A laptop illuminates the otherwise darkened room. On the screen is a website that she is all too familiar with, the one that has been taunting her for months. A new photo has been uploaded within the past couple of hours. She pulls out a chair but chooses not to sit – the surfaces are damp and the whole apartment smells of bleach and lemon.
The website is seemingly old fashioned by design. Page backgrounds are dark with a watermark logo. Fonts are bright and dated. Items jerk around the page whenever a window is resized or moved. An animated under construction image rotates and hovers in view at all times.
The homepage shows fourteen captionless photographs. The image quality is poor and they appear to be scanned copies of original prints. Each image shows a minor celebrity in a state of undress, always draped across an object or a piece of furniture. The pictures are unflattering and raw. The first image shows a reality star splayed across a four poster bed. The next is an ex-soap star lying face down into a giant beanbag. A television presenter slumps backwards over a pile of cardboard boxes.
And so on.
She knows all of these images by heart and all of the subjects in person. At the top of the page it reads CELEBRITY UNCONSCIOUS in large block capitals, the name of the website proudly declaring its intention.
Initially it was unclear if this title was accurate or not. The website launched with little fanfare or anything in the way of a publicity campaign. Over time its presence spread into gossip columns and their associated readership, before finally landing on her desk some two months later. By this time it was trending nationally. Many assumed it to be a publicity stunt, orchestrated by the celebrities involved. Others speculated it to be a piece of protest art, a heavy handed satire, the message so blunt as to be a deliberate element of the message itself.
For her the message is irrelevant. Instead it is the latest photograph that has her attention – showing several celebrities within the same image, possibly revealing a sense of desperation on the part of the creator. The photograph has been taken in the apartment where she now stands. She scrolls back to the top of the page, the CELEBRITY UNCONSCIOUS logo visible once more. A weight of expectation finally takes hold, a stardom potentially waiting for her in the bedroom next door.
The laptop continues to illuminate the room with its images. On the screen is a photograph of a glamour model, wearing only leather trousers and draped up against a rusty ladder.
The same glamour model has the website brought to her attention some four months earlier. At this point the website is still in its infancy and features only a handful of photographs. She is finishing a post-production shoot for a fitness DVD when her social media presence implodes. Links to a website called CELEBRITY UNCONSCIOUS are appearing all over her timeline. By the end of the day she is being contacted by the public and media agencies alike, all curious as to the background and meaning of the photograph.
She gives no immediate statement and goes into virtual hiding, watching as the image gains a record number of hits and a mixed reaction. Her fan base appears to take it personally, wondering why she has not communicated such an unusual and provocative shoot. Others assume her silence to be deliberate, the first phase of a strategy designed to tease out further revelations.
The reality of the situation is none of these scenarios. Her non-response is not by choice as she has no memory of the photoshoot ever taking place. To her knowledge she has not been complicit in the project. No matter how much she scrutinizes the photo it remains alien to her. The attention it brings is both horrifying and obtrusive.
When she phones her agent he also appears to know nothing, their conversation ending in an argument and a subsequent breakdown of trust. She contacts the other featured celebrities and a pattern begins to emerge, with no one having any recollection of the photographs being taken. They subsequently all meet in person and share a Japanese meal together. Over three courses they speculate and collaborate stories together, wondering how it was possible to have been photographed without ever even knowing it.
Individually they can all identify an unusual evening when they may have been targeted. Typically these took the form of a launch party or promotional event, many where the final product seemingly never made it to the marketplace. They can all recall an occasion of waking up with no recollection of the night before, something more than the normal haze brought upon by their drug and alcohol consumption.
Every one of them can recall a night out that resulted in a complete blackout the following morning, and by the end of the meal they are confident that they have been targeted, drugged and photographed without their consent.
The following morning they contact the authorities and a formal investigation is launched. Around the same time they go public and publish a statement via their agents, making it clear that in all cases a crime has been committed. During the immediate fallout they help the police establish a timeline for the crimes, analysing their hair style and body weight in the photographs, comparing against the magazine covers and social media presence of their previous twelve months. It is an exercise that the public are already pouring over in their thousands.
During this period the website continues to upload new images at irregular intervals. Authorities are able to trace the site to a server within the Ukraine, its location complex and continually one step ahead of the search. There is no warning prior to every new publication. Every new image contains a brand new celebrity, with no indication if the photograph is recent or from a backlog. The victims are unable to identify when the photographs have been taken, having seemingly been drugged multiple times over a recent period, a possible attempt to prevent a timeline emerging.
This new knowledge does not stop public demand, despite the possibility that this endorses further crimes. The celebrities plea for a renewed understanding through another carefully crafted statement. Many still suspect a publicity stunt, this thought further fueled by the surge in popularity that the celebrities now experience.
Breakfast television organises a reunion show for the original victims of the site. Together they describe their own personal recollections of being unconscious, their time spent being unconscious, their memories of being unconscious. Other celebrities attend nightspots where the incidents are suspected to have occurred, hoping to become the next victim and subsequent benefactor of the site.
It is not long before a rival site is announced with financial backing from a media consortium. Celebrity volunteers are willingly put into medically induced states of unconsciousness and photographed. Whilst social media appears to be horrified at the idea, the visitor figures suggest otherwise. The new website launches with banner advertising and a web store that sells t-shirts printed on 100% cotton.
Some weeks later the glamour model identifies something unusual. Recent events have brought her fellow professionals closer together, a shared sense of vigilance and concern for each other. Over the course of one weekend she is made aware of nine celebrities that have not returned home from a national television awards show.
It is too much of a coincidence to ignore and without any hesitation she calls the police. The police officer takes her details calmly and efficiently, trying as she can to contain her excitement.
The same police officer now stands in the bedroom and faces the missing celebrities. The perpetrator had left her an easy trail to follow, but only now does she sense that it may have been deliberate. The apartment is small and situated above a shop that sells old fashioned sweets. The smell of bleach and lemon still lingers.
She finds the celebrities arranged in the same way as in the most recent and final photograph. They are on a bed in a pile of bodies, all naked and arranged in a heap like dirty linen. She immediately identifies nine famous faces featured in the photograph, all unconscious and relatively unharmed.
A tenth body is draped across the top of the pile and is different to the others. His skin is grey and her experience suggests that he has been dead for several hours. Late into the evening this tenth body is identified and confirmed as a suicide.
The following morning his details are leaked to the press by an unknown source, introducing the public to their latest celebrity.
Banner Image: Pixabay.com