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  • Nick Janicki

Tuesday Tales: "Rabbit Hole"

Carrying a friendship from grammar school through high school meant sleepovers required certain upgrades over the years for Ben and Ian. The “movie and asleep by nine” period had long passed the two, as had the “pulling an all-nighter for the hell of it” years of middle school. They were in a transitional funk at the moment, still appreciating their late nights together yet unsure how to best enjoy them now that they were in the thick of high school.


“What if we hit up some girls and snuck out?” Ian asked, eyes glued to the television just as his friend’s were. They were slowly learning video games could only keep them entertained for a few hours at a time now, and the night was young.


“You know any girls to text?” Ben responded. They both knew the answer was “no,” so Ian didn’t bother answering him. “What about beer? We could see if your parents have a few in the fridge we can snag.”


Their latest online game wrapped, allowing them to lean back on the futon for a much-needed recovery after the thumb-exhausting match. They kept their eyes on the screen while waiting in the virtual lobby for a new game, but both had their thoughts set on the more pressing matter: what would they do for the rest of the night?


“Nah, we don’t need beer to have fun,” Ian broke the silence. “Besides, I’ve got sectionals next week. Not about to put three year’s training to waste for a Miller Lite.” With that, he picked up his controller and exited the game. “Sitting here playing this crap in a loop isn’t gonna make matters any better, either.”


Ben tossed his controller to the side as well, turning to face his friend for the first time since their now-bloodshot eyes had locked onto the screen several hours ago. “Well, what do you suggest we do? I gave my idea and you gave yours, and it looks like neither one’s good enough.” He stared at his friend who didn’t break focus with the television, scrolling through various applications on the Xbox One homescreen. “I swear, if you put Fallout on again I’ll walk right home. There’s no fun in watching you play. Besides, you said it yourself, it’s not gonna give us any ideas.”


“Chill out,” Ian said. He selected the YouTube icon and the screen filled with red as the application opened. “Let’s pass some time watching videos. Maybe it’ll give us the inspiration we need to fill the rest of the night.”


We’re going to end up watching random clips of movies all night, Ben thought. He didn’t have a better idea, though, so he kept his mouth shut as his friend began scrolling across the “Suggested Videos” section. He’s probably right—give it a few videos and we’ll think of something fun to do. No harm in burning a couple more minutes of precious weekend time if it pays off in the long run.


Of course, the YouTube rabbit hole was a concept the two had failed to consider when clicking on the first video of the night. A music video led to the recording of a concert performance; the recording led to a video of a public fistfight at said concert; the fistfight led to a “Top Ten Mike Tyson Knockouts” highlight video. And so forth. By the time Ben glanced at his phone’s screen it had been an hour and a half. An hour and a half flushed down the drain for garbage, he shook his head. “Dude, this is the kind of stuff we did three years ago. Sorry, but I’m not wasting my night doing something I could do by myself at home.”


Ian smiled, not at his friend’s comment but at Mike Tyson sending Marvis Frazier to the floor. He turned to Ben, “Sorry, dude, but I’ve got nothing. Fresh out of ideas. You’re welcome to hang some more, though. Not like I have a gun to your head or anything.” He set his focus back on the television.


“No worries, I’ll catch you later.” Ben turned to head up the stairs, checking his phone once more to actually digest the time this time: one thirty-five in the morning. He could make it home on his bike in fifteen and lie in bed within thirty minutes, a full Sunday ahead with a decent night’s sleep. He was content with this.


As he made his way up the stairs he heard Ian call back to him, “Ben! Ben, check this out!” He poked his head down to catch a glimpse of what his friend was so audibly (and visibly) animated about. He pointed to the television, specifically toward a suggested video with a title reading, “CREEPY.” Below it was a red box with “Live Now” written inside. “A live video’s something new, huh? And talk about keeping us awake for the night with that title! That’s something new for sure.”


Ben made his way back to the bottom of the stairs and crossed his arms. “It’s just someone’s live feed? How’d you even find it?” He was drawn to the television across the room before Ian could respond, stepping closer to get a better look of the video’s thumbnail. “Looks like a black screen. Maybe someone accidentally went live?”


“Who cares!” Ian argued. “We’ve never watched any of this live shit. It popped up on my suggested videos. They’re always putting new stuff in my feed. It’s like their algorithm or something like that.” He looked at Ben who was face-to-face with the screen, attempting to make out anything in the dark thumbnail. Without responding, he backed up from the television and dropped himself on the couch in his previous spot. Ian smiled at this, continuing to stare at his friend while selecting the live video with his controller.


The screen filled with black, just as the thumbnail had previewed. There wasn’t any dialogue, either. As Ben reached for the remote to turn up the volume, they heard a shuffling sound from the video’s camera clearly being moved in someone’s hands. Upon raising the volume, the faint noise of someone breathing joined the other sound for an odd tune.


“This is it?” Ben laughed, extending his arms to the screen. “It’s probably some drunk dude who accidentally went live on his way home from the bar. Shut this junk off, man.” He dropped his head into his hands, shaking it in disappointment. I could have been halfway home by now.


“Hold up . . .” Ian said, his voice dropping to just above a whisper. “Check the username, it’s just ‘Bian.’ And looks like they have no other videos besides this one. You’re right, it’s gotta be an accident. What kind of username is that anyway? Sounds like a German dude or something.”


Ben lifted his head and stared at the name on the screen with a curious tilt. “Bian,” he echoed his friend. “Bian’s like Ben and Ian combined. Kind of a weird coincidence, right?”


Ian shrugged, “Sure, I guess.” He grabbed the controller and clicked around the user’s profile until landing on the “Channels” tab. The two sat in silence as they studied the screen in disbelief of what displayed. “They’re subscribed to one channel . . . and it’s mine. What the hell is this?”


“Well, explains why it came up in your suggested videos. You’re sure you don’t know who this is?” Ben’s tone was different now, as was Ian’s, filled with a sort of sincerity the two rarely heard from one another, relying on either witty or competitive remarks to fill their dialogue over the years. “Go back to the video, yeah?”


Ian clicked back to the livestream, the light coming from the YouTube application fading back into the video’s blackness. “Still nothing going on there. But I’m positive I have no idea who this is. I just have an account to watch age-gated videos, so I’m not sure why anyone would follow me in the first place. I don’t post crap on my channel.”


“What about your brother?” Ben asked, his thoughts sifting through the most sensible possibilities. It was strange, sure, but that didn’t make it inexplicable. It wouldn’t have been the first bot account to follow people at random.


“Paul’s out of town this weekend visiting his girlfriend.”


“And your parents? Could be them snooping on your channel, accidentally following you, you know? Seems like a parent thing to do.”


Ian shook his head, “No, I told you, they’re up at the lake house for the weekend. Besides, they couldn’t figure out how to go live on YouTube if they tried. It’s not like butt-dialing someone.”


The boys sat fixated on the video, squinting every now and again as if they had nearly caught something in the darkness only to realize it was nothing more than their own reflection on the screen. Fifteen minutes passed (I would have been home by now, Ben considered) with nothing more than the sounds of the camera shuffling and light breathing to fill their ears. That was until the screen began to lighten, a dark grey replacing the deep black they had been studying. “Check it out,” Ben said, pointing to the screen. “Definitely not some accidental live video session. Told you.” The screen grew lighter, soon revealing a lawn of fresh-trimmed grass lit up by some sort of spotlight. “Look at that! The dude’s on the move. Hey, at least he’s got a nice yard.”

“Yeah . . .” Ian said, scratching the top of his head. He watched as the cameraman moved from the grassy area to a brick patio, the screen continuing to brighten the closer the individual got to the source of the light. The two watched, faces transitioning from anticipation to discomfort as the person took hold of a growing vine ladder on the exterior of a building and began climbing, camera pointing at the brick patio below as they moved higher.


“Isn’t that . . .” Ben started, his voice trembling. Ian hadn’t ever heard this tone from his friend, either.


“My house,” Ian finished. “I mean, it can’t be, but that’s gotta be my house.”


Ben yanked the controller from his friend’s hand, which remained frozen in position as he stared at the television in disbelief as the stranger climbed the side of his house. It was impossible, but it was happening nonetheless. Ben hit the back button on the device, returning the screen to the individual’s—Bian’s—YouTube channel. He bumped the joystick with his thumb to prompt the video timestamp to display. The controller fell to the floor, as did the boys’ stomachs.

“Five minutes,” Ben whispered. “It says our livestream’s five minutes behind.”

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