Follow Me

Reading Time: 21 minutes

Jan Pham has thirty thousand, six hundred, and eighty-three followers, but she wants more.

She’s waiting at a coffee shop and the line ticks forward, all at once like the minute hand on an old clock, everyone in line shifting up a step and then settling back into place. Jan glares again at the small sign near the pickup window reading “Mobile Ordering Down – Sorry For The Inconvenience” with a smiley. She feels her phone vibrate and flips it over to check it.

No notifications. She must have imagined the vibration, something that happens a lot these days, and not just to her. It’s what Ryan would call a “Phantom Ring,” and she uses it as an excuse to check in on her last post.

(Image by Jerzy Gorecki courtesy of Pixabay)

In the video, Jan looks good. Her tan, lithe body in a skintight black outfit makes the chrome silver hair cascading down one shoulder and the silver stud in her nose absolutely pop. Or maybe it’s the other way around. She doesn’t care – she just loves how natural it looks. How easy it is to imagine that this is how she really looks. That it isn’t all Ryan’s technical tricks with the lighting, the coloring, and the shot composition.

But that’s what makes Jan and Ryan such a great team. He makes her look and she makes this look natural. Shakespeare said the world was a stage and he was right – anywhere can be a stage, but these days the trick is to make the audience forget. Forget you’re on stage, forget you’re performing, and let them think this is the world. The real world.

In the video, Jan starts with her usual appeal to past followers and an appeal for future followers (“hey to all my only_phams and for all you newcomers be sure to give us a like and follow me at Almost_Phamous”) before reexplaining the app they are reviewing. The SoulSearching App (“link in the bio”) promises to modernize “Soul Searching” by bringing it to the digital age through things like chaos theory and quantum physics. What it actually does is ask users a few questions and then spit out a random address.

And people love it.

One reviewer couldn’t decide which college to attend “then Soul Searching took me to a catholic church. Notre Dame here I come!” while others claimed everything from closure to past relationships to signs of life from beyond the grave. Ryan, a self-proclaimed Fater (rhymes with hater) describes it as “fucking insane” and “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” and only agreed on the condition that they did not trespass on private property.

Not that she goes anywhere or does anything without Ryan. They’re a team. Ride or die. Together4ever. Pick your poison.

People love the SoulSearching App, but they also love watching influencers try the SoulSearching App – and with #SoulSearching already trending, Jan took the plunge. She answered the questions and the app took her straight to the half-empty strip mall across from this coffee shop, right between a florist and a spy shop. Jan’s soul searching journey couldn’t end at a spy shop, so they had pivoted, and instead Jan’s journey ended at a nearby park at a statue of Amelia Earhart.

Again, the coffee line ticks forward, and Jan takes her place behind a woman holding a baby and reading the menu for the first time.

“Let’s see,” the woman says, adjusting the baby on her hip. “How is the…”

Jan tries not to follow the woman’s gaze down to the pastries. Why look when you can’t touch? Instead Jan looks back over her shoulder at the outdoor seating area where Ryan waits. He’s wearing his usual uniform of all black, his wavy brown hair pulled away from his eye in a loose top knot, while a hand-rolled cigarette dangles between two fingers tucked behind the phone. She wonders what, or who, he’s looking at.

He could be looking at the video. Jan might be the face of Almost_Phamous but it’s a group effort. Last summer after graduation, Instagram was a hobby. Laying by the pool with plenty to drink but no jobs and no prospects, knowing what their degrees (Mass Comm and Photography, respectively) cost, but wondering what they were worth, it seemed like a dream. That day it was three photos, a dancing TikTok and one live video that attracted eighty-three views.

Ryan hadn’t liked a couple hundred random guys liking a video or photo of Jan dancing in a bikini but when Jan broke into the thousands with “Dating App Bachelorette,” a faux show starring her in five roles where she gave four popular dating apps personalities to see which would earn her rose, he stopped seeing them as random guys liking a video or photo and just saw the number. The video made it all the way to Buzzfeed – Interesting Influencers Influencing the Internet RIGHT NOW – and had over two hundred thousand views and counting.

Jan loved that video. It was so creative. But being creative takes time – and for junior influencers consistency is more important than creativity. So she keeps her brand fresh by reviewing apps every day, at least until she and Ryan break into the six figure followers and get big enough to have a team. Once you reach six figures your followers begin to pay dividends, multiplying on their own, like a snowball gathering speed and size as it rolls downhill, and then the sponsors come calling, and then more money.

Jan can see their problems dropping away one by one – the fights about money, about the way Ryan spends every moment he can stoned out of his mind – they can all be fixed with more followers.

The line ticks forward one last time and Jan steps up and orders their drinks: one iced green tea, no sweetener for her, and a straight black coffee, hot for Ryan.

“Hot?” The barista asks, clarifying because it’s the middle of summer and hot enough to melt the tar on the street.

“Hot,” Jan says. Ryan does not do iced coffee. It’s a thing with him. He could be walking across the desert and he’d still want hot coffee. It’s part of his beatnik illusion, even if this illusion is somewhat undercut by the brand-new black range rover his dad bought for him.

The barista brings the drinks, and Jan carries them outside. Ryan’s tobacco pouch and rolling papers – another beatnik thing – cover the table, and she waits for him to clear a space before setting the drinks down.

“Thanks babe,” Ryan says, but he doesn’t look up.

“Any more views?” She asks, lightly probing to see what he was looking at on his phone.

“What? Oh, I haven’t checked yet,” he says. “I was waiting for you.”

She takes a sip of her iced green tea and nods, looking across the street at the first address the SoulSearching app gave her. The sign for the Spy Shop is black, with big white letters reading “SPY SHOP” above a smaller red font reading “When you NEED to know.” The windows of the shop are barred and covered with lists of items like “GPS Tracking” or “Hidden Cameras,” and the few windows that aren’t covered are blacked out.

Next door the Florist Shop, maybe to compensate for its dour spy shop neighbor, overflows with technicolor bright flowers. Even the advertisement in the window, offering a “Seasonal Sale on Funeral Arrangements” looks upbeat.

Jan can remember going to a different, much nicer florist with her mom and uncle to pick out a funeral arrangement when she was a little girl. Her uncle may have paid for the arrangement with a smile, but she knew enough Vietnamese to know what he really thought about the price during the drive home. Maybe he would have appreciated a seasonal sale on funeral flowers.

“What are you looking at?” Ryan asks.

She nods across the street. Ryan takes a drag, coughs, and somehow washes it down with scalding hot coffee, then turns to look.

“You see that Spy Shop over there?” Ryan asks, but he doesn’t wait for her to answer. “My buddy’s mom used to take us to baseball practice and every day we would drive by a spy shop and we would just beg to go. Just fucking beg. We thought it sounded so cool. I guess we thought there’d be some James Bond shit in there.”

He turns back to Jan with a shrug, like: oh well.

“We could go now,” Jan says. “Maybe that could be the next video.”

“Too creepy,” Ryan says. “Besides, who needs spies when we’ve all got phones.”

Ryan says this like it’s profound, but Jan doesn’t engage. She feels another vibration, realizes she isn’t even holding her phone, but still picks it up off the table and checks it. Their dog, Apple, looks up back up the background, his head cocked to one side, mouth hanging open to let the tongue roll out.

“So you see what the other Janet is doing?” Ryan asks.

The Other Janet. Janet Ho. JHo. Also the Other Girl – in the sense that she dated Ryan (“Dated no, hooked up yeah. A few times, I guess” to hear Ryan tell it) freshman year.

“She’s blowing up – you see her last post?” Ryan says.  “Some online bot – I hear it’s a little sketch. Not illegal, but like, you know – weird black hat stuff, probably going to get banned from every app soon.”

Black hat bots, Instagram bots, automation bots or usually just bots are an Instagram hack program. Each promises the same thing: more subscribers and more followers. They gather your information to help target your audience, and then with the press of a button they crawl across Instagram pretending to look at videos, like pictures and leave comments – and fooling absolutely no one. Each time Jan uses a bot it costs her followers and hurts her reputation. She imagines the bots like bugs, slipping through cracks and crawling across accounts.

“I’m not doing that again,” Jan says. Still cringing about one comment plastered across 500 different pages “so qute XOXOXOXOXOXXOXO follow me for a like like,” and in one case 100 times on one user’s photo.

“What if it could double your followers?”

Now Jan hesitates. Ryan hands her his phone, she scrolls up then down. One week ago JHo’s photos were lucky to get a hundred likes. The latest post, a black screen with a red figure eight turned sideways, has ten times that many. She’s tempted. She wants more followers.

“No,” she says instead, clicking open her phone and checking the last video. She’s up fourteen followers. She doesn’t need a bot.


Ryan drives and Jan silently checks her followers. She’s up to thirty thousand, six hundred and ninety-nine followers but she still wants more. Meanwhile JHo posts a picture, the same black box with the same red figure eight, only now there’s an arrow pointing up out of the center, stretching all the way to the top. This picture hits twenty thousand likes in five minutes. The caption below reads: “Link in the bio – add legions of fans – we_r_legion.”

“I didn’t know you were still talking to her,” Jan says, putting her phone in her lap. She keeps her voice light, facing the window but looking at Ryan’s reflection, who looks very focused on driving.

Janet Ho is not as pretty as she is, and she can’t hold a candle to the Jan Pham on Instagram, not without someone like Ryan to help her with the lighting and hold the camera. Ryan once described Janet Ho as “cute in an innocent sort of way,” but only once – and he knew better than to do it again.

JHo also has an obsession with pigs: cartoon pigs, real pigs, and pig filters. Jan thinks it doesn’t do the girl, who has an upturned nose and a flat face, any favors.

JHo’s viral fame came with a stupid picture. Jan has seen the picture – it’s JHo wearing a slutty bikini bottom, football pads, and holding a baseball bat with a caption reading: “You Don’t Know JHo.” Seeing the original picture of Bo Jackson, and hearing Ryan explain who Bo Jackson was and what he had done had not helped Jan’s mood.

“She doesn’t even know who Bo Jackson is,” Jan had said, a frustration she expressed in the comments section of the photo with a like, saying: “Go, JHO! GO!”

At last Ryan speaks, or grunts. “Yeah, well just answering the occasional question about lighting mostly.”

“Oh,” Jan says, the connection between Ryan’s ex-girlfriend asking Ryan a question about lighting and an Instagram bot being obvious.

Thumb hovering over the link, Jan takes a breath. She hits refresh instead. JHo’s number of followers doubles.

There’s an obvious reason for this: inflation. Fake accounts. A bot that creates hundreds and hundreds – a legion, based on its name – of fake accounts. It’s the only way.

She scrolls through the list picking names at random. A bot account is easy to spot – usually a generic picture, no bio description, a handful of followers at most but following thousands.

Ryan clears his throat, but Jan doesn’t look up.

She clicks one, then another, and then three more. All are men but all of them have a normal following to follower ratio, profile pictures, and a few have bios.

“I mean, yeah, she asked how we were doing. And I said we were trying to get more followers. Which is true. And she said her research guy had found some bot called Legionary.”

“Legion,” Jan corrects. “We are legion.”

Ryan snaps his fingers. “Yeah, that was it. She said her guy heard about it on one of the Chans, 4chan or Allchan, one of those. Said she wanted more info but, you know, thought it couldn’t hurt.”

Jan refreshes JHo’s page again, her stomach knotting at the spike in new followers.

“Looks like it’s working. Does she have any regrets?”

Ryan shakes his head back and forth, his long hair shaking loose and falling down around his face. “No idea. Haven’t talked to her – not a word since that question about the lights.”

He pulls up outside their apartment and clicks a button, waiting for the garage door to open. JHo posts another picture – the same as the others but with another parallel arrow over the figure eight.

“Maybe you should,” Jan says, transfixed.

She can’t see Ryan, but she knows he’s frowning. Like it’s a trap. She pulls her eyes away from the last picture and locks her phone with the side button. It’s harder than she would like.

“Call her,” Jan says. “I mean, she told you about it, right? Let’s ask her.”

“You want me to call JHo,” Ryan repeats.

Jan smiles, “why would that be weird? You two are friends, right?” And then Jan climbs out of the car, slamming the door behind her.


Jan has thirty thousand, seven hundred and two followers when she steps out of the car, jumps over the three-sided pothole crack in the pavement that Ryan once dubbed the “Bermuda Triangle for Car Tires,” and jogs to the door of the stairwell leading up out of the garage. The elevator out of the garage rarely works, which is a blessing and a curse since the living room of her apartment shares a wall with the elevator shaft. When the elevator doesn’t work she has to walk up three flights of stairs, but when it does work, it’s all she can hear. Their apartment is on the second story of the horseshoe-shaped building surrounding a small, tear-shaped pool, two picnic tables, and six gardens protected by tall gates that cost extra. She and Ryan rent one of these gardens out for Apple, who barks excitedly when she reaches the courtyard.

“I know – I know, you see me. I’m coming.” Jan croons. She feels better seeing Apple, his heavy tail wagging so furiously that it throws his body from side to side.

The video where Jan adopted Apple was cosponsored by a local Pitbull rescue and a huge hit – and Apple is a frequent special guest in her videos. He’s basically her co-star. Reaching the gate she drops to one knee for kisses, then stands up and unlocks the gate.

Apple leads the way to their apartment, up the wrought iron stairs. The stairs creak and groan under the slightest strain, the sound compounded by the way it echoes around the courtyard. Apple is always eager to go somewhere else. If Jan or Ryan move for the door, he’s excited to go outside. If he’s outside and Jan or Ryan reach for their keys, he’s excited to go inside. He’s just always excited.

She drops her bag, drops herself onto the couch, let’s Apple hop up next to her, and finds the link to Legion. Instead of a dot com or a dot net, she logs into a random series of numbers and letters ending in .legio/. The combination changes with an audible “click,” expanding from twenty letters to a hundred. Jan gasps – thinking about the odd figure eight and arrows and praying this isn’t a virus.

Another click and the numbers descend back down to a manageable fifty, another click and they’re down to twenty, then ten, and then she’s at the home page. “We Are Legion” across the top in white, the same symbol from JHo’s feed, the two parallel arrows above a figure eight with one more arrow running up from the eight to the top, and then a promise to “Turn Your Followers Into A LEGION. We Are Legion.” The page is full of typos and a third of the words veer off into Russian characters and random code, but Jan gets the gist. Like so many bots, Legion promises to be quick and easy while using the latest A.I. and special techniques. The only catch is that Legion needs the usual information to be effective: who is Jan’s core audience, her target demos, what is her mission statement?

Jan’s fingers fly across the buttons. She can type and text faster than she can talk, or even think. Outside the wrought iron stairs creak and groan.

“Stop whining – it’s your job!” Ryan groans back at the stairs, an old joke, treating the stairs like a particularly whiny employee. The familiar jingle of carabiners and keys – Ryan believes you never regret having extra carabiners – heralds Ryan’s entry into the room. He carries a black bag that’s big enough for a body but not all of Ryan’s equipment. He makes a beeline straight for the guest bedroom – which holds all of Ryan’s equipment but has never housed a guest. He carefully drops the bag with a grunt and returns to the room.

He rubs his muscles. The equipment is heavy and there are still two more boxes. “I’ll grab the rest when the elevator starts working again.”

Jan doesn’t say anything and Ryan doesn’t move.

“How about this babe,” Ryan says.

Jan notes the “babe,” but doesn’t look up.

“I’ll do some research – see what I can learn about the app and then if we still have questions I’ll call Janet Ho. Ok?”

Jan flashes her phone.

“Too late – I already signed up.” She smiles. “Now we are legion, too.”


The bot takes time to sync or load, or something, Jan can see a loading bar on her phone screen so she knows something is happening. Temporarily phoneless Jan is anxious. A feeling like she is lost in a foreign neighborhood only she can’t call anyone or use a map. The anxiety intensifies when she opens up her laptop to the same loading bar, only this one says “sinking,” a typo, she thinks. Russians or Chinese or whatever hackers must not know the difference between syncing and sinking.

“So get this – apparently Legion appeared on the chans last year, but the code is much older and you can only access it through the dark web.”

Jan knows about “the chans.” Ryan talks about them reverently, like they’re freedom fighters, the last truly democratic bastions for people to share unfiltered opinions and speak honestly. From what Jan has seen, they’re mostly used by men who share misogynist memes and views under the guise of terms like “taking the red pill.” She’s less familiar with the dark web.

“The what?”

“You know – there’s like the web. The world wide web. Which is mapped. Then there’s the dark web which isn’t, you know, mapped.” Ryan mimes a circle, sees she isn’t getting it, grabs a pen and pad.

He draws waves across the top, like he’s tracing invisible Hershey kisses with a slight curve. Here he writes “Web.” Beneath that he draws a straight line that dips into a ‘v’ shaped cavern and then comes back up and flattens out.

“Haven’t used one of these things in forever,” he says.

Jan doesn’t know if he means the paper or the pen. Or both. While he finishes his drawing, Jan’s phone chimes. The download is complete. She starts to get up and walk to it, but Ryan cuts her off.

“Okay, so here is the world wide web right? This is where we surf.” He points at the waves, waits for a laugh that will never come. “Like surf the web.” He coughs. “Then here, you have the deep web. There are no maps on the deep web – no search engines to guide you. You have to know exactly where you’re going.”

Jan nods. She can see her phone across the room. There’s a notification. Then another. She looks back at Ryan, hoping he will hurry this along.

“And right here, this canyon? That’s the dark web. The Mariana Trench of the internet. Nobody knows how deep it goes – and nobody knows what all is down there. Uncharted territory.”

Ryan preens for a moment, pleased.

“So is it safe, or what?”

Ryan frowns. “It could be – I’m just saying we don’t know what is down there.”

“Well, what did the other Janet say?” Apple jams his head into Jan’s lap and she obliges with some strokes behind the ear.


Jan cocks an eyebrow.

“She didn’t answer. I tried her twice. Nothing.”

Jan laughs, “That’s weird. It’s not like she isn’t always on her phone.”

She pushes Apple away and pads across the room to grab her phone. There’s a single message on a black screen.

Let Us Introduce Ourselves. We Are Legion. You Are JANET PHAM. Correct?

Click – Jan selects the green button to confirm. The phone pauses, whirs, and then another message unfolds.

We Are Legion And We Are Many. Certified Members Must Answer Three Questions. Do You Accept, JANET PHAM?

Click – Jan doesn’t hesitate.

Question 1. Your Friends Are Now Us, And We Are Now Your Friends. Who Is Your Best Friend, JANET PHAM?

This could change, Jan thinks, but for now, he’s still my best friend – and she types out Ryan’s full name and clicks Accept.

“I’ll try the other Janet again,” Ryan says. “See what’s up.”

He looks at Jan, who doesn’t look up, then looks away. Without another word he walks out of the room, leaving Jan alone.

Thank You, JANET PHAM.

Jan smiles. Her phone goes dark – save a picture of a sideways figure eight, just like the one on the other Janet’s page.


An hour later Jan checks her phone, sees she has thirty-one thousand, two hundred and twenty-three followers. She screams, throws her arms around Ryan’s shoulders and plants a kiss on his face.

“Just guess how much I’m up.”

She curls up next to Ryan on the couch, easy to do in her gray yoga pants and one of Ryan’s hoodies, also gray, her hair pulled back into a loose ponytail.


A blinding smile from Jan. “Try five hundred.”

Joy tinged with disbelief from Ryan. “What? How?”

Jan can’t explain it, only shrug.

“No, but I mean, how? Like what is it doing?” Ryan asks.

“I don’t know but they’re real – I checked. All real.” She pauses. “All men, but real men. Not other bots.”

Frowning, Ryan reaches for his laptop. “What was the website?”

A rumble and screech of metal and wires fills the apartment. A thin layer of drywall, barely up to code, separates the apartment living room from the elevator shaft. Since the elevator rarely works it’s rarely a problem – but when it does work, as it is now, it’s deafening.

Jan can barely think when the elevator is running, much less speak over the noise. She couldn’t shout over the elevator and she doesn’t try. She hands him her phone which has already posted a picture with the caption: Link in the bio – add legions of fans – we_r_legion.

Ryan types the link into his laptop and they are back at the website, the same black screen with ivory characters. The heading: We Are Legion And We Are Growing. Visit The Tracker flashes across the page. Ryan clicks “The Tracker” and a silent, grainy video fills the screen.

“Go pro, maybe? Not a phone,” Ryan mumbles. He can’t resist guessing about the type of camera used on anything.

The video scans a typical Hollywood two story apartment, each door opening into a courtyard around a pool that nobody uses. Jan thinks it could be anywhere. The camera stops at apartment number four, looking down at the welcome mat, brown with a black outline of a cartoon pig and the word Welcome! in cursive. Ryan tenses and takes a breath as the video goes black: “Certified Members Only,” and then a number ticking upwards, presumably the growing legion.

Jan wants to ask Ryan if he recognized that apartment, but he speaks first.

“How do you become a certified member?” Ryan asks.

Jan’s phone chimes in response. A message from the bot.

We Are Legion And We Are Many. Certified Members Must Answer Three Questions. Do You Accept, JANET PHAM?

Click – again, Jan doesn’t hesitate.

Question 2. You Are Important To Us Now. What Is Important To You Is Now Important To Us. Who Is Your Favorite Pet, JANET PHAM?

Jan thinks this question is easier than the last, typing in Apple’s name.

“Security questions?” Ryan asks, trying to refresh the web page to get the video feed to work again.

Jan watches Ryan. He looks anxious.

“What was that video?” He shakes his head. “I’m going to call JHo again. It’s weird she hasn’t answered.”

Two emotions hit Jan at once, a tremor of anxiety for the other girl, and a pang of jealousy that Ryan looks so worried. She lands somewhere in the middle and leaves the room to check on Apple while he makes the call. Apple stands looking out the bedroom window, curious but not barking. In the other room Ryan leaves a quick message, so he must not have gotten through. When she comes back he’s frowning.

“You ok?” Jan asks.

Ryan nods, distracted, pauses punctuating his words suddenly and without warning, like potholes on a dark street. “Yeah, I’m just going to go grab the heavy stuff from the car. While the elevator is working.”

Jan thinks – knows – he’s going to smoke a joint on the way and she watches the door close behind him, annoyance and concern pulling her in opposite directions. Outside, the elevator starts to move again, carrying Ryan back down to the garage, and annoyance wins out. She picks up her phone for a quick fix and opens the gram.

Jan always thought jaws dropping to the floor was just something made up for cartoons – but her jaw physically drops at her number of new followers, the likes, and notifications pinging her phone like hail on a tin roof. Her anger at Ryan forgotten, she squeals with delight as Apple bolts past her, stampeding from the bedroom, through the living room to the front door.

“Apple!” She shouts, but she isn’t – can’t be – angry right now.

She follows him through the living room, ready to take him on another walk when Ryan’s laptop screen catches her eye.

The grainy video has refreshed, only now it isn’t a typical Hollywood apartment – it’s a dark garage, lit only by a single bulb in the ceiling. The camera moves swiftly between two cars she recognizes, stopping to stare down at a familiar, three-sided pothole. The pothole that Ryan always calls “The Bermuda Triangle of car tires.”

Jan stops dead in her tracks. She can hear Apple barking, clawing at the door, and whining – but all she can see is the video. Moving between cars, looking right and left, and then stopping at a Range Rover. At Ryan’s Range Rover, the light inside makes the windows briefly opaque, reflecting back the face of…there is no face.

Jan leans closer. She can see the outline of an ivory white hoodie with the hood pulled up, but inside, where a face should be, only darkness. It isn’t that the hood is pulled too far forward, or that the face is somehow obscured, Jan realizes, and it isn’t that there’s nothing there. At least not exactly. It’s more like looking down into the open maw of a cave, one that isn’t just impenetrable, but actively swallows up any light that gets close.

Then the lights inside the Range Rover go out with a slight shake – Ryan closing the trunk – and the reflection is replaced by a clear shot of Ryan, eyes cashed and distant, a half smoked joint tucked behind one ear. He squats beneath his boxes of equipment, waddling between the cars towards the elevator.

Jan doesn’t know if she screams or just thinks she screams. She claws out her phone, but her hands are shaking so bad she can’t use her thumb to unlock it, and she messes up her password the first time. She tries to call Ryan, but instead the phone whirs and chimes as an app pops up.

We Are Legion And We Are Many. Certified Members Must Answer Three Questions. Do You Accept, JANET PHAM?

Click – Jan doesn’t hesitate, she clicks no.

The phone does hesitate, thinking. On screen Ryan stands at the elevator, the camera moves closer.

Sorry, JANET PHAM. Certified Members Must Answer Three Questions. Do You Accept, JANET PHAM?

On-screen Ryan, key chain of carabiners dangling from his fingers, presses the elevator button with his knee, kicks it once, then twice, then three times. Even without audio she knows he’s groaning with frustration at the thought of carrying the heavy equipment up the narrow stairs. His shoulders slump, he turns, defeated and faces the camera for the first time.

The camera stops, tilting to the side as if cocking its head.

Ryan stares back at the camera, eyes wide. He swallows once. Good genetics combined with football and basketball through middle school and high school, intramural sports in college, and years of lugging around heavy photography equipment have kept Ryan in shape, but whatever he sees now scares him. He opens his mouth to say something as the video goes black: Certified Members Only flashing on the screen and then a number ticking upwards, assumably the growing legion.

Jan looks back at her phone. It still flashes the same message:

Sorry, JANET PHAM. Certified Members Must Answer Three Questions. Do You Accept, JANET PHAM?

Click – This time Jan clicks accept.

We Are Legion. We Are Many. We Are You. You Are us. Who Are You, JANET PHAM?

Jan’s fingers are still shaking as she types out her own name. Tears leak from her eyes in waves, blurring her vision. She finishes typing her name and hits enter, but the phone shakes.

Wrong Answer.

We Are Legion. We Are Many. We Are You. You Are us. Who Are You, JANET PHAM?

She tries again – adding her middle name, which she never uses. Again, Wrong Answer. She tries it with her middle initial, with Jan instead of Janet. None of them work and finally she jams her phone into her pocket and goes for the front door. Outside, she takes the stairs two at a time and jumps for the final three, landing heavily, as Apple pulls ahead, and before she can stop him, he’s flying down the garage stairs and into the darkness.

Rubbing at her knee, Jan stops at the base of the stairs. She limps closer to the garage stairs, stopping when she is five feet away from the open door. She’s taken these stairs a thousand times, but this time they look different. Again she thinks the darkness looks different, like it’s actively swallowing light, a black hole swallowing stars.

“Ryan? Apple?” She tries to make her voice carry, but it’s barely a whimper.

She can’t see an inch past the foot of the stairs into the garage, but she knows something is there, waiting. To her left, the elevator groans and clanks to life. The familiar sound of rusty metal grinds on rusty metal as the elevator ascends up out of the garage, and now Jan is crying, really crying. Because she knows Ryan always wears black, but when the elevator pings open all she can see is red. So much red.

She makes a decision, whirls around and, leaning heavily on the iron handrail, then begins hobbling up the stairs. She’s halfway to the top when something hits the stairs behind her, and they groan and whine with the added weight. The memory of the white hood and the empty maw fills her mind, pushing her to move faster.

Stop whining, do your job! She prays the stairs won’t collapse before she reaches the top.

She’s two steps away from the top, the sound of footsteps a step or two behind her.

She jumps the final step, lands on her bad knee and falls forward through the front door, fights through the pain to slam it behind her as someone, or something crashes into it. With shaky hands she locks the door and backs away.

“Please!” She screams, “Please leave me alone.”

Silence answers her, then she hears the familiar jingle of carabiners and keys and sees the deadbolt begin to turn. The chain lock hangs limply next to the door, out of reach. She turns and limps for the bedroom, pushing inside as the front door swings open.

She grabs everything she can, pushing the books, the desk chair, the matching nightstands and the dresser into a pile in front of the door. She backs into the corner of the room, pressing her back against one wall and sinking to the ground. Reaching for her phone she tries to dial 9-1-1, but the question from the app blinks up at her:

We Are Legion. We Are Many. We Are You. You Are us. Who Are You, JANET PHAM?

She tries, but fails, to answer the question. Her reflection in the black screen of the phone looks back at her. This morning she looked so good under Ryan’s lighting and with Ryan’s direction. The girl looking back at her now could be a different girl.

The door cracks, splinters, and breaks, under a violent onslaught, swinging open, easily brushing aside the books, chair, and desk she piled up as a last defense.

“I don’t know,” Jan whispers to the phone. “I don’t know what you want from me.”

And then her phone begins typing on its own, the app answering its own question.

We Are Legion. We Are Many. We Are You. You Are us. Who Are You, JANET PHAM?


The answer is Legion. Jan checks her followers – a reflex – and sees she’s past sixty thousand, and counting. Then from somewhere deep inside she finds the strength to look up. To stand against it alone, as Jan Pham, of Almost_Phamous, for her Only_Phams, one last time. Her head lifts, slowly to the figure standing in the doorway, to look straight into the nothingness beneath the white hood. Her jaw set and hands clenched into fists, she looks away as it draws closer, gliding across the room to kneel in front of her, dipping its hood forward, as if to embrace her, the folds of the hood enveloping her head.

The light of her apartment fades, the familiar sounds of traffic through her flimsy walls grows dim.

Final thoughts flash across her mind like she’s reading them off her phone:

You are me, and I am you.

And then she is not Jan Pham. She is Legion. And she is many.


This story previously appeared in Running Wild Anthology of Stories: Volume 6.
Edited by Marie Ginga


Harold Hoss the penname of Blake Hoss. He is a graduate of USC Law with a passion for horror films. He most recently worked as a producer on the feature films Creep Box and The Unheard. The Unheard is streaming now on Shudder.