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Free Petz to Good Home (Part 9 - A Message From Emeric)

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Hey guys. Before we get any further I want to let you know this is Emeric typing, not Alice. I'd like to tell you she's okay but I don't know that. The last few days have been frightening and surreal. Right now, I'm sitting in a Motel 6 in Cook County, Illinois. All the doors are shut and locked, even the door to the bathroom and the folding closet doors. The curtains are drawn. I've got a few things with me: my cell phone, Alice's old laptop, and a USB drive she gave me. I spent all of last night drawing sigils on Post-It notes which are now stuck on all the windows and doors. But I don't know if that's enough to keep me safe. It didn't do a lot of good last time.
Up until the beginning of this week, I was scared of this thing in kind of an abstract way. I went back and read all of Alice's posts, and it's like she says: it's easy to push this stuff to the back of your mind when you're the only one experiencing them. Even when Sylvie, my daughter, went missing, I tried my hardest to believe it was just a coincidence--that it had nothing to do with her sleepwalking, her night terrors, her obsession with the game. It sounds sick to say, but I almost wanted it to be a kidnapping - some opportunistic creep who snatched our daughter out of our locked living room. Human beings are capable of extreme and terrifying cruelty - but they're still human. I had confidence that the police could deal with a human. That I could deal with one, if it came to that.
But it didn't add up. And the more I turned the events over in my head the more convinced I became that whatever took Sylvie wasn't...natural. My wife, Jess, became colder and more distant the further I fell down the rabbit hole. Why can't you just grieve like a normal person? she snapped at me one night. Our daughter is gone and you're spending all your time combing the source code for a late 90s video game and ordering chicken feet online. This isn't normal. I think you need help.
She was right. It wasn't normal, but then neither was what happened to Sylvie. All the doors in the house had been locked. I'd been home at the time, only a couple of rooms away. I didn't hear a thing. And the cops found nothing: no prints, no sign of a struggle, not even an indication that the sliding doors that lead out to the patio had been tampered with. You must have left them unlocked, they told me, over and over. Try to remember: are you *certain the house was secure?*
I'm a systems analyst, not a software designer. I don't know what I was expecting to find in the Petz source code but it seemed like a good place to start. First off, getting to the code wasn't easy. Typically, if you've got a bit of technical know-how (and the right, questionably-legal tools), peeping the code for games minted around that time isn't too hard. Run a few cracks, reverse-engineer into assembly code and bam, you're halfway there. But Petz 3 gave me a lot of trouble. I even purchased a legal copy of Petz 2 and tried the same process on that game to see where I was going wrong. Sure enough, with a little bit of fiddling, I could view the Petz 2 source. Petz 3 remained elusive.
I won't bore you with the technicalities, but essentially every time I ran the necessary programs to extract and decompile the code, my screen would flicker, go dark for a few seconds, and then the computer would crash. I shut myself in Jess' home office, staying up late into the night to try and break this thing apart. I drank a lot of coffee. There were dark circles under my eyes. A couple times, I woke up with keyboard imprints in my face because I'd fallen asleep mid-task. Every time, the system would crash. Once I swear I even heard what sounded like short, husky laughter jerking through the mechanical whir of the CD drive as the computer struggled to perform the task, then gave up.
Eventually, I started looking for more...inelegant (and definitely illegal) tools. Let's say it's the difference between picking a lock with a bobby pin and breaking a door down with a sledgehammer. I spent hours combing the deep web, lurking black hat message boards, trying to determine what was a legit piece of software and what was going to cause my entire system to melt. But I found it, in the end. The Golden Key.
When I ran the program, the game sounded like it was physically fighting the process. I have never heard my machine make such a weird and unsettling array of noises. At one stage I had to stop typing commands because the keyboard became unnaturally hot. But after an hour or so of perseverance, the machine gave a final grinding whirr of protest and spat out a .txt file with a couple of scraps of decompiled code. Not the whole thing (which the program had promised to deliver), but enough to go on.
Ever since I was a kid, I've loved computers. I was taking them apart and putting them back together by the time I was 10, teaching myself basic programming at 12. All this to say: I'm not new to this. I can recognize almost all standard code, and some not-so-standard. But whatever decompiled to that .txt file was like nothing I've seen before.
The Petz 3 source code was written, mostly, in C#. At least, that's what it looked like. But every line or so, the C# was interrupted by a string of unfamiliar characters. They weren't just out of place...they were impossible. I've never seen anything like them on any regular keyboard, in any regular font. At best, they looked a little like some of the special characters you find in Wingdings. Maybe a custom dingbat font, I figured. But why would anyone insert dingbat font glyphs into the source code of a video game? It's not going to do anything. The computer shouldn't be able to receive a command from that kind of symbol.
As I sat there trying to force my exhausted brain around the improbability of those symbols, Jessica came into the room. She was pissed - and understandably so. I hadn't showered in three days. I probably looked - and smelled - like a old sock. It took her all of 38 seconds to assess the situation. She looked from me to my sweat-stained t-shirt to the gylphs on the computer screen.
"Emeric," she said. "I'm leaving."
After Jess left I was in shock. I didn't do anything for a couple of weeks. I was mechanical: I went to work, I paid the bills (often late, but not so late that the lights went out), I ate canned soup and tried to remind myself to breathe. Jess wouldn't answer my calls. After a week of trying to reach her, her phone finally went dead. The last time I called, a robotic voice picked up and let me know that the number you dialled is not in service.
Late one night, after a can of soup and a half bottle of whiskey, I hit the deep web again. The progression here is hazy: I was so drunk I could barely see the screen. But I had to know what those symbols were and why they'd appeared in the game. I made a post and waited for someone to bite.
Among the usual responses of "kill urself" and "lol newfag," I received a couple of replies that seemed legitimate. "Not any language I've ever seen and I've been cracking systems for 20 years" one user said. "I recognize a couple of the glyphs," another posted "but I can't figure out why they'd be in source code. They don't translate to a command. It doesn't make sense".
And then, I received a private message. The user was anonymous: a string of numbers and letters automatically generated and scrambled to obscure identity. The message was a hyperlink. The subject said "run."
I was wasted at this point. That's the only rationale I can give for clicking a link from a stranger I found on a deep web forum (protip: don't do this). It linked to a low-res PDF of a community newspaper from Northbrook, Illinois, dated September 21st 1999. The headline read MOTHER DISTRAUGHT AS CHILD'S BODY RETRIEVED FROM WOODS:
Northbrook, IL: A single mother of four spoke to media for the first time today after the body of her missing child, 6-year-old Kirralee Martin, was discovered inside the trunk of a hollow tree in Chipilly Woods. The child, who was reported missing a month and a half ago, had been bound, bled, and dismembered in a manner which some investigators have termed "ritualistic."
"I was praying for her," Ms. Martin said as she stood outside the Cook County coroner's office. "It sounds crazy but I knew she was going to come home. I felt that so strongly. And now I have to deal with this - somehow, I got to deal with the fact she's never coming back."
Ms. Martin, who lives in the Sunset Village Community, said Kirralee was playing in the front yard with some neighborhood kids on the afternoon she was taken. Ms. Martin was observing the children, who were enjoying a neighbor's new trampoline only a few feet away, through the open door of her mobile home. She turned away for a few minutes to switch over some laundry, and when she looked back the kids had moved away from the trampoline and were playing further off, toward the wooded area that borders the trailer park. She says she called out to them not to go too far, and Kirralee waved. They seemed, Ms. Martin has said, to be squatting near the treeline, deeply absorbed in a game.
Ms. Martin began to prepare dinner, and a half hour later exited the mobile home to call Kirralee inside. But there was no sign of her or the other children. Ms. Martin called by the homes of the other two (whose names have been withheld to protect their privacy). The parents of both children said their kids had returned home a half hour previously, and that they had seemed "drowsy and disoriented." Neither child had seen Kirralee since they had left the outskirts of the wooded area, and a thorough search of the trailerpark failed to turn up any sign of her. When asked where he'd last seen Kirralee, one of the children said "she went into the woods with the dog lady."
The case, which is now being treated as an aggravated homicide, is being investigated by state police. When asked about the possibly Satanic nature of the crime, Chief Inspector Clive Cokeland stated the crime was "certainly disturbing" but that there was "not yet enough evidence to point towards occult activity." He did acknowledge that marks were found on the child's body and that items found at the crime scene, among them a fragment of computer motherboard, would need to be investigated further. He would not give details regarding what other evidence was found at the scene, stating only that "a lot of people dump their garbage in Chipilly Woods, so it's hard to say what's evidence and what was just coincidentally found in the same location."
The coroner, who prepared Kirralee's body for identification, would not speak to the possible occult motivations of her killer. She said only that to her, "the marks are more consistent with an animal attack."
Residents with information regarding Kirralee Martin's disappearance and murder are asked to contact the Northbrook Police Department, or Crimestoppers.
I didn't think much of the article at the time. Just some anon on the Internet trying to get a rise out of me. I was, after all, pretty noticeably spooked - a prime candidate for trolling. I continued my quest for a positive ID on those glyphs, but my search was fruitless - at least on programming forums and boards. Even though I didn't really believe there was a connection, there was something about the Northbrook article that got me thinking. The article mentioned Satanism, and the occult. What if the glyphs weren't just meaningless jargon, but something more arcane? I started combing sites, databases, and forums on alternative spiritualities: witchcraft, Thelema, whatever I could find. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to post. I was desperate at this point. It had been three weeks since Sylvie disappeared. In an alcohol-fueled frenzy, I typed out (almost) the whole story.
A user by the name of PaganLite03 responded soon after: "They're a mix of things, OP. Some I don't recognize, but a couple sound real similar to the sigils in the Lesser Key of Solomon the King, an anonymous grimoire parts of which were translated by Aleister Crowley. Basically it's a demon-summing handbook. The symbols you describe might not be exactly the same but you should try comparing them to the demonic seals in the LKoStK. Don't know what they'd be doing in a computer game. Maybe it's someone's idea of a joke?"
I took a look at the link PaganLite03 gave me. S/he was right: some of the sigils in the Lesser Key looked eerily similar to the source code for Petz 3. As I struggled to make sense of this, I received another reply:
Posted by: GrimmerySchmimmery
OP, you're not safe. This might sound crazy but what you're describing is some really dangerous magic. I would get rid of that disc as soon as you can. A lot of these kinds of curses work by 'passing it on'. Don't just throw it out: make sure it goes to a, uh, 'good home.' This might sound sick but it's the only way you can ensure your safety. I know a lot of people probably think this post is misplaced creepypasta, but I've seen enough crazy shit in my time to believe you. Pass the game on, devise a ritual to protect yourself. If you do it right, you might even get your kid back.
My original post was deleted by a moderator soon after for the exact reason GrimmerySchmimmery eluded to. The mods gave me a talking to and said my account would be banned if I tried posting any more "scary stories" to their forum. "We're a serious discussion board for the practice of witchcraft," they told me. "If you want to post horror stories, you might want to try Reddit."
They didn't ban my account, though. Which is how I managed to reach out to Grimmery for more information. Which is how I ended up browsing Craigslist at work, looking for a dog kennel is reasonably good shape. Which is how I wound up hunched over my kitchen table, scrawling arcane symbols on loose planks of wood. Don't get me wrong, I felt like an idiot. As I put the finishing touch on the protective symbol GrimmerySchmimmery had given me, I took a moment to contemplate what Jess had said. Maybe she was right. Maybe I'd been driven mad with grief and was inventing fictional boogie men to fight, instead of just accepting that Sylvie was gone. I remember the last text she'd ever sent me: you can't bring her back, Emeric. In this, we are powerless.
The last thing GrimmerySchmimmery suggested, for my 'binding and protection spell,' made me very uncomfortable. "As sick as this sounds," they told me "whatever this thing is, it seems to deal in sacrifices. It might be what we call 'a blood spirit,' meaning it trades in...well. You get the picture. A lot of practitioners balk at this process, but animal sacrifice has a rich and storied history in many pagan traditions. And it works. Or, it can. I would strongly suggest you place something inside that dog house to trap the spirit. There are certain animals that work best: black cats, for example. Once you put the decomposing corpse inside the kennel, nail it shut. In theory, the spirit will appear inside the dog house to retrieve the sacrifice, and then find itself trapped by the seals you've nailed to the outside. I can't guarantee this will bring back your daughter, but it might. It's a start."
I'm not proud of what I did. It's about the worst thing I've ever done. On the way home from the pet shop, the animal wouldn't stop crying - like it knew. It was small. I thought that would be easier. But by the time I got it out to the kennel it was curled up in the crook of my arm, sleeping. I must have sat there in the front yard for an hour with this damned kitten asleep in my lap, tears running down my cheeks, wrestling with myself.
In the end, I returned it to the pet store. Went by the butchers and bought a quart of pig's blood and some freshly slaughtered chickens, unplucked. GrimmerySchmimmery hadn't specified that I had to kill the animal. Meat was meat was meat, right? I tossed the bodies in the dog house, splashed the inside with fresh blood, and nailed it shut.
I understand, now, that this is why the banishing didn't work.
Every noise I hear, my heart rate picks up. The sigils flutter as the air from the ceiling fan circulates. It's been 24 hours since Alice left, and I haven't heard from her: no phone calls, not a single text. Her laptop sits on the bedside table, black, closed, the tiniest scratches on the cover reflecting the light. I can't look at it for too long. My head starts to hurt. But I guess you're wondering why the hell we're in Cook County, and how we got here.
After I showed Alice the folder with my wife's research and email correspondences, she let me know there was something she had to tell me. She poured out her own 'internet detective' story; how she'd found some archived posts on a long-abandoned Petz forum from a user calling themselves "MyndEscape." She tried to pull up the forum, but for some reason we couldn't access it from my computer. We kept getting a weird error, pulling up a totally blank page. Alice mentioned that a couple of Redditors ('sleepies,' as she calls you) had suggested she try the waybackmachine to find more info, so we did a search of MyndEscape's username using that engine.
There weren't many results, but there were a few. A guestbook post and another forum post. Each time, the username was identical and the avatar was the same: a pixelated skull with glowing eyes. Definitely the same user. The guestbook post was unsettling. It had been made in the guestbook (a kind of old school Facebook wall for folks who ran their own websites, back in the good old Geocities, Angelfire, and Tripod days) of one of those Petz 'breeding' sites - the kind of place you can download hexed breeds and converse with other breeders. MyndEscape's post was brief:
Lol have u ever tried breeding .dog files with .baby files tho? U can totally do it if u override some basic settings. Theres a hack 4 it.
A subsequent poster accused him of being a pervert, and that was it.
The next post, however, was the most unnerving. It appeared on an occult forum called the Kindred Konnection, a mess of neon purple and black HTML and CSS, complete with rotating flaming pentagram. This post was dated much later - about 12 months after the original forum post Alice had found.
Posted by: MyndEscape
u guys r gonna think im crazy but something is really wrong + i need help. i dont know where else to go. please if u know anything message me. i did something bad. theres something coming for me + i dont know how to stop it. i keep seeing things in the corner of my eyes + in mirrors basically any time im at home. i cant sleep unless i take sleeping pills. im sleeping with a baseball bat by the bed and furniture pushed up against all the doors. she keeps coming back. i dont know how she gets in. i can feel her breath on my face when i sleep. i can hear her laughing. i can hear her right now at the bottom of the stairs. fuck i am so scared. i need a banishing spell or something idk what u call it but there has to be some way to get rid of this. please god if u kno anything send me a message. help me.
It was after reading that final message that I told Alice about the banishing spell. About the sigils on the dog house and what had been inside. We sat for a long time in silence, each of us going over the events of the past few months - hell, the past twenty years - in our heads, trying to make sense of it. It's like a puzzle: it felt like we had a good chunk of the pieces but it was a struggle to make them fit.
"What about that girl who gave you the disc?" Alice asked.
"Kara?" I raised my eyebrows. "What about her? She quit coming to work, and after a week or so of no-call, no-show, I fired her. She didn't respond to that email, either. It's like she just vanished."
Alice persisted, "But don't you think she might know something? About the game? I mean, where did she get it. Did she know what it was - what it was capable of?"
I frowned, "I guess..."
"We need to find her" Alice insisted. "And we need to talk to her. In person."
It's a good thing GameStop keeps records. Nerds run a tight ship, turns out. I still had a cell number and an address on file for Kara, though of course the number was no longer in service. I did manage to track down one of her old roommates, a strung-out, hipsterish girl living in a squat in the Bywater.
"What about her?" the girl was chainsmoking on her porch wearing cut-off shorts and a bikini top. A scabby pitbull circled her feet and flumped down onto the floor.
"Well, how do you know her?" Alice pressed. It was a Friday evening, hot as hell, and I could tell her temper was wearing thin. "Anything you can tell us, really. That'd be so helpful."
The girl shrugged. "Don't know her. Friend of a friend of a friend or whatever. My ex met her while he was hopping trains. She needed a place to stay, said she could pay cash up front for two months. Vanished pretty much right after those two months were up. All her stuff cleared out, no note, nothin'. But we weren't really friends so it's like, whatever" she took a drag of her cigarette. "Wasn't that sad she was gone. People come and go all the time, y'know?"
I could feel Alice bristling beside me. "Right," she said "but you have to have some idea where she went. Something she said, a friend or a relative she mentioned."
"My ex said something about her having family back in Illinois. Some jerks she was trying to distance herself from," she laughed, sharply "...aren't we all? But beyond that, I don't know. Bitch kinda smelled like wet dog all the time so like I said, wasn't a huge loss."
Heading back to the car, we got a call from the tech guy who'd been fixing Alice's computer.
"You need to come get your shit," he said, shortly. "Now."
Like many tech guys, Dave Stout worked out of the semi-detached garage of his parent's house. The house was older, 70s maybe, in a nondescript part of town that could have been anywhere in America. Alice didn't seem particularly excited to get her laptop back. If anything, she seemed anxious, obsessively checking her phone and tapping her nails against the center armrest. I understood, kind of. The laptop was Alice's dog house. She'd convinced herself that, if there was a way to get her cats back, it was through the game itself.
There was a doorbell installed by the rolling garage door, bearing a hand-drawn sign that stated STOUT TECH & COMPUTER REPAIR. We rang and waited. There was movement inside the garage. We could hear it through the metal door, the shuffling of feet, objects being moved about. But the door didn't open.
I was just about to suggest we ring again, or maybe knock, when we heard a door opening behind us. Dave Stout emerged from the front of the house, walking down the paved pathway to the garage with a set, firm expression. In one hand he held a plastic grocery bag, extended a far away from his body as possible. "Here," he thrust it at Alice, shoving it at her so hard that she scrambling to get a grip on it. "Now fuck off."
"Hey now, buddy," my negotiation tactics have never been gold standard, but I wasn't about to stand by and let some jerk swear at a lady. I held up my hands in a vague attempt to pacify him. "There's no need for that."
Alice peered into the plastic bag, head tilted. She did not seem phased by the cussing. "Is it fixed?" she asked.
Stout snorted. "It turns on, if that's what you mean. Now for real, get the hell away from me."
"What's your problem, man?" I frowned at Stout, pushing my glasses up my nose in a way that, I'm sure, made me look like every dorky sidekick from every John Hughes film. "Do we need to pay you or something? There's no reason to be so hostile."
Stout ignored me completely, instead turning his attention back to Alice. "I don't what the fuck kind of a hilarious joke you think you're playing, but if I hear from you again, I'm calling the cops. I made a copy of that snuff folder to show them, just in case. You are one twisted fucking sicko, you know that? And you can tell your friends to stop hanging round my house, too."
For the first time, Alice looked visibly rattled. "...what friends?" she asked.
"Whatever jerk you got skulking round in the bushes, shining lights through my windows" Stout seemed to be becoming more uncomfortable the longer he spoke. He rubbed the back of his neck, glancing nervously over his shoulder. "Scratching at my door old night, sitting outside my window counting. If this is how y'all get your kicks, I suggest you seek fucking professional help."
And then he was gone, leaving us standing in the driveway, Alice holding the grocery bag limply in one hand.
Kara's full name is Kara Elaine Nordman. She is 19 years old, born in Chicago, Illinois. Kara is around 5 foot 4, slim, with large green eyes and dark hair. She has gauged ears, a nose ring, and a tattoo of a barcode on her right wrist. When I last saw her, 24 hours ago, she was wearing acid wash skinny jeans and an AC/DC t-shirt.
I am telling you this in case anything happens.
At this point, I'm a damned pro at scouring the deep web for illicit information. A couple of quick searches was all it took to locate Kara (though she'd been just about invisible on regular, more legal search engines). Her last listed address was in Maywood, Illinois - a couple months after she left New Orleans.
It wasn't until we were halfway to Illinois that I made the connection. Alice was dozing beside me, her computer, still in its plastic bag, resting on her lap. It was getting dark, and we'd crossed over the Tennessee border into Missouri. I'd been turning the facts over in my head, every particle, every piece, trying to get them to make sense - to find the flaw in the code. Something was nagging at me, but I couldn't put me finger on it.
And then it hit me. The anonymous message from all those months ago. The poor-quality PDF from the Northbrook newspaper. Illinois. So many of these dead ends were leading right to the heart of Cook County. Northbrook...it was weird, but I could have sworn I'd heard the name before.
I pulled off into a gas station to fill up, scrolled through my phone as I waited in line. Northbrook. Why did the name sound so familiar. I scoured the Wikipedia article, hoping something would jog my memory. Northbrook is a village on Chicago's affluent North Shore, located at the northern edge of Cook County, Illinois, United States. Population, 33,170.. Nothing useful. Nothing that I could use.
I paid for my gas and headed back to the car. Alice's face was mushed up against the window, her nose bent at an odd angle. She did not look comfortable, but she was snoring soundly. Before I got back in the driver's seat, I tried one last thing: "Northbrook, Illinois" AND "software".
The Wikipedia article for Mindscape Software appeared immediately, glaring out at me from the glow of the cell phone screen: Mindscape began in 1983 as a software publisher in Northbrook, Illinois..
I drove through the night in silence, my mind racing, heart hammering faster every time we passed a heavily wooded area, every time the streelights blinked out and gave way to stretches of wide, empty road.
Maywood, Illinois is a bustling, if small, township located about 20 minutes from Chicago. It's got an old-timey feel: picturesque and quaint as you drive down the main drag, terraced red brick store fronts with brightly colored awnings. The further out you get, the grimier and more dismal it becomes. Buildings are flat and expressionless. Fast found joints abound.
Alice had been awake for the past few hours, chatting to me about anything and everything that didn't have to do with Petz. She seemed tired - I didn't blame her. Deep down, I think we both knew that whatever we found in Illinois, we weren't going to be able to unsee it. So we kept the conversation light, chatting about movies we'd seen or funny stories from our childhoods.
We checked our bags into the Motel 6. Alice took a shower while I scrounged us up some food, a couple of burgers and some lackluster milkshakes, and over lunch we discussed what to do next.
"We've just got to go for it," Alice said. "We have her address. I say we just turn up. Don't give her the chance to run."
"Why would she run...?" it was difficult for me to picture Kara as an evil, demon-summoning mastermind. The last time I'd had anything to do with her, she'd struggled to dust shelves and interact with customers.
Alice rolled her eyes. "She disappeared last time, Emeric - conveniently, right after giving you that game. I have a hard time believing that's just coincidence. Don't you?"
We found the address easily enough. A nondescript house in an okay area, with a dead fern in a ceramic pot on the dirty porch. "You're sure about this?" I asked Alice. I, for one, was not. It was fine for Alice, a complete stranger, to drive 13 hours cross-country to stalk a teenage girl. It was decidedly not okay for me, her ex-employer, to do the same.
In response, Alice exited the vehicle, and beckoned me to follow her. We mounted the stairs to the front door and, after sucking in a deep breath, Alice knocked.
We didn't have to wait long. There was a bark, a scampering of feet, and then the slow pad of footfalls. The door opened. Kara Nordman stood before us, wearing a loose fitting band tee and cut-off shorts. A large husky strained at the leash beside her, jumping and yipping excitably.
"Hey!" Alice said brightly, as if she were about to pitch Kara a set of rather nice steak knives. "Kara...?"
Kara was about to respond when she saw me hovering in the background. Rapidly, her face turned stony. "...what are you doing here?"
"It's a long story," I muttered, uncomfortably, as Alice launched into an babbling apology, somehow successfully avoiding the words Petz, demons, hag faced hound, and missing children. I kept my eyes on Kara, only half listening to Alice's spiel. She looked thinner than she had last time, dark circles under her eyes.
"...and anyway, we just wanted to ask you a couple questions about when you worked at Game Stop" Alice finished, almost out of breath from how fast she'd been talking. "Is that okay?"
Kara stared at us a long time. By her side, the dog whined. "...fine," she said, at length. "I gotta take Winchester for a walk, anyway. You wanna join?"
During our walk around suburban Maywood, Alice did a fine job of editorializing our story. She left out Sylvie, the kidnapping, and her missing cats. She left out the mess in her closet, the scratching, and the legend of the hag faced hound. In fact, the story she gave Kara was a pretty generic creepypasta: I'd had the game, I'd given it to her, and some spooky stuff had happened while she'd been playing it. She kept her tone light, almost joking. Was the disc haunted? Did it had a creepy history? Where had Kara gotten it?
Kara remained silent through this, speaking only occasionally to the dog. She seemed to be listening, but it was hard to tell. Her face betrayed nothing.
"...I don't understand why you care so much, I guess" she said, finally. "You drove halfway across the United States to find out where I got a shitty PC game? Shit, haven't you guys heard of email?"
"Well, that was the other thing..." Alice improvised, "because Emeric said you'd gone missing. Not turned up for work, and your old roommate didn't know where you were either. Your phone was dead. We thought something might have happened."
Kara snorted. "Something like what?"
For the first time, Alice's tone grew serious. "I don't know, Kara," she said. "But I think you do. I think you know what kind of game this is. I think you know what it can do."
We'd reached a small scrap of parkland, complete with broken swingset and a knot of scrubby, barren trees. Kara stopped, surveying the thicket of woodland. "...listen," she said, quietly. "I just want to put that stuff behind me. If you're smart, you'll do the same. Pass the disc on and get on with your life."
"But it's not that simple," it was the first time I'd spoken since we'd begun our walk. "Right, Kara? That's why you ran."
"For an intelligent guy, Emeric," she responded "...you're not that smart. I didn't run. I returned."
"What do you mean?"
Kara pinched the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes. "Listen, that game did some bad shit to my family. I didn't want it anywhere near me. Not in my house, not in my city, not in my state. So I threw a dart at a map, and tadaa".
"But where did you get it?" Alice pressed. "You're the first real person we can trace it back to. We want to find out where it came from. Who created it."
Kara laughed. "Ah, jeeze, you don't know who I am, do you?"
Alice and I looked at one another, confused.
A trill, melodic tone interrupted the quiet. Kara withdrew her cell phone from her pocket, frowned at it, and slipped it away again. "Listen," she told us. "I'll talk, but it can't be now. You can meet me tonight. Swap numbers, I'll text you the address."
"The address?" Alice repeated.
"Yeah," Kara finished punching her number into Alice's cell phone, gave a wry smile. "The place where it all began."
I should never have let her go alone. I didn't mean to, I swear it. I had every intention of accompanying her last night. But it didn't work out that way.
At around six thirty, just as the sun was setting, Alice received a text from Kara. Half sob story half paranoid rant, she begged Alice not to show the message to me. I just don't trust him," she said "there's more to this story than you understand, but there's a reason I gave Emeric Broussard that disc. You think I just jumped a train to Louisiana for kicks? But I can't talk about this via text and I won't talk about it in front of him. If you want to know what happened, you're going to have to meet me alone tonight.
While it's comforting that Alice showed me the message, it was clear immediately I'd read it that her mind was already made up.
"I just don't think we have a choice," she said. "Kara clearly knows something, and she won't talk to you. I'll take my phone and an extra charger. My knife, too. She's a 19 year old girl. I'm pretty sure I'll be fine."
And that was the last time I saw them. I drove to the parking lot of a White Castle burger joint where Kara stood, leaning against the neon sign, Winchester on his leash beside her. I moved to get out of the car, to walk over with her, but Alice put her hand out to stop me.
"I'm fine," she insisted. "I'll call you when we're done, okay?"
"For the record," I said, repeating the mantra I'd been uttering for the past two hours, "I really, really don't like this."
"I know," she gave me a half smile. "But we've come this far. If I'm not back in two days, send a search party?"
"Funny," I muttered, as she pushed open the car door and climbed out.
"Oh, and another thing--" Alice poked her head back into the car with a wry smile. "I'm gonna text you my Reddit username and password. Tell the sleepies what's up, okay? They might even have some leads for us. They're good like that."
"I don't think a bunch of Internet users on a creepy subreddit are going to be much help when you're tied up in some crazy girl's basement".
"Shut up," she swatted at me, rolling her eyes. "Oh, and don't read my private messages. Got it?"
The last I saw was Alice, walking confidently across the parking lot. She stopped under the sign and spoke with Kara for a few moments, their heads close together. And then the two of them turned, disappeared around the corner of the building and into the darkness.
I am not looking forward to nightfall. Already, I'm jumping every time I heard someone walk past the window of our motel room. I've debated, for the past few hours, whether or not to call the cops. I've texted her three times. No answer. When I call, it rings out. If I'm responsible for getting someone else hurt, I don't know what I'm going to do.
This is all my fault.
UPDATE Part 10
X find me
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Need help

Is there any difference between the lesser key of solomon book pdf version and the app version ?
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