“Cheap Sunglasses” Fiction by Rie Sheridan Rose

Gillian studied her reflection in the mirror with a worried frown. She looked tired—lines and wrinkles she had never seen before marring the smoothness of her skin. Her eyes looked a bit funny as well…there was an almost golden tint to them, and they used to be sapphire blue. Even the pupils appeared dodgy—more oval than circular. What the hell was going on?

            The most maddening thing, of course, was her hair. She reached up to brush it from her face, and a big clump of it came off in her hand. She felt tears welling up. Her red curls had always been her best feature. Blinking back the tears, she covered her head with a scarf—shades of Grandma Cora for the gods sake—and shrugged into her coat.

            Hopefully the new doctor she was seeing could tell her what was wrong. She glanced at her watch. If she didn’t hurry, she’d be late for the appointment.

            She programmed the address into her GPS and followed the directions on auto-pilot, still worrying about the changes to her appearance. And it wasn’t just that. If it were just superficial changes to the outside, she might be able to live with it…but the constant hissing sound inside her head was driving her mad.

            Thank the gods for Marc. When she’d confided to him on a night of dedicated drinking, he’d clucked his tongue and pulled out a pen.

            “You go see my friend Doctor Asclepius. Here’s his address. If anyone knows anything about all this mad shite you are going through, it will be him.”

            “But how expensive is it? You know I’m between positions at the moment.”

            Marc waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. Tell ’im to put it on my tab. Least I can do for you, gorgeous.”

            She tried to protest, but when Marc Urie got something into his head, it was impossible to change his mind.

            “Maybe I can give him my headache,” Gillian growled aloud to the empty car as the streets outside it got more and more rundown, and the scent of decay and debris penetrated even with the windows closed. “Sent me off on some fool’s errand, I bet. Laughing up his sleeve at how easy I am to punk.”

            YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION chirped the happy little voice on the GPS, and she pulled into the parking lot of a Greek revival office building. She looked at the scribbled address Marc had written on a soggy cocktail napkin, and then up at the facade of the building. This was the place, all right. “Let’s hope this guy is as good as Marc says.”

            She bent for her purse, and the hissing in her head surged. She rubbed her temples, feeling a bit of roughness under her fingertips. Her skin was so dry lately…

            Forcing herself to walk into the building without a stagger, she spoke to the woman at the reception desk. “I have an appointment with Dr. Asclepius at ten.”

            “Do you have your insurance card?”

            Gillian could feel her face heating. “It’s to be charged to Mr. Marc Urie.”

            “Oh…so you’re Marc’s friend. Of course. Through that door, and first right.”

            She followed the directions, feeling a bit dirty for the way the receptionist had spoken to her. As if she couldn’t pay her own way, but had to rely on the kindness of strangers, as it were…and the worst part was that it was true.

            She found the room the receptionist had indicated and sat in the patient’s chair, taking off her scarf and scratching her itchy scalp. More hair came off in her hand. She bit her lip to keep from crying.

            After twenty minutes, she had just about decided to leave in frustration when there was a rap on the door and a man breezed in without waiting for an answer. He was muscular, with a bushy graying beard and twinkling blue eyes. Gillian felt marginally better.

            “Miss Gorgon, is it?”

            “Gordon. Gillian Gordon.”

            “Forgive me. My nurse has horrible handwriting.” He plopped down in the other chair. “What seems to be the problem then?”

            “It seems so silly, now. It’s just…well…my eyes seem to be changing, and I’ve got terribly dry skin, and new wrinkles, and—my hair is falling out.”

            “I see,”

            “Plus, there’s this hissing…”

       “Hissing?”

       “Yes. It’s like it’s inside my head.”

       “Is it like white noise hissing, or a tea kettle, or what?”

       “None of those. It’s…organic. Like an angry cat…or maybe a…snake?”

       “Interesting.” He made a note on her chart. “How old are you, Miss Gordon?”

       The question startled her. “I turned twenty-one in February.”

       He nodded thoughtfully and made another mark on his chart.

       “And these changes started when?”

       “I noticed the first symptoms about six weeks ago.”

            “I thought as much.” He made a note on her chart, sighed, capped his pen, and then leaned forward confidentially, his hands laced in his lap. “I’m afraid I wasn’t so wrong about your name, my dear.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I could send you for a battery of tests, but I don’t think they would do any good. This isn’t a normal ailment.” He sighed again. “Have you read much mythology?”

            She blinked at the apparent non sequitur. “Some. What you get in school, of course.”

            “What is your heritage? Bloodline-wise.”

            “Is that important? Largely English, a bit Irish, some Italian on my father’s side, I believe.”

            “Any Greek, perhaps?”

            “Not to my knowledge.”

            “I think you should invest in one of the DNA tests to be sure, but I believe your knowledge is incomplete, my dear.”

            He reached over and patted her knee. “Don’t be alarmed. This is a perfectly natural occurrence. You’re just coming into your birthright, that’s all.”

            “What do you mean, Doctor?”

            He stood and reached into a cabinet hanging over the desk. He rummaged through it for a moment, and pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses. He handed them to her with a solemn expression.

            “I’m afraid you must wear these at all times from now on, Miss Gordon. Unless you’re home alone, it’s imperative. And, I would suggest removing all your mirrors to prevent…accidents. Marc was quite right to send you to me. No one else would be able to diagnose this condition…but I’ve seen it before.”

            She glanced down at the sunglasses, wondering what he was going on about.

            “You’ll also wish to invest in a collection of kerchiefs. Perhaps a hoodie or two. Believe me, you won’t want to go about with your head uncovered.”

            “I don’t understand!”

            He hunkered down beside her, taking her cold hands in his. “The snakes will be coming next.”

            “Snakes?” She tried to pull away, but his hold was deceptively loose.

            “Do you know the story of Medusa?”

            “Of course…”

            “Wear the sunglasses.”

            “W-why?”

            “My dear, you’re evolving. Somewhere in your ancestry, there was a gorgon. You’ve inherited the gene. It’s recessive, but there are triggers that will awaken it. Stress can be a factor, for example. Marc mentioned you were between jobs. That could be a factor. The bottom line is…you’re turning into one of those creatures.”

            She felt the tears running down her face, and shook her head. “No. That’s impossible. You must be wrong!”

            “I’ve been doing this job for a very long time. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.” He released her hands with a pat of sympathy.

            Gillian sobbed into her hands. And felt flickering tongues licking away her tears.

       He let her cry herself out, moving back behind his desk and pointedly working on papers stacked there.

       When she could pull herself together, she reached up and ran her fingers through the wriggling mass of creatures that had sprouted on her scalp.

       “What’s the cure?” she asked, tying her scarf about her head and squaring her shoulders.

       “Cure?”

       “There’s a cure for everything these days, isn’t there? I’ll pay for it. No matter what the cost. I’ll rob a bank if I have to!”

       “My dear, I am afraid it doesn’t work that way.”

       She surged to her feet. “I refuse to accept that.”

       “Feel free to search, but I have never heard of any way to reverse genetics.”

       “If there is a way, I’ll find it.”

       “I believe you will.” He rose to his feet and stuck out his hand. “Best of luck.”

       Gillian ignored the outstretched hand, walked to the door and turned. “One more thing, Doctor…”

       “Yes?”

       She lowered the sunglasses and stared at him over the top of them.

       He gasped—and froze into stone.

       “I had to know for sure.”             Pushing the sunglasses back into place, she smiled grimly. She couldn’t wait to show Marc…


Bio:

Rie Sheridan Rose multitasks. A lot. Her short stories appear in numerous anthologies, including Killing It Softly Vol. 1 & 2, Hides the Dark Tower, Dark Divinations, and On Fire. She has authored twelve novels, six poetry chapbooks, and lyrics for dozens of songs. She tweets as @RieSheridanRose.

Publisher’s Note: Check back frequently for The Chamber’s written interview with Rie Sheridan Rose. Date of publication to be announced later.