Jared reread the flyer: “WANTED: Test subject for new phone app. Generous salary. No fuss, fun, and educational. Students preferred.”

Jared often felt like he was the only guy in the whole world who still read the cheaply made flyers that were posted in Morris Hall, or any hall for that matter. Sometimes, when Jared couldn’t sleep, he would think about all of the faceless people who traveled around campus with a stack of papers in one hand and a bundle of thumbtacks in the other. In almost four years, Jared had never once seen one of these people.

The flyer featured a phone number at the bottom. No email, which bothered the shy Jared; just a phone number with an in-state area code.

At first, Jared had no intention of calling the number. It was Friday afternoon and he desperately wanted to party. So, after his last class got out at 6:15, Jared rushed back home to his apartment, cracked open a beer, and began rifling through the numbers on his cellphone. There was Chris, but he was out of town. Something about a sick relative in Elkins or maybe an injured girlfriend who lived down there, too. Scott was another option, but Jared remembered that Scott hung out with a new set of people who lived over on West Run, and Jared was always terrible around strangers. He forgot about Scott.

For the next hour and a half, Jared thought about all the numbers in his phone. With each name, he thought of reasons not to call them. Either they were gone, busy with other people, or not that close to begin with. The one female name in his phone, Heather, was strictly off-limits. Jared was always stalking the girl enough, and he did not want to tip his hand so far that cops would get involved.

So, in a blue funk, Jared stayed home and drank beer. He watched a little TV and tried to tell himself that everything was okay. It was fine that he, a 21-year-old virgin, was home alone on a Friday night. Who needs bars or girls, anyway? Jared had never and would never score, so what’s the point?

It was sometime past two in the morning when, on a drunken whim, Jared called the number from the flyer. A voice answered.

“Hello? Are you calling about the app study?”

Jared was so taken aback that he failed to register that the voice belonged to someone much older than a college student.

“Yeah…I mean, yes I am.”

“That is great to hear! What’s your name, please?”

“Jared Offenbach.”

“What year are you in school, Mr. Offenbach?”



“English and marketing.”

“Interesting combination.”

“English degrees only prepare you for a cardboard box, so I thought it best to pursue something financially rewarding.”

“Very prudent, very prudent indeed.”

The small talk continued for a time until Jared and the voice on the other line agreed to meet the following Wednesday at five o’clock.

“Just out of curiosity, why are you still working at this hour?”

The voice on the other end did not hesitate: “I believe so much in this app that I will not rest until we have had it fully tested by potential customers. I’m excited that you have agreed to help our product to flourish.”

Jared thought that that was a weird choice of words, but said goodbye, then hit the red disconnect button on his phone.

In 30 minutes, Jared was asleep and snoring so loudly that it woke up his neighbor downstairs.

The days between Friday and Wednesday were nothing but perfunctory. Jared went to class, studied at home, then went back to class. He was a good student, but Jared suffered from severe senior-itis. He wanted out in the worst way, even though he had no designs on his future. Although aimless, at least his direction was off-campus, he thought.

At five o’clock on Wednesday, Jared walked towards Greenlee Auditorium. The app study was to take place in the auditorium’s unused basement. Down there, Jared only found one room with beige walls, a card table, and a few folding chairs. Two men who both looked over 30 sat beside each other. They wore nondescript, business casual clothes. They both motioned for Jared to sit down across the card table.

“Welcome, Jared. This should not take long at all. In fact, all we want you to do is to put our app on your phone and use it for a week. Sound good?”

The man spoke with a nasal voice that betrayed a slight Southern accent. He said his name was Vince and that he was in charge of QA for the app. The other man, Craig, said that he was the app’s creator and designer. Jared recognized Craig’s voice from their earlier phone conversation.

“Do you have any questions, Jared?”

“Well, what is the app? What does it do? What is it for?”

Vince turned to Craig, who pushed his chair forward.

“It is a social app that transcends the mere confines of cyberspace. This app is designed to bring the virtual world into meatspace.”

Jared raised an eyebrow to show his confusion.

“It’s like this,” Craig said, “Our app is designed to build friendships in the real world. An algorithm will pair you up with someone in your area and you too will talk and meet up.

“Of course, the catch is that you will both be anonymous to each other. You guys can keep your relationship strictly on the phone, but we would prefer it if you’d meet in person. It would be better that way.”

“Are there like any immunity challenges I have to do?” Jared said with a wry smile. Both men laughed.

“No, this is not some reality show. It’s just an app. We hope you will like it. Oh, before I forget, here’s your payment.”

Craig handed Jared a check for $200. Jared’s eyes grew as big as dinner plates.

“We remember what it is like being a starving college student. This should help you to get by and plan your first few dates.”

Craig gave Jared a wink. Vince chortled under his breath.

“Is my friend going to be a girl?” Jared asked.

“You want a girl? You got a girl. We hope that you two will get along.”

With that, Craig and Vince stood up and took turns shaking Jared’s hand. Jared was given a slip of paper with downloading instructions and sent on his way.

The first message came two days later. Jared was close to giving up on the app because it was essentially blank: no personal profiles, no GPS search capabilities, no nothing. Then, at midnight on Friday, Jared’s phone vibrated with a message.

“Hey. Are you still awake?”

Jared clicked on the app and pulled up its mini-keyboard. He pounded out something inane.

“Yeah, my Friday nights are usually boring, too. I just wish that something fun would happen once in a while.”

“Me too. I would love to go out, but none of my friends want to.”

“You have some pretty lame friends, LOL.”

“I guess so. What about your friends?”

“They’re lame, too. I want to throw this crazy house party with alcohol and strippers tomorrow night, but my roommates chickened out.”

“Are we talking female or male strippers?”

“C’mon, bro. Everyone knows that naked chicks are hotter than naked guys.”

Jared could not believe his luck. Here was some girl (granted, some unknown and unseen girl) talking about wanting to have naked women over at her place.

“Isn’t the point of this app to meet up?”

“LOL. That’s what those dudes said in the interview.”

“Then why don’t you throw that party and I’ll come over? We can meet face-to-face then.”

“Damn. You waste no time. Sure. I’ll message you here with the time and location, k?”

“Alright. Looking forward to it.”

Jared could not sleep. He was too busy thinking about what his new friend looked like. Was she hot? Fat? A student or a professional woman? Was she even really a woman? By the time that the first rays of dawn reached into his bedroom window, Jared was convinced that his app partner was skinny, blonde, and a coed with a large, but not ridiculously large chest.

Unfortunately for Jared, he had to wait a full day for the answer. On Saturday, Jared went to a bookstore and drank too many cups of coffee. He looked at a few books, but knew full well that he wasn’t going to buy any of them. Jared was just one impulse purchase away from being flat broke. His $200 had mostly gone to an electricity bill and some beer.

At seven, Jared left the bookstore parking lot. He drove for a few miles, then found the Sabraton exit. He parked in a vacant lot between a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Kroger’s supermarket.

“Hey. Where’s your place? What time should I come over?”

The message was simple, direct, and not too needy. Jared stared at it for a while. Then, when no answer came, he got out of the car and walked to the coffee shop. He thought about ordering another cup of coffee, but went for ginger ale instead. He counted his wallet and came up with just six dollars.

Time dragged by. Jared checked his phone manically, but there was nothing. His secret friend was ghosting him. The thought made Jared angry, then despondent. He eventually gave up the ghost and went back to his car.

He was driving on High Street when he finally got the response.

“Sorry! I couldn’t talk for a sec. My place is out in Cheat Lake. Is that too far for you?”

Jared quickly wrote: “No,” then read the address. He plugged it into the GPS feature on his phone and went back on the highway.

“I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

Jared checked his phone twice. He could not believe it. The address belonged to a three-story McMansion in Greystone, one of the most upscale places in the entire county. If she lived here, then she was either a student living with her rich parents or not a student at all.

But wait, Jared thought, didn’t she say something about roommates?

Jared pushed the thought from his mind. He messaged her again to let her know that he was there.

“Come inside. The party hasn’t started yet, but I’m here and the strippers will be here soon.”

Jared started sweating. It is time, he thought. It is time to finally get some of that mojo that other, more experienced men have. Jared started to get a tingling feeling in his legs and groin. It was painful by the time he knocked on the large oak door.

“Hello? It’s me. The app guy.” Jared winced at those words.

He knocked again, this time with the palm of his hand. He tried the doorbell twice before actually trying the doorknob. It was unlocked.

“Hello? It’s me. I’m here for the party.” Jared winced again. How could one adult male say so many lame things at once?

The inside of the house was massive. Most of it was painted a light shade of blue, and the bannisters were a light brown. The floors were wood and they were interspersed here and there with oriental rugs. Jared saw flowers in vases, flat-screen TVs, and a kitchen that featured a bar and a restaurant-sized stove. The place oozed money.

While admiring the kitchen, Jared heard it. It was a faint thumping, the sound of dance music with the volume turned down low. Sounds like I found the party room, Jared thought as he crept up the well-polished stairs.

The second floor featured red accents on the blue walls. To Jared’s untrained eye, the painters had done a poor job, as the red paint did not conform to any familiar geometric pattern. I looked like someone had just run through the second floor throwing red paint everywhere. Maybe they’re the artistic types, Jared thought.

The door to the room with music was slightly ajar. A strobe light or a busted bulb flickered inside. Using his right hand, Jared pushed his way inside. Less than a minute later, he was running back down the stairs and out of the house.

In the room, Jared had seen four bodies. Each was clearly dead, and each had been horribly mutilated. The older male had exposed entrails, while the older female was missing her head. The two younger bodies, both of which belonged to young females, were missing toes, fingers, and, in one case, a full arm. All were stark naked.

Jared drove in a panic all the way back to his apartment. He hyperventilated, calmed himself down, then hyperventilated some more when he realized that he had left his fingerprints all over the murder mansion.

“What the hell is going on? What did you do? Did you set me up?”

Jared stared at the app. There were no little bubbles indicating that she was typing a response. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

That night, Jared stayed up and drank a full six pack of beer. He went to church the next morning. It was the first time that he had attended Sunday worship since he was a toddler. There, while praying to God, Jared decided to call Craig and Vince. They had to know what was going on.

The phone rang and rang without answer on Sunday. Jared called the app makers ten times, but he never got anything, not even an answering machine. That night, Jared picked up a Sunday paper (another thing that he hadn’t done in ages) and looked for a story about the murders. Nothing.

Monday morning meant psychology. Jared somehow managed to go to class, but the whole time he thought about going to the room below Greenlee Auditorium. At three, he decided to skip his British lit class and talk to Craig and Vince. The thought that the two guys didn’t work in that room never occurred to Jared.

Jared found the sparse room completely empty. No card table, no chairs, no Craig or Vince. He called the phone number again while standing in the room. Nothing again.

“I’m watching you.” The message was accompanied by an emoticon of a smiley face.

Her message came at three in the morning on Tuesday. Jared read it too many times to count.

“Who are you? Why did you kill those people?”

“I’m watching you.”

“Look, I’m calling the police.”

“I’m watching you, no matter where you go.”

“Even the police station?”

“You won’t make it.”

Jared threw his phone across his bedroom. Like a faithful dog, he ran back to it and retrieved it.

“Empty threats. Do you feel like adding to your charges?”

“I’m watching you.”

The taunting repetition angered Jared. It made him do something very stupid.

“Ok, if you’re watching me, where am I?”

“At your apartment.”

Easy guess, Jared thought. Most people would be home at three AM.

“What am I doing?”

“Messaging me.”

Another obvious answer. Jared decided to make things harder for her.

“Describe what my place looks like.”

This time she took a while in answering.

“White vinyl siding, a brown front porch made out of poplar, and a single light above the door. Your friends have been known to enter your front door with just a credit card because the seal is so bad.”

She had described Jared’s apartment perfectly. He began having a panic attack.

“I can also tell you that your neighbor had a cat.”

Jared ran into his kitchen rather than answer the message. He grabbed his largest knife and also picked up an aluminum baseball bat that he had had since the fourth grade. He turned off all of the lights in his apartment and made sure to slink below the windows. He dialed 911.

“I’ve already called the cops. They’re on their way.”

A loud thud slammed against Jared’s front door.

“I’ve left you a present. Talk to you very soon.”

Jared remained still on the kitchen linoleum. He only moved again when he heard sirens in the distance. They are here, he thought.

Jared dropped the knife and put the baseball bat down. He washed his face in the sink with cold water. He took a second to calm himself, then walked to the front door. The sirens were louder. Jared slowly opened his front door. He noticed that his door had streaks of blood on it. He looked down at his doormat, which had come with the apartment. There, buried in the dirty yellow fuzz of the “Welcome” mat, was his neighbor’s cat. Jared did not have to look too closely to know that somebody had stabbed it and partially eaten it.

The sirens were practically on top of Jared now. However, he could not see any flashing lights. He began to worry out loud. He was so agitated that he failed to notice the figure in a black hoodie standing right behind him. This figure held a stun gun in one hand and a large hunting knife in the other. Jared never got to see her face, for she placed the stun gun right by his neck and pulled the trigger before he could turn around.

Unbeknownst to him, Jared was just another student who had failed to live past a week. None of them had made it that far yet. Craig wanted someone to last a week; Vince had money riding on nobody making it. The girl was definitely in Vince’s camp. She never wanted any of them to make it either.

As for those avenging angels in blue uniforms, they were called away to a major accident. Their dispatcher told them to follow a private ambulance to the scene of a hit-and-run on Elm Street in South Park. The ambulance and the cop car raced right past Jared’s apartment without once looking his way.


“WatchingU” won fifth place in Terror House’s Pulp Submission Contest. To read all of the winning stories, click here.