Some articles may include Amazon affiliate links. All proceeds go to helping us pay for original stories and to support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.

Tik Tok Man

By Andy Rafferty

Gerry leaned back in his chair, stretching, rolling his head and shoulders. His neck cracked. He wiped sweat off his forehead with his t-shirt, reached over and clicked the desk fan to the highest setting. The black cat lazing on the book shelves gazed down at him with her habitual contempt.

He considered breaking for lunch – he was having pot noodle sandwiches and had been looking forward to them since about five minutes after he logged in to the works intranet. He’d been astonished how easily he’d dropped back into the habits of his student years, once the lockdown kicked in and the whole office started working from home.

*PING*

He tabbed out of the spreadsheet to Messenger. Notification. Alex.

>> This is so cool! Run it through yor headphones for best effect.

A TikTok video.

Gerry rolled his eyes, but he was very warm, and very bored, and very sick of spreadsheets. TikTok videos were one of the few things that made lockdown slightly more tolerable.

He clicked the link, and the video started playing. It began with an androgynous figure in a badly lit room.

YOU WILL ONLY HEAR THE WORD YOU ARE READING! The words were superimposed in the top half of the screen.

Gerry had seen a few of these already. He was a little disappointed, but these things were only ever a few seconds long and he had nothing better to do.

The figure raised its hands, pointing to the top of the screen. The header vanished. Two words appeared, floating above the figure’s fingers.

On the left, in a dark yellow bar: CLOUD WAVES. On the right, in a light orange bar: LAKE SHORE.

There was a burst of synthesized sound. Gerry heard CLOUD WAVES. The figure inclined its head as if it had performed an act of consummate magic and then the video started again.

YOU WILL ONLY HEAR THE WORD YOU ARE READING!

The same burst of sound.

LAKE SHORE.

The diversion was already wearing thin. Gerry typed a quick LOL into Messenger, and went to tab back to the spreadsheet. Another *PING* interrupted him.

Alex again.

>> Try it with yor eyes closed. It’s weird.

Gerry almost shut the messenger window down and got back to his spreadsheets, but on an impulse decided to give it a go. He expected he’d hear one or other of the words, but idly wondered if it might be something more interesting.

He clicked the video again.

YOU WILL ONLY HEAR THE WORD YOU ARE READING!

He shut his eyes.

The burst of sound –

– tore through his brain like a chainsaw, grinding and tearing, ripping into his awareness, sundering his sense of self. His jaw locked with a click, his head snapping back and to the side involuntarily, muscles cording his neck with unnatural force.

A palsy slammed through his body. His right hand, still gripping the mouse, jerked to one side, his left opening and closing convulsively.

The darkness behind his eyes was overwhelmed with clouds, and eyes, and crackling chiaroscuran dots, a fractal pattern exploding again and again. The five second burst of sound cycled over and over, breaking against his thoughts like waves against a levy, overwhelming him, washing him away.

He jerked again and was completely still, eyes closed. A droplet of blood oozed from his left nostril and hung there for a moment. With deliberate slowness, he reached up and wiped it away, smearing it on the back of his hand.

Then he opened his eyes, and looked at the screen. There had been nobody to see what happened to Gerry except the cat, and she was profoundly indifferent.

He clicked to copy the URL of the TikTok video, closed the messenger window, and began methodically going through his contacts list, his fingers a blur on the keyboard, copying the video and typing the same message over and over.

>> This is so cool! Run it through yor headphones for best effect.

Then he just sat there, motionless, sweat beading on his forehead, waiting for the replies.

Andy Rafferty lives in the north-west of England with his partner and cat. In his day job he works for Profound Decisions, a live-roleplaying company creating scenarios that give people opportunities to argue with each other. In his spare time he writes about things that scare him and panders to his cat. Support him on Patreon and you can also find him on Twitter at @wulfboyraff.