This story available on May 22, 2021
Brandon James Burton
Melinda Mallard studied her hair in the salon mirror. She pursed her lips, one thinly plucked eyebrow crept to the middle of her brow making an inverse V.
"What's wrong?" Tracy, her stylist asked. She placed the hand holding her shears on her hip, and gave her own look of derision to Melinda.
"I don't like it," Melinda said, and raised her glass of wine to her lips. Tracy took the opportunity to pantomime stabbing her in the neck with her scissors.
"It's the same thing you've had for the last five years," Tracy said, and tossed her comb into the container of blue barbicide she kept on the single shelf at her station next to an antique decanter of wine. "It looks good on you. You know that. So, what's really wrong?" she said, and slipped her shears into a narrow pocket on her apron. Melinda swallowed and sighed, lowering the glass to her lap where she gripped the stem tightly with both hands.
"I've left Jesson," she said, and opened her eyes to find Tracy's in the mirror.
"No shit?" Tracy said animatedly. She swiped the glass out of Melinda's hands and filled it to the top, emptying the decanter.
"I wanna hear everything," she said and shoved the glass into Melinda's hands. "And screw you for not telling me first thing!" Tracy said. Melinda gave a brief, rueful smile, then stared at her hair in the mirror for a few more seconds until Tracy growled at her.
"Okay, okay!" Melinda began. "So, you know I was having him followed, right?"
"Yeah, I remember that," Tracy said, retrieving her comb. She pulled the shears out of their pocket and began to shape a new look as Melinda spilled the juicy details.
"So, apparently he's been having these - I don't know - weird religious orgies with some of his students up at the University."
"Oh my God!" Tracy said, but her expression didn't match the horror in her voice. Her narrow-eyed focus was on Melinda's hair as she alternated between comb and shears, working with years of practiced speed and muscle memory. "Tell me you got pictures, or something to nail his ass with."
"Of course. I got plenty. Too many," she said, and took a big gulp of wine. Her cheeks were getting rosy from the alcohol and subdued rage.
"So, what kind of religious stuff were they doing it for?" Tracy asked. "Is it, like, Satanic?"
"I have no idea," she said with a sigh.
"It was something weird. My P.I. can't find anything relating to the symbols and stuff they used."
"Maybe he made it all up to get the little college girls' clothes off," Tracy suggested.
Melinda sighed. "It wasn't just college girls," she said.
"What? Who wasn't?" Tracy asked, having lost track of their conversation.
"The ‘rituals’. They weren't exclusively him and a bunch of girls," Melinda clarified.
"Oh my God!" Tracy said again with her expression finally matching her words. "He's gay!?"
"I don't think he's gay, but he definitely doesn't mind the company of both sexes..," Melinda said, hesitating. "The pictures showed it all in explicit detail."
"Please tell me you have them," Tracy said sternly.
"No, no. I let my investigator keep all the dirt until he and my attorney can meet," Melinda took a sip of wine. "I've seen them once, and that will be quite enough." She gave a curt nod, then added, "And consider yourself lucky that you'll never have to have those images stuck in your head."
"Sure, sure," Tracy said, looking more than a little disappointed.
Several minutes passed in silence between the two women as Tracy finished the haircut. Melinda's back was to the mirror as Tracy made the finishing touches, and she gave a theatrical spin of the chair to reveal the new Melinda. Melinda, however, stared at her reflection - unimpressed.
"You don't like it," Tracy said, breaking the silence.
"No, it's really nice," Melinda said. "It's just -," she paused.
"It's just - what?" Tracy said, taking the bait. Melinda sighed.
"I don't know. I just don't want to look anything like his Melinda, you know?"
"So - what? You want a new color? Shorter?" Melinda crossed her arms and frowned. "I'm not giving you a perm!"
"No," Melinda said, laughing. "Perm would be a bit over the top."
"So, what are you thinking?" Tracy asked.
"Umm -," Melinda said, looking timid again. "Maybe you'd just shave it all off for me?"
Tracy almost dropped her comb and shears.
"What the hell? You serious? You mean, like Britney or Sinead? Like, hack off all your beautiful hair I've slaved over for years. Like - that kind of shave?" Tracy demanded while slamming her utensils on the shelf at her station. She tore her apron off and threw it in the stylist's chair in the station across from hers.
"I just want a new start - to everything," Melinda said, calling after Tracy as she stomped away into the Employees Only area. Melinda sat in her chair, staring at her face in the mirror as tears began to warp the reflection.
Eventually, Tracy returned with two new glasses of wine; one for Melinda, and one for herself. She leaned against the mirror in front of her teary-eyed client, blocking her sorrowful vanity.
"Look at me," she said, glaring down at Melinda. "I understand you want to erase all memory of this relationship from your mind. I get that. I've had two husbands help me make a fine art of it. Just give it a bit more time and thought. You'll regret something this drastic by the time you start your car and look in the rear-view mirror."
Melinda nodded and wiped a few tears from her cheek with the hand not holding her wine. "I understand."
"Now, no more tears. That asshole isn't worth a single one. You hear me? Not a damn one!" Tracy said, and took a swig of wine.
"I do. I hear you. It's just that, I've always wanted to know what I would look like. You know - with, like, my head shaved. If I could pull it off, you know?"
"Jeez, Mel, I'm not shaving your damn head, okay?"
"I was going to do it myself! Right before I met Jesson. But, I didn't. I was afraid he wouldn't like it. So, in a way, it'd be like starting where I left off. Like, he'd never come along and wasted the best years of my life," she said, breaking down into a sob.
Tracy rolled her eyes and set her wine glass on the shelf between the empty decanter and barbicide. She stepped behind Melinda and patted her on the back a few times before rubbing her shoulders as she offered empty words of encouragement.
"I'd do it myself, but - but,” Melinda continued. “I didn't want to do it without your approval. Your blessing - you know? You've been so good to me, these five years and - ,"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Tracy said, interrupting. "Enough of that shit." She snatched her glass off the shelf and drank half the wine in one gulp. Then, she sighed, groaned, and sighed again. Melinda looked up at her with wide, pitiful eyes glossed with tears. Finally, Tracy yelled "fuck it," and threw her hands up in exasperated defeat. Some of her wine sloshed out onto the floor. "But you had better promise me you'll be stopping by in a week to let me do your eyebrows."
"I promise," Melinda said as somber as she could manage with an excited smile raising to her flushed cheeks.
Tracy fumbled around with her electric clipper's cord - getting it untangled as she searched for the outlet behind a poorly placed artificial areca palm. "Damn right, you do," she said. "I'm sorry your husband's a psycho pervert, but this bitch still has bills to pay."
"I understand," Melinda said, almost bouncing out of her chair with excitement.
"Now, hold still, Sinead," Tracy said, and flicked the switch to turn the clippers on.
It took less than five minutes for Tracy to have Melinda looking like a cue ball, and every second seemed to be utter torture for Tracy. Melinda, however, giggled like a little girl as more and more of her scalp was revealed, showing milky white skin beneath. Both were relieved to find that Melinda had a decently shaped head; her hair had been hiding no strange lumps or irregular angles. Her ears stuck out only a little, and, combined with her wide, blue eyes, she began to look like some kind of elf, or other mythical woodland creature. Tracy brushed as much hair off Melinda as she could, then brought her to the shampoo bowls to rinse away what remained. Melinda leaned back, grinning from ear to ear.
She began to lather Melinda's scalp. Tracy rinsed the shampoo off, and noted a few places where the hair was uneven; where she'd have to trim a bit more when she got Melinda back to her chair.
"That feels so weird," Melinda said.
"I bet." Tracy said, searching the nearby drawers for a dry towel to dab the water from Melinda's scalp.
"God, that feels so weird," Melinda repeated.
"I bet," Tracy also repeated. She stretched out the towel, an opposite corner in each hand, and reached out to wrap it around Melinda's head when a two inch slit of skin on the crown of Melinda's head parted, revealing a perfectly shaped eyeball.
Tracy's breath caught between her vocal cords and the lungs. The tubes therein couldn't decide whether to expand or contract; scream or gasp. Melinda shivered, her arms showing goose-bumps.
"Oooh! So weird!" she said with a giggle, and wriggled in her seat. The eye on top of her head rolled wild, its pupil shrinking and dilating with Melinda's pulse. Tracy stepped back and pressed herself hard against the wall, which forced the air up from her lungs through the indecisive tubes to make a pathetic whimper as she slid down to the floor. The shampoo bowl was above her, concealing the back of Melinda's head from view, along with the horrific new eye.
"It's so weird. I feel, like, naked or something," Melinda said and gave a naughty giggle. "Are you going to shampoo it again, cause that felt really awesome." Tracy could only whimper again in reply. She wondered if she'd actually seen what she'd thought she had seen. Maybe it was just water beading up in some weird way that caught the light reflecting off the bowl. Of course, she'd simply had too much to drink. That was it. There was no way a new eye had opened on top of Melinda's head.
Tracy slowly began to raise herself off the floor, hoping and praying by every inch that she had hallucinated. She stared up at the ceiling to steady her nerves. She took in a deep breath before she looked back down at Melinda.
The eye was rolling around, its pupil still shrinking and dilating. Tracy brought her hands to her mouth to muffle the scream and, in so doing, made a strange croaking sound like a frog. Melinda opened her natural eyes to look up at Tracy, and her expression was immediately grim.
"Tracy, what is it?"
Tracy could only shake her head, refusing to believe, her hands still over her mouth - still croaking.
"Jesus, Tracy! What's wrong?" Melinda asked. In that instant, the wild, unnatural eye on Melinda's crown stopped, looking directly at Tracy, and it's pupil contracted. Tracy finally managed to scream.
Melinda tried to stand, but fell to the floor and started convulsing violently. Tracy could only shake her head and make a guttural, groaning sound. Melinda cried out as her back arched to painful proportions, and her limbs continued to writhe around her. Her fists and heels slammed into the ground and she cried out with each impact, eventually leaving bloody cracks in the white tile. She screamed for Tracy's help, but Tracy could not move - could not even breathe.
Tracy was on the verge of passing out when the sickening sound of breaking bone brought her consciousness back to the foreground, and she ran toward her styling station where she had left her cell phone. Melinda's arms had broken at the elbow and were bent in the wrong direction. She was struggling to climb up onto all four limbs. Her natural eyes had rolled back in their sockets. Her mouth was wide and spittle flew out as she gargled and choked in pain.. The unnatural eye, however, narrowed and followed Tracy as she hurried past Melinda's broken form in the direction of her station.
As she approached her chair, already winded from the short dash from the bowls, she heard a cellphone ringing. It was coming from Melinda's purse, which sat tucked under Tracy's chair, at its base. She reached for it and saw it was an incoming call from Jesson. She tapped the screen to answer.
"Hello!" she gasped into the phone. "Jesson, can you hear me?"
"Yes," he said calmly. "Who is this?"
"Tracy - Melinda's stylist. Listen.... Something's happening to Melinda! Oh, my God, I've never seen - I - need to call an ambulance or the police, or someone - oh fuck!"
Jesson's laugh sounded tired. "Ha. Well, I guess it worked then," he said.
"It -," Tracy growled into the phone," what the fuck did you do, you sick piece of shit?"
Jesson sighed. "Goodbye, Tracy." Then, there was silence.
"Hello?" Tracy yelled into the phone. "Hello!" She yelled again; her fury rising until she was roaring at Melinda's phone.
"What's the name of your salon?" Jesson asked. Tracy screamed and threw the phone at the ground, where it shattered. Melinda came crawling into the stylist area, her arms bent the wrong way and the wild eye flicking back and forth in her head - searching. Her mouth was wide; frozen in a silent scream, and her eyes were rolled back in her head.
"Melinda," Tracy whispered, not really wanting to be heard. She stood, rooted by fear but unable to look away. A thin, red line appeared beneath the eye on Melinda's head. Her scalp turned the palest white, and then there was a sound of tearing flesh and cracking bone, which finally produced the shrillest of screams from Melinda's gaping mouth. Tracy barely noticed the hot stream of fluid run down her left leg.
Melinda's skull had cracked open below the eye in a jagged line from ear to ear. The muscles in the back of her head and neck trembled and the underside of her skull was pulled down, and then it was released to snap back together along the jagged crack, like a horrid mouth of skull-teeth. Again and again the new, unnatural maw opened and snapped closed, making the same sound as gnashing teeth, and, every time, revealing gray matter beneath. Melinda, again, fell silent, her tongue flapping around in the frozen scream - her eyes rolling wild with the unnatural one.
Melinda's evil eye met Tracy's, and her abhorrent form scrambled toward the stylist; its backward limbs tearing at the tile floor, and it's skull-teeth snapping like a feral beast's.
Tracy sprang from the spot on which she had been rooted, almost slipping in her own urine, and circled around the other stylist stations as she sprinted for the back door. Melinda was fast and crashed through any obstacles in her path, knocking over potted plants and salon chairs as she scrambled from Tracy through the door marked Employees Only. Tracy flew forward on her hands and knees. Both women were crawling on all fours through the break room. Tracy knew she wouldn't have time to unlock the back door before Melinda reached her, so she dove into the small employee restroom and spun on her back to kick the door closed.
Tracy was instantly up and mounting the commode. There was a narrow privacy window on the wall above it. Melinda was slamming herself against the cheap, plywood door of the employee restroom; causing it to splinter inward at the bottom.
Tracy reached back grabbing the porcelain tank lid in both hands, and screamed as she threw it at the window with every bit of strength she could muster. The window conceded, exploding outward. The lid continued on its trajectory, soaring out into the night air before crashing down into the parking lot. Tracy grabbed the plunger next to the commode and, with it, tried to clear as much broken glass from the narrow opening as she could. She dared to glance back, and saw Melinda sliding under the splintered wood, which tore at the flesh of her skull, pulling skin back from the gnashing, jagged teeth. Tracy's urine-soaked Mary Janes slipped on the seat of the toilet and she dropped, ass first, into the tank. She scrambled to pull herself out, and the toilet flushed as she made a desperate leap for the window, just as Melinda was making a leap for her. She kicked her legs up like mad and wormed her way through the narrow window, losing the dry Mary Jane in the process. She fell face first into the parking lot and immediately jumped up to sprint for her car.
Belatedly remembering she'd left her keys inside, she ran down the sidewalk, heading toward nothing and no one in particular. She just needed to get as far from the salon as she could.
Two blocks down, a lewd figure leaped out at her from in between two cars parked next to the curb, genitals on display. Tracy screamed as the obviously drunk man yelled, "Boo!" Tracy felt rage swell up inside of her. She swung a leg up, utilizing her remaining adrenaline, to plant her foot into the man's exposed balls. He was on his knees in an instant, expelling the contents of his stomach as Tracy screamed in his ear, "Fuck - all - men!"
She continued running down the sidewalk.
Brandon James Burton is a 36 year old single father of two who enjoys writing the kind of stuff that he would never share with his children.
Interview available on May, 26 2021