Kill, killers, kill. ‘Oh, that’s a good one.’ Die, die, gouge out an eye. ‘Oh gross, who would do that to another human being?’ Murder, mystery Monday, and all that jazz. I closed the lid of my laptop: just a day in the life of a true crime Youtuber.
I’m Charlotte, also known as Charmanderchar1692. Some people think the name is a little stupid for a thirty-year-old, but those people don’t know the hidden meaning. Plus, it’s not like this is my fulltime job. (Lord help me if that was the case.) My minimum wage retail gig was my main grind, for now and the foreseeable future.
“And there goes my ring light.” My set up, which had been secured with duct tape and prayer, was now officially too broken to use. “Natural light it is.” This would make editing a pain in the ass, but whatever.
The door of my room swung open with an audible smack. “I need to buy a freaking lock.”
It was an odd occurrence since I lived alone, but this apartment was shit. I walked to the kitchen. of course, the window was wide open. A sane person would have tried to close it, but I was a cheap ass with no air conditioning. And I knew for a fact, if I tried to close it, the rotted wooden frame would somehow manage to shimmy open all on its own. So instead, I moved the wooden box I called a coffee table to hold my door ajar.
My sweaty ass had been sticking to my cheap plastic chair, in the brutal Toronto heat. Who ever said that Canada was great in the summer must have lived by the water (as opposed to this shithole.) And my lack of AC didn’t help matters. maybe I’d get lucky and find a fan at the Salvation army store.
Anyway, back to filming. I checked my lipstick in the window of my webcam. nice and shiny just the way I like it. I had to finish at least three videos a day, to be able to upload on a consistent schedule.
These were relatively short pieces of content, just your basic reaction type videos. except instead of reacting to clips of funny kids or Russian drivers, I react to murder.
Really stupid murders.
“And start.” I flashed a smile at my virtual audience. “Hi ya’ll,” I said in my best jersey girl accent. “Welcome to Charmander-char where we roast the dumbest most cringe worthy true crime stories.” I flashed a peace sign, as a reminder to insert a still of my logo; a small red lizard reading a newspaper. “Let’s check the headlines. Oh, this is a good one.”
“A is for Aiden, the Florida man, (more accurately 14-year-old southern teenage dumbass.) He murdered a 13-year-old cheerleader for clout. At least I’m assuming it was for clout. According to yahoo news, the little cum stain moved to the posh south Florida neighborhood less than a year prior to the incident. I guess someone was bored with their life.” I snapped my fingers, to mark where I would insert a funny gif of some sort, possibly an image of a popular actress rolling her eyes.
“I mean seriously, he looks like a typical white-trash bully, and she looks like a pageant queen. Maybe she wanted to date him, take a chance on the local bad boy? We don’t judge the victims here. And since there was no sign of sexual assault, we can assume the sick little brat was only after the thrill of the kill. Well, hopefully Aiden now realizes that life is not a video game. we don’t get respawn points and shitheads can’t get their sins wiped away by driving home to mommy.”
“Let’s see, what else looks good?” I couldn’t help but laugh at the next story. “B is for Beth a 68-year-old romance novelist who shot her 63-year-old husband. She was only caught because just prior she wrote a blog post about how to best kill your partner to escape your mundane life. “Bitch please, he was a younger, in shape culinary school teacher who bought you a house. You’re lucky he loved you enough to never leave your greedy ass. This happened a few years ago, but Ms. Beth is in the news because she petitioned for compassionate release, siting her age and how deeply afraid she is of falling victim.” I rolled my eyes at the camera. “Yeah, I bet your husband was afraid when you shot him in the head. I hope you die in jail.”
“Looks like my neighbors are getting their cardio in.” I hit pause. If there was an intruder, they’d have to be spider man since I live on the fourth floor. Still, I should go check.
‘I really don’t want to. How about a break instead?’ I scooted myself over to my new favorite toy, an old, tan computer tower. It was the kind you’d find in a 1980’s elementary school, connected to a green and black screen, allowing kids to play text-based games like Oregon Trail. Except this one had a very different game preinstalled. In lieu of a keyboard I used a microphone connected to a pair of cheap earbuds. This seemed to allow me to access a voice to text ability (a program much too advance for such an old machine.) “Hello, Henry,” I said cheerfully. “Are you awake?”
A text box appeared on screen. “Yes…good morn-ing…miss-Char-..”
Henry Horacio Cortez had often considered ending his life. The 55-year-old drug-addicted husband and father had been locked in what he described as a ‘dark basement’ for what felt like decades. He had been left to rot, to die, but at least he was no longer alone.
“Good morning my love.” I had found him, I saved him, and now I owned him, like my own personal virtual pet. “How are you feeling today?”
“My.. leg..” Henry had told me he had chronic pain in his left leg, mainly the calf muscle where he was chained to the floor of an unknown room. It wasn’t a normal cuff, but rather a two-part beartrap with rusty spikes digging into his flesh. “I can remember a time when it actually hurt.”
“You know. We talked about it yesterday.”
“Yeah, I know.” All he felt was a throbbing reminder of the dead tissue. This was so fascinating to me. Here was an actual human soul, with nerves and senses. He even had a physical body (or a phantom body) that he truly believe existed.
Part of me wanted to ask what I sounded like to him. Was I a goddess, speaking over a supermarket PA system? Or a timid mouse screaming from a dark unseen corner? Did I have any kind of form? In the six days I’d been in possession of Henry, I’d never thought to ask.
“Mis.ss” the text box replied, the letters appearing abnormally slow.
“Why?” The screen flickered. “Why am I here?”
“I’m not the one who put you in there, I couldn’t get you out even if I tried.”
“Why am I keeping you?” That was the million-dollar question. I’d found the computer in a landfill, just south of the NY/NJ border. I had been taking a walk, looking for aesthetic crap to up-cycle. My immediate goal had been to make a quirky retro vase or maybe a bookend. But I had to know; would it power on? I had to cobble together a power cord and a way to connect a screen (hoping to God that I wouldn’t blow out the electricity to my entire building.) Thankfully my engineering degree came in handy (by that I mean I watched a bunch of YouTube videos about soldering wires.) In the end, I found my new friend.
“Can you help me?”
“I’m not sure.” This was the first time he directly asked. “I can’t actually see you. I can only hear you.” Yes, that was technically a lie, since I had no speakers attached to hear output from the game. But it was easier to explain than the alternative. Did he even know he was inside a computer? There was no internet connection, so clearly, I wasn’t speaking to an actual human trapped in some kind of horror movie room. This A.I had to be someone’s failed college project.
Just one hell of an AI. A terrified AI with a very human backstory.
I had to see what was inside the case.
Unfortunately, this meant I would be unplugging him for the first time since we’d met. ‘Should I warn him first?’ I thought to myself as I took a sip from an open can of Coke. ‘No, that’s silly. Henry is not a person, he’s just a program.’
I pulled the plug, causing the wall outlet to spark. “Shit.!” Now I was truly afraid. Would I be able to power it back on? My hands were shaking. “Oh well. Too late now,” I said with a forced laugh. ‘It’s just a toy. You’ve dissected a Furby before, and a Tickle-me Elmo. This is no different.’
I didn’t know what I was expecting to find, but something told me to turn on my cellphone camera. Was it going to be a motherboard, with a nitro-cooled processing core? Maybe something made out of crystals?
Instead, I found a perfectly preserved human brain. It was cut into slices, separated by panels of glass (or more likely a shatterproof resin) with wires coming in and out. I wanted to touch it, if only to confirm if it was actual living flesh, but I would settle for fully documenting the bizarre sight.
I was a little concerned that the machine would no longer turn on. If I had broken it I wouldn’t know the first step on how to fix it, but on the other hand, the item had been found in a landfill and it was in great condition.
How long had it been there? A day? A month? It wasn’t buried very deep so it couldn’t have been any longer than that. With the camera still on. I reassembled the case, and powered on the machine. “Please work,” I muttered, fingers crossed. “Pretty please.”
I was worried I had killed my new friend, so in an act of fear and desperation, I did something kind of stupid; I pointed the camera at the screen. Perhaps I was hoping to record a glimpse of Henry, something to save as a memento. “Hello? Are you still there?”
“u..m..wh–at?” the letters came painfully slow and were spaced awkwardly.
“Are you o-k?” I made sure to speak loudly, clear and slowly.
“I… g-uess so.”
“Okay, great.” Running on the idea that he was still there, I knew I needed to ask the most important question to get it documented for future research (and internet clout.) “Henry?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Where? In a hospital, in a bed?” ‘Come on! Give me something that’ll go viral.’
“I-I re-member a hospital room with red and yellow walls.”
“Red and yellow? That’s kind of strange for a hospital.”
“I remember the pain.”
“What kind of pain?”
“The-…tear-ing, the bleeding. I lost my family. I blacked out and I was here.”
“Wow.” That answered nothing. I never should have posted the video, but something inside me wanted to get the internet’s opinion.
Over the first few hours, my YouTube viewers seemed to think it was a hoax; editing, digital art, maybe even some animation software. Their arguments were valid (even when VeryimportantEgg35V called me a clout chasing whore.) I really should have stopped there.
Then I posted to reddit.
The mystery spread like wildfire, to Facebook, 4chan, and possibly the dark web. Internet sleuths were pulling up missing person cases, medical studies, and death certificates from all over the world. The pieces were all logical clues, except for one.
One user was rather upset at the situation and wanted to make his views known across multiple platforms. All of the names were variations of Victor or Vincent Price; victorP, vincentP$$, VP$$pricefan, and a few more, all created on the same day. And they all seemed to be a fan of a certain New Jersey based tattoo studio. One account even claimed to be the owner of, Radium Tattoo factory.
After the hundredth post calling me a clout-hungry attention whore, I googled the name of the business. It was a real place, run by someone named Vincent P. And judging by the address, he was a little too close for comfort.
I tried to ignore him, until he started asking to see the computer for himself. Literally, he was asking via the comment section, coaxing an army of replies, and retweets. Everyone was demanding that I offer this stranger a live public showing of my mystery machine, to prove I was not a lying clout whore.
‘Think whatever you want, bitches, it’s not gonna happen.’ Over the next few days, I had attempted to go back to my normal filming schedule, but he stalked me every step of the way. It got to the point where I should have thrown my computer out a window, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
‘I know where you live.’
‘Like I care,’ I typed in the reply field.
‘I want my computer back.’
‘What part of ‘Not Going to Happen’ do you not understand?’ I purposefully glossed over the fact he was now claiming ownership. If that was even partially true, he would have a way to prove it.
Instead, my troll posted over and over in every possible comment section. Strangely he did not attempt to slide in to my DMs at least not in the traditional sense.
I was logged out of my email account prompting a series of captcha images.
“n0 the truth?”
I had been forced to answer in order to get back into my account, and you can guess what was waiting for me. an email, with a phone number.
I made sure to hit record, on my web cam. If I was about to die, I wanted something to leave for the police. I dialed the number on my smartphone. It rang only once before being answered by a robotic voice, “Hell-o? Do you seek the truth?”
“And you know the truth?” I couldn’t help but giggle. This was all too stupid. I was probably being catfished by a kid in India.
“You appear to have an open mind.”
“Just for the next thirty seconds.”
The robot voice chuckled. “I have three questions for you.”
“Questions for you to ask the ‘Henry’ machine.”
*Ping* A new email arrived. ‘1. What happened to his hands and feet? 2. Where is his largest tattoo? 3. Mention V.P.’
“Okay,” I said into the phone. “I got it.” The call dropped, cutting to a dial tone. The third question sent shivers down my spine. Why ‘mention V.P? The email wasn’t followed up with a time limit or any kind of threat. I could just ignore him. If that was what I wanted.
I picked up the mic to speak, my voice becoming abnormally gentle as if addressing a young child. “Hello? Henry you there?”
“So-sorry, my mind is a little blurry.”
“It’s okay. You’re doing good. I just have a question. Just one.”
“Do you know a V.P? Vince, Vincent?”
The screen flickered. He was in pain. “Vi..c.”
The screen flashes became more violent. Letters were being randomly tossed all over. “V—-i—ce.”
“Vice Paul. He wss…an artist, a creator.”
“Did he put you in there?”
I saw something in the reflection of the screen. I had only enough time to recognize it as human before getting a needle stabbed in my neck.
The world went dark and I awoke in a cold, concrete room, with a massive headache. There was no light, but I could feel that I was wearing an oversize t-shirt and shorts that had no pockets.
I moved my left hand and then my right. “Okay,” I swallowed hard, mentally preparing to look at my legs. I was not restrained. ‘Thank you, God.’ I stood up, taking the opportunity to look around. I held out my hands in front of me, looking for the walls.
“Naughty little girl,” said a familiar robotic voice. “Curiosity kills the cat.”
“So, I guess this is New Jersey?” I asked calmly. There was no reason to be afraid, not yet at least. I soon located a light switch and turned it on without even thinking. If this was a trap, there wasn’t much I could do.
The room was illuminated with blue Christmas lights, lining a red and yellow space. The walls alternated color, with no door in sight. “Wow, I just wish I had my phone.”
“To call for help? Or to document my masterpiece?”
What did that even mean? All I knew was I needed to find Henry. There had to be a door, but more importantly, there had to be cameras. I looked at the string of lights. I figured there must have been something holding them in place; tape, thumb tacks, small black circular pins. That had to be it.
“Do you need an archivist?” I asked with my best Instagram smile. “I’ve always had a gift for documenting.”
“Documenting?” the voice chuckled. “You seem like the type of person who replies to known scammers wanting to know more information.”
“Maybe.” I had attempted that before; stringing along a catfish, and then using the footage to make a video. The ‘international prince trapped in a hostile foreign country’ ended up ghosting me before I could get anything worth posting.
“Well, I think you just don’t want me to kill you.”
“Well, yeah. Unless you can put me into a computer.” I meant it as a joke. It was possible this wasn’t even the infamous V.P.
That was when a side wall opened, revealing a metal door. What stepped through was a middle-aged blond man with slicked back hair. He looked like someone’s dad. “Hello, miss Charlotte, or Charmander, if you prefer.” The man held out his hand for a handshake, but my eyes were drawn straight to the shiny decorative hunting knife.
“Charli will be fine,” I said with a smile as I forced myself to shake his hand. “What do I call you; Vince; vice, VP Egg?”
The man chuckled. His bright smile drew attention to the wrinkles around his eyes. He looked humble. “You can call me Vice.”
“Thank you.” The words slipped from my mouth, like drool. Vice had the darkest blue eyes, an image akin to the ocean in a rainstorm. Something about him seemed gentle, even kind. “It’s an honor to meet you. I can’t wait to see the beauty of your work.”
Vice lifted his knife, using it as a mirror to check his teeth, and facial hair. “Well, come on, then.”
We entered an unlit dirt tunnel. This led to an area with plaster walls, followed by a staircase covered in glitter. I expected to emerge through the floor of a massive gallery of science and gore. I was partially right. “Is this the restroom?”
“Yeah.” Vice led the way to the door. Turns out, it was the employee restroom; his personal, private space.
The room was adorned with anatomy related art, from sketches to paintings, to actual samples floating in mason jars. “Wow.”
Vice poked my arm, handing me my phone. “Here.”
“Wait you were serious?”
“Absolutely,” he said with a nod. “If you try to escape, I’ll have finished gutting your corpse long before the police arrive.”
“Understood,” I said with a comically wide, flirty grin. As if I was actually having fun. “So, where’s Henry?”
Vice pulled out a large, retro-style suitcase, the kind that could easily fit a body. “Henry had been sick for a few years when I met him.” He opened the case, revealing just the computer tower. He had left behind my screen and microphone.
I turned on my phone. There was of course no data or Wi-Fi signal, but the camera was in perfect working order. I switched to video as I watched Vice hook up the tower to his own set up. On his screen there was more than just a text box.
I saw a digitally rendered face. The image looked like something out of a video game from the early 2000’s; not too blocky or pixelated but it was clearly not an actual video feed.
The face was of an older, Hispanic man with dark wide set eyes. He had some noticeable piercings and facial tattoos. Maybe Vice was telling the truth; maybe Henry was an old friend who asked for this. “Can I talk to him?”
“Sure. I have a client coming in.” Vice got up, walking to a cabinet where he removed a tool box. It didn’t look like a typical tattoo or piercing set up. Before I could ask any further questions, he exited the bathroom, locking the door behind him.
I pulled up a nearby metal stool, to sit face to face with Henry. Vice’s headphones were of better quality, with a separate freestanding microphone. “Um, hello?”
The eyes blinked, once then twice. His mouth formed silent words.
“What are you saying?’ I looked down at the keyboard to type, but quickly realized there was no text prompt to type in. “Can you hear me?”
The face nodded, his eyes darting to the side, towards the door Vice had just left from. On the wall was a mounted sculpture; a pair of hands spray painted gold, chained together with wire. It appeared to be some kind of shelf, just large enough to hold a single item.
I walked the few steps to the sculpture. It was hanging on a thick metal hook. The hands were cupped, as if begging for a sip of water. Within the hands was a single bright silver coin. As I reached for the metal surface, my fingertips graced the item just enough to realize that it was some kind of bolt, holding the piece together (like the bottom part of a flower bouquet.) That, and I could feel very realistic human flesh.
I pulled my hand back out of instinct. “Latex, silicon molding,” I said out loud as if to convince myself. And then the hands moved. “Neat-o.”
C is for Charlotte, and absolute dumbass who got herself kidnapped.
The fingers jerked, motioning for me to come closer. “Henry?” I walked forward, in a trance, and picked up the hands off the hook. The fingers were reaching for my face, my neck. I had two choices; allow it to attack like a baby alien or throw it across the room. Holding the cupped hands at arm’s length, I turned my line of sight until I could see the computer screen. If this was Henry, I needed to know for sure. I turned slowly, locking eyes with the figure on the screen.
There was no web cam. I was watching the digitally generated male face, but there was no way for him to actually see me. “Shit.” The world went black.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, unable to open my eyes.
“Charlotte?” The voice was deep, smoky, ethnic. Do you remember what you asked me the first day we met?”
I did. I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out.
“You asked about my daughter. My Alicia.”
I nodded. That was what made me want to get to know him.
“I remember, you told me you never knew your father. He was a truck driver who died when you were six.”
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. All I could do was cry.
“You asked where I came from, who my people were. Do you remember?”
I nodded again. The words passed through my mind, ‘First nation native from Hamilton, Ontario. Your mother died in childbirth and your father left the reservation.’ There was a pain in my heart, but at least I knew for a fact this was Henry. We were on two different planes of existence.
“I will find a way to speak with you, but right now you need to wake up.”
I shook my head. ‘I don’t know how.’
“If you can hear me. I need you to open your eyes. I need you to hold my hands.”
“What?” my eyes fluttered open. The crab-like creature made from Henry’s hands was sitting on my chest, standing on eight fingers with its thumbs as the tail.
I forced myself to slowly sit up, as the creature curled in my lap like a household pet. “I’ll hold you.” I lifted the hands to my face, letting the finger tips caress my cheeks. “I promise.”
‘Beautiful things can happen anywhere.’
next: CharmanderChar1962 ch2