A.R. Braun

Dark Web

You’re not a badass if you’re not on the black market.

That’s what I used to believe. Now I know you’re a damned fool if you go anywhere near the dark web. It goes beyond unsafe. It’ll destroy you.

I’ve always considered myself a tough guy. Being named Ajax didn’t hurt. I played football in high school and college, have always been in to the hippest-but-kickass music—gangsta rap and R&B—and I make good money. I started my “Buyer Beware” paid blog with over a million subscribers, for I travel the world to patronize ‘em all. That’s my tattoo, instead of kill ‘em all. I always ride the roller coaster at the fair, have jumped out of an airplane, as well as dove off some of the highest cliffs above water in the world. I never turn down a fight—and I’ve gotten really fucked-up a couple of times; you can’t win them all unless you’re Steven Seagal—and I’ve never backed down from asking a woman out, especially if my buddies dared me to. That was before I got married. I like to joke that she’s a ball and chain, but I love her. She’s as crazy as me and does many of the bucket-list activities alongside yours truly. Speaking of said list, I’m halfway through it. I’m not the type to brag, it’s not my style, but I’ve engaged in porn on skates. Therefore, the dark web was just another hoop to jump through.

Or so I thought.

You Tube videos showed me the way. I purchased a VPN, inexpensive and well worth it, to hide my IP address and make it bounce from IP to IP. When it was static, it said I was in Turkey, but I resided in Chicago. I used DuckDuckGo—the search engine that doesn’t spy on you—and brought up the Tor browser (an acronym for “the onion router” due to the multiple layers of encryption applied on routing data), which led me to Hidden Wiki, with a list of sites on the dark web, and I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Everything there is dot onion, and the Bitcoin is used for currency, though it’s falling out of favor. Bitcoin is useful for anonymously buying drugs, any kind of illegal arms, and other unlawful goods, but I can now use other alt’ coins. You can also use PayPal and real money at this moment, but that leaves a paper trail.

And what was the worst that could happen? I’d stay away from kiddy-porn sites and serial-killer sites and shop for drugs and illegal arms. A half hour went buy, and I’d bought some pot and speed from Silk Road Anonymous Market 3.0, now running on new servers—the FBI had taken down Silk Road 2.0 in 2013—and purchased a fully-automatic Uzi and a semi-automatic handgun. In fact, I felt very confident.

Overconfident, as it seems.

My buddies were always pressuring me. Don’t be a Nancy boy: avoid getting a pumpkin, smash others’; Don’t let them put blueberries in your pancakes; don’t wear a jacket no matter how cold it is; never cry; you get the idea. Therefore, when a buddy of mine named Barrett—a muscled and mustachioed man with long black hair—dared me to go further than where he’d gotten stuck after seven black boxes, I had to add it to the bucket list. When I asked if he knew what I was getting myself in to, he slapped my back and said, “Good times, you’ve gotta trust me, bro.” He double-dog-dared me to try, and I answered with a question, “Wanna make this interesting?” Barrett and I being the nouveau rich, I offered up a $100,000 bet. He bit, buying the bridge. I had the confidence to go further than him but didn’t know if I could. Yet he hadn’t chickened out. Therefore, I trusted him.

Big mistake. My friends, like I used to be—but not on such a large scale—are pseudo intellectuals. For we’re hackers, or at least I used to be. I was a cyber soldier when I was in the military. I saw myself as a pioneer, wanting to discover things about the web previously uncharted. I’d gotten pretty good at utilizing software, also. At twenty-five, I was one of the best of the best. I knew what processes to murder to improve Internet speed. After buying more RAM and a new computer, I was ready to jump off the precipice.

I got a case of the nerves, not paying attention to the precognitive warning.

Not one to cower with liquid courage, I decided I’d go into the bathroom and look myself in the eye, even egg myself on, if that’s what it took. My shaven head caught the lights and reflected them greasily. I wasn’t bald, I just wanted the badassest haircut around. My muscles threatened to rip out of my tattoo shirt, and my cleft jaw and dimpled chin helped me scowl menacingly. Yet I just looked like some dumb ape. Hearing thunder and lightning and needing company, I let Killer, my black lab, through the backdoor and into the house, the scents of wet fur and ozone dueling banjos. Killer barked and demanded rough play craven souls didn’t have the balls to engage in. That dog wanted to wrestle harder than ever, and a couple of times, I wondered if I’d get bitten. I told myself if I didn’t have the guts to go on the black market and do some hacking—anonymous online—I’d better go back to thumbwrestling.

I stormed back into my study.

I took it as a challenge from Barrett to get to seven black boxes before getting stuck before he triple-dog dared me. From parent directory to parent directory I went. Most were basic encryption, and the ones that weren’t were dead-ends, so I used new encryption and covered my ass, latching on to an existing IP address for thirty seconds before bouncing to another one, making it seem like I’d vanished. Like Barrett, I got stuck on the seventh black box. I backtracked from the dead-end and made my way to the main directory, following Barrett’s path. The seventh box’s encryption was strange. It took some time, but I made it. Many obsequious things to bust through, but I was taking some time off work. I couldn’t hover, for the encryption would kick me out of the box, making me reset. In another directory, the only one online, I finally broke through. My ghost kept me anonymous, or at least I thought it did. I’d entered a taboo backdoor.

It loaded, and slowly. The dark web ran like dial-up. Then a chat window appeared in the bottom right of my screen, saying, “Welcome to Club Ape, your haven that goes beyond anything you can imagine,” along with what sounded like a children’s nursery rhyme played at wrong speeds—slow, then too fast, then slower, then way quick—eerie as hell. “I’m Archer, your host for tonight. And although that’s not my real name, feel free to use it.” He asked if I knew my way around, and I straight-up fibbed, claiming I’d been invited by a friend.

I was in the dark web’s version of the Further.

“We’ve given guest vouchers for tonight’s event,” he added.

Event? What in the shit?

I typed, “I don’t know how to maneuver, and I don’t see any guide links.”

“You wouldn’t see that through a voucher. You need to be an official member. I don’t recognize your IP.”

He can see my IP? Oh, I am so fucked.

“You’re probably wondering how I can see your IP,” he mind-read. “You’re not running Tails OS.”

Damn! How can a hacker miss something like that? I suck!

Then I did what I could. I made my IP static, saying I’m from Turkey. I got an SD invitation from Archer, for HD was only for members. He logged my IP—which he must’ve written down before I hid it properly—and told me he’s not responsible for any trauma tonight’s event may cause. “Follow this link when you’re ready,” he added. “The event starts in a few minutes. One warning, then a ban, if you don’t chill. I don’t have to tell you this, right? There’re no judgements on the dark web.”

I told him I understood.

“Thanks for coming and I hope you get off.” The chat window disappeared.

Black curtains, the sound of the hushed chatter of a crowd, and sickening laughter, came through loud-and-clear. I could imagine the rictus grins.

I realized I needed to text my wife again, for she hadn’t checked in with me in a couple of hours as she promised she’d do. She was out of town at a seminar about her “work.” I’d tried to tell her she had the worst gig in the world as a writer, for she’d been at it for ten years and had only earned slim pickins. I hoped that seminar opened her eyes to how there are only twelve authors that can sell 100,000 copies of every print book. And eBook sales only spike if you’re already famous, one to bribe potential fans, or very lucky. Yes, I’ve researched it. But you know writers, they don’t know when to bow out. I texted her and got no response, so I texted her again, yelling with capital letters. Still nothing.

What the fuck?

My wife, Stacy—a blond, stacked babe with a raucous personality—was also a caring person and wouldn’t blow me off like that.

Time to worry.

The curtain parted. Tied to a gurney was a sexy babe wearing a white, feckless mask and nothing else. But I could see strands of hair sticking out, and I recognized the curly locks, as well as the mole below her right breast, the one she had waxed so it wouldn’t grow hairs.

It was Stacy.

The severity of the situation crashed down on me like lightning. My mind lurched; my heart climbed into my throat. Wasps buzzed in my stomach. My bladder clenched. I stared at the screen like a zombie.

And coming toward her was someone very tall—obviously male, like an NBA star— wearing a gorilla suit. And holding a . . . oh, no way. . . drill.

Since when did gorillas use drills? I insanely thought.

The chat window popped up again. “Enjoying the show?” the fiend asked.

I came to myself.

Do something!

“That’s my wife on that table,” I typed with shaking hands. “I can tell by the mole under her right breast and her hair.””

“Your wife?”he responded. “She’s the only woman in the world who has a mole in that spot?”

The driller killer stood, rubbing my wife’s legs as she keened, then revving up the tool. And the audience laughed.

I steeled myself. “Listen, I don’t know what kind of freakshow you’re running here, but you get her off that table and let her go or I’ll call the FBI.”

The window was stagnant for about a minute. Then: “That’s it. This is your warning. You’re breaking protocol.”

“Fuck your protocol, Archer, or whatever your name is!” I typed. “Let her go right now or I’m calling the feds!”

Again, the chat window was inert for a minute. Then: “All right, you’re banned. And let me tell you something, you nark bitch—this ain’t the regular Internet with troll cowards. You go to the law, and we’ll track you down. Maybe you’ll be star of our next show, heh.”

I gasped, then cried out when the murderer stuck the drill into my wife’s vagina . . . and made pulp out of it as she screamed, the guy in the ape suit stained with dark-red blood. It was that swinging dick’s world, and we were all just living in it. The crowd evilly applauded and whooped, the bastards and bitches. Then the site went away. Trembling so badly I thought I’d have a seizure, I stood and paced for a spell, then rushed to the phone and called the police. I got back on the computer, getting out of the dark web I’d never go on again, and reported the murder to the FBI’s website on the regular web.

#

Barrett called a few days later, asking if I was all right. My world had been shattered, and I passed the time at home either crying or being filled with rage. Fuck the macho rules; she was my soulmate! I had a pistol with me all the time. And I smoked like a crematorium and drank like a hobo.

“Bro, I’m coming over,” Barrett said. “You can’t be alone right now.”

“Whatever. Nothing will help. My life is over.” I’d drunk twenty-one margaritas last night, and tonight it was moonshine, 150 proof. Tomorrow—if I lived that long—it would be absinthe again, 138 proof. The small bottle I’d drunk last time had sent me to the moon. Don’t think wan absinthe bottles won’t get you. For shits and giggles, I found out the Green Fairy’s a myth, but that, like everything else, meant nothing. I was drinking myself to death.

When he knocked, I looked through the peephole, then opened the door. He threw his black hair out of his eyes, then touched my arm. “You all right, ‘Jax?”

I shrugged him off and walked into the living room, where fast-food wrappers and empty pizza boxes competed for space with an overloaded ashtray and liquor bottles.

Barrett sat down beside me. “I finally broke through to the seventh level and found Club Ape.”

We’d already discussed this over the phone a couple of days ago. I’d told him he could keep his hundred-thou. It wouldn’t do me any good now.

“There’s a message saying the FBI has seized the site,” Barrett added.

I lit two cigarettes and smoked them both. “They’ll be here to kill me pretty soon then, which’ll be a relief. I wanna be with my wife.” I turned my head his way. “You’d better make yourself scarce before they murder you, too.” I broke down, weeping.

He rubbed my back. “I’m so sorry, bro. But I’m not leaving you.”

Then why had he blanched with wide eyes?

#

Barrett’s paranoia—or was that good thinking—got the best of him, and he left a day later. It wasn’t long before I found Killer dead in the backyard. His throat had been slit. Fat load of good police protection was doing. Sitting outside in their cruiser eating donuts and drinking coffee and falling asleep, that’s what caffeine’s worth. I refused to be spirited away by a U. S. Marshall in the Witness Protection Program. I clung to the chance that maybe my wife survived the attack and would be coming home. I do that, lying to myself. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me from putting the pistol in my mouth. Because the po-po was outside, I couldn’t do any of the drugs I’d bought from Silk Road. Therefore, I’d make up for it by drinking a fifth of whiskey a day, like Lemme Kilmister, may he rest in peace, after I finished the absinthe.

After a week of abject horror, a black shape rose up from the corner of the dark living room where I smoked Black Death cigarettes. With shaky hands, I held the pistol on whomever that was. Yet he fired, his gun equipped with a silencer, knocking my gun from my hand. Soon, I was cuffed with zip ties, my wrists chafing. Whoever this guy was—and I could tell he was male from his frame, though he was covered in black clothes from head-to-toe—he was strong as Samson, his scowl a missing link’s, his eyes black and abysmal. Then I was stuffed into the trunk of a black Chevy and driven away from my house. On the way out to his vehicle, I’d seen the cops sitting bloody-necked in the squad car.

My survival instinct kicking in, I reached into my shoe and pulled out my ceramic razorblade and freed my wrists. Then I reached up to that glowing latch and opened the trunk gingerly, then waited for the car to stop so I could creep out, barely making a sound. Being in one of their sick, insidious shows, that wasn’t happening. I wasn’t going out like that.

They got me again a few days later when I was drunk on Everclear and Jack. This time, they used handcuffs, giving me a chance to use my handcuff key I kept in my shoe with the razorblade. And no glowing latch this time—this was an older model, before 2008—so I had to stick my hand inside the space and dig to find the latch. I clicked it and crept out, yet they had a car trailing us, and beefy guys rushed over to me with pistols and threw me back into the trunk. Determined to be the ace survivalist, I—somehow quietly—dug through the flimsy barrier between the backseat and the trunk and sneaked up and cut the driver’s throat with the razorblade when he stopped for a light. It helped that he had the radio on. The men behind us were there in seconds, however. I tried the pistol disarming techniques I’d learned from survivalist Websites but got shot in the knee for my trouble. You can’t take a gun from someone; it’s a myth, too risky. And, oh, did that hurt like shit. It brought tears to my eyes.

Again, I longed to die.

#

Maybe what I’ve told you has inspired you to get on the dark web. You may be one of those people that argues that if you stay away from kiddy-porn and bind-torture-kill sites, you’ll be fine. But if you come across what’s now called Gorilla Group, getting through seven black boxes like Satan snatching hell’s seven keys, and you see me tied to a gurney with that stupid, white mask on, hopefully you’ll do the right thing and not be a coward. I hope you contact the FBI and the cops and have their site taken down. You need to strike them a blow where it hurts, no matter how small the victory, for they’ll be back.

Thing is, the person in the gorilla suit this time, as I lay masked and strapped to the gurney, sounds just like my wife.

And, unsexily, she’s cackling.

They’d broken her, after they’d obviously cauterized the wound.

The only thing worse than death: becoming deformed and morphing in to the monster.

I wonder whose vagina I’ll drill after I’ve become a eunuch, having gone insane from the pain.

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