It was a muggy summer afternoon. I was stuck babysitting my younger brother, so naturally, I had absolutely nothing to do. The weather forecast in the paper had predicted highs of the upper 90s, low 100s range – far too hot to venture outside. I stood in the kitchen, fixing myself a turkey sandwich. My brother was sprawled out in the living room, watching some sort of cartoon on TV. I weighed my chances of convincing him to change the channel or wrestling the remote away from him. Too much effort, I thought and opted to take the sandwich up stairs. My parents were out for the day, so dealing with one of his tantrums would not be easy.
As I neared my open bedroom door, I noticed the blinking light from my sleeping laptop settled on my desk. Of course, the good old interwebs would dispel my boredom in no time. I set the sandwich plate down on the desk and flicked open the computer. I did my daily Internet routine: checking my email, fiddling around on Facebook, browsing through memes.
After a while, I decided to look up something that had been interesting me for a while: the British synthesizing software called Vocaloid. It was a funny little franchise: a vocal synthesis software that allowed anyone to provide a “singer” for their music without having to be a singer themselves. The most popular models were from Japan, each one voiced by a famous actor or singer.
The Japanese models also came with mascot characters, each drawn in an exaggerated anime style. The characters and their adjacent fan base were probably what got me interested in the program in the first place.
There was just something so cool about taking an existing character and shaping them into whatever personality or walk of life you decided to give them. I munched my sandwich and pulled up YouTube. I spent the next hour scrolling through and listening to dozens of Japanese Vocaloid songs, some by the British models.
After listening to a particularly well-done song – made using the Vocaloid Oliver – I noticed something in the video description. It was a link, following the words “For all u poor kids who can’t buy Vocaloid’s. It’s free!” Curious as to what that meant, I hovered my mouse over the link cautiously. This could be a virus, or porn, or any type of ilk!My conscience was screaming at me to avoid clicking. However, a chance at getting to use the Vocaloid program without paying the exorbitant price was just to good to pass up. I held my breath, prayed that my firewall would hold, and clicked the link.
A blank white webpage appeared. I waited for something else to happen. perhaps the graphics aren’t entirely loaded yet. Minutes passed, and the sheer white of the page never changed. I sighed, cursing myself for being such an idiot.
This was obviously a prank. I moved the cursor up from the bottom of the page, aiming for the exit button. I had used the computer enough for that day. As the cursor crossed the page, however, the center of the page turned a different color for a split second. I stared at the screen for a moment, wondering if I’d imagined it. I brought the cursor back to the center of the screen, and watched chocolate brown letters appear:
“W e l c o m e t o C o c a l o I d !” I felt a smile spread across my face.
A trick homepage, huh? I clicked the letters, and the screen dissolved into a colorful border of brown and crimson that framed a wall of text and links. Upon closer inspection, there was a label for each link: Hatsune Miku, Miriam, See U, etc. I scrolled back up and read the introductory text at the top of the page.
“Welcome to Cocaloid, the free voice service! Download any of the voices below and start creating your own wonderful songs~!”
It appeared to be a tongue-in-cheek pirated Vocaloid distributor. That was fine with me. I did, however find it odd that they simply used the word “voice” instead of “voicebank.”
I clicked the link labeled “Oliver.” He had always been my favorite. It took me to a page featuring Oliver’s box art and stats, while the download bar started up. It loaded quickly. I had sort of expected a long loading time, but I just shrugged. Eagerly, I opened the file.
A perfect copy of the VOCALOID3 software was spread out before me, with only a few minor differences from the real product. Instead of the Vocaloid logo, there was a flourishing, crimson-and-brown Cocaloid logo. I giggled a bit. “Cocaloid” was most likely a combination of the words “Coco” (as in chocolate) and “Vocaloid.” I had a blast trying out Oliver’s voicebank, getting used to the software.
At first, anything I wrote sounded awful and muffled, the notes not blending well. But after a while, I really got the hang of it. I pulled out a small notebook from my desk and flipped to a piece of poetry I had written years before. This should make decent song lyrics. I worked out a simple melody and soon had a song going.
My head snapped up from the laptop screen. I raced down the stairs, leaving the laptop open. My brother shouldn’t have made dinner. He was too young to even use the stove without supervision! And… wasn’t it a bit early to be having dinner, anyway? Thoughts whirred through my head. I reached the dining room and saw that he was seated and had laid out and two paper plates, each with a freshly micro-waved hot pocket.
“David, thank God you didn’t try to make macaroni.” I gave his hair a ruffle, then sat down. “If you were hungry, why didn’t you ask me to make you a snack?”
He took a bite of his pastry, and glared at me. “I tried calling you, but you wouldn’t answer. You had your door locked and everything, so I thought you were sleeping.”
I tilted my head. I hadn’t even remembered locking my door. We ate in silence for a while. My brother was obviously upset.
“Um, Gabby,” he said. “You can’t really call a meal at six a snack.”
“Six? As in, six in the evening?” I put down my half-finished hot pocket. I had been working on the Oliver song for three hours straight. It had only seemed like a few minutes once I had really gotten the hang of it.
“Duh.” David finished off his hot pocket, washing it down with the rest of his milk.
I gathered my plate and cup. I hadn’t finished the pastry. “Thanks for the dinner, Dave. Sorry I didn’t make something else.” He followed suit, and we took everything to the kitchen and placed them in the dishwasher and trash. “You should go to bed soon, Dave. I’ll be back in my room, there’s something I want to work on.”
David’s eyes lit up at this statement. “Oooh! I bet you’re doing all sorts of lame teenager stuff! I wanna see!”
Before I could blink, he was running out of the room and up the stairs. I sighed and walked after him. When I reached my room, he was seated at my desk, staring at the computer screen, frowning.
“I don’t like this, Gabby.”
I laughed out loud. “Well, I know it’s not the best work, but it took me three hours to make! Gimmie a break, kid.”
He turned around in the chair to face me. His frown was deeper, and he had tears in his eyes. He wasn’t joking. My smile faded as I walked closer and bent down to look at the screen. It had played through the portion of the song I had finished. My lyrics and tune did seem a bit silly, now that I thought about it. What could have upset him, though? I clicked the mouse and started playing the song. The cheery melody plinked and plucked. Then Oliver started singing.
I felt my blood run cold. Something was definitely wrong.
Instead of the notes and lyrics I had programmed, Oliver moaned.
Horrible, horrible screeching and moaning, pain punctuating his cries. Deep, guttural wails melded and mixed with high, piercing screams. It wasn’t just unsettling. It was… inhuman. It went on for an eternity, never pausing, only varying in its grotesque pitch.
Out of shock, I let the song play to the end. Only when I felt David clutching my t-shirt did I snap out of my trance-like state. I turned my head slowly down to look at him, feeling tears well up in my eyes. His cheeks were streaked wet, his brow furrowed.
“… Gabby, what was that?” He said in a small voice.
I put my hand on his head, only to realize that my hand was shaking. “I… I don’t know, Dave. But I didn’t make that. It… must have been corrupted data or something.”
Even I didn’t believe that one. Was it even possible for song data to be corrupted? I swallowed the sob in my throat. David and I stood there in silence for a while.
Once I had calmed down a bit, I wasted no time deleting the entire Cocaloid program from my computer. There was no way in hell I was ever going to use it again.
The front door opened and shut downstairs. I jumped. I took David’s hand as we descended the stairs, more for my comfort than for his. As we reached the door, I saw two figures hanging coats and hats. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. My parents had come home early. David ran to them and hugged them both tightly. They greeted us both and talked a bit about their trip to the winery, but soon noticed our tearstained faces.
“What’s the matter? Did something happen?”
“No, Ma, it's alright. Just an internet prank that got us both a little… spooked.”
- * *
The next day, I began posting around different Vocaloid forums, asking if anyone else had been having this problem with Cocaloid.
A few people were curious and asked for the link. I brought up the video I had found it in, reluctantly willing to copy the link for them. Looking in the description, I found nothing. The link was gone.
Frustrated, I tried going to the site from my search history. I couldn’t find it.
As if I hadn’t gone to the site the day before.
As if the site itself had never existed at all.
I began to laugh at my misfortune, closing my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose.
But no matter how much I laughed it off, I would never be able to forget those horrible noises.