Eyes crusty, Cyrus Ghasemi rolls over in bed and stretches his body like a Persian cat, copious black body hair standing on end with the static of the shifting sheets. Muscle memory sends a paw swiping at the bedside table. By no intention of Cyrus' own, he grasps his smart phone and enters the connect-the-dots unlock pattern, which resembles a cross or a pentagram, depending on how he looks at it. He rarely does--look at it, that is. By now, tapping into the world wide web is as natural to him as wiggling his toes.
A heavy feeling in Cyrus' gut tells him he has to piss pretty bad, but he won't get up right away, because he has to be sure that he hasn't missed anything while he slept. So he crosses his legs, pinching his penis shut, and opens up his socials. His long, thin thumb moves dexterously, a deft oar to guide him through the gentle sea of curated images and malnourished text.
And what does the internet have for Cyrus this morning?
On Instagram, a beautiful woman named Katya is, surprise, still beautiful, as demonstrated by a revealing photoset in a faraway cave. The pictures do no justice to the image Cyrus has of her in his head. They're hardly any different from the ones she posted yesterday. Nevertheless Cyrus sighs and saves a few for later, then cruises through the rest of his feed, double-tapping group photos that give him not FOMO (fear of missing out), but DAHMO (dread at having missed out).
Soon he sees Katya again, this time in a heart-framed photograph on her story, which shows herself and a man named, of all names, Boris. Crestfallen for a moment or two, Cyrus promptly rids his gallery of any woman remotely resembling Katya, and that's that.
Next he moves to Facebook and boredly queues up a prank video, but abandons the endeavor after an advertisement for beta blockers begins to play.
Then to the trending page on Twitter, where global leaders argue at a summit on climate change while rising water levels push refugees across borders, and refugees fall victim to an onslaught of decentralized libertarian militia attacks, and the president can't do anything about it because he's been canceled for being alive in the 1960s and not fixing racism then and there and--aha! A dog in a sweater, with human arms poking through the sleeves, cutting steak with a fork and knife. Delightful! What a dapper boy!
Cyrus' bladder is on the verge of bursting. He swings his legs over the edge of the mattress and braces himself to stand, but just before his feet touch the floor, he sees it: an old picture of himself, embedded in a post from a blue-tick account called Deadline.
"Cyrus Ghasemi has passed away today at the tender age of 27."
Cyrus, who before this moment has been totally unconcerned about his aliveness, pisses his pajamas.
Still reeling from the shock of his presumed death, Cyrus squints at his phone. It's a confusing profusion of images. His dumb face, pulled straight from senior photo day, sandwiched between an obit and a verified source.
“This can’t be,” Cyrus says, and he's relieved to hear the sound of his own voice, though he normally hates it.
He taps the little more button to expand the caption.
“No really,” it says. “We insist. We have it from sources close to the Ghasemi family that Cyrus passed away this morning under mysterious circumstances. Details are still coming in, but we can confirm that Mr. Ghasemi's spinal cord had turned to jelly.”
Why on earth has Deadline posted such a thing? For one, Cyrus is not famous; he is hardly known in his neighborhood. For two, his morning stretch was big, but not that big.
I’d better clear this up right away, Cyrus thinks. He looks at the comment section. Empty so far, which seems about right for someone with so little clout. He’ll try not to take the lack of engagement personally, but if he's honest, it does bother him a bit.
He adds a comment: “Umm… hi? lol.”
Then he turns over his phone and waddles away to the shower to rinse off all the piss.
When he returns after a quarter of an hour, his comment has zero likes and one reply. Her name is joeb.2189, her profile picture prominently features her see-through blouse, and her exact words are “You have a beautiful. I have little surprise for you my story!”
He checks the bot's story, gazes for a moment at a set of gorgeous feminine curves, and feels nothing.
By nightfall, the tide has changed. Although the matter was ignored at first, and indeed might have remained as such without his input, Cyrus' death has become quite the controversy. #TwiceCyrus is trending in every part of the world.
The death announcement itself has millions of likes and hundreds of thousands of comments. Many such chimings-in add little in the way of value, and the bulk of those are tactless self-promotions. But between the clickbait, something unexpected emerges.
An argument online.
Two primary factions gather. The first are those wild-eyed Christians who, despite probably never knowing of Cyrus before today, take his sudden resurrection as proof that he is the second coming of their savior. Their bios now read something like: "Mother of six boys, American patriot, Follower of Cyrus." It comes as no surprise when a counterpoint, a counterculture, forms against such zealotry. The dissenters believe that Deadline made a mistake (if indeed a Cyrus Ghasemi ever existed in the first place.) Most of all, they vehemently denounce everything the Followers stand for, and they come to refer to themselves, in a tongue-in-cheek way, as the Heretics.
Naturally, the Followers want to see their God wrought in flesh, to be touched and healed and forgiven by him. Paul Smyth, a rising star in the newly formed Ghasemian clergy, uses his popular TikTok account to organize a pilgrimage en masse. Thousands descend upon the humble duplex Cyrus shares with his mother, easily overwhelming a small town police force in the process. The scene more closely resembles a music festival than anything else, with chanting, shoving, and copious amounts of alcohol. The blood of Christ, they shout, before suckling up to boxes of wine.
Always present wherever the Followers are, and eager to point out any hypocrisy, the Heretics close in and begin their haranguing. Gradually, as the shouting escalates, the crowd separates into two distinct bodies, facing one another like the Greeks did the Persians, with perhaps half a street block between their front lines. The Followers are fewer in number, but appear far the more intimidating. Stoic, silent, self-assured. Then suddenly, from among their ranks launches a fist-sized rock, arcing high through the air and descending upon the enemy. This single rash act ignites a battle, and the battle a holy war.
Cyrus watches this from his dirty bedroom window, thinking, I wonder what Katya's up to.
By the next day the Followers and Heretics have organized across the country. The Pentagon begins constructing am emergency high-security compound around Cyrus' home, but the project is soon abandoned for more pressing concerns. National borders are overwhelmed by desperate pilgrims of all Abrahamic religions. Conflicts erupt over holy sites, such as the tiny riverside park where Cyrus used to bury his nudie magazines. Thousands die thinking themselves righteous, and the government won't touch it for fear of losing control of their Christian base right before the upcoming midterm election.
Fate seems to favor the Followers. They do not have the numbers to run a coherent military campaign or win a decisive victory, but they're not afraid to fight dirty. They attack sporadically, guerilla-style, in a way that eludes the Heretics, like the Sioux on the high plains. They make no real progress, but it seems as though they have the will to outlast their enemy.
This all changes at the Battle of the Broken Porch, when an enveloping ambush destroys the entry to Cyrus' home and the bulk of the Followers' forces.
Finally, after four hellish days, the end of the war is in sight.
It is only two days after Broken Porch that a Heretic death squad decapitates Paul Smyth, thereby crippling the Ghanesian chain of command.
And on the seventh day, a treaty is signed.
It confuses Cyrus that, as a stipulation of this treaty, he must be nailed to a cross and bled to death. It has apparently been decided that from the Heretics' perspective, the Followers must be shown that their God is only a man. And from the Followers' perspective, their God has died for their sins before, and should be happy to do so again.
Both sides are satisfied with the crucifixion solution, but the Followers cannot amongst themselves agree upon what type of wood to use for the cross.
Cyrus spends the weekend hiding under his bed, afraid for his sorry life, having nightmares wherein Katya bequeathes upon him a crown of thorns.
Much to his surprise, by the time Monday morning rolls around, the news cycle has refreshed. The matter of the may-be messiah is summarily forgotten.
Cyrus jogs to the bathroom and empties his bladder into the shower. Feeling warm relief radiate through his body, he thinks to himself that it might be nice to go for a long walk.