It starts as a dull throb at the base of your neck or maybe right behind your eyes. Something is lurking just ahead, a bad omen or premonition. Your blood runs cold. There’s a suggestive whisper between your ears. You feel the dread deep in your bones. It’s come around for you again: your online utility payment.

The ghastly utility apparition insists you jump through its unnatural hoops just to pay online. The process makes even the most logical feel insane: muttering to themselves, erupting in sudden outbursts of rage at the computer screen, exuding a vague but palpable feeling of ill will toward everyone around them. You know how they feel.

You take a deep breath and face the specter head on. You navigate to the grim website where it lives.

Warning: This long, dense screen is extremely disturbing. The sight of it may cause dizziness, nausea, or screams of terror.

The site is a mess of clutter and extraneous information, distracting you from why you came here in the first place. Squinting and shaking your head free of the unnatural noise on your screen, you remember your goal: force the utility phantom to take your money.

Heart pounding, you scan the page for the one link you need. Every second, you feel yourself being pulled in the wrong direction by an invisible force: links to employment, moving red alerts at the top of your vision, an ever-shifting image directly in your line of sight. Finally, you see it: “E-Bills” in a thick row of icons. You click. A new layer of navigation hell appears before you.

Venturing deeper into the utility specter’s lair requires navigating confusing, repetitive, chilling layers meant to wear down those with weak stomachs. Clicking “E-Bills” leads to a mystifying page called “Online Payments.” Your intestines feel cold and clammy and your journey has hardly begun.

This screen is yet another ghoulish attempt to scare you away. But you’ve wrestled with this phantom before. Over months fighting this battle again and again, you’ve memorized your way out of this page. You hurry down the screen and click the miniscule, corpse-blue link to “Water/Sewer Services (CWA).” Soon you’re staring down the front door of the utility specter itself.

Arrival in the utility specter’s innermost sanctum is at once gratifying and an entry into a whole new level of horror.

You’ve arrived. Now you must play the specter’s game. Heart pounding, you struggle to summon your username and password from the dim, misty recesses of memory. From previous encounters, you know you only have three chances to get in and pay your bill before the specter unleashes its full wrath upon you.

Half-remembered usernames and passwords fill your mind, some from other sites, some from previous utility encounters, some from somewhere outside yourself entirely. They come in overlapping whispers, grabbing at your concentration. You steel yourself and put your fingers on your keyboard, hoping they will remember for you.

The site loading icon is spinning. You hold your breath, praying it means you’ve escaped the utility specter and have made it safely inside the payment portal. Instead, a cryptic message appears:

The vague, disembodied text is difficult to make out, like a garbled message from a digital Ouija board.

You recoil in horror. You’ve been locked out of the payment portal by invisible forces. You stumble backward through the site, looking for the customer service number but it’s nowhere in sight. You don’t know how long you search for it, time stretches and collapses on itself. But finally, you dial the digits with shaking fingers, hoping the customer support mediums can reason with the entity holding you hostage.

An otherworldly voice greets you.

“Hello?”

You clutch at your phone and start to tell the customer support medium everything.

“…currently busy,” the voice is saying, paying you no heed. “Please call back when we’re less busy.” Then an empty dial tone.

You slump in your seat, looking around you at your lucky mug, your favorite pen, your polished black tourmaline protection crystal, your sage plant to ward off spirits. No charm or talisman can help you now.

You hear a voice wailing. It’s shrill and piercing, like the moans and wails of the damned. You wish it would stop, until you realize the voice is yours.

The utility specter has unfinished business with you and every customer it torments each month. The hauntings will continue until a brave soul creates a user-friendly payment portal and puts the old, sinister one to rest.

————

About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

We work every day to eliminate online evil specters. Perhaps, one day, our mission will be complete and you can use the internet in peace.

Author: @baileysendsword
Graphic: @djosephmachado
Editor: @ExperienceDean
Screen & Story Inspiration: City of Columbia Website