One of the reasons I look forward to the holiday season is because my best friend Greg always leaves his grown-up life in Los Angeles and comes back to town to spend Christmas and New Year’s with his family and friends who still live in Arizona. We’ve spent every New Year’s Eve together for the last ten years. So last year, when he said he couldn’t get enough time off work to come to town, I was lost. I had a great time with my family on Christmas, but thinking about missing our yearly video game and pizza tradition was really getting me down. I had just made the drive from my parents’ house in Ahwatukee to my apartment in Mesa. I was beat. I had been up at 6 and then filled the day with gift opening, mountain biking, disc golf, and board games. I could barely keep my eyes open on the way home. Finding a small, Christmas-themed envelope propped up on my front mat, however, had all the effect of three cups of strong coffee. I grabbed the present, rushed inside, and tore open the envelope, letting a stubby flash drive slide out into my hand.
I turned on my computer and plugged in the small drive, finding only two files; a text file named To_Sid, and a video named YayChristmas. I opened the text file, expecting a medium-length Christmas letter from the sender. Instead, the text file read:
No explanation, no greeting, but I didn’t really give a shit. Greg was here! I was overjoyed at the prospect of drunkenly meandering around the huge maps of Halo 4 and being of absolutely no use to our team, of eating take and bake pizza until we couldn’t stand up and watching horror movies until 5 AM, of feeling like a kid again and leaving my bullshit adult life behind for a few days. I decided I would watch the video first and then contact Greg so we could meet for a pizza brunch.
YayChristmas started out sort of weird; it was a cell phone video of me at my work Christmas party from the year before. I was acting out skiing for a game of charades and spilling my beer all over my sweater. I couldn’t remember if Greg had been at that party. Something made me feel like it happened before he was able to take off work, but I wasn’t sure. And he could have easily got the video from someone else. The film continued on, always showing clips of me doing silly things, a majority of the videos from events that Greg hadn’t attended. From there, it got even more strange; footage of me checking my mail at the apartment box, unlocking my apartment door, and picking up coffee before work. Mundane things. It was actually kind of funny to watch the most boring parts of my life in jump cuts. I wondered why he didn’t overlay Eye of the Tiger to make it even more absurd. The clips changed again, and actually started to seem ominous. Where the earlier clips had been taken from a good distance, the later clips were within six feet. Where the earlier clips had been taken from the open, the later clips were clearly taken from concealed positions. In one, the camera followed me around a Kohl’s while I was shopping for work shirts, then into the fitting room area, and finally stopped outside my fitting room and loitered for a good five minutes. In another, the video began inside my car, my tell-tale hula dancer visible in the bottom left of the frame. The video showed shoppers entering and exiting a Fry’s grocery store, then tracked me as I exited and threaded my way through the rows of vehicles to my car. When I began to get close, the person in control of the camera opened the passenger door quietly and snuck out, pressing on the door until it latched rather than shutting it properly. The camera moved behind an SUV and filmed me getting into my car and driving away.
The final video was the most disturbing. It began with me leaving my house, sipping coffee from my travel mug and fumbling inside my computer bag. As soon as I was out of sight, the cameraman approached my door, unlocked it, and went inside. The cameraman moved through my apartment, rearranged my couch pillows and DVDs and turned off a light I had left on before pulling open the curtains on my glass patio door. The film ended with the cameraman watching me, from my own living room, get into my car and drive away. I was understandably not amused. Greg and I both have a weird sense of humor, but this had crossed far beyond the line of funny into creepy. I sent Greg a text, something along the lines of, “You really got me, man. That was creepy.” I added a smiley to the end of the text to try to make it seem lighthearted, but I wasn’t in a good mood. Greg was welcome in my house, but sneaking in without telling me was different; especially if he had paid someone else to do it for him. I couldn’t see him making a 400 mile trip just to fuck with me. He had probably enlisted one of our friends to make these videos for him.
It didn’t take long to get a response: “That was twisted as hell, dude. Not at all funny.”
I thought his reply was phrased a bit weird, but told him he took the words right out of my mouth. His next text came in seconds: “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
At this point, I was tired of Greg’s shit. I decided to call him so he would get the picture that it was time to end the act. When I called him, I thought he was still trying to play along with his practical joke and laying on his own feigned discomfort a bit thick. I asked him to add the video he got to a Dropbox folder we shared so I could make sure he wasn’t full of shit. I did the same for him. His video wasn’t significantly different from mine. It was named YayChristmas. It built from mildly odd to downright scary. It was filmed almost exclusively on cell phones. The cameraman ended the video by watching him from his own house. Greg had also found a text file on the drive that said the gift was from me. Needless to say, we freaked out about it for a good long time. Greg suggested we take the video to the police and get their opinion on the next course of action, which was wholly useless. Unless we had an idea of the sender’s identity, we couldn’t press charges or get a restraining order. Neither of us felt comfortable in our homes alone. I ended up living in a motel until I could get out of my lease and move into a new place. Greg asked one of his work friends to live with him.
Nothing seemed to come of the videos and, eventually, we sort of forgot about them. This year, Greg was able to take almost a full month off work and has been staying at my apartment. We didn’t talk about it, but I could tell we were both wary of packages on the front mat; however, Christmas came and went and neither of us received any mystery gifts. It felt like a very tight corset had been cut from my torso, I could finally breathe and enjoy the holidays. Appreciate the gifts from my family. Act like a kid with Greg and have a Nerf gun fight in a park.
And then we spotted something near my door as we came back from playing darts on the night of the 28th. A small Christmas-themed envelope and, inside, a flash drive.
We went inside, sat in my living room, and put the drive into my laptop. Again, we found a video file and a text file. The text file followed pretty much the same format as the one from a year ago:
To: My Friends
The video also followed the same format. It began with videos of me and Greg at parties and happy hours throughout the year, but became gradually more menacing. At the end, the video showed the cameraman drinking from containers in Greg’s fridge and eating some of his leftovers directly from the storage container. The person with the camera took great care to not show their hands or face on the video, using forks to eat with and drinking off camera but exaggerating the sound of their swallowing. The video then cut to my new apartment, the cameraman investigating every cabinet and closet before moving into my bedroom. Once there, he pulled back my covers and laid down in my bed. The video jumped, the timestamp showing that five hours had elapsed, but the frame was the same; the person taking the video was still in my bed. Then they got up, replaced the bed covers, and walked out of my apartment to the complex laundry room. From there, they filmed me getting home from work. The video ended.
Greg and I sat silently for a few minutes, staring at the floor. I was pondering new places to live when Greg suggested that we go to the police with the new video. He thought they might see that the person tormenting us was disturbed and put a little more effort into catching them. We decided to go the next morning and, in the meantime, go to my parents’ house to sleep. At the exact moment we were walking out the door, we both got a text. A picture message. It showed me and Greg sitting in my living room watching the video we had just received. From the angle of the camera, I could tell it was taken from my bedroom.