"If U Meme It, They Will Come" is a postmodern fable of likes and loss. Like a classic Greek tragedy, it will be told in three parts. This is where our story begins.

He threw smoke. He always had. I didn’t choose the meme life, he would say. The meme life chose me. He lived on Tumblr clouds and in 9GAG gutters. They say that when it was overcast, you could almost see Imgur links and Twitter screenshots coming out of his ears.

Memes made sense to Patrick Lauer the way constellations revealed themselves to the ancient astronomers. If you can see Orion's Belt, it's plain as day, but if no one points it out to you, you probably never will. @lauer_pauer could see Orion's Belt. He was Copernicus, Galileo, Sir Isaac Fuccboi Newton, speaking truth to power and defining an entire generation's moments of mobile happiness, one dank ass meme at a time.

On the day he disappeared, Lauer had over a billion followers on Instagram, making him the Internet's most powerful meme lord by far. Yet, when he turned up again, he couldn't buy a like. Orion's Belt is just a cluster of stars, after all, and his is a story about stars that fade.

Act I: True AF

Like most kids who grow up as an only child, Patrick was a little weird. "Somewhere on the spectrum," is how his dad described it to neighborhood couples that his mother invited over for dinner. He was quiet. That was the first thing people noticed about him and often the only thing they remembered. In high school, he smoked weed in the woods behind the gym, paying with cash earned selling stolen TI-85s on eBay.

That all changed when he found memes.

Seemingly overnight, @lauer_pauer took Instagram by storm. A week after posting his first meme —a squinting beagle surrounded by empty PBR cans with text that read: "I'm not drunk 'til I say I'm drunk, woman"—Patrick's account had a million followers. A few days later when he uploaded a Renaissance portrait of one cherub dancing while another fell down beside it (caption: "when she ready to smash but ur 2 turnt"), it had 10 million. All of a sudden, the morose teenager was a sensation.

Magazines called for interviews. Where do you come up with this stuff, asked the reporters excitedly. How do you even think of it?! He'd smirk cordially, then tell them all about his creative process and his curation and the submissions from adoring fans that kept the @lauer_pauer furnace burning bright with an endless cavalcade of double-taps. They'd write it all down before racing back to their shared office spaces in open air lofts to tell the story about this kid. He speaks to the Internet…and it speaks back! screamed the headlines. Meet The Meme Whisperer!

When the brands saw the stories about @lauer_pauer, Patrick's life changed again. Agencies breathlessly begged him to take fantastic sums of money for even the most oblique #spon for their clients. Influencer networks emailed blindly, pleading for the opportunity to represent him. Everyone had budget for @lauer_pauer. They hardly had a choice. His microcontent was impeccable, original and utterly unrivaled. With 500 million Instagram followers —including innumerable celebrities, several heads of state and every tenured anthropologist in the country—and an undefeated reputation of capturing virality, it was inevitable what came next.

Patrick became obscenely rich.

His life was restored from moderate delinquency to marvelous wealth by simple image macros. He never told his parents about the vast fortune memes had brought him. It was his secret. Patrick was custodian of many unremarkable secrets, and one enormous one.

***

"You're going to have to start paying for this yourself," his mom said as he walked out of the wireless store, holding his new iPhone. He hefted the phone in his hands, savoring the matted finish. "I'm serious, Patrick," she continued, warily eying the distant expression on his face. "I don't know what you're doing with these phones, but the next time you break one, it's coming out of your summer allowance."

Her constant nagging made his skin crawl and grit his teeth. Patrick hated her unequivocally and without much basis, a hatred only teenagers can muster. He was 17, a senior in high school. "I'll pay for it right now," he spat contemptuously, fishing a wad of bills out of his cargo shorts and leafing through them. "What as it? Six? Seven hundred? I literally don't care." His mother was staring, not at him, but at the money. All hundreds. "How much? Hello? Hello?!"

That evening, he sat at the top of the stairs and listened to his mother hysterically recount the event to his father. "It has to be drugs, right? It has to be. I'm telling you, it must have been $3,000, right there in his hands." Patrick smirked gleefully. He'd really only been carrying around a grand that day, but if she thought it looked like a lot, she'd have a fucking aneurysm to learn the actual size of his fortune. He wandered back to his room, still grinning.

He turned the light on. The grin vanished with the darkness. In the corner of his bedroom stood an ancient man with glittering eyes and stark white hair. In one hand, he held a phone. "Les," Patrick murmured. "What are you doing here?"

"Hi, Patrick," said Les, flatly. He tapped the phone's screen. "It's time to go."

***

The following morning, Patrick's mother entered his room and found it empty. A flighty woman, she immediately fled down the stairs to call the police. Her husband stopped her as she dialed. "He's probably just acting out," he reasoned. A day later, Patrick still hadn't returned, so they summoned the cops and together they all returned to the bedroom. There were no signs of struggle, said the officers. Everything was in its right place, except for two curious items that neither of the Lauers had ever seen before.

The first was a stack of exactly 100 brand new iPhones. Each had an identical three-way crack across the screen. They were stashed in a drawer of his desk. Later, the police would trace their serial numbers and discover that none of them had been reported stolen. In fact, none of them had appeared on retail shelves or on shipping manifests at all. No one knew what to make of it.

The second thing they found in Patrick's room was a rectangular sticker fixed to the inside of the drawer full of phones. It was red with plain white lettering. No one knew what to make of that, either.

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Stay tuned as our story will continue in Act II.

[Photo via iHeart]

Dave Infante is a writer living in New York City. Read more of his work on Thrillist and follow him on Twitter here.