Fiction

Scopophobia

There are websites, if you know where to look, that let you see through hacked cameras, ones with next to no security. The vast majority of them are nature cams, little things in the middle of some American national park for counting cougars or bears or something. Then you have the street cameras – no idea how they turned up, but there you go. Some of them even have their longitude and latitude listed, mostly in Russia or China. Let me tell you, nothing happens all that much. I’ve never seen a mugging or car crash or anything. Barely see any people either.

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Then there’s personal webcams. And they’re used for exactly what you think you they’re used for. Sad, I know, but that’s humanity for you. I never used it for that reason, I promise. Again, most of it was really boring, listening to half a mundane conversation or watching someone scroll through Facebook. You’d get the occasional weirdo, which is what I always hoped for. My favourite is this guy who sits around in a fox outfit all day. Doesn’t do anything, just sits around. I don’t know if it’s entirely legal, but who lives a perfect life?

Until I got a phone call. I was working from home on I can’t remember what, when my phone started buzzing. ‘Private number’. I ignored it and it finally went quiet. Half an hour later, it rang again. Then quarter of an hour after that. The fourth time, seven and a half minutes later, I picked up.

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“Smile” came the male voice from the other end. It had an accent I couldn’t quite place. After I didn’t answer, he continued “Turn to the window and smile.” I turned on impulse, getting up out of my seat to get a closer look. “That’s right, now smile.”

I studied the street outside. Cars went past, mothers pushed prams, people chatted into phones. Across the street, windows were covered with blinds and curtains. My phone vibrated, a text from a private number. Just a picture. A picture of me at the window, phone dumbly in hand, overlaid with the caption ‘U lik watching? We watch 2’. I closed the curtains and threw my phone on my bed.

After a few moments to collect myself, I risked looking back out. I tried to find the angle the picture was took, somewhere just off to the left from street level, but there was no one there. Closing the curtains again, I stared at my phone, but it didn’t make a sound.

A few weeks passed and I had all but forgotten about the incident, passed it off as some idiot filming a prank video or something stupid like that. I was at home in that blissful time between waking up and getting up, scrolling though my phone. Then I got a new message. Private number.

The night before I had been at a friend’s playing board games and drinking and such. They had just had a baby and were doing the paranoid new parent thing, filling their house with cameras. We all thought it was pretty weird but we forgot about it pretty quickly. This is important.

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I got message after message, pictures of me in various places around the house. Nothing bad, just scenes of my friends and I playing games. They were chronological, following me around whenever I went into the kitchen or the bathroom. Yeah, even in there. Then there were pictures from inside their kid’s room. It was dark, but you could see it was me. I didn’t do anything, just walk around the room and stare and the baby. I don’t remember doing that.

Once I reached the last picture, I asked them who they were, what they wanted. ‘Message could not be sent. Try again?’ Over and over, but I couldn’t talk to them. After a full minute of trying, they sent another picture. My flat’s door, with today’s Independent and a phone showing a website with the current time. I ran to the door, but no one was outside. I heard the front door open and close, but it was just a neighbour.

I rang my friend, told him I was reading this thing on the internet about webcam safety. He said he already did it, it’s as secure as it could be. It all goes to his computer, only checked in case of emergences. Some small talk later, he had to go grocery shopping.

This went on for maybe weeks. Just when I thought I had forgotten, I’d get a new picture of me going about my business, with no way of getting in contact with whoever it was on the other end. I didn’t get any more calls, so I had no way of knowing if it was just one person or more.

After a while I put on Facebook about all this, about private numbers and stalkers, if anybody else had similar experiences. Everyone said it was weird and that I should go to the police. Less than an hour later, I get a message from guess who, telling me to look at my Facebook page. Right at the top was a video. I pressed play.

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It was dog fight. A proper, vicious fight with blood and a baying crowd. I paused once I figured what it was, but got the message ‘keep watching’. I could hear me, or someone like me, yelling over the crowd. Then the camera panned around and it was me, cheering with everybody else. ‘Nothing 2 hide, nothing 2 fear, m I rite? Look at who posted it’ said the next message. I had posted it. It was currently set to just me seeing it. ‘Tho ur friends shuld see it. Unless u stop talking’.

I deleted my last post. What else was I supposed to do, exactly? I don’t go to things like that, but what else could they do if, if they could do all this? I wasn’t too concerned with the how, only that they were doing it.

I’ve contemplated leaving, you know. Until I made the mistake of agreeing to a stag do. The moment I got home, at least half the pictures I got from my unknown watcher contained things I definitely did not do. That little album ended with printed pictures in a package outside of my girlfriend’s front door. The caption for that one was ‘Dont go away, we wuld miss u’.

Then I finally got my second phone call. Before they could say a word, I shouted down the phone “What do you want? What the hell do you want with me?” I was on the verge of tears. All I got in reply was a laugh. It was the guy with the accent, and I could swear there were others in the background. Just this vile laugh. When he ran out of breath, all he said, in the same unplaceable accent, “Thanks for the laugh, mate.” Then he hung up.

I haven’t heard from them or him or whatever in months. Part of me wants to forget about the whole damn thing. Part of me wants to find out more, get them prosecuted for slander or libel or defamation or whatever it is. I want to know how they did it, why they did it.

I don’t want to think about that laughter.