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I'm a smart person.  I know my way around the internet.  I don't fall for scams and I know a virus when I see one.

But I wish I wasn't.

It all started two weeks ago.  I was talking with my friend, Josh, on Skype.  We lived on opposite sides of the country so this was really the only way we could talk.  He was my best friend, the person I talked to most often.  He was such a great guy, able to make you laugh, cry, and cheer in one sentence.  I felt so lucky to have him as a friend.  Anyway.  While I was talking to him during one of our late night talk sessions,  got a friend request on Steam.  It wasn't someone I knew in real life, but since I was a frequent trader in TF2 and DOTA2, I had gotten used to random friend requests.  I added the guy and asked him what was up.  He immediately sent me a link:

"hey my freind wants to buy ur items but he cant add you on steam so heres his porfile   steamcommrnity.com/id/trace"

I immediately knew something was up.  Not only was the message poorly worded, but he didn't even spell steamcommunity right.  I was pretty sure this was a steam scam, so I just unfriended the guy.  But then I got an idea.  A sinister idea.

I copied the message (fixing up the grammar errors) and sent it to a person I knew on Steam.  A person I hated.

His name was Ollie, but everyone knew him by his online alias, tech9.  He was a total prick--always thinking of himself so highly, always putting people down, always insulting everyone.  The only thing I had to thank him for was introducing me to Josh.  I messaged him the link and soon after he went offline--a probable sign the phishing scam had taken his account.  It felt good to finally take down such a jerk like him.  I talked to Josh for a while more and went offline.

The next morning I woke up and immediately opened Skype to talk with Josh some more.  Strangely, he was offline.  He was almost never offline.  I got kind of scared for a moment and ran to the phone.  I dialed his number and hoped he'd pick up.

No answer.

I rationalized that he was just gone.  People leave, right?

So I waited.

And waited.

For an entire week.  Nothing.  He never answered the phone, never went online on Skype, nothing.  I was really worried for him.  I knew he would have given me notice if he was leaving for something, like a vacation.  But there was no notice.  But it's not like I could have done anything rational.  We lived on complete opposite sides of the country.  I decided to just wait for him to show up.  Surely it wouldn't take too long...right?

Then, two weeks after the blackout, I got a call from his home number.  Elated, I answered the phone and heard the familiar voice of Josh's mother.

"Hello?  Chase?  Please tell me you're there!"

"Josh's mom?  Is that you?"

"Oh!  Thank god you answered, Chase!  Josh just ran away last night!"

"What...?  He ran away?  I haven't even heard from him in two weeks!  What the hell is going on?"

 *audible sigh*

"He's been so distraught.  A virus got into his computer and completely destroyed it!  All his files, his games, everything.  That was the only thing he ever did in his life.  He just sat up there in his chair all day, typing away.  It happened two weeks ago, and ever since then he's just been so...distant.  Even more than usual.  He just sat up there in his bed all the time, doing absolutely nothing.  He didn't even come down to eat! Then..then, last night, he just...he just vanished!  Out of thin air!"

"Calm down.  Did he leave a note behind, anything?  Any indication of where he'd gone?"

"No...nothing.  He just left."

"I...I don't know what to do.  I've already called the police, they're doing a search.  Do..do I just wait?"

"I guess.  I can't help but feel like this is somehow all my fault...I hope he turns up."

I hung up.

I knew this was my fault.  The phising scam, as I knew, was a fake steamcommunity site.  When you signed into the fake login page, it stole your Steam account and sent the same phishing link to all your friends.  It also spawned tons of other malware on your system, perhaps even enough to brick your entire computer.   I knew tech9 was friends with Josh, and he must have been unaware enough to click on the link.  I already lost my little brother, I wasn't about to lose my best friend as well.  I knew inside my mind it wasn't rational, but I had to do it.  I went upstairs and got some supplies together in preparation for what I had decided to do: drive from South Carolina to Oregon to find Josh.

I drove, and drove, and drove.  It took me almost two days of constant moving,  but I finally got to Heppner, Oregon, Josh's hometown.  I drove to Josh's house and prepared to knock on the door.  Josh's mother answered soon after. Her eyes were red--you could tell she was crying.

"Oh god.  What happened?"

"They called off the search!  They couldn't find him!"

I sat down with her on the couch.

"They just...they just stopped?  Did they find anything at all?"

"Nothing."

I was lost.  It was a complete dead end.  I had come all this way and had nothing to show for it.  I felt...cheated. Like I had used so much of my time, and effort, and will, to find Josh but couldn't yield a single clue as to his whereabouts.  

I went upstairs to his room.  His computer was still running.  His monitor, an old hulking monster of a CRT, was off, however.  I hoped I could at least fix his computer so his family could use it or something.  I turned on the CRT.

Open on the desktop was one notepad file.  The computer itself was frozen, no doubt because of the gauntlet of viruses and malware it had been exposed to.  

I couldn't believe what I was reading.

From what I could tell, this was a .txt file about Josh's disappearance, written by Josh himself.  He had laid out a complete plan of his disappearance.  At the bottom of the .txt, partially cut off by the screen, was some sort of place.  Enough of it was legible that I could tell the location was Teal's Lake. 

I wasn't ready to give up yet.  I had my lead.

I stormed down the stairs and ran to Josh's mother, crying on the couch.

"Where's Teal's Lake?"

"Why?"

"Because Josh is there.  Get in the car."

That was enough to get her off the couch.  We jumped into my car and drove towards Teal's Lake.

Well, we couldn't actually drive to the lake.  It was off-track, hidden deep in the woods.  We parked as close to the lake as we could and ventured into the deep vegetation.  

Shouting his name all the way, we eventually came to the heart of the forest--and Teal's Lake.

I saw him on the beach.  Alone, just as he always was.  But this time, not by choice.

I ran to him.  Embraced him.  

Yet he was limp.

"Josh?"

I looked into his eyes.  I knew he was still alive.

"Josh!  What did you do!?"

He didn't answer.  The only words he said were,

"You came?"

Then his eyes closed.  I noticed an empty bottle of prescription medication floating in the lake.

I turned to his mother slowly with Josh in my arms.

"He's gone."

She burst into tears.

We walked to the car, silent.  I left soon after.  Me and Josh's mom said no words to each other.

As I got in the car, I thought about what just happened.

I felt...horrible.  Like it was my fault.  Like...like I was a murderer.  I was crying all the way home.  Crying so hard in fact, I didn't even notice that I veered off the road into a ditch.

I awoke on a hospital bed several hours later.  The doctor leaned over my bed and told me I had crashed my car and broke my leg.  I was only conscious for a couple minutes before I slipped into the realm of sleep.

I awoke on a different bed several more hours later.  A bed in a car headed into a mental institution.  As I had later learned, they thought I had tried to commit suicide myself by crashing my car into the ditch. 

As I walked into the institution, I was utterly shocked.

To see someone I hadn't seen in almost four years.

My brother.

Author's NotesEdit

Woo pseudo-sequels.  To those who get the ending: Congrats!  To those who don't----Belief in Oneself

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