Josh

Josh slumped down onto the chair inside his apartment’s makeshift recording studio. The silence hugged him like a blanket. This was his safe haven.

The silent room was both calming and overwhelming at the same time, but he liked it that way. The noise-reducing foam he had used to line the walls created a vacuum that he dove into every night.

For hours, Josh and his friends live streamed video games to an audience of thousands. Their dedicated followers had made them a lot of money over the years and their stable of streamers grew all of the time.

And now they had 24-7 coverage with every three hours dedicated to either team or solo acts. His show took place in the late hours of the night. It was the Graveyard Shift, and it was a pretty good name to boot.

Josh opened his eyes and winced at his laptop’s iridescent screen. He dimmed the brightness and grabbed up his headphones. Will was doing a stream with Chad, and they were killing it.

“I can’t believe you just did that!” Will exclaimed. “Holy shit, what the hell did you just do?” He slapped his desk and laughed hysterically.

Chad groaned. “Shut up, Will.”

They were perfect together. The straight man and his foil. Josh was up in about ten minutes. He leaned back.

It had been over six years since the channel began. He was one of the founding members who brought his social media followers over in a leap of faith. The last group he had been part of was pretty good, but here he had reached new heights.

Things had been rough for a while as advertisers were slow to hop on board and video game developers didn’t like the way he and his friends dealt with their games, but his fans liked Josh and Josh liked to deliver.

There were also imitators out there who tried to copy his style, so many of them. Now they couldn’t keep up. He was the original and that gave him a certain amount of fame in the community.

A chilly breeze wafted into the studio through the slits in the walls near to the floor. Josh pulled up his feet onto the chair and hugged his knees.

Will and Chad were finishing up their stream and saying their goodbyes to listeners. Jodie, the program manager, was on Skype and sent Josh a quick note telling him he was good to go any time.

“Ok,” Josh wrote back.

He signed onto his stream and put out a greeting online.

Several people were already there talking about what had happened last time, what could happen this time and potential ways they could help out. They had even started a wiki for all of the times they had helped Josh out of a jam.

Josh did his best to keep up with everyone typing away until his wrists hurt.

Sometimes it felt like they ran the show, but deep down they all knew that Josh was the real reason they were there.

He flicked on his mic and saddled up for a long stream.

***

Every night, the chat tittered away alongside the video.

Users sent in their insights and were sometimes rewarded with Josh’s recognition for a clever joke or for pointing out a screw up.

Once upon a time, Josh had been one of these chatter bots, but on other channels. It took a lot of concentration to pay attention to both the game and to his listeners, but over time he had found a good balance.

There were always newbies in the chat early on and tonight one of them was quickly getting on the nerves of everyone else.

“What are you doing? Josh, seriously, you couldn’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag,” the user wrote.

Josh ignored the chat and let the other users beat haters down until they either signed off or had their personal details leaked.

After another ten minutes of harassment, Josh decided it was time to call the guy out to keep things civil on the stream.

“Hey bud, why don’t we take things down a notch, eh?” Josh said over his microphone. “We like giving people on the chat the chance to speak their minds, but you’re just being a little b-itch right now.”

“Here! Here!” one of the other chatters wrote. “Kick him out! Kick him out!” another chimed in. Some of them said things that didn’t bear repeating, but the user got the message and didn’t comment again.

Sometimes the people in the chat were pretty hilarious using their memes with pinpoint accuracy to best sum up how much he had just screwed up during the stream. Others were the worst people imaginable as was the case with this guy.

A new batch of users hopped on as the second hour of the live stream got underway. It had been the same formula for over fives years now.

One of them was causing trouble, but it looked like his friends could handle it.

“Bag.” the user wrote. “Bag. Bag. Bag. Bag. Bag.” Over and over the user wrote the same thing into the chat until everyone was calling for Josh to boot him out.

“Got any-thing good to say, bud?” he asked over the microphone. “Well if you don’t, why don’t you get off the chat, eh?”

“Bag.” the user wrote. “Bag. Bag. Bag. Bag. Bag. Bag. Bag.”

“What’s he saying?” one of the other people in the chat wrote.

Message after message appeared on the stream all asking what the user was saying to Josh. Josh blinked a few times looking at the screen.

“What do you mean?” Josh said over the mic. “Dude’s being a super creeper.”

“We can’t see what he’s saying,” another person wrote in.

Josh squinted his eyes and looked at the user in suspicion.

“Josh.”

It was clear as day what the user was writing.

“I see you.”

The last one caught him by surprise.

Josh looked around the recording booth only to see the foam-covered walls around him. His laptop didn’t have a webcam built-in, so there was no way the user could be seeing him right now.

Invisible fingers played on his spine.

He took a closer look at the message, not that it did much good.

“Josh?” a user wrote in. “Where did you go?”

As Josh inched closer to his screen, his speakers erupted in noise. He fell off his chair knocking the mic off of its stand. The sound filled the recording booth, static piercing his ears.

“We’ll be right back after this short commercial break,” Josh yelled putting the live stream on pause.

He checked the user’s ID and the email they used to sign up for the account on the site as the computer continued to scream.

He slammed a hand onto the laptop and held the “fn” and “f11” keys until the sound died away.

Josh sat panting in his chair. The red headphones he used during the streams were still plugged in. There was no way sound should have been coming out of the speakers. The chat on the stream had erupted asking if Josh was all right and what that was sound was on the other end.

Raising the volume little by little on his laptop, it seemed like the sound had stopped.

Whoever this user was, he had hacked his way into the stream and used a mic to broadcast a message over the show. The user was back on the chat.

The text made Josh sweat.

“Woods.” it read. “Bag.”

The other people on the chat didn’t know what to make of it.

“I think we’re going to call it for now,” Josh said over the microphone. “It looks like we have some technical issues, but tune in later tonight at 11 pee-emm for more. Joshy-boiii signing out.”

Josh closed the lid of his laptop, left the studio, and put on his shoes.

***

October had been unseasonably cold this year, Josh thought as he huddled inside his thick leather jacket.

He snuck out of his apartment into a small alleyway around the side of the building that led to a series of garages.

Inside the furthest one was a shovel. He grabbed it up and made his way down the street trying to keep it hidden. The user’s text kept flashing in his eyes as he walked. There was no way they knew.

Down into a small ravine, ducking under some branches, and finally reaching a clearing, Josh stabbed his shovel into the cold, hard ground.

This was the spot.

After ten minutes of digging, Josh picked himself up off the ground and sat clutching something in his arms. The plastic had started to decay. He flicked away the flecks of the white material and tossed the back into the hole.

A few moments later, he had dumped all of the upturned soil back from where it came.

His heart was beating in his throat from the effort and the cold.

Back on the street, Josh ditched the shovel in a bush.

Three blocks to go. Two blocks to go. One block to go. Up the stairs, through the front door, up three flights; key out, key in, key turned, inside, lock door.

Josh panted as he took off his coat. The paranoia had almost won this time. It was 11 p.m., the second part of his live stream was supposed to be starting soon. Jodie was probably freaking out that he hadn’t contacted her over Skype.

He checked the website on his phone.

“This is Joshy-Boiii coming to you live from the Graveyard Shift tooo-night with part twelve of our play through of‒” a voice said.

Josh’s hands went slack and the phone dropped from his grip.

A great, black void had opened in his stomach. The lights in the makeshift recording studio were on. Someone was broadcasting.

“And it looks like we have a special guest with us tonight too,” the voice said eerily.

Josh stumbled to kitchen, grabbed up a knife and gripped it tight.

“Let’s see if he’s interesting in t-aking part,” the voice said cheerily.

Josh crept over to the studio door. It was sturdy and wooden, but the thin walls of the studio were covered with a light plastic tarp. Josh carefully cut a hole in the plastic and then a hole in the foam.

His hands were sweaty.

As he bent down to peek through, a wave of nausea hit him.

His stomach squeezed in on itself making his eyes water as he tried to stop himself from heaving.

“Let’s take a com-mercial break,” the voice on the other side of the wall said. “Stick around.”

Josh could hear something stepping toward the door, but it stopped.

Through the hole, Josh could see someone moving around in there, but he couldn’t see their face. Whoever it was now stood unmoving and facing the door nose about an inch away from it.

Josh stood and stumbled his way to the door knife held in front of him.

“Who the hell are you? What are you doing in here?” Josh wailed flying into hysterics. “What‒”

Josh vomited on the floor. He grabbed his stomach as it blossomed with pain and dropped the knife onto the floor. As he knelt to grab for the knife, the door spoke .

“You.” it said.

The voice, though it was muffled, was unmistakable.

“The.” it said.

Josh’s knees buckled and he writhed in pain on the floor. The doorknob began to turn.

“Other.” it said.

Josh stumbled back toward the apartment’s door and tried to wrench it open. Something was blocking it from the other side. He slammed his shoulder into it, but he couldn’t.

“You.” it said.

Josh dry heaved, the smell of the blood on his hands had started to rise. Bits of plastic were falling off of the recording booth’s frame.

He screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed, but no sound escaped his mouth.

Silence had leaked from the recording booth into the apartment.

Josh watched as the door handle turned.

***

The next night, the chat was filled with people talking about what had just happened.

It was getting close to October, so they figured it must have been the lead up to some really special Halloween prank.

Josh smiled as he watched the flurry of spectators hypothesize and whip themselves up into a frenzy. He loved every second of it.

He signed onto the chat and put in his two cents asserting his own retelling of the events.

He also sent Jodie an “ok” and started up the live stream.

It was going to be a long night and a new set of users were already moving into the chat.

          one user said.               

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