The internet is full of darkness that overflows from the recesses of the human soul. An endless abyss that conceals vast amounts of toxicity. Pornography featuring domestic violence and non-consent, campaigns to promote white supremacy, youtube commenters, the student finance website. The list of real terrors goes on, and you can stumble across any of it by chance. The very internet itself can threaten you too. Your reliance on emails and social media could leave you vulnerable, the moment your browser threatens to shut down for good. The viruses that can creep up and infect your computer. The scams and hackers that can compromise all your details. But the danger goes even deeper than that. There are memes, urban legends, cat pictures and all manner of engineered entertainment produced by amateurs. Unsupervised production of just about everything. You already know the pain behind everything already mentioned, but with these, you gamble your sanity with every click. One day you find a short video of baby pandas playing in the snow and you’ll feel warm inside. The next day, you’ll see an animation involving badgers squatting over and over to a relentless tune. How many risks can you take before one of them drive you over the edge?
There are those however who revel in these pools of horror, fuelling their own twisted black humour and desire to torment those around. My friends are among them of course. Kara and Svetlana specifically discovered great pleasure in introducing the dark side to me, and to my distress, torturing me with it afterwards (what are friends for if not for regular bouts of intentionally inflicted pain. It’s why Elodie becomes friends with everyone). My lack of knowledge of the internet made me particularly vulnerable to these attacks but there was one that hit harder than the rest.
Charlie the unicorn is a short two dimensional animation involving a poor creature who is harassed mercilessly by his somehow-friends, until he is eventually betrayed so they can profit from his kidneys. Kara and Svetlana watched my reaction in utter glee after showing me this video. Part of their joy was not only related to how frightening I found it, but also the fact that I share some of Charlie’s unfortunate qualities. Notably, his love of sleeping in, his grumpy attitude when confronted by extreme merriment and his deadpan scepticism in the face of the bizarre and face-value kindness.
I thought that after the initial video and teasing, they would move onto brighter and fresh ways to annoy me, but one Saturday morning the haunting returned in a whole new way. A faint rapping at my door and whispering roused me half awake, leaving me in a daze where my subconscious still held sway over my mind.
“Charlie”. The voice was high-pitched and every syllable was sickeningly drawn out.
“Charrrrlie”. I instinctively hugged the covers closer to my abdomen, shielding my kidneys in trembling semi-slumber.
“Charlie. Come to the candy mountain , Charlie”.
By the time I broke into full consciousness, a more real fear gripped me when I realised there were strangers whispering through the keyhole of my door, lying in wait for me to emerge. As soon as I recognised these voices as my cruel merciless friends, fear shifted quickly into angry irritation. I staggered to the door in my pyjamas and sleepily opened up to their grinning faces. My mood must have been etched into my face because they immediately burst into laughter.
“That nearly gave me a genuine nightmare guys. I was half asleep. What do you want?”
“We’re all going to the cinema! Come with us Charlie!”
“What time is it?”
“It’s one o’clock. You slept in again Charlie!”
“Please stop calling me that in those voices”
“Come on Charlie! Come to the Candy Mountain!”
“Ok fine! Give me a moment to brush my damn teeth”.
I closed the door and rushed about to get ready but the whispered voices continued through my keyhole. I tried my best to ignore them, brushing with one hand while the other fished out clothes to wear. I heard them say something about rainbows and they were beginning to harmonise together so with wavering patience I reopened the door, mumbling through the toothpaste frothing up in my mouth.
“Seriously guys, can you cut it out. It’s creepy”
“Blasphemer. Shun the blasphemer! Shun. Shuuun”
“Why am I friends with you guys again?”
It obviously wasn’t working so I left them to their madness outside and got ready. When we set off together, the joke took a long time to get old. They danced around me and skipped toward the subway, holding onto the soft high-pitched voices.
“Please stop calling me Charlie. We’re in public”.
“We want to make you happy, Charlie!”
What did I do to deserve this you might wonder. Perhaps in another life, my natural scepticism hurt someone and now this was the consequence. Or maybe it’s karma, and unbeknownst to me I have destroyed someone’s life and am now paying for it with my sanity. Or maybe I’m just in hell and don’t quite realise it yet.
It could have been worse in the end (I am still currently in possession of both my kidneys). All I lost was some sleep, some sanity and some security within my subconscious. I always know when my mind tries to warn me of danger now; I start dreaming of two unicorns chasing me down.