Viral / Lynette Ferreira

According to Urban Dictionary, something that “goes viral” is an image, video, or link that spreads rapidly through a population by being frequently shared.

In Viral, Richard wants to be famous. He wants to post a video on the internet and he wants it to go viral. He wants millions of people to click on his page and to view his content, maybe he could even make a living from posting online videos. Gareth, his roommate, has the resources to make Richard’s dreams of being famous come true so he suggests an online reality game guaranteed to go viral, but Gareth is not who he seems to be.


“I want to be the next internet sensation.”
Bored with Facebook and Twitter, envious of YouTube videos getting in excess of eight million views, Richard pushes his palms against the edge of his desk and shoves himself away from his desktop. The wheels under his chair swivel the chair backwards until it hooks onto the bedside rug behind him. Despondently he wonders when it will be his turn. He is tired of waiting for his fifteen seconds of fame.
He spins around in the chair and looks across his Ivy League college dorm room at Gareth sitting up on his bed, his back against the wall behind him and his earphones plugged into his ears.
Richard leans across the empty space between him and the desk and grabs hold of his substantial and chunky chemistry book. Holding the book in the air above his head, Richard hurls it at Gareth.
The book hits Gareth against the head and falls down onto his lap, knocking the mug of coffee in his hand across the bed.
Gareth pulls the earphones from his ears and Richard hears the heavy metal from across the room. Agitated Gareth jumps up from the bed. “What the hell, Richard. What is your problem?” He exclaims in rage.
Richard grins. “I said, I want to be the next internet sensation.”
“And why is that my problem? Look at the mess you made!” Gareth pulls his T-shirt over his head and starts to dab at the coffee puddles on his duvet.
Jokingly Richard explains, “You are the computer geek and together we can make it happen.”
Irritated Gareth scoffs, “Why don’t you go out and sit on the side-walk and wait for someone to get knocked over by a car or a bus and then upload that?”
“No. It must be memorable. I want to be remembered forever as the most infamous internet sensation ever in the history of the internet.”
Gareth glances across his shoulder at Richard and he says tentatively, “I have been thinking about this one thing, but you will have to give up everything else and nobody can ever know it is you.”
Richard sighs exasperated. “What would the use be of that?”
“You will know unless you need the acknowledgement from people and you cannot just bask in your own glory.”
Richard swivels the chair away from Gareth and looks at his computer screen. He opens his page and sneers when he sees the meagre twenty-five views on his page. 
It is for a video of Gareth sleeping, and him smearing shaving cream on his face and then tickling his nose. A juvenile, childish prank and it did not get the desired results he was hoping it would get. He sighs long and deeply. “I seriously want to be the next sensation. I want to upload a video that will go viral, and I will do anything to get it.” He hesitates and glances across his shoulder at Gareth. “I will even sell my soul to the devil.”
“If I tell you of my idea, you will have to sell your soul to the devil. This idea of mine is not for sissies.”
Interested Richard turns back to Gareth. “So are you going to tell me, or what?”
Gareth sits down on the edge of his bed and he leans his muscular forearms on his thighs. His expensive watch catches a glint from the overhead light. His hair is longish and light blond, brushed back casually from his forehead. He is dressed shabbily, but every piece of clothing on his body has a designer brand name.
He looks across the room at Richard pensively, measuring the distance between them and wondering if Richard will have the guts to go all the way with this unique idea. 
Although he is sure they could make millions of dollars with this idea, it would be too difficult to actually get their hands on the money. The path the money would have to follow to eventually get to them would be easily traceable, but if they only went for the hits and instant internet fame, it would be more difficult for the police to get a trace on them, especially if he buys and invests in the latest technologies to block his IP address and have the signal jumping around erratically. 
It was initially his intention to do this all by himself, to be the one who becomes notorious. The one who fools the police for six days, before he disappears into oblivion, and then one day, sixty years from now, when he is too old to care whether he goes to jail or not, he will confess and become legendary overnight. He would be more well-known than the worst serial killer ever.
Richard interrupts his thoughts, “Are you going to tell me?”
Gareth smiles slowly. “You know all the reality shows there are on TV now? For singing, dancing, kissing, damn-well everything?”
“Yeah. Who doesn’t?”
“So, imagine if we got six kids. Let’s say, a high school football star, a homecoming queen, a scout, a junior baseball kid, a geek and an ordinary Joe, the options are endless. We follow and videotape them, but we have to get enough coverage to make a compelling thirty-second video.”
Richard says mockingly, “This sounds stupid. Do you honestly think we would become a global internet hit with such a lame idea?”
The look in Gareth’s eyes turns sinister as he continues, “We abduct each kid and we keep them locked up for the six days, and each day the viewers of the on-line video must choose their favourite who will advance to the next day. The kids with the most votes will get another chance.”
Richard frowns briefly and looks across the room at Gareth a little more interested.
“After we upload the video onto a fake, untraceable account that I will set up, we post the question: Which of these would you want to see tomorrow?” Gareth’s voice becomes dramatic, like a reality show host’s. “Which one of these six kids do you think should live to see another day? Remember to cast your vote, because the one with the most votes will stay another day. So, be sure to vote for your favourite. If you do not vote, they will be out of the competition, all their dreams snuffed out like the flame of a candle.”
Richard laughs, delighted. “We can make money from this.”
Gareth looks at Richard derisively. “No. The police will be able to trace the money and will find you… us more easily then. The money goes through your bank account eventually, dummy.”
Nodding his head in understanding, Richards starts to smile. “What do you want me to do?”
“Are you sure you want to do this? Once we put this into motion, there is no turning back.”
“Hell yeah!” Richard cries out. “Of course I want to do this. I cannot wait to sit here and see the view numbers on the computer screen roll over into the billions.”
Gareth smiles cruelly. “And I can guarantee you the numbers will reach far into the billions. We will be the internet buzz for six glorious days.”
Doubtfully Richard asks, “We aren’t actually going to kill any of them are we?”
“Now why would people bother to watch the second day’s video if we do not show them the proof that one of them are dead? We will videotape and upload the losing kid’s last screams.”
Richard says perceptively, “That is why nobody can know it is us.”
“So let’s make a list of all the things we need to do.”
Gareth pulls a chair closer to Richard’s desk and then with their heads bend over the A4 sheet of paper, torn from a notebook, Gareth scribbles in his slanted handwriting the to-do list.
“Firstly, what type of contestants will we have?”
Richard rests his head onto his palm and taps with his index finger against his temple. “For the sympathy vote, we should have a girl of about seven to eight years of age.”
Gareth writes it down onto the piece of paper. “To make our list ethnically correct, we should have a black kid as well.”
Richard nods his head in agreement, and Gareth writes it down onto the list.
“I liked your earlier idea of the high school homecoming queen.”
Gareth smiles as he adds it to the list. Under that he scribbles another contestant idea.
Richards smirks. “Almost forgot all about the all-important jock, the high school football hero.” He laughs suddenly. “To make the list properly correct, we will have to have a disabled contestant.”
“Brilliant, Richard. I never even considered that one. Then, for the contestant against all the odds, the ugliest kid we can find.”
Richard laughs heartily. “I am loving this idea.” Abruptly he remembers, “Where are we going to keep them?”
“My dad has a hunting lodge an hour from here. This weekend we should go there and fix up the basement. It is quiet out there and there is not a living soul nearby for miles and miles.”
Richard sighs exaggerated, a small smile playing on his lips. “Is this going to involve manual labour?”
“I will go to the hardware store and buy drywall, chains and anything else we would need.”
“Why drywall?”
“We want to lock them up separately. You do not want them to gang up against us. If they manage to escape and run to the police, you can kiss your chemical engineering degree good bye.”
“So, when do we start?”
“I will have to get some new gadgets and a new computer. Also, I will have to get some anti-tracking set-up. That will take me at least a week and with exams coming up it is going to be a tight schedule.”
Enviously Richard sulks, “Your dad won’t get suspicious with you spending so much money?”
Gareth laughs derisively. “He is out of the country and when has he ever cared?” Gareth gets up from the chair and drags it behind him back to his side of the room. He pushes the chair under his desk and then he turns back to Richard threateningly. “There is no turning back, do you understand?”
Richard feels a chill down his spine when he looks back into Gareth’s lifeless eyes.

© Viral by Lynette Ferreira