Camera Shy

“Are you taking another selfie?” Oliva asked.
“Yeah,” Carter smiled, angling his phone so the forward-facing camera wouldn’t catch the light. “Gotta give the people what they want.”
“You?” she snorted. “Unlikely.”
“Ha ha, very funny.” He took the picture, lowered the camera, then frowned at the result. “God. The lighting here sucks.”
“You’re the one who wanted to camp out in grandma’s cabin.”
“And you’re the one who has finals next week,” Carter replied, quickly snapping another photo and hashtagging it #hangingwithfriends. “You wanted somewhere quiet. You got it.”
“Still,” Oliva sighed. She pulled a pot of simmering noodles from the stove and turned to drain them in the kitchen sink. “I never said it had to be in the middle of nowhere.”
Rather than engage his friend further, Carter seated himself on the couch and quickly browsed through a series of filters on the BroadCast app. Once he selected one that rectified the horrendous interior lighting, he clicked Post, then watched it appear on his profile.
At least the coverage is good, he thought.
It’d been years since he’d stepped foot in the small town of Walker, Minnesota—long before the advent of modern smartphones and 4G. The most he’d remembered was bugs, deer, trees, and the occasional bear that kept the locals from walking around alone at night. He’d been too young to even consider the isolation, let alone how far they were from the rest of civilization.
“I can’t believe you dragged me out here,” Olivia murmured under her breath.
“Do you need help?” Carter asked, lifting his eyes from his phone.
“No. I’m just talking to myself.”
I know you are, he wanted to say, but kept quiet.
He scrolled through the notifications rolling in from the BroadCast app and nodded as noted the likes and reCasts. Though the picture wasn’t monetized, it was still good to keep up appearances during the downtime between projects. His last sponsor hadn’t picked him up for a second gig, and he needed all the views and followers he could get.
Views mean money, his manager had once said.
“Carter,” Olivia said.
“Yes?” he asked, turning to face her.
“Could you get your ass off your phone and help me?”
“I thought you said you didn’t need help?” he grinned as he walked through the living room and into the kitchen.
“Not then, but I do now.”
He set his phone on the countertop and went to work helping Olivia—drawing fresh water, chopping up vegetables, cutting chicken into chunks and then dumping them into the pot. When their work was done and the soup was left to simmer in the pot, Carter leaned back against the counter, sighed, then craned his head back to stretch his neck.
“How’s business?” Olivia asked.
“The usual,” Carter replied, rolling his head to look at his friend.
“You only say that when it’s going bad.”
“It’s not bad per se...”
“But you didn’t pick up another sponsor,” she finished.
Carter sighed. “Yeah.”
The young Asian woman slid up alongside him and crossed her arms over her chest as she considered the garlic bread toasting in the oven. “It’ll happen,” she said, nudging him with her hip. “Don’t worry.”
“It’s not that I’m worried,” he said. “It’s just—“
His phone buzzed.
“What was that?” Olivia asked. “A reCast?”
“It doesn’t buzz until someone’s trying to call,” Carter said. “Which is weird, because I thought I disabled it—“
“After that last big advertisement,” Olivia finished.
Frowning, Carter pushed himself away from the counter and approached the island cautiously. The app had a horrible habit of answering calls by the slightest touch and, at times, even by voice—a fact he’d bitterly complained to support about after the geo-location popped on and nearly revealed his address to a random caller. Though she’d only been a fifteen-year-old girl, he knew that, in today’s day and age, it’d only take one mishap for his dead grandmother’s address to end up on the internet.
And her house burglarized, Carter thought, grimacing at what his extended family would think.
He leaned forward, pressed the End Call button, and waited for the application’s automatic answering system to kick in.
“Is it done?” Olivia asked. “Are we safe?”
“I think so,” Carter said.
His friend stepped forward and viewed the app’s homescreen—waiting, like Carter expected, for the message to end and then be delivered to his account. When nothing came after several long, tense seconds, he sighed.
“Guess that solves,” he started saying, only for a message bubble to pop up and cut him off mid-sentence.
“That,” Olivia finished with a chuckle.
“God,” Carter groaned, running a hand over his face.
“Just click on it, see what they sent, then disable incoming calls,” Olivia replied. “Easy as that.”
Carter tapped the bubble and watched a black screen fill his smartphone.
“Is it a video?” Olivia asked, leaning forward. “Or a picture?”
“I think it’s a picture,” Carter replied, watching the screen for any signs of movement. “There’s nothing but a...”
A grey shape flickered in the background.
“You see that?” Olivia asked.
“Yeah,” Carter replied. “Probably someone just butt-dialing.”
“To your account?”
“Hey, it’s possible. You never know with these apps. Sometimes all you have to do is say hello and—”
A white blur filled the screen.
The caller’s phone pulled back.
And a mask—resembling a rabbit’s face but with no discernable holes for the wearer’s eyes—appeared.
“What… the fuck?” Carter asked.
The individual on the other end—who thankfully could not see he or Olivia—held the phone steadily in place as they considered whatever they were about to say. Low, shallow mouth-breathing filled the microphone, causing sharp bursts of static to cut through the silence of the otherwise-quiet home.
“Creepy,” Olivia said. “Are they gonna say anything?”
“I don’t know,” Carter replied. “I—”
“Hello,” the caller said, their gender obscured by a voice-distortion device.
The message ended and the screen went blank.
Carter lowered his phone and stared at the BroadCast app’s homescreen. “What the fuck was that?”
“Probably just someone screwing with you,” Olivia said. “Hasn’t your profile been on the front page since last month?”
“Yeah,” Carter said, scrolling through the app’s menu. “But that doesn’t explain why my settings were changed.”
“Update, maybe?”
He shook his head as he thumbed through the various aspects of the app’s security features—searching, without pause, for the panel that could disable incoming voice or video calls. He was just about to select the function when the screen flashed and an Incoming Caller logo with a YES/NO option filled the screen.
“Who’s calling?” Olivia frowned.
“Someone named… Camera Shy,” Carter said.
Olivia jumped as the oven beeped. “Shit!” she hissed. “Goddamn oven!”
She spun to face the stove while Carter considered the smartphone in his hand.
I can’t move, he thought, frozen, watching the Incoming Call signal and the name Camera Shy flash in green letters across the touchscreen. If I set it down, it might pick up. But if I reject the call and it reads that I’m accepting it instead…
Carter stabbed the screen with his thumb before he could think further.
The Incoming Call notice disappeared.
He quickly privatized incoming calls once the screen faded before anything further could occur.
“I think you’re worrying about this way too much,” Olivia said as she pulled the pan of garlic bread from the oven and set it on the countertop cutting board. “It’s just some troll trying to get a rise out of you.”
“The last time it happened,” Carter said, “my address was almost leaked.”
“Yeah, but it didn’t, right? So… nothing to worry about.”
“Until the app changes my fucking settings.”
Another green message bubble popped up.
The urge to swipe it off the screen was almost too great to ignore.
“It comes with the territory,” Olivia said, pushing him aside to lift his phone. “It’s not like you haven’t done this before.”
“But again—”
She clicked the message bubble before he could continue.
This time, the rabbit-masked individual’s face filled the screen.
“You didn’t answer,” the caller said. “Are you shy?”
The message ended and the screen went black.
“See,” Olivia said. “Troll.”
She exited the app and placed the phone on the countertop.
“Doesn’t make it any less creepy,” Carter replied.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about we eat and just ignore this whole fiasco?”
“Deal,” Carter said.
He’d come out here to have a relaxing evening. He didn’t need some rabbit-faced troll getting the best of him.
After serving himself a healthy serving of the chicken noodle soup and a slab of garlic bread, Carter settled down at the kitchen table alongside his friend and brought the TV to life with a simple click of the remote.
“How long’s it been since you were last out here?” Olivia asked, blowing air on a spoonful of soup before sliding it into her mouth.
“Since I graduated high school,” Carter replied, thumbing through the channels.
“So… five, then?”
“Four. I graduated early, remember?”
“Oh. That’s right.”
Carter let the channel fall on the local news before he gave up trying to find anything interesting. “Sorry I spazzed out,” he said. “It’s just… after what happened last time...”
“Have you ever considered just uploading videos on their desktop site?” she asked.
“Yeah, but I get more views and have more control through the app, especially if I upload pictures.”
“But at what cost?”
My sanity, he wanted to reply, but kept his mouth shut and instead crammed a piece of garlic bread into it.
His phone buzzed on the countertop—once, then twice.
“Text?” Olivia asked.
“I don’t know,” Carter replied, standing. “I—“
A flash of green entered his peripheral as he turned to look at the screen.
“Fuck,” he breathed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I disabled incoming calls.”
“Is it—“
“Camera Shy?” He swallowed. “Yes.”
“Uninstall the app,” Olivia said, standing. “I don’t care if you have more control. This is getting fucking creepy.”
“So much for their ‘high security features,’ huh?”
They waited—both as silently as possible and without approaching the kitchen island—for the phone to stop ringing. Once it did, Carter reached forward and snatched it into his hand, but not before the bubble could appear onscreen.
“Don’t open it,” Olivia said. “Don’t—“
The rabbit face popped up.
“I said don’t open it!”
“I didn’t!” Carter snapped. “I—“
“It’s ok to be shy,” the person leaving the messages said. “I used to be shy too. Until I met more people. Maybe you’d like to meet me?”
The message ended.
Carter uninstalled the app before Olivia could even comment.
“Fuck!” he cried, tossing the phone onto the nearby couch with a flick of his hand. “Just… fuck.”
“Now that that’s over with,” Olivia said, settling back down at the kitchen table. “Let’s eat.”
“I’m not sure I’m hungry anymore.”
Olivia lifted her eyes and gave him the nastiest glare he’d ever seen. “Don’t,” she started, “even.”
“Eat, Carter, before you pass out.”
“Doesn’t this weird you out too?”
“Yes, but you uninstalled the app. What’s done is done. Email the company, let them know your security’s fucked up, then resume when necessary. Easy as that.”
“What if someone’s hacked my account,” Carter asked, “and is continuously disabling the security features just to call me?”
“Well, they can’t anymore. Right?”
“And they can’t get a hold of your bank information without your bank password, so… chill the fuck out.”
“But what if—“
Olivia lifted her head and shot him another look. “Carter,” she said. “I swear to God, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to—”
Her spoon slipped from her hand and went clanging onto her plate.
“What?” Carter asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Uh-Uh-Out suh-suh-side.”
Carter spun to face the windows.
Nothing but darkness could be seen.
“I don’t see anything,” he said.
“The light came on,” Olivia continued, “and then—“
The exterior light flickered to life—once, then twice, before blinking out.
“What’d you see?” Carter asked, not willing—or wanting—to turn and face his trembling friend.
“Someone,” she said. “Standing outside the window.”
“What’d they look like?”
The light flickered again, its usually-bright fixture waxing the pale orange of electrical death.
Carter waited—not moving, not breathing.
He was just about to start forward and draw the curtains when the light flared to life.
A person—wearing a long, dark coat and a rabbit mask—came into view.
Olivia screamed.
Carter cried out.
The bulb outside exploded and the entire house went dark.
There were moments—after the embers from the broken glass expired and Olivia’s cries turned into sobs—that Carter considered that this was all a dream: that he’d simply passed out on the couch while waiting for Olivia to finish preparing the noodles and that he was trapped inside his head. It wouldn’t be outrageous, considering their late start from Minneapolis and their long drive into the country, but was it true? Could this be a dream? Or was he living through what could only be considered his worst nightmare?
“Carter?” Olivia managed, her sobs fading as sniffling took place.
“Yeah?” he asked, still unable to move.
“Does your grandma have a gun?”
He considered turning to reach for his cell phone, then remembered he’d thrown it on the couch—directly near the panorama of windows.
“I don’t know,” he said, struggling to breathe as the isolation closed in around him. “I don’t—”
His smartphone’s screen came to life.
The words Camera Shy appeared just beneath the BroadCast logo.
“Fuck!” Carter screamed. “FUCK!”
The call connected.
The person in the rabbit face answered.
“I’m right outside your door,” the individual said, turning their smartphone around to display his grandmother’s residence—complete with the house number—to their unsuspecting victim. “Are you going to invite me inside?”
“GO AWAY!” Olivia screamed.
“Is that any way to treat a guest?”
Three knocks came at the door.
Carter tensed.
“I’m right outside,” the person said. “Knock knock. I know you’re home. But who’s gonna answer?”
“Grab your phone,” Carter said.
“What?” Olivia asked.
“Your phone! Dammit! Call 911!”
“They won’t come,” the person said. “You have no service.”
“Then how are you—“
The sardonic laughter—amplified by the distortion device hidden somewhere on the person’s body—cut through the house and made the hairs on Carter’s arms stand on end.
A short moment later, the call ended.
The knocking began anew.
Olivia scrambled into the kitchen—nearly tripping on the rise in the flooring—and dove for her purse.
The handbag flew.
Its contents scattered.
Carter watched—in mute horror—as Olivia’s phone fell to, and then shattered upon, the floor.
“NO!” she screamed. “NO!”
“GRAB IT!” Carter screamed. “It might still work!”
“No it won’t!”
“How do you—”
The knocking ceased.
Carter lifted his eyes.
A silhouette appeared in the window directly across from him.
“Come on,” Carter said, taking hold of Olivia’s shirtsleeve and backing into the kitchen.
“Where are we going?” Olivia sobbed.
“Somewhere they can’t see us.”
He dragged her through the kitchen, into the opposing hallway and into his grandmother’s bedroom. Once inside, he locked the door, grabbed the dresser, and pushed it across the threshold, effectively sealing them inside the windowless room.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Olivia asked.
“Wait,” Carter whispered.
“But what if they get inside?”
Carter fell to his knees, stretched an arm under the bed, and fumbled about until his fingers found purchase on a wooden baseball bat.
Thank God.
“No one’s gonna get inside,” he said, pressing the bat into Olivia’s hands.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t,” he said. “I just—“
Glass shattered somewhere outside the room.
Olivia whimpered and pressed herself into the corner.
Knowing that they’d little time to secure themselves any further, Carter scanned the darkened room until his eyes on the far wall. “The closet,” he said. “Go.”
“But what about you?”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” Carter pressed his hands against his friend’s shoulders and gently pushed her forward.
After several minutes of fumbling along the wall in search of the doorknob, she opened, then shut the door.
The footsteps that followed were, undoubtedly, the worst sounds he’d ever heard.
They’re not going to get in, he thought, desperately searching for a weapon in the darkness. The door’s locked, the dresser’s right in front of it. They’d have to break through to get in.
But who’s to say they wouldn’t? They’d already broken into the home. A flimsy wooden door wouldn’t stop anyone truly determined.
When he bumped into an end table, he almost swore, but somehow managed to refrain from doing so.
Instead, he pawed around until he found the base of his grandmother’s antique lamp, then pulled it free of the socket.
The footsteps were getting closer.
Soon, the intruder would leave the hardwood flooring and cross onto the carpet separating the bedrooms from the kitchen. When that happened—
Carter stopped.
He didn’t move, didn’t breathe, didn’t think.
All noise had stopped.
Whoever was inside had either come to a halt, or was directly outside the door.
Carter tightened his hold on the lamp and waited.
One, he thought, unsure how long he could hold his breath. Two… three…
A knock sounded outside the door.
The air escaped his lungs in one great whoosh.
“Knock knock,” the intruder said.
Carter tried not to respond to the muffled cries he heard coming from the nearby closet.
The doorknob jiggled as the intruder attempted entry.
“You didn’t invite me in,” they said, their mechanically-masked voice filtering through the cracks like static from an unresponsive television. “I know you’re shy, but that’s ok. I’m here to play.”
Carter swallowed as the doorknob jiggled harder.
“Let me in,” the intruder said. “Let me in.”
A thumping began—first light, as if attempting to dislodge a stubborn jamb, then increasing in rhythm as it became evident they were locked out. Eventually, they began to slam their full weight against the door, shaking the hinges and rattling the dresser. Carter heard the sickening crack of wood and then, breathlessly, waited for them to break through.
Carter crawled atop the bed and across the mattress.
The door cracked.
Carter pressed himself against the wall.
The door began to cave in as it succumbed to the intruder’s weight.
Carter reared his arm back in anticipation for the coming assault.
The pounding stopped.
It was in his moment of shock that the intruder slammed their foot into the door and broke a hole straight through it.
Their hand came through, the door was unlocked.
Carter slammed himself against the dresser just in time to prevent the intruder from forcing the door open.
“You can’t stop me,” the person said. “I will get in.”
“No you won’t!” Carter screamed. “Go awa—”
A blinding light flashed through the hole in the door.
Carter recoiled.
The door burst open and the dresser was forced aside.
Carter swung.
The cord flew, the lampshade missed.
A second flash, followed by the third, burned grey spots across his vision.
“I just wanted a picture,” the person said.
A light—likely from the phone—illuminated the intruder’s rabbit-masked face.
“Say: cheese!”
The bark of gunfire and flash of muzzle flare lit the room for but a moment. Then Carter went down—bleeding, profusely, from the bullet that’d struck his neck.
“See?” the person asked, the forward-facing camera shining blinding light onto Carter’s face. “I told you. I only wanted a picture.”
Carter tried to reply, but only managed to produce a mouthful of blood.
“Think of it,” the person said. “You won’t have to make any more videos. You’ll be famous, Carter. Famous. Can you imagine?
“Fuck,” Carter gargled, “you.”
The intruder laughed, then lifted both the phone and the gun.
“BroadCast’s most watched video,” they said. “Carter Hunter’s murder.”
The last thing Carter heard was the beep from the Record button.

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