Max sat in the dark typing away on his laptop. His ever-present cup of coffee by his side and Nine Inch Nails blasting away set the tone for his latest blog. Mad Rants was his heart and soul split open for everyone’s consumption. When he started this venture over eight years ago, he had no idea it would take off. He assumed that he might get a few followers here or there but never in his wildest imaginings did he ever think he would acquire half a million subscribers.
He knew he wasn’t in the big leagues but this little side project sold to The City Paper resulted in a neat and steady cash flow. Max no longer had to detail cars for a living. He moved out of the cramped studio apartment and upgraded to a two bedroom. Life was good. Bills were getting paid. Food was on the table. Most importantly, his thoughts were out there and people seemed to care.
There was a contingency of those staid conservative types that used to love to engage in sparring matches with him. He lived for those interactions! Majority of his followers understood what he was saying and enjoyed his sarcastic, dark humor.
After he published the last installment of his posts on the psychology of serial killers, he started receiving some oddly unsettling emails. He just shrugged it off and didn’t allow them to interfere with his day. Then, they started coming to his private email address. He knew no one at the Paper would give out his personal information. His friend Blaine worked in the IT division of a worldwide conglomerate, so he knew his home network and identity were foolproof.
He had showed the strange missives to Blaine who attempted to trace the IP where the emails were originating from with no luck. He had also asked his editor if anyone had been asking how to get in touch with him. David laughed and said, “All the time!” But quickly pointed out that everyone was referred to the work email he kept with the Paper.
After about two weeks of graphic threats to his life, the emails stopped coming. Max didn’t know whether to be concerned or not. That was until he received the manila parcel in his mailbox. Obviously, it had made it through the security machines at the post office so it wasn’t anything to be afraid of he reckoned. He stared at it for a bit before deciding to open it. Inside the parcel was an unmarked VHS tape. Max cocked his head. Who even deals with these anymore in this digital world?
Luckily for Max, he still had a video tape player. This was a relic from the 90’s when technologically speaking things were way less complicated. He popped the VHS in the player and sat back in his chair. The image on the tape seemed to be deliberately out of focus. Max could make out a form, possibly a male sitting in a basement or maybe a garage. Upon further examination, the male appeared to be bound to a chair and gagged.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Max felt as if he had seen this before. Sitting forward, he studied the television screen intently. The male appeared to be waking up. The worse part about this tape was the lack of audio. The man in the chair was soaking wet. He looked beyond the camera with his eyes widening in horror. He began to move around violently in the chair.
Out of the corner, there was a flash of light and a small line of flames began to quickly move toward the figure in the chair. At that moment, Max understood how truly horrific this video was and what the end result was going to be for this unlucky fellow. Before that outcome could be realized, the video shut off. Max was left staring at the screen with the images of flames in his eyes.
“Jesus Christ!” He scrambled over to his desk and looked at the parcel. There was no return address, no indication of where it had been before reaching him. What the fuck was this about? Did this have anything to do with the emails that he had been receiving? Max debated on whether or not to take the video to the police. “They will probably think I had something to do with it.”
After all, it could be publicity for one of his reader’s indie films. He had gotten crazier shit in the past from fans. This tape felt like something more and it terrified him. Sleep was definitely going to be elusive tonight. Max stared at the screensaver on his computer. The proverbial beacon in the night beckoning him to finish his post. The cheerful deserted island scene with the azure water seemed ominous to him now.
As Max wrestled with his unique dilemma, he could feel his eyes getting heavier and heavier. The rational part of him knew that he needed to take that tape to the authorities. Someone was murdered or at least appeared to be murdered. The sensational side of Max knew that another tape might show up and it could be a future story for his blog. With no immediate answer in sight, Max went to sleep.
Detective Trask was in no mood to be trifled with this morning. At least, he thought it was morning. He pulled his car up to the abandoned garage. This side of town was not for the faint of heart. Before he could exit his vehicle, one of the uniforms knocked on his window. “Yeah?”
“Detective Trask, they sent me over to tell you it’s pretty bad in there. You might want to grab a mask or something.” Trask nodded. He exited his car and pulled a worn handkerchief out of his pocket. When the call came through about this 187, he was barely functioning and didn’t know that he would have to grab a kit.
Of course, as with every tragic scene, you had to have your lookie loos. This wasn’t any different. Trask made his way past the yellow crime scene tape and into the garage. Immediately, the smell of burnt flesh crept into his nostrils. He pulled his handkerchief tight over his nose. The smoldering charred mess still bound to the chair assaulted his eyes.
“Do we have any idea who this unfortunate soul is?” One of the numerous crime scene workers milling about handed Trask an evidence bag. He could clearly see the name on the driver’s license. “Max Draper?” “Yeah. The former Max Draper.” Trask nodded as he proceeded over to a video camera set up in the corner.
“Whoever the sick fuck was that did this guy in left us a present.” Trask looked into the videocam viewer just in time to see Max go up in flames. “I guess yesterday was his last blog entry.” “Huh?” asked Trask. “Yeah, he’s Mad Rants. You know, the City Paper?” Trask stared blankly at the young patrolman. “Guess he’s the story now.”