Salina Johnson’s camera captured something. Not that she was aware of it. But there it was, hidden between the desktop and the browser. In the pixels. Squirming through the hard drive, looking out, watching, with blinking, cold eyes.
Billy Benston was also not aware of it. He did not notice anything amiss while he watched the videos. All he focused on was that he liked Salina Johnson. Liked her a lot. He’d paused the video a few times, leaving her reaching out to touch the camera, or to readjust lighting, or get up and hunt around for a prop. Why she did not remove those parts in editing was perhaps laziness, perhaps something else. But Billy, well, Billy did not care.
The two also did not know each other. Not a smidge. Other side of the country. May as well been the other side of the solar system. A vlogger with a big following—most viewers the same sort of people as Billy—and a boy of nineteen with acne, social anxiety, and a work from home coding job to not have to deal with that anxiety. College taken online. Everything taken online.
“Well, today, you know, I did this whole thing with this dating thing, on my phone, you know? And there can be such creeps out there,” Sally said, the natural lighting making her blond hair glow.
Billy nodded in agreement. Nodded for a few solid seconds. He could not agree more. People treated women like meat. But not him. He understood her beauty, inside too. Sure, her charms and skin made him need to pause for a couple of minutes at a time, but he knew, deep down, that he loved more of her than that.
“Like I don’t know, I don’t know. Where are all the nice boys at?”
I’m here, Billy thought at the screen. I’m here. Let me find you.
“Oh well. I guess that’s it for today, guys. Like and share and please—”
Billy paused the video and hovered the cursor over her eyes. He leaned up against the screen. His nose nearly pressing to the dusty surface.
“What is that?” he mumbled.
His shoulder rose a moment later, and his gaze fell on the mouse. He tried to lift his hand, but all it did was twitch. His other hand wrapped around his wrist, trying for support.
The screen, unknown to him, was growing darker, the spot of shadow in Salina’s eye spreading across the image, shredding the view. It didn’t stop at the computer’s borders, going further out past the domain of digital.
It widened and then shrunk. The mass moving into a recognizable feminine hourglass shape. With dark blue eyes.
“You’re here!” Billy said. He moved his free hand and groped for the shadow.
His palm met darkness and stuck there too. The figure pushed back his chair, and kneeled in front of him. Billy could not stop smiling as lurid thoughts raced in his head.
The shadow opened its mouth. The inside a buzzing static of lines. A wailing mouth without sound. Facing Billy’s stomach.
Billy’s grip became free, and he touched at the top of the figure, running his hands in the vapors drifting off it.
“I’m the nice boy, you know. I’m the nice boy.”
The video on the computer began without prompting, playing the newest one for the week.
“Hey, all of you, my gorgeous fans,” Salina said. She smiled, bright. She wore a pink shirt cut too short. “I got up today and wow do I feel good. You know that insomnia I’ve been dealing with? Just gone.”
Billy tried to tilt the head of the shadow up to meet his eyeline. After some force, it relented.
“I love you so much,” Billy said.
Salina’s voice grew louder from his speakers. “And, with all this new energy, I think I’ll be making videos more often. We are so close to the one hundred thousand mark, guys. Please, like and share.”
She blew a kiss at the screen. “I really appreciate it. You guys are the best.”
Billy smiled even as a long gash, the first of many, spurted blood and flowed down his face. He winced, but leaned forward, eyes closed, lips puckered, groping and touching at nothing but hollow shadows.