Vanity Kills

A Terrible Tale by Tom J Perrin

Noun     Informal
A photograph that one takes of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam, and shared via Social Media

The familiar click of the camera’s shutter annoyed everyone at the table, but Chelsea didn’t care as she pouted furiously at her phone, annoyed at the standard of the selfie she’d just taken. Arching her arm above her and smiling, she experimented with various props before taking the shot. She took another shot, posing quizzically while pretending to take a bite out of her sandwich.  It’d do. She set about immediately sharing the picture around her various social media accounts, clicking away rapidly, oblivious to the fact that her social circle were actually gathered around her.

“Did you really just take a fucking picture of yourself eating a cheese sandwich?” Luke asked from the other side of the table.

“I wasn’t actually eating it Luke, Goddd…” She replied, “You’re so dumb sometimes”.

“Coming from the girl who takes the same picture thousands of times, and actually believes they are any different.”

“They ARE different. I’m wearing different clothes, my hair is different, and the weather is different…dummy.”

“Whatever, Lacey” Luke sneered, his attention back on his food.

His use of her nickname was a subtle indicator that the conversation was over. She absolutely hated people using it. Between them, they’d decided that it was the best possible way to get her to shut up. The story of how that nickname came about embarrassed her.

The short and sweet version is that she was caught fooling around in the boy’s changing room and her black lace pants were laying discarded on a clothes peg. Naturally, the story spread like wildfire and the nickname quickly stuck. It gave her cult status around school, and she frequently found herself invited around ‘for cuddles’. A quick read of her Twitter profile made it clear that she thought that ‘cuddles and selfies are all a girl needs to be happy’.

“Fuck you, Luke” she threw her sandwich down on her tray, stray cheese spraying the table.

“Don’t you mean cuddle?”

With that she stormed away from the table. Luke laughed to himself; he’d been there with Chelsea and now enjoyed ribbing her. There were a few wry smiles around the table. Luke picked up his phone.

“Oh man, #LunchtimeSelfie,” he said aloud, “I’m going to give this a little like.” He laughed to himself, this time the entire table joined in.

A quick search on Chelsea Broughton’s Instagram page tells you that she has posted some three hundred and forty-nine times, has three hundred and twelve followers and is currently following 2.7k people. The short bio reads ‘Chelsea, 18, Disney, Cuddles, Selfies’. Below there is a veritable mix of selfies, ill-advised pictures of her with other boys and older pictures that are labelled with #TBT. The 2.7k people she follows comprises of celebs, friends from school and just about everyone else in the world. Her pictures are greeted with comments from guys worldwide; they started off complimentary but have quickly fallen into the degrading. Chelsea doesn’t seem to mind though, and responds equally to every picture with an emoticon with hearts for eyes.

“She’s a selfie slut” Luke put it to their group a while back.

“An Insta whore” Mark quipped.

“Instant whore if you ask the football team!” Luke added.

The laughter at the table only died down when Chelsea sat down at the table, oblivious to the subject matter of the laughter.

The fayre had arrived in Vacaville and now stood proudly in the center of town. A smorgasbord of bright lights and repetitive music, it was the talk of the town for the three weeks it would take up residence. The whirl of the rollercoasters brought joyful and sometimes genuine screams, the clearly fixed coconut shy and hook ‘em ducks brought hoots of derision and the dodgems provided the musical overture to the piece, the steady hum of electricity that was underpinned by the crashing of bumper on bumper. The whole scene was further enhanced by the wafting smell of cotton candy and hot dogs, the staple diet of the fayre dwellers. Hidden away in the far corner of the grounds was the small arcade, awash with slot machines, air hockey tables and driving simulators.

Chelsea came stumbling out of the bushes behind the arcade, her hair a mess and her low cut top riding high just below her ample breasts. She japed at the corner of her mouth with her tee shirt, wiping away the stray semen; she adjusted herself in the small pocket mirror and started to reapply her red lipstick. From behind her came the captain of the football team, Jono, he was buttoning up the front of his jeans and walked by her without so much as an acknowledgement. He disappeared into the swelling first week crowds without a glance back or even a quick ‘thanks for the suck job, babe’.

Chelsea sighed to herself and leaded into the arcade where a group of teens were clustered around the pinball machines, flipping furiously through a flurry of lights and sounds. She spied the gypsy fortune teller machine hidden in the corner. ‘Your future told for just $1’ the sign read, the dust covering the machine gave it a sinister edge. Chelsea pulled the bill out of her back jean pocket and fed it into the machine. The mummy’s eyes lit up and the mouth began to open and close rhythmically as it warned the recipient of the card of the true and powerful nature of the gypsy’s predictions. This washed over Chelsea as she waited for the card to drop out; she was washing her tongue over her teeth, trying to rid her mouth of the salty aftertaste. The card jutted out of the bottom of the machine with a puff of smoke and the gypsy fell silent again. She took the card.

Your vanity will kill you, with every flash of your camera, you have lost a part of your soul, be warned that there is no going back. Beware of the bright light.

“What a load of garbage,” she said to herself, idly shoving the card into her back pocket. She took a picture of herself next to the gypsy, the flash making her blink. A voice came from just outside the arcades.

“Hey, Laceypants.”

It was Giano, the kicker for the football team. He smiled at her and held out a small bottle of vodka to her. She walked over and took a sip from the bottle before handing it back.

“Want to take a little walk with me, sexy?” He asked.

She took his hand and the walk lasted two minutes, to the exact same clearing where she’d been ten minutes earlier with Jono, and as her knees settled into the moist ground, the card jutted out of her back pocket, all but forgotten.

“Argh, pop already, you motherfucker,” Chelsea squealed into the mirror
The spot wouldn’t budge however, no matter how hard she squeezed it between her thumb and index finger.  The spot on the end of her nose only continued to glow an angry red. It hadn’t been there last night at the fayre, it looked fresh and had thrown her morning into disarray, and not even a pin prick could penetrate the tough outer skin of the spot. She growled in the pit of her throat and stomped her foot like a petulant child.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” She was bemoaning herself for letting Giano come on her face yesterday, the link between her salty face full and this morning’s spot all too obvious to ignore.

The flash of the camera made her blink, it somehow seemed brighter. The tag line on this picture was ‘time to cover up this bad boy for a few days’ with Chelsea striking a sad face pose.

On the bed side table, the card from the fortune machine sat in the midst of a cluttering of books and non-essential junk.

Two weeks later

“What the actual fuck!!” Luke stressed every word as he stared at Chelsea across the table, she’d just silently plopped herself down onto the table.

Underneath the Patriots cap, her hair was unusually pulled all the way back in a tight ponytail as she tried to hide the greys that were starting to show through her natural colour. She tried to dye her hair last night and awoke expecting a natural glow again, but her hair actually seemed a more prominent shade of grey than it had the night before.

The spot on her nose was still there, still blood red but it had now been joined by thirteen more, just as big, just as ugly and just as puss filled.

“I’m not in the mood Luke, can it,” she muttered looking up, barely audible.

She blinked against the flash of his camera

“Just going to pop this on Instagram…hang on, hashtag more spots than a Dalmatian.” He sneered across the table at her, his eyes meeting hers for a split second. She looked haggard. He began to click away on his phone.

“FUCK YOU.” she threw her tray across the table at him, the pasta and salad spilling into his lap, she looked around at the people who were now looking her way. She took off the Patriots cap and threw it down before getting up, standing atop the table and addressing everyone in the canteen. “Fuck ALL of you, you want to mock me, go right ahead, I’ve got a face full of spots that won’t quit and my hair is going grey at eighteen, my skin is wrinkling and I AM FUCKING UGLY…go ahead, mock, take a fucking picture if you’d prefer.”

Several people did, the flashes of the cameras made her blink against the bright lights. Luke thought to himself that if she were to start swotting away the cameras, she’d be like a spotty King Kong, just maybe with bigger nostrils.

Eventually she broke down in a flood of tears and ran from the canteen, her shrieks filling the empty corridors as she fled.

“Well, that escalated quickly,” Luke said to himself, brushing the errant food off of him and taking a sip of his root beer.

Chelsea sat in the shower, the scalding hot water barely registering as she scrubbed viciously at her face, the spots oozing puss down her face. Large clumps of her hair had fallen out, and were beginning to block the drain. As she scrubbed even harder, she screamed shrilly as a chunk of her face came off in her hands and fell to the shower floor with a moist slap. The blood cascading from the hole in her face joined everything else racing towards the drain.

She clambered out of the shower and screamed as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was now ninety-eight percent bald, with only the occasional strands of hair sticking to her pink scalp. Her face had a hole in it just below the left cheekbone and the spots had all burst and puss slowly oozed down her face.

She ran to her bedroom and snatched up the gypsy’s card and sprinted from the house, wearing only her robe. She covered the distance between her house and the fayre in a little over ten minutes, her feet bloody from running on blacktop. As the fayre was winding down, the crowd was sparse but there were still enough people to be startled by the sight of Chelsea running through the grounds and directly to the arcades.

A handful of people followed and watched on astonished as she wrestled with the gypsy fortune telling machine, rocking it backwards and forwards and screaming ‘what the fuck have you done to me’ over and over again.

The machine kicked into action and spat out a single card at Chelsea as she fell to the floor. It only had four words on.

I told you so.

“Hey, freakshow,” a voice called from behind her. The flash of the camera was the last thing she ever saw.

Tom J Perrin has over fifteen short stories published in various places, as well as publications deals for his first novella (July ’16) and Children’s Novel (September ’16). Chasing the dream both in short and long forms of writing.

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