Have you ever heard of a children's book called "The Skunk"? You probably haven't because it was only on shelves for about a month, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I suppose I should start from the beginning. In 2005 a company by the name of "HR publishing" which specializes in children's books, released a book called "The Skunk". It was an innocent little book about woodland critters up to mischief, or at least it was supposed to be.
The book was pulled from shelves after about a month from being released due to low sales and complaints from parents.
According to the parent's reports, strange things happened to children after reading the book. Children were reported to feel dizzy and nauseous, as well as develop schizophrenia and even have seizures. Many parents claimed that their children went running toward them at night, claiming that they have seen "The Skunk" in their dreams. Some even frantically doused themselves in tomato juice.
The book was definitely odd. I mean, you could tell something was off about it just by looking at the front cover. At the top of the cover "The Skunk" was written in big black letters, and that's all the cover said. The author's name was nowhere to be seen. There was no copyright or anything on the book to reveal who wrote it.
Below the title was a picture of a skunk, and it was quite disturbing to look at. There was no blood or gore or anything like that, it was just unsettling to look at. The skunk seemed to stare directly at the reader, with big bulgy eyes that seemed to stare into your very soul. It had a creepy grin too. Children have claimed that the skunk's pupils follow the reader. In fact, when children were asked about their nightmares, they claimed that the first thing they saw was the skunk's eyes staring at them.
The story itself, well it isn't something you'd expect from a children's book.
It starts out with a rabbit, walking down a path. It looks up the hill and sees a skunk sitting at the top of the hill, sleeping inside a barrel. The rabbit then sees a fox sitting at the bottom of the hill. The rabbit thinks it would be funny if he pushed the skunk down the hill, and when the skunk gets to the bottom, he would think that the fox is responsible and spray him.
The rabbit sneaks up the hill and pushes the barrel that the skunk is inside. Note that at this point the skunk has a "cute" and "childlike" design.
The book describes in detail the crunching sound the barrel makes as it rolls down the hill, and the agonizing screams of pain the skunk makes as it is thrown around inside the barrel.
When the barrel hits the ground the fox comes over to see what happened. As he does the skunk pops up out of the barrel, looking directly at the fox, with large beady eyes with red pupils, looking extremely angry, as if it wants to kill the fox.
The skunk sprays the fox. The fox's eyes tear and the fox begins to scream in pain. The skunk doesn't feel the slightest bit of sympathy for the fox, in fact he continues to spray the fox, over and over. The fox pleads the skunk to stop, but the skunk continues to spray him, laughing, enjoying his pain. It then shows a picture of the fox, its eyes red and watering, its face purple. It looked as if it was about to die.
The skunk walks off laughing, while the fox walks away in shame, with his head and tail hanging low. He wasn't prancing off proudly as he usually does. The fox tried to wash himself off in the river, but nothing would get the skunk spray off of his once beautiful coat.
The fox was constantly humiliated. Being made fun of by his friends and rejected by his family. He lived in constant depression.
One day, the fox decided his life wasn't worth living anymore. He ran full speed into a brier patch, rolling around in the brier. The book describes in great detail the brier ripping into his flesh, squirting blood everywhere. Eventually one of the brier cuts his carotid artery. The fox bleeds out and dies.
Later the skunk finds out it was actually the rabbit who pushed him down the hill instead of the fox. So the skunk looks for the rabbit, so he can spray him to death. The rabbit finds out that the skunk is looking for him and hides inside a hole. The rabbit runs down inside the hole to find out that at the bottom of the hole is a hornet's nest. The rabbit screams in agony as hundreds of hornets relentlessly sting him at once. The skunk hears the screams outside the hole, and stands there, with a sadistic grin on his face, enjoying the rabbit's pain.
The story ends with a close up picture of the skunk staring directly at the reader with extremely realistic eyes. At the bottom of the page it says "you're next".
What made the book really unsettling is that all of the pictures that went along with the story were highly detailed and realistic. They seemed more like photographs than drawings.
One peculiar thing about the book however, is that the last few pages are nothing but incomprehensible gibberish. Just a few pages of random numbers and letters. Nobody has been able to figure out what it meant because nobody knows who wrote the book. There is no author's name anywhere in the book. People do have theories however.
One theory is that it was a college intern who was bored and wanted to play a joke
Another one is that it was an employee who was about to be fired, and decided to write a sadistic book out of spite.
As for HR publishing, the book didn't sell very well, for obvious reasons. Only about 200 were sold nationwide. Sales were so bad that HR publishing actually filed for bankruptcy and sold to Barnes and Noble. It is unknown what HR publishing did with the unsold copies. There are theories however. Some say they were shredded, burned, or destroyed in some way. Some say that they were mass buried somewhere "ET style". And some say that HR publishing keeps them locked in a warehouse somewhere.
Regardless the few books that remain are considered highly valuable among collectors. Some copies go on eBay for $500.
The book would have likely faded into obscurity if it wasn't for a tech savvy individual by the name of "Brad Eric" who came across a copy at an antique store one day. He found that the "gibberish" on the last few pages was actually a program in C++.
He took the book home and tried running the program on his computer. He typed the program in and hit "Run". A faint static sound began to grow in the background, it slowly got louder until it sounded like some kind of distorted song. Sounds of screaming and laughing also played at random intervals. It sounded a lot like the screaming and laughing described in the book. It was very high quality too. It almost sounded as if it was coming from holes in the wall instead of the computer. Not even Brad's Bose HD computer speakers could make sound that realistic. This lasted for about four minutes
The screen then cut to black and a picture of the skunk appeared on screen for about five seconds. The skunk has large, red, beady eyes staring directly at him. A large unsettling smile revealing all of his razor sharp teeth. Above him, in big red letters it said "smell something, Brad?". After that an error message came up saying
SKUNK.EXE HAS STOPPED WORKING, WINDOWS IS LOOKING FOR A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM
Brad found this disappointing, he was hoping that the program would help him find answers about the book, who wrote it and why? Instead, it just ended up being a cheap jump scare gag.
Over time however, Brad noticed some changes in his computer. There were some changes made to some files that he himself didn't make. The first thing that changed was his music files. He opened iTunes to find all of his songs replaced with skunk.mp3, as well as all other audio files in his hard drive. skunk.mp3 was exactly five minutes and four seconds long, It sort of sounds like a breeze through a forest.
Next, he noticed his picture files changed. The color schemes of the pictures changed to a gray-red hue. All of the people in the pictures were given the beady eyes of the skunk. Some pictures had poorly photo-shopped blood in them. It looked like it was done in MS paint.
After that, his word files were changed. Demonic and sadistic things were added in great detail. Stories of murder, suicide, and rape were fabricated out of nowhere.
Brad thought that this might be the work of a virus. He scanned his computer, it revealed that he had a Trojan. He opened his task manager and saw that skunk.exe was running. He tried to end the task, but when he clicked on "end task" it just created the famous windows error "ping". He then tried going into his system directory and deleting the program manually, and the same thing happened. He tried powering down his computer, but that didn't work either.
He tried unplugging his computer, and then plugging it back in. The computer did boot back up, but this time the desktop background had been replaced with a picture of the skunk, staring at brad with his big beady eyes, with the text "Smell something Brad?" written along the top.
All of the files in Brad's computer were corrupted by the skunk program, including his OS files, rendering the computer useless. Luckily his laptop he uses for work was still functioning. He decided to start a blog, talking about "the skunk" and his experiences with the program.
He shared the demonic nature of the book, as well as the effects of the program on his computer. The book was never officially copyrighted, so he posted full excerpts from the book, as well as uploading JPEG files from the various pictures in the book. He took note of periodic occurrences of fine print between lines saying stuff like "oblivion is happiness". He also uploaded the program, so that those who were brave enough could try running the program on their own. Many of the other people who ran the program on their computers reported similar phenomenons. Some even reported getting a unique virus that actually causes physical damage to your computer. It actually stops the cooling fan, literally melting your computer.
Word of this spread around various chat-rooms and discussion boards. People coined the term "skunk virus" to describe this phenomenon. Brad asked on his blog if anyone knew anything about the skunk virus, or had any information that could help him. Unfortunately Brad didn't get any response, at least until 2008 when Brad got a PM from a user by the name of "Danny1229". The user was from Serasoda FL, the same city in which HR publishing had operated from. This user claimed to have worked for HR publishing, and that he had information that Brad would find useful. The user gave Brad an address to meet him at. He said that he felt more comfortable discussing in person. The address was in Serasoda, and Brad lived in Orlando, so it wasn't too much of a distance for him.
The address brought Brad to a small duplex in a gated neighborhood. Brad walked up to the house and knocked on the door. A tall, thin man with curly red hair, mustache, and freckles opened the door. "Hello, I'm Brad. I got your PM, I'm here to talk about the skunk virus" said Brad.
"Oh yes, I've been expecting you. Please come in. Have a seat on the couch" said the man. "Thirsty? I made some tea." said the man.
"No thank you" said Brad. "So, I heard that you have worked for HR publishing, and that you know a bit about the skunk virus?" asked Brad.
"Yes. My name is Danny Brandon, and I did work for HR publishing. I did create the skunk virus and sort of inadvertently wrote the book" said the man as he walked back from the kitchen carrying the tea tray.
"It's a bit of a long story, do you have some time?" asked Danny as he threw two sugar cubes in a cup of tea and began to mix. Brad just drove from Orlando to Serasoda, so obviously he had some time.
"Of course, tell me everything" replied Brad.
Danny got up off the couch and walked toward the windows. He peeked out of them and closed the blinds. He then turned off the lights. It was as if he didn't want anybody to be watching in on him.
"The whole story begins in high school", said Danny. "I was diagnosed with Aspbergers syndrome and mild autism, which made me different from the other kids. Nobody wanted to hang out with me and I had no friends. My only friend was my grandma. My mom divorced my dad, and my dad worked for the military, so he was never home, which meant that my grandma had to take care of me."
"My Grandma was the nicest, sweetest lady ever. She would tell jokes, sing songs, play games, and watch movies with me. On the weekends she would take me to the mall and we would go out for pizza. She would also cook my favorite food, sausage gumbo. You wouldn't get better sausage gumbo from a restaurant in the French quarter."
"The best thing my grandma ever did for me however was on my 15th birthday, when she went down to the local pet store and got me my very own pet skunk. You see, here in Florida it is legal to specially breed skunks that can't spray to be sold as pets. I named him patches, because he had three white patches on his front left leg. Patches was hypoglycemic so we had to give him periodic insulin injections. He was different, like me. I now had two best friends; grandma and patches. The three of us used to sit on the couch, watching 'office space' while stuffing our faces with sausage gumbo. It was some of the best memories of my life."
"After I graduated from high school, my grandma gave me another gift; a shiny red stapler. To most, a stapler seems pretty mundane, but for me, it was a gift from the person I love most to celebrate one of my greatest achievements."
"In college, things started to seem bright. I was beginning to work around my disability. I became more social and made some friends. In my computer engineering class, I met two people who I became friends with; Logan and Ray. After class we would always play video games and eat pizza in the campus lounge."
"Shortly after I graduated with my associates in computer engineering, things began to go south again. Patches and my grandma both died. As sad as that was, I sort of had a more pressing problem to attend to. Since my caretaker just died I needed to get on my feet fast. The problem though was that me, Logan, and Ray, all have an associates in computer engineering. The IT sector in Serasoda was on the decline, as it was all moving toward Orlando, Miami, and Tallahassee. All of the local employers wanted at least a batchelors. HR publishing however, had a problem with their computer system that was so bad, they were willing to take whatever help they could get."
"The computer system at HR publishing was designed to round off the year in a date to the last two numbers, for example 89 instead of 1989. When the year 2000 hit, it messed up all of the printing machines. The machines were printing "copyright 1900" instead of "copyright 2000". Me, Logan, and Ray were hired to fix this error in the system."
"The manager there was named Rodbaugh. But we all called him "Rottenbaugh" because of how much of an asshole he was. He would scold employees at the top of his lungs all the time. He would constantly force us to rearrange furniture in the office building while he sat on his ass and drank coffee. He would always force us to come in on weekends and holidays, and he would call us on our days off expecting us to come in and help him with something, threatening to terminate if we declined. He even took the stapler my grandma gave me because he forgot his wife's birthday."
"However one day, he did something so backhanded that I had to draw the line. He decided that in order to gain tax cuts, that he would downsize the company. He randomly fired over 100 employees, including my friends Logan and Ray. I lost Grandma, Patches, the stapler I had to remember them by, and my only friends. I had nothing. I felt cold, and alone... life felt meaningless."
"I made the skunk virus, as sort of a way to get back at Rottenbaugh. I coded a program that could autonomously edit files to make them more sinister. For example it could turn a happy go lucky children's book into a horror novel. It would replace words with "kill" or "blood" and change the color schemes of pictures to a dark depressing color, things of that nature."
"I tested it by pulling up a an episode of Dora the explorer on my computer and then ran the skunk virus. Exactly two minutes and thirty seconds in Dora rips the backpack off and throws it on the ground, violently stomping on it while the backpack screams in agony and teeth and blood excrete from its mouth."
"It worked exactly as expected. I added a few final touches to the program, such as the ability to cover it's tracks so that nobody could track which computer it was uploaded from. I also gave it the ability to mess with the time stamps. It would display the time that the user began playing a file as the "last edited" time. I made sure this thing was completely untraceable."
"I uploaded the skunk virus onto the computer at HR publishing from a flash drive. I waited and sure enough it worked. The cute innocent book that the company planed on selling turned into a morbid mess. The book tanked, they printed 10,000 copies and only sold 200. They were totally screwed. Serves those bastards right."
But then, one week later I turned on the news and it said
"Today's top story, Serasoda office building burned down in a huge fire"
"This had to be a coincidence", I thought, "It wasn't my virus".
"Analysis of the ruins shows that the fire was due to a failure in the cooling system of the building's central computer"
"It is at that point that I had realized what happened. I lost control of it. The virus evolved, gained a mind of its own. Once gaining full control of the servers at HR publishing, it made its way onto the internet, attacking various servers among many different companies. TV networks reported mysterious "lost episodes" appearing on their servers, most notably "Squidward's suicide". In fact TruTV reported a serious and dark episode of World's Dumbest, a show that is known for being silly and light hearted, on their servers out of nowhere. I designed this virus to be low profile and untraceable, so these networks had no idea what was going on."
I was horrified at myself. I have brought pain and suffering onto innocent people. I have become one of the very people I hated in high school.
"I knew what I had to do, I designed a program to counteract it. After HR publishing became a subsidiary of Barnes and Noble, their servers also picked up the skunk virus. I went into the Barnes and Noble headquarters and uploaded my program onto their servers, and it worked, the skunk virus had stopped."
Danny then handed brad a flash drive. "Here" said Danny, "I call it the 'tomato juice program'. All you have to do is upload it onto the source computer, and the virus will be eradicated. But be careful, the virus has a mind of its own, it learns from its environment. It will try and stop you".
Brad thanked him and went out to his car and drove home. As he was driving, some odd things occurred. At every intersection Brad came to, the traffic lights turned red, and stayed red for long periods of time. At every railroad crossing, trains would move along at a snails pace keeping Brad waiting for up to an hour. Semi tractor trailers carrying things such as explosives and uranium constantly closed in on Brad on the highway. A trip that should have only been about an hour and a half, turned into six.
After the long and tiresome trip, Brad ran inside and walked over the his old computer. All he had to do was run the tomato juice program on his computer, and he would be rid of the skunk virus. After booting up the computer Brad checked his pockets for the flash drive, and realized that he had left it in the car. Just then Brad heard a loud "crash" outside. He ran out to his car and found that the back right window had been shattered. Brad walked over and looked inside. The flash drive with the tomato juice program on it was missing, and in it's place was a plush skunk, with big beady eyes, and a sinister smile. Attached to it was a note that read "Hey Brad, smell something?"
(The sequel to this is called Leif's log.)