Priscilla ignored her friends, Stacie, Charlotte, and Maya as they sat outside the most popular Starbucks in Mechant Lake. It was on the corner of Tullamoor and Elm, where the most foot traffic on a bright Saturday in June would pass.
Scrolling through her most recent Tik Tok video uploads, Priscilla sighed in exasperation.
Stacie rolled her eyes and said, “Ok, I’ll bite. What’s wrong, darling?”
Priscilla glanced up at her, flashed a glare, then caught herself. Immediately transforming her scowl into a bright fake yet pouty grin, she said, “I barely got any new followers this week. And there’s like, not that many likes either! I’m so depressed!”
Maya sipped her Mocha Frappuccino and phrogged, “OMG Pris, who even cares? Right?”
“We’ve got one more year of college, and if my vids don’t go viral soon, I’ll have to get a real job.”
Charlotte, usually quiet, said, “Do you really think anyone our age is that interested in fitness?”
Clearly stung, Priscilla’s face burned, and her mouth hung agape. “Well, you guys watch my vids, don’t you?”
The three of them looked away.
After an awkward silence, Stacie said, “Of course we do, honey, but all those workouts look so hard, and you know I don’t like to sweat.”
Defeated, Priscilla pouted, loosely holding her phone in her lap.
Waiting for Stacie and Maya to re-engage in their own private convo, Charlotte quietly said to Priscilla, “Did you ever consider trying that Social-Currency app?”
“Never heard of it. What is it?”
Charlotte leaned toward Priscilla, adjusting her plaid skirt. Quietly, so Stacie and Maya couldn’t hear, she said, “You can buy views, likes, and even new followers.”
Charlotte nodded. “It’s pretty cheap too. I don’t know how it works, but my cousin Sherry has a Youtube channel where she tries on cute clothes and bikinis and stuff…anyway, she got like a ton of new subscribers in just a few months.”
Priscilla sat back, arms folded. Clutching her phone in her right hand, she said, “Come on, does that really work?”
Shrugging, Charlotte said, “I think it does. But, Sherry seems off lately. Even more arrogant than ever, and…something else. Don’t let the fame go to your head.”
That night in the dark, scrolling through her Tik Tok profile while in bed, Priscilla found the Social-Currency app hidden deep in the App Store. The logo read “So-Cur”, which sounded like “soaker” when read out loud. It was free to download, but of course to get any actual value out of it, one would need to purchase one of the dozens of “bundles” it offered.
With a slightly trembling finger, she clicked the box to download the app. Less than a minute later, the icon appeared on her screen. Eager to explore the options, she opened the app.
A moment later, a bright green screen opened. She had to input some identifying info and links to all her social media accounts, but there was no turning back now.
After her account was all setup, she navigated through the brief instructions and clicked the “Bundles” menu. The options seemed endless. A budding social media influencer could purchase as few as 10 likes on a particular post, or countless likes, views, and followers on a continuing rotating basis. The menu didn’t list prices next to the options, but Charlotte did say they were cheap. Even so, it couldn’t hurt to look, could it?
Priscilla clicked a more modest option for Tik Tok accounts: 100 views, 100 likes, 100 new followers. The price was only $1.99 and something called “Biometric Offset Parameter” or BOP.
She clicked the hypertext link which lead to a detailed description of the BOP.
By submitting payment for any bundle, user legally agrees to forfeit a number of brain cells commensurate with the size and reach of purchased bundle. Not to worry, smaller bundles equate to the same loss of brain cells as a night of heavy drinking.
Priscilla blinked in shock, then read the disclaimer again.
“What? Brain cells? How would they…oh, I get it. It’s a joke. Funny.”
With a deep breath, she clicked back to the menu and input her credit card info for the 100 Bundle. Before finalizing the choice, she chuckled to herself. Feeling foolish for even wanting to purchase this social-currency. But who would know? And what harm could it cause?
She clicked the sale button, and the purchase was complete. The confirmation message indicated she should check her selected social media profile in a few hours to see the changes take effect.
Priscilla went to sleep with visions of fame and fawning fans dancing in her head. Sponsors vied for her attention, begging her to wear their product in one of her videos or to mention their name. It was intoxicating.
Sunday morning, she greedily snatched her phone off the nightstand and opened her Tik Tok. 100 new followers! Exactly 100!
She clicked to her latest upload and saw 115 new views and 106 likes over the course of the night. Amazing! She hadn’t had more than a few views in a single night ever.
As she sat up, her head throbbed, causing her to close her eyes. She felt hungover, but hadn’t had a drop of alcohol the night before. Weird.
Not to worry, summer break had just started two weeks earlier. Even though her mother already bugged her to find a summer job, Priscilla knew she had another week or two before it got serious.
After breakfast, Priscilla sat on the floor among a pile of workout clothes. She had planned on recording a new 5 minute workout video for her new fans, but could not decide on an outfit. Something had sapped her energy. And her mind was foggy from the previous night’s drinking. What drinking?
At 1pm, Priscilla managed to drag herself out of bed to meet the girls for lunch. The prospect of showing them all her new followers supplied just enough motivation to get her out of the house.
As the quartet sat in the warm summer sun on the sidewalk just outside Elle’s Microbrewery and Grill, Priscilla pulled her phone out with a huge grin.
“Did any of you happen to see my latest upload?”
Maya clicked her tongue and said, “Was it another workout vid, Pris? If so, no!”
“Well, somebody did. Look at all the activity!”
She spun her phone around on the table so they could see. The three leaned over to glance at the new stats. Charlotte’s eyebrows raised, and Stacie offered a modest nod of appreciation.
Maya whistled a sigh and said, “A hundred new followers…not bad. In a few years, you might have a few thousand.”
Not caring for her tone, Priscilla snatched her phone back.
While they ate, the conversation turned to something inane. Priscilla’s mind wandered, but she lobbed the occasional nod of the head or mumble of agreement at the requisite times. Her focus was on the So-Cur app. Feeling daring, she clicked it open again. Right there at the table.
Her initial thoughts went to her father who would see the credit card bill. But it wasn’t that much money. He probably wouldn’t even notice it. Right? Besides, her whole body tingled in anticipation of another surge in popularity.
Feeling daring, Priscilla’s index finger hovered over a more aggressive bundle. 10,000 new views, 10,000 new likes, 10,000 new viewers. The price, only $2.99. Chump change. Dad wouldn’t even miss it. But, there was a non-monetary cost too, wasn’t there?
With little hesitation, she clicked confirm and completed the transaction. None of the other three even noticed. Deep in conversation.
Priscilla slipped her phone back in her purse with a smile. What an investment. She imagined the thousands of new viewers watching their own screens with her name scrolling across their eyesight. Her name on the tip of their tongues when they talked to their friends.
Just before the check came for the table, a scrappy haired teen who looked to be in high school walked up to her timidly.
Unable to ignore the intrusion, Maya fluttered her eyelashes angrily and said, “Can I help you, little boy?”
He ignored Maya, instead staring wide-eyed at Priscilla.
With his hands outstretched, he held a pen and a piece of paper with a receipt for an oil change printed on the front side.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but aren’t you Pretty Priscilla?”
Delighted, Priscilla grinned and glanced at her friends. She saw jealousy in their eyes.
“I certainly am.”
Gushing, he shuffled his feet and said, “Could I get your autograph? I’m a huge fan! I even tried a couple of your 5 minute workout pieces. Is it true if I put three or four of them together, I’ll have a sick workout?”
Nodding, Priscilla scribbled her name on the blank side of the paper and handed it back to him.
The kid stared at her for a few seconds, then Stacie said, “Ok, you can go now!”
The next morning, Priscilla immediately scrolled to her Tik Tok profile. 10,114 new followers! New views and likes littered her last ten videos. Thousands of them!
The euphoria lasted only a minute though as she thought about her jealous friends. Unable to contain her rage, she sat up in bed and started a group text to the three “friends”.
Don’t EVER treat one of my fans like that ever again!! Stop acting like little bitches just because I’m famous and you’re NOT!
Her finger hovered over the send button. Her body was shaking. Rage flowed through her like a river of fire, igniting her mind with images of revenge. At that moment, she wanted to grab Maya by her gorgeous braided hair and swing her around like a rag doll.
Priscilla dropped her phone on the bed spread. The text unsent. Thank God. Her mouth quivered, and for the first time in a while, she felt scared. Where had this anger come from? She was ready to drop her three best friends over nothing.
By the time she went down for breakfast, Priscilla had calmed herself. It took quite a bit more time and effort than she expected.
As she sat down to a bowl of cereal, her mother looked up from the kitchen sink and said, “Gonna go look for a job today?”
Priscilla clenched her fists and gritted her teeth. Fury seethed from every pore as she slammed her fists down on the table and screamed, “Get off my fucking back! School just ended! God, you’re always nagging! Why don’t you shut the fuck up?!”
Horrified, Priscilla’s mother stared wide eyed with her mouth hanging open.
Barely audible, she said, “Priscilla, what is wrong with you? You’ve never spoken to me like that.”
Without a word, Priscilla stormed back upstairs to her bedroom. She collapsed in a heap on her bed, bawling.
As she lay in her bed, the fact that her emotions ran from angry to sad so quickly only made her angrier. She was up in a flash and slammed her fist into the wall. The pain barely registered. But a hole appeared next to her SpongeBob Square Pants poster.
Her mother burst through the bedroom door, shaking with concern.
Five minutes later, they were in the car on the way to the emergency room. Priscilla’s hand was swelling to an unbelievable size. But the rage was still there. Bubbling just under the surface.
After explaining to a doctor what had happened, they ordered a CAT scan. An hour after the test, the doctor brought Priscilla and her mother to a private room. By this time, Priscilla’s anger had subsided. Replaced by fear that something was seriously wrong.
“Priscilla, have you been in any kind of accident or suffered any head injuries lately?”
She shook her head.
Priscilla’s mom said, “Why? What did you find?”
Shaking his head, the doctor said, “Well, it looks like you’ve sustained some brain damage. But I can’t find any scars or lesions. It’s as if the part of your brain that regulates mood and reason has just…disappeared. Gone.”
Priscilla’s fingers twined in her lap as she thought about the last time she uploaded a video. Thousands of fans were depending on her. She had to get back home and continue the streak. No! Increase it.
The doctor relayed a half-hour’s worth of information and concern that Priscilla barely heard. When they got home, Priscilla went straight to her bedroom, telling mom she was going to lie down.
A few minutes later, Priscilla stood in front of her phone with a huge smile wearing a snazzy new outfit. She had dozens more ideas for quick HIIT workouts, and took a moment to thank her new followers and all of her viewers on the recent surge in likes and comments.
Even before she went to sleep that night, the new followers and views rolled in. They approached 10,000. But the hunger returned. She needed more. Much more.
Able to contain her mercurial emotions, Priscilla lay in bed marveling at all of the activity. Like a magnet, her finger was drawn back to the So-Cur app.
With an insatiable greed, she scrolled to the more exorbitant bundles. This time, she chose the “Million Milestone” offer. For only $5.99, she could add one million followers, views, and likes to her profile. Strangers from all across the world would watch her videos and adore her. Love her. Worship her.
The dopamine rush was better than any drug. Better than sex! As she clicked the confirm button, the loss of a measly six dollars was nothing. Literally nothing to her.
Priscilla didn’t sleep a wink that night. She updated her profile over and over, never disappointed by the new followers. 1054 new followers, then 25,497, then 236,855, and then just before dawn, she hit 1,038,792 total followers! In one night! The new views and likes were off the charts! Her popularity had spilled over to other Tik Toks. Gamers and streamers mentioned her with fawning praise for her beauty, her ingenuity, her dedication.
Mania raced through her veins like cocaine, and she demanded her friends meet her for lunch. As she got ready to head out, the first anomaly she noticed in the mirror was her face. It drooped on the left side slightly.
And her arm. It felt weak. Her movements were slow and sluggish. Like the synapses controlling motor function had become all gunked up with molasses. And the brain fog. She knew she had dozens of new video ideas, but couldn’t recall a single one.
By the time she met her friends for lunch, she realized she was over a half hour late. She forgot where they were supposed to meet. And when Maya called her out on it, her rage ignited like an explosion. Priscilla yanked Maya to the ground, pulling at her hair and trying to claw her eyes out as she growled.
Stacie and Charlotte managed to pull them apart. Maya sat on the sidewalk, terrified.
No longer needing them, Priscilla headed back home. She sat up in her bedroom, her mood improving dramatically at the offers from sponsors to pay her to use their product in her next video and mention them.
Strangers knocked on her front door several times that day, begging to meet her. Finally, her mother refused to open the door anymore, but the doorbell kept ringing.
Two days later, after Priscilla spent another $100 to amass several millions of new followers and likes, she sat on her bedroom floor.
Her phone was propped up on a desk chair, slightly askew. Priscilla’s blank face appeared in the camera. She wore a pair of green yoga pants with white underwear on the outside. Her hoodie was zipped up halfway, and a white t-shirt stained with coffee peered out.
Priscilla’s right eye was almost closed, and the left drooped. Drool trickled from the corner of her mouth. She mumbled incoherently, but they were her words. Her hands twitched in her lap as she stared at that camera. Behind it, millions of eager followers waited with bated breath for her next words. The new followers ticked higher and higher. Views and likes poured like honey from sugary clouds above.
This livestream was her first, and Pretty Priscilla was a star.