My cousin pressed stop on the video file and turned to me with a big smile on his face.
“So? What do you think?”
Realising my mouth was still open, I closed it and swallowed. What did I think? The look on my face made his smile grow even larger. It was exactly what he’d been hoping for.
“I know, right? It’s awesome!”
I hadn’t said anything. Couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to think, let alone what to say.
“Do you wanna watch it again?”
“No!” I found my voice. “God, no. Once was enough.”
My cousin Matt worked at a games store, but his true passion was, to put it politely, finding and watching fucked up videos. Not torture porn or any of that— ‘That’s baseless and degrading,’ he always said—but the really weird stuff. The stuff you couldn’t explain. The things that made no sense and that, when put under scientific scrutiny, stood up to the test. It started with alien autopsy videos and black marked conspiracy tapes when he was a kid, but before long they weren’t enough. He needed more. More real. More weird. The more mind-bending, the better.
This one certainly fit that bill.
I got a text from him at two in the morning. ‘You gotta see this one!’ That was it. It didn’t need further explanation; he did this all the time.
Now I wished I could unsee it.
“Where did you find it?” I asked, trying to gather my thoughts. His eyes sparkled and his grin threatened to crawl off his face and eat me.
“A friend of a friend.” He never revealed his sources, but was constantly making new ‘friends’ with mutual interests, both on and off the internet.
“You need new friends, you know?”
He laughed. It was all a big joke. Nothing scared him. Nothing creeped him out. Nothing made him feel sick or uneasy or anxious. That was why he sought the videos out. I was beginning to suspect he did it just to see if he could actually feel something. Find that one video that truly frightened him. While this video didn’t appear to be the one, he was so excited about it his whole body was shaking.
“On second thoughts, play it again.”
He nearly burst out of his skin trying to click the play button on his computer. He buzzed beside me, like a hive of bees ready to explode. Sweat was running down the side of his forehead. It was snowing outside.
“Are you okay?” I asked. He nodded, but the movement was off. Unnatural. It began to dawn on me that I’d seen it before. The video began.
A man was looking at something, facing the camera. His face was hollowed out and sunken, like all the moisture had been sucked out of him. His eyes had no focus, but they were looking just above the camera. He showed no sign that he knew a camera was there, however; it was a secret camera, recording the man as he looked at something.
It was difficult to tell how long he stood there. There was no time stamp and no movement in the background. Other than the occasional twitch or blink he stood there frozen, a statue in time, no way to tell that it wasn’t a still image. That was when it started to get strange. First, sweat began pouring down the side of his face. It ran into his eyes, over his nose, and dripped to the floor below. Then the twitching began. His body twitched and shook for a while but then suddenly it stopped, and he stood perfectly still. Then his neck began to twist and jerk in unnatural motions, his eyes rolling around in his head. It was like watching a tape on fast-forward. The first time I saw it, I thought it had been. But then a man walked passed. He put a hand on the other man’s shoulder, in normal speed, while his head continued twisting and jerking, beads of sweat flying everywhere. The man smiled as the other man’s head continued to twist with unnatural speed, and he spoke directly to the camera.
“I think that about does it. Good enough for you guys?”
Then the screen went to black, and the video ended.
“Did you catch it?”
Matt’s voice scared me back to reality. The sweat pouring of his face was even more profuse.
He grabbed the mouse and went to an earlier position in the video. Before the man started twitching like his own head was trying to rip itself from his body in triple speed. He played the video for a few seconds and then paused.
He zoomed in on the man’s eyes.
I looked closer, but I couldn’t see what he was trying to point out to me. It was a man’s eyes, all blurry and… no. That was a lie. There was… something.
“What is it?”
He zoomed in further. It was a blurry mess, but I could just make something out.
“It’s a picture. He’s looking at a painting.”
I looked away. Something told me it wasn’t something I wanted to be looking at.
“But why is there a camera there filming him? Who is he? And who is that guy that came in at the end?”
Matt shrugged. “No idea. I sent my friend a message asking where he got the file but he never got back. That’s not too unusual for him though. Sometimes he disappears for weeks on end before showing up like he was never gone in the first place. Isn’t it amazing though? What is it about this particular picture that caused such a reaction in him? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
He was smiling. Excited and shaking like a small child on Christmas. He zoomed in and out, trying to get a better look at the picture. I felt ill. I didn’t want to look at it anymore.
“Look, I’ve got some things to do today, so I’m gonna head home. If you hear back from that guy, let me know, okay?”
I didn’t really want to know more. I just wanted to get away and never think about the video again. It was creepy. I couldn’t unsee the way that man’s head twisted and moved, kinda like those balloon men you see out of the front of car dealerships that wave and blow around, only in super speed and with a person’s fleshy neck. And the smile on that other man’s face as he looked directly into the camera. It was similar to the smile on Matt’s face as I gave my excuses and exited the door. He didn’t even look away from the computer.
A few days later I got a call from Matt’s mother, my aunt. He was missing. He was supposed to meet her for lunch two days prior but never showed up. They went to his house, but it was empty. There was food in the fridge, his wallet was in the drawer and his clothes still in the wash. It was like he just up and vanished overnight.
I remembered the video, but I couldn’t say anything. What could I say? “Yeah, we watched a weird video the other day. Maybe that has something to do with it?”
His body was found a week later. He was lying face-down in the middle of the woods a few towns over. His car was still in the driveway of his house, so no-one knew how he got there or even how he died.
Ever since yesterday I’ve been feeling restless. I can’t stop twitching. And even with the air conditioning on in the middle of winter, this sweat just won’t stop.
I shouldn’t have watched that video. Shouldn’t have looked at that painting reflected in his eyes, but it’s too late for that now.
I know what happens next.