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Like many people in my generation, I was practically raised online. When you’re given unrestricted access to the Internet at age eight, that’s bound to happen. There were plenty of websites I liked to browse for hours on end, but there was one website that I, along with many other netizens my age, could often be found on. I wouldn’t like to tarnish the website’s name, so for the purpose of this story, I’ll just call it Pet Shop. Pet Shop was an MMO where you could choose different types of pets to play as, customize your avatar, collect unique items, and add users as buddies. Though wildly popular in the mid to late 2010s, Pet Shop has mostly faded into insignificance in recent times, largely because its userbase has grown out of it. Nowadays, it’s regarded as one of those childhood nostalgia websites that makes you go “Hey! I remember this!” Like all popular MMOs at the time, Pet Shop had a userbase that was rampant with drama, gossip, and other things you’d expect from a site that was mostly inhabited by perpetually online children.

There was a fairly widespread rumor going around the site’s userbase about a mysterious player by the name of “Tagger”, who would randomly pop up in people’s dens. There were conflicting statements on what Tagger would do to you if you were unlucky enough to encounter him. Some said that he would delete all of your items in an instant, others said that he would crash your computer and cause your account to be banned from Pet Shop forever. Either way, I had no reason to buy into this rumor. There was no photo or video evidence of this supposedly sinister “Tagger” guy appearing in people’s dens. It was practically the online equivalent of some kiddie campfire story.

Years ago, when I was redecorating my den, a user by the name of Tagger appeared. The user had a black parrot with no eyes as an avatar. “Tag! You’re it!” said Tagger. Thinking that this was just a prank, I replied bluntly. “Yeah I’m not stupid weirdo. Go scare someone else” I typed in response. Almost immediately after my message had been processed, Tagger answered me back. “Your task is to tag one person. The time limit is five minutes.”

I rolled my eyes at such a lame attempt at being scary. Not wanting to deal with this weirdo anymore, I exited my den. I noticed that one of my best buddies, RainbowCloud444, was online, so I decided to pay her a visit. RainbowCloud444 was one of the first friends I had ever made on Pet Shop. We loved trading items and chatting with each other for hours on end, and she was pretty much my go-to buddy whenever I got bored. As soon as I entered her den, my screen froze. I freaked out and started to mash as many buttons as possible, but to no avail. My screen then began to glitch out before abruptly turning to black. I continued to smash my hands against the keyboard and quietly swear under my breath, hoping that my parents wouldn’t hear my potty mouth from upstairs.

My computer then unexpectedly started up again, but instead of being taken back to the Pet Shop login page, a grainy webcam appeared on my screen. The webcam depicted a young girl, likely around my age; it looked like she was playing something on her computer. I was extremely confused, and there wasn’t any way to exit out of the screen either. I tried talking to the girl, but it seemed like she couldn’t hear me. The lights in the girl’s room then abruptly went out. I squinted my eyes to try and make out any silhouettes from the darkness, when all of a sudden, a face of what I can best describe as a pale, creepy-looking man flashed onto my screen.

I gasped and jerked backward from the shock of what I had just witnessed, nearly causing myself to fall off of the stool. Before I could reposition myself, the screen cut to black yet again. I was about to lose it and punch my computer, but just like that, it started back up and I was brought to the homepage. A popup appeared on the screen, with the words: “You have completed your task. Thank you for your participation.”

Eleven-year-old me tried my best to rationalize the situation. Maybe that was all the elaborate work of some hacker who just likes to mess with people for a laugh? Or maybe the computer had been infected with a brief virus? I checked every file, every program, every corner of the settings application to make sure that there was nothing out of the ordinary - thankfully for me, everything seemed to be working fine. I breathed a sigh of relief and logged out of my laptop, not bothering to tell my parents about anything that had happened; I can only imagine how mad they would’ve gotten at me.

It’s been five years since that strange occurrence, and I’ve written it off as some sick joke orchestrated by an Internet creep. I’ve gradually forgotten about Pet Shop, too; I couldn’t bring myself to log back into it after that scarring incident.

Recently, when I was surfing through the latest news headlines, I noticed one article that made me stop scrolling. The article was titled “Grisly remains of missing eleven-year-old found in depths of cave.” The article detailed the disappearance of a young girl named Stephanie, who mysteriously vanished from her home in Missouri five years ago. Her body, or rather, what was left of it, had been discovered by a group of spelunkers a week ago. The condition of her remains were said to be too disturbing to recount, though the term "mutilated beyond recognition" was used in the report.

The article wouldn’t have caught my attention, had it not been for a photo of the missing girl that was plastered next to the headline. Something about the girl’s face looked oddly familiar to me. I felt like I had seen it long ago, but where?

Suddenly, something within me clicked. That face - it couldn’t have really belonged to - no! I felt my throat clench, and my stomach sank to the bottom of my body as I came to a horrifying realization. For the first time in forever, I logged back on to Pet Shop, wanting to know if my fears were true. I opened up my buddies list and searched for the username “RainbowCloud444” - but to my shock, nothing came up.

My screen then unexpectedly turned to black. I frantically smashed my keyboard and mashed as many buttons as I could, but nothing happened. After about five minutes of agitation, my screen returned to the homepage. A popup appeared seconds after everything had gone back to normal, before instantaneously disappearing. Although the popup had only flashed onto my screen for a couple of seconds, its words sent a chill down my spine:

“Sorry that your prize was delivered so late. Thanks for playing :)”

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