the deep dark web
He remembered sitting around campfires as a boy, back when he was a Boy Scout and getting badges for making knots and walking old people across intersections seemed about the most important things in the world. Listening to spooky stories and getting so freaked out, he’d lay awake for hours in his tent afterwards, listening for confirmation that one or more of the ghouls and goblins described in no particular detail were making their way over to his sleeping bag with ill intent.
Perhaps it was the very vagueness of the threat that allowed his mind to wander in such detail. The stories were always very formulaic and he could see the endings coming a mile away and initially there was no great cause for concern. He would chuckle to himself and load another marshmallow onto his stick and await the next attempt by the older counselors to traumatize their charges.
It was only later, when he was alone with his thoughts and the moon was doing its best to cast shadows where no shadows should be, that he would feel the icy finger of fear start to creep up his spine.
Sort of like what he was feeling as he looked outside his window.
There are parts of the United States where it is so crowded, it’s hard to imagine a house could be so far away from anywhere else. Set in the woods, his home was only accessible on foot and even people who liked their space might find it a bit remote. It sat atop a large hill and on a clear day he could make out the middle of nowhere. He was careful, however, not to be completely isolated.
He had an internet connection.
That’s all he needed. He walked to town for supplies every couple of weeks and pretty much kept to himself.
Except for the aforementioned connection.
Nothing crazy mind you, just a few social networking sites to keep in touch with friends and a link that allowed him to manage his finances. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Until last night anyway.
He stared at the snow. It surrounded his house and sat at least six inches deep. It covered everything in a blanket of white. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the scene and on any other morning he would have thought it was just the start of another beautiful day.
And it would have been except for the footprints in the snow. Footprints coming out of the woods and ending at his front door.
He’d had no visitors last night.
Last night. He jerked involuntarily as he remembered the previous evening.
It started off with him speaking online with an old college buddy and went south from there. His friend had sent him a link discussing the parallels between the internet and the human subconscious. It discussed in greater-length-than-necessary detail how the worldwide web might someday become self-aware. Most of it went over his head but he did find it interesting the many levels that the article prescribed to the internet.
It mentioned something called the “deep web.” A place inhabited by only a small fraction of users, where the information posted and shared started at obscure and got weirder from there. This was where the radicals, the loons and the fruitcakes hung out. One link led to another and soon he was plumbing some pretty strange depths.
His friend had warned him about it. Told him that the government monitored these kinds of sites. His friend told him that while it might be fun to take a quick peek, it was dangerous to take a longer look. Like some sort of cyber-Medusa, there were things underneath this “deep web” that were best left alone.
He opened his front door and looked down at the tracks. A single set leading to his door. He felt a panic rising in his chest and he slammed the door and reached for the closet doorknob. With a quick twist it was open and he felt the comfort of the rifle in his hands. Loaded and ready for use.
He went from room to room. His visitor had not turned around and gone the other way. He must be inside. The next twenty minutes were spent throwing open every door, each time expecting to see some villain crouched and ready to do him harm. Finally he had explored every inch and was confident he was alone in his house. He sat down and closed his eyes. With the gun lying across his lap he tried to unremember what he’d found under the “deep web.”
The images began to assault him. He winced as each refused to be unseen.
For a moment he saw himself in front of a campfire, surrounded by eager young faces looking up at him as he told them a scary story.
“You see kids, underneath the “deep web” is a place called the “dark web.” You don’t ever want to go there. Ever.”
“Why not?” one of the boys would ask.
And he would scream.
It was real, this place where the sickos communicate with each other. It exists. The depraved and the perverts. The worst of humanity using technology to interact and spread their filth.
“Who the fuck came to my house?” he said aloud.
He pulled on his boots. He reasoned that if the tracks ended at his house they had to have come from somewhere.
He was going to find out where.
Obviously it was completely unconnected to this “dark web.” He had only stayed for a little while and nobody knew where he lived. Nobody could have found him and, even if they had, what would they possibly want with him?
The wind was cold and after walking long enough his eyes hurt as the sun reflected up off the whiteness of the snow. He kept them open anyway because whenever they shut there was some picture or snippet of conversation that forced its way to his brain.
The footsteps led away from town and deeper into the woods. He had never been this far away from his house but he had to know who had come to his door. He had to make sure it was just some crazy coincidence and completely unconnected to the “dark web.”
He repeated the word crazy in his head and laughed.
“The deep dark web. What a crock of shit.”
So he walked on.
It was getting dark. If he was camping he’d be making a fire and heating up some hot dogs right about now. His fellow Scouts would be tittering to themselves excitedly as they waited for the sun to fully set and the nighttime to kick in with all gusto. The darkness bringing with it the requisite creepiness to begin an evening of storytelling.
The stage was being set.
But he wasn’t a Scout anymore; they don’t hand out badges for what he witnessed last night. He remembered sitting there, after clicking on one website after another after another, wondering to himself that if the road to hell was paved with good intentions … where the hell was he headed?
“It’s been there all along.”
The footprints stopped.
He looked down and tried to pick up the trail but it had ended. No more tracks. He looked around wildly. There was no wind. No sound other than the minute crunching noise his boots made rubbing against the snow as his head pivoted desperately around.
He closed his eyes as tears began to trickle out and freeze on his cheek. He had a moment of clarity … the last thing he could afford.
He was standing in the last set of footprints. He realized that he’d been walking backwards from his door the entire time.
And now it was dark.
It was time to get back. Before he froze. He could just follow the tracks. He might even make it.
Though it was getting really, really dark.