(A horror story about technology.)
Two nights ago, I was home alone when Alexa laughed. I’d read about the software issue the devices had been having all over the world, so it wasn’t that big a shock. Thank God for that, too, because I would’ve jumped out of my skin otherwise. Still, I was unsettled. It’s creepy to hear laughter when you think you’re alone.
“Alexa, shut up,” I instructed. The blue ring on top flashed, and the laughing stopped.
I went back to my book.
Twenty minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alexa’s blue ring illuminate – as if she’d received a command. I studied her for a few seconds and shrugged it off.
Thirty seconds later, her light came on again. This time, she said, “okay Peter, J.A. Henckels five piece stainless steel knife set is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”
“Oh come on,” I complained. I put my book down and grabbed my laptop. I navigated to Amazon and checked my order page. It was empty. Then I checked my account information in the Alexa device, wondering if my Alexa had paired with someone else’s account. It hadn’t.
“Great,” I thought. “Free knives. Thanks Pete, wherever you are.”
I went back to my reading. It probably wasn’t the best subject matter to be consuming when I was already a little shaken. Far too many mushrooms and people peeling off their skin. Gross.
As I reached the end of my chapter, Alexa laughed again. It sounded different than it had the first time. The first time, it was mechanical and emotionless, just like her voice. This time it was lower. Deeper. As if it had breath in it. The hairs on my arms stood on edge.
“Screw this,” I thought, and got up to shut her off. As I crossed the room, her lights flashed.
“Okay Peter, four units of Clorox bleach, 121 oz. bottles, is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”
I stopped in my tracks and stared at the device.
“This is stupid,” I said to myself. “You’re freaked out because of that stupid book and you’re letting it make you superstitious. Don’t be an idiot.”
I turned around and checked the time. It was almost midnight. I needed to take a shower before bed. I sighed and headed for the bathroom.
After a quick shower, I was toweling off and thinking about what I had to do at work the next day when Alexa started to talk again. I couldn’t hear her very well through the bathroom door, but I recognized her voice. It didn’t sound like she was reciting another order. It almost sounded like conversation.
I cracked open the door and listened. The voice stopped. I could see her blue light reflecting off the wall.
“Alexa,” I called. “What are my active orders?”
“You have no active orders, Valerie,” she replied. “Is there something you’d like to get?”
“No,” I said. Her light went off.
I watched TV in bed for a little while, hoping I’d get tired enough to fall asleep. It wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop thinking about the stupid device. I wasn’t going to shut it down, though. I wasn’t going to give in to my baseless fear. I’m an adult, damn it.
During my third Frasier rerun, I finally felt myself getting ready to sleep. I turned off the TV and closed my eyes.
“Okay Peter, Sunshades Depot 5’x7’ tarp is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”
My eyes snapped open.
“Enough of this,” I muttered, and bolted out of bed. When my feet hit the floor, Alexa began to laugh again. It was loud this time, and just as deep as it had been the last time. She sounded like a large man cruelly laughing at an offensive joke.
The blue light was so bright in my eyes as I reached for the plug.
“Okay Peter, Osborne International wire brush is on….”
I tore the plug from the outlet and Alexa went silent. The light went out.
I stormed back into my room and slammed the door. I think I slept for about an hour.
The next day, when I got home from work, I ran into my landlady. We’re friendly with one another; she’s only a few years older and we have drinks every so often. I invited her in, telling her I needed a few beers after what I’d dealt with the night before.
“What happened?” Toshi inquired, sitting down at the kitchen table and cracking open the beer I’d given her.
“You know that Amazon Alexa thing?” I asked, pointing in its direction.
“Oh yeah,” she replied. “My sister has one. Did you hear about how some people are reporting that it laughs?”
“That’s what mine does!” I exclaimed.
“No way!” Toshi said, laughing. “That must’ve scared the hell out of you.”
“…maybe,” I admitted. “It feels silly to be scared of something like that.”
“No way,” she insisted, and took a swig of her beer. “I would’ve thrown it out the window.”
I laughed. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Especially with the other things she said.”
Toshi’s eyebrows perks up. “Other things? Like what?”
“Oh, nothing as creepy as the laugh,” I replied. “It was just announcing orders from someone else’s account. I think wires got crossed somewhere.”
“Wow, that’s crazy,” Toshi said. “Do you know whose account?”
“Some guy named Peter. He was ordering knives and brushes and stuff.”
Toshi paused mid-drink. She looked at me, her smile slipping from her face. “Peter?” she repeated.
“Yeah. Why, do you know him?”
Toshi stood up. The expression on her face was the polar opposite of what it had been only seconds ago. She looked frightened.
“Tosh, what’s going on?”
“Val, before you moved in, I rented this apartment to a guy named Peter.”
She stared into my eyes, almost like she didn’t want to say.
“I… it’s just… Val, he killed himself about six months before you signed your lease here.”
My blood went cold. “He killed himself here? In this apartment?”
“Why? What happened? Was he depressed?”
She shook her head. “No. Worse.”
“Tell me, Tosh!”
She paused and took a deep breath. I glared at her insistently. “He killed himself when the police found his pregnant girlfriend’s body in the swamp on the other side of town. She’d been stabbed to death and wrapped in a tarp. Later on, the investigation showed he drained all her blood in the bathtub and tried to clean it up with bleach.”
I felt myself getting dizzy. “Tarp?” I parroted. “Bleach?”
Toshi nodded and stared at the floor.
“I… I can’t stay here,” I whispered.
My landlady didn’t say anything. We stood in shocked silence for a minute or two. Toshi went to the fridge and got another beer. She popped the top and took a drink, then opened her mouth, as if she were about to speak. Before she could, though, a hideous, earsplitting laugh exploded through the apartment.
It was Alexa.
And she was still unplugged.