Smiling into the camera, she talked about something on Twitter. There was something off about her, a tiredness, or an anxiety that I could not put my finger on. Maybe I was projecting. But none of that mattered, her words were so much empty space now, a time capsule of entertainment. A frozen moment.
And I was focused on other things.
Ignoring a notification from one of my group chats discussing the string of disappearances, I froze the image on screen and zoomed in on a blur of motion in the background.
Rewind, play, stop, adjust. Rewind, play, stop, adjust…Rewind, play, stop adjust.
There was evidence there, I had seen it once or twice before but never added two and two together. Maybe it could have been a different video? I opened a new tab and called up the next one in line. A hotel room, beige walls, white sheets, a window into the bathroom set into the back wall above head height. I knew the room, mine had been a copy of it on that very trip, from what felt like an age before.
My mind wandered as the video played, I wasn’t watching it, not anymore. It was another frozen moment, a picture of a time gone by. Her voice faded into background noise that I could not turn off in case somewhere in it there was a missing clue. I wondered about the filming and the set up, had she brought a more impressive camera? What about lights? I didn’t know enough about how it all worked, but assumed she must have, and what with the massive suitcases, it only made sense really.
Memory started to take over from the task. Sunlit streets and raucous laughter. A ghost of a smile crawled across my face; mind filled to bursting with bright images of happier times. At the sudden memory of a beloved and dirty inside joke, I reached for my phone but… then reality came crashing down and the smiling face on the screen swam back into focus.
She laughed at something, reacting to art she had found online.
Nothing helpful would come from this one. I reached out to move on to the next legacy piece on the list but froze, eyes locked on the back left corner just behind the pillar. I could have sworn I had seen something, just for the barest moment. A frame? What framerate did she use? Could I even tell the difference between them?
The pillar refused to show me anything new. It kept its secrets; I could almost hear it taunting me. Bad sign if my brain starts to think that something inanimate in a video filmed ages ago could have any intent at blocking me. Rubbing my eyes hard enough to make little grey flecks dance across my vision, I slurped down some energy drink and paused the video. Tracing along the red progress bar at the bottom of the screen until I thought I had found the right spot and…
Play, stop, rewind, zoom in, rewind. Play, stop, adjust, rewind. Play, stop, adjust, rewind. Play.
I didn’t smile when it saw it. The long, thin, black arm creeping out from behind that pillar. Its murky outline, only visible through the zoom distortion because of its stark nature against the whiteish beige walls. She had brought a friend with her on that trip… they’d shared that room… not for the first time I wished for TV’s version of “enhance image”, as I squinted and tilted my head.
Fooling myself. That’s what it was. False hope that maybe, just maybe this was her friend playing some kind of prank, inserting herself into the video. I desperately wanted it not to be true, now that I had the first evidence, but there it was. Too long, too thin. A darkness that almost seemed to suck light into itself.
I marked the video title, timestamp, and location in the frame on a notepad beside me and moved on. I knew that, now that I had found it once, it would be easier to find again. Of course, I had to be careful, if I exposed myself to too much of the thing, who knew what might happen.
Since it only made sense that the next video in the archive would show the creature again, I cued it up and watched carefully. Over and over again, finally slowing it down to the point that I moved to mute the audio because the distortion was painful. But just as I reached for my mouse, I froze, hearing something new in the unpleasant white noise.
Frowning, I rewound the video and tried again. The same speed, but volume up. Again, there it was, just behind the mess that was her voice at that speed. A sound… a voice? Something discernable in the maelstrom of feedback and distorted words. I tried to watch the whole screen at once as I replayed the section with the sound over and over… and over. Waiting, trying to find some evidence of… it.
Fatigue clawed at the corners of my mind, trying to unravel me. More caffeine, that would fix it. I slurped some down, barely even aware of the action, the taste forgotten as soon as felt. The caffeine drove back the need for rest, but not as far or as strongly as it used to; slowly I knew I was losing the battle against sleep but…
Mania drove me, forcing me onward with sharp spurs to my sides. I could not sleep even if I had wanted to. Not since that first viewing, that first time when the image had stuck in my mind. Haunting my dreams with questions and lurking around shadowed corners.
A new notation, and on to the next video.
Rinse and repeat. The same process. Watch and rewatch, listen and listen again. Time after time.
Hours passed and my list of incidents grew steadily longer. My back ached from sitting hunched at my desk, my eyes burned as the sun peaked over the horizon, forearms screamed in protest as I unclenched my hands at long last.
Beside me on the table, beside the empty cans and discarded wrappers, the list seemed to smile at me. It tempted me to continue, telling me that there was still more. That I needed to keep going. Dreading the pain from the action, I raised my hand to grab the mouse but just as I flexed my fingers, another voice spoke out. Calm and reasonable, I could not put a name to it. “Go to bed,” it told me.
It was waiting for me in my dreams.
It drifted behind the heads of the nameless and faceless people I spoke to. Its long, thin, arm inched out, almost slow enough to be invisible, from behind pillars or bookshelves. Images blew by in a flash, people and faces and places that I know or had seen, but always it was there. Lurking in the shadows.
What woke me up, gasping, I’ll never fully remember. The curse of dreams. But I had been talking to a girl with long, dark hair. In the dream I had known her, we were friends. But then she turned, shifted so that her head cast a shadow against her hair, and I saw it. It was smiling at me, I was certain, strands of hair twisting into its too long, too thin arms as it reached across her face towards her mouth.
Some images stick with us forever. A favourite daydream as a child, the sun breaking through the clouds at Lake Louise, a scene out of a nightmare. That image, that frozen moment of the monster reaching out to steal the breath of this nameless, faceless girl, has haunted me ever since that first dream of it.
Knowing that more sleep was impossible, I all but fell into my desk chair. Staring at the screen, I finally switched it on simply to avoid looking at my own tired, defeated reflection in the black monitor face. Work blurred together; meaningless meetings, pointless spreadsheets, people whose bland smiles drilled straight to the center of a steadily growing headache.
Did they not know what I had seen? How could they live their lives without knowing what was out there… how could I have?
In the middle of a meeting about quarterly reports, my hands started shaking. I begged leave, said something vague about not feeling well, and left before their good wishes could leave their lips. Desperate for something to hold onto, I dropped my head into my hands and gripped my hair, pulling until the pain brought me halfway back to my senses.
My mind was full of images, half-noticed and ignored shadows behind the heads of vloggers and streamers. The vacant, distracted looks of people who’s smiles suddenly rang hollow as an open cave. They all knew, on some level, they could feel it hanging over their shoulder, waiting for its chance to reach out and…
Hands freezing in mid-tremble, I raised my head and stared at my reflection in the lifeless computer screen. The space behind me was empty… of course it was. I was a normal person, not famous, not special, only people who knew me cared… there was nothing I could do to… to what? What did it want?
Grunting with the effort, feeling the weight of fatigue pulling at my hands, I heaved myself to my feet and stumbled into the kitchen. Food, I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten anything more substantial than a protein bar. Could the human body survive on something that managed to taste like wet chalk?
Bare shelves shone out of the fridge at me when I opened it. Clean, clear, sparkling, empty. There was nothing, not even expired milk.
I slumped into a chair and pulled my phone out with shaking hands. It was a terrible decision, really. I could just bite the bullet and leave my apartment, drive to the store and – but my fingers had already ordered Shanghai noodles. The damage was done. I could worry about financial responsibility when I got answers… when I could sleep.
Of their own volition, my hands opened a messaging app and I read through the past three days worth of group chats without really seeing them. People asked a few times if I was alright, how I was holding up, all the polite nothings that they always ask. But I did not answer them. I could not, when I tried to type a response, my mind went suddenly and horribly blank.
Some of them, well, one, was talking about the disappearances. One disappearance in particular. They speculated, worried, and tried to come up with answers. All the levity was gone. I don’t remember what exactly they said, but they were wrong. I knew that in my heart… no in my very soul. But what could I do? How could I possibly tell them what I knew. What would they think… what would they do?
With affected force of intention, I clicked the side button and put my phone to sleep.
A shriek tore its way out of my throat, and I spun, letting the phone clatter to the floor. I gripped the ladderback of the chair, gasping, my heart thundering in my ears.
Nothing stood behind me. But I could have sworn, just behind, in the reflection on the black screen, reaching out a long thin hand, hovering just over my shoulder. It was so close! How could it simply be… gone? I lurched out of my seat and nearly tore the fridge door off its hinges. But it was as empty. Just the same as before.
Shaking my head, I picked up my phone and swore. The screen had cracked when I dropped it. Though, if I held it just so… just as I had been holding it before, then that crack waited just over my right shoulder. A spider web of fracture lines springing from one spot, the spot. I looked closer, hoping I would see nothing. Hoping I would see it.
Of course, nothing showed. Only my own eye reflected, broken into a dozen shards by the shattered glass. I slumped back into my chair, the sudden rush of adrenaline fleeing my system and leaving me hollow. Empty and weightless. As though I might float away.
Maybe I just needed sleep.
I barely remember eating the food I ordered when it arrived. Tasteless nutrients. My mind trapped in an endless loop of her videos. The ones where I had seen it, lurking in the shadows. It taunted me from within the frozen moments caught on video, the days gone by where it hid, hunting.
I was certain it was hunting. I knew deep in my bones that it wanted something from them. That it was hungry. But the connecting factor eluded me as I trawled through the videos where I had seen it. Sub counts, likes, comments, views, none of it matched. None of it seemed to matter.
Video after video passed before my eyes. Vlogs, podcasts, video essays, tutorials, all of them with It lingering in the background, its long, thing arm stretching towards the creator.
Early on, when my research, if it can be called that, first uncovered it, I could only see the thing as a lingering shadow. A failure of lighting. A figment of my paranoid imagination. But further on, the more content they put out, the closer it came. Moving from behind shadows or trees, a vaguely human shape with a burning red eye drifting closer and closer until it’s too thin hand landed on their shoulder.
After that, the videos came less often. A backlog of content saved for a rainy day put up as they tried to overcome something that had no name. A hiatus some called it. “Life is getting in the way,” others said. Creative burn out. Real as those things are, and devastating as they can be, I knew better. I had seen the shadow lingering over their shoulder, peaking out from their hair. I knew with a burning certainty that it was there, waiting.
But waiting for what?
Taking a deep breath as the sun sank below the horizon and the new moon took its place in the steadily darkening sky, I opened Reddit and started hunting. If only I knew what it was, if only I could give it a name. If only…
Time lost its meaning as I dug through the refuse of human thought that is Reddit. I skated over seas of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and speculation. Alien abductions lead me down, my desperate quest like a floating lantern, dragging me into the deep, quiet dark.
Message boards that had been abandoned for years. Links that no longer worked. Conversations forgotten by their participants, crystalized in the eternal museum of the internet. Slowly, a pattern emerged. I was not the only one to have noticed it. I was not alone. Other people asked similar questions, though they clearly did not know as much as I. And I was like a child stumbling through an unlit room.
Finally, eyes burning and vision blurred, I found something. The barest hint in a title that maybe, just maybe I had found something akin to an answer. Trembling from lack of sleep and the constant, gnawing stress, I clicked on the link.
A question from years ago. A statement about the thing that had stolen something precious from the world. A question without answers.
“Help,” it began. “My sister is gone. Vanished into thin air. One day she was here, the next… it was as though she had never been. I know she didn’t run away; our family is not perfect but nothing she would flee from. We were happy. And her clothes are still here.
“They’re gathering dust now, my parents too overcome with shock to even clean the room. It’s as though it’s become a display in an museum.
“The police have given up. They say that there’s nothing to be done, no trail to follow. Her friends knew nothing, and after hacking into her phone – also left behind – and computer they did not find anything in her emails or messages that could possibly have led to this. The only clue is her fans, she had quite a few of those and was very social with them, they are asking questions that don’t have answers.
“But I’ve found something. Desperate to feel close to her, wherever she is, I went back through her content. Watching and rewatching it, just wanting to hear her voice again. Rewatching it, eyes out of focus, dreaming of having her home safe again, I noticed it. Hovering in the corner.
“A tall, thin shadow, almost like a person. But I remembered her filming that video hyperlink there was no one there. Only our parents downstairs and me, in the next room, being quiet while she worked. I remember it so clearly, every aspect of that day.
“It looms in the corner of her room, in that one spot where the lights could never reach. No matter how hard she tried, that one corner was always shadowed. Reaching out from that shadow, a terribly long arm. A hand with long, thin fingers, too many fingers.
“Finding it had been the hard part, finding it again and again and again, that was almost too easy. I saw the thing everywhere now. It hovered in the backgrounds of every kind of video, always there, waiting, growing steadily closer until its hand was resting on the creator’s shoulder. After that, it never took very long.
“One day there were just… gone. Every one of them. Vanished into thin air. Too few for any real attention, their fanbases would wonder about it. Devastated, for a time. But then again, people leave the creation space for their own reasons all the time, don’t they?
“Nothing happens. Here today and gone tomorrow, that’s how it works. My sister was at dinner with our parents, happy if a little fatigued. She said that she hadn’t been sleeping well, that was all, just a touch of insomnia, no big deal. Looking back, though, I see the truth. I know the signs for what they are and I have a name for it.
“The thing that hides behind creators with a strong connection to their fans. Creators like my sister. The ones that people feel like are their friend. Close, special, a unique bond. Something almost real, one-sided admiration without hope of more. It is in the back of all of them, waiting, drifting, starving.
Shaking, I reread the end of the post over and over again. Sasaeng, a Korean word for a particularly toxic type of fan. The kind who stalked their idols, the dangerous kind. It fit. The word, the distorted, horrible shadow in the back of the videos that moved steadily forward. Feeding off the admiration of the creator until… until they vanished.
Could it be that it was real? My creator, the OP’s sister, had they run off? Had they, as some people speculated, been kidnapped or died? Or… or had the shadow gotten them?
Without fully knowing, I slowly typed a response. Keystroke by keystroke, sweating as I imagined I could feel warm breath on the back of my neck. Finally, it was done, a pathetic message in a bottle thrown into a forgotten corner of a dead sea. But it was all I could do.
“You’re not crazy. I’ve seen it too.”
Dashing my hair out of my eyes, fighting to ignore what felt like a hand on my shoulder, I hovered over the post button. Things like this were not real, monsters did not exist! It was absurd, it was… I was insane, that was the only solution. The ghost in the back of the videos was not real.
Ice gripped my shoulder, the breathing in my ear grew faster, more excited. I could swear something was there, if only I turned and looked at it, I would see it. Too tall, too thin, hovering just there. As though moving through water, I clicked post and sat back, waiting what felt like an age for the page to update. Finally, my user named popped up beside a simple message.
But looking at monsters made them real, isn’t that what all the fiction about them said? Maybe not all but enough. They would sit there, just out of sight. Harmless so long as you didn’t acknowledge them. Was it like that too, the Sasaeng?
Trembling, I looked over my aching right shoulder and spun my eyes around the room. It was dark, shadows of my dresser and bookshelf looming out at me like rocks at sea. But those shadows were familiar, mundane terrors for the over-tired mind. There was nothing else. Of course, there wasn’t. I didn’t have what It needed. No one out there who didn’t know me personally thought of me at all, let alone generated whatever para-social energy attracted this monster.
A week passed away with no response. I took time off work, even going so far as to get a doctor’s note for mental distress and waited. Finally, with desperation raking its razor-sharp claws through my gut, I opened Google and posted the username for my one other witness into the search bar. The seconds that the engine took to scrape the internet for information stretched, the waiting unbearable. Finally, a page loaded, and I eagerly scanned it.
Down, past the sponsored search results, waited an innocuous YouTube link. I clicked it, my breath ragged through the loading screen and pre-roll add. I didn’t read the title, I’m not certain I could have even processed the words.
“Pat Richards, has disappeared,” said the commentator as a recent picture flashed next to them, with his Reddit username beneath. “Was, for a short time a dynamic and involved member of certain fringe online communities following the disappearance of popular content-creator ******** whose IRL name was Sasha Richards. Pat is Sasha’s older brother and,” something shifted behind the speaker. It was too tall, too thin, hovering in a cluster of shadows just over their shoulder. It was reaching forward.
Their eyes were red rimmed, as though they hadn’t been sleeping. An expression I recognized from my own reflection, terror without a name or a direction. The video was seven days old.
-0- -0- -0-
(All names withheld for privacy reasons.)
In May 2023 I went to Korea through a package holiday featuring a favourite content creator of mine. It was easily one of my all time favourite vacations. On that trip I met some amazing and fabulously funny people.
One day we were talking about Sasaeng because I’d heard a joke about one but didn’t know what it was. After the explanation, we started talking about the possibility of a horror story about these types of fans since we’re all into fiction and fan-fiction (though I fall less into the latter category, much to some of their amusement ❤️😂) and I was inspired to write this story.
So, in honour of that education and their fun idea, I’d like to dedicate this story to those wonderful friends I met far from home.
About the Creator
Writing has been a hobby of mine for years, so I'm just thrilled to be here! As for me, I love writing, dogs, and travel (only 1 continent left! Australia-.-)
I hope you enjoy what you read and I can't wait to see your creations :)
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme