A High Voltage Horror

October 18, 2023

It was an early morning on Monday the 15th of September, and Jake Ferris was skipping another first year college class. It was close to 6 am, but the day already felt like it was going to be hot as he trudged along the side of the deserted road. He’d left his car behind so that he was less noticeable out in the middle of all that empty farmland and had already been walking for an hour or so. In a few minutes he would be crossing through another dense forest. He stopped, checked his phone, and made sure he was still on track. He had been out to this particular tower before. It was in the perfect location, and he had found it himself, a fact that he was proud of. It was one of the smaller electricity pylons, maybe only 30 meters tall, he guessed, but he hadn’t managed to climb it on his first time out there. Now he was stronger, and after a few weeks of training himself to hang off the bars in the neighborhood park, he felt ready.

Arriving at the tower he dropped his backpack at its base and looked up at the twisting metal structure looming above, carrying hundreds of kV of jaw-vibrating high voltage current. He rummaged around in his bag and strapped on his fluorescent head camera. This was an unfortunate detail, considering he’d tried hard otherwise to blend into his surroundings. He’d be climbing in gray cargo pants and matching gray cotton t-shirt. One thing he was testing out this time was whether wearing a thick pair of black electrical gloves would impede his climbing at all. Despite repeating to himself that he was fine, he felt his limbs shaking. He had a tall frame, and his long legs were knocking loudly together at the knees as he forced himself closer to the lattice. He was momentarily surprised to realize that the ragged breath he was hearing was coming from his own chapped lips. He forced himself to focus, turned the camera on, and hauled himself onto the first exterior section of the tower.

A good distance away and in a far less remote part of town, Wendy was also focusing on an important task. Wendy was attempting to isolate cyanogen iodide, a ridiculously toxic inorganic compound, just to see if she could still do it without fatally poisoning herself. She hadn’t worked as an industrial chemist in years, but she felt that it was important to keep up her skillset. When dealing with high-risk extractions, she firmly believed that it was better to attempt them frequently so as not to be so out of practice as to really muck it up when you try again years later. A baseball game was playing on TV, and all Wendy could hear from her workbench was the intermittent cheering and booing of the fans and the cracks of the bats. The house was small, but in truth she had bought it because of the garage. It was a dark, concrete garage with frosted cinder-brick windows that only let in a pale and diffuse light. It was perfect. It reminded her of her college chemistry labs, and she was content to fill the poorly lit space with an array of scientific apparatuses and unsorted electronic odds and ends. She was also happy for the fact that she only shared the house with her son, and he mostly kept to himself. His room had a separate entrance, and since he was in college, he was free to come and go within reason, so she was a bit surprised to see Jake stagger past the open door of the garage and begin to mash his house keys into the locked front door. She took a few steps out of the garage, but he still didn’t notice her. At last, he shouldered his way into the house, huffing and puffing. Upon following him, when she asked him what was wrong, he seemed a bit dazed. When Jake assured her, he was just dizzy from the heat and needed to lay down, she thought vaguely about heatstroke, lost her train of thought and started to wonder if she’d collected the newspaper that morning. Jake watched his mother’s eyes glaze over and he proceeded through the door, inching his way past the stacked banker’s boxes full of newspapers, flyers, and coffee cups, up the twisted stairs sticky with wood glue, paint, strips of wallpaper, and little funnels and channels of crumbs being diligently moved by ants up and down the steps giving them the appearance of veined marble.

Jake meanwhile didn’t have heatstroke at all but was a mess of nerves. His heart was beating so rapidly he imagined it fluttering like a stone skipping across a pond, as if he was being picked up and dropped repeatedly. He sat down at his computer, back straight against the chair, the adrenaline making him want to scream and thrash in the air. Upending his backpack, he strewed the contents across the room and fumbled with a crusty usb cable to begin uploading his helmet cam videos to his PC. 

The videos had only been live a short while when the shrill jangle of the local high school’s bell cut the early afternoon air, and the scattered conversations of students coming in from lunch echoed around the trees in the large and shady courtyard. Under one of the shadier willow trees sat a small group of students who made no moves to go inside. The five or six of them were gathered in a circle and had been breathless for several minutes now, eyes glued to the single phone screen in the middle of the group. They had huddled up close, as if to hide what they were seeing not only from others but from themselves as well.  A pregnant silence hung in the air. Finally, one of them exclaimed that the videos were fake, and a collective sigh went through the group. It had to be CGI, they reasoned. This account only had three videos and less than 100 people watching it. There was no way someone could do something so crazy and not be viral yet. They played the videos a few times, holding their faces up close to the screen looking for missed clues and hoping to force some sense into what they were seeing by staring intently enough at it. In the videos, one shot from a fixed camera and the other two from helmet cams, a slender looking man in thick black gloves was gripping the absolute shit out of a steel wire, dangling far above the ground with not a single rope in sight. On top of that, this wire looked like it was attached to a live electrical pylon. The electricity would arc and kill him if this was real, they argued. This is so wildly dangerous one of them said, turning their face away in disbelief. “Look, he answers questions in the comments. Is this…a joke? This guy is going to die,” said some of the students who liked physics. Lucas, the small but stocky boy in the center who was holding the phone, got defensive and said he’d seen other people climb towers like that. He closed his phone and stood up quickly, not fully understanding why he’d suddenly gotten so agitated.

He was momentarily surprised to realize that the ragged breath he was hearing was coming from his own chapped lips.

When Lucas went home that evening, he ran into the building superintendent outside on the front steps smoking a cigarillo. Just as Lucas was about to put his keys to the door, the super turned his head and puffed some smoke in his direction. “Has the roof been leaking in your apartment? We’ve been getting complaints on your floor,” he asked trailing off, as if once having asked the question he was no longer interested in the answer. The answer would require some kind of reaction, and the business of patching the roof and all that was best left for another time. Lucas was well aware of this song and dance but felt himself stopping to talk anyways. In the middle of explaining that his roof wasn’t leaking more than it had been the last time he was asked this question, he heard a sharp sound and felt the air ripple under his nose. He heard the sound of hard plastic hitting lumpy cartilage, and Lucas broke off what he was saying. He watched as the super gripped his face and stumbled forward down several steps, a purple frisbee clattering against the stone beside his feet. From across the parking lot a child called a panicked “Sorry!”, brought their fists to their face and sped off in the other direction, too anxious to collect the object of their shame. Blood ran between the super’s fingers, slipping down and falling like drops of oil onto the porous gray stone of the steps. The super grunted, and holding his nose, spun around towards the entrance as the faded white t-shirt he wore under his coveralls slowly turned a shade of burnished red. Lucas opened the front door for him and watched as he struggled to throw his still lit cigarillo onto the steps and push his way into the building, leaving small smears of blood on the glass panels in the foyer as he went. As Lucas watched him stagger away choking down sobs and curses, he found himself wishing that he had something to clean the blood up with. He couldn’t explain it, but he got a lonely feeling when he thought of the super wiping the windows clean afterwards amidst the traffic of the tenants bustling through the doorway beside him. 

He was still feeling a bit sad and unsettled as he hurried through the basement hallway towards his apartment. This place stressed him out. He hated the building, and he hated his apartment that smelled like cat pee even though he didn’t have a cat. He hated that it was always empty because he lived with his dad who wouldn’t come out of his room. Lucas’ mother had gone missing last year. She had gone out for a run near the trails just thirty minutes outside of town and never returned. After a desperate search in the marshland and through the fields, first responders had found her body stuffed into a small crevice in a cave. It became obvious that she had died violently, but there were never any leads as to who had killed her, or why, or whether she had even been killed in the cave or her body simply moved there afterwards. Sometimes Lucas wondered if things would be different if they hadn’t found her body. In the week that passed between his mother going missing and her body being found, Lucas and his father held onto a faint hope that she was still alive. When the hope was gone, and gone in such an incomprehensible way, everything fell apart. It was only half a year after the funeral that Lucas got drunk and hit a kid with his car. His dad couldn’t look at him anymore after that, and when he tried to say: “I love you,” he often just looked at Lucas and cried instead.

Lucas didn’t bother to turn on the lights in the living room. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and went back to the pylon climber’s videos. kVforBreakfast said the account name. He searched for more videos, but mostly found videos of people climbing cranes. There were the usual videos of the teams of free runners, jumping between buildings, flipping onto balconies, sliding down street poles, and the ever-popular clips of people dangling their legs over tall building ledges, and in the more extreme clips, walking about on wind turbines, but he found very few electrical pylon videos. For miles around the pylon there was nothing but trees and sky. The lines looked like they were shining spider webs linking together the clouds. The view from the top of the tower looked strangely beautiful, despite all that metal and electricity, maybe even because of it. Lucas found himself fixated on the sound of the wind in the videos. So far above the ground and the only thing there with you is the constant sound of wind whooshing past in steady intervals like a beating heart.

Lucas had been up a crane before. He climbed it after the accident with the kid. For months after his mother died his drinking had been slowly getting worse. He’d have a six pack over the course of the school day, two on the morning walk, two at lunch, and two on the walk back. Some days he’d dip into the bar at the end of his street. The place doubled as a restaurant, and usually the staff were around his age and didn’t bother to ID. That day he’d drank until he was taking two steps for every step he would have taken sober. He had felt oddly at peace, even in a good mood, and had been thinking about his mother. He thought of her teaching him to ride his bike and to play blackjack. His dad didn’t think it was funny to teach him blackjack, but he knew his mom secretly did it to help him get better at mental math, which he’d always struggled with. She had been teaching him to drive before she died, and he hadn’t been able to look at her car since. It was an unremarkable car, just an old Chevy with no AC and a tape radio player still, but for some reason that day he decided he wanted to see it again. He went home and he opened the mechanical door to the garage right away. As if by very virtue of opening the door, he seemed to initiate a series of steps that invariably led him to find his mother’s car keys. They were where they always were on the blue shelf near the garage door, sitting with a thin film of dust at the bottom of the little bowl they’d bought in Spain on a family vacation. She had driven with him to and from the grocery store, the movie theater, school, and for ice cream. They hadn’t gone on the highway yet, but they had been meaning to. He figured he’d just go around the block. That’s all. That was it. 

The kid hardly made a noise when he hit the front bumper and the car rolled slowly over top of him like a speed bump. There was a sound like a helium balloon being deflated followed by several small popping sounds. Lucas had never sobered up so fast. The kid was paralyzed. He was five and had been completely crushed. Lucas had heard once that memories change a little bit every time you remember them, but the memory of his dad’s face as the parents of the kid were screaming at him never changed. He could see it as if it was happening again in front of him, his dad looking resigned and disgusted. Lucas felt disgusting. He trembled when he thought of the accident and poured sweat that stank like urine. The only time in the last year when he hadn’t felt disgusting was when he had climbed the crane. It was a dinky forgotten crane in a mostly abandoned construction site that looked over some railroad tracks and piles of industrial waste. The climb itself was uneventful; it was at the top when he crawled out onto the trusses and holding on with his hands letting his feet dangle that he had finally achieved a feeling of total emptiness. The only memories that came into his mind at that time were memories of how to grip a bar and how to keep his heart from jumping out of his throat. Without realizing entirely what he was doing, he opened up a new chat with kVforBreakfast and wrote him a message. 

The message pinged on Jake’s phone, rapidly followed by a series of pings in quick succession. Jake’s page was blowing up. He’d been enjoying a pretty steady climb in popularity and was capitalizing on the algorithm throwing him favor by spamming as much content as possible. He never climbed the same tower twice, but it was getting hard to generate content that was noticeably different every time. He’d experimented with going up wearing different costumes at the request of his viewers. He’d hung off the wires with one hand, no hands, taking a conference call, and had even managed to stand on the highest point of the tower with both feet. He delighted himself in replying to the now ever-increasing comment flow as well. There were a lot of haters. Hundreds and hundreds of people telling him he was going to die. It bothered him a bit at first, but over time he noticed a curious effect. The more people told him he was going to die, the more people started watching his videos and following his content. It was as if all these people, whether they wanted him to fall or not, were guiltily waiting to see what would happen. Well Jake Ferris was happy to give them a show. 

He’d stolen the idea of a collaboration video shoot from some other climbers on the platform. The idea was to get someone who already had a bunch of followers to feature in your video, do some high-risk tricks, then rapidly gain followers and have your videos pushed to the top of the platform’s stream. The only problem was that Jake Ferris lived in a fairly remote town. There were tons of towers, but few people in between them, so when Jake saw the message from Lucas mentioning that it looked like they lived in the same region, Jake was fast to reply. After a few messages back and forth, it became clear to Jake that Lucas had climbed before and even though he didn’t have a lot of followers, he had some climbing content and if Lucas also posted their collab on his page then Jake would double his exposure. On top of that, Jake liked the idea of showing someone the ropes. He’d be the one in charge. Generally, Jake had been feeling as if he was being dragged along through his life like seaweed stuck in a ship’s rudder. His mother was always acquiring garbage. She was like a black hole, pulling in ancient furniture, empty food packages, cockroaches, scraps of paper, scraps of fabric, bobby pins, pink bacterial ooze growing in bathroom sinks, flies, wine boxes, soggy movie tickets, and spitting them all out at Jake and around the house like a garden sprinkler gone haywire. He had recurring dreams of walking into an empty room, only to discover that if he looked up the whole room and all its furnishings, all the junk was hanging by strings like a giant mobile above him, threatening to crash down onto his head with one snap of a thread.  

He would control the plan for the tower collaboration. He made a list of gear for them both to bring and carefully planned the time of day that they’d have to leave to get to the tower with the best chance of climbing it undetected. They would have to go at 4 am, which meant leaving the house quietly. Next Jake would drive to the train station to pick up Lucas, who was only an hour’s train ride away, and then they’d head out to a predetermined field where they would leave the car and cover the rest of the distance to the tower on foot. For filming he’d bring all his equipment: two helmet cams, a selfie-stick, and his new drone. The drone was a cheap one with limited capabilities, but he really only needed it for circling the tower and so he hadn’t worried too much about its specs and had been happy to find one that was only lightly used for such a good deal.

On the morning that Jake finally met Lucas in person, he’d thought about posting a teaser video where he would introduce Lucas to his followers and film the beginning of the climb, which he usually left out. When Lucas arrived though he was feeling nauseous from the train and so they skipped the video and opted to drive in uncomfortable silence for two hours out to the field marked on their GPS.  

By the time they’d reached the base of the tower Lucas was looking really green and Jake felt a prick of worry in the back of his skull that made him grit his teeth. He mentioned that he knew Lucas had climbed before, but that he wanted him to wear a climbing harness out of an abundance of caution for his first tower climb. Jake assured Lucas that the harness wouldn’t take away from the feeling of being up there and Lucas would still be clipping and unclipping it on the way up, so he would have moments totally hands free. They started off, and about halfway up the climb Lucas felt his mood starting to improve. He smiled and laughed with Jake as they took turns getting shots of each other with the selfie-stick. By this point Lucas had gotten used to clipping and unclipping his harness as they climbed the exterior of the tower, and Jake had mostly relaxed and had settled into enjoying the climb. The morning was shaping up to be clear and the air felt crisp. The mist hung in a sky that looked like it had been painted in a weak shade of tarnished aluminum, and things were very still. Their voices broke out above the trees as they climbed higher and higher. At what Jake estimated was 30 meters, they had reached the top wire. Lucas held his breath as he watched Jake leave the tower and go off onto the wire. He was doing in person what Lucas had watched him do so many times in videos, and he suddenly felt a brief surge of vertigo from feeling temporarily disconnected from reality. Jake called out and asked if Lucas was ready to film. Lucas pointed the selfie-stick and adjusted his helmet cam and watched with bated breath as Jake took one of his hands off the top wire and hung there, all that way above the ground with only one arm. Lucas counted the seconds that Jake was hanging on and they seemed to draw out for an eternity after 10. He lost count and his mind raced. In that moment he thought only of how much he wanted to see his mother, and he realized that he was afraid. While Lucas wasn’t paying attention, Jake had put both hands back on and had swung his leg up over the top wire again. He was sitting comfortably staring at Lucas. Jake asked him why he was making such a weird face and laughed. His laugh echoed and reverberated off the ground, back up through the metallic maze of the tower. The request to pass the drone controller rang out in Lucas’ ears. He’d taken the heavier gear bag because he had the harness and now as he was rummaging in the bag to give the drone controller to Jake, he was hit with the feeling of suddenly being tired of looking down. He’d been trying very hard to stop looking around at all at that point, so taking off the backpack to search for the controller almost made him vomit. On top of that, far from being meditative, the wind was whipping around his face and making him dizzy, and the fields were starting to swim in the distance as his eyes struggled with depth and perspective. Everything had started to look incredibly flat. He passed the controller to Jake, and with the press of a few buttons from Jake they watched the drone ascend, first a tiny spec then a larger hovering, buzzing, shape. Jake showed impressive control over the tiny flying camera and Lucas watched it zip around their heads like a frenzied bird, praying it didn’t collide with any of the live wires. After what seemed an unnecessarily long time and satisfied at last with the drone flyovers and the other video footage, Jake gave the signal to start descending the tower. Hearing only the word descend, Lucas, excited to finally be finished, unclipped his harness from the tower and telling himself that it was like climbing a ladder, stepped down onto the metal girder just below his feet. Next, he moved both hands down, one at a time. With one hand holding the upper girder and both feet solidly planted on the girder below, he moved one hand away to clip the carabiner on his harness back to the tower. Before he could finish clipping however, the drone that had been making its final loop around the tower had started its descent at too sharp of an angle and as a result was coming down fast within a hair’s breadth of the tower. 

The drone hit Lucas above the eye, crashing largely into his nose. Jake dropped the drone controller but wasn’t aware of it. He had only lightly tapped the joystick on the drone to make it descend when the stick had gotten stuck for a moment. He jammed the joystick in the other direction straight away, but it had been too late. The drone banked sharply and dropped straight down towards them on the tower. He saw it collide with Lucas’ face. He wasn’t able to process what happened next. All of a sudden it felt as if he was on a TV variety show as a distant announcer was saying: “Wow you’ve never watched someone die, and now you’re about to see someone fall off a tower.” It felt like reality split apart. The wind sounded like circus kazoos. Lucas made a silly face and moved his hands towards his nose. He leaned backwards and just kept on leaning because his harness wasn’t connected anymore to the tower. He stuck both arms straight out and looked up with an expression of bemused disbelief. Horrified, Jake understood that Lucas hadn’t even had the time to realize yet that he was falling. Suddenly what followed sounded to Jake like someone punching a pillow. Still uncomprehending, Jake stared at Lucas’ body on the ground and wondered what it was doing there. 

Jake could not understand what had happened. He stared at his empty hands. He stared blankly across the fields. He was sitting on the level of the girders that Lucas had fallen from. He looked repeatedly from the ground to the metal around him. He saw the fall again and again. It had happened so quickly that he saw it play out like a flipbook in front of his eyes. He couldn’t shut his eyes. He thought of nothing, watching the traffic of the far-off roads slowly growing busier as the afternoon approached. 

At some point he climbed down the tower with a series of motions that was much closer to throwing himself down than climbing safely. No one had seen him on the tower from the road, or if they had, they hadn’t called anyone in yet. He whistled because he was a little bit cold and felt a little bit strange, like he wasn’t paying attention to a conversation, but that conversation was between his brain and his body. He picked up the fallen drone controller and the smashed drone, and the selfie-stick that had been staring vacantly at a mulberry bush for several hours. He walked over to Lucas, but he couldn’t understand what had happened. Lucas looked like a broken birthday cake. Jake saw his extra headcam sitting on a pile of birthday cake and clearing some of the cake off the strap, he put it in his backpack. Jake felt a violently strong urge to go home. He left the birthday cake and returned to his car. 

Wendy was waiting for lunch to be delivered so that she could bring something up to Jake’s room across the house where he had sequestered himself for the better part of that week. She was convinced that he’d picked up mono from class because he looked awful. He didn’t prevent her from opening the door to his room, and he also didn’t get up from his bed when she came in. He lay perfectly still, staring at the ceiling, soaking in a pool of sweat. The room smelled sickly sweet, like a musty phonebook; and even the light filtering in from between the slats in the blinds looked stale. 

On October 4th, Wendy was working in the garage again when she heard a series of slamming doors, followed by quick footsteps. Jake, fully dressed, though emaciated now, had flown down the front steps of the house and was throwing his backpack into his car. After some urgent questioning, Wendy had learned that he was feeling better that day and wanted to go for a drive while he was still in the mood. He was abrupt with his speech and clearly wanted to leave, so Wendy, not wanting to alter this miraculous course of events, waved goodbye and watched his car speed down the street. 

Jake was going back. He had remembered what the cake meant. He had remembered that it wasn’t cake at all at the bottom of the TV tower. He saw messages from Lucas on his account and he remembered that they had made plans to climb the tower he was driving to now. He’d watched the video footage he’d recovered from his helmet cams and the selfie stick. The drone, which had gotten the most shots of the two of them, was completely destroyed, but Jake was able to see quick glimpses of Lucas in the other footage. He remembered seeing Lucas at the bottom of the tower. For days he racked his memory but nothing else came to him. Was Lucas in the hospital? He didn’t know. He pulled his car into the familiar wheat field near the forest, the short stalks of wheat crunching under his feet like breaking straws as he walked across them, thoughts racing. He was a toy car being pushed along its track, faster and faster towards the tower. He was consumed with the need to remember. When he got to the clearing where the tower was, he fixed his eyes intently at its base and broke out into a sprint. Worried that he had gotten to the tower too fast for his eyes to register anything, he walked back several steps and approached the tower again. He walked all around the tower, first fast and then slow, then frantically running around it in wider rings until he hit the edge of the forest. Jake pulled out his phone with shaking hands and checked his location again. His location showed that this was the tower that he had climbed with Lucas. Some crows took off from the brush, but nothing else moved. Underneath the tower was only dirt and grass--Lucas’ body was gone. 

After October 4th, Wendy watched her son’s condition decline. Jake oscillated between doing things with a kind of feverish madness and moving so slowly she wasn’t sure he had been moving at all. Jake walked from room to room and sat down at a new screen in front of each one. He typed in the same search results and clicked on the same links each time. He tried all combinations of Lucas’ social media username and keywords related to pylons and climbing, but his searches turned up nothing. He poured over obituaries in his region and the neighboring town that Lucas had come from. Without a last name, Jake couldn’t find an obituary.

He usually felt like he could find anything on the internet. Now suddenly he was being met with only dead ends and it was making him desperately angry. The first week that passed after his excursion to the tower, he was at the computer often. The second week that passed, however, he didn’t leave the computer at all. He had blocked his mother from coming into the room and was urinating in a large stock pot that he’d placed under his desk. She pleaded with him through the door to open the window in his room, but he ignored her. He would scroll aimlessly for hours through Lucas’ page and then his own. He scrolled through the pages of everyone who had ever liked one of Lucas’ videos, or who had ever liked one of his. Jake had ghosted his social media account and had never posted the footage from the tower climb, but his account would still get new comments. He would read them all, and they were all the same. Everyone assumed that Jake had fallen and died, and he was feeling unbearably guilty. He didn’t reply to any of the comments. 

Then, on the 25th of October as he navigated to Lucas’ profile and went to click on one of his pictures with 22 comments, he noticed a new comment. Comment number 23 on a picture of Lucas in front of a crane. The notification said that it was a reply to a previous comment in the thread. Jake opened the thread and tried to read the whole page at once. Underneath a comment asking how high the crane was, there was a reply. The reply was from Lucas, and the time stamp said 1 hr. There was no text displaying in the reply preview, so Jake frantically clicked on the comment to expand it. It opened an empty white page. He closed the page and refreshed. Again, trying to read the reply only returned an empty white page. There was no new information and no other activity. After several hours of repeating this cycle Jake screamed and dropped his head onto his desk, exhausted and shaking with sobs.

Underneath a comment asking how high the crane was, there was a reply. The reply was from Lucas, and the time stamp said 1 hr.

Wendy couldn’t take the screaming anymore. She hated the screaming because it meant that her son was in pain, of course, but also because she hated how powerless the screams made her feel. This last scream was too much to bear and throwing the blanket off her lap and without pausing her movie, she got up and unplugged the modem. She bundled it and its little tentacles made up of antennae and cables and brought it out to the yard where she fashioned an oversized crucible for it and stuck the whole thing into her homemade blast furnace. Having noticed the internet was gone, Jake managed to creak his way off his computer chair and observe the scene from his bedroom window. He shook his head and almost laughed before lying face down on his bed and falling into a deep sleep. 

In his dream he saw webpages flashing before him. He was scrolling down a page and trying to read what people had written, but it kept scrolling slower and slower. The text began to stretch out and run down the page and when he tried to close the window it would just open several more all with the same drooling text. Suddenly his own social media page was brought clearly and quickly into the foreground as if being forced towards him with an outstretched arm. He saw a new notification. It was a notification for a comment on a picture that didn’t exist on his page. The picture was a picture of him and Lucas in front of a crane. This time there was only one comment on the picture. It was a comment from Lucas: 🥳🥳🥳. Party emoji, what the fuck? When he woke up, he realized that he had wet the bed. Unmoving, he continued to lay in the cold pool of urine until his legs started to itch.  

The data on Jake’s phone was still on, but he had successfully managed to avoid looking at anything online those last few days. When he heard the familiar ping of a notification on the afternoon of October 27th, he caught an accidental glimpse at some of the text. It was a calendar notification: an invitation to a meeting. He assumed that it was one of his professors wanting to discuss his missed classes and failing grades, but he hadn’t been able to catch the name on the invite quickly enough. When he opened the notification, he flushed and began to dry heave into the pile of putrefying fast food by his feet. His mother had been insisting on squeezing food underneath his door and he watched with detached horror as his scant ejections of bile and saliva pooled in a bowl made of flattened cheeseburgers. It was a calendar meeting invitation from Lucas that he’d received. The meeting was scheduled for October 30th and contained no information other than the meeting time and location. He felt his whole body seize and he crawled under his desk next to the stock pot. 

The last time Wendy saw her son in person was in the driveway outside their house the night of the 30th. She had been half asleep on the couch when she saw the porch light go on and her son hurry past the window towards his car. She bolted off the couch and ran down after him in bare feet. Jake turned to face her, scraggly looking, foul-smelling, and acting as if everything was perfectly normal he simply said: “I’m going to a party.” Wendy was so gob smacked by this response that she couldn’t find the words to say anything at all before he quickly turned his back to her and ducked into the driver’s seat, speeding off, his car swallowed by the darkness of the country. Wendy stared down the road and hugged herself gently. 

Jake had recognized the location on the calendar invite immediately. It was the wheat field near the tower. He turned the radio on but didn’t listen to it, driving with a deliberate slowness through the dark while his mind raced. As he approached the field he craned his neck, trying to make out any figures, but he saw nothing. In his high beams he could only see the dust from the field and the razed wheat stalks casting shadows where light hit them. There was no sign of Lucas, nor anyone else for that matter. Jake opened the glove compartment and pulled out a flashlight, wishing that he’d bought a bigger one instead of one that would fit into the glove compartment. He clicked the flashlight on and wandered deeper into the field off to the left. Finding it difficult to determine the exact spot they had met before, he decided to do a brief sweep of the field from left to right. The night was crisp, and he breathed quietly through his nose, listening to the sharp cracklings of the wheat underneath his feet as he padded along. At some point he noticed that it seemed to have gotten darker than before and he came to the awful realization that he could no longer see the high beam lights of his car. He began to lightly jog in the direction where he thought he’d last seen his car. Jake’s jog turned into a frantic run as he doubled back on himself several times, each time failing to find his car or the edge of the field. He couldn’t see the road and couldn’t understand how he had gotten so far away from where he’d started. The forest now seemed to completely encircle the field. No, it wasn’t encircling the field he discerned with horror. He was in the forest. A kind of dumb panic came over him. Despondent, Jake fumbled with his phone and called his mother.

Small windows of different black and white UI designs all on a black background which include a calendar invite from Lucas, a calendar showing the day's date October 30th, a music player displaying the song Numb by Andy Stott, two video players showing an electrical pylon and a woman's mouth and a notepad with the text written repeatedly "Me, myself and I"

It hadn’t been longer than two hours before Wendy got the call from Jake. He claimed that he had gotten lost on the way to the party and didn’t know where his car was. He said he was fine but that he’d ended up in the forest after walking away from his car and didn’t have enough light to find his way out. He  needed her to come pick him up. She stared at the GPS location he sent with slight bewilderment. Jake assured her that he wasn’t hurt, but Wendy thought it sounded like he might be in shock because he had been speaking strangely and he wasn’t making a lot of sense. She was worried that he’d crashed his car and was wandering injured around in the forest. The last few years had been particularly hard for Jake. Wendy had lost her job as an industrial chemist, and she knew that things had been a bit disorganized since then. In fact, she couldn’t quite put her finger on when it happened, but one day it occurred to her that she had accumulated a lot of ‘stuff’. She didn’t really know why she had stopped throwing away food packets, or when the stacking up of newspapers and compulsive buying of end tables happened. Wendy lamented that she was doing this, but she couldn’t stop. The piles got bigger, and the world shrank around her. Everything felt out of control. She heard herself speaking, asking Jake to stay on the line with her, and she saw herself rushing to her car to pick him up, but she experienced this from somewhere that seemed far away. She was surrounded by piles of things, no one could see her, and this wasn’t happening, her mind whispered. 

As she drove, Jake seemed to calm down a little bit over the phone and even cracked a few jokes before thanking her for coming to pick him up. Wendy hardly took her eyes off the GPS for what seemed like an interminably long time.When she arrived at her destination, she craned her neck and stared out the windshield into the darkness ahead, her car coming to a stop near the edge of the forest. Wendy noticed that she had goosebumps raised on her arms and couldn’t help but feel a distinct sense of foreboding as she peered out into the woods. She resolved to push away her reservations and rummaged in the glove box for her own flashlight. As she stepped outside, she could smell the usual freshness of the moss and towering spruce trees, but mixed in was a peculiar musty smell, like rotting socks that had been continually rained on. Looking for Jake’s flashlight beam, but not seeing it, she looked over her shoulder to make sure she could still see her own car. She called out his name into the blackness, but it came out only as a whisper. Her cell phone assaulted the ground with light as she brought it away from her face to check that the call was still connected. 

 She asked Jake where he was and told him that she had arrived and was in the forest near the location he sent, but she couldn’t see him. When his reply came back as a pained whine, she felt a renewed pang of urgency and she crept tentatively a little farther into the forest. 

Jake wanted to see his mother. He wanted, at that moment, to see her so desperately that he’d felt like a child again. He tried to remain calm, but his breath rattled in his chest. His eyes darted around looking for wild animals, looking for Lucas. His mother’s voice on the other end of the phone started to seem as if it was getting quieter, moving farther away in space and time. At that moment his phone screen started to blink rapidly. He watched in horror as applications on his phone began to launch with no interaction from him. His chat messages flashed onto the screen, followed shortly by an assortment of internet tabs, forgotten phone games, and downloaded documents for school all opening at the same time and crowding the screen. He held down the power button, but it did nothing. His mother’s voice came from the speaker and sounded as if she was speaking through a voice modulator. Then, through the chaos of applications, a browser tab fought its way to the front and began to play a video. The video was shot from a third person perspective. In it he could hear happy voices behind the camera as the person focused on the beaming face of a young boy. Lucas as a child was talking excitedly about school holidays, responding to questions coming from another person off screen. Without notice, the sound in the background of the video died and Lucas looked directly at the camera. Lucas began to smile. First, it was a small smile, then it widened into a larger grin, until he was smiling so wide that it looked like his mouth would break at the corners. The screen went black, and Jake held the phone so tightly he thought he might crush it. He staggered back, head a jumbled mess. The air in the forest made it feel like the trees were breathing on him, constricting him, reaching out and rooting him to the spot with their jagged autumn branches. He shook his head as if to try to break free of their grasp and began lurching now in arbitrary directions looking for a way out of the forest. At last, he shouldered through some brush, and with a desperate effort he stumbled out into a clearing. 

It was the tower. He had stumbled out of the forest right into the clearing at the base of it. He was mad with fright, and as he swept his flashlight beam about the cold metal skeleton of the tower, the back of his skull felt like ice, and his heart had forgotten its usual rhythm and was ricocheting around in his chest. Then he saw it. There was a figure on the tower. A shadow moving up the exterior. ‘Lucas,’ Jake thought wildly, already gripping the metal lattice. Another flash of the figure in the narrow light and he was sure that it wasn’t Lucas, but his mother instead. He called out to her through the phone, almost forgetting that his call was still connected, but he heard only a terrifying garbled voice through the other line. He called up to her, furiously searching for his mother’s figure among the powerlines.

Wendy was starting to hyperventilate. The mundane conversation she’d been having with Jake as she drove to pick him up had disintegrated into something deeply unsettling. She could hear him breathing unevenly, and she could hear that he was running. She kept asking him to stay still, but instead of a response he howled into the phone and was uttering only single words and broken sentences without logical order or structure to them. Wendy had seen the strange behavior precipitated from head injuries before and she was so seriously concerned for Jake now that she had called the paramedics while he was still on the other line. She begged Jake to send an updated GPS location. To her surprise, minutes later Jake sent a new location. She began to run without thinking, finally too, stumbling out into the clearing at the base of the tower. Her relief at what should have been the perfect meeting spot, outside of the maze of trees, dissolved as her flashlight hit nothing but air as she waved it around. She stared at the active map, but the GPS kept insisting that they were in the exact same location. She called into the phone, but she could only hear now an unbearably loud whooshing noise. Suddenly, she saw a shadow pass briefly in front of her flashlight’s beam and the stillness of the area broke with a loud cracking sound. The ground seemed to shake around her. She cast her beam in the direction of the noise and saw Jake crumpled on the ground. She stood stock-still and screamed Jake’s name into the phone that she was still holding, her mind refusing to make the connection. She passed the light again over the destroyed body on the ground before dropping the flashlight, shaking but unable to move. There was silence again in the forest, and the trees watched on with empty and detached eyes. 

In the years that followed Jake’s death, Wendy would make weekly drives out to the forest, sometimes walking along the mossy paths and taking pictures. Other times, she’d collect wild mushrooms for breakfast later or hang about under the trees breathing deeply, each time stopping for a break and a snack near the base of the electrical pylon. The spot where Jake had fallen that night after inexplicably climbing the tower in what doctors later had told her must have been a state of intense paranoia, had become a kind of memorial spot for her, where she’d come to think about Jake. She would often leave things for him there, and one year she had even brought a cake out to the tower on his birthday.

Written by Aaron Blair

Visuals by Deidre Driscoll