Estimated reading time — 23 minutes
Daniella flew through the front door and threw her books on the coffee table with disdain.
“I know…right? I mean, geez…what a bitch.” She was talking through her Bluetooth which was commonplace but still earned her a fair number of strange looks in public. It was 2017 for heaven’s sake, she often wondered, how could there still be people in the western world unfamiliar with basic technology? It blew her mind that anyone older than thirty could function in this world anyway. What the hell did they do before the internet…look things up in books? Maybe that was why she had so much contempt for her school-books; they were just so antiquated. Did anything really need to be printed anymore?
“Sarah’s known that I’ve been into Darryl since…I don’t know…like, the beginning of last year. She promised me that she wouldn’t go out with him.” She continued the conversation while bounding up the stairs, two at a time and down the hall to her bedroom, which was in a desperate need of a design overhaul. She couldn’t remember how many times she’s promised herself that the “Timberlake” and “Bieber” posters would finally come down, but in the end, never quite came to fruition. The Justins’ appeared to be on the wall for good.
“Oh please! Darryl and Mickey are in two different leagues. Why the hell would I ever consider go out with a scrub like that?” She fell onto her twin bed still adorned with pink lace and a “My Little Pony” theme. Sometimes the childish motif of her room irritated her, a blatant notice of how far removed she was from the life she dreamed of as a fashionista in New York or Venice but more often than not she found the room full of memories to be a comfort, a reminder of simpler, happy times when “hide and seek” was something to be taken seriously and responsibility was just a word Daniella couldn’t spell.
The only thing in her room that represented the future she was interested in was the massive make-up desk and chair her parents had given her last year. That, and about five hundred different types of make-up; foundations, polishes, blushes, and eye-liners. She had assembled a collection that would be the envy of many professional make-up artists and she took a lot of pride and her ability to sit any of her friends down in the chair and have them leave looking and feeling amazing. Her girl-friends had given her the nickname “Killer” because, despite its ominous sound, she always created killer looks.
“Chet…really? Chet? O.M.G. Shirley, have you lost your mind? I don’t care how rich his parents are, that kid is an absolute freak. He’s got more piercings than both of us combined.” She broke into unrestrained laughter at whatever response she received from the other end of her earpiece. “You need help, girl. You’re a friggin’ mess; but you know that already…right?” From her free ear Daniella heard a loud knock at the front door. Normally, she wouldn’t be in any rush to see who it was but there was something about the knock that caught her off-guard. It was louder and one would expect, the kind of authoritative pounding that makes one think the door will crack or at very least the police must be on the other side.
“Girl, I gotta go. There’s someone breaking down the front door so I guess I’d better see what the hell’s going on.” A pause, then, “Yea…yea. Okay. I love you too. Goodb-…oh shit, wait. Whose house are we getting ready at tomorrow? Jenny? Okay. Are you driving? Uh huh…okay; I guess pick me up around five and we’ll meet the guys there.” There was another series of pounding downstairs which prompted the conversation’s end and Daniella pulled out her earpiece and scurried back down the stairs. She was the only one home for at least another hour and there was a split-second of indecision as to whether or not to check the peephole first, but the baseball bat behind the door and her ten years of martial arts training pushed the thought aside.
Opening the door, Pavlovian smile on her face, she was a little surprised to see an empty porch. Maybe it was a salesperson that moved on or kids? She shrugged and began to close the door again when something caught her eye; a small unmarked cardboard box leaning against the rocking chair. It must have been a delivery service but she struggled to figure out who as the box was entirely unmarked…not even a shipping address. How the hell did they know where to deliver it?
She scooped it up and gave it the traditional, Christmas morning shake. It was relatively light; whatever was in there was apparently packed tightly because nothing rattled. She took the package into the kitchen and deposited it on the counter while she grabbed a pair of scissors from the junk drawer and a ginger-ale from the fridge. She was very careful navigating the thick, brown tape with the scissors. The last thing she needed the day before her senior prom was to break one of her nails. They were already perfectly manicured as well as being natural. If she chipped one, she would have to take them all down and that would mean artificial nails for prom and that could be a potential nightmare. What would the girls say?
After opening the package with precision seen only in operating theatres, she began sifting through the Styrofoam peanuts to find a very unexpected surprise: make-up samples. She didn’t remember ordering anything lately, but since she had been putting her make-up tutorials on Youtube there were companies that would send unsolicited samples for her to review. It hadn’t happened a lot, but was becoming more frequent as her subscribers increased and was always a pleasant surprise. It was like getting a birthday present…just because; it always made her day.
Daniella squealed with joy as she pulled out the set; they all looked beautiful. In fact, the colors were absolutely perfect to accompany her prom dress and, quite frankly, couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a very unusual package, however, as the samples didn’t include any company names, only the colors of each item. She had just about decided that there would be no way to find out where the items came from when she found one business card at the bottom of the box. It was just as odd.
On one side was a toll-free telephone number and the other side had one simple word: Ultra. Well that sounded familiar at least, but what a weird advertising style…very understated.
“I guess they let the products speak for themselves,” she said to no one in particular and proceeded to put it all back in the box for the time being…all except for the lipstick. There was a student council meeting a little later in the evening and the color was just understated enough that she would be presentable as the student council president they all expected without looking like the whore she knew some whispered her to be. Haters will hate after all. She threw the tube into her jeans pocket and set the unmarked box in the hall closet next to her prom dress marveling again at how well the colors went together. She loved it when things came together like this.
Over the next ninety minutes she finished her homework and recorded a twenty minute video on proper techniques for acrylic fingernail painting. Being as popular as she was, there were a lot of things said about her but the one thing no one could accuse her of was being lazy or unmotivated. Everyone that knew her was amazed at her ability to just…go. Constantly in motion, striving and achieving, she had been a dynamo since her legs mastered the ability to walk.
There was a brief session of hugs and kisses in the foyer as her parents got home and she was preparing to leave for her meeting at the school. Tonight they were finalizing prom policies and dealing with the rumors that several students were planning on bringing marijuana to the hallowed dance and that, of course, would be unacceptable. Her mom had some news she desperately wanted to covey about a new boy in the neighborhood but Daniella, who was already two minutes behind schedule, had to wave her off before scuttling out the door, keys in one hand, purse in the other.
Taking a moment to let her classic 1992 Bronco warm up, the heat always took a few minutes anyway, she dug the lipstick out of her Saint Laurent bag. It was a light color, somewhere between rose and pink, entitled simply “smile”. Marveling in the rearview mirror at its coverage and how glistening and moist it made her lips look, she gave a small squeal of joy. One of main lessons her father had instilled in her was the ability to appreciate small gifts and little victories.
She actually lost count of the number of compliments she got after the meeting on her lips. Daniella, of all people, knew the power that certain make-ups could have for some people and that amazing things could be done but she had never known any of her lipsticks to have left the type of impression that this one apparently did. Driving home after, she had already begun composing her review in her head while getting equally excited about using the rest of the samples for prom tomorrow night. It was well known that she was the odds-on favorite to win prom queen; she might as well look the part.
That night as she was getting ready for bed, she attempted to remove the lipstick with a special make-up removal cloth but it wasn’t coming off, not even smudging in the least. She wasn’t aware that it was “long-wear” lipstick but that actually pleased her; she loved long-wear make-up. The only downside was that you needed special removal cream which she was currently out of.
“Oh well,” she mumbled to herself, “Guess I’ll pick some up tomorrow” before climbing into bed for the evening and dreaming of running her own fashion empire. The morning came with a sprawling, cloudless sky filled with sunshine and warmth, at least twenty degrees warmer than the day before; it was perfect. There are certain days in a young lady’s life that are looked forward to more than others; obviously, birthdays and Christmas were always special and there was no shortage of dreamers and planners for the perfect wedding and even kids for her sanity-questionable friends…but prom night…oh prom night…it was an entity unto itself.
It was a magical night where all the girls were princesses, all the boys were princes, everyone looked like they stepped straight from the pages of a fairy tale and it came right in the middle of the formative years before time could steal away their sense of awe and replace it with a jaded nature. There would be dancing and laughing and the very real possibility that she could lose her virginity later in the evening if Carl continued on the same path of gentlemanly behavior he had been displaying thus-far. Carl wasn’t Darryl; who was? But he was still sweet, smart and hot and with the boys in her school that was a rare triple-threat.
After climbing out of bed and before her shower, Daniella stole a quick look in her mirror and was pleasantly amazed at how good her lipstick still looked; as if she had just applied it. This stuff was going to get a great review! After carefully picking the day’s ensemble she was off to school in a mood that could only be categorized as giddy; full of excitement for the evening’s festivities and it only escalated at the day progressed. The school day went quicker than usual as all anyone could talk about was the prom and teachers pretty much gave up on doing any actual teaching for the day. Time really did fly when you were having fun.
Her friend, Sarah, picked up her up after school and they carted her dress, shoes and accessories back to her place where three other girls would meet them so they could all get ready together and Daniella could do everyone’s make-up. Of course, with her secret weapon, none of them would look as good as her. Sarah’s mom would take video of the entire process while her dad would pull out his old 1980’s Nikon and become more than a little obnoxious with the constant flashes. The girls could only do their best to work around them and amuse themselves with the situation.
“Old people…” Sarah mumbled at one point and the entire group fell down with laughter. Her mom, not hearing what she had said, laughed right along with them; happy to be in the room and re-living her own memories vicariously. When it came time to apply their faces Daniella, with the care of a great artist, turned each girl into a radiant, unbelievable version of themselves. She, of course, did her own last. The foundation, simply labeled “Mask”, was smooth and airy; not quite a lotion…more like a whipped cream. It felt like a refreshing moisturizer and glided over her face with ease leaving it looking flawless. Easily the best foundation she had ever used.
The rest of the kit was equally amazing. The eye liner “Blink”, the mascara “Spikes”, and the blush “Finale” were all the best she had seen and she was a lot more than a novice. All her “bitches” agreed and, despite the “killer” looks she had already created for them, they complained with jealously. Unfortunately, the samples were just that and there was really only enough for a single application so they couldn’t get too upset. It wouldn’t matter in the long run though because she was sure that they would all be ordering more after prom.
It didn’t appear necessary to apply any more of the “Smile” as it looked perfect still but she gave it a quick swipe anyway. No reason not to put on the finishing touch. Their dates came together in a rented stretch-limo, including a very dashing Carl, around seven and, after another round of pictures, the group was off to dinner. During the second course Daniella couldn’t help but to notice that the other girls all had to use their napkins to remove some of their lipstick to eat. Julia even managed to get a bit on her teeth which no one told her about for ten minutes while they took a number of selfies with her that they could use for blackmail at a later date.
Daniella didn’t have that problem. The day had been so hectic that she hadn’t realized until food was actually placed before her that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She worked on prom decorations through lunch and left soon after she had gotten home so she wasn’t able to grab her usual snack or protein shake. All of that led to a ravenous appetite and she finished an entire rack of Lamb without having to remove or re-apply her lipstick at all. Even the foundation remained smooth and spotless despite the workout her jaw gave it through dinner.
Being the make-up queen that she was, it was always a hot topic of conversation with other girls at school; many seeking advice. The prom was no exception. The number of girls who asked about what she was wearing was only exceeded by the number of compliments she received. Half way through the evening, while taking a break from dancing, it came up again with Stacey.
“Who did you say you were wearing again?” Stacey called out over the music while they sat at the odd angles their dresses would allow. “Because it still looked amaze-balls. Like, you’ve been sweating and shit too and…damn bitch; you friggin’ kill me. You’re gonna be voted “most likely to look twenty when your forty” for sure.”
“Thanks bitch,” Daniella called back, “It’s weird but its ‘Ultra’.”
“Oh yea…” Stacey nodded her head in agreement. “I love ‘Ulta Beauty’. I could die in that their store.”
“Really?” Daniella perked up. “Where?”
“In the mall…next to ‘GameStop’.” Daniella shook her head ‘no’.
“No…not ‘Ulta’. They’re called ‘Ultra’; different company, I think.”
“Are you saying ‘ULTRA’?” Stacey called back and Daniella nodded back.
“Yea. ‘Ultra’. Unless maybe it’s Ultra Ulta.” She laughed and Stacey, not really hearing the full comment, smiled back.
“Well…whatever it is, I want some. You need to email me the hook-up, okay?”
“Dude…it’s weird but I’ve only got a telephone number for the place. I can email that but I might as well text it to you.” Stacey looked horrified.
“You’re shittin’ me! I gotta call and speak to an actual person? W.T.F. is that all about?”
“I don’t know,” Daniella agreed, “It’s definitely different. I think it’s probably a small operation but that still wouldn’t explain why they don’t have a website. Maybe it’s a ‘retro’ thing.”
“Totally retro. I kind of dig it.” Stacey called out as she scampered back to the dance-floor which was basically just girls dancing at that point. It could have been because the guys were all out back smoking or it could have been due to the deejay’s choosing ‘It’s Raining Men’. The rest of the night went without a hitch and the group all had a great time although most of their dates were high as kites by the end of the dance.
Carl was the perfect gentleman Daniella had expected…or at least hoped that he would be and she was liking his chances as scoring more and more. He, at very least, had earned a serious make-out session. After the dance the group went back to Chip’s house to change into more comfortable clothes which they had kept in the limo’s trunk and which seemed more suitable for an evening of ‘partying’. Chip’s place was a very calculated decision as his father worked third shift and his mother was a black-out drunk so they knew they would have it all to themselves so to speak.
The group began smoking pot and drinking vodka almost immediately after walking through the door. Daniella didn’t get high; that was for lazy people. She would, on few occasions, drink alcohol however and tonight, she had long since decided, would be one of those occasions; curious to see everyone’s reaction to the “good girl” going bad for the night. Carl for one, she thought, would be in for a big surprise.
The size of the party quickly escalated to nearly half of the junior and senior classes; all the while Chip’s mother lying comatose in a bedroom beneath a pile of coats. To say the party ended up being “epic” would be an understatement. At least that’s what the pictures and videos would suggest. Daniella really couldn’t remember. At some point, early on, the vodka overtook her ability to remain vertical and then shortly after that her ability to remain conscious. Poor Carl didn’t even get a kiss goodnight.
She woke up in Chip’s bed with Sarah and Beth and they all smelled flammable. Her movement and subsequent moans woke the other two who chimed in with wails of their own.
“W.T.F.? How much did we drink last night?” Sarah asked while smacking her lips together to display how dry her mouth was. “And why the hell am I waking up in a bed with you bitches instead of three or four guys from the football team?” Daniella poked her in the hip, knowing it to be a sensitive spot.
“Slut. You wouldn’t know what to do with more than two of them anyway.” Beth’s moan turned into a giggle and Sarah was having none of it.
“Bitch, you might not know what to do with more than two of them but I get ‘Pornhub’. You’d be shocked at what I can do.”
“No…” Daniella said while standing and stretching, “I wouldn’t. I know what kind of perv you are. Hell, I keep wondering when I’m gonna find you and your dog in bed together.” Beth laughed harder and Sarah pointed an accusing finger at Daniella.
“You better not talk any shit about Mister Biggles. You can say whatever the hell you want about me and my mother and my father and my brother and my grandmother and my house and any damn thing you want, but leave…Mister…Biggles…out…of…it. You got it, bitch?” The three girls were silent for a second and then fell together on the bed with tearful laughter.
“You know what I hate?” Beth asked when they finally calmed.
“Spiders and earthquakes?” Daniella guessed.
“Death and taxes?” Sarah joined in and the game was on as they hit her with their rapid fire sarcasm. “Horses?” “Lizards?” “Cornflakes?” “Keanu Reeves?” “Slow wi-fi?” “Rainy days?” “Unrealistic female portrayals in romantic comedies?” “Mondays?” Finally Beth threw up her hands in frustration.
“You guys really are bitches. No…well, I do hate Monday’s but that’s Garfield’s fault, not mine. No…what I hate is the fact that Sarah and I look like squished turds this morning and you look like you just stepped out of the salon. Seriously, what the hell?”
“Yea…” Sarah agreed, “Squished turds for sure.”
“Listen,” Beth continued, “You have to promise me that when you get more of that stuff I’ll be the first one to get some.” Daniella nodded ‘okay’ but it wasn’t enough as Beth jumped from the bed to grab her shoulders tightly and force direct eye contact. “Promise me. You have to say it. I don’t care who you gotta’ screw over or disappoint; I had better be the very first to get it. Now say it. No matter the consequences, I’ll be the first. Promise!” It took an actual verbal promise that, no matter what, Beth would be the first to get a batch of the new make-up to get out of her death grip; she was surprisingly strong for her size.
Curious to see if the make-up really held up as well as they were saying Daniella rushed to the bathroom to check her reflection; as well as to relieve to her swelling bladder. Her friends were right…the make-up looked like it had just been applied and she was amazed. She grabbed Chip’s mom’s compact and studied it closely as she peed. There was none of the drying or flaking one often saw from long-wear make-up. There was no smearing or smudging whatsoever despite her evening of drunken…whatever.
“Man…these guys are awesome,” she mumbled to herself. The bird’s nest on her head aside, she looked good enough to go straight to a wedding…or at very least, a funeral; definitely good enough for IHOP which is where the group found themselves thirty minutes later. Once again, Daniella was ravenous and the food was so good she literally sent her compliments to the chef. “You mean the cook?” Peggy, their server, had asked, obviously never hearing Fred referred to as a “chef” before.
An hour after that saw her settling into her bed, more than willing to let a Saturday slip by for the sake of her physical recovery. She had stopped by Walmart on her way home to pick up some long-wear make-up removal cream but she was way too beat to do anything with it once she was home and within eyeshot of her pink pillows. It was called “long-wear” after all; there wasn’t any rush. She wanted to do a video of the removal process anyway and that required way more effort than she was willing to give in her hung-over condition and so the bed won out.
It was dark outside when she finally woke up although it took a moment for her to find that out. Her eyelids were stuck initially and it took some effort to get them open as well as hurting to do so. She cried out from the unexpected pain. On top of that her entire face felt itchy and tight. Daniella wondered to herself if the make-up contained some type of hyaluronic acid or stem-cell derivatives that the women in their fifties sought out so frequently but Daniella was only seventeen and in no need for a face-lift as of yet.
She tried to scratch the itchier spots but the skin was numb and she couldn’t even feel her own fingers on her face.
“What the…” She scrambled out of bed and turned on the array of lights on her make-up desk. The face was still immaculate to the eye, but considerably less so to the touch. The make-up was beginning to stiffen, now to the point of a thick, weathered leather. The skin behind the mask was stuck firmly to the other side being significantly restrained from its normal movements; so much so that it was nearly a nearly excruciating effort to simply smile.
Frantically, she ran downstairs to grab her Walmart bag and had a wad of the removal cream in her hand before she even got back. The anxiety only escalated when the cream had no effect whatsoever. The make-up mask wasn’t coming off and it felt like it was getting harder by the second; with the simple act of blinking becoming more difficult each time. She screamed once again when she tried to wipe away the mascara. Her eyelashes, although thick and beautiful, were as sharp as little razor blades and when she pulled her hand away there was blood on her fingers.
Tears struggled to slip through as Daniella found herself running back down the stairs. Where the hell did I leave that box? With scrambled eggs for brains it took twenty, painful minutes to remember and then retrieve the unmarked container and what she was really looking for: the business card. Cursing herself for not having put the card in her purse the day before she grabbed her cell phone and dialed the one eight-hundred number, her anger and fear rising with each digit pushed.
She put the phone on speaker and gently tried to massage her irritated face while it rang to no relief. Finally after three five rings a feminine, automated voice began its brief pre-recorded message.
“Thank you for calling Ultra. Dial ‘one’ for the Ultra experience. Dial ‘two’ to leave the name of your Ultra gift recipient. If you really must speak with the representative, then dial ‘three’.” The entire tone was very odd.
“What the hell?” she muttered under her breath. She was so caught off-guard by the unusual recording she didn’t even realize that she had hit ‘one’ on her touchscreen until the recording started back up.
“The Ultra experience is…” The voice cut itself off before it could finish the sentence and was suddenly replaced by an unearthly sound. The noise could have easily been called “indescribable” but Daniella knew exactly what it was the moment it started; recognizing it on a primordial level. It was the sound of hundreds, if not thousands of human voices crying out in pain. It was a multi-layered effect with different types of wails and screams at different decibels coming together in a symphony of pain. It was blood-curdling and she threw her cell to the ground, fortunately shutting down the noise in the process.
Running to the kitchen sink she fought her heaving stomach. It wasn’t that she was totally opposed to the idea of throwing-up in that moment, but rather it was her concern that her mouth wouldn’t open wide enough to allow the vomit out without choking her to death which kept it at bay. The whole situation was one that was quickly speeding past just being worried about her vanity. Death felt like an entirely possible scenario at that point and Daniella was scared…damn scared.
It took a few minutes to compose herself although, as her aching cheeks suggested, time was not on her side. The make-up mask was becoming more and more rigid while keeping her skin prisoner in the process. It was starting to feel like her face had been Krazy-Glued to a wall or some other unforgiving surface and ‘urgency’ was starting to feel like the theme of the evening. She scooped her cell phone off the floor and thanked Apple for the shatterproof screen.
Redial brought back the creepy digital voice, “Thank you for calling Ultra. Dial ‘one’ for the…” Daniella cut it off by pressing ‘three’ as quickly as she could. “Thank you,” the voice responded, “one moment please.” After a couple seconds of silence the robotic, female voice was replaced by an actual human, female voice.
“This is the representative. What is it you need?” Her sentences were curt but her tone was very sing-song as though she were speaking to a group of kindergarteners.
“What do I need?” Daniella asked in disbelief as though this woman should already know what a horrifying product they had sent her way. “I don’t even know where to start.” She wanted to scream but the lack of movement in her face impeded her ability to enunciate well, so she sacrificed the decibels for articulation.
“What I need…is for you to tell me why the hell you guys sent me these products that are trying to kill me and how the hell to get them off my face.”
“I’m sorry you’re dis-pleased with the products and we thank you for giving them a try.” The woman’s tone still didn’t belie her words and it was very off-putting.
“Thank me? Are you serious? Did you hear what I said? The damn stuff is stuck to my face and its turning into concrete while I’m wearing it.” There was a desperate pleading in Daniella’s voice that stood as a stark contrast to the sickly-sweet tone of the woman on the other end of the line.
“Yes,” the woman interrupted to agree, “That’s correct. You won’t be able to remove the Ultra Make-up Line without the special Ultra Make-up removal cream.”
“Removal cream? What the fuck? Is this some type of sick scam? You gonna start blackmailing my family now?”
“No Daniella,” she calmly replied, “it’s nothing like that.” Daniella was shocked into a momentary silence. How the hell did that woman know her name?
“My n-n-name…” she stuttered.
“Yes, Daniella Elaine Cooper. That is your name.” She might as well have been informing a baby who had never heard it before.
“I didn’t tell you my name. What…how…how do you know who I am?”
“I know all of Ultra’s customers.”
“CUSTOMERS!” Daniella did scream this time. “I didn’t order this shit! I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t pay for it!” The woman gave a small chuckle on the other end.
“Well…you’re paying for it now, aren’t you?” Daniella’s blood was beginning to boil.
“You smug bitch! I don’t know who you think you are but I will RUIN you on Youtube. I want to know your name. Who is your boss? I want to speak to your boss…RIGHT NOW!”
“Well, Miss Cooper, my name is Diane and if you’ll calm down I’d be happy to let you speak to the president of Ultra Industries. Is that what you would like?”
“Yes dammit. Right friggin’ now, Diane! Get his ass on the phone.”
“Very well…hold please.” Daniella slammed her phone against the counter in frustration as the line went quiet again; apparently on hold.
“Dammit!” she screamed to the empty kitchen; her face was starting to ache considerably without even mentioning the pain from trying to move her mouth to speak. Somewhere between prom and that moment she had stepped into a horror movie and her brain fought to keep up with the transition. After about thirty seconds the line came back to life; it was Diane again.
“This is the president; how may I help you?” Daniella’s teeth gritted with the rage as she desperately wanted to break something.
“Is this a joke, Diane? I know that’s still you. Are you not going to let me speak to anyone else?”
“Well…here’s the thing, Miss Cooper.” Her voice still bright and sunny, “It doesn’t matter what department to ask to be transferred to; shipping, production, marketing…the president, you’re always going to end up with me. I’m all there is, all you will get, and in a very real way, all you should be concerned with in the entire world. I’m Diane, Miss Cooper; and ‘Diane’ is your god.” It suddenly occurred to Daniella that Diane might very well be insane and she wanted to break and cry. Were it not for her most primitive survival instinct, she might very well have done just that.
“Diane…for the love of God…please Diane; where can I get the Ultra removal cream?”
“Well that’s easy, silly-pants. I can send it right over to you. In fact, I can get it there in a matter of minutes.”
“So you live close to me then?” Some part of her was still trying to piece it all together.
“I never said that, Daniella, and it’s not wise to make assumptions.”
“Okay…fine,” she pleaded, “what do I need to do? Do you want money…how much?”
“No dear. I don’t need your money. I just need for you to understand what’s at stake here.” Daniella’s head was swimming. What was she talking about?
“What’s at stake?” she mumbled back to Diane.
“Yes dear, exactly. You have two choices this evening and, looking at my clock, you don’t have a long time to decide between them. Your first choice is the avenue of apathy: simply do nothing. Go to bed and hope it’ll all be better in the morning. I can assure that if you choose this route the changes to your face will be perpetual. Your face will look like a beautiful china doll for the rest of your life, although you won’t be able to actually use it anymore. I can only say that if you choose to go this way, I hope you have an affinity for straws. You might be surprised however at how many of your generation choose to go that way…or maybe you wouldn’t.”
“And the other choice?” Daniella prompted.
“Ah yes…the other choice indeed. This is the decision that ends with the Ultra make-up removal cream in your hands and the make-up off your face…presumably early enough that no permanent damage has been done to that beautiful mug of yours.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to choose someone; someone you know, someone to receive the next special delivery of the Ultra sample package. If you do that then the problem becomes theirs and you may wash your hands of it. Just pick the next person and you’re free.” Daniella struggled to process this information but the one tidbit that stuck in her brain was the fact that if she had to pick someone to go through this horrible ordeal then that meant someone else had probably picked her as well. The thought made her sick. Who would do such a thing to her?
The surge of indignant resentment was quickly replaced by shame when she realized that she might be doing that very thing to somebody else in the near future. Was she really capable of that? Could she really participate in this sick type of chain-mail? Catching her reflection in the microwave oven was enough to answer the question for her. Her face, even in the hazy, black reflection was already beginning to look…artificial. Just as Diane had said, it began to resemble a china doll; or rather a china doll horror mask that one would buy for Halloween. It really pissed her off…enough even to not concede quite yet.
“Maybe I take the third choice, Diane.” Her voice was calm and smooth this time as she concentrated intently on her cadence and tone, both of which were hampered by her ever increasing stiffness. She could see the point coming where she would have to master the art of ventriloquism in order to converse at all. “Maybe I choose to go to the police and I have your sorry ass thrown in jail for the rest of your natural life…or worse. This might even warrant the electric chair, you psycho-bitch.”
“Well Miss Cooper, you could do that,” she sounded unfazed, “and, in all honesty, you might be successful; but that won’t fix your face. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee the opposite; and before you rush off in an ambulance let me also assure you that there will be nothing the doctors’ will be able to do for you. Here at Ultra, we take quality control very seriously and each batch is carefully monitored to ensure that all necessary ingredients are present. Including those things which modern, western medicine would call superstition and fairy-tale nonsense; things that some might call…magic.”
“You’re insane, Diane. You know that…right?”
“Perhaps Miss Cooper, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have a decision to make. Frankly, we here at Ultra would be proud to have you as a spokes-model if you choose the high road. It should bring a completely new audience to your webcasts. I figure you’ve got a couple hours at most before the change is irreversible so I would use that time wisely, were I you. Please feel free to call us back at Ultra once you’ve made your decision and have a wonderful evening.” The line went dead and Daniella collapsed to the floor.
She wanted desperately to run to her mother’s arms for answers and support but her parents were at her brother’s football game and wouldn’t be back until much later…too much later. As much as she hated the idea, she was on her own for this one and she picked her phone back up and hit redial; hating herself more than she had ever imagined that she could. Before the recording could advance she hit ‘two’ and after a quick prompt said, “Beth Whitaker at four eleven Rose Palm Drive,” and hung up.
A few minutes later there was a pounding at the front door and she ran as quickly as she could to throw it open; still wanting to see the parties responsible for this atrocity. There was, as she half expected, no one there, of course; only a small white paper bag with a single, white tube of cream inside. The container was solid white and devoid of any markings other than a single word printed in black: ‘Freedom’.
It took nearly an hour to remove all the make-up but he cream did its job just as Diane said it would. Once the horrific mask was completely gone, Daniella climbed into her bed and pulled the sheets over her head like she did as a child. She could hear her parents and brother come in downstairs but she was in no condition to greet them. Her mind was so troubled. All she just wanted was to sleep and put this whole nightmare behind her. As she drifted off her thoughts presented her with a new concern: what was she going to do with the rest of her life? She was going to have to make a new game-plan because one thing was for certain…she would never again wear make-up so long as she lived.
Credit: Shannon Higdon
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