Liz stared at her Twitter feed, her heart racing. It was just a mention from a random; a user passing by that she had never interacted with before. There were so many of those: complaining that she was a woman who talked about technology; complaining about her politics; complaining for god knows what reason. She had learned to report and block them immediately and move on, without giving it a second thought. Twitter never really did anything with any of the people who sent her abuse, but the catharsis was something.
This time was different. This time, the payload stopped her in her tracks.
It was a photograph of her. Today.
It was blurry, and had been taken from behind, but it was unmistakably her, just a few hours earlier. The user had left the slightest of captions, but it was enough to send a message: "Fun to see you in town. Stay safe!"
The user had zero followers and was following four people: the President of the United States, a right-wing blogger known for his racist rhetoric, the account for the white supremacist social network Gab, and Liz.
She looked around her. She was sitting in the university Informatics building, all stories-high bright white walls and sharp lines. A handful of students were walking through the main hall, chatting to each other, but otherwise there was nobody else around.
It could have been anyone, of course. Everyone had a camera now. Everyone was a stalker-to-be.
There were no guns, at least. There was that. She couldn't be swatted, and nobody could take a concealed weapon and shoot her from afar. Those were things she would have had to worry about if she was back home; here there were knives and people who might fistfight you on the street, but the potential for long-range murder was lower.
It wasn't zero, however.
Her phone buzzed as a notification came in. Someone had retweeted the photo. On the surface, this was obnoxious; Liz knew that retweets from certain accounts were a signal to groups of organized trolls that they should swoop in and pay attention.
"I didn't even post anything," she said to herself.
She closed her laptop, put it in her bag, and decided to leave.
The Edinburgh weather was bright but almost instantly chilled her to the bone; "it's brass monkeys out there," the Scottish liked to say. A blustery wind somehow found its way through her clothes, and always did, no matter how many layers she wore.
She turned to walk through the Meadows, a park that adjoined the university and ran through the south part of the city. Paths criss-crossed at obtuse angles, and the arms of the leafless trees seemed to form arches above them. Scotland was the only country Liz knew of where golf wasn't just a pastime for the wealthy, and she could just see kids with clubs and balls at the far end.
Her phone buzzed again. A Direct Message this time.
"Nice day for a walk."
She stopped for a moment and looked around her. No-one obvious. Nobody gaining on her, nobody taking photos with their phone. Just a handful of people in the distance.
She quickened her pace.
Middle Meadow Walk was the largest of the paths; a whale jaw gated one end. Liz didn't know the provenance, but the students seemed to think it was Victorian or older, and it seemed to be in a greater state of disrepair each winter. It was still there, though, barely holding on. As she passed through it, she glanced upwards at the bone.
"You're going to have to walk faster than that."
This time there was a photo of her, taken from just behind her, somehow. She whirled around, but once again, there was no-one there.
She broke into a run.
Her home was in Bruntsfield, just beyond the kids playing golf and the pubs that opened their doors onto the park. She just needed to make it to the end of the park. The road beyond was the crest of a hill; a few more blocks, past the church and the schoolyard, and she would be safe in her flat. It was close. Not close enough, but close.
Another message. She glanced at her phone.
Just an emoji: 😜
She was getting closer; the kids playing golf were in full definition now, and she briefly worried about being taken out by a wayward golf stroke. But she didn't brake her pace.
Liz wasn't a runner, and the cold of the air burned against her lungs. Each exhalation brought a new cloud of vapor, which she broke through at speed.
She was almost at the road now, her body beginning to betray her. Her bag felt heavy, and her heart seemed to beat harder and faster than ever.
"This is fun," a new message to her phone said, with another picture taken right behind her. It was enough to renew her energy, adrenaline pumping through her veins. She dashed across the road, dodging a red double decker bus, which drove on obliviously. The road down was the last stage: the church and the school and home.
She dashed. The church seemed deserted, as it always did; there was a cafe on the ground floor, but it was rare that she saw anyone in it. Similarly, school was in class; sometimes she could see the black and white of the school uniforms, teenagers with crisp packets and laconically sucking at juice boxes, but it was clear. If someone caught up to her, there would be no witnesses but for the tall grey buildings and the sky.
But there didn't seem to be anyone behind her; every time she looked there was nothing. Nobody. She was being trolled by a ghost.
The shiny red door of her tenement building came into view, and Liz knew she just needed one more push. Her body felt like it could collapse to the ground at any moment, but she pressed on, carried on running, away from whoever was tormenting her.
As if on cue, another message came in, with another photograph. It had kept pace, and had once again invisibly sent a picture from right behind her.
Liz plunged her hand into her coat pocket for her keys. She found them, behind the USB stick she used for two-factor authentication and a handful of coins. Without removing her hand from her pocket, she placed a key between her fingers as a makeshift knuckle duster, ready to plunge into an assailant.
She reached the door, gasping for air, and turned around with her back to it. There was nobody. The street was empty. But she knew whatever or whoever it was, they were close, and another photograph had to be close behind.
She found the key on her keyring, rammed it into the lock and turned, heaving her way through the doorway and slamming the wooden barrier behind her. The sound echoed up the stairwell.
She took a moment to catch her breath and then looked up. She was on the fourth floor; the green of the stairwell was lit by fluorescent lights, which cast harsh shadows through the ironwork of the railings. There didn't seem to be anyone there. Once again, it was empty.
She wanted to wait forever, catch her breath, let her pulse drop to normal, but she couldn't. After a moment, she dashed up the stone stairway, spiraling up one floor, and then another, and another, and another. There were stars on the edges of her vision and she found herself propping herself against the tilework at the top of the landing to stop herself from collapsing outright.
A buzz on her phone: "I'm still coming."
She found the second key on her keyring and slammed her way into her flat, pulling the doorchain across and jamming a chair underneath the handle for good measure.
There was no sound.
Nobody was coming. The stairwell was empty.
But there was a smell.
Slowly, quietly, she tiptoed through the hall to the kitchen, and grabbed a knife from the holder on the counter. The room was empty, and she could see the view across the Firth of Forth to Fife. Lights glimmered in the distance. Accompanying them, silence.
Carefully wielding the knife in front of her, she tiptoed to the bedroom, where there was nothing; through the shadows of the darkened room, she could see that the bed lay undisturbed, exactly as she had left it in the morning.
The curtains were drawn; she must have forgotten to open them before she left. Liz turned the light on, and the shadows withdrew to show nothing out of the ordinary.
There was, however, a knocking.
She didn't hear it at first. Just a tiny tap. But it was definitely there. At the window, on the fourth floor of her tenement.
Carefully, her hands shaking, she opened the curtains an inch.
But the knocking continued.
She opened them more, poked her head through, looked around, and screamed.
There was a drone staring back at her.
It was the kind with a high definition camera built into it, beaming the signal back to a phone held by someone closely. It was invasive and terrifying, but finally, Liz allowed herself to feel anger: there was nothing it could do to her. It was a trick. It had silently flown behind her to take pictures, just far enough so she couldn't hear the buzzing, and then taken off above her when she looked behind. It was childish. A game of hide and seek.
She pulled out her phone again and found the Direct Message chat with her follower.
"Fuck you, dude," she wrote. "Go back home to your basement." There was nothing else to say. No information would be given; nothing could happen. Before long the drone would run out of battery and it would need to return to base. Maybe, if she watched carefully, she could even figure out where it was being flown from.
Her phone buzzed almost immediately.
"What did you do, Liz?"
She looked at the message. "I don't understand," she typed back.
"You know what you did," the user replied. "You've checked the kitchen. You've checked your bedroom. Keep checking."
Liz's eyes widened. She ran out of her bedroom and into her living room.
There was nothing here, but there was only one more place to look. Dread rose within her as she walked to the dappled glass door of the bathroom, half ajar, and saw the splashes of water on the floor.
She pushed the door open.
And there, in the bathtub, her eyes wide and fully submerged, was the drowned corpse of Jiyeon.