It was one of those things you wouldn't expect at 3am on a Saturday morning, but a ping from my phone confirmed a message received. I paused the video I was watching and took a look at my phone. It was from an unknown sender.
"Hey Dan long time no see! :)"
I frowned, but typed back.
"Who is this?"
Ping. "its me marie your pri sch bestie!! Remember me?? :))"
Ah, Marie, my best friend in primary school. It was such a long time ago, before secondary school and the A Levels, before the Army, before university...
Ping. "just wanna talk. I'm bored XD"
"of course i rembr you!" I typed back. "man, how did u get my no? "
Ping. “hehhehheh… i had my means… >;D”
The exchange went on for another hour or so. We caught up with each other to make up for the lost years. She was currently studying in NTU, as I was coincidentally, and was well into the third year of her Visual Communication studies. Guess it was only natural she went there; she showed great talent even back then in art class.
I finally bid her goodnight even as the clock showed 4.30am. In the midst of my exhaustion, I crashed onto my bed and was soon asleep.
A message came from Marie again two days later.
Ping. "Hey its me again. I'm bored :x"
The message woke me up from my sleep. The clock on my desk showed that it was 2 in the morning.
"lol you nvr sleep early do u? "
Ping. "haha nvr!!!! im a night owl ;3"
Ping. "i was thinking abt our pri sch days u knw. I miss them"
"yeah, me 2... we did evrythng 2gether didnt we? :)"
Ping. "of course lol. U were my only frnd. no 1 liked me XD"
"aw dont say tht! U were just shy thts all"
"hey lemme show u something"
Ping. "awww!! Thats the photo we took back then rite? XD"
"haha yup! You still had those blue specs and funny hair clips"
Ping. "heyyy theyre not funny ok? Spongebobs the best! >:D"
"haha u still like tht show?"
Ping. "yeah lol"
"lol. Hey im going 2 sleep now. Talk 2 u another time? :)"
Ping. "aww k. Nite~ :D"
It had been three days since Marie and I last spoke. It was a little strange that she had not contacted me for so long – she normally did every other day or so – but I took no notice of it. It was the last week of school after all, a period when tests and assignments come out of their semester-long hiding places to take a bite at you. I was grateful for lesser matters to be on my hands at the moment.
As I was travelling between lectures through the carpark, I was suddenly hit by a strange sharp chill. I shivered and pulled my arms together, but stopped just as I caught sight of a rather peculiar individual. He was wearing a flowing black coat and leather pants which covered his entire body save only his hands and head. His hair was slicked back with a heavy dose of wax, and a pair of sunglasses gave no sight of his eyes.
It was all of these features that made this man caught my eye, but what made me stare was the direction in which he was looking. He was looking at me.
“Daniel Teo.” The man’s voice boomed through the carpark, deep and measured.
I needed no second warning. My feet were already carrying me away from the man as fast as they could.
“Stop.” The voice came again, and at that very moment, I stumbled over an uneven brick, lost my balance, and tumbled to the ground.
I hurried to pick myself up from the ground, but froze when I saw my surroundings. The bright morning sky had faded to an unnatural copper, while the air had gone thin and cold. The study area, which was packed with busy students a moment ago, was now totally devoid of any human life. Silence rang in my ears.
“Daniel Teo,” said the man again. It seemed that I had not made it very far, for he was leaning against a nearby wall. “You must stop talking to that girl.”
A strong breeze blew through the carpark, rustling fallen leaves as it went.
“…I’m sorry?” I squeaked uncertainly. I hope he had not caught the break in my voice.
“Your phone. You must stop talking to that girl on your phone.”
"W-what are you talking about?"
The man sighed, and heaved himself up from the wall. He had a lean build, though there was no denying that those curves along his coat sleeves were muscles. I gulped; there was no way this was going to end well.
"Relax," he said as he strode towards me, thick boots thumping on the red-brick floor. "I’m not going to hurt you."
As the man got closer, I could make out more of his features. His face was weathered and tainted by numerous slash scars, most of them crawling from his temple to beyond the dark regions of his covered eyes. His thin lips were fixed with a permanent downward pout, which complimented his dark complexion.
The man stopped just five steps away from me, but that didn't stop his strong cologne from getting to me.
"Pardon the smell," the man said in response to my wincing. "It's from some... complications.
"Who are you?" I asked, as I got up with my eyes still stayed on him. "And how do you know my name?"
The man snorted. “I have my means, and you don’t need to know who I am. More importantly–” He gestured to the phone in my hand. "You should stop talking to that girl on your phone."
A sudden thought hit me. "Wait, you mean Marie?"
"Whatever she calls herself, yes.”
"But why? And how do you know about her?"
The man took a deep breath, and exhaled in a single long blow. “Look, I haven’t got much time. Just stop talking to that girl, and delete all traces of her.”
“What?” This man was not making any sense to me.
The man cried out in frustration, and started towards me. He was surprisingly fast, and it took mere seconds for him to grab my phone from me.
“No!” I cried, slugging him upon instinct. With a cry, the man tumbled to the floor and my phone skittered across the floor.
I scrambled over to my phone to pick it up, but as soon as I did, I realized that the surroundings had returned to normal, as if I had returned from another world. The students were back in the study area, buried in their laptops and printed slides, oblivious to anything that had just happened. The sky had reverted to a pastel blue, while in a distance, a lilting song was sang by unseen birds as if nothing in the world had changed. There was no trace of the man, but as I turned to head to my lecture, I swear I could make out a faint voice: “She isn't who she says she is."
“yeesh. guess wht. i met a rly weird man ystd.”
Ping. “? Lol wht happnd?”
“he was like telling me to stp textg u n other weird stuff...."
Ping. "O.o how did he knw abt me?? :S"
"it sounded like he did. At least he knw I am talking 2 u."
Ping. "eek im freaked out!!! :E"
"shld b ok... I mean I never saw him agn or anything. Just b careful k?"
Ping. "ok... u shouldnt talk 2 strangers tsk tsk :x"
"lol nt tht i wanted 2... the sky turned a funny colour and every1 disappeared and other weird stuff happened 2..."
Ping. "@_@ WHATTTTT?!?!?!"
"I dunno it was crazy... Mayb i imagined it..."
Ping. "U sure u weren't high on drugs? :O"
"LOL I dont do drugs marie!"
Ping. "u alwys looked like u did tho"
Ping. "lol jkjk"
"XD gtg now. super busy!!!"
Ping. "haha me 2!! Talk 2 u again soon!"
It was just two days before my first exam when I received a message from Marie. The clock in my dorm showed that it was already 2 a.m. in the morning.
Ping. "Dan help me"
Ping. “someone’s following me. i think its tht guy u were talking abt. Help!!”
Oh no. “Where are u??”
Ping. “Im over by the medical ctr. Plz help me i don’t know y he is following me”
“Try to stay safe. I will b right there!”
It was a five minute uphill run from my dorm to the medical centre, and I was panting when I made it there. Nonetheless, I knew that I had to find Marie before that man did anything to her. Although it was already well into the night, the school was still lit with numerous orange streetlamps, and nearby, a fountain took on different forms as it spewed fine mist against a constantly changing backlight. The night breeze made me shiver, and I was glad that I had worn my jacket when I left my dorm.
Marie was nowhere to be seen, which made me worried. As I sat at the bus stop, I took out my phone and messaged her.
“Where r u?”
The reply was instantaneous. Ping. “I am right here.”
A sudden wave of coldness swept over me, and I felt a sense of dread at the familiar feeling. The sky had once again turned an unnatural shade, although it was luminous blue this time. A shrill, similar to microphone feedback, pierced the night sky, and I instinctively covered my ears. It was then that I noticed the individual sitting beside me. It was a slight young girl dressed in a white uniform and blue pinafore. She wore a pair of blue glasses and had Spongebob hairclips in her hair. It was someone I immediately recognised, and yet had a hard time believing it was her.
It was Marie.
“M-Marie..?” I gasped. She looked exactly like she did back in primary school.
Marie was strangely silent as she stared off into the distance. Her long black hair covered her face from me.
And then she slowly turned her head and I reeled back in horror as a pair of empty wrinkled eye sockets greeted me. Marie gave me a wide smile, unveiling two rows of rotten jagged teeth.
“Hello-o 10101010 Da-1010-n!” she said with a hollow voice that was both inhuman and emotionless. “Thanks for coming! 101010101010”
I screamed and got up to run from the bus stop, but a sudden pressure glued me to my seat. The shrill grew louder and I cried out in pain as it buffeted my ears. Marie grinned wider even as she smacked her chapped lips with a black snake-like tongue. Several tendrils unfurled from her back to reveal sharp bladed tips.
“Let’s pl-10101-ay D-an.” Marie droned. “Let’s pla—”
Marie reeled back even as a small explosion caught her on the side of her head. The pressure on me was lifted and I scrambled from the bus stop as fast as I could. I did not ran far before I was greeted by a familiar figure.
“I told you to stop talking to that girl.” The black-clad man said from behind a smoking musket. “Now look what you have gone and done.”
The man shot me a look of annoyance. “You know what kid? Just shut it.”
The man loaded his musket and let off two more rounds at Marie, who was still at the bus stop reeling in pain. The explosions pushed her off her seat and she let out a groan that sounded like a strong wind being blown through tight crevices.
“What the heck is that thing?” I asked. It was nothing like anything I had ever seen before.
“That?” The man asked as he fired off more shots. “Well, that what you’d call a Phonvus, or quite simply, a phone virus.”
“A what?” I could not believe what I was hearing.
“Well, if you would be so kind as to let me finish,” grunted the man as he threw aside the now-empty musket. “It’s a parasitic organism that lives within the digital realm. It grows stronger by consuming the sight of humans and integrating into their social digital network.” The man had reached into his coat and drew out two silver pistols that still glinted even in the night.
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this when we first met?”
“I had my orders.”
None of what the man had said made sense to me, but as I stared back at the bus stop, I knew that he was telling the truth. That thing was not Marie. It could not be.
The smoke from the man’s earlier attack had yet to clear, but even as the dim lighting of the bus stop shone through it, I could still make out the creature’s convulsing form; it was down, but not yet out.
The man clicked his tongue as he gritted his teeth. “This one’s strong. Here.” He handed me a grenade. “I trust you know how to use one of these right? If that thing gets too close, use it. But stay here.”
The man darted towards the Phonvus and as the smoke thinned, I could see that it now had taken on a different appearance. All semblance of Marie had been blown away by the man’s earlier attacks, and in its place was a humanoid blob with black mucus-like skin and a single unblinking eye nestled in the center of what I assumed was its head. Tendrils now stemmed out from every part of the Phonvus’ body, their sharp ends preparing to strike as it faced the man.
The man closed in to the Phonvus, rolling to the right just in time to avoid its extended tendrils. He let off three rounds from his pistols, but the monster’s viscous body absorbed them. It was too late when I noticed the hole that had formed below the Phonvus’ eye. As it bellowed a roar, I fell to the ground screaming, hands over ears in a vain attempt to block out. High and low frequencies buffeted the air, forming visible soundwaves that shook the ground beneath me. I could barely make out the shattering of nearby windows through the resonating air.
The man took a full blast of the Phonvus’ roar and he too crumbled to the floor, losing grip of his weapons in the process. The creature saw that its assailant was down and proceeded to entangle him in its tendrils. The man struggled against it, but try as he might, he could not get free of its grip. He was trapped.
With its opposition down, the Phonvus started for me. Its single eye was locked on me, and as it trudged towards me, I could hear its low wheezing.
“The grenade, use the grenade!” The man roared as he continued to struggle against his restraints. “Dang it, use the grenade!”
“Let’s pl-10101-ay D-an!” The same flat voice drifted from the Phonvus’ hole of a mouth. “Le-1010101-t’s pla-y!”
The man was shouting at me, but I could not make out what he was saying. I was rooted to the ground, transfixed by the Phonvus’ unmoving eye – it was only at that moment that I recognised it. It was Marie’s eye: an eye that had always saw the good in everything, an eye that had always believed that tomorrow would be better day. It was wide, brown and innocent, just as it had always been in my memories of her. It took me back to the times I spent in primary school with her – times we played catch during recess, times we parodied pop songs on the school field, times we shared answers during a class test, the time I failed to say goodbye to at our graduation ceremony. The same eye now stared at me, devoid of any emotion or any hint of the past we had together.
The Phonvus was now barely a feet from me. As it got closer, I could smell the stench of corroded copper and mildew that wafted from it, overpowering even the man’s cologne. The man was now screaming at the top of his lungs, a single guttural scream as he thrashed against the Phonvus’ restraints. A single tendril reached out for my eyes—
I jumped back and rolled away. No, I won’t let this monster take me. The Phonvus, startled by my sudden movement, gave a cry of frustration but started again towards me. I ran to gain some distance from the monster as I pulled the safety off the grenade. Bullets had failed to faze it; I needed a better plan.
I pulled my phone from my pocket and flung it towards the Phonvus. As the phone sailed through the air, the monster reached out with its tendrils to swat it away. It had however failed to notice the grenade that I had flung right behind it.
A crack sounded through the air as the grenade exploded in the Phonvus’ face. It was a clean hit, and the Phonvus roared as it clutched the smoking remains of its eye. The man, seeing his chance, broke free from the Phonvus’ grip with a cry and tumbled away from the monster.
It was then that I noticed the small pixel-like fragments that were fizzling off the Phonvus’ body as it started to disintegrate. A scream of dismay escaped from the creature as it realised that its end was near. It clawed at its body but failed to grasp anything as one by one, its members faded to nothing. As the Phonvus turned back to me, and I saw the fear even through its now-decimated face. The Phonvus wheezed even as it struggled to reach out to me with what remained of its arm.
"He-l-101010-p me Dan. I’m s-scare-d.1010101 Hel-101010-p meeee—" Its plea was cut short as its remains were carried away with the wind. Head still pounding, I sank to the floor as the school grounds around me flickered and returned to normal. It was over.
“Good work kid,” the man grunted as he came up to me. “Not too shabby at all.”
It took a while before I could gained back my composure. The man was gazing at the near-by fountain with a cigarette in hand when I approached him.
“What happens now?” I asked him.
“Well, for starters, you can keep all of these a secret.” The man flicked away his cigarette as he turned to me. “There’s enough trouble as there is, and the last thing I need is another kid like you messing up my job.”
“Who are you exactly?”
“Heh, I can’t tell you,” smirked the man. “But just be glad you escaped today unscathed.”
I gasped as the man lifted up his glasses. The scars on the side of his head met around his eyes, one of which had a gaping hole in its place.
The man chuckled at my response. “Heh, gets them every time,” he muttered.
“Two years ago, a Phonvus I had been tracking nearly had me,” he said. “It had already ripped out my right eye and was going for my left. Took me all I had to finally put it down.
“By then, it was already too late. Half an eye gone, half a self taken, you see. Doesn’t seem like it, but my body’s rotting on the inside.” The man flicked back his glasses into place, concealing his eyes once more. “Have to keep getting stronger colognes every other month.”
“Yes I am. Just leave it.”
The man turned to me, his glasses reflecting off the streetlamps. “Look, not to get sentimental or anything, but it’d be good to check on your girlfriend. Now that a Phonvus has gotten hold of her data, who knows if they have gotten to her yet.”
I perked up at the man’s comment; the real Marie could be in danger. “I’ll find her.”
“And I will too.” The man smiled thinly. “Hopefully, we won’t have to see each other again.”
The man gave me a hard pat on the back which caused me to double over. When I looked up, he was gone.
It took me six hours of scouring through the web and all the other resources I could find, but I eventually found her Facebook page. I opened the messaging window and typed in a message. Silently praying, I hit the ‘send’ button.
"Hey Marie long time no see! :)"
- Is the past lost to us, or are we lost to it? -