Friday Night Frights: A Brief History of Feeling Great
Even the most widely accepted version of events is blurry on what might have triggered the whole thing.
About this series —
Ah, 2020: The year when the everyday became horrifying, and the horrifying became everyday. As a nod to its particular brand of scary, we're publishing a new series — Friday Night Frights — which will, as its moniker ever-so-cryptically suggests, bring you a fresh horror story every week(end). We’ll find a signature spooky take on innocuous pop culture offerings and infuse dread into innocent tales, for a revisionist retelling that's the right amount of macabre.
A note on the original work —
The story below imagines the aftermath of Feel Great, a spec commercial directed by Justin Reardon in 2003 that became one of the internet’s first and biggest viral sensations. You can watch it here.
It’s been four years since Steve first felt great. Four years of ever-increasing uncertainty about the future. Four years of living in fear.
Things moved at such a staggering pace that no one’s still entirely sure what happened. Even the most widely accepted version of events is blurry on what might have triggered the whole thing. What everyone does agree on is that one fine day, out of the blue, Steve felt great.
Now I’m sure he must have felt great before in his life. But not like this. Never this great.
Working in the west-coast headquarters of the investment giant AG (Argentum Hoarder), Steve's former colleagues (the ones who managed to avoid him) describe him as talentless, unmotivated and worst of all, boring. But their perception of the man might very well be coloured by the events of the recent past, and even if true, things took quite a dramatic turn on 13 July.
The now viral CCTV footage, seen hundreds of billions of times, shows Steve suddenly spring up from his seat around lunchtime, and start to fanatically rush from one employee to the other, each then following him soon after. Few faces stand out. It would be safe to assume that what now forms his “inner circle”, was indeed put together in the first half-hour or less of the happening. There is Larry, his right-hand yes man; Rachel, now known as the Mother; and of course, Bill, the owner of AG.
Within a day, Steve has AG under his spell. Within a few weeks, most of the city. A few months on, he was pushing hard for the state and surroundings. And everyone felt great about it.
At first, there were some rumblings in the business world, followed by a social media frenzy, and subsequently the mainstream media picked up on it. But, again, no one knew exactly what was going on. Everyone just obsessed over people walking aggressively through the streets and declaring how great they felt. It’s amusing now to think how many had assumed it was just a marketing campaign of some sort — some suggested, for an energy bar. And not like anyone was getting hurt. In light of what has happened since, it was all fun and games back then.
It didn’t take long for people to realise something was off, if not what exactly. The first reports came from the families, the friends and loved ones of the “touched”. Depending on whom you asked, someone being touched* was either the best thing that could have happened to a family and/or a community, or a walking nightmare that destroyed lives and community as they knew it.
*Yes, it does sound wrong when you think about some connotations associated with the word. But the word, like many other things, has been given a new meaning over these years. As far as my understanding goes, it was borrowed as shorthand for the phrase ‘touched by greatness’. Like many unasked for everyday horrors, it sprang from a newsroom.
In order to understand the vast changes that swept through the would in the coming years, it is important to first address a few “non-theoretical” things.
– Whatever happened to Steve, and in turn to the people he came in contact with, remains shrouded in mystery. Of course, hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists from all disciplines have dedicated most of their waking hours to studying the phenomenon, but to little or no avail.
– What they are sure of though is the fact that the only person capable of “infecting” others was Steve. Once touched by him, the subject could not pass on their “feeling of greatness” to others. This would be the source of the greatest relief for many, and a subject of deep despair for others.
– It is widely accepted that Steve has been dead for over a year now.
So, what can one do when feeling great? Turns out, quite a lot.
In the months after the happening, when “feeling great” had begun to be seen as a phenomenon (but no one had yet zeroed in on Steve as the source), and the initial feeling that it might fizzle out in time subsided, while the governments began to invest resources in understanding what was unfolding, many began to debate that there were in fact merits to the dramatic behavioural, and some cases (minor) physical, changes in the populace. Some even went as far to declare it as the next big step in human evolution.
In more practical everyday terms, many pointed to how the touched “got things done”. It was evident even in those early days that whenever people who were touched were involved, a lot of red tape was cut through and things moves at a lightning speed. The markets and economies changed dramatically overnight; decisions and laws which were pending for years were resolved in minutes; changes, in general, which would take decades to materialise, now did so in a matter of weeks. A sort of aggression took over most aspects of life in these regions. Some communities which had been down and out for ages, sprang back to life. The ones which were doing good already, did phenomenally well now. Everything was for taking. The touched knew of no limits.
At this point, it felt like everyone wanted to be touched. And so began the hunt for its source.
The said hunt lasted for barely a few days, at most. It was not like Steve was trying to hide. He remained very much oblivious to what he was doing, and the wider repercussions of the trail he was leaving behind. The first person to trace the phenomen back to him found him on a unicycle on the edge of a 48-storey building’s rooftop in a neon-orange unitard, chugging champagne from a bottle while he bought a massage chair over the phone. And he was feeling great.
Things escalated thereon.
The city, and the state in turn, had seen growth like never before in the months after the happening and the government needed little convincing that Steve needed to be protected. Millions now lined up every day to meet him and feel great. Riots broke out regularly and his previously mentioned close circle gained enormous power and influence. Make or break negotiations were being held across the world to decide citizens of which countries and regions would be allowed to meet Steve. A new world order was taking shape. All the while, our main man had very little say in all that was unfolding around him. He seemed to operate on a different plane compared to the ones he touched. He would happily meet anyone and everyone. He felt great.
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to see the dark undertones taking root around the whole movement. The uncharted horror of surrendering oneself to this one feeling, seemingly for forever. No one quite understood what lay on the other side. Many who had been touched tried to explain, but could never do it convincingly. Yes, they said they felt great, but did they even feel like themselves any more? Did they truly remember who they were before or what it was like to be a person and feel alive? Many felt that the institutions which held together societies were being hollowed out as the non-touched began to be seen as second-class citizens. The aggression alone drove many away. Not everyone wanted to feel great.
In about two years, bitter battle lines were drawn across the world – from communities to nations, everyone was either for it or against it. There was no middle ground. Politicians, feeling great, fought for the touch, while others revolted and called for Steve’s head. But everyone also knew who was winning. While some chose debates, others chose war. Some chose to rebel; others, total isolation. But at the end of the day, many just wanted to feel great.
All this while, Steve continued to do his thing. Cults sprang up everywhere and conspiracy theories became mainstream. Here it was, at last, proof that something was out there beyond our understanding, yet very much in reach. There were wild stories, like how Steve felt so great that he never slept, or how the Mother kidnapped and lived with hundreds of children. Then, last year, things suddenly changed. Many believe, for the worse.
Steve, the man who, in every sense of the phrase, changed the world, was assassinated. No one has yet seen his body, or can produce any other conclusive proof to substantiate that, but there is consensus, even among his most hard-boiled supporters, that he is no longer with us. The never-ending lines to meet him were dispelled overnight. They say Steve has retired. What came to pass is difficult to tell, but most likely it was some elaborate plan involving an exotic poison. I often wonder if he had time to realise what was happening to him as the poison took hold. If he felt great in his last moments, or just relieved.
It is not easy to mourn when you’re feeling great, but the sense of loss from his followers, many of whom saw him as nothing less than a god, was only overshadowed by the overwhelming relief of the “non-believers” and their sense of optimism. At last, it was over.
But in that moment of respite, many forgot that even gods are only reflection of the people who worship them, their beliefs and fears. With Steve — every second of whose life has been analysed and deconstructed over the last few years — gone, the screw began to be tightened. If you were not for feeling great, you might as well be dead.
I have been in hiding for a while now, but increasingly afraid that I’ll be discovered. When Steve was around, I would allow myself the luxury to think that at the very worst, one day I would be forced to meet him. Those were the days. Now, one misstep and it’s all over. They are not looking for converts any more, just game for hunting.
I’ll conclude here now. It doesn’t do well to dwell on one’s own end too much. This was supposed to be a brief retelling of what has happened, not a record of my own fears. Although there has been something else on my mind. Rumours mostly.
A small, but ever-growing and organised resistance fighting for us. Nothing new about that, but they say this one is different. This one is led by a man named Red. He seems to inspire great faith and courage. When you are on his side, you feel almost invincible, they say. You feel great.
Have suggestions for stories you'd like to see given the #FridayNightFrights treatment? Tweet to us @firstpost with this hashtag. Read more from the series here.
In Gracy’s Baby Doll: Stories, exploring loneliness and viewing translation as 'extended authorship'
The stories present, to a large extent, the dark worlds of lonely characters experiencing varying degrees of tragedy, depicted through a bleak and straightforward language.
N Kalyan Raman on Salma’s writing style in The Curse, his approach to translating, and the lack of literary discourse
Salma doesn’t mince words, there is no modulation or playing down. She’s very even-toned but she doesn’t hold back, says N Kalyan Raman of the Tamil author's powerful style.
The Stories in my Life: In reading Aldous Huxley's After The Fireworks, a curious homecoming
Aldous Huxley's ‘After The Fireworks’ is a searching account of a relationship between a 50-year-old celebrity novelist and a naïve 21-year-old fan of his books