Several years back, I caught a pretty bad case of the flu after walking home from high school in the pouring rain. Although I had company on the way, a shy boy I hardly knew the name of from the year below me who had offered me shelter under his SpongeBob umbrella in return for my number, it was a walk I sincerely regretted. The flu caused me to have to stay at home for several weeks. Although the first few days were living hell for me, lying in bed without any sort of social contact worth mentioning – this was before social media had reached my social circles. In addition, my phone had become so damaged by the rain that it could only splutter out a few gurgling metallic noises instead of my friends’ voices. After a week or so, I was certainly in shape to stay awake for many hours at a time, and I was in desperate need to somehow satisfy my extrovert self.

It was at this point I first stumbled upon the chatroom. An ad directed me to the website, which claimed to offer locally based, anonymous chat for everyone. After talking to many new strangers on the site in private chats, who all indeed lived in my state, I realized everyone on there was incredibly unsafe with regards to handing out their private information. Of course, I would always fake an identity; a blonde girl, two years older than me with a very attractive body became the new me in all chats. I even invented a background history for her, in case someone would be curious. The first few chats were mostly pleasant. I got to satisfy my social needs by chatting for hours with the same strangers, who were mostly girls or boys my own age. Naturally, I did not hand out any information to them, but they were all gladly giving out their full names, phone numbers, addresses and even their pets’ names.

I was deeply worried at this point that my social life would break apart and forever be lost – I was in high school, and my friends were the only ones who would be keeping me sane through the intense final exams. After the flu had finally passed, I demanded that my parents would provide me with a new phone, in order to compensate for all the time I had lost with my friends. Although initially hesitant, they finally buckled under my demands and gave me a relatively modern phone, complete with a new number and everything. My social life managed to rebuild itself in a much shorter time than I had expected – I managed to catch up on all the latest gossip using my new gadget. Everyone in school was eager to talk to me and make sure I was okay. Even the boy who had walked me home tried to talk to me several times and charm me up, but with him being a year younger it was obviously impossible for me to engage with him for any longer period of time – I decided to ignore him completely instead.

More than two weeks passed before I returned to the chatroom again after suddenly finding myself bored and alone after a long day in school. The first thing which was striking to me was that all the new strangers I connected to would almost invariably claim to be older men, asking whether or not I was interested in hooking up with someone “experienced” like themselves. Obviously, I disconnected them almost immediately, but I felt bad for what I thought might have been hundreds of innocent girls my age that may fall victim to these predators. Remembering everyone was fervent in handing out their private information, I decided to do the only right thing.

The first older man I stayed to talk with was incredibly excited at my proposal to meet up. Teasing him with vague statements of my clothing drove him frothing to the point of him giving up important information like his age, first and last name and street address. Using what he gave me, a quick search on the Internet allowed me to know him better than himself. At this point, I knew his name, age, address, birthday, location, car number, wife’s number, email address and of course telephone numbers to him and every single worker at his workplace, where he was even the head of some committee. The sheer panic I knew he must have experienced when I told him all this and threatened to rat him out as an online predator willing to sleep with an underage girl gave me a sense of power I had never experienced before. He begged me not to release the information, but I simply saved the log and disconnected. Writing all the information in a log, I realized how I potentially could have saved a girl from, more or less, being stalked or, even worse, raped.

Fifteen more names were added to the list within the next week. For every name I added, I needed less and less information to make out who the person on the other side was. I became addicted, which was only fueled by my sense of fervor as I noticed fewer and fewer of the predators claiming to be old – their new tactic was to claim to be a boy with a similar age to me. Most of them were harder to track down – they usually would have to reveal things like their month of birth, first name and general area of inhabitance before I had all I needed. All the information I gave to them was, obviously, all fake.

One day, my parents told me they were going to be slightly late for dinner, being stuck in traffic. I decided to spend the evening browsing the chatrooms, having a hard time finding any predators at all to discover. However, one person stuck out. It was someone claiming to be a 17-year old boy, who asked for my phone number the first thing he did. I was taken aback, as most predators would simply ask for a name, gender, age or general area first. I sat silent for almost half a minute, before considering this a great opportunity. Countering their request, I asked them for their number and that I would call them. While my chat partner was typing their reply, I dug in my drawers for my old, almost broken phone. As the chat box containing their number appeared, I considered whether it would be safe to call. Obviously, my number had been deleted from the White Pages and similar indexes, so with my confidence bolstered and intrigued by this mysterious chat partner, I dialed their number and pressed “Call”. After almost a minute of no response, the other person picked up. The white noise from the broken phone was not enough to cover an adolescent voice asking whether I was home alone or not. Feeling virtually untraceable, I said that my parents were away for the evening. Immediately after I had finished my sentence, a small snicker could be heard through the noise.

“I would have thought you knew better than that by now.”

I was shocked for a while, unable to speak, but what truly startled me and chilled my spine was what came next. The young voice slowly began listing my private information – age, address, parents’ names, my full name, my birthday and even the names and numbers of my best friends. Suddenly, I felt the utter panic that I knew all of the predators I had called out must have felt. The person on the other end hung up the call.

My heart was racing for several seconds, and I shrieked as I heard a knock on the door. I rushed to the door, peeking out to see who had knocked. To my surprise, I saw a short figure, wearing a black sock over his head, standing akimbo just inches away from the peephole. My entire body froze when I saw him holding a gun – not a fake, airsoft gun, but a real and deadly firearm – in his right hand. I began to panic and searched for a way to ensure the door’s safety to no avail. I even ran into the kitchen, arming myself with a large butcher knife, and hid in a closet in the living room. After hearing a few shots, and the door opening, the last thing I remember seeing before fainting was the short figure slowly moving into the house.

The police told me the following day how they had arrived on the scene after having received reports of gunfire from the house. They had found no trace of the assailant, but they hired a security guard to patrol our area each night, to ensure his capture in case he would return. The only reason I am writing this story today is that my parents found a small and aged umbrella hidden in the closet, which they had never seen before in their lives. The umbrella’s canopy was what truly caught my attention – it was decorated with several small, seemingly childish SpongeBob figurines.

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