When I was in high school, my friends and I had a peculiar pastime. Like any teenage delinquent, we liked to cause trouble. We weren’t vandals, we didn’t deal drugs, and we certainly didn’t bully kids in school. No, we liked to scare the living shit out of new parents by “hacking” their baby monitors. We were insufferable little punks who thought we were too good to get caught, and that our little acts of mischief would go unpunished. One night; however, I learned my lesson, and realized that I wasn’t quite as bulletproof as my tremendous adolescent ego made me out to be.
Dimitri, Kurt, and I went to the same school, shared many of the same classes, and hung out almost every evening after chow time. We watched prank shows, played video games, talked about who had the nicest rack in school. One evening, we were trading scary stories at the park. Kurt shared the classic story about the single mother who heard a haunting voice on her baby monitor. Like most horror stories, it sounded like total bullshit, but Dimitri told us it had happened to his mom once. On her own monitor, she’d heard a neighbour singing to her baby. Apparently, it was possible to accidentally tap into someone else’s frequency. In an instant, a lightbulb turned on in each of our heads. When you’re close enough to someone, you don’t need words to know what that person is thinking, and we could all tell we were thinking the exact same thing: we were going to buy a baby monitor and screw with people.
Pardon the pun, but hacking a baby monitor is child’s play. All you need to do is find a device on the same frequency as yours. Never one to do things half-assed, I purchased a high-end monitor with a frequency dial so we could prank as many targets as possible. The following night, we took to our bikes, roamed the neighbourhood, and found our first victim. We could see the nursery from the suburban home’s second floor window. Dimitri grabbed the baby monitor and began tuning it to different frequencies, until we heard breathing. I remember feeling excited as our plan finally came to fruition. Dimitri pressed the button, and began exhaling heavily into the receiver.
“…your…little girl…was…delicious…” he murmured, using a demonic voice.
The light in the master bedroom turned on almost immediately, and we heard a shrill scream. Laughing our asses off, we quickly rode off down the street so we wouldn’t get caught.
We repeated the prank several times over the course of the following weeks, each taking turns talking through the monitor. Not wanting anyone to get wise to our little game, we chose different houses every time. People’s reactions were priceless: some mothers would reply in a panic, others seemed to know it was a hoax and told us to shut up, and one poor woman even started sobbing uncontrollably, begging us not to hurt her baby. I feel bad about that last one now that I’m older, but it was hilarious to me back then. My friends and I mimicked her high-pitch bawling and desperate cries for mercy for weeks afterwards. Yeah, we were royal dicks.
Karma’s a bitch, and I got what was coming to me one night. Kurt and Dimitri were busy studying for their midterms, so I went out on my own. By then, we’d gotten pretty much everyone in the surrounding area, so I decided to venture off across town and into unfamiliar territory. Finding a target wasn’t difficult: you just had to look for cars with baby seats, houses with overly-colorful cartoon-themed curtains, or toys left in the yard. I came across a house that fit all three criteria, and parked my bike out of view. Playing with the tuner, I eventually found the right frequency. I could hear the sound of a baby snoring very lightly. A devious little smirk pushed its way onto my lips, and my heart began pounding with excitement. It was my time to shine.
“I…am…watching…” I whispered into the monitor, using the creepiest voice I could muster.
The house remained dark and lifeless. I figured the home owners hadn’t heard me.
“…I…stand…over your bed…watching…waiting…I will get you…” I said, louder this time.
Nothing. Just the sounds of crickets chirping, and the occasional dull roar of a car driving down the street. It was a little odd. Parents usually reacted much quicker than that. I began feeling a little nervous, and somewhat exposed. You know, like when you suddenly realize some creeper’s gawking at you? It was getting late, and I had a long bike ride home. Just as I was about to give up and leave, I heard a strange, moist gurgling sound coming from the monitor. The quiet, rhythmic snores ceased, and I assumed the baby had woken up and was about to start crying. Instead, a man spoke to me.
“You’re the one…being…watched now…Juan,” he said softly.
My stomach pirouetted at his words. How did he know my name?! I felt sick. Something was very wrong, and I could feel it in my bones. I glanced up at the nursery window, and saw a silhouette standing there watching me. Had he been there the whole time? The air was thick and difficult to inhale, though perhaps fear was making it hard to breathe. My body quivered uncontrollably, as a sense of dread poured into every inch of me. I climbed on my bike, pedalling desperately to get away. Part of me thought I was overreacting, but the overwhelming need to flee overpowered my rational mind.
“You…can’t run…I know…where you live, Juan…” continued the man, even as I turned the corner.
I flew down the street, not stopping until I reached a busy boulevard. Surrounded by cars and a few late night joggers, I felt safe.
“…Your hoodie will run red your blood, boy…” whispered the man, still talking through the baby monitor in my pocket.
A passerby gave me a nasty look as I yelped loudly in fear, practically ripping my hoodie in my frantic attempt at removing it. To the stranger, I must have looked like some snotty kid tripping balls or something. He didn’t know I was in genuine distress, so I don’t blame him for walking off with an insulted huff, though I wish he had offered to help me instead.
After stuffing the hoodie into my backpack, I noticed my name scrawled on the back. It was my fucking school jacket: no wonder that bastard knew my name. It then occurred to me that baby monitors were fairly short-ranged, so I was obviously being followed. I nervously glanced around to try and identify my stalker. Was it the empty-looking van down the street? That guy walking his dog? The car that had just driven by? Either way, the last thing I wanted was to hear that voice again, so I turned off the device, and started pedalling towards my home. Fear had heightened my senses, and I began notice every motion of the trees in the breeze, every crackle of twigs under my wheels, and every car that zipped past me. I flinched whenever anyone came near, paranoid that whoever had spoken to me through the baby monitor was going to catch up. Fortunately, I made it home without incident.
I parked the bike in my garage and crawled up the stairs to my bedroom. In one careless motion, I tossed my backpack and the baby monitor in the corner of my room, and dove under my sheets like an Olympic swimmer. It doesn’t matter how old you are: nothing feels safer than being under your blanket. I closed my eyes, hoping I’d be able to calm down enough to catch a few hours of rest before class, but then I heard static coming from the monitor across the room. The monitor that was supposed to be off.
“Sweet dreams, Juan,” said the voice that still haunts my nightmares.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I was too frightened to get out of bed until sunrise. When I got up, my first order of business was to remove the battery from the monitor and throw it in the trash. I didn’t want anything to do with it any more. I came up with an excuse to give my buddies so they wouldn’t think I was a huge pussy. With massive bags under my eyes, I got dressed, had breakfast, and went to school.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I saw the house on the news. In an interview, a police officer explained that the small family who had been living in the house had been found in their beds, necks slit open. I had been outside when it happened: the killer had heard me on the baby monitor and decided to fuck with me. It was definitely a wake-up call, and I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t gotten the shit murdered out of me. I was too busy feeling thankful that I survived to feel bad about the family that hadn’t. Empathy, like wisdom, comes with age.
Now that I’m an adult with a wife and daughter, I truly understand the consequences of my actions, and the severity of the situation I put myself in as a tremendously stupid teenage boy. That dreadful night, I thought I reached the epitome of fear, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. As a father, I now know that fear thrives and multiplies when there’s something more precious than your own life at stake. I can’t say for sure whether the killer found me again after all these years, or whether a new breed of idiots had the same idea as my friends and I, but I can tell you that I now understand what true terror is. Last night, I heard something on our baby monitor that sent chills into my very soul, shackling me with a paralyzing fear that I doubt will ever leave me: