Sample Chapter from The Influencer Part II: The Long Night of the Owl
Chet did not lower his head for prayer at the dinner table as the rest of his family did. They bowed their heads toward their upward-facing phones, muttering the same stuff they always did (amen and all that jazz), then turned the volume up on their devices, per Chet’s request.
Right before dinner, he had finished editing a new vlog using that lit new phone of his, and posted the end result to his YouBoub channel. The phone had been hard for Chet to navigate—it only had four buttons, but that was okay; he had a normal phone to use when he wasn’t YouBoubing. At this thought, he realized he’d be stuck with the four-icon phone like, forever. If it works though, who cares?
He wondered whether he’d used enough filters, and whether what the vampire dude had said about him gaining followers was true. He hoped to surpass Morgan-Amber in both views and new sponsors. Then he could finally get out of the disgusting surroundings set before him, and buy his own place.
Yeah, at eighteen years old, it was about time to leave the nest, as his family reminded him on a daily basis.
Chet nearly salivated at the faces of his family as they laid eyes upon what was projected to be, promised to be, his greatest vlog ever. Mom, Daddy, Grammy and Chet’s annoying little sis seemed to be in a trance. Chet grinned. He listened to his own voice, projected by four phones at once (Or, what he thought was four). The audio of each phone hardly aligned with any other, so his voice was distorted as he listened to himself thank (in layers) his sponsors one by one and his “bros and lady bros.”
“Bros and lady bros,” his family repeated, then wrapped up their views by all tapping the “like” icon in the bottom corner of Chet’s video.
“Chet.” His father broke the silence without taking his eyes from his phone. “That was smashly-dopity-doo, bro.” His monotone voice radiated off the walls of the narrow dining room, made narrower by the presence of a tall, double-wide china hutch. The family dinnerware was displayed prominently through the glass; separated by sparse, thin mahogany panes. His father’s voice soaked into the delicately placed embroidered doilies that sat below every plate on the table.
As the doilies also began to emit an almost static silence, a stuffy melody of nothing, Chet’s sister cleared her throat. “Like, yeah Dad, it was okaaaaaay.”
Chet’s mother addressed her daughter without looking at her. “Mmmm-hmmm, I agree, dear. It was the bee’s knees, as they would say back in Grammy’s time.”
“That’s even better than Morgan-Amber!” Grammy exclaimed. Chet hadn’t noted that Grammy’s compliment contained actual enthusiasm, which differed vastly from the flat, AI-like tones of the rest of his family. He also hadn’t noticed that she’d been watching an old episode of The Twilight Zone on her phone; not his YouBoub video.
“Replay.” Chet’s father’s tone of voice sounded like the option at the end of a computer game from 1992. He tapped the “back” icon on his phone, and stared into the screen with the same expression as before, into the screen. He leaned his head so far in that his nose paused the video. “Plaaaaaay,” he tapped the “play” icon again with his nose, fogging the screen. “I caaaaannn’t seeee.” He reached under the table.
Chet knew what he was reaching for—his father had been carrying a drill set around the entire week. He was replacing every door hinge in the house so that they all matched the newest gross style his mother adored: tarnished brass. He had secured these tools to his waist in an ever-clanging shell—his neon green “Above Your Dickie” bag (they were very fashionable in the early nineties).
He unzipped the pouch and laid tools on top of his leftover mashed potatoes—a drill and several screws. He secured a screw to his drill-bit before placing his phone pacing outward onto his forehead, still playing Chet’s vlog. He then pointed the drill at the phone on his forehead as though he were holding a gun and was about to be indicted on several murder charges. He depressed the trigger, and with an electric whir and a squelch, he secured the phone to his skull.
“Oh, son! That’s so... icky for the dinner table, don’t you think?” Grammy reached across the table and put her hand on her son’s wrist. Something changed in Grammy, though. She stared straight ahead, into the screen of her son’s 1080p phone, which was still casting Chet’s vlog. Her hand slid from Chet’s father into his lumpy potatoes. She dragged her wrinkled hand across the dinner plate until her arthritic fingers grazed a screw, which she promptly snatched. Her eyes were still trained on the phone as she followed Chet’s father’s example—securing the screw to the drill-bit before picking up the drill with both hands. She placed her own phone on her forehead, facing outwards, and gurgled a smoker’s laugh as the spinning screw penetrated the phone, epidermis, dermis, tissue, bone, and brain matter.
Chet finally noticed that his grandmother had been watching her stupid Twilight Zone reruns instead of him. “Grammy! Why weren’t you watching my blooooog?” Chet demanded, as he watched Grammy’s skin tears reveal hints of bone through tissue, as blood ran down, blending with the potato smears on her forehead.
His mother and little sister did the same with their phones.
Chet was incredibly disturbed.
He proceeded to scream, at the top of his lungs, “GRAMMY, WHY WEREN’T YOU WATCHING ME?”
A deep purple absorbed the dining room.
* * *
“No, I’m not touchin’ that. You look like somethin’ that crawled up from hell and pushed open a sewer grate to make it to the surface of the earth—you’re crazy if you think I’m going to be touching any balls of yours.”
Karjiel was almost bitter, almost angry enough to throw the sphere through Hezekiah’s knee, severing bone, ligament, and muscle for that comment…
Then he remembered his time spent as a sewer rat and shrugged one shoulder, looked at the ceiling and nodded his head a bit.
“That’s not entirely unfair, but not very… called for. Wouldn’t you agree with me, my friend, Carl?”
Carl had fallen deep down a rabbit-hole that had opened in Dixieland and ran straight through to the horror movie part of Wonderland. A Lynchian hellscape which existed alongside Karjiel, and interacted with him; but rarely connected anymore. No, Karjiel existed in his very own hellscape through which he could conjure comments from Carl: live from Carl’s universe. These typically brief replies, heavy on metaphor, were meant only for the deepest thinking, hardest feeling philosophers of the world.
“Yo. Fuckin’ A!”
Yes. Quite like that.
Karjiel fought the urge to roll his eyes and staged a grin.
Hez didn’t know what to think of these two fucking weirdos and the two girls they had with them. He wasn’t even sure those were legal girls. How could he be sure? Their faces were covered by gas masks. He couldn’t be sure they were even alive. They hadn’t moved for hours. “Hey! What’s with the ladies? You got them drugged or something?”
Karjiel pulled a phone out of Hezekiah’s rucksack. He fiddled with it for a few moments. “How do I use this thing, Owl? What is your password?”
“I wiped it! There’s nothing there. What’s with those girls? Are they breathing?”
“I’ll tell you about these women when you tell me a word or number combination that unlocks this.”
Hez snapped his head back. “Is that so, you ugly pube-beard fuck?”
He meant to sound threatening, but it wasn’t easy. He wasn’t eye-level with the creep and couldn’t move. He was inside a steel cage shaped like a bullet. It looked like a large birdcage, as if for an oversized canary or parakeet.
Dracula responded by cackling. “If you will not be agreeable on the matter of your electronic devices, then I need you to agree to do something else for me…” Karjiel’s white teeth shone as though it were night in the room, and he was a predator with glowing eyes and a diamond smile from the seventh circle of hell.
He tossed the brass sphere from hand to hand.
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