He woke up with the nurse standing beside him. Her blonde hair was the first thing he saw and the sound of her long nails tapping the tablet in the palm of her hand was the first thing he heard. She was reading the foreign language on the monitors from which several wires snaked out and burrowed themselves into him, some spilling liquid in him others taking it out.
“I see your finally awake Mr. Alexander.” She said not taking her eyes away from her tablet. She typed with a practiced rhythm of someone who had lived this moment many times. “Feeling better?”
“I can’t feel my leg.”
“Of course not. Like we explained earlier, the gel is taking shape inside your femur and molding itself in the bone and very soon you will feel a burning sensation which means that the gel is fusing itself with the femur.” As she said this, he began to feel the heat in his leg. “And then,” she continued, “shortly after that you will feel this need to scratch at your shin hence the cast around it, its more for the protection of the procedure rather than your protection and after that a little bit of rest and then you will be back on your feet like nothing ever happened.”
She flashed a smile that was as practiced as her typing.
“Where is my phone? I need to check something.”
“Unfortunately your mother took that with her when she left.”
“Can I borrow that?” He gestured at the tablet.
“No, sir.” She shook her head. “This is hospital property.”
“It’ll only be a second.”
“I’m afraid I can’t be of any assistance there. You’ll just have to wait.”
“I’ve got to know right now. It’s been twelve hours since I last checked. I need to see what my numbers are like.”
“That can wait Mr. Alexander. For now, the only concern on your mind should be to rest. That was a nasty fall you had. I would say you were darn lucky to just get a broken leg and a concussion. Speaking of which,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a tinted yellow container whose insides were filled with pills. “You’ve got to take two of these every two hours. It will help with the headaches.”
She twisted open the cap and rattled out two pills and held them out for him. He reluctantly accepted the pills in his palm and tossed them into his mouth and took a sip of water from the glass on the bedside table.
“Well, I will come back and check up on you in a little while. Please try and get some rest, unlike last time.”
She smiled another practiced gesture before leaving him alone in the room.
There was a knock at the door and before Alexander could say anything, the doorknob turned and the door slowly opened. An oddly shaped round head poked through with a bright purple cap on that further exaggerated the roundness of the hat.
“Of course I am. Come in already and shut the door.”
Herb didn’t need telling twice. He moved quick for a large boy and he fastened to close the door behind him, slowing down when the door was an inch from closing and then easing it into place.
“Hurry,” Alexander said, “you got your phone with you?”
Herb waddled his way to his bed. “Even better.” It took him a second to get his backpack off of him but once he did he opened the front pocket and took out Alexander’s phone.
“How’d you get that?” Alexander asked taking it and scanning his thumb. The phone opened and a voice said welcome, Mr. Great. Herb was explaining how he got the phone when he went to Alexander’s house with his mother and saw the phone on the kitchen counter and decided it was worth the risking cause he knew how much Alexander would be craving for it.
Herb tried to throw in a flair of heroic struggle by describing how he had to wait and be patient and bide his time for the right moment before snatching the phone as if the mere act alone would trigger some self-defense mechanism and the floor would open up and swallow him whole. As Herb said this, Alexander let out a series of curses under his breath and tossed the phone across the room where it smacked against the wall and clattered to the ground.
“Barely went up a spot from that little stunt.”
“Yeah but that makes you sixth in the rankings.” Herb went over and picked up the phone. He cleaned the face with his shirt and brought it back to Alexander.
“Who cares about sixth. I might as well be last. You know it was going well until I fell. I saw the numbers climbing. People were liking me like mad but then everything went downhill.”
“Including you.” Herb chuckled but quickly stopped after seeing Alexander’s glare. “Come on Alex, it ain’t so bad. You still gained some.”
“To be honest your not far from King. He’s only got about five million more than you. Actually eight thousand, four hundred and twenty six…eight nine…five hundred…” Herb was looking out the window where the giant face of King floated in the air, a crown a top of the squared head and a smile that showed the perfect row of teeth. Beside him a number count that slowly increased. “He sure is good looking.” Herb said.
“That’s the only reason he’s ahead of me.”
“I mean and he’s funny and he’s got a nice car. On the way over here I was watching his stream he was showing that new Champbell 300 you know that electronic one that hovers, my god that thing was fast not to mention how quiet…” He stopped again when he turned to face Alexander who was half way out of his bed trying to figure out how to get the tubes out of him.
“What you doing?” Herb rushed over and tried pushing Alexander back on the bed. “You need rest. I heard the nurse say so.”
“Every second I’m here is a second that he gets further and further away.”
“But the nurse—”
“She’s just being cautious, you know how they are. Doctors and them always love being cautious so that they won’t get sued. Help me get this thing out of me.”
Herb hesitated and looked back at the door to make sure it was still closed.
“What about your mother Alex?”
“What about her?”
“She’ll have me skinned if she found out I helped you get out.”
“Don’t worry. Once I’m number one I’ll be rolling in so much gold that I’ll pay for you to get another skin.”
“That’s comforting.” Herb said softly.
“Come on then help me out why don’t yeah? I’ve got the perfect idea too. I know it’ll be a hit.”
Herb got one of the tubes out.
“What is it?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
He got both the tubes out and Alexander popped up to his feet and immediately fell back onto the bed clutching his casted shin. Eyes shut and face wrinkled, each fold of skin at the corner of his eye magnifying the pain he was in.
“Now you’ve done it.” Herb checked the door again. “I told you it was a bad idea.”
His leg was burning now just as the nurse had said. That meant it was still going good and he hadn’t messed anything up. He eased himself to his feet this time and used Herb’s shoulder for support. “Come on. Get your backpack and grab those pills and let’s get outta here.”
King gained another hundred followers on him and he watched the sun’s light reflecting off of his teeth and his giant face hovered above the roads where like ants people moved along all busy doing their menial work, trying to be done with so that in the evening they could catch up with all the uploads from their favorite streamers and there were some out there that were hoping to see his content when they got home and he was going to give them a show that would break all the records, most important of which was the follower count. First person to reach seven billion followers. The most in history. That would cement him forever.
“Check if anyone is out in the hall.”
Herb quietly opened the door as if he were in a church and stuck his round head out.
“Clear.” He whispered.
Alexander put an arm around Herb and limped out of the room.
“Your cousin still got that plane of his?”
“Yeah, why?” Herb asked.
“Call him for me.”
A girl came up and asked for a picture and Alexander obliged. She thanked him and giggled and rushed back to her table where her friends were and showed them the picture she had taken.
Alexander went back to his phone and continued his voice message. “At seven pm sharp I will be doing by grandest and most dangerous stunt yet. You won’t want to miss it cause this one is for the history books and it’ll never be repeated again.”
Herb sipped on his green tea because he had read online that it was healthy. He took a big bite out of his creamed donut and washed it down with some more tea.
Another girl came up and asked Alexander for a picture and he nodded. She asked him about his leg and he said it was fine but in reality, he wanted to scratch the skin off and then the bone. He smiled nonetheless. The girl asked him what this new stunt would be.
“Oh, you heard?”
“Of course.” She showed him the phone and his own face stared back and then he heard his voice repeating what he had said before. “Never be repeated again.”
“I’m dying to know.” She said. “So are my friends.” She pointed at her table where the girls were all staring at him. They smiled and waved when he looked.
“I can’t tell you, you know that. It’ll spoil the fun but be there at seven.”
“Come on just a little something.”
He thought for a moment. He knew whatever he said would be spread across the net in a second and then quickly be manipulated and exaggerated to whoever’s delight.
“It involves a plane.” He said. “Herb’s cousin owns one.”
Her eyes grew larger and looked at Herb who nodded with a mouth full of the last bit of doughnut.
“A plane.” She repeated softly.
“Like I said no one will ever do it again. Once in a lifetime moment and I’ll break the seven billion mark with it.”
Herb coughed and choked on the doughnut and bits of it landed on the table.
“You will?” She asked slowly.
“I guarantee it, in fact, I’ll quit if I don’t that’s how confident I am.”
“Wow…seven billion…you’ll be great then.”
The plane was older than he had expected. Nonetheless, it didn’t matter. People would only be seeing the inside of it. It was one of those older models that still had wings on the side and still used a propeller. It was painted yellow as if the sun itself had baked its face onto the metal. There was a large bullseye on the single door that opened out instead of sliding in. If anyone saw the outside of this then he would be a laughing stock.
Herb read his thoughts and said “its Stephen’s first one. He bought it himself.” He added.
Stephen was standing by its wing cleaning the bird dropping off with a dirty rag. He waved as they came towards him. Just like his plane, he too had been kissed by the sun, nothing like his paler cousin.
Alexander and Herb shook hands with Stephen and Stephen said he was a big, big fan and couldn’t believe he was actually meeting Alexander.
“All this time I thought Little Herby was lying to tell you the truth.” He slapped Herb on the shoulder who winced in pain. “He’s always going on about how he knows you and all that and we just figured we’ll play along with him.”
“Stephen please.” There was some color coming into Herb’s face. Alexander nodded barely registering that he was being spoken too. He was on his phone the data he had requested had finally come back. He laid the phone on the plane wing and said something to it that caused a hologram to come forth, birthing from the screen were different graphs and charts and numbers along, bars filling up, arrows climbing and dropping, altogether some eight different graphs stretched out towards the clear skies.
Stephen scratched his head trying to make sense of the numbers. Herb was reading the closest one to him that showed the activity level of Alexander account in the past twenty four hours. There had been a dip a significant one when Alexander was put under the knife for the operation and then a significant surge from when Alexander released his voice memo.
“Just as I thought.” Alexander said more to himself than anyone else.
“What is it?” Herb asked.
Alexander shook his head and said, “don’t worry.” He said something and then in a flash all the graphs and data vanished, sucked into the clear screen. He pocketed his phone and asked Stephen how much longer before they can take off.
“About twenty minutes. These old ones need a bit of starting up time.” He patted the plane as if it were his dog. “Where we going anyways, Herb never said.”
“Up.” Alexander replied.
He sat crossed legged on the ground with his phone in his palm. Behind him, the plane was coughing into existence, dying every now and then and coming back alive. Stephen was in the pilot seat pressing buttons on the archaic machinery. Not even a single voice command feature. Herb came and sat beside him. He was sipping on a juice box.
“Want some?” He asked.
Alexander shook his head.
“King’s gone up ten thousand on me.” He said.
“Don’t worry Al you’ll get him one day. Just need to keep chipping away.”
“I need to get him now.”
“By the way, you never told me what we were going to be doing?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Alexander stretched out his leg. It had begun to throb but so far everything the nurse had said had come true so he figured the gel had done its job. Not that it would matter.
“I am worried though Al. Last time was pretty scary. You told me not to worry before that too.”
“That was just an accident.”
“The ledge was slippery.” He had been climbing up the building fine before that. Scaling it was his bare hands and just a little bit of chalk with three different cameras capturing his every step and streaming it for the world to see and he had come up to a window and as he tried to grab the wooden ledge he lost his grip and fell nine floors and was lucky that the trash bags underneath the apartment building were there to cushion his blow. “It was like there was oil spilled onto the ledge. That’s the only reason I fell.”
“It was really scary. You could have died.”
“What do you mean so?”
“So what if I died. Isn’t that why they watch me? Cause I might die one of these days.”
“Don’t say something like that. It’s bad juju.”
“Only you would believe in something like that.”
They heard what sounded like a gunshot and they twisted around to see a puff of black smoke coming out of the rear end of the plane as it vibrated standing still roaring so loud that Alexander could hear it in the deepest parts of his thoughts. Stephen waved at them from the pilot seat telling them to come on in and that it was time to go.
“You’re going to be safe right whatever it is your about to do?”
“Of course Herb ain’t I always?”
Herb wanted to discuss it further but Alexander quickened his pace towards the plane leaving Herb behind to chase him like always.
Herb helped him with the cameras. Three different angles it was what people had come to expect of him. He was still asking what Alexander had in mind as he fixed the angle of the camera on Alexander’s shoulder. It was ten minutes to his stream. He noticed a steady increase of activity on his channel about an hour ago and right now people were flooding in by the hundred.
“I’m going to scale the plane.” He said.
“What! that’s crazy Al even for you. No. No. No.”
“Don’t worry it’ll be alright. I’m going to circle around it and come back in through the door.”
Before Herb could say something else Alexander went into the cockpit and told Stephen what he planned on doing and there was clear hesitation on his face but Alexander persuaded him by telling him he’ll give him a shout out while doing it.
“Okay, I’m going live five minutes.”
“You shouldn’t do this Al. Please its too dangerous.” Herb’s foot was tapping on the floor.
“That’s what they want to see. Too dangerous is the line we’ve got to cross.”
“Who cares what they want maybe its time to end this and stop trying to be the greatest. I think it’s getting to you.”
Alexander smiled and patted Herb on the cheek.
“What a silly thing to say.”
Alexander waited by the door watching this phone slowly inch towards the seven mark. Once it got in the seconds he pulled open the door and the wind rushed in blowing him back a few steps. He regained his footing and Stephen adjusted the height of the plane.
“Welcome my people.” He said to his phone screen where millions of people were now tuning in. “I said that this would be once in a lifetime event and I don’t plan on making you wait. Today I will be jumping out of this plane and you will watch something that you have never seen before.”
He looked over at Herb whose eyes widened and Herb tried to take a staggered step towards Alexander but it was too late.
He stepped out as if there were a staircase there to receive the bottom of his sole and his foot sunk down and his leg followed, no longer hurting and his entire body plunged out of the plane. If the plane wasn’t so loud he figured he would have heard Herb’s cry but again the wind that was deafening him might be the reason why he heard nothing, not even the plane.
He fell facing the sky the wind pulling his skin back. Arms extended in front of him and his phone in his hand watching the numbers. They were climbing as he was falling, going up as he went down the sheer force of the fall shaking his arms as they bent further and shook more and his numbers kept going and he kept going and he was second now and then first but still not at the seven billion mark, close as he got closer and his arms gave out and the phone snatched away as if someone had pulled it out of his hands with a string and his arms spread out either side of him and he imagined what the people were thinking he couldn’t move his head to either side to see the camera he wanted to smile to the people for he was their king now and not King. He was number one.
He was the great…then nothing.