Shortwave Magazine

Fiction / Short Stories

"Viral"

a short story
by Chelsea Pumpkins

March 7, 2023
3,265 Words
Genre(s):

Content note: pregnancy, pregnancy loss

Slouched on the kitchen table, Mariah held her head in her right hand and scrolled through her phone with her left. With glazed-over eyes, she bypassed dancing families, outfit try-ons, and warp speed cooking tutorials. 

“Hey, babe,” Brody said to her, on his way to the pantry.

Mariah grunted a reply. She was busy flipping between her account and the trending page, searching for the magic formula for fame. Her mind flooded with analytics, calculating if she was growing or shrinking in popularity.

Brody shook out the last flakes from the cereal box, sloshed milk over the top, and sat down across from his preoccupied wife. The metronome click of her thumbnail against the phone screen was the only sound between them.

Suddenly, she looked up, her brown eyes glittering with excitement. “Oh my God, that’s it!”

“Hm?” Brody asked, mouth full.

“I know how to get more followers.” Mariah placed her phone on the table between them, folded her hands, and leaned in excitedly towards Brody. “Let’s have a baby.”

Brody put his spoon down and squinted at Mariah.

“Why not?” Mariah continued. “We’ve always said we wanted to have kids! Why wait? Wouldn’t it be fun to be young parents?”

“It just seems a little, I don’t know, sudden,” Brody said.

“I mean, we’re only getting older, right? No time like the present!” Mariah was out of her chair now, pacing across the tiled floor.

“You’re serious.” Color faded from Brody’s face as his whole-grain cereal turned to mush.

“Think about it,” she said. “If we’re pregnant by Christmas, that would just be the cutest way to announce it. We could get a little stocking, make a gingerbread family of three. Then an adorable springtime baby shower—pastels everywhere! And the baby will be here just in time for the summer, which would be the perfect time for maternity leave. We’ll take a little beach trip—oh my God, tiny baby bathing suits!”

“Maybe we should think about this a bit longer,” Brody said, tapping his fingers nervously. “This is a huge decision, Ri.”

“Good point. Let’s sleep on it,” Mariah said. “I’ll call the doctor first thing tomorrow and schedule an appointment to get my IUD removed. That way, we’ll be set to go.”

“Okay.”

“Oh! And Target is on the way home from the doctor’s office. I can pick up some things we’ll need.”

“We need. . . things?”

“Of course! I need to start taking prenatal vitamins ASAP, and we’ll need to stock up on ovulation and pregnancy tests. Maybe I’ll grab one of those pregnancy pillows too—they just look so comfy. And I’ll need maternity clothes. . .” she trailed off but was typing frantically on her phone.

“I can’t wait to start posting about this!”

“Hey everyone, I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated you, but today I have such exciting news to share!” Mariah sat in her car talking to her phone camera mounted on the dashboard.

“I’m sitting in the parking lot at Tar-jay and I’m about to go grab some—wait for it—pregnancy supplies! Yep, you heard that right. Brody and I have officially decided to grow our family. I just left the doctor’s office, and I am officially IUD F-R-E-E.” She wiggled her fingers in the air, jazz-hands style.

“I’m just so excited to share my #TTC journey with y’all—that’s trying-to-conceive for you newbies. I’m hoping to hear from some experienced mamas in the comments. Post your must-have items—your favorite vitamins, the best maternity bras—I wanna hear it all! And don’t forget to turn on notifications to follow my updates. For now, I’ll be busy getting busy. Later, cuties.” With that, Mariah winked into her phone and stopped recording.

She idled in her parking spot as she rewatched her video, found the most flattering filter, and typed out all the relevant hashtags. She let out a squeal as she clicked ‘post’. 

On her way home she checked her feed at every red light.

When she walked into the house, she slammed her shopping bags onto the kitchen table.  Brody looked up from his laptop.

“Uh, hi?” he asked, alarmed by the tempest she rode in on.

“I don’t get it!” Mariah leaned against the counter, already glued to her phone. “People go nuts for pregnancy content. I posted twenty-five minutes ago, and I only have 200 likes.”

“What? You’re already posting about this? We haven’t even started. . . trying.” He said this last word in a sheepish whisper.

“It’s about the journey, Brody. People love a journey!” Mariah blinked back tears as her chest bloomed red in frustration, crawling up her neck in splotches.

“Babe,” Brody got up from the table and pulled her to his chest. “Babe, don’t cry.” He rocked her back and forth.

“You’re not going to share all of our journey, are you?” He purred into her neck and kissed a trail up to her earlobe.

Mariah giggled. “Stop,” she fake-whined. “That tickles.”

“I bet it does,” Brody said. He swooped her up into his arms and carried her into their bedroom.

“Hey y’all, happy Friday! I hope you’re having a gorgeous week. I just wanted to pop on and give a little update. Things have been going well, if you catch my drift.” Mariah’s cheeks blushed a bit at this admission.

“We’ve definitely been trying. Like, a lot. I really hope one of these little spermies finds a comfy home with my egg!

“I haven’t technically ovulated yet since the IUD removal, but I’ve already started taking pregnancy tests. I know—sounds crazy. But I’m just so excited! And besides, I want to get into the habit.”

She sighed theatrically. “I know they’ll probably all be negative at first. Or maybe even for a while. Who knows, I could be completely barren!

“I know the odds are stacked against us trying mamas, so I’m just here to send out positive vibes to my #TTC fam. Tell me how your journey is going in the comments! We’re in this together. It takes a village, right cuties?” Mariah winked her signature wink and within seconds the video was posted to her profile.

In her car later that month, Mariah checked her mascara in the mirror and added a dash of highlighter to her cheekbones. She adjusted her phone for the best lighting then pressed record.

“Hey cuties, me again. I’m feeling pretty down this week. I have officially ovulated and not gotten pregnant. Yep, our first failed attempt. I need to know how y’all get through this because I am legitimately devastated.

“All I want is to bring a pure, new life into this world and make my family whole. I’m trying all the things. I’m temping and tracking my cervical mucus, we try different positions, I stopped drinking. Ugh, it just sucks, doesn’t it? To want something so bad.” A single tear crawled down her cheek, and the sunlight reflected off it just right.

“I’ve been so comforted to hear about all your #TTC journeys. I know this can take a while, maybe even years, and I’m glad to have such a strong support system here. Keep sending positive vibes, please.” Mariah held up a peace sign instead of winking, this time. She posted her usual hashtags and tacked on “#infertility #infertilitysucks” to the end.

“Hump Day update for my #TTC fam! Can I just say, these past few weeks your support has meant the world to me. And I want to give a warm welcome to all my new followers—so glad you’re joining me during this super tough, but exciting, time!

“So, it’s been a little while since that depressing negative, and I know it’s early again, but I need to just tell you how sore my boobs are today.” Mariah cupped her breasts in her hands.

“Could be something, right? I’m going to make myself wait a day to test, but the anticipation is killing me. Check back tomorrow, cuties!”

Mariah usually slept in on Thursdays because her shift didn’t start until 2 p.m., but she couldn’t fall back asleep after Brody left for work. All she could think about was watching that plastic stick change colors.

Waiting for the results of her pregnancy tests was something Brody liked to join her for. After he got over the initial shock, he seemed enthusiastic about the idea of having a baby.

“Can I watch the stick with you, Ri?” he’d always ask, a bright smile across his face. “It’ll be the first moment for us as a family.”

She’d always oblige. “You’re gonna be a great dad, babe.”

Even though she was sore, Mariah knew the odds were slim that she was pregnant this early. She also knew if she waited until after work, she’d be distracted all day. She had a million tests—she could take another one later with Brody, and he’d never have to know. Besides, that first morning pee gave the most accurate results.

She balanced her phone on the countertop against the mirror (she had to record just in case). It was her duty to her followers to document her progress. No moment too small, they say.

She peed on the stick over the toilet (off camera) and stood waiting at the sink as the seconds dilated into hours. She clapped her hands together, bit her lip, and kept looking back and forth between the pregnancy test and the camera.

Around the eleven-minute mark, the colors started to change. And so did Mariah’s face. She no longer had to ham it up for her audience—the moment was here, and it was real. There was a second line.

“Oh my God. Oh my God!” she screamed. “Is that. . .?"

She held the stick closer to her face, and she burst into pure jubilance.

“It’s positive!” She held up the results for the camera to see. “Look! See that line? I’m fricken pregnant!”

Exactly twenty-seven minutes later, her phone rang. Brody.

She answered on the second ring, and before she could say “Hey, babe,” Brody laid into her.

“Are you kidding me, Mariah? This is how I find out? On fucking TikTok?”

“You saw the—” Mariah said.

“Yeah, I saw it.”

“Babe, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t—”

“I can’t believe you couldn’t wait for me. I’ve done everything your way and you couldn’t even fucking wait for me. How many people even saw it before me? Huh? How many of your viewers?”

“Umm, I’m not sure. Let me look,” Mariah pulled the phone away from her ear to open the app.

“Never mind,” his voice screamed through the speaker, “I don’t want to know. I’ll be home when I’m home. You’re unbelievable.”

He hung up. Mariah was speechless.

She didn’t think he’d see it so quickly. Even then, she knew he’d be a little peeved, but she figured he’d be happy above all to learn they were having a baby. Her nose prickled with a pre-crying sting.

She opened TikTok and started reading the comments.

So happy for you mama!

Yay! #infertilitydefeated Knew you’d get preggers soon!

All in good time with God. Congrats, hon! <3

So touching to see this good news. We’re 6 years in and still #TTC

They were right. This was the happiest news of her life. Dwelling on Brody’s mood was pointless. He’d get over it. She began scanning Etsy for ‘new dad’ t-shirts to make it up to him.

This will make for the cutest photo, she thought, clicking ‘Order Now’.

The surprise pregnancy test reveal gained Mariah loads of new followers. She had to turn notifications off because her phone was overheating with the influx of activity. She kept all her new fans—now self-ascribed ‘Mar’s Cuties’—busy with weekly ‘bumpdates,’ vlogs about cravings, and #mombrainproblems. The algorithm was finally working in her favor. She was giddy to find her first sponsorship message in her inbox.

Mariah, we’re looking for expecting moms like yourself to try MiniMum. This mom-tested, father-approved belly band keeps your unborn baby at the perfect size throughout gestation. Get your picture-perfect bump while ensuring delivery is a breeze. Keeping Baby in the fiftieth percentile for height and weight will help you avoid tearing and keep vaginal stretching to a minimum. Healthy baby, hot mama! #KeepItTight

“Babe, I’m killin’ it,” she told Brody. “I might actually go viral with our gender reveal!”

“When’s that again?” Brody asked from behind his laptop screen.

“Two weeks from tomorrow. I’ll be fourteen weeks and two days.”

“I thought the ultrasound was at twenty weeks?” Brody asked.

“It is, but I found this private ultrasound company that has gender reveal packages. So, we’ll know even earlier!”

“Does insurance cover it?” He raised his eyebrows at her.

“No, but it’s not too bad, babe. Only $150 for a fifteen-minute session, and it includes a video and a bunch of photos!”

“We’re supposed to be saving, Ri. This can’t wait a few more weeks?”

“And, actually, for an extra $200 we can get a special scan, and they’ll print a 3D model of our baby. A little plastic version of our angel!”

“Are you even hearing me, Mariah?” The edge in his voice grew sharper.

“Brody, it’s our first child. We’ll be able to hold them in our hands before they’re even born! How can you put a price on these moments?”

Brody hung his head in his hands and pulled at his hair in frustration.

“I’m thinking I’ll buy a pink pair of sneakers and a blue pair,” Mariah continued, “and depending on the results we’ll unwrap the sneakers. We love running, so it’ll be perfect! A family activity. I’ll put them in color-coded tissue paper too!”

You love running,” Brody mumbled.

“Huh?” Mariah was busy on her phone, fingers darting around furiously.

Brody sighed. “If it’ll make you happy.”

“This will be a little cold,” the ultrasound technician said before squeezing out a glob of goo onto Mariah’s still-flat stomach.

Mariah squeezed Brody’s hand as they waited to see their baby for the first time.

The screen was filled with amorphous black, until all of a sudden, a tiny figure appeared. The couple gasped in unison.

“Amazing,” Brody whispered. “He’s perfect.”

“Ope!” The technician squinted at the monitor.

“It is a ‘he’, right?” Brody asked.

“Oh yes, it sure is,” she replied. “Just looks like a tiny abnormality but shouldn’t be a cause for concern.”

“What do you mean ‘abnormality’?” Mariah asked. 

“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything—it slipped out. It’s really nothing to worry about.”

“No, tell me,” Mariah said.

“We aren’t allowed to make any medical diagnoses here. I just assess the baby’s sex. But really, I think things look pretty good. You’ll get a full report at your twenty-week appointment, I’m sure. Again, I’m so sorry.”

“Stop saying you’re sorry,” Mariah said, her neck flushing red.

Mariah’s live gender reveal, which followed her orchestration to a T, was a huge hit. She had unwrapped the blue pair of sneakers while Brody unwrapped the plastic fetus’ diaper to reveal a tiny penis.

“Isn’t this violating some sort of kiddie porn laws, Ri?” Brody had asked.

“No, it’s basically just a doll at this point. Besides, this makes the moment so real.”

 Days after the reveal, her account’s activity started to plateau. Interactions were steady, but she wasn’t seeing the follower count tick up daily anymore. Mariah tried to convince her mother to throw an early baby shower for her—that would get viewers excited!

“But Mariah, you aren’t even halfway through yet. Wouldn’t that be a little, I don’t know, uncouth?” her mom said.

“There are no rules anymore, Mom,” Mariah replied. “It’s modern. And, while we’re at it, let’s pretend it’s a surprise! I’ll help you plan the whole thing, just—”

“I don’t think so. I’m sorry, honey. I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting our relatives. Let’s wait until closer to your due date, and I’ll throw you exactly the shower you want, okay?”

“No, it’s not okay.” Mariah hung up. Her mom would be pissed, but Mariah could blame pregnancy hormones for the outburst.

“Everything alright?” Brody asked from across the living room, a baseball game on TV.

“Mom’s refusing to throw me a shower. Says it’s too early.”

Brody nodded, lips pressed, remaining neutral.

“It would have gotten me a ton of likes,” Mariah said. “It’s fine, it’s fine. My—our—twenty-week ultrasound is in a few days, and they love seeing ultrasound pics. It’ll keep me going for a little while.”

“Cool, babe. That’s great,” Brody said, his eyes already refixed on the game.

The technician pulled the tube from the medical cart. “This will—”

“Be cold,” Mariah finished her sentence, smirking. “I know.” She looked up at Brody. Her close-lipped smile pulled her entire face taut, making her elation look more like malevolence.

The technician smeared the gel over Mariah’s abdomen and traced over it with a wand. Mariah kept her eyes locked on the monitor. The screen transitioned from pulsing blackness to a glowing nebula of gray and white, like what she’d seen at the previous ultrasound. Before she could make out any details, the technician turned the screen away from her.

“Hey!” Mariah said.

The technician peeled off her blue latex gloves. “Just a minute,” she said. “I’m going to get the doctor. And please, ma’am, put your phone away.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this right now to you all, but we—” Mariah clasped a hand over her mouth and dragged it down her face. “We lost our baby boy today.

“I’m still in shock. I don’t even know what to do. Brody hasn’t stopped crying since we got home.” She dabbed a tissue beneath her mascara-smudged eyes.

“This is truly the worst day of our lives.” She stared off camera for a moment. “We’re still waiting for some test results, but the doctor said it’s likely something viral that the baby’s immune system just couldn’t fight off.”

She held the plastic fetus in her arms, swaddled in a blue blanket, and stroked its formless face delicately.

“I know so many of you have been through this before, and I’m so sorry. This pain is just. . . next level. I’ll probably be offline for a couple days, but I’ll check in to read messages. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We need them now more than ever. Thank you for being here on our journey as always, cuties. You’re the best.” Mariah blew a kiss into the camera and hit the blinking red square to stop filming.

As her finger hovered over the button, she remembered—she had new hashtags to add.

#pregnancyloss #stillborn #stillbornmommy

Mariah clicked ‘post’ and sat in silence on their bed. Brody’s drowned sobs reached desperately from under the bathroom door, searching for a life raft.

Mariah left them unanswered.

She stared at her phone, and within seconds it began buzzing. Relentlessly.

Followers. Likes. Comments. Shares.

Every time she refreshed the page, the number leapt by the thousands.

This was it.

“Babe,” she called out for Brody, separated both by a door and the widening fault in their tectonic foundation. The well of her tears dried instantly, and the corners of her lips climbed up her cheeks like ivy. “I did it, babe.”

Her grin grew so wide that it split her chapped lips, and the tiniest trickle of blood ran down her chin.

 “I’m going viral.”

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About the Author

Chelsea Pumpkins is a writer from Massachusetts. She is constantly feeding her life-long hunger for horror by way of dark literature and film. If she’s not reading, writing, or watching something spooky, you may find her hiking in the White Mountains with her husband and sweet pitbull, Moose. You can read her stories in the Strangehouse anthology, Chromophobia, and the Sliced Up Press anthology, Bloodless. She is also the editor of the anthology, AHH! That’s What I Call Horror.

chelseapumpkins.com

Copyright ©2023 by Chelsea Pumpkins.

Published by Shortwave Magazine. First print rights reserved.

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