Short Story – “Influence Me”

She was fully aware of the power she held in the palm of her hand. With a flick of her thumbs she could convince two-thousand teens in southern California to flock to a pop-up store. Or, if she felt like so-inclined, she could push her friends’ latest single, and guarantee an additional twenty-million streams the world over. A mid-range budget movie could break the box-office or flop, based entirely on her ordering of words, and use of specific emojis. If that tweet, Instagram or Snapchat is signed with a KK, you best believe the product she’s promoting will sell.

Katie Kelly was the queen of social-media influence. The characters she typed on her phone, to a certain demographic, were gospel. Advertisers, promoters, entertainers; they all knew this. Her social media posts for the next three months were planned out to the letter, down to the very last hashtag. That’s why Katie was a little confused on the morning of Monday the 16th of October, to be sat in the waiting room of a client, who wanted something posted in the next couple of weeks. Her agent, TiTus, had arranged this meeting, declaring to her the evening prior that ‘It was too important to miss’. If it was that important they should’ve called six months ago, Katie thought.

Katie knew exactly who she was and why people came to her. She had a rare quality in the world of influencers; self-awareness. She wasn’t susceptible to the egotistical callings of a reality-show, she had no interest in parading her private life on screens across the world. She’d seen what that had done to other influencers. Sure, they all had their own levels of popularity, but every time they got drunk and went joyriding, or cried over a handbag that wasn’t expensive enough, they damaged their brand to a specific demographic. Katie’s goal was to have everyone.

Due to her star largely rising on Instagram in the early days, her core age demographic was typically the eighteen to thirties. But unlike her contemporaries, she didn’t alienate any gender, class or even subculture. Her goal was to be able to walk into a meeting with a client, and be telling the god’s honest truth when she says the words ‘I can guarantee this will reach all people aged eighteen to thirty.’ Other people promised. Katie Kelly delivered.

She achieved coverage by choosing her public appearances carefully. Her first slot on a TV show was at aged nineteen, where she was on the discussion panel for a companion show to the Game of Thrones series finale. The TV ratings ended up being the highest HBO recorded in history, so at the time they wanted to cash in on all the eyeballs, by airing a roundtable that featured actors from the show and celebrities from around the globe. It was with this appearance that she first got to show her fiery personality, it wasn’t so much sassy, as it was sharp-tongued and quick witted. However you describe it, the key element is that some markets took it for sass and some for wit. TiTus did a great job getting her that gig, as it endeared her to the “geeky” and “fantasy” markets, without shifting her too far from the mainstream.

Before long, she was presenting awards at the Grammys, and she was seen stood next to the likes of Beyonce and Taylor Swift. The pop-music demographic had been the easiest to sweep up. Their audiences are trained to buy into a person with the most simplistic branding, so cashing in on that had been a sinch. Although following this, she didn’t want to anger the “hip” or “alternative” crowds, who’re just as easily influenced in their own special little way. So she appeared on a top-rated cable cooking show all about the vegan lifestyle. This played well and the clip of her showing off her melon-slicing skills went viral.

Sports fan? Katie buys a front-row ticket and makes sure that she’s seen on camera several times. Fashionista? Katie’s got you covered, not only will she follow the latest bloggers on social media, but all of her public appearances are on-trend when it comes to what she’s wearing. Religious? The occasional motivational quote featuring a bible verse tends to win over the Christian crowd, to the point where her wikipedia lists her as a follower of Christ. Other faiths are kept happy by generalised posts and comments about equality and world peace. Even if you don’t fall into one of the above markets, Katie will make multiple charity appearances throughout any given year, in order to endear everyone towards her.

It was nearly impossible to dislike Katie Kelly, and Katie herself made sure of it. She was smarter than the average influencer, she didn’t use big-words in interviews she knew were being broadcast to smaller markets. She even changed her hair colour every year, just so everyone had a “Katie Look” to physically relate to. Her olive-toned skin gave her a racial ambiguity that played well with almost everyone. Katie’s actual heritage included Portuguese, Native American, Irish and Italian, and she never proclaimed otherwise. But journalists mis-identified her race so often that the general public had started to believe some of those misconceptions. She was also openly bisexual, which you would think would damage her reputation in those Christian markets. Not the case. She always made sure to highlight commitment and the importance of family, saying enough to make any reverend turn a blind-eye to her relationships with women.

It was due to the meticulous planning and careful control of her brand, that Katie found it strange to be sitting in the waiting area of a client who needed something posting immediately. She didn’t really want to be here, but TiTus would’ve killed her if she’d missed this appointment. He can be hard-going sometimes, but he always puts her best interests first, and besides, he had steared her right so far.

Katie tapped her thumb and scrolled instinctively on the screen of her smartphone. Every day she made a point to like one-hundred posts that her fans had made about her. This seemed as good a time as any to carry out her duties. Her feed was cluttered with posts about the upcoming election. Personally, Katie couldn’t wait for it all to be over. Her opinions on politics were perhaps the most controversial of any opinion she held; she didn’t care. To her, it was all just brand warfare between two marketing teams who don’t know the first thing about hitting their target demographic. She wanted her timelines to settle, and for people to be happy again. Her audiences were always so angry around election time.

The hashtag #notmyconstitution was trending at number one. Apparently it had been two years to the day since the ‘Multi-Term Act’ of 2022. She didn’t know all of the details, remaining outside of politics kept her popular on both sides of the aisle. What she knew was that the president had managed to change the lawful number of terms that a single person is allowed to serve in office, and that he was running for an unprecedented third term. The tweets contained comparisons to a Russian president and how the entire thing was unconstitutional. She made an effort to not like any of her followers’ posts that used the hashtag, in order to remain entirely unopinionated on the matter.

Katie placed her phone, her lifeblood, neatly into her purse. She was about to go check with the secretary she had passed by earlier, to see if her appointment had been cancelled. As she stood up, a young man in a black business suit rounded the corner and made his way towards her. He had slicked-back, almost greasy, black hair and wore a dark red tie that had been fastened a little too tightly. Katie thought that if she pulled on it slightly, his head might swell up like a balloon.

The young man in the suit, who looked roughly the same age as Katie, approached the waiting area, ‘Katie Kelly!’ He exclaimed, once he was within a reasonable talking distance.
‘That’s me.’ She replied, with more of a bubbliness to her tone than she would’ve liked.
‘I just want to thank you for coming out to see us this morning.’ He shook her hand enthusiastically. ‘My name’s Todd Westley and I’m an associate at this firm. Did your agent tell you anything about why we wanted to see you today?’
‘Not a thing.’
‘Good.’ He paused and smiled a knowing smile in her direction. ‘Good. We’re trying to keep things, shall we say, top secret. On a real need to know basis.’ He tapped his finger against the side of his nose, like a childish moron.
‘Okay Todd.’ Katy said with a slight smirk, as she could internally feel her famed confidence growing. ‘Well, I need to know.’
‘Of course, all in good time. Have you been waiting long? Did Linda get you a drink? You have to try out in-house mango smoothie, it’s simply delicious.’
‘Yes. No. And I’m not really here to drink smoothies and be shmoosed by some middle management lackey. Okay Todd?’

There it was, that inner fire. That cocktail of confidence and self-assuredness that convinced consumers to buy into whatever she told them to. Any other man in any other business might’ve been offended by her outburst. Not Todd. His grin upon experiencing her fire up-close and personal was almost Cheshire Cat levels of over-the-top. ‘Wow.’ He said. ‘Katie Kelly in the flesh. I knew you were the right person for the job.’
‘And what job is that exactly Todd?’
‘If you’d like to follow me, we’ll get to work.’

Todd attempted to lead the way down and around several corridors. He was trying to do that thing that Katie had seen many men do on multiple occasions, where they walk slightly in-front of her, to show that they were a leader and she was a follower. Well, that’s not who Katie Kelly is, so she made sure to match his pace as they navigated the offices of the twenty-ninth floor.
‘First, before we talk business, we’re going to need you to sign some confidentiality papers.’ Todd said, rather formally, as he opened a glass door that featured his own name embossed in gold. Katie wondered how much ass-kissing Todd had to do to get such a shiny set of letters.
‘I’m not signing anything until you tell me what it is you want me to do.’ Katie stood her ground, she was constantly mindful of the value of her brand, and every action she took was designed to protect it.

Todd sat down at his desk and gestured to the chair opposite, Katie took a seat and squared him up. When she had been walking beside him, he had been a good three inches shorter than her. Now, sat at his desk, Todd towered over everything else in the room. She chuckled to herself as she wondered what else the oversized chair was compensating for. ‘Don’t worry.’ Todd said with some level of reassurance, ‘Once you sign the non-disclosure agreement and we let you in on our little project, if you don’t like it, you can walk away. It’s just, if you do decide to walk away, we don’t want you talking to any unsavory characters, like the press.’

Katie thought for a few moments, this all sounded highly suspicious, and possibly illegal. Keeping her nose clean and out of legal troubles was one of the core principles of her brand. Not once had she been busted for possession or caught speeding. Hell, she hadn’t even received a parking ticket since college. ‘Is this all above-board?’ She enquired, ‘I don’t want to be associated with anything outside of the law.’
‘Everything we do here, including our proposition to you Miss Kelly, is one-hundred percent within the parameters of the law, as it is written.’
She thought this to be a very political answer, but it was enough for her to sign the initial NDA at least. ‘It better be Todd. Otherwise I know just who I’ll be taking down with me.’ She smirked at him as she reached for a pen. An accomplished expression washed over Todd’s face, he opened one of his desk drawers and removed some pre-prepared paperwork, which he placed in front of Katie.
‘If you want to take some time to read the smallprint, be my guest,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing out of the ordinary in there. It’s just your standard NDA, with a few added clauses relating to the time-sensitive nature of our proposal.’

Todd sat back and swiveled back and forth in his chair, like a child, whilst Katie perused the documents. It all seemed normal, no specifics about the job, but the usual references to keeping silent on all forms of social media, as well as many strict mentions of not talking to a member of the press. This was not her first NDA, businesses and brands often used them when they wanted to use a particularly deceptive marketing strategy. Katie thought about how these top-floor office types could make anything sound legal, if they used the right words in the correct order.

She finished signing the agreement and handed the papers back over to Todd. He took one quick glance before shuffling them and filing them away. ‘Excellent!’ He exclaimed as he stood to his feet. ‘Now we can get this show on the road. Follow me please Katie.’ He held the glass door of his office open for her as he gestured for her to exit first. A pointless display of chivalry, as he would only need to walk by her again in order to lead the way. She came to the conclusion that Todd was an upper-floor, lower-level simpleton.

Katie thought about what this job could possibly entail. Usually these meetings lasted five minutes. She’d typically receive information about the product or brand that she’d be promoting, have a small discussion about the specifics of the social media content the client required, then they’d part ways and TiTus would handle the finances. The way Todd had behaved so far, and the secretive nature of the whole operation, made her feel an internal cocktail of excitement and suspicion. She had no idea what the name of this company was, just that it was some freelance marketing agency. The way Todd acted, you’d think he was working for the King of England.

They made their way to the end of a long corridor that contained many similar-looking offices to the one that Todd occupied. At the end of the corridor was an elevator, which they entered. Todd pushed the button for the rooftop, which confused Katie even further. ‘Taking me to the penthouse Todd?’ She asked.
‘Something like that.’ Todd replied with another one of his token smarmy smiles.

The elevator came to a soft hault and the metalic doors opened to a slight breeze, and a low mechanical hum. In front of them was yet another corridor, with a single set of glass doors at the end. Katie could just about make out the skyline of Los Angeles as they got closer to the exit.
‘We’re literally on the fucking roof.’ She blurted out. She had meant it as a thought.
‘And we’ve got one more journey to make yet,’ Todd expressed, as he swung open the final set of doors to the sound of roaring helicopter rotors.
‘No way!’ Katie shouted, so she could be heard over the the constant whooshing of a helicopter ready to take flight. She stopped in her tracks and grabbed Todd by the arm. ‘I’m not getting in that thing until you tell me exactly where we’re going.’
‘I’m sorry. The location is confidential.’
‘I guess that means I’ll have to wear a blindfold or something?’
‘Or something.’ He turned away from her slightly as he spoke.
‘Okay that’s it! I’m out unless you tell me exactly where we’re going.’
Todd turned back to her, sighed and looked up into the bright blue California sky for a few moments before responding. ‘Look, I can’t tell you where we’re going, but I can tell you who you’re going to be meeting with. Sound good?’
Katie thought about this and came to the conclusion that this would be as much information as she could get out of the illusive Todd. ‘Fine. That’ll have to do I suppose.’
‘Good.’ Todd expressed, as he resumed his walk towards the helicopter. Katie followed like an eager child who’d just been teased by the promise of candy.
‘Well!?’ She shouted, so she could be heard over the now-deafening machine. ‘Who the hell am I meeting with?!’
‘The President of the United States!’ Todd yelled self-importantly, as though his words were as gilded as the letters on his office door. ‘Now please, Miss Kelly, climb aboard!’

*  *  *

Katie had never seen LA from this perspective. As she sat, firmly strapped to the leather chair in the rear of the helicopter, she thought about how someone in LA really ought to have offered her a tour at one time or another. She had made connections with people who definitely owned helicopters (she had seen them parked out-front), but this was her first time hovering just above the tallest buildings in the city, and she thought that to be a damn shame. Maybe it was time that she bought her own helicopter. No, she thought, if certain people saw her with such an over-the-top luxury item, it wouldn’t play well.
Believe it or not, being a social media brand ambassador was not what Katie wanted to do when she grew up. As a child, she wanted to be a doctor, so she could help and heal people, but she quickly realised that she didn’t have the patience or scientific ability to pursue that career. Then, for a short while, she thought about becoming a teacher, so she could impart knowledge and wisdom to others. So that one day, one of her students could become a doctor. She knew from a very young age that she could hold the interests of others, so teacher felt like a natural step to take. Her life just never moved her in that direction.

At college, she studied fashion journalism and new media, purely based on her hobbies and interests. By the end of her first semester, she had over a million followers across all of her social media platforms and had written for Teen Vogue’s online publication. Her career then became a snowball of one success after another. She finished college, in order to keep her hard-working and educated image strong, and from then began appearing on TV, in highly acclaimed magazines and even the occasional movie. All whilst keeping her social media presence active, and her brand strong. Life had happened extremely fast for Katie Kelly, right up to the moment she found herself in now; twenty-six and in the back of a helicopter above LA, on her way to meet the President of the United States.

Katie had accepted the offer of one of those highly-acclaimed mango smoothies, from the helicopter cooler. It was average at best. She still didn’t enjoy not knowing exactly what the marketing job would be. Now that she knew the client, she thought about what the president could possibly want of her. The media had always found it impossible to predict his goals and motivations, she knew that much. The only conclusion she could come to was that the first lady had decided to launch another line of coats or jewelry or whatever it is she sells.

They were now beyond the outer-limits of LA, with the skyline firmly behind them. Katie knew they were travelling North of the City, and assumed that since they were travelling by helicopter, they couldn’t be going too far. She flicked the switch on the headset she was wearing, ‘I thought you said something about a blindfold?’ She asked Todd, ‘I can see exactly where we’re going.’
‘Oh,’ Todd replied. Had they been on the ground it would’ve been a hushed response, but he practically shouted it through the microphone of the aviation headset. ‘Well this is kind of awkward.’
‘What is?’
‘There’s a sedative. In that smoothie.’
‘There’s a what?!’
‘A sedative. You should drift off in a minute or two, when you wake up, we’ll be there. We thought it was best not to tell you.’
Katie became visibly enraged, but the aforementioned sedative had slowly started to make its way through her bloodstream. Her angered response came through a touch drowsier than she had intended, ‘You motherfucker! I didn’t sign up for this!’
‘Actually Katie, you did…’
His words began to drift away as he spoke, yet his mouth was still moving. Katie could see his lips flapping up and down, and she knew words were being spoken, but she could not hear them. Her head suddenly felt much heavier, like someone had replaced it with a bowling ball. She started to lean forward, moving her head towards her lap before lurching it back upward again. It was as though she were trying to stay awake on public transport after a long day at the office, not that Katie had ever used public transport, or knew what a long day at the office felt like. The last thing she saw before drifting away into a deep and uninvited sleep, was Todd reach for his phone and call someone. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but could just about lip-read the sentence ‘We have her.’ Then, she slept.

*  *  *

Katie awoke in an instant, to blaring sirens and bright, flashing white lights. The feelings of stress, anxiety and sudden-alertness that you get at the sound of an alarm going off, multiply that by a hundred and you’ll land somewhere close to the current state of Katie Kelly. She was alone in a white room, sat on an uncomfortable chair, at a table big enough to sit twelve people. She was sat at the head of the table, opposite her was a set of double doors, that looked as though they might open sideways. Once she sat up straight, the lights and alarms stopped, although a tinnitus-like ringing remained in her ears for several minutes afterward.

She could now take in her surroundings a little better, without the severe audio/visual distractions. The room she found herself in definitely looked like the kind you would expect to see in a government facility, but maybe that was just the Hollywood in her thinking. She half-expected to be handcuffed to the table, but that wasn’t the case, so she stood to her feet and moved around the room freely. They’d done a good job on her with that sedative, it took a few minutes for her to remember the helicopter ride and that she’d been drugged in the first place, and the sedative had done its’ duty, because she had no god damn idea where on earth she was.

Katie sat back down after making a lap of the room and she gradually became more lucid. The walls, floor and ceiling were all made of sheer-white paneling, as though it were designed to calm her in some way. Well, she wasn’t calm. In fact, and she only admitted this to herself, she was a little scared. Todd had promised her that she could just walk away from everything, once she had heard the proposal. All Katie could think was how the hell do you walk away from something like this?

After she’d spent a half hour or so alone in the white room, the doors parted and a woman in her mid-forties with dyed-blonde hair entered the room. Katie recognised her, but couldn’t quite place her identity, maybe it was the after-effects of the sedative. This woman looked middle-aged but had the demeanor of someone much younger, like an aunt who’s trying to keep up with teenage fashion trends. She sat down, diagonally from Katie, as though she would be the only other person joining her in the room.
‘Hello Katie Kelly!’ The woman said with a degree of over-excitement and partial jazz-hands, ‘Girl, do we know all about you.’ She pointed right at Katie.
‘That’s funny.’ Katie replied, realising that her best course of action, if they knew all about her, was to use her trademarked sharp-tongue, ‘Because I don’t know anything about you.’
There was a brief spasm of lip-pursing and the glimpse of offence, before a phony smile found its way across the face of the blonde woman. ‘There’s the Katie we know and love. Where are my manors. You may not recognise me now, but my name is Isabelle Towers,’ she extended her hand toward Katie, ‘First daughter of the United States.’

Katie shook her hand, the firm-grip and aggressive nature of the shake suggested that Isabelle had opinions of Katie that she wasn’t telling her own face.
‘I’m sorry for the way we had to bring you here,’ Isabelle apologised, ‘But this is a rather unique and top-secret proposition we have for you today.’
‘Can we just get to it?’ Katie snapped. ‘Sorry. It’s just, I had planned on meeting with other clients today. If it still is today. How long was I out for?’
‘About four hours. Give or take. And trust me honey, after you hear what we have to say, you won’t have to worry about other clients, ever again.’

Honey. Katie despised being called honey, her mother called her by that particular pet-name whenever she wanted to be patronising. As soon as Isabelle had spoken that word, it sent a sickly twinge of anger up her spine and made her blood boil in the upper-third of her body.
‘Todd said that I’d be meeting with the president. Is he here?’ Katie wanted to attempt to take some charge and control of her situation. To her, Isabelle just seemed like an older, terrible version of herself. She’d done business and held her own with some of the finest minds across several industries, she wasn’t about to be led around by a jumped-up daddy’s girl.
‘My father will meet with you later if it’s necessary, in the meantime, let’s talk strategy. Let me explain exactly what we want from you.’
‘Well, you have my attention.’ Katie gestured to the room around her, in attempt to convey that she didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

‘Alright.’ Isabelle took a deep breath and clasped her hands together, she made direct eye-contact with Katie for almost the entirety of the pitch. ‘As you will already know, my father is running for his third term in office. It’s a first, and it’ll be a great achievement for America if he succeeds. Our advanced polling suggests that we have the over-fifties vote locked down, as well as the votes of other demographics we’ve aggressively targeted. The vote that alludes us, and the vote that may cost us the election, is the support of the young people of this great country. They just don’t, how shall I put this, see things the way we do at Towers HQ.’
‘And how do I fit into all this?’ Katie knew the direction that this was all heading, but she wanted Isabelle to spell it out for her.
‘Well, our research shows that you have the ears of nearly every person in the country aged eighteen to thirty. Several independent agencies have rated you the most influential person on the internet, and we feel as though with the right tweets and a few choice images and videos, you could win us the popular vote next month.’

Katie expected this to be Isabelle’s response, but it was only as she said it aloud that Katie recognised the weight of the situation. Could she really tell people how to vote? Did she genuinely have that much of an influence over her demographic? She supposed that she did. Katie had been known to start riots at clothes stores she had recommended, where young women would fist-fight each other for the last dress in a particular line. Now that she thought about it, every single candidate for a music award, or reality show personality she endorsed on Twitter, always ended up winning. That’s all showbiz though, it’s all fake window-dressing, a distraction from the boring realities of politics. Surely she couldn’t influence an actual general election. Could she?

‘I know it’s a big ask. We have some ideas in regards to your branding, and it would mean some major changes to your image, on your part.’
Katie snapped out of her thought-process and suddenly became alert. ‘Oh no. I don’t shift my image for any client. Everything I say, everything I post; it needs to be on-brand.’
‘We absolutely understand this, and we wouldn’t ask this of you unless you were appropriately compensated.’
‘That’s great Isabelle, except, if you’re talking about irreversible changes and controversial opinions, you’d have to set me up for life. You’d have to give me, I don’t know, a billion dollars.’ She pulled the figure from her mind, almost flippantly.
‘Okay.’ Isabelle responded promptly and with a perfect, one-hundred and eighty degree non-smile.
‘I was joking.’ Katie let out.
‘We’re not. We would absolutely value your skillset at a billion dollars. It’s a little higher than we would’ve liked to go, but certainly at the top-end of our evaluations.’

Total disbelief would be a severe understatement for what Katie felt in that moment. With a billion dollars, she could do whatever she wanted. That’s more money than anyone would ever need in a lifetime, and ten times her current net-worth. Of course, her brand was her name, and that would no-doubt be sullied if she endorsed President Towers. But with a billion dollars, who cares about a brand, who cares about a name. With a billion dollars, who cares about anything?

‘Let’s say that I hypothetically accept your offer.’ Katie thought long and hard about the way she worded her next question. ‘What’s the sort of content you would, in theory, want me to post?’
Isabelle played along. ‘Speaking purely in hypotheticals, we have a lot of ideas that we think would really pop and wow your audience.’
‘Such as…’
‘Okay, so, for example, we would like you to use your middle and last initials as part of your brand name. So you’d go by Katie Kelly-Kline.’
‘KKK?’
‘Exactly.’
‘Aren’t they, you know…’ Katie couldn’t think of a polite way to say this, ‘Racists?’
‘No no no. That was their old branding. Over the last eight years, we’ve managed to shift public opinion on their organisation, with the over fifties anyway. Now they’re seen as community leaders, standing up for the rights of decent, hard-working American citizens, and we think if you add one teeny tiny initial to your brand, you can help us convince the under thirties of that fact.’
‘Right, but won’t some people think that I’m a racist?’
‘Absolutely honey.’ There it was again. ‘But they’ll be the losers, so their opinions won’t matter.’

This is exactly why Katie had remained outside the realm of politics so far. The language Isabelle was using didn’t exactly add up with what Katie’s perception of popular opinion was, yet she delivered each statement as though it were an absolute truth. Katie knew how to negotiate with businessmen and women, she was slowly realising that talking to politicians was a different game entirely.
Despite her reservations, she decided to humour Isabelle a little longer. ‘Let’s say I went along with this. One little letter won’t be enough to win you an election. So what else do you have in mind?’
‘Well, we have this cute new logo we’ve been playing around with.’ Isabelle removed her phone from her pocket, pulled up a specific image and showed it to Katie. The photo was of a female model in a tight-fitting t-shirt. On the centre of the garment was a symbol that Katie recognised as a swastika. Scratch that, it was a swastika, only as though it had been designed by an avant-garde, 21st century artist. ‘What do you think?’ Isabelle asked.
‘I think that has some pretty serious connotations.’
‘You’d think wouldn’t you? But we’ve ran tests and we feel as though the Nazi-look is due a full comeback this season. The branding is already strong, you recognised the logo instantly, and the best part is that it’s public domain. It won’t cost us a penny to print. My father is even thinking of replacing the party logo with one.’
‘Aren’t- and look, I really don’t want to repeat myself here, but aren’t nazis bad?’
‘They used to be, until my father. Now they’re back in fashion again! A minority of young people are even proudly wearing this logo already. All you have to do is convince the brain-washed, liberal children that this is the right direction to go in.’

Isabelle went on to list several more ideas that her campaign team had for Katie’s brand. These ideas included posting videos that Isabelle’s team had shot, of actors with brown skin violently attacking white schoolchildren. “We just want young people to know what they’re capable of.” Isabelle had written a snapchat that would have Katie deny climate change. “Scientists might be telling the truth, but we don’t know for sure.” But perhaps the most harrowing suggestion, and certainly the one that would damage her brand the most, was to normalise a piece of evidence that came out about several of the people in her fathers’ cabinet. “Aren’t we all pedophiles? In a way.”

Katie couldn’t quite believe what had been asked of her. It was certainly an extreme stance for her to take, but then a billion dollars is an extreme amount of money.
‘So.’ Isabelle punctuated her pitch. ‘Do we have a deal?’
Katie exhaled, with some force. She’d be stupid to turn down that amount of money, but her heart was telling her something else. She didn’t care about politics, she never even cared about who was or wasn’t president, but there was something- off about this proposal. ‘I would love to accept your offer, and I really appreciate you taking the time to think of me like this. But I can’t. It’d be- well…It’d be wrong.’
Isabelle looked into her eyes with a fixed-glare and a wicked smile ‘It wouldn’t be wrong if you made it the new right.’
‘I can’t. It’s too much. I just can’t. I’m sorry.’

‘Two billion.’ A stern, male voice that sounded oh-so familiar echoed around the room. The words came from the same speaker-system that had sounded the alarms earlier. ‘We’ll give you two billion dollars.’

Maybe it was the almost threatening tone of his voice, or the fact that he had been listening all this time, without her knowledge. Whatever it was, Katie suddenly became terrified. As though it were no longer about the amount of money, but the feeling that she might not make it out alive if she didn’t agree. She was well aware of how people felt about President Towers, how they either loved him or hated him. In this moment she suspected that there was a hidden third group of people, that perhaps made up the majority of American citizens; they were afraid of him. Just as afraid as she was upon hearing his voice. Eventually, she responded with a question. ‘Two million dollars?’
‘Yes. It’ll be in your account by tomorrow.’
Katie looked at Isabelle, who just continued to smile, as though she knew Katie’s response before Katie did. ‘Okay then, I guess.’

‘Yaaaaaay!’ Isabelle clapped her hands together in almost cringe-inducing excitement. She stood up, so Katie joined her. Isabelle then hugged Katie in a celebratory embrace that was not reciprocated. ‘We’ll send all of the details to you this evening. With specifics on what to post and when.’
‘Okay…’
‘God this is so exciting! You’re doing great work for your country Katie Kelly-Kline. Now, let’s get you a mango smoothie.’

*  *  *

She’d been home for twenty-four hours and hadn’t spoken to another human since her life-changing meeting, not even TiTus. She had even remained largely inactive on social media, other than her one-hundred daily likes that she handed out to her followers. Her followers. Would they really go along with anything that she said? That’s all she’d been able to think about. Katie knew they were loyal, but loyal to the level that the Towers wanted them to be, seemed all too far-fetched. She reminded herself of the riots in clothes stores that were held in her name, or the fact that her followers bought any product she put up for sale on her website, just because her name was on the label. Images of teenage girls in swastika t-shirts flooded her mind as she sunk into her sofa, and covered her face with a blanket.

Isabelle had transferred her the money that morning. All two billion dollars of it. She had also sent Katie the first weeks worth of social media content. Videos, snaps and tweets that she was due to start posting in an hour. Her other clients would still have their content published, it would just be hidden in a sea of racism, prejudice and the endorsement of known pedophiles.

Katie felt safe in her blanketed bubble. It was just her and her smartphone, its’ glow lighting the tiny fort she had made. In here, she was that girl who had wanted to be a doctor or a teacher. She was the woman she knew, not the one she showed to the world. She thought about all the children that followed her across her platforms, and how they too would be influenced by the content she was about to post. With the touch of her thumb, she could popularise damaging opinions, for the next quarter of a century at least. Why had she agreed to this? It had been his voice, she knew that much. A man who spat on the constitution yet gained an army of followers who swore to uphold it, is a man to be feared.

In her crude, blanket fortress, she drafted an Instagram post that she probably shouldn’t have done. In less than a hundred words, she captioned a picture of herself that condemned racism and corrupt government officials. She had made a promise to herself to never become involved with politics, but politics had gotten involved with her. The Towers had paid Katie Kelly to post a series of content, but nothing they said stopped her from also posting her own. But then, the documents she had signed did have a lot of smallprint, and permanently damaging her image wouldn’t be worth it if the Towers decided to sue her and take back their money.

Katie wrapped the blanket tightly around her body, reducing her fort to no more than a space big enough for her own face, and her phone. Her thumbs scrolled between the two drafts she had composed; Isabelle’s and her own. She closed her eyes and pictured little girls in swastika t-shirts, and the terrifying face of a man hell-bent on power. Then, in a moment of clarity, she opened her eyes, and hit “send”.

One thought on “Short Story – “Influence Me”

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