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targeted ads (short story – horror)

“Find hot singles in Seattle!”

Alright, alright. You don’t have to push it in my face that I just got dumped like a month ago. I close the tab with the photoshopped blonde lady looking directly at me from the screen.

I’m in bed about to head to sleep, scrolling mindlessly through Tumblr.

“Best deals at UoW!”

That would be University of Washington, which I have been attending for, in my opinion, way too long.

Give me a break.

I set my alarm and turn over to go to bed.

The next day, I’m in my room doing homework, a million tabs open on Chrome.

An ad pops up on my screen as I visit Amazon to do some impulse purchasing.

“Tired of bike theft in your neighbourhood? Try our new Invisi-Lock today!”

I don’t think anything is ever going to stop the rampant bike theft in my area.

I’m just about to just roll my eyes and scroll by, but something catches my eye.

Most of the ad is quite mundane, just a photo of this complicated bike lock attached to a bike.

That’s not the part that’s off. The part that’s off is that that’s my bike. Leaning against my front door. I can always recognise it by its particularly bent left handle.

I slam my laptop shut and go to bed. That’s what I get for sleep depriving myself for a week.

A few nights later I’m back in my room again, slouched over my laptop and highlighting notes in my far too heavy geography textbook.

Every once in a while I look up to search up something I don’t understand.

I’m on Wikipedia scrolling through an obscure article when an ad appears on the right. I groan internally. Isn’t Wikipedia supposed to be ad free? Give me a break.

I’m just about to close the tab when I accidentally scroll down a bit further and the text on the ad catches my eye.

Two words: “Hey Jonas.”

That’s my fucking name.

Feeling slightly lightheaded now, I lean in closer to see the details on the screen.

Behind the text there’s a picture. A picture of my bedroom. That part is fucked up enough. The worse part though, is that everything in that photo is exactly in place. And I mean exactly.

I never hang my laundry to dry in my room but the dryers downstairs are broken tonight. My dark blue hoodie hangs lazily on the cabinet to dry. It also hangs lazily on the cabinet in the photo.

I have never thrown my laptop so quickly and so far across the room before. It lands on my bed and bounces once before sinking into the blankets.

I’m shaking, and I make up an excuse to my friend to crash at his place for the night.

A few nights of my normal boring life later, I convince myself that everything has just been one big prank and that my imagination has truly betrayed me.

12:52 am. I get onto Instagram to check for more likes on my photo when a sponsored ad pops up on the feed.

Curiosity gets the best of me. I scroll down slightly.

In the photo, I’m sitting at my desk, looking at my phone. My back is facing my bedroom door.

The digital clock in the photo reads 12:53 am.

I can’t stop looking now. I can’t stop scrolling, even though everything in me is screaming at me to stop.

A few photos of Starbucks and friends later and the next sponsored ad appears.

The same photo, except it’s closer to me this time. The text on the ad reads: “Feeling unsafe? Download GigaLock today.”

The next photo is an ad too.

I almost don’t want to look, but of course I do.

It’s a photo of the back of my head.

In prominent lettering, the ad text reads: Whatever you do, don’t look.

I drop my phone to the ground in shock and turn around.