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A Shortcut to Money, Beauty and Fame

by Katey Taylor 9 months ago in psychological

Would you take it?

Desperation can make us do unimaginable things.

This is what brought Rosie here, laid off, single, pushing forty, stepping off an hour-long bus ride into an affluent neighborhood. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t look like it would carry sinister secrets in alleyways, one with only posh cafes and fast-walking designer heels gracing the sidewalks. Her discounted coat from two seasons ago is screaming she’s an imposter. She knows she doesn't belong here—not yet, at least.

Her left palm opens to instructions written in pen. First, find the flower shop on the corner of Mayberry and Glen. The cheery yellow daffodils and pink daisies aren’t hard to spot. Next, in all caps, it instructs to find the newspaper rack.

Across the abundant smell of freshly cut roses stands the dingy, broken machine, but Rosie can only hope this eyesore could be her treasure chest.

Curious as to what could be behind the clouded, scratched glass, she sharply inhales, pulling on the handle. What she sees allows a breath of relief—not a gun or a bag of drugs, but all on its own sits a little black book, and on the cover etched in gold, it simply says A Shortcut to Money, Beauty, and Fame.

This is everything Rosie has wanted, but it’s been almost impossible for her to achieve. So in one last attempt, she went searching for more, something unexplainable, but in her mind, something that may be magical.

Rosie peers over her shoulder. The bustling bodies all walk past without a glance. Being unnoticed isn’t an unfamiliar feeling. Her shaking fingers grab the leather notebook, shoving it into her shoulder bag. A triumphant high steals away her anxious thoughts. This could be the day her life will change forever.

During the trek back, it feels as if a brick is sitting in her bag, growing heavier with each step, but as the instructions say, she waits until she’s inside. After she pushes open the door to her grim studio apartment, she throws down the bag and rips the book out. The first page causes tears to drip down to her smile as a stack of green paper bills falls into her fingertips. There in her hands is twenty thousand dollars. She wonders how this can possibly be until she flips to the next page. In black cursive, it reads:

Each task in this book is worth the amount you just received. Follow the next five, and you will not only gain riches, but all of your wildest dreams can come true. You cannot leave where you are or turn to the next page until each task is complete. If you fail, you will lose everything you’ve gained and must return this book to where you found it.

An alarm sets off inside her, the one we all have in us signaling danger, but something in her is louder than any siren. Desire. A lust to match the beautiful people and their lives she sees on her phone and television screen. She wants the lavish vacations, the handbags, the perfectly curated images millions are tuning in to see.

With confidence, she turns to the first page.

If you can pinch an inch, you can lose one. You must only consume water for a week.

Rosie squeezes a bulge spilling over her jeans. She has tried endless diets. She imagines this can’t be too hard, so she commits to a week in her apartment alone, with all the food thrown into the trash.

As each day slowly comes, her grueling headache and crying stomach beg for her to eat, but she refuses to give up. At last, when the week is done, in a weak fog, she opens the little black book, and her cracked lips grin at another pile of green. Her anticipation grows stronger than her appetite as she turns to the next page.

A woman who changes her hair changes her destiny.

But it’s what’s written next that punches Rosie in her gut.

Each lock on your scalp must be ripped out with your own hands.

Rosie steps in front of her wall mirror, and her thin graying hair mocks her. Nutrient deprived and delirious, she allows the strands to slide between her knuckles. One by one, she tears out chunks, biting her lip to silence her screams. She glances back in the mirror at a bald head covered in welts until her body collapses onto a pile of hair.

The glare of the setting sun wakes her, but something is different. When she stretches up off the floor, her pants fall to her ankles. She grabs onto her waist that is many inches smaller. Hair tickles her arms, causing her to rush to her mirror. Vibrant red locks lie long and full near her newly revealed hip bones.

The gold on the notebook reflects off the sun, catching her eye. Eager for more, she rips it open, and another twenty thousand waits inside. She throws the cash in the air, laughing and swaying her new shiny hair and trim body.

Behind the cash is another task, and she won’t stop now.

Broken bones can reveal the most beautiful features. Pick your flaw to break.

The internal alarm from before is ringing in sync with her growling stomach. This can’t really mean what she thinks.

She slams the book shut and insists she just needs a break. She heads to social media and gasps at what she sees. Her profile shows the new hundreds of thousands of followers she’s gained. Rosie is floating on an adrenaline rush she’s never felt before. A celebratory selfie only seems appropriate. She opens her camera, turning it toward herself, and what it shows makes her jolt. She runs to her mirror, and it only proves it's true. Her nose is three times its usual size, and ugly blisters break through her skin.

“Make it stop!” she screams, but her nose keeps growing until she grabs the edges of her mirror and slams her face into the glass. The mirror cracks, but her oozing, bulbous nose is still there, so she repeatedly smashes into her reflection until blood covers her eyes.

Crippling pain rips through her as she drags herself to the bathroom sink, splashing away tears and blood. After the red swirls down the drain, she startles as a different face stares back at her, one with smooth skin and tiny chiseled features. The kind of face people will pay money to admire in magazines, making all her agony seem worthwhile.

Rosie finds herself at the book again, more nervous than before to crack it open, but more money spills out when she does. She musters courage and flips the page.

Choose who you want to be.

Rosie grabs her phone for the selfie she wasn’t able to capture. The screen shows everything she’s not, someone young, beautiful, and thin. Rapidly the camera snaps photos, and not one angle looks bad. She’s obsessed with this new identity and easily knows who she wants to be.

The confidence in her choice is rewarded with more cash. Only one more page and one final task.

Out with the old and in with the new. We must jump great heights to be who we want to be. You must kill the past to make room for your future.

Rosie’s apartment window shoots open with a gust of wind, blowing her apartment apart. As her belongings fly around her, the only thing she can focus on is the image of her beautiful new self in the reflection of the window. She steps closer to the cold, dark air, in a vain trance, until her hands meet the sill’s ledge. Headfirst she would fall to the cement, but she looks up one last time into the glass.

A smiling woman catches her off guard. Rosie stops to admire her blushed cheeks sprinkled with freckles. The wrinkles around the woman’s eyes remind her of all the times of laughter in her life. The lady in the glass is wearing a snuggly fit sweater, not a designer but one Rosie proudly knitted herself. Her curvy body may not appear perfect, but it reminds Rosie of everyone dearest to her she's ever held or loved.

Rosie soon recognizes the woman. Tears fill her old reflection's eyes as she remembers every time she’s pushed her aside because of her desperation to be someone else.

High heels worn by a woman strutting with pride click down the sidewalk toward a flower shop. Gripped in her fingers is a little black book.


Katey Taylor

Just a girl addicted to idioms. Author of the young adult novels INEBRIATED (2019) and NEON NIGHTS (2020)

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