Wednesday 3 November 2010

THE CAGE by Darren Saint

The Cage

My fingers flew excitedly over the keys. The speakers pounded out Metallica at a deafening roar. Empty beer cans littered the room around me. An open pizza box with one flaccid slice of hot shot lay discarded on the floor by my bed. It had been a productive evening of gaming. Our clan had risen a few slots in the leader board and more importantly we had decimated a rival clan. I was just about to log off for the evening when a stray link on a forum caught my eye. Something about it drew my attention. I clicked on it. The page loaded extremely quickly. What I saw baffled me. A series of padlock icons each with a blank line requesting a password. No explanation to help me understand anything about the page.

I tried googling the link and got nothing relevant. I looked around hacking sites for references to it and came up with nothing. Normally any website had some reference to it. Even some military and government classified sites were common knowledge among the hacking community. We could not always access them but we knew the source. I yawned tiredly and decided to puzzle it out tomorrow. I logged off and went to bed.
I awoke to the letterbox rattling and bills landed on my doormat with an almighty thud that reverberated around my head. I blearily sat up and surveyed the carnage around me. I stepped out of bed and onto a slice a slice of pizza. I quickly wiped my foot on the carpet and picked up the pizza box, surveyed the even more flaccid contents, and quickly ate that final slice. Well they do say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I booted away a couple of beer cans that were underfoot and did a double take. I clearly remembered turning off the PC. Yet the screen glowed before me, like an old friend. A silent invitation for me to dip my toe into its deep and inviting life consuming waters. On the screen the log in to my web mail service was up and awaiting my password. How weird I knew damn well that the bloody thing had been turned off.

I sighed, more time tinkering with it to see what the hell was wrong. I switched it off and plodded my weary way to work.

I shut the door behind me and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Christ that was a hard day. Working in IT support often felt like trying to fold treacle, utterly pointless and downright impossible. After a hearty evening meal of beef and tomato pot noodle I dressed down into my casuals and headed to the bedroom. I stopped in the doorway. The PC screen radiated warmly at me and again my web mail service was on the screen and ready for password input. I shrugged and decided that at the weekend I'd sort the fucker. I logged onto my web mail. I stopped typing, what the fuck? I had no e-mails. No spam messages and not a single message offering me Viagra or Rolex watches. A bank in Nigeria did not want to give me twenty million dollars.

Disappointingly no Russian lovelies wanted to be my fuck buddy. A day with no spam was very odd indeed. I clicked on the send and receive button and a moment later a single untitled message with no subject appeared. I opened it. It contained a single word: COME and underneath that word was a link I recognised from the night before. I felt my heart begin to race. Had someone been monitoring my web activity?

I clicked on the link and again found that it loaded unusually fast. The padlock icons once more greeted me upon my arrival to the web page. There were five of them. I moved the cursor around the screen looking for hidden links. Nothing obvious came up but then it could be as small as a pixel. I slid the cursor over a padlock icon. A hand appeared in place of the cursor and I clicked. The padlock expanded to fill the screen and as I watched it filled slowly from top to bottom with colour. This struck me as odd. This site was running very quickly indeed. My machine was new with plenty of RAM, a superb graphics card and yet this animation was moving so slowly. I concluded it must be deliberate. When the padlock had entirely filled with colour, a sort of purplish, nothing else happened it just filled my screen. I clicked again and once more the padlock icon shrunk to its former size and I got the original screen back.

I tried inputting a random word onto one of the password lines. The word incorrect flashed up. I clicked on another padlock and got the same animation. However, this time the padlock filled up with a different colour at the same excruciatingly slow rate. I repeated the process on all five of the padlocks. Each one was a different colour. I tried inputting the colours that corresponded but none of them was deemed a correct password. I tried mixing up colours randomly but still to no avail. After an hour or so and a lot swearing I had finally calmed down from my initial shock. I gave up and switched off the PC. I spent the rest of the evening watching the TV and hit the sack at about midnight. I drifted off into a fitful sleep being chased by mutant padlocks wielding chainsaws. When I awoke the following morning the glow of my PC screen greeted me good morning.
I stared in disbelief. This time my web mail was actually logged in. A single new message showed in the inbox, it read as before simply COME. Icy fingers of fear clawed at my chest. I unplugged the PC at the wall and went to work, almost running out of the house. I worked harder than usual at work trying to keep my mind from recent events. I slipped out during my lunch hour and wandered around town.

I sat on a quiet bench opposite a small park and started to read the NME whilst munching on a meatball marinara. My phone jangled to the theme of the Goodees to indicate a new text message. The number I did not recognise, but the message chilled me to the bone it was a single word COME. My pulse raced as I called the number and got nothing, just a flat tone. I tried to regain my composure and read for the rest of my lunch hour. I felt eyes burning into the back of my head and couldn't help but keep looking over my shoulder.

Naturally I couldn't keep my mind on work that afternoon and I watched the hands of the clock creep slowly across the dial. With fifteen minutes to go I loosened my tie and breathed a tired sigh. My nerves were still jangling but my phone had remained silent, aside from the usual sick jokes my friends constantly bombarded me with. I wondered if one of my mates had set this whole thing up as a joke, just to scare the shit out of me. It was something to consider. My desk phone rang no doubt it was some idiot who had forgotten his password again.

"IT support," I said resentful of the intrusion. The line crackled but no one spoke.

"Hello, IT support" I repeated.

A flat emotionless voice spoke a single word that nearly stopped my heart "COME."

"Dave, you devious little bastard is that you? Stop fucking winding me up!"

I heard a click and the line went dead. I slammed down the phone, suddenly angry. I looked up to find the entire office staring at me. I quickly put my head down and pretended to be working to avoid the curious gazes of my colleagues.

My hand trembled just a little as I put the key in the lock. I had avoided coming straight home and gone to the pub for a while. I had three pints of Hobgoblin and a bag of chips inside me. I held a bag containing a couple more beers I had bought from Booze Bonanza down the road. I sat watching a film about a young rich boy, Harold, who constantly faked suicide and eventually fell in love with an old woman, Maude. I chuckled at the boy’s antics and the effect they had on his mother as I supped my beers. I gradually relaxed the beer doing the job intended. I awoke on the sofa the next morning and stumbled to the bathroom. After splashing my face with cold water I felt a little better. I cursed as I noticed the time. Fuck! I'd be late for work. The boss didn't need another excuse to get rid of me. I dashed out the front door at a run and got to the end of the street before it hit me. It was fucking Saturday!

I grinned to myself and went to the cafe to get a fry up.
I gorged myself on a lorry driver special breakfast and generally felt better about the world. It will have been Dave the tricky little git another one of his elaborate practical jokes. I bought a paper on the way home, I'd have a chilled out day maybe watch the football and see who was up for the pub later. I tidied the flat and watched City get stuffed yet again, this time 3-0. I wandered into the bedroom and stopped. The PC was on! I'd unplugged it, I could have sworn I had. My jaw dropped open as the screen saver kicked in. A single word bounced around the screen COME.

Fuck this! I stormed forward and sat at my desk. I slammed the keys and logged onto the website. The five padlocks laughed back at me, taunting me. If they wanted to play then I would play. If I crack this fucking code I could then go kick Dave's arse. Afterward I'd hack his e-mail and cause some mischief of my own. A part of me didn't want to believe my all too easy explanation of friendly mischief but I ignored it as I got to work.

I put on some thinking tunes and cranked up the volume. Karma Police reverberated around the room as I started to write down ideas about colours and padlocks trying to form connections. I clicked again and again watching the colours fill in the padlocks on the screen before me. Why the colours? They must mean something. I did a screen print of each of the padlocks in its coloured state. A memory tickled at the back of my mind, something so obvious most people would miss it. It eluded me for the moment. I looked at my prints. How could I identify the exact colour? Then it came to me paint colours. They were identified by an index of numbers known as RAL numbers. I had worked at a paint distributor as a student and they had a chart up on the wall. I pulled up a chart online and wrote the relevant number on each print.

It could not be this simple, could it?

My hands shook a little as I inputted the first code. My music suddenly stopped and the sound of a lock being unlocked issued loudly from the speakers. A simple animation showed the padlock opening and then the input line disappeared. Four to go. At this point I felt a primal unease, a fear deep to my core. I inputted the second code. Same result, success.

My fear grew and my insides twisted into knots. Third code this time a smiley face replaced the padlock. I gave a relieved sigh, why was I so tense? I rushed to input the fourth code and fumbled a digit. A cross appeared on the screen with a timer appeared beside it. Fifty-nine seconds showed in blood red. I tried again with trembling fingers and got it right. However, the timer remained and now showed forty seconds. I breathed faster and typed the final code with deliberate care. The timer showed twenty seconds as I pressed enter.

The sounds of a hundred thousand malevolent voices screaming in triumph erupted from my speakers. A second later the monitor exploded into my face and threw me across the room with the force of the deadly explosion. I felt the cold embrace of darkness descend upon me.
* * *
As one man lay dying computer systems around the world started to fail. Servers inexplicably exploded and electrical systems shorted out. Thousands died as air traffic control computers failed immediately like the flicking off of a light switch. Military computers began an ominous countdown that no one could stop. With the death of countless thousands a new life had just begun.


Darren Sant is a writer from Stoke-on-Trent who moved to Hull to avoid the ravening hoards only to find they’d beaten him to it.
He is proud to have been published in the following:
A chapter of poetry in:   Before the Last Shadow Fades - Infinity Publishing (2002)

A short Short Story - The Ungrateful Dead in: (May 2010)
Radgepacket: Tales From The Inner Cities - Byker Books

A short Story published online in September 2010Pulp Metal Magazine - Back Street Redemption


  1. I knew the internet was the work of the devil. Splendid chiller!

  2. Welcome to TKnC Darren. A disturbing and compelling piece with a great pace.

    It's happening. It's happening right now. Oh hell!