next morning, dead. The incident had haunted them ever since, especially Eddy, who had taunted Billy with those very words that fateful night.
The group was rattled by the message, unable to comprehend how the Stranger knew about their past. Eddy, in particular, was overcome with guilt and fear, believing that Billy had somehow returned to haunt them. Messages began to arrive in their private chats, each one more unsettling than the last. Fear descended upon them as they realized that the Stranger seemed to know their deepest secrets and darkest moments.
The Stranger: I want you all to confess.
The Stranger: We are going to play a game.
The Stranger: Together.
It was during one of these tense moments that Valerie, unable to bear the pressure, defiantly states, “You know what? Fuck this.” and, just before leaving the call, says “I’ll see you guys at the party. I’m over it.” Her abrupt exit marked the beginning of their ordeal. The room fell into an eerie silence, broken only by the Stranger's chilling declaration.
The Stranger: "She shouldn't have done that."
Panic surged through the group as they tried to make sense of the situation. “Can you call her back, Randall?” Laura asked. Eddy denied the Stranger’s presence altogether, claiming, “This guy can’t do shit. He’s just a troll. We’ll see Val later on at the party.” To which Allison sighed a bit of relief, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Wait,” Randall said, but no one seemed to notice except Shaun. As they argued and pointed fingers, Randall exclaimed loudly, “Hey! Guys! I think I can get her back in the call.” With that, Randall affirms his own statement with a nod, “Yeah, she’s coming in now.”.
However, the return of her video feed revealed only a gruesome scene: broken glass and blood. The video was a blurry, glitching vision of pure motion, the sound of screaming and breaking glass. The video tilted as if it were struck and fell to the floor, now showing an upside down version of Valerie’s bathroom floor. The group watched in horror as, amongst the broken glass and pooled blood that crept along the seams of bathroom tile, Valerie’s perfectly manicured fingers could be seen, just inside the right of the frame of her video before being pulled offscreen by an unseen force. Her video feed glitches and eventually disconnects, leaving her profile picture where the terrible video feed once was.
Shaken to their core, the remaining members of the group continued to argue and bicker, each accusing the others of being responsible for their predicament. The Stranger remained a silent but malevolent presence. They could feel him watching their every move. One by one, they received ominous private messages. As tensions escalated, the group began to turn on each other, vehemently denying their guilt. But the Stranger wouldn't relent, pushing them further into a maelstrom of fear and paranoia.
“He said he wanted to play a game.” Shaun interjected.
The Stranger: Exactly.How perceptive of you.
The Stranger: We’re going to play a game.
The Stranger then introduced a twisted version of "Never Have I Ever," forcing the group to reveal their secrets. Their confessions laid bare their guilt and shame, driving a wedge between them. Each question exposed their innermost regrets and misdeeds, driving a wedge between the group members.
Panic and chaos ensued as accusations and denials flew within the group. Their camaraderie crumbled, revealing long-buried resentments and secrets. The Stranger's messages continued to exploit their vulnerabilities, causing rifts and mistrust among the once-close friends.
The Stranger: Never have I ever.. Done hard drugs.
“Me, yeah, easy.” Eddy spouts and puts his finger down. Yet, the countdown The Stranger had set up continued to fall. The group was confused until Laura, much to the rest of the group’s surprise, put her finger down. Brandon was in utter disbelief.
The Stranger: Never have I ever.. Gotten black out drunk.
Eddy, Brandon and Allison each put their fingers down.
The Stranger: Never have I ever.. Had sex.
Eddy and Shaun put their fingers down, and the group seems to think this question is over, with Eddy saying, “Yeah okay, next question!” Yet, the timer continued. Accusations began again, and the group’s attention turns to Allison. with Eddy nervously saying, “Come on who cares. We all know, Allison. Just put your finger down!” The group is enraged as the timer continues, with everyone except Shaun and Laura yelling at Allison to put her finger down before Laura interrupts and shamefully apologizes before putting her finger down.
Stunned, the group suddenly falls quiet. Brandon looks horrified, “What.. what does that mean?” To which Laura gives excuses and continues to apologize until Shaun speaks up.
“Brandon. I meant to tell you,” Shaun says quietly.
“Tell me what?” Brandon asks, desperately. “Did you..?”
“It was before you two got together. Back in freshman year.” Shaun says. “I’m sorry, bro.”
The weight seemed to begin to lift and Brandon begins to come to terms with this, nodding. “Alright, alright.” He says with a small laugh, “I thought..”
The Stranger: Liar, liar.
The Stranger: Pants on fire.
“What is he talking about?” Brandon asks. Laura begins to cry again, and arguments continue with Brandon threatening to leave if they don’t tell him.
“I’m sorry, Brandon.” Eddy says.
And that was the final straw for Brandon. Laura cries, and frantically apologizes while Brandon berates Eddy and Laura. His will shattered, “I’m leaving”.
Laura begins begging Brandon to stay in the call, but Brandon, wide-eyed and tearful, shakes his head. It isn’t until Shaun chimes in that Brandon seems to have a moment of clarity. Shaun speaks calmly, telling Brandon that this mistake doesn’t hate to be the end, either of their relationship, or for Brandon’s life. Brandon seems nearly convinced before a moment of realization seems to come over him, and he says, “You lied.” in a quiet, defeated voice. “I thought you were my friend, and you lied to protect Eddy. You lied to me.” He takes a few deep breaths before stating clearly, “I need to take a walk.” Brandon’s hand reaches to the side of the video frame, and his call is ended.
The group falls silent for some time, completely broken and defeated by The Stranger’s game and the apparent death of their friend. They each stare blankly at the screen, unsure of where to go from here, or what to do next. Minutes later, the silence is broken by the chime of a message entering the text chat. It was a link.
When clicked, a new window opened that showed a dark suburban street. At first, they couldn’t see enough to recognize where it was until Shaun says, “Wait. Isn’t that..?” he paused, “Yeah, that’s Billy’s street, isn’t it?”
Just then, a figure could be seen walking ahead. As the camera moved closer, the silhouetted figure paused, as if aware that he was being followed. As he turned, revealing that it was Brandon, he seemed to look for whatever was behind him. Even though he seemed to look directly at the camera, he did not seem to notice what was following behind, and turned back around to continue walking. Slowly but surely, while Laura screamed at her screen to try to get Brandon’s attention and both Randall and Shaun attempting to call and text Brandon in order to alert him of the danger, the camera crept closer and closer.
As the camera becomes so close that the group could nearly see over Brandon’s shoulder, he suddenly noticed something and spins around. This time, he saw what was following him. His eyes widen and his hands move upward to defend himself, and he screams. But the scream is cut short as the video feed seems to lunge at Brandon and the feed ends.
Laura screams and cries in helpless frustration, “What do you want from us?”
The Stranger: I want you to feel what I felt.
The Stranger: To feel helpless.
The Stranger: To feel alone.
The Stranger: To DIE alone.
One by one, Randall and Allison met the same fate as Valerie and Brandon had. Each one of them perishing in a horrific way, shown in bits and pieces to the rest of the group before their call ended. Then, only Shaun and Laura were left - bewildered and silent.
“He didn’t deserve what you did to him, you know.” Shaun says, breaking the silence.
“You mean what WE did to him?” Laura accuses.
“I didn’t know you guys were going to fucking drug him!” Shaun rasps.
“Oh, don’t act all high and mighty. You were there. You were there every single time we picked on him. Wasn’t it you that sold him oregano, that day?” she continued, “You saw it all and you did nothing.”
There is a moment of lucid silence as Shaun considers this. Calmly, he rises from his chair and moves across his dimly lit room to retrieve something from his dresser drawer. He then moves back to his chair and begins to set a series of prescription bottles down onto the table, just out of view.
“Then, I guess we deserve this, don’t we?” Shaun says as he begins to toss things into his mouth, chasing them down with his energy drink. “You know,” he says between swallows, “I talked to him that night.” Laura was silent, numb and listening. “We smoked a joint out back at that party. I told him you guys felt bad for being so shitty to him. I told him to trust you guys. That you changed.”
Laura does not blink. A single tear rolls down her cheek.
“How many people did we bully, Laura? How many lives did we fuck up?” Shaun finishes his energy drink, and turns it upside down to get the last drop into his open mouth. “We should have been better people, Laura. We shouldn’t have left him to die like that. Alone and overdosing on his own porch.”
“How could we have known?” Laura said, “It was supposed to be a prank!” she denied it even still. “Give him a pill, take some pictures that he’ll never remember and that was it!” she shook her head. “How were we supposed to know he had no tolerance?”
“He was allergic, Laura!” Shaun shrugged, his body obviously becoming heavier. “It’s okay. I’m sure he forgives us for drugging him, and posting pictures of him shitting himself while he was dying on his porch.” he said with a listless giggle. Shaun stumbled toward his bed, and heavily falls into it. “Im just going to take a nap. A really long nap.”
And then, Laura was left alone. Her face a contorted mess of terrified numbness. Moments dragged by until her bedroom lights went out around her. She was startled, and breathes in shallow, frantic breaths - afraid for her life. There was a scream as the video feed cut out, leaving each of the seven profile pictures remaining in the video call - a scribbled X over each other faces - exactly as the kids had done to every picture of Billy in the class yearbooks.
The Stranger: Game over.
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