Detective Mom was far from a technophobe, but she barely thought about computers beyond everyday use. This new case, though–she’d need to get out of the analog world, and fast.
It wasn’t cyber crime, exactly–there was still a physical element. A stalker, who preyed on kids via Minecraft. He (Mom assumed it was a he) had become a virtual urban legend among players–an all-red avatar they called “Lava Man.” Lava Man supposedly dragged player characters down beneath the earth into a pit of lava, deleting all their items and progress forever. There were also rumours about dying in real life, but those were just “creepy pastes” online or some such. Nothing serious.
Except a handful of forum-going kids who claimed to have been attacked by the Lava Man went missing. Yes, in real life.
Mom didn’t know much about games, or servers, or hacks, or how to track people online. But she knew that somehow this Lava Man was finding the names of kids who were posting these rumours and kidnapping them. Why? To build notoriety. A legend. An online persona wasn’t enough after a while.
The kidnappings were not all resigned to one location. They were in different towns, cities, whole provinces. But, like the puzzles of a video game, there were clues and patterns to follow.
The first kidnapping was in Calgary. The next, in Red Deer. Then two in Edmonton. Then one in Saskatoon. The kidnapper was gaining confidence, increasing the distance from home every time. But the first one had to be near Calgary. The problem was, the best way to find him would be to catch him in the act. And his pool of victims was vast. Minecraft was a popular game. And there were a lot of kids between Calgary and Saskatoon. The kidnapper had seemingly no preference for victim in terms of race, gender, appearance, status–so long as they were young. All of the victims were under 11.
But when she investigated what must have been the Lava Man’s methods for stalking his subjects, the pool of potential victims shrunk considerably. They had to be young, yes, but they also had to post about the Lava Man. And they had to be able to be found online.
As it turned out, it was easy to track people on the Internet. A user name was usually enough. Most names led to different sites, which would have real names slipped up somewhere, which could lead to social network sites, which would lead to all the information you could ask for. Mom felt sick for the hours she spent on her laptop, reading glasses on the bridge of her nose, tracking down potential victims herself. She didn’t need to be that close to the mind of the Lava Man.
But it paid off. She narrowed down the likely victims and compared them to the trajectory of the Lava Man’s series of kidnappings. The next victim would be from Medicine Hat. A girl named Emma, nine years old.
He wasn’t exactly conspicuous. He wore all red–all red. Toque, gloves, pants, boots, coat, scarf–a real-life Lava Man. When Mom found him watching Emma through the chainlink fence of her school playground, all the detective had to do was say the words–
–for him to look at her with albino-red eyes, and run.
When she tackled him, he didn’t drag her beneath the earth. Didn’t burn her alive. Delete her from life. No. He’d be the one to burn–in court, and in hell.
Today’s three prompt categories were, “High tech, low life,” “Detective Mom,” and, “Clandestine.”
At last, back to the ol’ random writing prompts. I bet you miss cowboy wizards already.