We’ve all seen those You may have already won £50,000 leaflets that come in the post. The rational among us know that they aren’t worth shit. Even if it’s a real competition, there’s usually a catch, like only one prize, which could have been won months ago, and the price to text in more than covers the prize money within a couple of days. Enter as many times as you want. A total scam.
This one was different though. It was personalized. I know that’s easy to do in this day and age, but what made it special was it came with a referrer. Congratulations, has requested that you be entered into this once in a lifetime prize draw.
The copy went on, ending with a URL – http://www.youmayhavealreadywon.co.uk and a PIN number. Now, I’m no naïve idiot, I didn’t believe it. I threw it in the trash with all the other junk mail. I didn’t think about it again, until , let’s call him Craig, phoned me.
“Hey man, how’s it going?” he asked, his voice hesitant and nervous.
“Not too bad,” I said, surprised he’d called, “I was only thinking about you the other day,” I’d forgotten about the leaflet.
“So, yeah, you had anything in the mail recently?” he asked, already done with the pleasantries.
“Nothing of note, unless you mean my phone bill.”
“You didn’t get something about a prize draw or anything?”
“Now that you mention it, I did.”
“Oh good,” he said, obviously relieved, “well.”
“Did you enter?”
“No, of course not.”
“Fuck me, Justin, what’s wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a chance to win a lot of money.”
“Like fuck do I,” I replied, slightly irritated. He’d be the type of person to sign up for multi-level marketing and then call you a piece of shit for not buying his protein drinks.
“Please, just enter.”
“Why do you care so much? I don’t hear from you in months and now you’re on my case for not entering a competition, which might I say, Craig, is a scam.”
“It’s not a scam!”
“I don’t even know if I have it anymore.”
The line went silent.
“It is real,” he said, trying his best to stay calm, “I swear it is.”
“I’m going to hang up now,” I said, already thinking about blocking his number from my phone.
He wasn’t a close friend, far from it. He was one of those people you only go out with alongside other friends. You know the type, if you were left one-on-one with them, you’d have better luck striking up a conversation with a corpse.
“Don’t go! Don’t go! Tell you what. I’ll PayPal you £500, will that prove to you that this competition is real?”
“Since when do you have that much money to give away?”
“Since I was about to win £50,000. Please.”
“Hang on. If you are going to win that, then surely I can’t?”
“It doesn’t work that way. Even if it did, you’d still have £500, right?”
I couldn’t argue with his logic.
“I’ll think about it,” I replied.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
What a weird fuck.
I’d hung up and put a meal in the microwave before I got a text from him saying that he’d transferred the money. I shook my head, wondering if he thought I was that stupid to actually enter before checking my account. I had to double-take when I saw my PayPal balance. It was there. I thought about sending it straight back, but hesitated. Instead I walked into the kitchen and rummaged around in my bin. This was the first time I was actually glad I recycled, because if I didn’t, there was no way I was putting my hand in there.
Craig’s a lucky boy I said to myself.
I looked at it in more detail than before. It was your standard spam crap. I couldn’t believe he’d bought into this. But for £500, I was willing to play along.
I made sure I was connected to my VPN, typed the URL in and waited. A black page with a single input box, with the text PIN, appeared. Next to it was a Submit button. It was obvious all their budget went into designing and printing the leaflet.
I entered the pin number and pressed submit. White text on the same black background appeared, this time with a welcome message mentioning my name and asking me for some details. It asked for my age, address and email. These were prefilled, obviously Craig had given them it already. I was sure this was breaking data protection laws, though I confirmed it, the damage had already been done.
When the page refreshed, I was greeted with a Thank You and a We Wish You Luck and a prize draw date of two days away.
I messaged Justin back telling him I’d entered, with a screenshot of the thank you page, so he couldn’t weasel out of the money later. I received no response, not even a this message has been read tick. I didn’t care too much, he’d sent me the money after all, and he wasn’t a proper friend. I all but forgot about it for the next two days, until I received an email.
Congratulations, you have been selected for the final prize draw. Please click the link below to see if you are one of our lucky contestants.
I did as I was told and clicked.
It opened up a similar black webpage, this time with a message saying waiting for participants and underneath 2 out of 10 present. I guessed this was me and some other guy, both waiting to see if we were the one.
I poured a glass of whiskey and waited. Slowly, one by one the number began to grow. I was three glasses down before all ten were present and the website changed. Ten boxes popped up, Please Wait displayed on each. Down the bottom of the page was a monetary value, £0.00 and next to that a grey Quit button. Finally, a counter, 10 out of 10 participants remaining. A few minutes later the messages disappeared, to be replaced by grainy green night vision footage.
Confused, I checked out each one, making them full screen. The first was of a non-descript bedroom. The bed in the middle had been made. A small alarm clock, over-bright in the night vision, displayed the time – I checked my watch, the clock in the room was slow by half an hour.
The next feed was of the inside of a barn. In the middle, a large bale of hay sat, the only object of interest in the frame. I inspected the next, it was of a field, lit only by a single spotlight. In the background was corn as far as the eye could see. The next, a living room, the TV flickered in the corner, making the whole picture too bright.
I flicked through some more until I stopped on one that seemed familiar. I don’t think I would have noticed if it weren’t for the poster on the wall above the bed. A poster for the band Iron Maiden, the one where Eddie (the band mascot) has strings leading from his hand to that of the devil – the poster for the album Number of the Beast. I thought it must have been a coincidence, thousands of prints of that poster must exist.
Back in thumbnail view, synchronized, all of the feeds were lost, and on top a countdown started.
The sound that emanated from my laptop was horrifying, screams overlapping each other, competing to be heard. There were people now in each frame. One tied in place and another calmly pacing around the environment, stalking their prey. One of the feeds went dark and on top Participant 2 left, then another, Participant 10 left. Before I knew what was happening half the feeds were dark.
It was overwhelming. The counter in the corner raced up, £1,248.00… £2,910.00…
Panicking, I tried to orient myself. The whiskey was making my mind sluggish. I found the video with the poster and made it full screen. The person, the girl, screamed. It took me a moment to focus. A hooded man stalked the bed. The girl’s hands were chained to the bed. He dragged the knife down her left arm. In the night vision, I saw a black line grow up her arm and then drip onto the bedsheets.
The image was too low quality to see who it was. I took out my phone and called Craig.
I’m sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer available.
It was as if the walls closed in. I felt a nausea grow in my stomach. Frantically, I searched my contacts for my sister. I hadn’t phoned her in so long, she wasn’t in my favourites, or in my recently dialed. I called my mother instead.
“Hey Justin,” she said, “I’m surprised you’re phoning me, don’t think I’m not grateful.”
“Shut up! I need your help.”
“That’s no way to speak to your mother. What is all that noise in the background, are you watching a horror movie?”
“I need Sarah’s number.”
“Oh, and here’s me thinking you wanted to speak to me.”
“Please, mum! Now!”
“Alright, alright. It’s .”
“What’s going on?”
I hung up; I didn’t have time to explain.
I could hear her phone ring, then I looked at my laptop. Over the screams, I heard an Iron Maiden song ring out, Run to the Hills. And in the grainy footage, a rectangular light. The hooded man stopped, and looked directly into the camera. He paced around the bed and picked up the phone.
I heard heavy breathing and stared at the screen. He turned the knife from side to side, his blade glinted.
“You’re cheating, Justin…” he said, his voice low and growly, “tick tock.”
I minimized the screen to see only three feeds remained. I don’t know if it was the drink, or the fact the counter was now up to £24,872, I hung up. I looked at the Quit button, then to the other two feeds.
The one of the barn showed a woman stretched over the bale of hay, her arms out of shot, over the backside of the bale. A large dark patch grew on the hay, what appeared to be entrails flopped out of her abdomen, hanging precariously. Then, without warning, they dropped to the ground, accompanied by a sloshing sound. Then the feed went dark, Participant 3 left.
It was just Sarah and one other, the one of the living room. Sarah groaned as the hooded man rained punches down on her face, I winced as each one made contact.
I picked up my phone and dialed.
“Hello again, son, are you going to be nicer now?”
“I love you, you know that right?”
“Of course, I do, honey.”
“Remember when Sarah and I used to play outside in the yard? She used to ride her bike around in circles.”
I glanced at the living room footage, the hooded man placed pliers in the girl’s mouth and pulled, she let out a blood curdling scream.
“I remember. What are you watching?”
My vision clouded, as tears began to well up. It was a game of Russian roulette now. Some random stranger and I. I wondered if they were as upset as I was, or if they were a complete psychopath. I chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” my mother asked.
“You know I love Sarah, right?”
“What’s going on?”
I contemplated what would happen if the other guy left then, would I have to wait until the amount hit £50,000, or would I be able to quit and get whatever the jackpot had hit.
“Do you remember that time Sarah fell off the rope swing in the Forest of Dean and I had to swim out to get her? My God, she screamed.”
“You’re scaring me, son.”
I took a glance, Sarah was unconscious, I was relieved. At least she wouldn’t be hurting anymore.
“And that time she got off the school bus at her friend’s house, we thought she forgot to get on. She laughed when we picked her up, she had no idea she did anything wrong.”
In the living room, the hooded man pulled another tooth. The woman screamed again.
“What is that screaming? Is that Sarah?” my mother said, worried.
“No, of course not.”
And I was truthful, she wasn’t saying anything anymore.
Participant 8 left.
“I love you, mum.” I said, and hung up.
The game continued; I watched the counter. She wasn’t that hurt. I’d share the money with her. She didn’t need to know where it came from.
It was as if the counter slowed. I felt my heart thump in my chest.
Come on, come on!
The hooded man stared at the camera again and showed me the knife, holding it proud above his head.
1 out of 10 participants remaining was displayed at the bottom of the screen. All of a sudden, I felt lonely.
He approached the side of the bed, and with a practiced motion moved the knife over Sarah’s throat, then drawing his other hand across his.
My cursor hovered over the Quit button.
The knife touched her throat, a small bead of blood ran down her neck. I couldn’t take it anymore; I pressed the button.
The website changed, replaced with a black screen and a Please wait…
I called Sarah’s number. It rang, and rang and rang.
Congratulations, you have won £50,000. Please use the form below to refer others for your chance to win again, or share the URL – http://www.youmayhavealreadywon.co.uk – and PIN – 1865.
My phone buzzed. An email notification, from PayPal. The money was there.
Sarah won’t answer her phone. I’ve called the police to tell them I’m worried about her. I’m glad I phoned my mother now. It will prove I was in my house at the time. My mother has left me a message saying she can’t get hold of Sarah. I’m going to phone her back to say I’m concerned too. I really hope Sarah is okay. I’m not sure I’ll be able to enjoy the money if she’s not.