Red Rooms

There have been a chain of murders across central Manhattan. All the victims are teenage introverts, as described by their parents. Never going out, always contained within the same four walls, scrawling ironically through social media. Police are dumbfounded as to what caused the many deaths. Allegedly they were the repercussions of an internet link, but the men were apprehended. Investigator Carrie McKee has been fascinated by the mystery of the case itself, and takes it on with the few leads she has. Little does she know that she was entering into something far deeper than she had first anticipated, that could cost her things she never knew she had. This wasn't a small case. This was something global. It was all over the internet.

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2. The Link.

It all started as one childish grasp for attention. Some form of redemption for one too many candy crush requests. A group of teenage boys embedded a weak virus into the mainstream social media. It began on Facebook, promptly in May, last year. They were either bored or deluded into thinking this would be a hilarious prank. Once you clicked on the seemingly interesting link you were brought to one of a diverse range of 'troll sites' which to a technophobic social outcast means a site that basically screws you over, showing you something stupid like a fat middle aged Asian reinventing his lost childhood, singing shirtless to 'Fireworks' in some distasteful attempt to be humorous. Basically you are led to believe you are going to view content of some interest to you, such as a crazy conspiracy theory about David Cameron's last press conference or hot single Russian ex-cons. Whatever floats your boat. Instead you just get 'trolled' to speak in mainstream terms. I've recently learned to speak that way following pursuit of this investigation. I've finally learned the meaning of 'rofl' which I had always assumed to be the written translation of a dogs bark. I am 32. It is okay. I hold onto that excuse like it's a discount coupon for the Body Shop.

Anyway, once you clicked this link your account became 'infected' and you would subconsciously post links to your friends online, much to their disgust. Eventually people grew to understand that this was a virus and stopped clicking the links, which was a relief to us all. Regardless, however, the damage had already been done. I can't believe I've been making light of it all. Talking about Asian men and Katy Perry. It is a serious incident. Well, it wasn't then. But I can assure you, it has gotten worse. I was one of many that didn't...believe.

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'Carrie, I need you to log into Facebook.'

Confused, Carrie McKee tilted her owl-specs down her nose, and looked across at her boss. He was stuffing a handful of Walkers into his pie-hole, completely oblivious to the yellow fragments spraying across the wooden panels. Oh but it 'won't be his crisps' in about half an hour, when the mess is acknowledged.

'Is this a joke. What, do you need a like on your profile picture?' She retorted, eliciting giggles around the office. She bowed theatrically, before returning her gaze to the blaring laptop screen. A shadow slowly poured across her white desk, along with several crumbs.

'Don't appreciate that tone, you know.' He replied, bluntly. Well she didn't appreciate the fact her desk now lingered of BBQ ribs.

'You know I wouldn't have asked you unless I had a sufficient reason.'

'What would that be?' Carrie asked, flicking rebellious strands of hair from her eyes. 'Because I am already behind with the three cases I am 'filling in' on the side. There never really was someone looking into these cases, was there? Cheers Mal.'

'Well you can put all that to one side. Congratulations.' Scoffed Malcolm, who everyone knew as Mal and didn't really deserve a mention up until this point. 'There's a virus crawling through social media, something about a dodgy link that infects your device upon interaction. We aren't sure if it's a threat.'

'I'll try to feign my excitement. 'Carrie murmured, pulling out a jotter and pen. 'What exactly would you like me to do?'

Mal chuckled, and his belly shook as if imitating the gesture. Carrie wasn't sure if she found that image humorous or grotesque. Probably the latter.

'Investigate, investigator.'

Oh God there he goes, his favourite line. His way of saying 'how the hell should I know, Carrie. I sit in my office on my psp and occasionally post a bulletin, or read some emails. Do I look like a man who gives a shit? You should know exactly what you have to do. You know, despite me being the boss around here that should really support his staff instead of his cholesterol level. Oh, left my psp paused back there. Better get back to reliving my childhood and forgetting I am 52!'

She glanced around the office. The MIU was a dwindling effort, desperately digging its weak claws into government funding. About six or seven other desks accompanied hers, and only three of which were currently occupied, aside from her own. One belonged to Amanda Rhysse. Carrie's best friend. She had that affliction where she would simply refuse to age and cast a shadow of intimidation across all who stood in her presence. She was 37 and looked as though she'd just received that criminology degree back in '98. Sometimes Carrie hated being her best friend, or someone who actually looked the age on their key card. Then there was Hensworth, who looked like one of those Calvin Klein models but with the IQ of a burnt potato... which depreciates the charm to about minus three. On a good day. She threw a ruler at him once, it messed up his quiff and he cried for a full ten minutes.

The last desk belonged to T. A silent woman, always typing. Her eyes never left the keyboard, never scoped the office or glanced outside. Always typing. She wasn't intimidating, as such, but she had this...presence. People just saw it in their best interests to avoid communication with T. She had long black hair fought into a ponytail as tight as her social circle. She would occasionally speak with Mal to grovel for new assignments, never satisfied with her current workload. As Carrie surveyed her workspace, she noticed a pile of documents. Screenshotted Facebook posts. Seriously? It had been twenty minutes and already that vulture had scoped in on her case? She felt her forehead collide with the palm of her hand in frustration, as she minimized the previous spreadsheet.

A middle aged woman's Facebook page wasn't exactly something of great interest. Various posts of family holidays, frustrations over food coupons, and more Farmville requests a day than there were seconds in one. She scrolled tirelessly down the feed, acknowledging minion statuses with a frown. There were no links. It didn't come as a shock; she didn't think anyone on her friend-list even knew what a URL was anyway. About thirty minutes into the search, she felt like giving up. She had no idea what she was even searching for. Still, she was on Facebook at work, and despite it being a concept far more thrilling to someone half her age, she was determined to make decent use of it.

Elin may have posted more pictures.

Carrie was...proud of her daughter, but she never fully understood her. She was never creatively inclined, but Elin...Elin painted the world with a different brush. She had the most wonderful perspective on things, seeing artistic potential in the most uninteresting aspects of life. The trip to Queens was everything she had ever wanted, and Carrie finally accepted defeat and let her go. She was 18, and despite the maternal burdens she would usually have liked to drop on her, Carrie felt she should live a little. Here just wasn't good enough for her daughter. Not with Queens practically around the corner, with its sculptures, its museums, and all that Afro-American culture Elin had surrounded herself with in a desperate attempt to bring all of queens into a little Manhattan bedroom.

Carrie clicked on Elin's profile, greeted with an array of internet memes and thousands of snapshots. Elin had uploaded another thirty or so photos to 'Queens 2015', which would've made Carrie groan if it wasn't for the big smiles on her face as she posed in front of cafe shops or alongside glistening high streets

As she proceeded to try and interpret the many photos, a comment caught her eye. It was in acknowledgement to a picture of her standing across Queensboro Bridge. The photo must be metaphorical, Carrie thought. Her head was hung down as if carrying the weight of the world's disappointments. A young woman, with far too much pain than she should bear. It was almost convincing if you weren't the mother that paid for the trip of that 'pained' woman's life. Carrie looked back at the comment.

'25 crazy never-before-seen photos you won't believe are real! You will love this! OMG AT NUMBER 12'

And then there was...

A link.

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Carrie stared blankly at the neon blue font and felt her fingertips oddly tremble as she placed them on the laptop's touchpad. Was this what she was supposed to be looking for? It didn't seem like something promising greatness. It may have grasped Elin's attention for a moment, but she knew her daughter probably wouldn't have been very interested. The man that posted the link was someone Carrie couldn't say she knew. Probably a friend of Elin's, or someone she met at Queens in a bar for all Carrie knew. A pang of worry chimed in her head. She moved the cursor to the link, clicked it, and brought up a tab.

Waiting for the link to load provoked a wave of fearful apprehension; Carrie felt her heart thud in her chest. The blue loading line made its everlasting pilgrimage to the other side of the screen, and Carrie watched it, trying to persuade it to go faster with encouraging clicks of the mouse. Then the tab opened. What came on the screen was everything Carrie had been afraid of.

Two women, essentially without clothes. Naked apart from the red slits of skimpy lingerie. They were giggling hysterically, thrusting fuzzy pillows at each other in seductive combat. They jumped up and down on a voluptuous king-sized bed, their assets seemingly making prominent impressions with the camera man. The top of the screen read 'Pillow Fight XXX' Carrie yelped in shock, thrusting the laptop lid down in an embarrassed fury. She glanced around, her cheeks flushing the colour of the women's laced underwear.

No one was in the office. Carrie checked her phone. 9:03pm. Their absence suddenly made sense. She pulled out the laptop cord despite the absence of an aftermath and leaned back on her chair, ridding her mind of all inappropriate images. She pressed Elin's contact icon on her phone screen, which was reciprocated with a sickly-sweet voicemail message. Reluctantly, she waited for the beep.

'Hi honey...just your mum, duh. Just ringing to hope you're having fun. Looked at uh...your albums on Facebook. Gorgeous pics, especially the one of the big bridge thing.' She cursed herself internally for sounding so stupidly oblivious to obvious things.

'Anyway, yes...speaking of that, someone left a comment on that one, I clicked it, being the curious cat you know I can be...my advice is remove it, it's a link to one of those awful X-sites. I saw more of a woman than a gynaecologist.' She grunted. She sounded like such a...'mum'.

'So yes, you should...do that. You don't want your dad or...Gill, to see that. Bye, love.'

Putting the phone back into her handbag, she stormed towards Malcolm's dimly lit office. She knocked on the door, hearing nothing but the intense pressing of buttons to a retro beat. Sighing, she just knocked harder.

'Jesus Christ Carrie what do you want?'

'Three hours of my time back, you absolute prick! You seriously had nothing better to do than piss me off did you?'

Silence. 'I really ought to fire you for that, but since I just levelled up we will put it down to your indisgression.'

'We have to talk, Mal...' Carrie demanded, letting herself in.

Malcolm's office was a little hovel that mourned a lost childhood. Gaming posters pasted across the walls, more figurines on the desk than big mac boxes and filing cabinets vomiting creased paper. Her boss was leaning over the desk eating one of such big macs. He acknowledged her with a raise of one eyebrow.

'Mal, why is it that those 'links' of great investigative value lead to fucking pornography sites?'

Malcolm almost coughed up his gurkins. 'You're kidding me? That's the stuff those kids are gonna see? Doubt that stuff will be new to them.'

'What?' Carrie barked. 'You're not even going to apologise for totally messing me around?'

'Well T said she had only found fat people's lip sync videos, so you win. As for 'messing with you' I can promise you I have better things to do'.

Carrie begged to differ. 'So what this isn't even a problem?'

'Oh it's a problem, now.' muttered Mal. 'Let me see that site.'

Reopening the lid of the laptop was the last thing she wanted to do, but silently she complied, leading Mal out of the office. He thrust open her laptop screen, greeted with the two skimpy women biting on each other's bra straps. Carrie felt sick.

'Oh, what an interesting angle...' Mal joked. Carrie hit him across the ear with a ruler. Her weapon of choice.

'If Elin clicks this link, she could send it to anyone, without even realising. She could send it to people much younger that use this site, and who knows, there could be much worse content going out to them already. We need these links taken down.'

'Well its enough to make me sick' said Carrie bluntly. 'I phoned Elin to take it down'

Mal smiled half heartedly. 'Good work, now I need you to take down all the details of this site and have it on my desk before you leave. I need to know all the possible websites that are hiding behind those links.'

With that he returned to his office. To attend his 'more important matters' Carrie assumed.

Reluctantly, she remained on the screen, now muted, and took down the details. As she was recording the URL, the screen began to flicker.

'What the-' Carrie exclaimed, waving the mouse across the screen. Suddenly the two women disappeared, and the screen went black for about three seconds. Then a familiar screen greeted her.

A chatroom. Carrie had been on the odd dating site, she knew what this was. She noticed she was connected to someone, and their mic was on. She tried closing the browser, but it wouldn't work.

'Hello?'

Then Carries webcam turned on, all by itself.

She yelped, slightly, seeing herself staring blankly at the screen.

'The fuck is this?' She shouted at the screen, demanding an explanation.

'Suddenly, something caught her eye in the corner of the office. A black, human shadow. She turned around, nothing was there. She looked back to the screen to see it was moving towards her.

Carrie screamed.

The 'ghost' got closer and then disappeared, before a message came on her screen. 'Congratulations! You just got yourself pranked!!!!'

She swore, and went to Mal's office with the website URL on a post it note. If only she had looked back...

She would have seen two women. Wearing red slits of lingerie. Lying dead on a king sized bed.

In a pool of blood.

And then a black screen.

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