You Can Get it for Free

Just a short I thought I’d share.  I don’t think it’s a particular stand-out in my work, but I have a soft spot for it.  You can find it in my book of short stories, Remants, here.

You Can Get it for Free

Eleven on a Saturday night, and Angelina was curled in her overstuffed recliner. She glared at the clock in disgust, and then blew out a breath. She should be annoyed with herself, not the damn clock. Her own fault for not getting off her ass and going out, yet again. She pushed her bangs back from her eyes, and turned her attention back to the TV.

Channels flipped by one by one – fishing, game show, somebody yelling about immigrants, Lifetime movie, ad nauseum. She couldn’t find any one thing she wanted to watch. TV was boring her, she thought she smelled her own sweat, and her damn bangs – she blew them out of her face – were too long. In all, she was miserable, for no one real reason, and the longer she took to occupy herself, the more the misery fed itself.

She finally dropped the remote in disgust, and got up. Maybe a shower wasn’t a terrible idea. She stripped down on the way to the bathroom, tossed her clothes in the hamper by the door, and turned the water on. She got in, and could still hear the drone of the TV over the water. She wondered what she had turned it to, and realized she didn’t really care. A shower was a start; she’d decide what to do after.

Fifteen minutes later, Angelina was clean and dry, her bangs held back by an elastic headband. The shower hadn’t motivated her as much as she hoped, and she was planning to settle for some Cheetos, and maybe a movie, even if it was a Lifetime train wreck.

She was halfway to the kitchen when a voice from the TV caught her attention.

“How many times has this happened to you?” It was followed closely by a sound that reminded Angelina of a sad trombone. WaaWaa.

She could just see the scene in her head. Someone trying to flip an egg, or a pancake, or pour a glass of milk, only to twitch violently, as though they had been goosed. Then, food everywhere, and the actor turns to the camera with both hands in the air, and an expression that says ‘Help me, I can barely tie my own shoes, let alone move an item from one container to another.’

She shook her head, and kept walking. The voice piped up again.

“Johnny Wick here! Do you find yourself without energy, without motivation, stuck at home on a Friday night?”

Angelina stopped, and turned. A man in a blue polo and khakis was addressing the screen, gesturing as he did so.

“Well, I’m here to tell you about Wax Ecstatic! Gone are the days of painful hair removal.”

The camera switched to a shot of a woman tearing a strip of wax off her leg, then clutching it, and grimacing in pain.

“Wax Ecstatic is the painless, homeopathic solution!”

The same woman appeared, tearing off a similar strip, sans grimace. She smiled, and ran a hand along her supposedly smooth shin.

“Wax Ecstatic contains a mild anesthetic, and is made from the leaves of the Calliope Tree, known for centuries in Asia to remove unwanted toxins from the body!”

Johnny laid a strip along one of his obviously hairy arms, and then pulled it off. He showed the hairy remains to the camera, the wax underneath dotted with black specks.

“See those specks? Those are the poisons leaving your body! You’ll feel full of energy and life, and if you don’t, we’ll refund the full amount!”

He laid the strip down on a table, and walked to the side, the camera following him.

“If you order now, we’ll give you not one, but two boxes of strips, and this handy lint roller!”

The camera held for a minute on Johnny’s face, his neon-white smile seeming to eat up half the screen, and then it flipped to the familiar blue info screen. Product picture, phone number, website (waxecstatic.com), and price – $19.95, of course.

Angelina snorted in what passed for derision, and turned the TV off. Maybe she’d just grab a snack and go to bed, after all.

*

Another Friday, another night spent curled in the recliner, flipping channels. Angelina was disgusted with herself again. She could smell her sweat, taste the last four meals she’d eaten, and she was pretty sure she could braid the hairs on her leg if she tried.

The problem was, disgust didn’t mean a damn thing in the long run without action. Action was hard to come by when you were disgusted with yourself, and the urge to sit still and not draw notice grew stronger the worse you felt.

She wasn’t sure she’d call it depression. More like ‘enhanced misery’. She knew the cause. Her professional life was at a standstill, her personal life was a bit lackluster, and she was getting older without much to show for it. She knew she should fight back, try to grow, to push harder, but once the realizations began to click into place, she found herself tired, and wondering what the point was.

Sometimes she fantasized about quitting her job and taking a year to find herself, and then she remembered what her bank account looked like. Not everyone could just reenact ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ at the drop of a hat. She sneered at the image of Julia Roberts that popped into her head, with her perfect teeth and perfect figure and her movies that promised false hope.

She dug into the bag of Cheetos again and popped a couple into her mouth. The TV channels flipped by, a blur of nonsense. She needed a shower. She stopped flipping, and dropped the remote, then dusted her fingers off on her sweats. Quick shower, and maybe a trip to the store. She made to get up, when Johnny Wick spoke from her TV.

“Stop!”

She stopped, half-risen from the chair, and plopped back down.

“Heh. Ok.” She said.

Johnny was walking toward the camera, the studio behind him dark. Angelina frowned at the TV. It seemed a weird pitch for an infomercial product – those were usually bright and energetic, if more than a little corny.

“Stop paying forty-five, fifty-five, even sixty-five dollars a visit for a leg wax! We’ve told you before about Wax Ecstatic, and now we’re extending a special offer.”

The camera zoomed in, a close-up of Johnny Wick’s face. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hair was a bit disheveled. Angelina noticed stubble on his neck and cheeks, and a bit of dried white spittle in the corner of his mouth. She wondered what he was on, and watched his eyes flick left and right, as though he were being watched.

“Do it. P-please. You can get it for free.” The words seemed to echo in the studio, punctuated more by the fact that there was no background music to the commercial. His eyes slid to the side again, and he turned his head. A strangled sound escaped his throat, and he darted off-screen.

In the black of the studio, something pale, white like a fish belly, shuffled on frame. The camera tried to autofocus on it, and Virginia caught a glimpse of large black eyes. The screen cut to a test pattern and hung there for a moment before changing to the familiar blue product screen. Product pictures, a number, the price ($19.99) in big numbers, and the website (waxecstatic.com). Below that, was a new line of text.

“Visit our website, and enter the promo code “ECSTATIC” for your free trial now!”

Virginia flipped the TV off, and stared at the screen for a bit. She could see her own reflection in the black. She could see the kitchen behind her, the light on against the dark, a corner of the table, and part of the counter. She wondered what she would do if a pale figure shuffled into the reflection, and decided not to find out. She turned the TV back on, and muted it, and walked to the little table under the window that held her laptop.

She flipped it open and waited for it to wake up, and wondered about the commercial. If it was real, and that was one hell of an if, then it was really disturbing, and she should be notifying someone. Maybe the FBI, or at least the FCC. She thought it more likely it was a brilliant bit of viral marketing. She opened her browser, and tapped in the website.

The site came up, tacky as she’d expect. Pink and blue, with flowery script, and a picture of the model from the commercial smiling as she pulled a wax strip from her leg. Below that, was a box describing the product – “Made from the Calliope Tree!” – and a text box where she could enter a promo code.

She typed in the word ECSTATIC, and hit enter. The page refreshed, and took her to an address form that she filled in. She hit enter again, and waited for the confirmation page to show up. When it did, it was of the model in a pair of short-shorts, with a text bubble above her head that read simply “Thanks!” Angelina closed the laptop, and sat back in the chair.

She hadn’t really thought about what she was doing, but she figured that anything with a commercial that interesting was worth owning a piece of. She wondered about Johnny Wick for a minute, and if she’d see him again, maybe hawking a magic kitchen tool, or a garden hose that only dispensed cold water. She decided it didn’t really matter, as long as she got to wax her legs for free a couple of times, and maybe keep a souvenir.

She got up, and turned off the lights. It was dark, and in the back of her mind, that pale white thing shuffled inevitably behind her. She shook her head to clear it, and when she got to her bedroom, closed and locked the door behind her.

*

Saturday morning came early, even earlier still, thanks to the pounding on her front door. Angelina stumbled out of bed, and made her way to the door, fumbling with the lock on her bedroom before it gave way. She stood in front of the front door, pushing hair out her face. The pounding came again, and she unlocked the door, and opened it.

A man in a brown delivery uniform stood there with a package under one arm, and a clipboard in his other hand.

“Angelina Rossi?”

“Yes?” She squinted in the morning sun.

He passed her the package, and then clipboard. “Sign here, please.”

He pointed at an ‘x’ on the sheet in front of her. She set the package down, and signed, and handed the clipboard back to the delivery man. He turned and walked back to his truck, and with a sputter of diesel smoke, drove off down the block, and around the corner. Angelina watched him go, then picked up the package, and walked inside, closing the door behind her.

She dropped the package on the kitchen table, and poured herself a cup of coffee. She thanked God she had remembered to set the pot to brew the night before, and then sat down at the table. The package was brown, and nondescript. A label on the side facing her read:

FROM:

SCUTTLEFISH INDUSTRIES

5435 ICHTHY RD.

DUNWICH, ND 55502

TO:

ANGELINA ROSSI

453 E SYCAMORE

DUNWICH, ND 55502

Well, that explained why it had arrived so fast, though she was sure she had never heard of Scuttlefish Industries, or Ichthy Rd. She shrugged to herself. It wasn’t that weird, she supposed. The oil boom in the western half of the state was bringing all kinds of industry, why not snake oil, too?

She got a cup of coffee in her, and felt a little more awake and alive. She got up, and refilled the cup, and grabbed the kitchen shears from the block on her counter. She set the coffee on the table, and used the shears to open the box.

The first thing she noticed when she opened the flaps was a strong savory scent, familiar, but elusive. Inside were two trays, each filled with several long strips of white paper, each of which was backed by a thick layer of wax. A simple sheet of instructions lay on top of them.

  1. Heat strip in microwave for 30 seconds, or until wax is soft to the touch.
  2. Apply strip to leg, let sit for 30 seconds.
  3. Remove strip quickly.
  4. Repeat until area is clean.

Below that was a warning, written in fine print:

Do not consume. If you do ingest, induce vomiting, and call a poison center immediately. This is not a substitute or a treatment for any real or perceived medical conditions. Keep away from children and animals.

Angelina shrugged to herself, and tossed the note to the side, and lifted one of the strips out of the box. She sniffed it experimentally, and made a face. It smelled a bit like raw meat. She thought those Calliope trees must smell like a meat department gone bad in the summer if the wax from them smelled like this.

She blew her bangs out of her eyes, and thought for a moment. She really didn’t have any plans for the day; why not give the strips a shot, maybe get out of the house for a night? She did have a skirt she had bought online a month ago she still hadn’t even tried on.

She shimmied out of her pajama bottoms, and walked the box of strips to the counter. She took one out, and tossed it in the microwave, then set the timer for thirty seconds. She waited while the microwave hummed to life, and watched the wax strip turn circles on the glass plate inside. When it was done, she popped the door open, and stepped back.

The smell that came out of the microwave was pungent, and seemed to punch her in the nose. Her stomach rumbled when it realized there might be bacon nearby, and she grimaced.

Not gonna eat one of those, she thought.

She pulled a chair over to the microwave and sat down, then pulled the strip out. It was warm to the touch, but not overly hot. She hoped it would work, that at least she was doing it right. She started the strip at her ankle, and patted it in place, then waited another thirty seconds.

While she waited, she caught herself humming the old Oscar Mayer jingle, and made herself stop. Breakfast could wait. She looked down at her leg, where it was tingling. The skin there felt kind of numb, and she was already impressed that something sold on TV worked as advertised. She ripped the strip off, and the hair came easily, just a light tugging letting her know she had pulled the hairs there.

Excitement for a task that didn’t cause her misery or pain had her microwaving strip after strip, and in no time, she had both legs and her bikini zone freshly cleaned. She held the last strip in her hand, and looked at the little black dots caught in the wax between the hairs. Supposedly the toxins the strip was advertised to remove. Probably a gimmick. She shrugged, and tossed the last strip in the garbage.

She closed the box, and tucked it away under the sink, then replaced the chair at the table. The kitchen smelled of bacon, and she was ravenous.

*

Breakfast was a plate of bacon, two pancakes, and a couple of sausage links she found in the back of the freezer. She finished the whole thing, set her plate aside, and promptly fell into a nap. While she slept, she dreamt.

Angelina was in a banquet room, decorated in dark hardwood, with a fireplace at each end. Animal skulls hung on the walls behind each guest’s chair, and fires had been set in the hearths. The table itself was laden with a feast. She saw meats of every variety, heaped on silver platters, bowls of fruits, and breads in baskets next to serving plates of butters and jams. A glass of red wine sat next to each guest’s plate, along with a setting of silver, and a fine white napkin.

She looked around the table, and saw the other guests were naked, save for masks in animal shapes that matched the skulls behind them. She noticed their flesh was pale white, the color of fish belly, and their mouths were left exposed for eating. She reached up, and felt no mask, then looked down, and saw that she too was naked. She was as pale as the others, but felt no shame.

Angelina sat, and began to eat. She liked the meat the most, and every time she bit in, juices would burst into her mouth and flow down her chin. She paused to take sips of the wine, the flavor dark and sweet. When she did, she could hear someone outside the room, yelling, yelling that for only $19.99, she could be happy. For only 19.99 she could

“See those specks? Those are the poisons leaving your body! You’ll feel full of energy and life, and if you don’t, we’ll refund the full amount!”

She woke, bleary-eyed for a moment. The TV was on, and the Wax Ecstatic ad was showing again. She didn’t recognize the spokesman. He looked like a crackhead. She reached for the remote, and turned the TV off, then stretched. She felt good.

The clock showed quarter after eight when she got out of the shower. She took a few minutes to do her hair and makeup, then slipped on the skirt she had bought (it fit great), and a blouse. She grabbed a pair of low heels from the closet, and her keys from the table beside her door.

She was feeling so good, she thought she might try the bar tonight. A girl couldn’t live on work, Cheetos, and the pulse setting of her shower all the time, after all. Before she went, she grabbed a couple of pieces of bacon from the plate in the fridge. She was still a bit hungry, and figured those would tide her over.

*

The bar was crowded, but she didn’t care. Whatever they put in those wax strips had her feeling good. She almost thought to worry about it, and then figured as long as she heeded the warning note, she’d be fine. She sidled up to the bar, and ordered a Manhattan. The bartender gave it to her with a smile, and she tipped him a five, then leaned against the bar, watching the crowd.

Most were twenty-somethings in tight clothes and tanned, fit bodies. They smelled like Axe and Drakkar, and talked too loud. She wrinkled her nose, and a voice spoke up beside her.

“That’s cute.”

She turned to look at the man, a well-dressed thirty-something in a good suit, and sipping a martini. He smiled at her.

“Sorry, what?” She said.

“The nose wrinkle. It’s cute. Most people couldn’t pull off Samantha from Bewitched.”

She found herself smiling, and held out her hand. “Angelina.”

He took it, his grip firm, but not hard. He shook it, and she noticed his nails were well-cared for, and she could feel calluses on his palm. A watch glittered on his wrist.

“Mark.”

Her stomach rumbled, and she hoped he couldn’t hear it. The hunger was starting to gnaw at her, and she was a bit annoyed. Why now?

He looked at her stomach, and she saw his glance flick down for a moment to her legs. Then back to her face. His eyes were a pretty green.

“Hungry?”

She thought about it. She could play it off, pretend it hadn’t happened. She could walk away. She didn’t know this man, didn’t know if he was diseased, sick in the head, or a serial killer. Her stomach rumbled again, and she blushed. He must have mistaken it for something else though, because he smiled, and it lit up his eyes. She liked his dimples.

“I make a mean New York strip.” He said.

The hunger gnawed at her, it was enough to make her uncomfortable, and she knew she had two choices. Abandon the night, and her chances of getting laid for want of meat, or follow Mark home, and hope for the best of both worlds. She had never been much of a risk-taker, but aside from the hunger, she felt good. Confident. Like that, she wasn’t worried, and she smiled back at him.

“Lead on, then. I could eat a whole Angus.”

He led them to the parking lot, and pointed out his car, then waited for her to get in hers before starting off. They drove off into the night, Angelina’s stomach complaining the entire drive.

*

He hadn’t lied. He did make a mean steak. Angelina lounged on his couch, watching him clean up in the kitchen. He had hung the suit jacket up, and rolled his sleeves up, and she watched his back as he moved, and the muscles in his forearms.

She was impressed. Unlike most men, he hadn’t used the time he was cooking to make advances, or crack corny jokes about ‘meat’ and ‘size of the meat’, etc. She was starting to think they were both going to get lucky tonight. Her stomach growled again, and she tried to ignore it. She still felt hungry. She decided to distract herself.

She got off the couch, and kicked off her shoes, then walked over to Mark, who still had his back to her. She pushed herself up on the counter, and waited. He turned, and she smiled, waiting. He took the hint, and moved to her, his lips meeting hers.

They kissed, and she could feel the hunger, and a heat growing between her legs. She fumbled with his pants, and then had him out. He was hard and hot, and she could feel his breath in her ear. She opened her legs, and guided him in, and then he was thrusting, pushing her towards climax.

She moaned, a low hungry sound, and a second hunger grew in her belly, gnawing at the pit of her stomach. She bit Mark’s shoulder, and he pushed harder into her, his breath coming hard and fast. She was getting close, the heat in her like a fever, and the hunger in her stomach like coals stoked to fire.

She bit down, hard, and heard Mark cry out in pain, but only distantly. Warm fluid gushed into her mouth, rich and satisfying. She clenched her teeth, and jerked her head to the side in a tearing motion. A chunk of meat came off in her mouth, and she swallowed it whole, feeling the hot meat slide down her throat.

Mark pulled away with a scream, clutching his shoulder, his still hard member jutting out like a flagpole, and his pants around his ankles. Angelina growled, and leapt at him, knocking him to the floor. She mounted him while he struggled, weak from the pain, grinding herself into him.

He tried to crawl away, but her head darted forward again, and she ripped another piece of flesh from him, this time from his neck. Dark arterial blood spurted across the kitchen, and he screamed in horror.

So good, so good, she thought.

His struggles were growing weak, and she ground herself even harder into him, feeling her climax coming. She ripped piece after piece out of him, and savored the flesh in her mouth, even as her climax hit. She went rigid, her muscles spasming for a moment, before slumping onto his chest. She was aware it was quiet – no heartbeat, no breath sounds – and she was thankful for it. She was finally full.

*

She had cleaned herself up in Mark’s shower, and left by the back stairwell. She knew she should be horrified by what had happened, what she had done, but she just felt so satisfied. She felt alive, more than she had in the past few months, maybe more than she had in years since taking that data processing job.

She drove home with the radio on low and the window open. She enjoyed the cool night air on her face, and the way the moon reflected from her windshield. She turned the radio up, and heard:

“Limited time offer! Order one box of Wax Ecstatic, and ANGELINA COME HOME get the second free!”

The voice in the middle of the broadcast took her by surprise, though only for a moment. After the thing she had done, hearing voices shouldn’t shock her. Besides, she was going home. She turned the radio off, and drove the rest of the way in silence.

*

She locked the front door, and kicked her shoes off, then shimmied out of the skirt and blouse. She’d have to burn those. She stopped to admire herself in the mirror, and noticed her skin was paler than she remembered, her teeth a little sharper, and her eyes just a bit larger. She thought she looked like a waif, one of those runway models from the eighties.

In the living room, the TV was still on. She passed it, and the voice came from its speakers.

ANGELINA COME HOME, it said. The shot was of the studio, and the skinny spokesman was laid out on a table, naked and shivering and bound. As she watched, one of those pale creatures with the large black eyes and razor teeth shuffled into view. Its mouth moved wordlessly, but still she heard the words.

She watched as its head darted forward and ripped a chunk out of the naked, screaming man.

She gathered her keys, and left her clothes on the floor. She walked out the front door, and to her car.

She was going home.