Ethan had been planning this party for a whole week. His parents were going out of town to visit his grandmother, who had been recently hospitalized, and he knew it was the perfect time to show everyone at school he wasn’t the loser they all thought he was.
He was sitting in his bedroom, playing a new online video game, when he noticed his friend Christian was online. He was only across the street, and if Ethan craned his neck he could see straight into his bedroom window.
He's probably wondering how the planning is going, Ethan thought. He made sure his headset was working, and then invited Christian to a chat.
“Ready for tomorrow night?”
“Cannot wait,” Christian replied. “Got everything ready?”
“Chips, dip, soda, cups…”
Ethan sighed and then shook his head, even though he knew Christian couldn’t see him anyway.
“No. Well, not yet.”
“Come on, man. How are you gonna get it?”
“I need to ask Barry to get some for me. He's usually bugging behind the liquor store anyway." Christian laughed so loud Ethan had to turn down the volume on his headset. "What's so funny? He buys it for everyone."
"Yeah, he's also nuts. But I guess you need booze if you're inviting Natalie. Liquid courage, am I right?"
"Whatever. And anyway..." Ethan felt a strong buzzing in his pocket. "Are you texting me? Dude, I'm right here."
"It's not me, man."
Ethan pulled out his phone and checked the message. It was a photo of some sort from a number he didn't recognize. "Who's 555-0918?"
"No idea. Maybe it's someone looking to come to the party?"
The moment Ethan opened the photo, he knew this wasn't the case. It was a boy, beaten, bloody, and tied to a chair. "I... don't understand..." His words trailed off as he stared at the picture.
The boy in the photo was being tortured, and it kept getting worse as the messages went on. Ethan examined every picture as it came in, searching for some sort of clue as to who the kid was.
In the fourth photo, a knife was protruding from the boy's leg, and in the fifth, one of his eyelids had been sliced clean off. Ethan's heart pounded as he swiped to the very last photo, and then his stomach sank when he saw it.
The boy's throat had been slit from ear to ear.
"Christian, I need to call the police." His voice was frantic, and his forehead was covered in a thin layer of sweat. "I'm serious, man. Something is wrong."
"What do you mean?" Christian asked. It was clear from the tone of his voice he thought his friend was joking. "You're not backing out of the party, are you? This is finally our chance to-"
"No, no, dude... this is some next level messed up." Ethan threw his hands in the air and paced back and forth, nearly pulling his headset off. What was he supposed to do? How could he explain something like this? Would anyone even believe him?
"Are you alright, man?"
"No. Look, this number, right? It sent me some pictures and... they're so messed up, dude. They're bad... there's this kid and he's tied to a chair and they beat him up and-"
"Ethan, slow down!" Christian shouted, trying to calm him. "What's happening?"
Ethan was finally about to call the police when his phone started buzzing in his hand. Reluctantly, he unlocked the screen and then his heart stopped when he saw that the last photo was a close-up of the boy's face.
"What's you?" Christian asked. "Wait, I thought your parents were out of town?”
“They are," Ethan replied as he stared at the picture of his own lifeless face.
“Then who are those people in the living room?”