image is an old Photoshop from a comic I never really began in university.
This is a bit of flash fiction. It’s based loosely on a few news stories, one about Facebook using peoples’ images in advertising, one about the rise of hostessing in Japan, and a few others. There are links in the story. It’s called Facebook Zombie Blues.
Rena woke up expensively, and alone. She thought she had it when she started the job, but no one does. It’s still, really, no place for a girl. The cars, the money, the champagne. With most men it’s just the living, but some have the charisma and the cologne to spin it into a life. A desirable one. But, like a geisha, fundamentally unobtainable.
She remembered him, which was different. Strange, because the first smile she gave him was a working one, pasted on just before she crossed the dark wood threshold into his private room. Upon seeing him though, unshaven and fatally scarred, the ricture of a professional smile spread into the actual warmth of the eyes. She liked what she saw.
Rena was different too. Unlike most hostesses she wasn’t actually Japanese, being a leggy Norweigan blond. This made her impossibly tall and most clients remained child-like in distance, but Kazuya was tall enough to look directly in her eyes. His eyes were dark black, almost blue, only slightly rheumy with shochu. She poured hot water and more of the sweet potato alcohol, letting them mix naturally. A distinctive taste, she thought, and local. She smiled and spoke in Japanese.
He replied in stateside English. ‘Would you prefer a vodka?’
‘Why yes’, she replied, and ordered a Acai-Blueberry Cosmo. To match her royal purple dress and the subtle accents on her nails. Ordered with a flick of her hand really, across the touch sensitive Surface table. It recognized her lingering thumb and narrowed the selection accordingly. She’d given it ample data for pattern recognition. The smartwaiter lowered the used glasses and ascended the new within 65 seconds. ‘Cheers,’ she said. ‘Kampai.’
He didn’t say anything of course. Not ever, really. It’s all the imagination between the lines. Like a painting in a gilded frame which everyone seems to reward and admire. After a while you too start to consensually hallucinate, though the canvas may be blank. He was rich and powerful, but so was everyone that passed through the Niko Lion’s gates. He had something, else, though. Some hidden pain which gave him both vulnerability and character. He was never a conversationalist, but he had a poetic way of looking into the distance. Rena wondered what lay beyond those hooded eyes. It was, of course, exactly what it looked like. Only sadness.
She couldn’t have known of course, but the probability was that she should. Behind every fortune lies a crime, and those that passed the lion’s gates were hiding from something. Amidst a bevy of attentive maidens one could feel somewhat legitimate, but it was all bullshit. Triple distilled bullshit, but you still can’t hide the earth from which you came.
Kazuya’s brother eventually returned from China with enough venture capital to reclaim Datucom. Kazuya was spending too much time drinking sweet rice wine to mount too much of an effective defence, till it was too late. A last minute feint was interpreted as weakness by his own staff and they fled in a flurry of leaks and recriminations. He spent one night staring at the ceiling in Rena’s apartment, she clutching at his chest in futility, telling him she didn’t need anything. She was of course tangential in the whole affair and he took a trip to Aokigahara Forest anyways. A hiker discovered the body by following the red snow.
So this was Rena, waking up expensively and alone. She brushed her teeth and checked the news in the mirror frantically. Not that she cared, but without digital impulses running through her brain she might have impulses of her own. She had ads to subsidize the rent, usually brands of toothpaste or hair conditioner. She saw a new one on her Facebook. Personal endorsements of course, no one could resist a familiar face. This one, however, made her recoil in shock. It was Kazuya advertising Chube toothpaste. She looked down at her spittle in horror. It was pink with blood.
They had been having trouble with these Facebook zombies for a while. Pages that went on after their owners were dead. All those phone contracts and contacts strung into infinity, like a chicken without a head, they kept twitching long after the head was blown away. For Rena, of course, it was just horror. A nervous retching fear that flung her away from the bathroom mirror in a tangle of split ends and bed eye.
Not that it was so easy to escape. Like a plague he was constantly in her periphery. Flicking by in the subway. Under neon in the streets. Some algorithm had figured out their strong association, his value as a personal brand ambassador. It just hadn’t figured out that he was dead. Corporations were haunted with his ghost and they were using him to sell things.
She vowed never to buy the toothpaste, the dishwasher, the phonebook, all endorsed by the beloved dead. As the network sensed her eyeballs, however, it grew more vigorous. It suffused his favorite songs into the elevator Muzak. It wafted his scent down certain supermarket aisles. Rena followed unwittingly and wondered why she gravitated towards that particular tampon. She only realized when she came home, and broke down at the sight of blood.
Rena quit her job as a hostess. The scent memory alone was too much. She could never again deal with so much hardwood and leather in one place. Still twitching with memory she got a job as a stewardess on RyanAir, basically being a dominatrix to everyone. She wasn’t being nice anymore and she enjoyed being on the plane, but the airports were still haunted. After a month Facebook finally registeredKazuya as dead and pulled the photo ads, but that was long enough for her own associations to form.
Now Green Irish Tweed and Ducati motorbikes registered as her interests, when they were really only spectres of a ghost. They called out to her from billboards and posters, these memories, some so dim they only pricked her subconscious. She awoke from dreams so poignant and overpowering, subtle ads fermented into despair. She couldn’t sleep anymore. Even if she avoided overt references all day that onefacewash commercial for acai would set off something in REM. Her eyes twitched in ever expanding horror.
People would ask if she’d seen a ghost. She didn’t know how to explain that she had.