Friday, July 27, 2012
Ghosts in the Machine
It was my face staring at me. Not so strange until I realized I had no webcam. It was late, late at night and in the midst of the seven or eight beer bottles that were littered around me, I had spent the evening staring at YouTube. Hundreds of clips, some so stupid even their short runtimes couldn’t hold my attention. This one, however, had only seven or eight views and was nothing more than me, staring back at me.
There was a strange quality to the face, not exactly what I remembered seeing in the mirror, until I realized it wasn’t a mirror image, but an exact copy. My left hand, in the screen, was on the right. It was a view of me that I wasn’t used to seeing, as if my mirror image was looking at a mirror image.
Behind me, behind my image, shadows walked. Almost tangible. These things that moved in the video were discernable only as shapes that resembled human, but they held no real form, and moved into, through, and around one another.
I sat, stunned, drunk and unable to move. The first thought was that my beer was laced and I was hallucinating. Then my instant messenger popped up.
“Dude. You on the tube?” it said.
I hunted and pecked the word, “Yup.”
Then another message… and another. Eleven contacts in all. All were friends that I shared common interests with on the social networks. We laughed at the strange videos of ghosts, the occasional bigfoot, the obvious after-effects fakes. I refreshed the window to see if I had imagined it, but there I was, looking back. The only change was the view count. Now it was over one hundred. My messenger beeped.
“I see me,” it said.
“Me too,” I typed.
I couldn’t stop watching. There was nothing there when I turned around, but on screen, it was so convincing, so real… so impossible that I would be looking back at me. How was it happening?
“How is this happening?” a message asked.
“Don’t know,” I responded.
I refreshed the window once again. The count was almost seven thousand. My instant messenger buzzed with the newly logged-on. Twenty-four friends stared back at me by way of their tiny avatars. Then forty, then one hundred. Then someone typed, “It’s beautiful”, and I realized they were right, it was. Something so strange and unbelievable, right there in front of us.
Another, “What are they?”
Another, “Who are they?”
And then, “They have me.”
And, “Don’t let them take you.”
And, “Log out.”
When they took hold of me, I shuddered, at first cold, then overcome by a burning sensation that led to unholy pain. I watched as strings of light pulled from my skin and swirled into the computer monitor. The view count on the video spun up like an ancient pinball machine. One million, three million, seven million. My instant messenger went silent.
The feeling of pain blinded me momentarily, then let go. When my eyes cleared, I could still see me, and the strings were gone. The view was clear behind the man on the screen, but the walking shadows in the image were gone. The shadows were around my physical body. And the view count was one.