Brendan woke up to messages in his email inbox.
The curious thing, however, was that it was from the email address he used in high school.
Of course, he only knew this because of the various amounts of precautions hed taken to make sure nobody else got into it. It was a Hotmail address, so the chances of it being hacked by the time it was a year old were almost a certainty. And despite the fact he never used it, he didnt want anyone else to use it, especially since it was a connection to a part of his high school life he felt best left alone. So every few months he went and changed the passwords to something completely random, wrote it down in a book somewhere, then forgot about it until he needed that book again.
Today was password-changing day. Hed found the book, entered in the last password, ignored the prompt to add his phone number, and found out there were much more notifications than usual, all from Facebook. The occasional Facebook notification, hed gotten used to that, especially for someone who was once in the public eye. But they were sparing, probably only 2 or 3 every six months.
This morning, there were 30. Alarmingly, they were from a wide array of people. And even more alarming, theyd all happened within the past 48 hours.
Brendans left eyebrow cocked. 30 messages over the course of 2 days? On an account that was for all intents and purposes dead? He had no idea what was going on, but it needed checking out.
He was about to click on the button that opened his Facebook page, but footsteps echoed down the houses hallways, and Brendan instinctively closed the tab. He also instinctively moved the pointer to the history menu and erased everything from the past five minutes.
Miranda emerged from the hall to their bedroom, grey singlet stained and hair a frizzed mess. As he tabbed back to his own Facebook page, she came up behind him and wrapped her arms around him.
Morning. Think you can drop me off at the pharmacy on the way to work this morning? I think Im coming down with a bug or something.
Better not be Hendra virus, we might have to take you behind the shed Old Yeller style.
Lovely. Need anything while Im there?
Doxylamine? They wont give me any more under my name so reckon you can do it under yours?
Sure thing. Anything from the back alley pharmacy?
Reckon you can score some White Widow?
You know one day youre gonna have to get it yourself, Ben.
Its not becoming of bookkeepers to be caught in that part of town, remember?
Mmm. Ill grab a hundred from your wallet.
Love you too.
As she wandered off to grab leftover pad thai for breakfast, Brendans mind wandered back to the emails, which would probably be on his mind all day if he didnt check it now.
But regardless of the fact he was married to the woman he loved, he still had secrets to keep from her. And he couldnt foresee any circumstance in the future in which hed need to divulge that part of his life.
Work that day was slow. It was probably the busiest non-chain electronics store in Fremantle, but that didnt mean slow days didnt exist, especially in the office.
So he was looking forward to getting home. There was a bill or two to be paid, but they could wait until later. The emails had been eating his curiosity alive while he was at work, bite by bite, and it was for the want of an office WiFi that blocked Facebook that he hadnt already found out what was going on.
Once he was in the door, and once he made sure Miranda wasnt home yet, he reopened his emails, his book still sitting on the desk by the loungeroom. Brendan scanned the first email, unable to really gleam anything from it, and clicked the link that sent him back to his old Facebook page.
He came to the security page. It wanted to know if it was really him, kind of like an old friend. Instead of an actual old friend, however, it held up pictures to make sure he could identify them as people who existed on his list of friends. He grimaced. All of the people they showed were still alive, a mix of friends from his first high school, Wade, and Chase. He identified them all, and he was finally led to his old Facebook page.
Brendan had never seen that many notifications in his life. Among the many friend requests, an assortment of what looked like either new accounts from old friends or fake accounts pretending to be old friends, and the global notifications, a mish-mash of game requests and posts on his wall, there was his messages.
Once again, 30 of them.
Swallowing, he clicked on the button, and followed it down to the menu that would display them all.
He first looked at the names. At first, they started out familiar - his aunt, the cousins that used to still speak to him after his ordeal in 2008, his mother. The further in they went, the more unfamiliar they became. They felt as though they were people he went to high school, but was never on speaking terms with. But the closer he came to the current hour, all the names became Greek to him, Who were these people? Why was a dead account getting messages as though it were alive and well?
Brendan looked at the opening lines of each message.
His family wanted him to come home, or rather they were asking them to contact his mother.
The names who bore some semblance to St. Paul were sending him links.
The others were insults. Some of them called him a faggot. Others, a coward.
It was confusing. The desire to know what was going on long since peaked, he opened the closest message to the mouses pointer.
The message was long, from someone he had no mutual friends with. But there were question marks. There were long strings of grammatically incorrect sentences. But there seemed to be a repeated phrase.
His mouth stood slightly agape, his eyes opening with them, when he realized what these messages meant. Without missing a beat, he tabbed to an open Google page and watched the cursor dance across the box as he typed in the phrase he was certain was going to provide him with the answer he didnt want to hear:
v5 sotf school
And behold, the first page to pop up told him everything he didnt want to hear.
Only a few days ago, links had shown up on the deep web to a stream from an island, with all the kids of a missing flight on it. Many were given guns. Many were already dead. But all of them were wearing the familiar black line around their neck that meant only one thing to Brendan.
It was all he could do to not throw up on his desktop. He fell from the seat to the floor, bashing his joints into the wood as he struggled to breathe, as memories came flooding back from when he was 17 years old,
of shooters killing kids on beaches
of friends gathered around squirming bodies in the sand
of girls impaled in hospitals
of his own wounded leg gushing blood
of Erik holding him as he cried
of a crowd of people in a mansion looking at him as he gazed up at Liz Polanski
of the kid he wade through in the dark searching for a light
of the fading life beneath his fingers which he caused because he was scared and he couldnt see and
of the other boy holding a gun at his head telling him he didnt deserve to live
of holding the body of the band leader he once did lighting for
of resisting the urge to pull the trigger between his fingers
of lying bloodied on church linoleum as a girl with blue hair beat him in with a blunt weapon with the intent to end his life
of sitting on the edge of the hospital roof realizing that the boy he loved was gone forever while he lay in a fucking hospital bed with IV drips and food and a roommate
and if there had been any food in his stomach, if he hadnt of skipped lunch, it would have vacated itself as his belly turned rancid and a fist clenched his insides and pulled. Brendan was caught between one world and another as he lay on the floor of his house but every time he blinked or closed his eyes with every ragged toxic breath he could see the beach again and he could see everything and it was all happening at once. The entire history of the world was in his head as he struggled to breathe on the floor.
His limbs propelled him forward, collapsing as they did so. The bathroom was his destination, but every step felt an eternity, his sense of time was skewed as he could only think of his past, senses trapped in the scenario which should have lead to his death.
After somewhere between a minute and an hour, he made it to the shower, where he gripped the blue handle and turned. Jets of cold poured down on him, clothes and all. He grabbed the other handle with the hand not keeping him steady and turned as well, the gush fading from its icy cold to lukewarm.
Brendan hung his head under the water, taking long, deep breaths as he tried to get through the sensory overload. The water was no longer water, but pins raining down on him as he tried to remember what it was like to think. The tub was no longer a tub, but a coffin, smothering him as he tried to move even a little. But it was something.
He lay there, water pouring down on him, for what could have been forever.
However long it was, the warmness faded, replaced by cold.