I've been in a coma for the last six months. I was fortunate, they say. The semi-truck that hit my car killed my mother and my fiancee but spared me. Well, not spared, I guess. I had two broken legs, a shattered collar bone, and I was in a persistent vegetative state for six months, three weeks, and two days. I awoke on April twenty-sixth, two thousand twenty-one.
I could not heed the call, and that's why I am one of the last Joshes.
The news was still coming in from across the world as people kept finding bodies. The occurrence had been as sudden as it was unexplainable. The death toll is estimated to be nearly a million, all from different states, different countries, and different walks of life. It's being called one of the most devastating events of the twentieth century, and the level of cover-up going on to keep public outcry to a minimum is alarming.
They're trying to say that it's nothing but a meme, an internet joke, a fun fight that happened with pool noodles and foam swords.
The truth is that on April twenty-fourth, for some reason, everyone named Josh just kind of snapped.
I didn't know this at first, of course. When I woke up, the hospital staff was just glad I had woken up. The doctors had been hopeful, but every coma is different. I was the subject of a lot of attention for the first few hours as they told me what had happened and tried to get in touch with any family I had in the area who could keep me company. My dad died when I was little, my grandparents on both sides had been dead for years, and I have no other siblings. I was alone now, no family or future family since my fiancee was dead, and I was having a lot of trouble processing it.
That was the first time I heard about the Josh Battle.
One of the techs was taking my vitals when he mentioned it offhandedly.
"Shame you were in a coma, kid. You missed the big Josh fight."
I blinked at him, confused, "Sorry?"
"The Josh fight," he elaborated, "its whole big thing. Look."
He pulled it up on his phone and showed me a bunch of happy, smiling people fighting with foam weapons, pool noodles, and other padded things. They seemed to be having a great time, and it stuck with me long after the tech took his phone and continued with his rounds. Why would they call it a Josh fight? It appeared to be some silly thing that had happened suddenly, but I couldn't do any research on my own. My phone had been destroyed in the accident, and with no immediate family to talk to; I was in the dark until the next day.
That was when Brown arrived.
I had woken up from a nap when I found a dark-haired man sitting in my hospital room. He wore thick black glasses, had loose brown hair, and wore a close-cropped beard that looked patchy. He smiled when he saw me, putting his phone in his pocket and giving me his full attention.
"Oh good, you're awake. I've been waiting for you to wake up."
"Are you with billing or something? I have insurance if that's what you're..."
He waved me off, "No, no, nothing like that. My name is Brown, and I'm here to inform you that you are one of the last Josh's on earth."
I raised an eyebrow, "Is this some kind of a joke? There are millions of Joshes on earth. How the hell can I be one of the last?"
"Well," he said, "it's a long story, and no one is quite sure why this thing has happened at all. What we do know is that two days ago, all the people named Josh suffered from an unexplainable psychotic break that seems to have struck them all at once. It lasted for twenty-four hours, and when it was done, they all returned to normal with no memories of what they had done before."
"If that's true, then why am I still in this hospital bed?"
I was pretty sure he was some cook who had just wandered in, but I was just bored enough to entertain his crazy ideas.
"Well, you may not have gone anywhere, but your nurse tells me that you tried. You, apparently, bucked around in your bed and had to be restrained until the end of the day. At midnight, you stopped convulsing, and when morning came, and you were still unmoving, they released you from the restraints. Two days later, you woke up."
"Does this have something to do with this "Josh fight" people keep talking about?"
He made a rude noise, "That's a lot of bullshit. It was staged after the fact to make people doubt. In a few days, when people start reporting missing persons and work records show that people have missed a week of work, they'll start putting the pieces together. Here," he said, putting a brown sachel on the foot of my bed, "you can use this to see the facts we've compiled after I've gone. I have a feeling it will help you accept the facts as we see them."
He got up then, pushing his chair back against the wall and saying he would see me tomorrow.
"Watch the videos, and let me know what you think. I'll be back tomorrow for your thoughts."
And with that, Brown was gone.
The videos were in a folder on the desktop. They were time-stamped, each of them ordered by when the incidents took place. I put my mouse over the first, occurring at eight-fifteen that morning, and clicked play on the video attachment. What popped up was a rip of a Facebook live video. It was clearly shot from a cellphone, and the shaky cam was a little disorienting. It showed two people, one filming and one hovering just outside of camera view, as they followed a tall farm boy through the halls of a school. He was strong looking, his cornsilk hair swinging around his shoulders, and he looked more than a little confused as he blundered along.
"Alright, so this guy came blundering out of his class, almost hit my friend with the door, and now he's just walking up the hallway. His teacher was freaking out for a minute, but he just kept walking. We thought he might be looking for something, so we followed him to see what was going on."
The big farm boy walked through the hall like a trapped animal fleeing pray. His head snapped furtively right and left at every intersection, and he seemed driven to find something. The boys laughed as they followed him, thinking it was a joke or some kind of prank. He had cut down three more halls before he found what he was looking for and the two oohed and hooted when the farm boy locked eyes with a smaller boy in a button-down shirt at the other end of the hall.
The two boys commented about the bigger boy having "found his boyfriend," but to me, they looked like gunslingers getting ready to draw.
When the smaller boy charged the bigger one, it took the farm boy by surprise.
When his nose popped as the smaller boy jumped and head-butted him, the other two stopped laughing.
The two fought, punching and kicking, and the larger one quickly gained the advantage. His hands found their way around the smaller boy's throat as the doors to classrooms started opening, and students rushed out to see what the commotion was. Suddenly, another boy punched the bigger one in the back of the head. Then another boy jumped into the fray. Suddenly, others were pilling onto the fray, and teachers and administrators were trying to separate them.
When an adult dived into one of the other teachers as he tried to separate two of the competence, his thumbs finding the boy's eyes and pressing into his skull, the screaming took on a different level.
Students were running, people were screaming, and as the blood started to run down the struggling boy's face, the camera was knocked from the recorder's hands, and the video stopped suddenly.
The next video was from eight-thirty, and it seemed to be from a traffic cam.
Cars drove beneath the light, taking turns and waiting for their chance to cross.
Suddenly, a car T-boned another car, and the drivers climbed out to begin punching and kicking indiscriminately. One of them slammed the other hand in the car door, pinning him, and as the man writhed, the other punched him until his blood flew across the side of the vehicle. Then he took his head and put it through the passenger side window, raking his throat across the glass as the blood sheeted down like a waterfall.
After he was done, the man ran off down the street and out of camera view.
I furrowed my eyebrows.
What the hell was I watching?
What did these videos have to do with anything? Brown had collected a bunch of videos from fights. Big deal. What did any of this have to do with these supposed Josh Fights? The stuff I had seen online was a fun fight. These videos were brutal.
I got my answer in video six.
The next three were more traffic cam footage. A man in a hard hat suddenly landed on a man on the sidewalk, punching him even as he died from the fall. It appeared that he had jumped right from the building they were constructing, but it was hard to tell for sure. The next was of a pair of men suddenly running into camera view and slugging it out. One of them pulled out a knife and slit the other's throat, but he continued to try to strangle him until he finally died in a pool of his own blood. The fifth was another vehicular crash. One of the drivers pulled the other driver out of the car, but he appeared to have died on impact. He left him in the street and ran off somewhere, and the video ended.
The weirdest part was that all five of these videos had happened at different times and in different places. Three of the videos had clearly been in the US, but one of them looked like it might be in Asia, and the last one had definitely been in Europe, given the driving patterns. It was the weirdest thing; why had he given me these videos? What was the point?
As the Sixth started, I saw it was cell phone footage again.
A man in a mall was drowning a child in a fountain. The scene looked middle eastern, and the people around them weren't speaking any language I understood. A woman was beating at the man's shoulder, trying to stop him, but she just kept repeating the same name again and again as she pounded weakly at him. It was the only word I could understand, and the familiarity chilled me a little.
"Joshua, Joshua, Joshua, Joshua."
Have you ever been in a crowded place and heard someone call your name? They aren't talking to you, but the sound of your name turns you to see who it is. Maybe it's someone you know. Maybe its someone you know who's being called. On a baser level, it's a desire to see someone else who has your name. We want to see who else has our name and, for a few seconds, feel a personal sense of brotherhood with them. You are two people amongst many, and such things make us feel a strange sense of togetherness.
Hearing my name called as she begged him to stop drowning what could have been his own son made me feel a shared sense of horror.
Horror that my own namesake could do something like this.
Horror that I might be capable of something like this.
Video seven was bodycam footage from someone named Officer Grig. Officer Grig was running through a maze of small concrete corridors, talking to someone on his radio and begging for help. His partner had gone crazy, his partner had killed a kid, and now he was chasing him. Other officers were on the way, but Officer Grig had heard shots from the complex up ahead, and he was terrified that his partner had killed someone else. He came into a courtyard and froze, hugging the wall and drawing his gun. When he peeked around, I could see that the courtyard had six bodies sprawled out around the cornered officer. They had been killed as they tried to charge him, and as Officer Grig peeked, he saw another crazed man run at the cornered officer. He shot him, his head exploding in a puff of red, and he fell with the others in a twitching mass.
Grig stepped out then, training his gun on his partner and approaching slowly.
"Mulder, just put it down, man. We can talk about this, we can..."
Mulder turned to look at him, his eyes glazed and unseeing, just before his head snapped to the side and he fell against the wall.
Grig spun and fired without looking, and the last image I saw was another officer sliding down the wall, his eyes far away and his expression slack.
The camera zoomed in on the dead officer's nameplate, and I read J Myers.
The next few videos were much like the others. Street fights, car accidents that turned violent, shaky videos that caught random acts of violence, and throughout all of them, people sometimes screamed Josh. I wasn't sure how many I had watched, but the end result was always the same. Murder, death, and pain. I looked at the videos in that folder and felt sick. There were so many of them. I had watched less than a tenth of them. There could be ten thousand on this laptop. How many of them would be like what I had seen before? Just random acts of violence that were not so random in the end? How many Josh's had really died that day because something in their heads told them to?
I exited out of the folder, and that's when I saw a second folder that I had missed on first inspection.
J Holder was in the subject line in all caps.
When I opened the folder, there were seven videos inside. The first was at eight-thirty, and it looked like it might be another security camera video. The other five videos happened between nine-fifty and midnight, with the seventh being around five am. I was hesitant to begin these videos, but something was intriguing about them. Why had they been separated? Who was this guy, Josh Holder, I assumed?
I opened the first video and found footage from a convenience store CCTV. A blonde man in a black t-shirt was standing in line, waiting for his turn. He was fidgeting, the old lady in line taking longer than he strictly wanted, and I could see him sigh as he tapped his foot. He had some snacks and a drink in his hands, and it looked like any other day in any other town.
Then, and I had to rewind the video a few times to catch it, his eyes glaze over, and the snacks fall out of his hand. The owner must be yelling at him because he looks up and makes eye contact as the woman at the counter turns to look at him. Then he rushes the counter, volts over, and is lost to view as the woman screams wordlessly and runs from the store.
Five minutes later, he leaves.
His fists were bleeding, and his face looked to be dripping with something.
The second video was at nine-fifty.
It was short, less than a minute. A car is stopped at a light, waiting for the green light, when Holder approached the vehicle. He reached in, slammed the driver's face against the steering wheel, and drug him out of the car. Putting his head under the tire, he then proceeded to climb behind the wheel and drive away. The red smear on the concrete told me everything I needed to know.
The third video was another bodycam shot at ten forty.
An officer identifies himself as Officer Felder and tells us that he is approaching the car for a routine traffic stop. As he comes up to the window, I saw Holder's face staring blankly back at him. Officer Felder begins his rehearsed lines but suddenly tapers off as he reaches for his gun. Holder pulls a gun from beside the door as the officer is fumbling with the strap, however, and shoots him six times. As he falls, we see Holder dragging him back to his squad car, leaving the stolen vehicle behind.
At eleven twenty, I got my next video of Holder.
A security camera sees a police officer gunning down people in the courtyard of an apartment complex. The video was familiar, though, and when I saw an officer peek around the corner, I realized it was the same one I had watched earlier. I was watching Officer Grig as he tried to subdue his partner, but I was seeing it from a different angle.
As Grig approached, gun out but speaking soothingly, I could see Holder stepping out of another alley and leveling a pistol. He was wearing a uniform, he had likely stolen it from the cop, and after he shot, he stepped back out of sight. The other officer ran in then, and Grig put him down without thinking.
The next video, the fifth, was another CCTV video.
A man in uniform was walking through a crowded mall. People were running, screaming soundlessly, as he gunned them down. Each shot was precise, each kill was clean, and only men seemed to fall at his hands. The footage whipped through a couple of different cameras, and the officer was deadly as he proceeded. In all, I watched him kill seven men before he approached the doors of the food court, flashing lights visible beyond.
That was four pm by the time stamp.
The next video was at ten, and it was news footage of Holder surrendering. He was getting on his knees, dressed in a blood-stained uniform, and police were taking him into custody. The news anchor was saying how Jeffry Holder was responsible for the deaths of fifteen people and had led police on a murder spree that had capped off with his murder of seven at the Bay View mall. Police did not believe that he had any accomplices and were just glad to have this situation under control.
But wait, I rewound the video as the name clicked.
Not Joshua Holder?
Something didn't add up.
I opened the last video, waving away an orderly with a dinner tray and realizing that it was seven at night. These videos had engrossed me for hours. I was sickened by them, shocked by them, but they had drug me in and made me watch. These were my people dying, and I was reveling in a new sort of shared comradery. I was mourning for them as they fell, I was horrified for them as they succumb to their baser instincts, and I was dreading what depravity would come next.
Then there was this Jeffry Holder, the worst of them all.
I loaded the last video and saw another security camera video of Holder in an interrogation room.
He was sitting at a long white table, hands cuffed to a metal ring, fidgeting as he had been at the convenience store. He was testing his restraints, checking his exits, and when the door opened, a detective walked in to question him. The questions were expected. Why did you kill these people? What are your motives? Why did you do this? On and on and on. He sat there through it all in silence.
Then, the detective made a grave mistake.
He leaned in close, wanting to ask Holder something quietly so the camera would have trouble hearing it.
When Holder sank his teeth into his nose, he looked extremely surprised.
When Holder had finished mutilating him, a scene that was very Silence of the Lambs, he maneuvered himself around and snaked the detective's keys. A few short minutes later, and he was heading out the door that the detective had come in through. The camera continued to record the room as the detective's blood pooled there.
When Brown came back the next day, I had moved five more videos into the Holder folder.
"You've been busy," he commented when I showed him.
"What happened after he escaped?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know, but needing to know.
"He made his way down to lock up with the detective's ID, killed a guard, and shot seven men that were in holding for violent crimes that day. I'm pretty sure you can guess what their names were."
"So he kept killing, even after the rest had snapped out of it?"
"By the end of twenty-four hours, there were very few left to snap out of it. The ones who fought and won snapped back at midnight. I remember coming to in a parking garage with blood on my hands and a knife in my pocket. I ran home, showered, and spent the rest of the day wondering what the hell had happened? Those who were unable to kill others, incarcerated or committed individuals, took their own lives in a fit of rage. The ones who were in a coma or were unable to take their own lives are all that is left. The final total is something like five thousand Joshes worldwide."
"Why has no one noticed?" I asked, astonished.
"Someone has because they've been using the media to cover it up. They've been spreading false information in order to make people think it's a joke, a meme, but when people start noticing that their loved ones haven't come home, it'll be a little harder to sweep under the rug."
Before he left, I asked him one more question. He had let me keep the laptop, telling me to observe the videos to see if I could find any more Holder sightings, which led to my last question. I had seen him escape, I knew he had killed once out, but I didn't know why.
"Why would he snap like the others? He isn't a Josh. Also, why kill us?"
Brown shrugged, "Who knows? All we know is that no one has seen him since the incident, and we're all pretty interested in finding out where he is and what he's been up to."
That was a week ago. Brown stopped returning my emails two days ago, and that's worrisome. The group he belongs to, a group of Joshes on Reddit, have been monitoring some things, and they have noticed more Josh-related deaths since the incident. Someone is killing them, someone is tracking us down, and I fear that Brown may be their latest victim.
The message I got in my email yesterday was very clear about that.
"I will finish what I started," it said.
It was signed J Holder.