Level 26: Dark Origins (Level 26 Series #1)

Level 26: Dark Origins (Level 26 Series #1)

by Anthony E. Zuiker, Duane Swierczynski

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Law enforcement personnel categorize murderers on a scale of twenty-five levels of evil-from the naïve opportunists starting out at Level 1 to the organized, premeditated torture murderers who inhabit Level 25.

But to an elite unnamed investigations group assigned to hunt down the world's most dangerous killers, headed by Steve Dark, a new category of killer is being defined....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101136355
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/08/2009
Series: Level 26 , #1
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 214,999
File size: 995 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

ANTHONY E. ZUIKER is the creator and executive producer of the most-watched television show in the world, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, as well as CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. Zuiker is a visionary business leader who speaks professionally about the future of entertainment and storytelling on multiple platforms. A mystery aficionado since childhood, Zuiker’s lifelong dream has been to write a crime novel. He lives in Las Vegas and Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

Read an Excerpt


the gift

Rome, Italy

The monster was holed up somewhere in the church, andthe agent knew he finally had him.

He removed his boots as quietly as he could andplaced them beneath the wooden table in the vestibule. Theboots were rubber soled, but even those could make some noiseon the marble floors. So far, the monster didn't know he wasbeing followed—as far as the agent could tell.

The agent had been chasing the monster for three years. Therewere no photos of the monster, no physical evidence at all. Catchinghim was like trying to capture a wisp of smoke in your fist. The forceof your action would cause it to dissipate and re-form elsewhere.

The hunt had taken him all over the world: Germany. Israel.Japan. The United States. And now here, Rome, inside a seventeenth-centurybaroque-style church christened Mater Dolorosa, whichwas Latin for "sorrowful mother."

The name fit. The interior of the church was gloomy. With hisgun in a two-hand grip, the agent moved as silently as possiblealong the yellowed walls.

A notice posted on the church door said it was closed to thepublic for renovations. The agent knew enough Italian to understandthat the four-hundred-year-old fresco on the interior domeof the church was being restored.

Scaffolding. Gloom. Shadows. It was a natural habitat for themonster. No wonder he'd chosen it, despite its being a sacredplace of worship.

The agent had come to understand that the monster knew noboundaries. Even in times of war, churches and temples wereconsidered places of sanctuary—safe havens for those seeking thecomfort of God during their darkest hours.

And as the agent made his way around the metal poles andunderside of the scaffolding, he knew the monster was here. Hecould feel it.

The agent was no believer in the supernatural; he did not claimto have psychic abilities. But the longer he hunted the monster, themore he found that he was able to tune in to his savage wavelength.This gift brought the agent closer than any other investigatorto catching the monster—but it came at a cost. The more hetuned his brain in to the monster's insanity, the more he lost touchwith what it was like to be sane. He had recently begun to wonderwhether his single-minded pursuit might soon kill him. He'd discardedthe thought.

His focus had returned when the agent saw the most recentvictim, just a few blocks away. The sight of the blood, the tornskin, the viscera steaming in the cool night air, and the marbledbeads of fat hanging from exposed muscles would later send thefirst responders outside to vomit. Not the agent, who had kneltdown and felt a thrilling burst of adrenaline when he touched thebody through the thick latex of his examiner's gloves and realizedit was still warm.

It meant the monster was nearby.

The agent knew he wouldn't have gone far; the monster loved to hide himself and enjoy the aftermath of his work. He had evenbeen known to secret himself within the scene while law enforcementcursed his name.

So the agent had stepped into the small courtyard near thevictim's body and let his mind wander. No deductive logic, noreasoned guesses, no gut, no hunch. Instead the agent thought: Iam the monster; where do I go?

The agent had scanned the rooftops, then saw the glitteringdome and knew immediately. There. I'd go there. There was not aseed of doubt in the agent's mind. This would end tonight.

Now he was moving silently among the wooden pews and themetal poles of the scaffolding, gun drawn, all of his physical senseson high alert. The monster might be smoke, but even smoke hada look, a scent, a taste.

The monster stared down at the top of his hunter's head. He waspositioned on the underside of a paint-splattered wooden plank,clinging to the gaps between the wood with his skinny, strongfingers and equally powerful toes.

He almost wanted his hunter to look up.

Many had chased the monster over the years, but none likethis one. This one was special. Different.

And somehow, familiar.

So the monster wanted to look at his face again, in the flesh.Not that he didn't know what his hunters looked like. The monsterhad plenty of surveillance photos and footage of all of them—at work, in their backyards, on the way to fill their vehicles withgasoline, bringing their children to sporting matches, and purchasingbottles of liquor. He'd been close enough to catalog theirsmells, the aftershave they wore, the brand of tequila they drank.It was a part of his game.

Until recently he'd thought this one was merely average. But then the man had begun to surprise the monster, making leaps noone ever had before, coming closer than anyone else. Closeenough that the monster had let the other hunters fall away,focusing in on the one photo he had of this one, staring at it andtrying to imagine where his weakness lay. But a photograph wasn'tthe same as real life. The monster wanted to study this one's facewhile he still tasted the air, gazed at his surroundings, drew itssmells into his nostrils.

And then the monster would slay him.

The agent looked up. He could have sworn he saw somethingmoving up there, in the shadows of the scaffolding.

The dome above him was a strange quirk of seventeenth-centuryarchitecture. It was fitted with dozens of stained-glasswindows that took all incoming light and shot it to the peak ofthe dome, as if exalting God with his own radiance. In the sunlightit would be breathtaking. Tonight's full moon gave the windowsan eerie glow, but everything below the dome, from thevaults down, was draped in dramatic shadow. A stark reminder ofman's place in the universe—down in the unknowing dark.

The dome itself was adorned with a panorama of heaven, withfloating cherubs and heralds and clouds, as if to taunt man evenmore.


Out of the corner of his eye, the agent saw a flittering of whiteand heard the faintest pull of something that sounded like rubber.

There. Over by the altar.

This hunter is goooooood, the monster thought from his new hidingspace. Come find me. Come let me see your face before I rip itfrom your skull.

The silence was so absolute, it was almost a pulsing, living thing,enveloping the church. The agent moved swiftly, hand over hand,climbing the scaffolding as silently as possible, gun tucked in hisunsnapped side holster, ready to be drawn at a second's notice.The wood was rough and sharp beneath his searching fingers; thepoles felt dusted with motes of dirt and steel.

The agent slowly crept around another platform, climbinghigher now, looking for any kind of reflection or hint of the monster.But there was little available light. He took a quick, sharpbreath and lifted himself to another level, desperate to see overthe edge as he exposed his head and neck to the unknown. If onlyhe could see . . .

I see you, the monster thought. Do you see me?

And then he did.

The agent saw the monster's face for the first time. Two beadyeyes looking out from a blank visage—as if someone had taken ahot iron and pressed away all of its features . . . except for theeyes.

Then it was gone, scurrying up the side of the scaffolding likea spider ascending its webbing.

The agent abandoned stealth now. He tore after the monsterwith a speed that surprised him, pulling himself up the crossbeamsof the scaffolding and around the edges of the planks as ifhe'd been practicing on an FBI course back in Virginia.

There he was again—a glimpse of a pale white limb, whippingaround the edge of a platform, just two levels above.

The agent climbed even harder, faster, more frenzied. The monster was moving closer to the heavenly dome. But heavenwas a dead end. There was no way out other than the exitsbelow.

For the first time in decades, the monster felt true fear. How hadthis hunter sensed him? How was he so fearless as to pursue himup here?

The face of his hunter looked different now. This was no merelaw enforcement officer who'd followed a hunch and caught alucky break. This was something new and wondrous. The monsterwould have tittered with excitement if it wouldn't have slowedhis ascent.

For a glorious moment the monster had no idea what wouldhappen next. It reminded him of being a child. Just a few squareinches of pressure on his hunter's trigger and the right trajectorycould end everything. The monster was many things, but he wasnot bulletproof.

Will it end up here? Are you the one who will bring deathunto me?

The agent had him.

He felt the trembling of the wooden plank above him—thelast bit of scaffolding before the dome. The agent whipped pastthe last two crossbeams. He pulled his gun.

There he was—pressed flat against the uppermost plank. Amoment passed as the agent stared through the gloom into themonster's eyes and the monster stared back. What passed betweenthem was the length of a heartbeat, impossibly short andyet unmistakable—a primal recognition between hunter and preyin the climactic moment just before one claims victory and theother collapses in death.

The agent fired twice.

But the monster didn't bleed. It exploded.

It took only a split second for the agent to recognize the soundsof splintering glass and identify the mirror he'd shattered with hisbullet—no doubt meant to help the experts with their restorationwork. The mistake could have been fatal. But as he whippedaround to fire again he knew the monster was already gone, couldhear him smashing his way through a stained-glass window and outonto the rooftop of the church. Colored glass rained down, openinga gash under his eye as he lifted his gun and fired blindlythrough the jagged hole in the glass. The bullet hit nothing, soaredaway into the heavens. A scampering sound could be heard runningdown the outside of the dome . . . and then nothing.

The agent raced down the scaffolding, but in his heart he knewit was futile. The monster was loose on the rooftops of Rome, aninvisible tendril of smoke wafting up and away, nothing but thefaintest lingering trace left to prove he had ever really been thereat all.

Customer Reviews

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Level 26 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 105 reviews.
Lacie2113 More than 1 year ago
If you're wanting a read that will make you look over your shoulder, underneath your rugs, behind your curtains and anywhere else that someone could hide, then this is the book for you. The villian in this book was probably the most deeply disturbing character I've read since Hannibal Lecter. And the hero is someone that your heart goes out to. The writing was not exceptional, but the plot was definitely good. I did not participate in the "Digi-Novel" features, mostly did not want to see a Hollywood portrayal of this creature they dubbed Squweegel. I read enough horror and suspense novels and didn't need anything else that would keep me awake at night!! This is definitely a good read and it will leave you hanging at the end. With no news about a 2nd novel yet, I will be waiting anxiously to see what happens from here...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was definitely a great read. I couldn't take my eyes from the pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book for all horror lovers. There is nothing like having a good chill go down your spine from all the graphicly detailed scenes. I was looking over my shoulder and around corners for a week after finishing this book. Horror galor baby!!!!!!!!!!!!
PiperGrissom More than 1 year ago
This is my first Digi Novel and I can't wait to read more. Zuiker is the brilliant mind behind my favorite show (until William Petersen left), CSI Las Vegas and he's showing his talent here. This serial killer book has been more terrifying to me than Silence of the Lambs or Kiss the Girls. That is saying a lot. I can't wait to read the other Level 26 books. Don't miss this if you love serial killers, crime, horror and a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got lucky and found this book at dollar tree for a dollar! I would definetly pay the 9.99 on here, very worth it! It has easily became one of my favorite books. It sucked me in from the begining, I could'nt put it down! I highly suggest you give this book a try it has everything!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thriller! A must read hard to put down book! Loved it and crazy scary at the same time. Seen a plot to it on csi Great way to introduce the character to the world! Best digital book and 1st to achieve it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I Love this Book Series! Very well written. Couldnt put it down and now sad that i have finished all 3
BookAddictFL More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a fast-paced, graphic thriller, then you might love this book. If you are looking for character depth and believability, I would not recommend this one. I had several problems with this story. The main character, Steve Dark, is fairly young with a pregnant wife. They live in a million dollar home with no financial worries, yet neither of them appear to work. Sqweegel, the serial killer, also has total financial independence. We are never given explanations for how any of them live so well without ever working. I felt Sqweegel's character was far too superhuman. He is omniscient, able to know everything and sneak everywhere without ever once slipping up even a tiny bit. He has access to all sorts of technology and, apparently, is able to easily infiltrate the lives of high ranking government officials. None of this is ever explained. There are other aspects I thought were too convenient for the story or too over-the-top. I won't name them all because that would give away too much of the story. This book offers little in the way of hope and pretty much no happiness. It is nonstop action, graphic violence, and emotional turmoil. The end leaves us hanging, nudging us on to book two in the series.
Darlabaz More than 1 year ago
The best serial killer book I have ever read! I want more, more, more! Sqweegel is the scariest of them all. A must read for those that love serial killer books. I actually cringed when I read some parts of this book. I can't wait until the movie comes out! Haven't done the interactive videos yet but who cares if they are lame or whatever you want to call it. The book is awesome and an absolutely fun read. It is superbly evil!
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
"Level 26: Dark Origins" is a concept novel, where you can log onto the internet to catch glimpses of what is happening in the story. I choose to read my books and not interact with the internet. As a book, it was an interesting (if not grotesque) story. It is graphic and violent and one can easily be turned off. The book was written by a filmmaker and not a novelist so details were almost non-existent.
maflaw More than 1 year ago
This is the first audio book I've read that supplies links throughout the story to internet mini videos showing scenes from the book. I was immediately and inescapably captivated, and once I watched the first scene on the internet, it became almost real. After each reading session, I found I had anxiety, and needed some time to calm down. Squeegal is by far the most evil, and unstoppable villian ever. Sibby and Dark capture your heart. Best thing I've read in a long time. Be prepared to slide into their world, and have the s**t scarred out of you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't usually post reviews here, but this was such a terrible reading experience, I couldn't help it. I am a voracious reader of horror fiction, and a good bloody movie really gets me going. This, however, was neither. I will disclose that I am not a fan of CSI, but even that has to be better than this formulaic nonsense. Meet your standard alchoholic dark cop gone mad with the intimacy of tracking serial killers, and his name is (get this) Steve Dark. Really? And them meet our body condom outfitted serial killer, who is the only decently creepy thing in the book, and they name him Sqweegel? Sqweegel? The whole thing reads like it was written for (or perhaps by) 12 year olds; there is little to no character development, and the plot is worn out at best. Then you have to consider the "digi" part of this much-hyped "digi-novel." Now every 20 pages you have to hop up, run to your computer and watch a little snippet of a movie. Annoying. This might have been ok if the movie part was in any way consistent with the novel part. For instance, Sqwee spends hours shaving himself ritually, and then he has obviously hairy legs & arms in the movie. We're not supposed to notice this? I can't even ennumerate the other inconsistencies. I won't even go into the horrific acting and unfortunate casting (except for Sqweegel, who is a master contortionist & scary all by himself). All I can say is that I hope the digi-novel gets better than this...
shedevilmx88 More than 1 year ago
Level 26 Dark Origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski is a dark and twisted thriller. I really enjoyed the videos on YouTube that go along with the book. The writers got me hooked and had I had to know how it was going to end. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes psychological thrillers and books on serial killers.
ct.bergeron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really liked the book. I thought that the introduction of little movie sequence was awesome. It help tie in the storyline, because what happen in those section is not mentionned in the book. Squeegel is creepy, very creepy. The story line is good. I can't wait for another one of this type!!
organok on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just adding on to Bridget's review. At first I did not like stopping my reading to go to the computer and watch the video clip, because I am used to getting comfortable when I read, and do not like to be disturbed. I even waited for two or three extra chapters to watch the clips, before I started watching them each time. They really did help to visualize what was happening. This book really plays with the mind. Watching the movements of Squeegel made me think of a snake.For several days after I read the book I would see a small space, maybe the opening to the attic, or under the kitchen sink, or even smaller spaces,and think, "I bet Sqeegle could hide in there". I wasn't really scared, but when going from the bathroom back to the bedroom at night, I did walk a little faster than usual! If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say, "HOLY COW". I guess that is two words though. Chills. Enjoy!
dsoj84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can describe the book in a word, creepy. The book is very interesting and is very fast paced and is very creepy. I have read the book and I have also listen to the audio book, read by John Glover, both are very creepy. However if you want a creepy book to read while traveling on Halloween night, then the audio book is about the best you can get.There is a lot of small problems with the book and the characters are not well devolved, it seems as if the book is written in such a way that the events happening out pace the need for character back stories. I hope that this will be corrected in the squeals. I would suggest this to any one who loves murder/serial killer books.
Djupstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting. I have read a series written for teens called Skeleton Creek that uses the multi-media format. I like it. Some of the videos in this book were unnecessary. Some were down right freaky. I already purchased the next in the series.
saramllr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because I was interested in the whole digi-novel experience. Basically, while reading along in the book you are given codes to unlock short videos on the web that are supposed to supplement the story. While the novel itself was okay, I thought the videos were distracting and took away from the pace of the story. There were even a few times when the small details of the videos did not match what I had just read in the book. Annoying. So...while the digi-novel is an intriguing idea it was NOT executed well here.
Ti99er on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Level 26 is more than a book, it is a multimedia experience. Anthony Zuiker the visionary creator of the TV series CSI wanted to add something unique to the reading experience. So what he and his team did was to create short films that bridged between chapters of the book. Every 20 or so pages you were provided a web address (this never changed) with an unlock code to the next video bridge. Each video bridge was from 30 seconds to eight minutes long, the average of which were about 3 minutes. You don't need to view the bridges to follow the story, but it enhanced the story a bit and added a new element to the reading experience. For instance I didn¿t put the book down and rush to the computer each time I reached a video bridge. Most times I watched 2 or 3 at a time. The story itself is very sadistic, as it follows the exploits of a serial killer. Up to this point the government highest ranking for serial murderers was level 25. John Wayne Gacy was a level 25, Ted Bundy was a 24, now ¿Sqweegel¿ the killer with no boundaries had warranted a level all his own. Retired FBI specialist Steve Dark is forced out of retirement in order in order to apprehend this vicious killer whose murders spanned over two decades. If you like serial killer mysteries than this is worth the read. Even with the video bridges, this book doesn¿t round out the top of my favorite suspense thrillers, but I wasn¿t disappointed with it either. The action keeps moving throughout the book and it is well paced. Not on the video bridges: These were tastefully done and don¿t include any blood and gore. Bottom line: the material in the bridges would pass broadcast TV standards.
jseger9000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is a master serial killer on the loose code-named Sqweegel(!). He has never left any speck of evidence because he wears a full body, latex `murder suit¿. Steve Dark, a retired federal agent (retired due to his previous run-in with Sqweegel) is forced out of retirement to investigate. Level 26: Dark Origins is the first novel in a proposed trilogy. Conceived by CSI creator Anthony Zuiker and written by comics author Duane Swierczynski, it is calling itself the world's first digi-novel(tm). What that means to you is that every twenty-pages or so there will be a web-link. Going to that link will result in a short film clip. I didn't feel like providing my email address to sign up to the site, so I have not watched the clips myself. They are not necessary to follow the novel anyway.The writing is smooth as silk. I read fifty-six pages on my first go. Any time I would sit down with the book, twenty pages minimum would zip by. The style used was so easy-going, I felt like I was speed reading. This might sound like a knock, but considering what the book was designed for, I feel like that was a real accomplishment. In fact, I had a large number of problems with the book (see below) but the flow of the writing is what kept me from just abandoning it.As fast paced entertainment, the book works. But if you give things even a moment's thought, it collapses. Dark is a retired federal agent, his wife is never shown to be employed at all. Yet they live in a million dollar Malibu beach home filled with designer items. How? Dark's old boss is forced to recruit Dark under a literal threat of death. Why? This just seemed ridiculous and didn't add anything to the story. It seemed like lazy storytelling to me. Like a ticking bomb was easier to use than characterization.The characters are too flat to empathize with much, the seemingly psychotic Secretary of Defense feels pointless and over the top and the killer doesn't have enough background provided to make him interesting and seems to comic-booky supervillain. All of this together makes it awfully difficult to suspend my disbelief enough to really get into the story. There's nothing here that hasn't been done a million times before, and done better.And that I guess is my real problem with the book. It is so obviously a product. I didn't so much get the feeling that Anthony Zuiker had a really good story idea that he just wanted to get out there. Instead I got the feeling that he had an 'entertainment concept' and started putting that package together. The novel is only one part of it and I'd be willing to bet that Mr. Zuiker had no part in the writing of it. Duane Swierczynski (who, if this was a traditional novel should have his name displayed at the same size as his 'co-author') does a good enough job at keeping the story interesting and moving along at a whip-crack pace. But there's no passion to it. No quirk or idiosyncrasy that makes the book memorable. And the nick-name Sqweegel is just dumb, no matter how they try to explain it.
bohemiangirl35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was excited when I found this book in the library. I'm a huge CSI fan, so I just knew this book would be something original and unique. Not exactly.Level 26 is supposed to be a new level of evil that only the most high ranking, highly skilled law enforcement agents know about. Most of the infamous serial killers are somewhere in the middle of the scale of 1-25. Only the best of the best of the best (you get the idea) would even dream of trying to catch Sqweegel. The problem is that Sqweegel comes across like any other smart, sadistic killer who toys with the cops. I didn't get where he was so unique. And his name is a joke.Level 26 is a digi-novel. Every few chapters ends with "to see what happens, go to level26.com and type in *password*." That's cool if you're reading at the computer, but I was listening to the audio version as I drove across the state. No way was I pulling over to pull up the cyber-bridge (that's what they call it on the website) on my phone. So I listened to the book, wondering if I was missing something by not logging on, only to find out when I pulled up a few scenes after the fact, that I hadn't really missed anything. The acting was kind of cheesy, and poor Steve Dark was really miscast. The skinny-jean wearing guy with the almost-a-ponytail looked more like a character from the 1990s MTV cartoon Daria, than a brooding, emotionally scarred super agent.If I had not had high hopes because the writer was the creator of CSI, I probably would have liked the book better. I'll probably listen to the second one. I'll just have more realistic expectations.
VivalaErin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very weird. Definitely dark and creepy. But all in a good way. The story is a good murder mystery, had some great twists.I didn't really care for the "media experience." It disrupted the story, and the ones I did see were totally cheap and corny. The book would have been fine without it. But I'm willing to overlook that and maybe even find the 2nd book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little over the top. Needs fact check. Example is description of a Methodist Church with priests instead of ministers, Jesus on the cross, not a bare cross, and a worshiper crossing himself. Not cool.
MRCOULTERLOOKIDIDIT More than 1 year ago
“Level 26” by Anthony E. Zuiker is a great book…as long as “gross” is your thing. The protagonist, Steve Dark, is sort of a dark and depressing character. His whole life has been a weird rollercoaster of unfortunate events, the most recent being the murder of his entire foster family. Basically he already has a lot of internal conflict to deal with, and now the agency he was working for wants him to come back to catch the most dangerous criminal they’ve ever faced:  Squeegel. Squeegel is a dark, twisted, sadistic, masochistic man who serves as the antagonist of the story. On a danger scale of 1-25, he is the only person to ever be ranked a 26. He has no boundaries, and he lives by a set of rules that he’s made up for himself. The dude is insane. Nobody has ever encountered him and lived to tell the tale, except for Dark. Squeegel likes games, he likes fun, likes to show off some of the crimes he has committed, just to taunt Special Circs, because he knows that they can’t catch him. Yah, until they got Dark involved I guess. He has never left a single piece of physical evidence for the police to track him with. In this book, Zuiker uses a massive amount of imagery to detail exactly what’s going on, and where someone is. You can’t help but just immerse yourself into the book, save for a dull moment or two. The book is actually kind of scary because you can picture all of the things happening. You can feel Squeegel’s joy, or glee, when he is watching his victims suffer. It really is no more than a game to him, and it’s freaky. A really cool plus side of this book is that it’s a “digi-novel”, meaning that certain parts of the book can be watched online, just by typing key words into a search bar on the book’s website. You can watch black and white 8mm films that show you what Squeegel looks like (if you can’t fill it in with your imagination) and shows you some of the crimes he committed. Although some of the clips have little relevance to what’s going on in the book, it adds on to the experience. Even without the films, though, this book is really good and it just gets you thinking about all the different types of crazies. Overall, it’s just a really great book okay? 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
creepy as all hell....