Ciphertext is a scary story about someone who keeps receiving mysterious text messages on their phone. The text messages contain what appear to be random numbers.
One night, just as I was getting ready to go to bed, I received a text message on my cell phone. It was sent from an unknown number and when I opened it, I found that it contained no words at all, just three numbers: “444”
I assumed someone had simply sent me the text message by mistake, so I just ignored it and went to sleep.
However, the next night, at exactly the same time, I received another message from the same unknown number.
This time, the message contained the number “9”.
Every night, I began to receive a new message and each time, it was just another random number. It was starting to get creepy.
This is the series of numbers I received:
“444”, “9”, “444”, “555”, “555”, “55”, “444”, “555”, “555”, “999”, “666”…
There was one number for each day.
“What is this?” I wondered. “Is it a phone number? A street address? An ID number?”
I spent a long time thinking about it, but I couldn’t figure out what it meant. I even tried asking my friends, but none of them had any ideas. After all, it seemed like the numbers had no meaning. At that point, I just dismissed it as a prank.
However, one day when I was at work, I was looking at my cell phone and one of my co-workers came up behind me. He was an older man and his name was Mr. Tanaka.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
I told him about the strange text messages I had been receiving every night.
“Oh… maybe it’s a ciphertext,” he laughed. “I like this kind of mystery. Can I see all the numbers?”
I wrote the numbers down on a piece of paper and handed it to him.
“Well, this is a very mysterious cipher indeed,” he said. “OK… Let me think about it for a while.”
Mr. Tanaka had been working at the company for about 20 years. He was a very smart man and was very good at his job. If anyone could solve the mystery, I was sure it would be him.
When work finished at 5PM, Mr. Tanaka came back to my desk. He had a very serious look on his face.
“About that cryptic code you gave me earlier…” he said.
“Did you decipher it?” I asked.
“Oh, I managed to solve it,” he replied, “but maybe it’s better to change your phone number today…”
“Why?” I asked in surprise. “What did it mean?”
“Well, if I’m correct, then the next number you receive will be 88, but if it is, it will be very bad…”
“What is it?” I demanded. “Just tell me!”
“I’ll tell you later,” he replied, with a solemn look. “But if the next number is 88, then I want you to change your mobile number. Can you promise me this?”
“OK, fine,” I said. “If the next number is 88, I’ll change my number. Happy now?”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Tanaka as he left.
That night, when I returned home from work, I cooked dinner for myself and then went to bed. All of a sudden, my phone started buzzing. I received another text message.
When I opened it, I saw the number “88”, just as Mr. Tanaka had predicted.
The next morning, before I went to work, I stopped off at a mobile phone shop and had them change my number. Although it was rather troublesome, I had promised Mr. Tanaka that I would do it. I was going to have to call all my friends and give them my new number.
When I got to work, Mr. Tanaka was waiting for me at my desk.
“You were right,” I said. “I received another text message last night. It was 88.”
“So, did you change your number?” he asked.
“Yes, I did,” I said. “So can you tell me the meaning of the cipher now?”
Mr. Tanaka quietly explained the meaning of the ciphertext and when I understood it, I started shaking with fear.
Who could have sent the text messages? Why would they send them to me? Had I done something to deserve it?
I was really scared.
You see, the numbers in the text messages had the following meaning:
On older cell phones, there used to be letters printed on the keypad. When you were writing a text message, you would have to type out each letter using the number keys. Each time you pressed one of the number keys, it would cycle through the letters.
In other words, if you wanted to type “A” you would hit the number “2” once, for “B” you would hit “2” twice and for “C” you would hit “2” three times.
Mr. Tanaka figured out that the ciphertext was based on this method. The numbers corresponded to letters on the cell phone keypad.
“444”, “9”, “444”, “555”, “555”, “55”, “444”, “555”, “555”, “999”, “666”, “88”
“I”, “W”, “I”, “L”, “L”, “K”, “I”, “L”, “L”, “Y”, “O”, “U”
“I will kill you”
After I changed my mobile phone number, I didn’t receive any other text messages like that… but I still wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t changed it… Would the anonymous sender have made good on his threat?