“Addictive Sunglasses” by Callum McGee

"Addictive Sunglasses" by Callum McGee

‘Nice got an iPhone. Got enough for my weed.’ Jess polishes a cracked iPhone screen in her hands.

‘Great, you rob phones now?’ I try grabbing the phone, but she shoves it into her blazer pocket. Why does she put me through this? My heart palpitates, dreading one of her park victims confronting us. ‘Why are you trying to get us in trouble?’ I hope she notices the frustration in my tone.

‘Oh, shut it, will you? If you won’t pay for my blunts, I’ve got to get money somewhere.’ She goes back to admiring her steal of the day. Why does she still do this? We are back to square one with two weeks of peace and no bitter weed coming off her clothes. To think Mum thought she was responsible. Wasting money on death sticks isn’t what I’d call responsible.

I glance at the blue lapis lazuli around her neck. The gold spots gleam in the spring sunlight like they did around Mum’s neck. I can tell by how she rubs the stone she still misses her. She thinks I don’t understand, but how couldn’t I? I lost her too.

I doubt Mum would approve of what she’s doing now. Luckily, I am not Jess. The foul bleach taste of alcohol and head throbbing numbness that comes from weed makes my stomach churn. What’s the point? You have to face reality the next day. Still, I wish Mum looked at me like she did with Jess. I swallow the brimming envy in my throat, noticing some dried cuts peeking out of her sleeve. I can’t remember the last time she smiled, not since before Mum’s mammogram. I miss who she used to be when her giggles and silly dances brightened up the house. Now she is an aimless moth, a shell of herself, longing for a light that has long died.

‘Can’t believe my luck, Rose,’ she jingles the coins around her palms. ‘Got a five and a tenner.’ Her pockets are a clinking orchestra for school kids’ loose change. I pray the police don’t catch onto what she’s done. But how couldn’t they? I don’t know one school kid who doesn’t keep their distance from her in lunch lines.

I realise what’s left of our sisterly bond is a withered shoelace. Thin and ready to snap. But I am pulled back before taking the first step, knowing we both share the gaping holes eating at our hearts. Glancing out our windows at the silent stars, wondering if Mum is out there. I imagine Mum’s soft bony hand rubbing my fingers. ‘Please, Rose, she needs you.’ Her words haunt my dreams and daily thoughts. But she was right. Jess is all I have, and time is running out.

‘I know you miss Mum, but stealing isn’t going to solve anything.’ Jess pauses on the path. I feel her left-hand clench around my jumper.

‘I don’t give one,’ she lets go, excessively scratching at her neck. ‘Mum’s not here anymore.’ I feel queasy seeing the moist rashes and fingernail marks across her flesh. I’m sick of giving her reality checks, but mentioning Mum is the only thing that gets through to her. I slide my arm into hers.

‘Sorry Jess, I’m just worried about you,’ she raises an eyebrow at me. ‘Mum wanted me to take care of you.’ Her face turns sour.

‘Worry about yourself. I can look after myself.’ Her comment sticks with me for a bit. How can she enjoy something so toxic?

We reach the end of our path, surrounded by sweet smelly yellow daffodils near an old park bench. I feel Jess’ elbow nudge into me as a sunbeam illuminates a woman in a purple dress. She doesn’t notice us, but she’s wearing a long indigo veil with a violet niqab around her face. My heart sinks, realising what Jess has in mind. She wouldn’t steal from an old woman, right?

‘Come on, she might have something for us,’ of course. Before I can protest, I already feel Jess’s grip around my sleeve. We sit down on the damp bench, hearing the coo of Pigeons flocking around us. The woman is tossing bits of breadcrumbs to the birds pecking at the pavement. She glances at us, her eyes almost hypnotic.

‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’ She says in a sweet elderly tone. I give her a brief smile trying to conceal my shame.

‘Yeah, it is. How are you doing?’ Says Jess, cupping her hands together like an innocent toddler. My teeth grind as she puts on a sweet, oblivious accent whenever she butters up her victims.

‘I’m good young lady, just feeding the birdies,’ she tosses more crumbs to the scattering Pigeons.

‘Aw, that’s nice. I love your sunglasses.’ Jess points at the folded red sunglasses on her lap.

‘Thank you, love, but they’re not mine. They’re not for wearing.’ Jess’s eyes shoot open from her comment. Damnit, old woman, she’ll want them more now.

‘Oh, why is that?’ The woman looks over both her shoulders, lowering the indigo cloth so that we can see her glittering lips.

‘I shouldn’t say anything. Why don’t you girls go play and have fun?’ Jess clasps her hands.

‘Please, Miss, I’d love it if you told me.’ 

‘Well, if you’re sure,’ she unfolds the sunglasses, sliding her index across strange, dotted symbols across the temples. ‘You might think I’m nuts, but they have mystical energy. I can’t say more than that, I’m afraid.’ She twiddles the frames between her crystal ringed fingers. Something about the curved plastic horns on either side of the lenses makes my heart race. Why are my hands shaking?

‘Jess, Maccie’s will close soon—’ I feel her shoe sharply kick into my shin.

‘It doesn’t close, stupid,’ she looks back at the woman. ‘So, you like spiritual stuff then?’ Jess quickly tries to slide her hand into the woman’s pocket, failing as she looks up.

‘Well, spirituality is a hobby of mine, you see. I like to collect all magical things, good or bad.’ She folds the glasses, putting them into her long robe. ‘Oh, you must think I’m a right old fool. Talking about this silly nonsense.’ Jess interrupts her, putting her hand over her shoulder.

‘Of course not. I think it’s cool you do that,’ Jess glances at the old oak tree near us. ‘So, is everything magic?’

‘Well, some things more than others.’ The woman pats the glasses in her robe.

‘Do you think that tree behind you is magic?’ The moment the woman cranes her neck, Jess swipes the sunglasses from her robe. I restrain the urge to stop her as I don’t want to be guilty by association. God, what would Mum think?

‘Well, all things have souls, dear—’ Jess yanks my hand.

‘Aw, thanks for all of that, bye,’ we are already halfway down the path when we’re far enough from the woman. ‘My God, what a moron. Falling for the oldest trick in the book.’ She laughs, yanking the glasses out of her pocket. I can’t refrain from smacking her shoulder.

‘That was well low.’ She ignores me, staring at the shiny red texture reflecting the evening sun. She stares at them. Of course, she’d love something with Devil horns and blackout shades. ‘Put them tacky things down. I’m not getting bad karma because of you.’ I try to reach for them, but she suddenly smacks my hand away.

‘Leave them!’ She clutches them to Mum’s necklace. I hold back, laughing as her arms fold over them like Gollum with his precious. But I keep it down, not wanting another smack. ‘Well, come on, swat, let’s go.’ She walks me back through the park but doesn’t say anything.

We are already out the gates when amber sunset ripples stretch across our faces. My scalp starts sweating, wishing I didn’t have to see her fondling a pair of sunglasses. She slides her deviant stumps across the lenses and pushes the bridge over her flushed nose. The edges of her lips widen so much that I can see her inner gums. I don’t know if I should be happy or creeped out. I can’t remember the last time she’s grinned. I try to ignore her until she exhales out of nowhere.

‘Rose, you’re gonna think I’m mad, but I think I’m high,’ I can’t help looking at her weirdly. ‘I don’t know, but I feel great since I put these on. I feel like I’m flying.’ She exhales in pleasure again. A silver gleam shines across her scalp. I pick at it. ‘Ouch, the hell did you do that for?’ I dangle three white hairs in front of her.

‘You always had these?’ She yanks them out of my hand.

‘Don’t know. Probably stress from last year.’ I gnaw my gums for the next twenty minutes, forced to listen about how much time she wasted inhaling weed when she could have felt this ‘natural high’ from a pair of sunglasses. I think back to what that woman said on the bench. From what she’s saying, she must be higher than a kite. But since when has she had grey hairs? Magical energy? Na, surely not. But my stomach starts knotting at how silent she is. I expected her to keep rambling about the glasses until she suddenly yanks Mum’s necklace off. She pulls the stone off and throws it onto the pavement.

‘Why did you do that for?’ I pick the stone up.

‘What? Me’ glasses need the string,’

‘But Mum gave it to you.’ I swallow the ball of emotions in my throat, wondering how she could casually throw this away.

She glares down a dark alley next to us. A robust herbal stench penetrates the street air. A far away streetlamp reveals a figure leaning on a fence. Please, God, don’t let it be weed.

‘Hey, you!’ A bright flashlight of a phone illuminates the shadows. A small Indian boy with a tied black bun looks over at us. ‘Give us’ the cig.’ Jess holds out her palm out, those ridiculous glasses covering her eyes. Before he can walk away, Jess rushes him, grabbing the front of his school shirt.

‘You mad? Get off.’ He tries to push her back, but his light hand smacks do little to her.

‘What are you doing? Stop!’ I try yanking her arm back, but she effortlessly pushes me back. The power in her shove winds me slightly. Since when is she this strong? She tugs the boy’s collar.

‘The fucking cigarette….’ Before I can do anything, she pulls out something from her pocket. The nearby lamp reflects a sharp sliver gleam in her hand. I want to do something, but what? I yank her arm back, wrestling the blade out of her hand. The red glasses fall off her face as the boy crawls away, a bitter urine stench filling the area.

‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ She stands up, her face blank, rubbing her eyelids.

‘I don’t know,’ she scratches at her bloodshot cheeks. ‘I’ve never been that desperate for a cig.’

‘You, feeling all right?’

‘Wait, where are they?’ She pats all over her blazer pockets, picking the glasses off the pavement. I don’t dare go near her, though. Why did she attack that boy? What happens if another innocent person passes us with something she wants? These thoughts spread goosebumps across me.

We near a bright McDonald’s sign in the distance, but I can’t keep ignoring the knot in my naval. I don’t know if I’m crazy, but a weird heat is coming off her arm.

‘Jess, you’re scaring me,’

‘What you on about?’

‘You’re freaking me out! You attacked a lad.’ her still expression does little to soothe me.

‘So? I wanted a smoke. He had one, and I got one.’ A brunette teenage girl passes us. I immediately know what will happen when Jess sees a triple camera iPhone 13 Pro in her hand.

‘Jess, no!’ I feel a sharp prick as I try to grab her. Her fingernails are pointed and curved, lemon-yellow claws protruding out of her fingers. She wraps her hand around the girl’s neck as the McDonald’s light reveals the whites of Jess’s eyes completely engulfed in inky blackness.

‘What are you doing?’ The brunette girl shrieks, piercing my eardrums, but Jess shakes her like a bobblehead.

‘Give it to me, you little—’ I gasp as she lifts the girl up with one arm.

‘Put her down!’ I wrap my left arm around her slimy neck, hoping the chokeholds she taught me work. But her strength is suddenly greater, her beefy shoulders flinging me off. The back of my skull slams against the pavement.

‘I swear I’ll kill you.’ Jess growls, her ginger hair turning ghostly white, her square teeth crumbling away into Pennywise fangs. She deepens her claws into the girl’s neck, judging by how much she is thrashing.

‘For God’s sake, stop.’ The girl gasps for breath as I yank Mum’s gem necklace out of my pocket. Hot tears flood my cheeks as I wrap my arms tightly around Jess’s bony chest. I take the chance to shove the stone into her palm. ‘Look at yourself. What you’re doing,’ I stumble as my throat swells up again. ‘Would Mum want this?’

Only now do I see her state. The rims around her eyes are dark, the outlines of her skull appearing through her leathery skin and ball joints like an elderly woman. No, a hag. ‘Jess, please come back. Please?’ I sob on her back, feeling her withered ribcage in my arms. ‘I need you.’ I feel her tremble, her black tears dripping down her strawberry skin.

Those glasses… Those damned evil glasses. They’ve done this. ‘Take them off.’ I cautiously reach for the sunglasses, feeling Jess’ scolding body temperature lowering. She lets me slide them off her long nose, dropping the blue-faced girl to her knees.

‘What, me, done?’ She claws at her elongated cheekbones as the brunette gags and splutters.

‘Jess?’ I caress her scaly skin. She looks up at me.

‘Yes?’ Before I answer, I slam the glasses onto the road.

‘This is for your own good.’ I stomp my body weight into the frames, my heel barely grazing it.

‘Thief!’ I feel my spine knock against the curb as she digs her hot claws into my wrists. ‘Give me,’ she yanks the glasses off the road, sliding them back over her pointy ears.

She sighs in a pitiful pleasure.

‘I need them.’ Her lips tremble. My heart sinks at the sight of her. They’re clearly doing more harm than good. I snatch the glasses off her, remembering the fun times with Mum, and with all my arm strength, the bridge snaps in half. She howls out, scrounging for the broken pieces. Have I failed her? Should I have done more to help? But no matter what I tell myself, her pitiful whimpers are still unbearable to hear. ‘You hurt me too? Like Mama.’ She buries her crooked red nose into my chest. I place my hand around the lazuli stone still tightly clutched in her right claw. I stroke her white straw hair.

‘No. I promised Mum I’d look after you, and I will.’ A year’s worth of bottled grief gushes from her as I delicately stroke circles onto her cheeks like Mum used to.

I look up into the cloudy night sky, looking for a brief twinkle of a star in the thick darkness. I feel Mum’s love emanating from my fingers as I place a delicate kiss on her sickly head. This isn’t the end. Maybe it’s a new beginning for both of us.

Callum McGee is a passionate, creative writing student at Edge Hill University. His short horror story was published in the EHU magazine/newspaper, the Quack’s blog. Callum is a neurodivergent writer who writes poetry tackling societal issues such as pollution, class discrimination, bullying, and inequality toward neurodiverse people. He believes poetry is an expression of one’s feelings and should be used to help people who are discriminated against in overall society. 

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