Some of you will be jealous of my job, others will be glad someone else does it; the rest of you will think of it as a violation of free speech and censorship.
I work for one of the largest online video streaming websites. It’s my job to watch videos that have been flagged as inappropriate and process the ones that violate the rules.
I’ve been doing this job for around five months now, and that is around four months, four weeks and six days longer than most. Some of the footage we are subjected to is horrific; the beheadings are just the tip of the iceberg. For every chopping, there are a thousand child fights, animal abuses and the most depraved porn you can imagine.
The people I work with are a little… different. You can see it in their eyes, the passive vacant stares; the same look you’d expect of an abattoir worker on the killing floor; every cow bolted just another tick on the meat clock of the work day, one down, thirty-five to go.
New workers I’ve seen start out excited and talkative, stoked to be working at the place that created the website they spend so much of their time using. They laugh out loud, they wince; some go white as a sheet and head straight to the toilet, some leave the boss’ office in tears and run out of the building, never to be seen again.
To say this job has a high turn over of staff is an understatement.
On my first day, waiting for my workstation to be set up, I swung around in my swivel chair and watched the others, the all wore DJ-style headphones. Looking at them, you’d not know they were listening to music, people crying or animals screaming; they had the demeanour of typical office workers.
My first video was of a guy running and jumping from a concrete apartment building and missing the adjacent rooftop, ending up in a bloody broken mess on the concrete below, I cringed as the body fell like a rag-doll, hitting surfaces on the way done. There is something odd, at first, watching content like this in a work environment, not that I’d not done it before, but I was actually getting paid to do it.
The first day was a breeze, I left with a cocky smirk on my face; this was child’s play. The nonplussed faces of my co-workers did not prepare me for the next day.
Day two was horrific.
The previous day was the paddling pool, set up to see if I had the makings of a moderator. Day two was wartime Vietnam.
The nightmares started after the third day. Corrupted visions of the scenes I had processed. Some of the videos I had viewed for mere seconds before shutting them off, but the faces, they don’t leave you. Obscene, crystal clear images filed away in your head, stamped with a post-it note of fear and anxiety.
After that they knew, they could see it on my face, in my demeanour, in my gait. I was sweating more and I twitched, a complete wreck. They did’t think I’d last until another day. I was viewing the worst of the worst now, no more easy days. But the next one was somehow always worse. Knowing what I know now, they were choosing my ‘playlist’, just to fuck with me.
Why didn’t I quit? What, and have those nerds laughing at me, fuck no! It’s just some videos for Christ’s sake, it’s not like I was getting hurt, physically anyway.
The mental fatigue from panic and distress destroyed my psyche; I pretty much stopped going out. In the evenings I started to drink, hard liquor, that helped a lot. But the hangovers were bad; I woke up some mornings and stared at the ceiling, performing deep breathing exercises, waiting for the knot in my stomach to relent, for the thumping in my head to stop. How to make a job watching fucked up people filming fucked up stuff worse, an excruciating migraine.
My parents were worried about me, when I talked to them, they thought I was on drugs. My ghost-like pallor, red eyes and lack of grooming were a dead giveaway, apparently; I stopped talking to my parents.
The days got longer, eight hours was especially long when you check the clock every two minutes; that’s around two-hundred and forty clock watches a day.
Tim though, he acted different to the others, he didn’t keep to himself like the others, he wanted to communicate. One morning, I saw him look at me as I walked out of the office for a cigarette, I gave him the courtesy of the curled corner of my mouth, nothing more, that was the most I’d smiled in a while. He followed me outside.
“You look like shit,” he said, taking his tobacco out of his pocket and beginning to roll one.
“Good to meet you, Tim.”
“People don’t usually stay here as long as you,” he stated before gazing into my eyes, “which is impressive, looks like you’re having problems sleeping though?”
“Yeah,” I grunted, lighting my cigarette, ignoring the question, “How long have you been here?”
“Around a year, give or take.”
Nearly choking on a lung full of smoke I replied, “Wow, that’s a long time,” feeling a little candid I ask, “How have you, you know, coped?”
“It does get easier, maybe too easy. It just takes time. Don’t talk to the others, get your work done and go home.”
We stood in silence, not exchanging so much as a glance, subconsciously taking his instruction to heart.
Tim dropped his half-smoked hand-rolled cigeratte to the floor and stubbed it out, “Remember, don’t talk to the others.”
Weeks passed and turned into months, and it did get easier, maybe too easy.
When you get into the rhythm of watching the videos until a violation of terms and conditions is committed, you start to relax. You get a feel for when things will turn sour, sometimes it’s completely obvious from the outset, some a little more subtle. I begin to become desensitised.
I stop dreading work, but the drinking continues, it’s a part of me now. My parents couldn’t be happier, I’m shaving again and I do not look like a heroin addict jonesing for the next hit. I begin enjoying my job, that sounds as disturbing as it is.
I was bopping in front of my PC to some country music, a strange soundtrack to the dog fights and religious hate crimes I’d seen that day, when Jason, who I’d not so much as nodded to in the corridor, introduced himself.
“Hey, newbie, I’m Jason.”
“Oh hi! Long time, no speak?” I answered confused, confused as to why he would pick now of all times to introduce himself.
I turn in my chair and see Tim staring at me, shaking his head. I can feel him mentally tell me to shut the fuck up and go back to work; I ignore him.
“Sorry I’ve not spoke to you before. A lot of people come to work here and I just don’t like wasting time getting to know people who aren’t, team players. You know what I’m saying?” he said as he slapped me on the back and laughed aggressively.
“No problem.” I respond feigning a smile.
“So, are you having fun here?” he asked and gestured with his chin to the freeze frame on my monitor showing a pig’s head being sawn off by a crazy muthafucka with a chain saw.
“I guess you could say that,” I responded slightly embarrassed that I’d been caught actually watching the video, well past the point I needed to watch.
“We’re going out for a drink after work tonight, are you interested?”
“Yeah, totally!” I replied, a bit too enthusiastically.
“Okay, newbie, we’re meeting at Charlie’s at 8pm.” Jason says as he stands, he points finger-thumb guns at me and clicks his mouth.
“Cool, see you then.”
I turned back to my monitor, trying to hide the smile plastering my face, feeling Tim’s eyes burn holes in the back of my head. Fuck him! The cool group has accepted me. Survival of the fittest Tim, and you are just going the way of the Dodo, T-Rex and 80s hair bands.
It was cold outside, I couldn’t tell the difference between the smoke and the cold vapour that left my mouth when I breathed.
I walked briskly to the bus stop, hands shoved tightly into my pockets as I heard Tim call after me. I pretended not to hear him, in the hopes he got the hint and left me alone. The hard flaps of his shoes slowed as he caught up with me.
Puffed out, Tim asked, “I told you not to speak to them, why did you speak to them?”
“Come on, they’re my work colleagues, I can’t be rude. How’s it going to look to the Boss if I ignore them, besides, Jason seems nice.”
“He does now, but you don’t know them. Didn’t you find it the least bit odd they didn’t speak to you for months and then suddenly today, he’s all friendly?”
Tim’s face wrinkled with frustration, which I failed to acknowledge.
“Whatever, just don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said as he left my side and trotted across the road shaking his head.
I craned my neck up and took in the overly large sign on the outside of Charlie’s. I could hear the tell-tale buzz of the neon light between flashes that was soon drowned out by low bass beats as I entered the bar.
I saw them, congregated around a table in the back of the joint, bathed in dim multi-coloured light. Jason clocked me and beckoned me over with a wave.
“Hi guys,” I nervously said to get things rolling.
I was greeted by almost synchronised head bobs, talkative bunch these.
“So, I was telling the others about that vid you were watching. They’ve all seen it, thought it was pretty cool too.”
“What video?” I asked, slightly concerned how the conversation has started.
“The one with the pig and the chainsaw? I shared the link with them.”
I could see that my new ‘friends’ were judging me, or maybe they were just jealous that Jason was talking to someone new. Was I supposed to say that I like that type of thing, or deny it; I assumed the former.
“Oh yeah, nothing like a bit of animal slaughter,” I responded.
Jason let out a deep belly laugh and again slapped me on the shoulder, “See guys, I told you he was one sick fuck!”
He looked down at my absence of a drink, “What can I get you, it’s on me?”
“Uh, just a lager of some type.”
“A lager of some type it is then.”
Jason got to his feet, it was quite obvious he had already entered ‘merry’ territory and was well on the road to smashed. I checked my watch, it was only five past eight.
We sat in silence, waiting for Jason to return. It had become apparent that Jason was the alpha make of these drones; no-one feeling comfortable enough to get the conversation going, probably lacking the skills entirely, Jason was clearly the catalyst of this group.
“Here you go, some amber piss water,” he announced slapping the pint glass on the table, spilling the head, which dribbled down the sides.
Jason picked up his Jack and Coke and finished it in one. With an exaggerated burp he put his hand in the inner pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a brown envelope, “Here, this is yours.”
“What is it?”
“It’s the money we put towards your pool.”
“The pool on how long you’d last in the job. You’ve lasted way longer than any of us thought you would. I think the longest we had was two weeks, ain’t that right Dave.”
He punched the guy who was apparently Dave on the arm, who responded with a quick smile.
“We’re all impressed,” Dave announced.
“Thanks,” I said.
“How long do people usually last?”
Another of the group piped up, “A day, a week tops.”
Jason clarified, “Yeah, you’ve seen what you have to watch all day. It fucks some people up. The person who had the job before you killed themselves. Couldn’t take what they’d seen.”
“That’s a little extreme, isn’t it?”
“Some people are more sensitive than others, I guess,” Jason continued, “So, what’s your favourite vid you’ve seen so far?”
Caught off-guard I responded, “What do you mean favourite?”
“Well, you must have a favourite,” he asked, begging the question.
“I’m not sure, I’ve not thought about it like that.”
“I guess, you’ve only been here six months, must still be like a kid in a candy store.”
I smiled and nodded, not really on the same wavelength as the others.
Another of the guys stood up, “Anyone up for some fuck off Jägerbombs?”
The group proceeded to high-five each other, ducklings following their leader.
“Newbie, you in?”
“Totally,” I responded, knowing this was going to be a heavy evening.
I arrived at work, head still spinning, the night before a blank. I watched the revolving doors to the office, their motion exacerbating my sickness; the hangover more severe than the ones over previous days. I pushed the door and hoped for the best.
The office was open plan, cubicles for as far as the eye could see, grey carpet, grey walls, true Dilbert territory. I could see Jason’s head bob over the cubicle wall, he waved and smiled, the type of smile Jack Nicholson is famous for in his ‘Here’s Johnny’ moment from the Shining.
I waved vaguely in his direction.
I arrived at my desk, Tim stared at me with a disapproving face that even Droopy the dog would be proud of; I ignored him.
Jason got up from his seat and walked behind me, he clasped his hands on my shoulders and said, “You did good last night.”
He tapped my shoulder and returned to his seat.
Hours passed, more disgusting videos are forced onto my retinas. I paused a video where this woman was tied to a bed, a masked man belting her face. I switched to the intranet application to flag for delete the video when Dave slid over on his chair.
“Dude, can you transfer that case to me please?”
“Why?” I asked.
He looked confused and peered back to Jason for guidance, who in turn got up from his seat and strolled over. Dave pushed off the floor, sliding his chair back to his cubicle, reversing the last couple of feet.
“Can you transfer that case to Dave, newbie?” he asked in a very calm tone.
“Yeah, sure,” I responded, unclear as to what was so special about the video.
I looked at the video on my monitor. The belt has connected with the woman on the bed. The man wore a white Watchmen T-Shirt, the yellow smiling face, speckled with more blood than in the design, blue jeans and a plain white mask.
I woke in the morning, head reeling in pain, I sat up and unexpected decor surrounded me. The room was small and empty, cornflower blue walls loomed down at me as I panicked, but the pain in my head kept me squarely planted on the floor. Where am I? I held my head, trying to shield it from the pain that rained down on me. I saw a bucket next to my sleeping bag and single pillow.
“Sleepy head, you want some breakfast?”
I heard the familiar voice from the hallway. Through squinting eyes I saw that it was Jason, who unlike me, appeared to be as fresh as a daisy.
“I’m not sure I can keep anything down,” I replied, feeling the acidic burn in my throat of a night spent praying to the porcelain Gods.
“With the amount that came up last night, you must be running on empty. When you come downstairs, help yourself.”
I checked my watch, it was 8am on Saturday. Thank fuck for that, I didn’t think I could do any work today. Getting to my feet I felt dizzy and faint, and very dehydrated.
I gingerly made it to the doorway and peered out, I didn’t recognise my surroundings. I took in the hardwood floor landing that stretched out to the left, past two other, presumably, bedroom doors. At the end was the bathroom, the toilet visible through the open door. An open staircase descended to the ground floor parallel to the landing.
Moving along the glossy wooden floor, I made my way to the bathroom. On inspection, if I had been ill the previous night, I’d done a good job of keeping it all inside the toilet, or someone had cleaned up behind me. I turned on the cold water tap, holding my hand in the flow until it ran ice cold. I placed my face underneath and sucked up as much water as I could; how nice is water when you’re parched.
Exiting the bathroom, the bedroom door to my right was ajar. Through the gap I saw a naked leg dangling off the edge of the bed, it’s red painted toe nails made me conclude that it was a woman. A camera tripod, sans camera, laid on the floor near the bed.
As I turned back I saw Jason staring at me from the top of the stairs, eyes like daggers.
“What the fuck you doing?” he demanded angrily.
I whispered, “Sorry, I used the toilet and something must have caught my eye, I wasn’t snooping, honest.”
His demeanour changed. He appeared satisfied with my response and the darkness that clouded his emotions lifted.
“That’s ok, come,” he told me.
I walked down the stairs and followed him into the kitchen. I sat at a small breakfast bar, laden with jugs of orange juice and milk, a choice of cereal and fruit.
“Dig in,” Jason offered and continued to stand.
I picked up a small box of Corn Flakes, emptied it into the square box in front of me and added copious amounts of milk. My head was feeling better already, I was quite surprised.
“What did you see in my bedroom? And be honest,” he said, as he watched me crunch my cereal, one mouthful after the next.
I waited until my mouth was empty, “I saw a naked woman on your bed, only her leg though. And a tripod on the floor.”
He smiled, I think the response pleased him.
“Is she your girlfriend?” I asked.
He snorted, “God, no.”
Jason shook his head in disbelief, the notion that the woman was his girlfriend was comical to him. He continued to laugh as he joined me on the opposite side of the breakfast bar.
Somber again, Jason asked “Do you remember anything from last night?”
The Jekyll and Hyde act he’s been performing disturbed me and I wonder why I am here alone with him.
“Nothing. I drank shit loads, I apologise if I made a mess. Where’s everyone else?”
“They all left last night. You went out like a light, Dave and I carried you into the spare room. Bet you’re glad it’s the weekend?”
He watched me nod and took another bite of his Rice Krispies, “Once we’ve eaten, I’ll take you home.”
I waited in the hallway lobby as Jason relieved himself. I took in the beauty of the house, it was massive. The downstairs had the appearance of a luxury villa you’d expect to see in the warm sun of a Mediterranean country. White walls giving way to large archways, keeping the whole floor as one large snaking room. Terracotta tiles stretched as far as the eye could see.
I walked into the study, next to the front door, wasting time. I saw a laptop set up on a very elegant drawing table, apart from a chair, that’s all that decorated the room. Off the study I saw a washing machine and dryer, and my heart stopped. My eyes locked onto the Watchmen T-Shirt, crumpled in the basket, resting on top of the machine.
I turned and returned to the hallway, just as I saw Jason waiting for me.
I jumped, “Fuck, you scared me.”
“You ready to go?”
Jason opened the front door and stared at my face as I left.
We sat in his Mercedes and cruised along the roads in silence. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him look at me, prepare to speak and then stop. He repeated this every couple of minutes, but never venturing to talk.
I thought about that T-Shirt and peered at Jason, who stared straight ahead. Does he look like someone who would do that to another human being?
The car pulled up in front of my flat.
“Thanks for the lift.”
“No problem, see you on Monday.” he said as he left. I pondered on whether that was a question or a statement.
I spent the weekend in a bit of a daze. The T-Shirt, it haunted my thoughts. My whiskey got me through the weekend though.
An all too familiar hangover greeted me on Monday and kept me company on the way to work. On the bus ride, the anxiety built. I looked through the misty window, taking in as much of the environment as possible in an effort to elongate the journey.
I arrived at the bus stop all too soon. As I exited down the few stairs to the sidewalk I saw Jason.
“Hey buddy, so it is this bus you take.”
Concerned, I approached him. He slapped his long arm around my shoulder and marched me in the direction of work.
“I thought I’d come and meet you and apologise for Saturday morning.”
“There’s nothing to apologise for, if anyone needs to say sorry, it’s me.”
“No, no, no. You got up and you must have been hanging and I take you straight home; I was not a good host,” he studies my eyes as he talks, I try to avoid his, “This Saturday, I’ll take you out on the quad bikes and we’ll make a day of it. Sound good?”
This Saturday? What the fuck, are we like engaged or something. I guess we’re ‘friends’, whether I like or not.
“Sure, sound good.”
I took a cigarette out and began puffing as if my life depended on it.
The morning passed slowly, I got through the same old same old, until coffee break.
As I returned and placed my mug on the desk, on my list I saw a video by a guy called Argo1520. The username rang bells. I checked the account status, there were no flags or warnings set, it was a clean account.
I played the video.
The camera films the side of a bed, where a woman lays bound and gagged. She struggles as a Death Metal band thrashes in the background, at points it looks like she is shouting the lyrics.
A man walks in, my mouth dried and heart quickened as I took in his attire. He wore blue jeans, a mask and a Watchman T-Shirt. The man mounts the woman and clasps his hands around the naked woman’s neck and squeezes. She thrashes around like a dying fish, bucking and jerking, fighting for her life. She arches her back before coming to rest. Her hands and feet twitch for another thirty seconds. I watched the man continue to apply pressure, shaking her neck a couple of times, until he is happy she is gone. He gets off the body and the woman’s leg slips off the beg and dangles off the side, her crimson nails glint in the spotlight.
Where the fuck is Tim? I turned around and peered down the line of cubicles, he wasn’t at his desk. I got to my feet and searched with purpose. The office is quite large, but it becomes apparent very quickly that he wasn’t there. Jason wasn’t at his desk. I power walked to Dave’s desk.
“Have you seen Tim?” I asked.
“I don’t think I’ve seen him today,” Dave responded.
Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember seeing him either.
Confused and stressed, I looked back at the computer screen, from here I could see the outline of the woman lying on the bed. I wasn’t ready to go back to my desk.
I’m going to have a cigarette.
In what seemed like two puffs, the whole thing was gone.
Fuck it, I’m having another.
I lit a second and it linger between my fingers, my head spinning from the first.
I heard the door behind me let another employee out into the chilly street. My heart sunk when I heard the voice.
“Hey, newbie, thought I’d come join you.”
“I didn’t think you smoked?” I asked, suspicious of his behaviour.
“I don’t, but I’ll keep you company. You seemed in a rush when you came out.”
“Oh no, no,” I tried to cover the signs of my obvious distress, “My head’s just not in it today.”
“Something spook you?” Jason asked.
I watched his eyes, they searched for an answer in mine.
Does he know what I watched, does he know what I think.
He smiled, “Well, that’s good then.”
I reluctantly dropped the stub of my second cigarette on the floor. He followed me back into building.
I sank into my seat with a sigh. I was relieved when I looked at my monitor and noticed the video has gone. But then concerned, someone has been at my workstation.
All the programs were gone from my task-bar. Shit! I re-opened the intranet site and saw that the entry for the video was gone. I searched for the user, their account was still clean. Opening up the main site, I found the video, it was still listed, someone had deleted the flag.
The afternoon moved slow. I was relieved when 5 o’clock rolled around. One last check, I opened a browser and searched for the video, it was gone.
“What are you looking for?” Jason said from behind me.
“Christ! Do you have to keep sneaking up on me?” I ask irked.
“Whoa, chill out, newbie. Just wanted to see if you want a ride home.”
“Are you saying you’d prefer to wait twenty minutes for a bus and sit on it with all those potential maniacs and freaks, instead of sitting in a warm car with me.”
I put on my coat and relent, “Sure, you’re right. The car will be much better.”
Jason starts the car and death metal music blares out the speakers. He quickly shuts it off, “Sorry about that. I need that to get me in the mood in the morning.”
I sat in silence, his company not something I enjoyed anymore. My mind wandered back to Tim as he tried to tell me to stay away from them.
“You’re quiet?” questioned Jason as we entered one of the last roads on the Journey.
“Yeah, some days I don’t know why I do this job.”
“I hear that, but it’s worth it in the end, isn’t it.” Jason says as I exited the car, “YOU know what I’m saying.”
He sniggered as I slammed the door.
I stood on the sidewalk and watched him wave as the car leaves; he knew I knew.
Friday came around quicker than expected, especially after how the week started. I had kept myself to myself. I hoped Jason has forgotten about his invitation.
It was 5pm and I had made it the last four days without speaking to him. I stayed sitting as I put on my coat, not wanting to draw attention to the fact I was leaving. I checked the other cubes to see if I could see him, he nowhere to be seen.
I took a cigarette out of my pocket and flipped it into my mouth, approaching the front door double time. Through the spinning door carousel I saw Jason waiting for me, he gave me his signature wave and smile, a look that says, you can’t avoid me, I own you.
“Newbie! If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were ignoring me.”
He waited for me to answer, I didn’t.
“Get in the car, we have a long night of partying ahead.”
“What about the other guys?”
“They’ll meet us there.”
As usual, Jason did not speak in the car.
I broke the silence, “Where are we going? Charlie’s is back that way,” I point with my head.
“We’re not going to Charlie’s. The party’s at my house.”
We slowed down as we entered his gravel drive, it snaked along for a third of a mile until we reached the front of the house. I failed to recall how I got here last time. I saw other cars lining the driveway as Jason returned the car to his garage.
The muffled sound of music could be heard through the walls of the garage. The door opened into the side of the house. Loud dance beats hurt my ears.
“Fuck me, you start partying early?” I ask, cupping my ears.
“The guys set up in the afternoon, I like to join when it’s already swinging.”
In the living room a lo-fi light show speckles the walls and a young woman dances. I saw the people from work line the far wall drinking beer, watching the woman move somewhat rhythmically to the music in front of them, looking at her like a cow at a meat market.
She had the appearance of a hooker, she didn’t appear drunk, but drugged up. I walked past her to meet the others at the back of the room. She ignored me and continued to dance, like a zombie would to an inane garage tune.
“What’s up with her?” I shouted in Dave’s ear.
“Think of this as the casting couch,” he shouts back, beaming from ear to ear, “You wanna beer?”
I nodded and he pointed to the table covered in boxes filled with ice and bottles. I picked up one from the nearest box and unscrew the cap. I rejoined the group and I saw Jason has also.
Everyone watches the woman in front of them. Dave approached her, put his arm through hers and led her out of the room.
“Newbie, the night is young, enjoy yourself. She’s all paid up,” Jason says as he pointed to the woman leaving the room, “anything goes.”
It’s a cool half an hour until Dave returned, he pushed her into the room and she stumbled and fell onto the makeshift dance floor. She wearily got to her feet and resumed dancing.
“Who’s next?” Dave asks as he pulls up his trousers.
“Newbie?” Jason offers, shouting over the music.
“Not my thing sorry.”
They all looked at me, like I am the pervert.
“What? A young, nubile, woman is ‘not your thing’? You bat for the other team, son?” Dave said as someone perturbed.
“No, I just don’t want to… Look, she’s drugged out of her face. It’s just not right.”
“You calling me a…”
“Shut it,” Jason said as he scolded his friend, “Just, get her ready.”
One of his other droogs escorted the woman back out of the room.
“What do you mean, get her ready?”
“You’ll see, soon enough. Dave, wrap this up.”
Dave walked over to the stereo and turned off the music. The silence unmasking the ringing in my ears.
“Come with us.” Jason says as he and the others ascended the stairs to the first floor.
I followed in tow. Apprehension rocked me as I reached the top of the flight and saw Jason’s bedroom door open; bright light from spotlights filled the hallway.
I walked as slow as I could over the hardwood landing. I didn’t want to look into the bedroom, but I have to, I am expected to.
It’s what I didn’t want to see. It was the room from the video. It was the bed from the video. The T-Shirt from the video draped over a chair, along with the jeans and mask.
“You don’t look that surprised, newbie?” Jason says, head cocked to one side, “But then, I didn’t think you would be, after seeing the T-Shirt in the laundry when you left last. And after all, watching the last video, that would have been a bit of a give away.”
He smirked, “Come on in, we need to get you into costume.”
“You heard what I said. Get the fuck in here.”
I turn and run. I get to the top of the stairs when Dave leans over the bannister and grabs my hair.
“Fuck, fuck, alright, I give!”
He continued to yank on my hair until he’s taken me back to the bedroom. He pushed me into the centre of the room and guarded the door.
“I didn’t like that newbie, why did you run? I thought I could trust you, thought you were one of us. Sit,” Jason demanded as he forced me onto a chair in front of a PC.
“Didn’t any of last Friday stick with you, boy? None of the rush?”
I shoke my head, “I don’t know what the hell you’re fucking talking about.”
“You’re going to put on those clothes over there, you’re going to mount that woman over there, and you are going to slit her throat.”
“The fuck I am!” I replyed to the insane suggestion that I murder that woman.
Jason’s face turned to pure anger, he took a fistful of my shirt and twisted it, “Listen to me and listen good. You’re going to put on those clothes, you’re going to mount that fucking whore and you are going to slit her mother fucking throat. And if you don’t, I’m going to do the same to you. You understand me, newbie?”
“No!” I cry out in desperation.
The woman on the bed was clearly conscious but seemed unaware or not bothered by the conversation.
“Show him the video,” Jason demanded of Dave, who was staring at the bed, “SHOW HIM THE FUCKING VIDEO.”
Dave opened the video from Windows Explorer, it was same feed I watched on Monday. The man in the Watchmen T-Shirt enters shot and straddles the bed. I looked away as the man’s hands grab the girl’s neck. I did not want to watch Jason strangle her for a second time.
Jason put his hands on my head and turned it back to the computer screen, “WATCH THE FUCKING VIDEO!”
I saw the woman twitch and then Jason dismount, the woman’s leg slipped off the bed and the man disappeared out of shot.
But the footage continues, the woman led lifeless on the bed. Suddenly the masked man appeared in front of camera and the mask came off.
“Not bad for a newbie,” I slurred into the camera.
“He, he, he,” Jason cackles from behind me and slapped my shoulder, “You’re one sadistic son of a bitch when you’re drunk. Now put on those clothes, mount that woman and slit her fucking throat throat.”
I didn’t feel scared, or stressed, or anything. I felt nothing. I said the only thing that filled my mind, “I need a cigarette.”
“Get this man a cigarette!” Jason barked his order like a Drill Sargent, smiling all the way.
I smoked at the desk, my hand shook. I saw the others looking at me, I presumed that this is how all the others became Jason’s ‘friends’. I smoked that smoke slower than I have ever smoked before, I didn’t want it to end. Allowing this cigarette to end meant unfathomable things.
How drunk was I that night? I never even contemplated the fact I could drink enough that I would voluntarily kill someone, and from the looks of it, enjoy it.
I winced as the filter began to burn and I contemplated smoking that too.
“I think our boy’s ready,” Jason announced as he threw the clothes over to me.
They felt horrid in my hands, soft like clothes, but sinister like a murder weapon itself.
I reluctantly removed my clothes and put on the ones supplied, they fit perfectly. I wondered if they were sized for me, or whether it was a lucky guess. I strapped on the mask. The room grey and distorted by the mesh-like eye-holes.
He handed me a razor sharp knife, “Don’t you think about using this on me. They will finish you off and will make it painful.”
I approached the bed, doing what I was told, expecting to not be in a position to actually do it. I peered back at the group and see the red light of the camera, signalling it was being recorded.
I crawled onto the mattress and work my way on top of the woman. She appeared oblivious to my presence. Her hands were tied to the bed posts, I saw self-harm marks all up her forearms. On the walls and the floor below the bed was plastic sheeting, I assumed it was to make the clean up easier.
The woman’s glazed eyes looked vacant. I reason with myself, in many ways isn’t she already dead? But in her absence was an innocence.
I breathed in once and closed my eyes. I brought the knife to her neck and in one swift motion dragged it along her skin. There is no friction, no delay, I feared I’ve just scratched her.
I opened my eyes and see the curtain of blood spray out, hissing like a snake. Her face looked no different than before, her spaced-out facial expression still disconnected to reality, much like mine is now.
Staring at her, I waited until I see the light flicker out from her eyes, it took longer than I’d expected; her eyelids opened and closed multiple times after the blood stopped flowing. When she failed to close them I know she had gone, I sighed and leant back. I saw a camera attached to the ceiling filming down on me. I glared into the lens and saw the reflection of the man who peers back, that’s not me, I’d never kill someone. But it was me, I had killed people.
“Bravo, newbie. I knew you had it in you,” Jason said while clapping.
That knot in my stomach was back, I didn’t think it was going to leave me for a long time.
The next week passed quickly. My job was a mere distraction occurring between 9am and 5pm. I worked, I drank, I slept, little else.
On Friday, the journey to Jason’s house was quiet as usual. But this time it was not because of nervous silences, it was because Jason owned me and I didn’t like that fact. He knew I don’t like the way this has turned out, I saw it in the way he looked at me. He was no longer friendly, this was just business.
In the living room, I slunk down into a large armchair, I held a large bottle of apparently swanky Vodka in my left hand and I slam shot after shot of it with the right.
I drank until I felt nauseated, I did not want any trace of what I did tonight to be imprinted on my grey matter; let’s just get this over with.
I watched Jason’s sidekicks laugh along to his jokes and stroke his ego for the evening, they might as well jerk him off while they were at it. They stood in their little circle, their clique; they make me sick.
I saw Jason stare at me between flares of conversation, his smile dissolved and a look that I would compare to chewing dog shit invaded his face.
Why the fuck are you bringing me here prick, if you don’t want me here!, I thought to myself.
My vision is got hazy, drunkenness settled in.
“Don’t spend the whole night sitting on your ass being an unsociable fuck, get up here!” Dave said.
“Newbie!” Jason shouted.
But I was passing out.
I saw Jason smile as I closed my eyes for the final time.
Shit, my head kills. What the fuck is going on?
It was dark.
I was sitting down.
My arms wouldn’t move.
My legs wouldn’t move.
“Hey! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”
I heard the door click open, a slice of light brightened the wall.
The camera and tripod in front of me became visible.
“We could have been partners, made a lot of money. Your videos made much more money than the others, even mine! You’re gifted.” said Jason as he entered the room, his slender figure silhouetted against the bright light, “You have no idea how disappointed I was that you only capable when drunk. I thought you were the real deal, sick, twisted and sadistic, but you were none of those things. Had a couple too many and got carried away. You’re fucking worthless to me now, actually less than worthless, you’re a ticking time-bomb, you know too much.”
He took something out of his pocket as he approached.
“You’ll look purty with this on,” he said as he strapped a ball-gag around my mouth, “Can’t have you screaming… much.”
He slaps my face, “That’s a good boy.”
Slowly he circled round and stopped behind me, he clamped his hands down on my neck.
Another figure was now visible in the doorway, he waited for what seems like hours before introducing himself.
“I knew you weren’t right for this, but no-one listens to me. Now look what we have to do!” the man in the doorway said, “I told you not to speak to them.”