If you have ever visited porn sites, you know those "hot singles near your area" ads. You probably also know how fake they are - those women in the pictures are not actually near your area, they are just stock photos from foreign escort sites. You probably know all this well enough not to waste your time clicking those ads.
If you were, however, to click them, a chat window would open and you could choose which girl you want to chat with. At first, the chat is free, but soon it would require signing up. Then you would have to pay for every minute you spend chatting with the girl of your choice.
I know this, because I was one of these girls.
Six years ago, I was a student and always short of money. My friend Shannon told me that she had discovered a super easy way to make money. "It's not like you're whoring or anything. It's completely anonymous, they don't know who they're chatting with. Half of us are actually guys! You just have to pretend you're some Nikki or Samantha next door. It's kind of fun actually. And the company pays really good money, you can work from home and choose how many hours you work per week. All you have to do is dirty talk with some guys you're never going to meet in real life."
At first I wasn't that into the idea. It felt like cheating. But then I wondered if someone actually believed that "singles near their area" were real? Of course not. It was just a fantasy. It was like writing erotic fiction in real time. And getting paid for it. So I let Shannon sign me up.
The system was simple. The first chat, the free one, was a bot. After the user signed up and started to pay, he got to chat with real people (that was us). Our job was to try to keep them online as long as possible.
At first it was kind of fun. I got really creative while playing "Sally" (a shy college girl who was desperate for money), "Kaylee" (a nerdy girl with classes, super kinky and flexible) and "Rhonda" (A curvy black girl, compassionate and motherly).
It was hilarious and I soon stopped feeling any kind of shame from doing it. Clearly my customers were enjoying themselves, and since I remained anonymous to them, I had no risk of ruining my future career - I figured I would just leave this thing out of my future CV. The money was surprisingly good, as Shannon had told me, and since I got to choose my working hours, it felt like a perfect choice for someone like me, who also had to study a lot.
Of course there were downsides too. As you could imagine, some guys weren't actually vanilla. I was by no means virgin, but I got to explore some stuff that I hadn't even known existed. There were the overly violent ones, who wanted to really hurt their partner (or get hurt). Then there were those who wanted me to play a 13-year-old. And then there were guys that were into even sicker stuff.
I don't feel like repeating those things here, but I just want you to know that it wasn't always sunshine and rainbows. Some chats left me really uncomfortable and at times I didn't know whether I should just log out and ditch a paying customer, or keep going. But I kept telling myself that it was all just a kind of a game, a legal and harmless way for these guys to act on their fantasies. It was just talking, they weren't really hurting anyone. Usually I played along and the more I did it, the easier it became. To my own surprise I soon found myself chatting casually about playing with knives and kicking someone's balls.
After a year in the job it became really rare to be actually surprised. There were mostly three kinds of customers: the big majority that wanted "normal" dirty talk, the lonely ones that were more in need of a friend or a therapist (they usually just wanted to talk about ordinary stuff) and the super kinky ones. I soon learned to deal with all of them.
However, one time an actually strange guy logged in. He didn't seem to fit in any of the categories above. He didn't really want to talk about sex, but he didn't feel like one of the lonely guys either. It's really hard to describe him, so I'm trying to memorize some of out first chats here. He called himself "the Fisherman". He always wanted to talk to "Rhonda".
Me: Hi Honey. It's Rhonda here, how are you?
He: Talk to me.
Me: Okayy... what do you have in mind ;) ?
He: Just talk to me. I can't stand this fucking house. I can't stand these fucking voices. Just say anything.
Me: Well... what you're in the mood for? It's really hot in here ;) . Wanna know what I'm wearing?
He: No! No. Just... be there. Please.
Me: Okay, honey. What's wrong? Are you okay?
He: No, I'm not okay. It's these people. They are so loud! I can't take it.
Me: So... you have loud roommates?
He: Yes! I just want silence. I just want my fucking silence.
(At this point I was really confused, but kept going)
Me: Maybe you should talk to them, then? Tell them you need some privacy?
He: I can't get rid of them. There's always someone.
It went on like this. I pretty soon got the idea that he was probably not completely mentally healthy. The crazy people were pretty rare in the chat, but not completely nonexistent. I didn't feel qualified as a therapist, but I usually did my best to make them feel better.
The Fisherman kept coming back. I always knew him right away from the way he wrote. He was in the chat for hours (At that time I started to feel bad again, this person was clearly sick and was using all his money on a porn website), usually going on about wanting silence and loud people in his house. I started to think that there were no people in his house - it was probably all inside his head.
The Fisherman became so common customer that I hardly had time for anyone else. He always booked Rhonda for hours in a row. It also seemed that he never talked with other employees but me - even when they were playing Rhonda. He somehow recognized me and logged out immediately if someone else was there, saying "You're not Rhonda". Shannon started to joke that he was madly in love with me, but I saw nothing funny in the situation. My job was not fun anymore, I had become a personal therapist for someone. I tried to ask my boss if I could not play Rhonda anymore, but the Fisherman was bringing too much money in and my boss insisted I kept going.
So I did. And to my own horror, I realized I had started to develop some kind of feelings towards him. Not romantic feelings, nothing like that. But I found myself wondering how he was. I guess you can't spend hours and hours talking to someone without some kind of connection appearing. But at the same time, talking with him always left this uneasy feeling, and I was really happy that I was just "Rhonda" to him.
This is one of the last chats I had with him:
He: I don't know how to get rid of them. There's no way out. I just want them to go away.
Me: Listen, honey, I don't think these people you talk about... I don't think they're real.
He: They're not real?
Me: No, I think you have made them up. And if they're just in your head, then you can just stop thinking about them, and they disappear.
He: I can make them disappear?
Me: I think you can.
He: And that's what you want me to do, Rhonda? Make them disappear?
Me: If that's what makes you happy, honey.
He: You're right. I can get rid of them. I can make them disappear. I can do it. Thank you Rhonda. I love you, Rhonda.
Me: Love is a big word, honey.
He: I'm gonna make them disappear now.
He logged out. It was the shortest time he had ever spent talking to me. The discussion left me strangely worried. You know that feeling when you sense you have done something terrible, but can't really pinpoint what that is? I had exactly that feeling.
Later the same evening he logged in again. It was the last conversation I ever had with him. And also the last one I ever had there - I quit immediately after it.
He: Rhonda... what have I done? What have you done? Why did you told me to do it? Me: What? What are you talking about?
(I was so scared that I completely forget to play the role)
He: I killed them... like you said I should... and now they're dead.
Me: I don't understand.
He: They wouldn't stop talking. And then they wouldn't stop screaming. And I kept on until they stopped. And now there's silence... now there's finally silent.
Me: This is making me really uncomfortable. What have you done?
He: I killed them like you said I should. And now there's blood everywhere. I killed my wife and kids. Because you told me to. This is all your fault.
Me: Stop it.
He: This is all your fault. You did this. And you will pay. You will fucking pay, Rhonda! I will find you and I will make you pay for this.
Me: I'm going to go now.
He: Don't try to escape. This is your fault. You made me do this. This was your plan all along. You turned me on them. You did this. You did this. You. I will find you and make you pay.
I logged out. I called Shannon and my boss almost immediately and told them I'm quitting. I told them honestly what had happened and said that under no circumstances could they ever give my identity to anyone. I was really panicking and Shannon had to come to my place to make me calm down. She assured me that there was no way the Fisherman could ever know who I was. Even if he were some kind of a super hacker, my real name was nowhere on the site.
My boss also assured that the company was very strict about the anonymity of their employees. Every now and then chatters contacted them and wanted to know the real names of the people they had chatted with, but the company never gave them out. It was both for safety reasons and because they didn't want to break the illusion. My boss assured me I was perfectly safe and he was sorry that I quit. He asked if I could stay and not play Rhonda anymore, but I was done.
I couldn't stop thinking about the Fisherman and whether he had actually killed someone, or was the whole think just a sick joke? Maybe that kind of shit turned someone on? Shannon said this was probably the case. I followed the news, but there were no homicides that would have fitted. I considered going to the police, but then again, I knew absolutely nothing about this person. It suddenly occurred to me that he could be anywhere in the world. Maybe he wasn't even in the same country? He could be Chinese for all I knew.
One thing was sure after all: If the Fisherman had really killed someone, he had done it far enough to not make it to the news where I lived. I tried to Google if there had been "family murder" anywhere on that day, but I found nothing. Shannon kept on working on the site and I asked if the Fisherman had shown up, but he seemed to be gone. I was happy it was over and as time went by, I moved on.
I haven't really thought about the Fisherman for years. Until yesterday something happened that brought all this back to me.
After a long day at work I decided to go to see a movie, alone. I just wanted some time for myself, since I broke up with my boyfriend a couple of weeks ago and everything has been a bit of a mess since. I chose a movie that has been on for weeks so that the theater wouldn't be full. I got lucky - the theater was almost empty when I walked in. I chose the place I consider the best (last row, in the middle) and started taking off my jacket, when some guy walked to me.
"Is this place free?" He said. From his accent I could tell (but only barely) that he was foreign. It was so dark in the theater that I didn't properly see his face to confirm what his ethnicity or age were.
I nodded and he sat down. I was a little annoyed, the theater was almost empty and right now I really wanted to be alone. Why did he have to sit next to me? There was plenty of room. And then he talked again.
"You like horror movies?"
Since I really wasn't in the mood to make new friends (and I felt a bit like he was hitting on me), I politely explained that I wanted to be alone. He didn't answer, but he took a piece of paper from his pocket and wrote something on it (I assumed it was a phone number). He then put the paper in my pocket (a bit of an invasion of privacy, I thought) and just walked away. It was weird. He didn't just change the seat, but actually left. He didn't stay to see the movie.
I was a bit annoyed by this encounter, but soon forgot the whole thing as the movie started. It wasn't until I was at home that I remember the weird guy who had given me his phone number. I took the paper out of my pocket just to throw it away, but there was no phone number.
There was just this text:
"I found you, Rhonda. And I will find you again."