It was Tuesday morning and time moved slower than usual. Leah consulted her watch. In the time it had taken for the clock to go from 10.30 to 10.50, she had; brushed her teeth, dried her hair, applied her makeup, downed another Celsius energy drink
( Sparkling Grape Rush ) and, also according to her watch, walked approximately 632 steps, mostly around her own room. She was excited. There was still ten minutes left until she could post her recent picture. In reality the picture was almost a full week old, take at last weeks boat trip with the family — but on Instagram time flows differently.
The trip had been fine. Her parents argued as they always did, not in anger , but in that ”Are you still here?” - sort of way. Her brother Peter agreed to take some pictures of her in the water and she’d allowed him to tease her for it. But now that Leah was becoming the more prominent figure out of the two of them, he had eased up on the teasing. Not only because he was older now; he would turn eighteen in the fall; No, it was in his best interest to be nice to her. She was an Instagram star after all.
54 steps later and the alarm went off to the familiar upbeat song Can’t stop the feeling! by Justin Timberlake, which meant it was only five gruelling minutes left until the picture would go live to all of her followers - and the world. Leah wondered how it could be that time moved so slowly right now, when just six years ago she’d been a child and obsessed with the Trolls movie ( in which Justin voiced a character ), which felt like yesterday. She was only nine then, a complete unknown. She still loved the song though. And Mr.Timberlake, although an old man now, suddenly made her feel all kinds of ways.
There is a method to posting on social media — a science really. Mondays through Wednesdays between 11 a.m to 1 p.m was the best time to post a picture. People were scrolling on their way to work or at lunch so the chances for exposure greatly improved during those hours. Leah hadn’t missed once in eleven months.
Looking at the picture for the gazillioned time while the butterflies rose in her stomach, she wondered if the amount of freckles was too much —or just right. She still had time to make some last minute changes, if she felt she needed to, 58 seconds to be exact. Earlier she had warmed up the image in Lightroom on her phone, added some reds and orange tones and softened the skin so that her goosebumps didn’t show. It was horrible in the water that day but she had an idea, grabbed a hold of the railing and lowered herself down in the freezing cold; wet her hair a little, tilted her head to the side and smiled for the camera while her brother rolled his eyes and her father snorted disapprovingly. Leah thought she looked cute. And cute is currency for a fifteen year old.
It was time. She had decided on a caption days earlier.
”HOW ’BOUT A SUNKISS?”
She lay down on the bed and hit share.
It was the beginning of summer break but the weather was bad so going outside was pointless and boring. Her parents went to the beach house anyway and after a masterclass in passive aggressive nagging dressed in sugary compliments, they allowed her to stay home alone for two whole days. Peter was still at college and wouldn’t return for another week so she had the house all to herself.
Scrolling through her feed Leah was delighted to see the likes and comments staring to come in over her Sunkiss-pic.
”Hey gurl, you look hella fine!” - Bammie 99.
”Lea is my spiritanimal!”- Cathyanne.
”Noice!” - AdamDrivrfan.
”You are freakin gorgeous queen!” - Trish.
Leah smiled to herself and replied to Trish’s comment with the usual:
”No YOU are!”
Her phone rang.
”What you doin?” Beccas voice sounded like she’d just woken up.
”Nothing. Just scrolling around. Posted a cute pic a moment ago.”
”I know. I saw.”
Leah jumped up and walked over to the window.
”This weather kids sucks huh? You thinks it’s gonna rain?”
”I really don’t care”, Becca said. ”Have you started another Instagram account by the way?
Leah reached out the window to feel if any drops would hit her hand.
”No? Why would I? I’m gaining followers like crazy. I’m at fourteen thousand now, so yeah, nah.”
Becca was silent at the other end. Leah could smell the jealousy coming through the line. She looked at herself in the mirror and winked.
”Ok. Then someone else is doing it and using YOUR profile picture!” Becca didn’t sound half as upset as she thought she did.
A jolt of anger shot through Leah and she sat down on the bed and put the phone on speaker.
”What are you talking about?” she snapped and pulled up Instagram. She saw her account — Leahslife. It looked the same.
On the profile picture (which was due for an upgrade) she sucked in her cheeks making a fish mouth while pulling both her pigtails on either side, making her resemble an amphibious Pippi Longstocking. It was cute.
”I don’t know”, Becca said. ”But I got this follow request and thought it was you.”
”I haven’t sent you anything!”
”Then who’s LeahsWorld??”
Leah was perplexed. If someone did this it it had to be for the followers and the likes. She’d heard about others having their accounts faked but their accounts were usually much bigger. Was she really becoming THAT famous?
She had to report the fraud immediately. She typed Leahsworld in the search bar. It was the first result that popped up. The same profile picture.
”Did you find it?”; Becca asked. ”Did you see —”
”I’m hanging up now.” Leah said and ended the call.
It was worse than she’d imagined. At first she thought that the fraud would’ve simply stolen some of her pictures and posted them as their own. But apart from the profile picture, these were not hers. Leah prided herself on keeping a clean feed, with color coordinated images in an order that FIT together. She spent literally HOURS in Lightroom, Photoshop and Snapseed; pushing and pulling light and colors around, adding effects, removing blemishes and so on. The fraud did none of this. In fact, the pictures posted on THIS account were bad. Really bad. She pressed follow and decided to send the creep a message. A piece of her mind. A damn smackdown.
”Stop stealing my name and profilepicture asshole! Get your own! I am reporting you and having you banned from Instagram permanently!”
Leah didn’t know if banning someone from Instagram was even possible but she wanted to scare the kid. It had to be a kid. Probably someone from school. She quickly scrolled through the first couple of pictures. There were maybe about twelve of them; dark, blurry and grainy, hard to make out. If people thought SHE was the one posting these she would be mortified. And fade into obscurity once again. Maybe.
She sat down at her desk and opened Safari on her laptop. On Instagrams homepage there had to be some information on what to to in situations like this. How to report someone, possibly even find out who was doing this to her.
Becca texted her. It just said: Rude!
Her phone lit up again. Expecting it to be another text from Becca, she went to turn the sound off. Then she saw that it wasn’t a message at all —but a notification from Instagram. Leahsworld had just posted another picture!
Getting real angry now, Leah grabbed her phone. At first she couldn’t quite see what it was; A house, a yard, a few trees, a window; out of focus and random and — she froze.
In the picture, through the open window on the second floor; she saw a hand, reaching out. The caption read: Storm brewing?
Leah stood up so fast her chair spun away from her like ballerina on wheels. The fraud had been outside. Just moments ago.
After quickly pulling the curtains shut she peeked through the window. The street was deserted. No cars, no people, nothing.
Leah sat down again, heart racing, and dialled up Rebecka on her laptop.
She answered on the first signal.
”The fraud is outside my house!”, Leah yelled. ”Taking pictures! Right now!”
”What are you gonna do? Call the cops?” Becca sounded alarmed but excited.
”I don’t know yet”, Leah said, continuously scrolling through the pictures again, looking closer now. ”There has to be some law against —”
Her heart sank. At first she’d been too hasty when looking at the images and couldn’t make them out. They all looked terrible and sloppy. Now as she studied them she could see what they were. Pictures of her. Taken in secret.
The first three images were taken from a distance: Leah walking, Leah yawning, Leah eating in the cafeteria, Leah mid chew.
These were all awful but it was the fourth one that really made a chill run down her spine; Leah, sleeping; in her own house; in her own bed.
Peter! It had to be him. Who else would have access to her in this way? He obviously came home earlier from school and decided to pull a prank on her. What a piece of shit he was!
”Leah? Do you want me to come over?”
She had expected Becca to come over later anyway no longer felt like it. She would call Peter up and chew his ear off! He was probably down in the basement laughing.
”It’s my damn brother”, Leah said. ”I’m gonna kick his ass! Talk later!”
She left the call and dialled up Peter instead. He didn’t answer immediately. Probably panicking, she thought, growing angrier the more she thought about it. Finally he came online.
”Yeah?” He sounded hoarse and tired.
”What’s the matter with you? Do you think you’re funny?!”
Peter was quiet for awhile before responding.
”What are you talking about?”
”Are you high or something?” she continued. "I know it’s you, so you can stop pretending and take the account down right now!"
She could hear him chuckle in the background.
”Why are you yelling? Did mom not stock the fridge with Yoo-hoos or something?”
Leah was fuming now.
”Shut up! Mom AND dad is gonna know about all of this when they get home. It’s NOT funny Peter!”
”Don’t know what’s gotten into you, but if you have something to tell them you can do it yourself.”
Leah heard him turn away from the phone and call out.
”Mom! Leah’s on the phone. Throwing a fit!”
”Just stop it! They’re at the beach and you know that!”
Peter smacked his lips.
”And so am I. Here’s mom.”
Leah stiffened in her seat. Her mothers voice sounded far away.
”Honey? Is everything ok?”
Suddenly her throat was dry as sandpaper.
”Mom? Peter is with you?”
”Oh sure. He came earlier, we picked him up at the busstation just an hour ago. You’re welcome to come too if you want?”
Suddenly Leah couldn’t breathe. The room felt smaller than usual.
”Leah? Are you there?”
”Mom. There's something happening here. I’m not sure what —”
”Leah, I’m losing you honey. Maybe the wifi is bad —”
The connection was broken.
Leah sat still for moment. If it wasn’t Peter doing this then who was it? Should she leave for the beach house anyway? She wasn’t a little girl anymore. She shouldn’t get spooked this easily. It was just some dumb kid.
But the beach house was nice.
She jumped. The sudden noise from the phone startled her and she felt instantly embarrassed. It was probably just her mother texting her.
Leah looked at the screen and a wave of nausea welled in.
It wasn’t a text message. It was a notification.
Leahsworld had posted another image.
With icy fingers she opened Instagram. And her heart almost stopped.
This post was not dark and grainy as before, but bright and well lit. It pictured a bedroom, a window with the curtains shut — and the back of a young girl sitting by her laptop. Leah could even see the closet doors, framing the picture with pitch black borders.
And she screamed.