This story was originally submitted to this prompt. This is part 2 of a new series by me titled Just Keeping Tabs. Will I complete it? Who knows, but I love horror and I love meta-narratives so expect a few entries from me in the future.
Want to catch up on the series? Read part 1 here.
Perhaps my most embarrassing secret as a horror fan is that I’ve never seen The Ring nor any of its sequels, remakes and reboots. The original Japanese version is all I’ve ever known. Over the years I’ve considered watching the remake, I’ve heard from fellow horror fanatics that it’s even better than the Japanese original, but I can never make myself watch it. Not out of fear of being scared but the fear of desecrating my memories of watching Ringu for my first time.
I still remember that day vividly. Sitting alone at the family computer in the living room while my parents were out for the night. Trace scents of the frozen pizza we had earlier still lingered in the air and the sound of my family’s grandfather clock ticked away in the corner. The sun had long disappeared over the horizon leaving me in the room with complete darkness, not because I liked the lights off, but because I had become so enamored by what I watched on the screen. With Limewire minimized and Windows Media Player set to full screen I watched the entire ninety five minute film in a low res bootleg, unsubbed and undubbed as well. A mosaic of pixels that approximated people, places and things moved across my screen adding an extra layer of eerieness on top of what was already an unsettling film for a preteen like me to watch. The audio had been compressed to its most efficient form leading to the music and voices of the actors blended into a misconstrued garble of sound blended together into an auditory sludge. Add in the additional fact that I did not understand Japanese leading to a heightened sense of confusion. You could have told me that I was watching a film made in another dimension that somehow slipped through the cracks of our universe and landed in the Limewire downloads folder on just our family PC and I would have believed you at the time.
To this day I still do not know how it got there but however it did I’ve been grateful ever since. That experience launched me into the world of horror and I’ve never looked back. Even to this day when I watch a foreign horror film I always watch it in the original language first, unsubbed, just to chase that high again, but nothing is quite as terrifying as my memory of that experience.
Dale and I sat in my living room in silence, only the sounds of the family grandfather clock that I had inherited ticked away to fill the void. The TV now off and unplugged. After we went through Hulu I had pulled out a few Blu-Rays and went through them as well. Every singe one had been overridden with that same piss-poor production of Sadako’s climb from the well, even my collection of Parks & Recreation had been corrupted. It felt like the universe was mocking me.
Dale placed his mug on the table. Now empty. My mother’s rearing of me to always be a good host came through even though there were more important things on my mind than offering a fresh cup of coffee to a strange man who’d been spying on me for the past year and a half.
“More coffee?” I asked.
I took our mugs the kitchen and began refilling them. As I poured the coffee I looked at the mug I had given to dale. I looked at the collage of the macabre on it. The young woman with an extra head growing out of her face. The spindly humaniod creature seeping through the cracks of a mountainside. A man twisted into an impossible human spiral. And the balloons made from decapitated heads while silhouettes of people hung in nooses attached to the necks of the floating monstrosities. For most of my life I had wondered what it would be like to live within a world of horror, and well, I guess all those hypothetical questions were finally being answered. honestly didn’t know how to feel about it. Part of my mind was that scared little girl sitting at the computer watching something she didn’t quite understand. Another part was that same girl after she finished that movie, fully enamored and hooked wanting more like a burgeoning addict.
When I went to fill my cup I realized that my coffee had hardly been touched. I took a sip and just savored the bitter dark roast for a second before leaving the kitchen. I felt the caffeine rush through me perking me up. Perhaps it was the caffeine addict inside me finally getting its fill, but after that one sip my mood perked up and my head grew clearer, and it was then that I decided that perhaps this situation wasn’t so bad in the first place.
I returned to the living room and handed Dale his cup of fresh coffee.
“Thanks,” Dale said.
“You’re welcome,” I said. “Pretty exciting stuff isn’t it?”
“What?” Dale took a sip of his coffee.
“I mean we’re in a situation only even dreamt up of in the minds of writers. How often do you get to say that you’re living out your favorite movie? Never.”
“If we were living out my favorite movie I’d be an action star.”
“Fair enough. But you have to admit that it’s pretty fucking wild right?”
“Yeah sure,” Dale said. He continued to gaze into his coffee mug. I began to wonder if the mug itself had gotten under his skin. “Call Mike.”
“Mike, your friend who put us into this situation in the first place. Call him.” Dale looked at me in the eyes with no sense of humor.
“Oh yeah,” I said. I unlocked my phone. On the home screen the face of Pennywise looked at me, rendered less creepy by the fact that half of his face had been covered with various apps and folders, leaving only the bottom of his jaw exposed into a half maw of serrated teeth. Opening the phone app I dialed Mike.
Mike was not a morning person. He usually worked evening shifts as a part of an “active fraud prevention” team for a small bank that never really got hacked so most of his nights had been spent watching movies or playing games when his manager wasn’t passing by his cubicle. So I didn’t expect him to answer. After the last ring I hung up.
“He must be asleep,” I shrugged. Before I sat the phone down Dale looked at me.
“Call him again,” he said.
“I’ll try, not that I expect him to answer. He sleeps in until like two in the afternoon.”
I dialed Mike again. This time I let it go to voicemail.
“Hey it’s M-” Mike’s prerecorded voice cut out to a garble of static and distorted voices, like a radio poorly tuned to a station just barely in range. I held the phone away from my ear, Dale looked at me in confusion.
“What’s going on?” He asked.
“It’s nothing but static, and the sound of somebody speaking in the background. Oh no…”
“Oh no what?”
I put the phone on speaker and dropped it down onto the table. It hit with a thud. A voice, no a tangling of voices, male, female, child, all spoke through the speaker in unison accompanied by the static in the background and a high pitch whirling sound.
“Twenty-three, eight, eighteen. Twenty-three, eight, eighteen. Twenty-three, eight, eighteen. Where lies the the tower of the fated I shall cleanse forth the future of those whose eyes watch low, and the flowers of corpses sprout from the heavens shall take root inside the rotten minds of the watchers.”
Dale and I looked at each other in recognition while the same message we received last night played through my phone’s speakers.