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A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

Social Media Central

Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Klehr

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2018

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at

Printed in the USA

First Edition

April, 2018

eBook ISBN: 978-1-948608-37-4

Print ISBN: 978-1-948608-41-1

Social Media Central

Tayler, Book One

Kevin Klehr

Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

About the Author


One night in 2015, I sat sharing wine and conversation with my partner in crime, Warren, and my good friend, Clinton.

We spoke of the ‘disconnect’ we were seeing in society all due to the spread, and sometimes the addiction to, social media.

Then we concocted a tale about a man who lives in the future and feels the pain of this disconnect.

Little did we realize that this future was coming fast.

So this book is dedicated to my think tank, Warren and Clinton, and to this book’s first editor, Jerry L. Wheeler, who made me laugh when he described this novel was “Orwellian but not.”


“If this is our future, then we’re already dead.”

I usually sat alone to eat lunch, but this man insisted on talking to me. How dare he? This was my park bench, my place of solitude, even if others were around. I politely smiled and bit into my salad sandwich, yet he continued.

“In my day, we talked to people. We knew what our neighbors were up to. The fact that we even knew our neighbors is a concept lost on these jokers.”

I scanned the gardens. It was the same sight every day. People my age addicted to their mobile screens as if their whole world centered behind the glass face. Keystrokes and terse commands took the place of spoken feelings and thoughts.

“Smoke and mirrors for an electronic age,” I replied. I took another bite.

“What’s your name?” the man asked.

“Tayler. It was the name of a vlogger my mum liked.”

He reached out his hand. I placed my sandwich on the brown paper bag in my lap so I could shake.

“I’m Stuart, a relic of a bygone era.”

He wasn’t exactly a relic. To me, old men on the scrap heap spat bitterness and ignorance in equal measure. He did neither. He was middle-aged and had the gentle face of a charity worker. But he was far from needing charity himself. His white goatee was neatly trimmed, while his thinning hair could have been just groomed by an overpriced hairdresser. And his stylish knee-length burgundy coat could’ve had him walking into an advertising agency as either model or executive.

He peered at the soulless beings scattered through the park, all of them representing just one of a larger tribe. Their fellow natives supplied moments of importance on the devices, and at times, their own faces signaled their moment to shine. But a new comment meant the baton had passed to the next person who needed the spotlight.

“That’s why they like their small screens,” said Stuart. “It presents a world bigger than them, without needing the confidence to venture into that world. Look at them. The screens are smaller than the individual. Everything in perfect proportion.” He paused. “Where’s your small screen?”

“I use an old phone.” I pulled it from my shirt pocket. “I refuse to get involved with Social Media Central.”

“Wise man.” He pulled out his media device, also vintage.

“A time when a phone was just a phone,” I said.

“I told you I’m a relic from the past.”

“Please don’t change. My landlady is about your age, and she’s addicted to her cyberfriends.”

“What? Doesn’t she have real friends at her age?”

“She used to. I’d come home from work to the smells of her beef Wellington, her green curry, or some other culinary delight, knowing that within the half hour she’d be knocking on my door inviting me to meet some bosom buddy over dinner. And I’d return the favor. I dug out my grandma’s handwritten cookbook and tried something new. My landlady would bring down one of her cats, and I shared the evening with her while she gave me advice about money or love or something.”

“Love? With your looks, you don’t seem like a lad who needs advice on love.”

My cheeks felt warmer.

“Did your landlady break hearts?”

“She said she did, but I kept getting the impression that none of her lovers stayed around for long. We don’t do dinner anymore. We haven’t for two years.”

“Why not?”

“Bloody Social Media Central. She lives on it. It’s her whole life. She’s part of a group that calls itself the Amazing Twenty. Twenty lost individuals who’ve never met but stay online for hours just to feel someone cares.”

“What about you, Tayler? Who are your friends?”

“I don’t know anymore. It’s harder and harder to connect. Social Media Central has taken away the few connections I had here and made them believe they’re part of that wider world you were talking about. So I sit watching old movies to pass the time. Movies that demand an attention span.”

“I hear you, friend. I hear you.”

People started chattering at the sight of a woman walking into the park. Her long red hair streamed like a waterfall down her neck, half covering the shapely mounds that heralded her arrival. The people of the park snapped her image as if their devices could capture true beauty.

“Madeline” they called, echoing her name around the park.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“No idea.”

“A selfie, Ms. Q?” yelled one of her eager fans.

“Sweetie, I don’t share selfies.”

Groupies ran up to get a closer shot. One woman in a white shirt fainted in her boyfriend’s arms. He dragged her to a nearby bench and laid her down. A guy with rounded glasses, similar to mine, tried to plant a kiss on her cheek. She reached into her tiny handbag and pulled out a fan, swiping the air between him and herself. He pulled back and looked to the ground like a small boy coming to terms with adult behavior.

She then noticed me, so some of her devotees took my photo. Stuart gave me a wink as she strolled toward me.

“You don’t know me, do you?”

I shook my head.

“What a weird yet reassuring surprise.”


“As you can see, my fan base likes to go nuts.”

“It’s your outfits, Miss,” one cried. “I need to know what to wear before the season ends.”

Now that two of her best assets were in my face, I breathed in the scent of her black leather top. Small laces crisscrossed her cleavage. My wayward thoughts were interrupted when she placed her long-nailed finger under my jaw. She pushed upward, raising my head to study my face.

“I’m not that easy, sweetie, even with those that intrigue me. And trust me, you intrigue me. What’s your name?”

I mumbled, not making sense.

“His name’s Tayler,” Stuart said.

“Tayler, eh? I’m Madeline Q, queen of the universe.”

“And what a small universe that must be.”

“You tired old man, do you even know who I am?”

“The latest vlog sensation? The latest reality web-series loser? It doesn’t matter, princess. You’ll be forgotten by the end of the year.”

She still pushed my jaw upward. “You think I’m special, don’t you, Tayler? You may not know what power I have over these hordes, but let me assure you, I have power.”

“I can, um, I can see that.”

“We need to talk about this beard of yours. It’s shabby chic.”


“It’s short but not elegantly trimmed like the has-been’s next to you.”


“Let me guess, you’re about twenty-three?”


“I see, only ten years younger than me. Well, Tayler, the next time we meet, and we will meet again, I want you to wear a black T-shirt. This lazy checkered top is not doing your stylishly rough metro-beard any justice.”

She removed her finger and blew me a kiss. The park folk applauded, taking more snaps of us both. She presented me with a business card from her handbag, her name spelled out on the scarlet background in a classy black font I had never seen before. She turned on her heel and walked away. Others followed like kids drawn to a piper’s flute.

“Well, it looks like you’ve been touched by celebrity of some sort or another,” said Stuart. “But kids today celebrate the mundane so I’m sure her appeal has a shelf life.”

I nodded, more to shut him up than to agree. I read the small print above the phone number on Madeline’s card: Fashion Icon and Blogger. I then placed it carefully in my top pocket.

“What are you grinning about?”

“Stuart, I’m off to buy a black T-shirt.”


My landlady, Mary, wore a revealing white dress as she sat in front of her outdated computer. With her best years behind her, the frock could not save her fallen breasts from pressing against her desk for more support.

One of her cats clawed at her bare feet, meowing as if it hadn’t been fed for days. Before Mary noticed I was in the room, I went to her kitchen to find food. All I found was milk. A gluggy white custard splattered from the carton with a smell that could strip paint off a wall. I ran the tap and washed the evil mess down the sink.

“Who’s there?” Mary yelled.

“Only me.” I came out of the kitchen. “Have you fed your cats lately?”

“I think so. Do they look hungry?”

“One of them was scratching at your feet a moment ago. Didn’t you feel it?”

She looked around. I pointed to the ginger furball that had wrapped itself around my legs.

“Oh. I’ll feed them in a second. I’m just looking through Tammy’s wedding photos.”

“Have I met Tammy?”

I peered at the screen. A man sporting shoulder pads danced with a woman wrapped in a dress so tight, it was begging for mercy. Both looked like casting rejects from a 1980s prime-time drama about rich oil barons. As Mary flipped through the images, I noted the guests were more engaged with their screens than the couple who brought them to this moment. But at least a few paid the bride some attention by snapping her picture.

“I’m sure I haven’t met her,” I said. “How do you know her?”

“We chat online all the time.”

“Yes, Mary, but how did you meet?”

“Right here, on Social Media Central.”

The reddish feline pawed at my jeans. “Don’t you think it’s time to feed your cats?”

“In a moment.” She closed Tammy’s social page and looked at the newsfeed of a handsome man thirty years younger. In the reflection from the screen, I could see her smile like a child who’d discovered ice cream, followed with concern as if the treat had melted. “Tayler, how did you get into my apartment?”

“The door opened when I knocked. You know, you really shouldn’t leave it unlocked.”

“I didn’t mean to. Why are you here?”

“It’s rent day.”

“Is it Wednesday already?”



“I’ll leave the money on your dining table.”


I left and climbed the stairs, returning shortly with some leftover chicken I was saving for dinner. As I walked in, Mary danced in stilted moves as if she was communicating in Egyptian hieroglyphics to the delighted gent on her computer. She swung her head toward the door, and our eyes met. Hers widened.

“Oh, Tayler, have you met Bernard?”

I waved at the screen. “Hi, Bernard.”

“Hi, Tayler” came the voice from the tinny speaker.

“Tayler’s my tenant. He’s lived above me for years.”

“And how do you know Bernard?”

“Social Media Central,” they both replied.

I accidentally bit my tongue.

“Bernard is a…um, what is it you said you were, Bernard?”

“A dentist.” He flashed his pearly whites.

“I see,” I said. “Are you going somewhere tonight, Mary?”

“No.” She looked puzzled.

“It’s just that you’ve dressed up.” With her face turned from the screen, she scowled at me. I handed her the plate of chicken. “This is for your cats.”

“My cats? Why would I need chicken, Tayler? I have plenty of food for my dear little ones.”

“Tayler’s right,” said Bernard. “You look radiant this evening, Mary.”

“Really? Oh, it’s just something I threw on. I wanted to look nice for my friends. At my age, I don’t get a chance to throw on a frock anymore.”

“Then maybe we should do dinner together?”

“Yes, we could mirror meal.”

“Mirror meal?” I asked.

“Really, Tayler, you’re so out of touch.”

“How about steak, mash, and gravy?” Bernard asked.

“Yes, I can make that. I’d light candles but I don’t think my camera works that well with mood lighting.”

“That’s fine. I’ll bring the music. I’ll make up a special playlist and stream it through as we eat.”

“Then it’s a date. How does seven p.m. tomorrow sound?”

“I can’t tomorrow, my love. I have another appointment.”

“Not another woman?”

“No, nothing like that. I’m overdue with my taxes, so I’m linking up with my accountant in the evening.”

“We can have a late supper.”

“No, let’s mirror meal on Friday. That way we both won’t be dateless over the weekend.”

“Sounds perfect.” She placed the plate of chicken next to the computer. “Tayler, why is your mouth open like that?”

“Sorry, I’m in shock. Let me get this straight. Instead of going out for dinner, you’re both cooking steak and mashed potato and eating in front of your computer screens. Oh, brother. Let me take an educated guess. You two have never met face to face.”

“Tayler, don’t be so rude,” my landlady said.

“That’s okay, Mary. My son, Mike, is just like Tayler. Out of touch with technological trends. No offense, Tayler.”

“None taken.”

“Mary, my darling, I have to go. Tammy is trying to get my attention.”

“I was just looking at her wedding photos. Put her through. We can both talk to her.”

“I can’t really do that. She’s marked her contact request as private. Between you and me, I think she married prematurely. There were already problems in their relationship, but she went ahead with the ceremony anyway.”

“I understand, my darling.” Mary lost her smile momentarily. “I’m looking forward to Friday.”

“So am I, my love.”

“Bye, Bernard, until—” Her cyberboyfriend disappeared. “Oh, damn these bad connections. The government needs to get this right.”

I placed my hand on her shoulder. She didn’t respond. “So was it love at first sight?”

“Not quite.” She seemed oblivious to my sarcasm. “But I knew there was a special connection the first time we video chatted.”

“Has he met the Amazing Twenty?”

My hand slipped from her as she stepped forward. “Tayler, he came up with the name. Without him, I wouldn’t have met the others.”

“Has he got legs?”


“I’m just asking. I mean, have you ever video chatted with him doing anything other than sitting down?”

“I think so. Hmm.” She rested her finger on her chin. “Oh, Tayler, why can’t you just be happy I’m in love?”

“So, Bernard is the reason the Amazing Twenty exists. How did you find him?”

“We told you. Through Social Media Central.”

“Yes, but through which application?”

She beamed.

“Oh I see. Through Lover Net. Does he blog about his pursuits?”

“He used to.”

“Does he blog about you?”

“Sort of. He calls me the sophisticated lady in his posts.”

I tried to keep a straight face.

“Oh, Tayler, don’t rain on my parade just because I have someone and you don’t. Love will tap you on the shoulder one day. Isn’t that what I always say to you?”

I missed the landlady I used to dine with—the woman whose wisdom had turned to mainstream quotes since she discovered Social Media Central. I wanted to say, “Step into the real world,” but there was less and less real world to step into.

I eyed the untouched chicken next to the beast that had taken her soul. Some of her cats were gazing at it too, while Mary swayed, blissfully unaware of their hunger.

I grabbed the plate, headed for the kitchen, and pulled out various unmatched bowls. The pets purred desperately as if I was their savior. When I bent down to place their dinner on the floor, the card that fashion blogger had given me slipped from my shirt pocket. Once again I noticed the bold lettering stood out against the richly colored background. I picked it up and held it while the cats devoured their meals like addicts.

“Mary,” I called, “do you know Madeline Q?”

“Everyone knows Madeline Q.”

“I don’t.” I joined her in the living room where she was already hard at work moving her mouse.

“Anyone who knows anything about anyone, Tayler, knows who Madeline Q is. She’s a fashion blogger. Why do you ask?”

“I met her today.”

Her eyes widened. “My dear, you’ve met royalty.”

“From what country?”

“No, no, Tayler. She’s a social media celebrity. Don’t you know anything? She hangs around with the cream of the cybercrop.”

“The cybercrop? Is that what you young kids are calling it these days?”

“My god! The person who gives me rent met Madeline Q, yet he has no idea who she is. What’s that in your hand? Is that her card?” I showed it to her, but she started reciting the phone number so I pulled it away. “You have to ring her. Bring her to your apartment. I’ll pay for the redecorating.”

“I’ve lived there for years, and you’ve never offered to fix the place up.”

“That’s because you were a no one. Now you’re a someone.”

I chuckled even though her comment made me sad. I glanced at the card. “Wow, Mary. Glad you think I’m worth knowing. Like old times, isn’t it?”

Her mouth opened, but no words came out. I left and skipped up the stairs. The moment my door was closed, I leaned against it, pulled out my phone, and dialed Madeline Q’s number.


“I’m looking for Madeline Q.”

“Everyone’s looking for Madeline Q,” the bald woman at the door said to me.

I pulled out the fashion blogger’s business card.

“Oh, you are looking for Madeline Q. Not sure about your outfit, though. Didn’t she tell you tonight’s theme is Eros?”

“I’m bare-chested.”

“Suspenders and jeans do not make an outfit.” Behind her were several rustic shelves stacked with black clothing. She handed me a pair of leather pants, which unfolded when I grabbed them.

“There’s no crotch in these.”

“Exactly! What did you expect?”

“My underwear’s white. This will look stupid.”

“Foolish boy, you don’t wear underpants with those.”

“What kind of party is this?”

“You want to be the talk of the cyberworld, don’t you?”

I handed the fetish-wear back.

“Or don’t we measure up?” she said.

“What about that hat on the top shelf?”

“You mean the cap? Hmm. Does your master know you’re out alone tonight?”


She threw it like a Frisbee in my direction. I caught it and popped it on. She then waved her arm toward the red door as if all the treasures of the world were waiting inside. As I opened it, a flash of light blinded me.

“That’s hardly a pout,” said a male voice.

When I could see again, I noticed a well-groomed man of Middle Eastern appearance about to snap me once more with his massive camera.

“Hold on,” I said. “Wait until my sight returns.”

I stepped forward. He was clearer now. His thick, dark hair glistened as much as his trimmed, dense beard. In fact, his mane looked a little bluish as dim light highlighted its sheen.

Frayed jeans brushed the tops of his bare feet, designer rips all over the denim. A formal waistcoat covered his chest with two stylish buttons. And somehow he still managed to see properly through his square-ish sunglasses as he attained the charisma of an industry-manufactured pop star.

“That’s better,” he said. “But it’s still not perfect. Give me your orgasm face.”

“My orgasm face?”

“It’s Eros night, remember?”

I played along, swaying my head back while trying not to smirk.

“You look like an opera singer. And a bad one at that.” He snapped my photo again. “That’s better. You’re natural.”

“No, I’m confused.”

He reached for my hand. “Connor, official socialite photographer. I’ve never seen you at one of our parties before.”

“I’m Tayler.” I shook his hand while reaching for the business card in my jeans pocket. I held it in front of his dark shades. “This woman invited me.”

“Hmm. You’re a little younger than she likes them.” He snapped again. “Stop waving your hands in front of your face. Yeah, that’s the look I want for my blog. Think sexual thoughts.”

“Is this another one of Madeline’s conquests?” another voice queried.

“Are you?” Connor asked me.

“No, we’ve never, um, she only met me the other day.”

The flash went off again. “You’ve lost your pout, Tayler. I think you need a cocktail.” He clutched my wrist.

“Don’t worry, we’ll look after you until Ms. Q remembers who you are,” that other voice said. It belonged to a thirty-something man sporting a buzz cut that extended to his goatee, all slightly reddish. He seemed the type of guy who could hold his own in a street fight, but his cheeky grin got to me. It was the type of smile an older brother gives when reassuring a sibling.

I then noted the perfectly outlined Superman symbol on his bare chest, along with his studded belt, blue jeans, and black leather shoes. “Very clever.”

“This is Shaun,” said Connor. “The jet-setting explorer.”

“I’d shake your hand, Tayler, but—” He raised two garishly green drinks. “Looks like I’m Connor’s private butler again.”

“Shaun, if you were my butler, I’d make you pick the pubes from my shower drain, not carry around my drink.”

“Thank god for small mercies.”

”How did you get that superhero logo so perfect?” I asked.

“My girlfriend painted it on with her makeup.”

“This week’s girlfriend, he means,” Connor added.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“She’s here somewhere, probably finding her next conquest.”

“Haven’t you read about her, Tayler?”

Connor and Shaun exchanged puzzled glances as I casually took in the festivities. An array of spotlights threw beams in all directions, giving glimpses of a room decorated solely in black and gold. Vintage tassels, strips of leather and elaborate headwear competed for attention with the dozen or so guests who opted for naked flesh. White powders and pills spread across a coffee table enticed many, like beasts to a watering hole on a steamy day.

The space throbbed with a heavy beat. Mating dances of all persuasions took place right next to people conversing. One woman swayed her hips as if she was peeling off seven imaginary veils, while a horny array of gents and ladies emulated her hypnotic moves.

“Whose party is this, anyway?” Connor asked.

“Someone trying to be us,” Shaun replied.

“Could it be that lost boy over there on the couch wearing golden deer horns and holding the flute?”

“Now, Connor, play nice. Just because he’s not your type.”

“I was being nice. He seems like the type who wants to break into SMC.”

“SMC?” I asked. “Oh, Social Media Central.”

“So you do know us,” said Shaun. I shook my head. “I think we have a virgin here.”

“Personally, it’s refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t know who we are,” said Connor. He took our picture.

“It’s not like Madeline to invite someone fresh.” Shaun gave me a wink. “What’s she up to?”

“You know, I think I can make that deer-horned boy a sparkling star, briefly.”

“Watch out, Tayler. Connor has a new project.”

“I’ll be back in a moment.” Connor strayed off.

“What about your drink?” Shaun called to the wandering photographer.

“Give it to Tayler.”

Connor weaved through the crowd like the messiah. Would-be glamour models froze in outlandish poses. They lost their cheesy grins the moment he moved on to his next starlets. Deer-horned boy eyed him warily, so the photographer offered his hand.

“So, you’re a traveler, Shaun?”

“No. Where did you get that idea?”

“Connor introduced you as a jet-setting explorer.”

“Oh, don’t mind him. It’s just his brand of humor.” He looked into the crowd. “I explore a lot. But I don’t jet-set.” He stopped watching Connors exploits. “You’re not getting this, are you?”

“Well, you are talking in riddles.”

“How much do you know about Social Media Central? I mean, I take it you’re not the online kind.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Have you heard of Lover Net?”

I groaned. “My landlady thinks she’s found the man of her dreams, but they’ve never met beyond webcam.”

“Well, Tayler, I’m not like your landlady. I meet my devotees and write about my adventures on Lover Net. And women write about me. In fact, they like to rate me, but I don’t read my reviews.”

“Do you rate them?”

“Never. I write about them, and only name them if they’ve specifically asked after reading what I’ve written.”

“You’re a cybergigolo.”

“I get some money out of it, but I also get first- or business-class tickets to other parts of the world from interested followers in exchange for intimacy. I’m ethical that way. I do it to spread love.”

I giggled. “Oh, you’re serious.”

“Okay, it sounds like I’m living the male dream, but I choose who I sleep with. If I’m contacted by someone who’s interested in me, I webcam them first. Maybe even mirror-meal them.” I rolled my eyes, but he didn’t notice. “That way I find the most interesting women to get to know. And let’s face it, Tayler, you never really know anyone until you make love to them.”

He met my gaze as if he was waiting for my reaction. If I was the type to swing both ways, I’d have been captivated. His charm was neither metrosexual nor roguish. He stood apart and yet equally at home in either camp, a man observing the world while quietly conducting it.

“Well hello!” Madeline had found us and was flaunting the back of her hand in front of my face. I kissed it. She shivered theatrically. Shaun grinned wearily.

“I’m so glad I found you,” I said.

“Please, Tyler—”

“It’s Tayler, Madeline.”

“Please, Tayler, call me Ms. Q. I like the sound of that.”

“Shouldn’t you put out the fire in front of the Boy Scout?” Shaun suggested.

“He knows what he’s playing with.”

Two girls who were too young to be out this time of night snaked up to the fashion blogger. Both wore lacy nighties, a mistake for the one whose figure resembled a sagging balloon. As they raised their screens, Madeline raised her hand.

“You girls know my main rule!”

“Please, Madeline Q, just one selfie with us. We’re your biggest fans.”

“Not in those outfits, you’re not.”

The thinner girl slapped her comrade on the shoulder. “I told you not to wear that.”

“Come now. That’s not the way you treat a friend,” said Shaun.

“How about a selfie with you, then?”

“Not tonight, girls.”

They quickly snapped the queen of style and the womanizer. Then they took my picture. As they strolled away, the rounder one asked her companion who I was. “Search me. But he’s with Madeline Q and Shaun. He has to be someone.”

“So why don’t you share selfies?” I asked my supposed date.

“I have standards.” She and her fellow celebrity shared a knowing glance. “Tayler, I’m glad you’re here. And I like what you’re wearing, especially the leather cap.”

“And you make that leather miniskirt sing, Ms. Q.”

“This must all seem like a circus to you,” said Shaun.

“A little. I just can’t believe you two are so famous. I mean, it’s just social media.”

“Dear, it’s Social Media Central,” Madeline said.

“But still, it’s a mind-fuck.”


“Well, look at these people. They’re a generation with shallow friendships.”

“Tayler, they’re your generation,” Shaun stressed.

“And that scares me the most. They’re going to need psychiatrists some day, and they won’t have a clue how to talk about their innermost feelings.”

“You have a smart one here, Madeline.”

She winked at the cybergigolo. A light flashed from behind us.

“I heard there was a shortage of psychiatrists,” said Connor. He came forward and lowered his camera.

“Really?” I stressed.

“The public won’t need psychiatrists,” Shaun added. “As long as they learn the art of love, they’ll connect.”

I stepped forward and studied the three icons, breathing in their savoir faire. “So really, who are you? How did you become so famous that people throw lavish parties in your honor?”

“We’re the ones with the digital megaphone,” Connor said. “But it didn’t happen overnight.” Click. That was a photo I wasn’t looking forward to seeing. “We worked hard at it, and somehow, we got noticed more than the others.”

“Worked at what, exactly?”

“Tayler, sixty years ago, people thought email was a miracle. They’d share videos and jokes with select friends before they found they had a voice. A voice that could spread to hundreds, perhaps thousands of people on old social media platforms. They talked about their lives to anyone who was willing to listen.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“He always avoids questions when he’s on one of his famous rants,” said Shaun.

Connor smirked. “But the downside is that everyone’s staying at home more,” he continued.

I gestured to the spectacle of leather, lace, and flesh around us.

“Okay, at least these people have gone out for the night. But for what? Just to be seen in the right circles.”

“So why did you come out tonight?” asked my date.

“I was curious. Plus I needed a night out. The only invitation I had this evening was an online karaoke hookup. A work colleague wanted me to log on as she couldn’t, but I had to tell her I don’t own a computer. Hell, a century ago, people went out for sing-alongs. Now everyone seems to spend their evenings connecting with strangers.”

“You sound bitter.” Madeline seemed genuinely concerned.

“No, just lost.”

“What are you lost about?” Connor asked.

“A lot of things.”

“Like what?”

The teenage girls in nighties sniffed their share of powder from the coffee table.

“Those kids for example. Why are they here except to be seen? And when did all this start? Could you imagine if schools still existed? Their lives would be filled with ideas and curiosity or something worthwhile.”

My audience seemed perplexed. “Schools still exist,” said Madeline Q.

“But only online. Do you realize I was the last generation to be taught in a real school? Well, at least in my early years. By the time I was twelve, I had to log on, so my family moved to a cheaper neighborhood. They worked online, so it didn’t matter where they lived. But I missed having my friends around me. We talked about kid stuff. Played with anything we could get our hands on. Made our own entertainment. Did all sorts of things preteens did. After that, life was solo.”

“Are you lonely?” Madeline’s kind tone reminded me of my fourth-grade teacher. Shaun gazed at her like a suspicious husband.

“Do you want more followers, Tayler?” Connor asked.

“No. I just want to connect with someone the way I did before Social Media Central became the soul-eating monster in everyone’s lives.”

Before I knew what was happening, Madeline clutched me against her chest. The blissful odors of light perspiration, laundered cotton, and watermelon perfume immersed me. I traced a path down her back with my fingertips. I shuddered, surprising myself. She leaned back to share a tender smile before letting me go and taking my hand.

“I think our girl’s smitten,” said Connor.

“Yes, not a sight you see every day,” Shaun agreed. “Are you about to lead him astray?”

She raised a brow. “No, I’m just taking a leaf from your book.”


“Coffee?” I asked. I was at Madeline’s bedroom door holding a tray with two cups and a pot I had brewed. “I found your plunger next to the coffee beans. Oh, and I found teabags if you prefer tea instead.”

“Coffee is fine, darling.”

But I didn’t move from my spot. Behind her, the rich plum-colored wall screamed for attention. The shade was less severe the evening before, as was the industrial metallic bed-head, which curved like the lower half of a yin-and-yang symbol. She rested in the center of it, commanding this master bedroom as Cleopatra would’ve mastered her own.

“I wasn’t sure you’d be awake yet,” I said. “But now that I see you are, I’m surprised you’re not on a mobile screen.” I strolled in.

“There’s time for work and there’s time for play.”

I presented the tray to her. “Milk? Sugar?”

She sat up, taking one of the cups. “Black is fine.”

Her nipples were larger than dollar coins and as red as her flawless hair. She sipped and then examined her coffee, swirling the cup as if her fortune could be read by the ripples on its surface.

“You like watching me, don’t you?” she said, analyzing me like a child with a new toy.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”

“No, I like it. It’s a fresh change from someone just getting to know me to boost their social media standing.”

I looked around the room. “There’s no hidden cameras here, are there? I mean, we’re not on twenty-four-hour webcam, are we?”

“I leave naked theatrics to Shaun.”

“I didn’t realize he had sex on camera.”

“No, of course he doesn’t. He just blogs about his exploits and charges more if people want to read the hidden section on his profile.” She had a puppy-dog gaze. “You can sit next to me if you want, Tayler.”

“Sorry, I should learn to relax.”

“And stop apologizing.”

I put down the tray, took my coffee, and lay next to her. In front of me, two framed posters, almost the height of the wall, made bold statements with jagged lines and block shapes. In the corner, a tall wooden lamp with a smooth sandpapered surface, resembled the female form.

“How do you pay for all this?”

She bit her bottom lip.

“Sorry, am I being too forward?”

“I told you, stop apologizing.” She scanned her room. “How do you think I pay for all this?”

“Well, I can’t imagine people interested in fashion would pay more for a hidden online section.”

“Tayler, you are too sweet. You really have no idea how famous Connor, Shaun, and I are.” I slumped. She put her finger under my chin and pressed up, raising my head. “People pay for my Madeline Q Predicts secret blog. Well, it’s not that secret as there’s a big ad for it on my home page, but they’re willing to subscribe.”

“How much?”

“A hundred dollars a month.”

Her finger kept my jaw from dropping. “And what do you publish on the secret blog?”

She picked up a palm-sized remote and pointed it at one of the oversized artworks. In a blink, images of her in outlandish fashions replaced the drawing.

“Which one do you want to look at?”

“You look like an ostrich in that one.” I pointed. “Enlarge it.”

She scowled as the picture filled the frame. Deep green feathers poured from her neck as she gave a face that would harden concrete. The rest of the dress was wrapped tightly above her knees, while a colossal bonnet in the same emerald shade, rested on her head.

“I wanted to wear black thick-framed glasses for this outfit, but the designer wouldn’t hear of it. He’s a Nazi when it comes to his creations. You’re not impressed, are you, Tayler?”

“How did you know, Ms. Q?”

“By your smirk.” She chuckled. “And call me Madi, please.”

“But you told me to call you—”

She ruffled my hair. “Madi will be fine. It will be nice to hear my name said without pretention. Stop smirking. Pretention is my image.”

“Weird hats and plucked birds seem to be your image.”

She shook her head. “What are you doing today, Tayler?”

“Going to work.”

“Take the day off. Come with me to a fashion show. Connor and Shaun will be there.”

“Your life is a fairy tale.”

“And yours could be too.” She kissed me. Long. Lingering. Precious.

“How could I say no to those lips?”

“You’re such a smoothie, in a cute nerdy kind of way.”

I peered back at the image from her Madeline Q Predicts page. “So, this is fashion?”

“It will be by next season.”

“And am I meeting the creator of the bird dress today?”

“The government never finances—” She bit her bottom lip again.

“What’s the government got to do with this?”

“It’s the name of the fashion designer.”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“The one responsible for today’s social outing or the one responsible for making an ostrich bald?”

She pointed to her image. “The one who’s dictating the look this spring.”

Snap! We hardly stepped outside Madeline’s door, and already a team of groupies were taking her picture. Then a guy took my image.

“So what are you?” he said.


“Are you a blogger, a post jockey, a quick phrase, a filmmaker, a photographer, or a lover?”

“I bet he’s a lover,” said a grinning teenager.

“He can’t be,” said her friend. “Madeline Q doesn’t shop online. Isn’t that true, Ms. Q?”

“That’s true,” my celebrity one-night stand said. “I’m glad to see you’re a well-read woman.”

I clenched my lips tight.

“So, which are you?” asked an older gent near the back. He folded his arms, seemingly more to keep warm than to make a statement.

“He’s all of them and none of them.” She winked at me.

“Is he your boyfriend, Madeline Q?”

“Why? Are you jealous?”

“Never take love too lightly,” the older gent said. “In an age of electronic social desperation, he may be the only thing worth coming back to.”

I smiled to myself.

“Weirdo,” jibed one of the teenagers.

“Listen to this man,” I said. “You don’t want to masturbate in front of a screen all your life.”

“He’s right,” the man continued. “You know our population is shrinking. Shit, ten percent of the last generation died virgins.”

“Ew!” shrieked the teen. “I don’t want to get a disease.”

“Who told you that, you silly girl?”

“I read it online.”

“Now, now,” said Madi. “My front door is not a place for debate or name-calling.”

A murmur ran through the small crowd. The elder pulled out his mobile screen. The lens in his small device extended as he pointed it at me.

“What’s your name?”

Madi placed her arm around my shoulder and declared, “His name is Tayler.”

The others pronounced my name, took extra shots, and uploaded.


Before we arrived at the fashion event, we detoured to Connor’s apartment. But on the way, I’d felt both uneasy and proud when I was out in the street. Why? People I didn’t know knew my name. They’d point or pull out their small screens and capture my stance as I walked with Madi.

Some looked like bodies whose spirits were taken as payment in a satanic deal, their eyes hungry for a taste of what I had. But they couldn’t reach me without pointing. No way to simply greet me and strike up a conversation. Their speech was easier when expressed in keystrokes.

And the titanic glass structures, a symbol of a city that believed in its own majesty, looked down upon these scattered beings and wished to hear them laugh and converse. These dejected buildings once teemed with life before more and more work was done online. So people moved out in search of cheaper real estate, leaving those left behind as empty as Astra City itself.

And although I’d never felt their particular brand of emptiness, I did from time to time feel my own distinct version of lonely. Thankfully, not today. For today, it seemed cotton candy had wrapped my heart. From this moment, my voice would transmit sugar-coated thoughts that didn’t rot the minds of the mainstream, if they were ready to listen. And I’d skate along in lollypop shoes or glide on chocolate wings. White chocolate, of course.

I was not typical of my peers, but then again, I wasn’t in the league of the Social Media Central giants. I was that awkward boy, good-looking enough, but as self-aware as someone with a pimple in plain sight. People scrutinized me when we met, and even when I took the lead in making my presence felt, I quickly retreated in my cocoon once they took over our exchange. Did it worry me? Nah. I was used to being somewhere in between. I’d learned to be there.

As we entered Connor’s flat, I was relieved he didn’t sport a camera. Then I was swept away by the vast space of his pad, my oohs and aahs echoing in his warehouse conversion. Huge portrait photos hung on every inch of wall. A kitchen that would be the pride of any meticulous carpenter was showcased proudly in the center. The floorboards creaked a little, making me stop to notice the fatherly scent of wood polish. Spherical metal lights of differing size floated like planets. To my left stood several manikins wearing loud shirts and one in a classic black dress.

“So these are the costumes?” Madeline inquired.

“This Nineteen-Sixties Go Mad fashion extravaganza will be the talk of the stratosphere this evening,” Connor replied.

“I like my little black dress.”

“Your red hair will flame against the fabric,” I said.

She caressed my head. “You know what, Tayler? I’m glad you’re here.”

Madi slipped her dress from its manikin and casually made her way to a bedroom. Connor watched her like a protective brother. We took off our shirts and started buttoning up our paisley tops.

“So the government sends the party outfits here,” I noted.

“Oh, Madeline told you about the government?”

“Yeah. It seems no expense is spared.” I brushed my beard against the silk collar.

“True. Look at how much money was spent on the Eros party. Leather. Lace. All the gold-and-black furniture and fittings.”

“The apartment was decorated for the event?”

“Yes, the owner put in an application to host, and the government paid the bill.”

I stopped rolling up my sleeve. “Why pay that expense?”

“Tayler, the masses need to daydream.”


“And we are the ones sparking their desires.”

“But why?”

“Well, government is power, but when no one is listening to the government’s message because they’re too wrapped up sharing their top-ten tunes for that month or commenting on whether Aunt Tabitha should make a red velvet or sponge cake, the government has to find new ways to talk to its people.”


“How much did Madeline tell you?”

The bedroom door opened. My heart sank in fear she’d overheard us, but she called out to see if he had a jacket to go with the dress.

“No,” Connor called back. “But there’s a mink coat in the wardrobe. It’s mine, but it could work on you.”

She shut the door.

“Well, what I still don’t understand is how people following your lifestyle gives the government its voice?”

“That’s right. You don’t really go online do you, Tayler? In the comments posted in response to my photos, or Shaun or Madeline’s blogs, are the streams of thought from society. And within their comments are our responses. Our positive reactions to policies or what passes for policy and whatever else we’ve been told to say through Social Media Central.”

“But if you’re making political observation on your social media, surely there’s been debate.”

“Not as much as you’d think, Tayler. Plus we have the power to delete unwanted comments.”

“Really? Why you guys?”

“Well, we were chosen specifically.”


“People took more notice of us than of what the government had to say.”

“So the government finances your elaborate lifestyles so you stay on top of the social media pile.”

“Kind of. They created our elaborate lifestyles to keep us on top of the social media pile, once they realized the people were listening to our voice.”

“What do you think?” Madi called from the bedroom. She modeled her ensemble.

“Lose the coat,” Connor yelled.

I nodded.

“I thought the same,” she said and closed the door.

“Even I could see it was a mismatch,” I said.

“Why are you frowning?”

“I’ve just had that sinking feeling that without the government’s help, she’d be just another plain-Jane.”

“Trust me, Tayler, they keep her in touch with the best designers.”

“Bare shoulders are in again,” Madi said. She made her way toward us like a siren ready to take the town. “Besides, it’s not really that cold this afternoon.”

She took my hand and headed for the front door as Connor scrambled for his camera.

The same dozen models stepped down the catwalk on high rotation, parading everything from floral prints to outfits resembling rejects from my granny’s quilt-making days. A band that looked like they’d rather be surfing played instrumentals for the modest-sized crowd. And every dress, jacket, and skirt was photographed by my new friend, Connor.

Afterward, I stood sipping champagne with Shaun and Madi, as Connor succeeded in getting most of the guests to look up from their mobile screens just long enough to snap them.

“Apparently, the audience has reached twelve million,” Madi said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “There’s only about seventy here.”

“It’s being streamed through Social Media Central,” Shaun said.

“Oh, that’s why most people are watching it on their devices, rather than experiencing it in reality,” I said. “I didn’t think they were really interested in hundred-year-old fashion.”

“Look at them. They’re checking if the video cameras caught them.”

I surveyed the room. Thin black strips of smoked glass had been placed against every corner. Dark snow globes hung from different parts of the ceiling. Within these were the new streamlined lenses that recorded everything. AV Enterprises, the company I worked for, designed them.

“How long do we need to stick around?” I asked.

Madi smiled. “Bored already?”

“Tayler, we all get bored at these events more than we admit to,” said Shaun. “But it’s our duty to enjoy ourselves.” My date looked at him like he’d just exposed his private parts. “Madeline, Tayler knows about our affiliation with the government. Come to think of it, you know he knows about our affiliation with the government. Connor mentioned that you already told him.”

Her eyes met mine. “Did I?”

“Not in so many words, but I can read between the lines.”

She ruffled my hair. “You are a very smart man. What else did you and Connor talk about?”

“About how the government made all your stars shine.”

“Tayler,” yelled a plump man who was waddling our way. He had matched his toupee with fake sideburns, which went with his fake fur waistcoat.

“Hi,” I said. “How are you?”

“Don’t pretend you know me. You don’t. But I know you. I’m a fan.”

“Of me?”

“Yes, Tayler. Of you!”


It was hard to suppress my gleeful grin until he planted a sloppy kiss on my cheek. Shaun and Madi laughed.

“Manners, please,” my admirer reprimanded. “Tayler is a flower in bloom. He’s a star on the rise. He’s a rocket shooting into space.” The man’s eyebrows raised on his last sentence. He turned to Madi with his mobile device in his hand. “Could you please take our picture?”

“Sure thing, lover boy. Say cheese.”

The evidence was taken. A middle-aged man took a selfie with me. Being recognized was one thing, but publicly broadcasting this type of person as my fan-base was another. When did I become so shallow?

My date handed his screen back before blowing me a kiss. Then both she and Shaun crept away like thieves in a silent movie.

“So tell me, Tayler, how did you meet Madeline Q?”

“Ms. Q and I met in a park.”

“Hmm, that hasn’t been reported.” He swiped his small screen and typed in the information. “Go on. Who said what to whom first?”

“Why are you taking an interest in me, err…?”



“My name is Patrick, as in ‘Why are you taking an interest in me, Patrick?’”

“Hello, Patrick. Why are you taking an interest in me?”

“Sweetheart, you’ve broken in. You’re one of the pack now, and there’ll be no turning back.” His fingers walked up my arm. “And everyone here will want a part of you.”

“But why? Seriously?”

“Seriously? You need to ask?”

“Yes I do. Why?”

“You are royalty, Tayler. Why else would I be stepping into your spotlight and reporting on things that aren’t known yet?”

“But what about finding success your own way? Through your own means.”

His finger danced on his screen once more. “So, who spoke first, you or Madeline Q?”


“Are we a couple?” I asked.

Madeline still retained elegance sitting naked on the mattress on my floor. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“But I could be just your plaything.”

“Tayler, I’m not rushing things, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. Hey, we just had sex on two consecutive days.”

It was the evening of the sixties fashion parade, and we had stopped off at my bachelor pad. I watched her face when we first strolled in. She didn’t wince at my lack of furniture. She didn’t faint when she saw my unmade mattress. She didn’t mention a designer overhaul. She simply clutched my shirt collar and pulled me toward her lips.

And now we sat on my makeshift bed. Another layer of her mystique seemed to have slipped away as I noted her kinder expression. Her flowing red hair didn’t dazzle me anymore, but her tasty breasts, peeking through the strands, still did. My tongue desired another sample before I slid into her adoring space. A place of true art that no designer could enhance.

But we were talking. In my mind, I was telling my cock not to stir. I wanted this conversation with her. Not with Madeline Q, but with her.

“I excite you,” she noted.

“Ignore my penis. I really want us to talk.”

“Talk about what, Tayler? I’ve already told you I like you. And from what I can see between your legs, I know you like me.”

I exhaled loudly as I looked away, shutting my eyes at the same time. “Madi, tell me about yourself.”

She clutched my cock. “Are you sure you want to talk?”

“Yes. If you don’t mind, could you please let go?”

She did.

“It will still be there when we need it.”

“My dear metrosexual lover, what do you want to talk about?”

“Madi, I’ve spent more time with you than with Shaun and Connor, and even though they’re still strangers, I feel I know them better. So tell me about you. Tell me about your life before Madeline Q.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Just pick a point and start.”

She eased her knees to her breasts and wrapped her arms around her legs. “Any point in my life? Hmm. I came to Astra City when I was twenty-three. Like all of us in our twenties, I wanted to find myself or reinvent myself, whichever came first.” She smirked.

“But why did you leave home?”

“Tayler, let’s leave that part of the story for another day. For now, just know I wanted to expand my horizons.” She looked up to the ceiling. “To be honest, there’s no one from my first years here I still see. I partied a lot but never connected with anyone on a deeper level. That was before I met Connor.”

“Really? Connor? You’ve known him for that long?”

“Yep. I saw him at a party. He was standing by himself against the wall, studying people like he was casting them for a film. And this sounds silly now, but I didn’t realize he was homosexual.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

“A little. He didn’t wear his trademark sunglasses in those days, so his lashes stood out.”

I raised a brow.

“Seriously, Connor has sexy eyelashes. Nice auburn eyes too, but his eyelashes are a treat.”

“So you went up to him?”

“I went up to him and said the most ridiculous line.” She paused, looking at me as if she was confessing. “I said, Are you in the market for adventure? He replied, Only if you’re a drag queen. And that, lover boy, was the start of a beautiful friendship.”

“You’re not telling me much, Madi.”

“I’m just collecting my thoughts. To state the obvious, we got drunk that night. He was in a relationship, and although his boyfriend wasn’t there, a friend of his boyfriend was throwing the party. If you ask me, I think he was a bit lost without his better half.”

“Go on.”

“Sadly, Connor and his man had a big row a few days after. Apparently, it was the biggest row they ever had.”

“Madi, you’re not really talking about yourself.”

“Well, I am. Sort of. You see, Connor was my lifeline. He knew people, but he seemed distant from them. When we went out together, we were the ones filling up everyone’s drinks and getting them to talk to each other. We were the ones on the dance floor first, making fools of ourselves before others would join us. He brought out something in me, and I brought out something in him.”

“Excuse me for interrupting, but I don’t see you both acting like that now.”

“Fame does weird things to people, Tayler.” She laughed. “This is the sort of conversation people have at bars with overpriced cocktails in their hands.”

“Those that can afford cocktails.”

“What was I saying, lover?”

“You were saying how fame does weird things to people.”

“Yes, it does. You sneak back inside your skin. It’s the only safe way to handle the obsessed.” She placed her hand on my shoulder. “Tayler, I can read your expression, and yes, your first fan earlier this afternoon was loud and painful, but trust me, other people at that party were asking about you. They wanted to know everything there was to know about you. You’re the newbie on the block.” Her hand moved away. “Your face lights up when you smile. Some cute fan is going to fall in love with that smile.”

“When I fall in love, you’ll be the first to know.”

“One of us is bound to say I love you. That scares me a little.”

“When was your last boyfriend?”

“Not long before I moved to the city.”

“Raw nerve?”

“Wait until we’re in a bar with overpriced drinks. And do me a favor. Please don’t ask Connor about my last boyfriend. I want you to hear about him from me.”

Shortly after our heart-to-heart on my mattress, it was time for passion before a quick visit to Connor’s to change into our preselected outfits for that evening’s function.

“It’s classy yet understated,” I said.

“It’s you,” Madi said.

“I agree,” Connor added. “I don’t think it’s what you normally wear, but boy, you’re making it sing.”

I twirled in front of Connor’s full-length mirror several times, like my landlady must have before each cyberdate. The black jeans clutched my ass so tight I was surprised I could still walk. And the turtleneck highlighted the thick frames of my glasses, making me yearn to parade down the catwalk myself. Yes, tonight I was worthy of Madeline Q’s affection.

And yet, as these thoughts entered my head while still spinning around in front of my reflection and falling deeper in love with myself, an imaginary angel sat on my shoulder telling me to come down from the clouds.

“Are we ready?” Connor said.

“I don’t think I want to leave this mirror.”

“Cinderella, your ensemble will turn back to rags if we don’t venture outside my apartment soon.”

Madi held my hand. “Tayler, you’re looking mighty delicious.”


“Even I’d eat you,” Connor said.

With my date in a smart suit and loose tie and Connor donning a fawn jacket and pants, we headed for a small bookstore only two blocks down the road.

“Designer male drag,” Shaun said to Madi. She grabbed her tie and swung it around like a tassel.

“I may be in a suit, but I’m still more woman than you can handle.”


A small circle of groupies photographed us. A short-haired woman in stilettos sharp enough to pierce flesh, strolled toward our love blogger, gracefully edging through our fans. She held her hand out, and Shaun kept his attention on her. He took her hand and shook it steadily.

“Felicity,” she said.


“I know. I bet you’re used to women coming up to you.” More flashes from the mobile screens. Felicity shut her eyes and shook her head. “Children, can’t you go and play outside? This is a bookstore for heaven’s sake. We’re trying to have a small intimate affair for grown-ups.”

“Yes. Listen to that woman. Listen and learn.” I couldn’t see who said this, as the small pond of photo-taking piranhas was blocking my view. But it was definitely a male voice, close to my own age.

“Do you know who these people are?” screamed a girl whose voice nearly made my ears bleed.

“Yes, I do, but that doesn’t mean you need to harass them.”

I could see him now. He stood against the bookcase containing the volumes for sale. His bushy hair flopped over his lined forehead like he had just climbed out of bed. He hadn’t shaved for a few days, and his shirt looked like it was ironed by a nearsighted maid. He smiled at me. I was already smiling at him.

“We can behave,” said a scrawny male. He lowered his small screen. “It’s just that this is the first time I’ve seen Connor, Shaun, Madeline Q, or Tayler in person. They don’t usually do these types of events.”

“You make us sound uncultured,” Shaun remarked.

“Well, you usually do the glamour stuff. You don’t hang around in our circles.”

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