Eris cried every time her roots grew back in, dark like her eyebrows. The longer she waited to get them bleached, the longer they tainted her perfect blonde hair and the more she agonized.
The dark brown, almost black roots sprouted from her head like a tangible migraine. She popped pills, generic painkillers she was careful not to overdose on, but the thought occurred to her once or twice. How many would it take to kill her? 10? 20? At what point did it become one pill too less or one pill too much? If she wanted to die, she wanted to make sure she carried through.
It came to the point she made regular scheduled appointments with her hair stylist to combat her distress. She couldn’t have black hair. She wasn’t supposed to have it. Or brown. Whatever color her roots tried to be. She needed to be blonde. She was supposed to be born that way.
“Your hair will fall out before you hit your 30s,” her hairstylist warned.
“There’s a new hair mask on the market. Shampoo and conditioner too. It’s meant for situations like this,” Eris said. She saw the ad on TV while she was watching movie awards.
She figured it’s what all the actors and actresses used to stay young and conform to all their roles. She wondered how often they used wigs.
Eris’s scalp started to tinkle from the pasty concoction of bleach pressed into her pesky roots. It was her favorite part. A faint burn, not enough to be painful, just discomforting. If she closed her eyes and slowed her breath, she swore she could hear the fizzing of the bleach eating away at the wicked dark color of her roots. She’d be pure again.
“I heard a rumor that that stuff is made by the ReLive company, and I wouldn’t doubt it. They have to keep their customers happy and unknowing,” the hairstylist said. She threw away the brush she’d used to paint the bleach onto Eris’s hair, and the container that had held the odd, yellow-tinted milky paste. “But who am I to say? We could all be ReLive patients and never really know, and as long as we’re happy, what’s the point in complaining?” She washed her hands in the sink and hummed a soft tune.
Eris frowned. She couldn’t hear the fizzling and popping anymore.
It’d been awhile. Eris’s roots were growing back in, dark and ominous. Wicked, corrupt, blackened things. Yet she laid in bed on her side, half curled into herself, staring at her fingers as she curled and uncurled them from her palms.
She was a beautiful woman. Men complimented her curves and bright eyes and stared too long at her hips. Women envied how her butt and average chest fit every pair of skinny jeans, leggings, and tops, without too much or too less showing. The clothing market seemed tailored to her body. She was the target audience of society that looked good in everything. She had even mastered confident, unaltered strides in three-inch stilettos. She was a temptress and she knew it, but never took advantage of it.
Eris was one of the top five workers at her job. Admittedly, she was just a front desk person, a secretary, for a big company that manufactured glass. People would think it was an easy, simple, odd job. It was. But being the front desk, top secretary woman was like being a poster model. She was the one that smiled at people who came in, who guided them to various rooms for important meetings. Glass was a simple product, but the company was large and
nearly monopolized the city she lived in. Its glass went into every window of almost every ranch home, apartment building, mansion, or corporate office. The company prized its odd work of art, and prized Eris as their gorgeous greeter.
“You could be a model,” Briana, one of Eris’s co-workers, told her at lunch.
Eris smiled at her food, shy, knowing. She’d heard the compliment before, but she wouldn’t boast about it. “I like it here. It’s quiet. I get what I need. There’s no media fuss, no privacy invaded.”
The truth behind Eris’s answer gnawed at her more than ever as she lied there in bed. She hadn’t even bothered to turn the lights on or open the curtains after waking up. It was almost noon. She’d been off and on awake. First 6am, then 7am, 7:30, 8, 9, 10.
There’s no media fuss, no privacy invaded.
Her head hurt. Another migraine. Those damned roots.
She hooked her fingers into her hair, curled tighter into a ball, and shut her eyes. She had already called in sick to work that day. She had taken a half day before the weekend for the same excuse. Bleaching her roots had stopped working to ease her pain. Her pain had twisted into nightmares.
Ma’am, I want to reiterate that this is a permanent procedure. I’m not saying that there are no benefits, there’s many and the success rates are phenomenal, but many people use this as a last resort, not a first attempt.
The words haunted Eris in the back of her mind, staticky, distant, and muffled, like a phone conversation. In her dream, she was crying. Crying because she already knew the words and didn’t want to hear them again. Crying because she wanted to belong. But she didn’t know
Eris was single. Always had been, always would be. A deep part of her, maybe as deep as the pesky dark roots, her migraines, her increasing nightmares, told her she shouldn’t pursue a relationship. That deep feeling lectured her that if she pushed too far, she’d break, that she was already broke. She realized the entirety of that inner voice so much more as she recounted the snippets of her dreams that repeatedly awoke her throughout that morning, and all the dreams before that day.
She needed therapy.
She was afraid of what that meant.
In the series of her dreams, Eris found a lone woman. She was in her mid to late 20s and had perpetually straight black hair grown so long that its miraculously well-kept ends swayed about at her tailbone as she walked. This woman didn’t suffer from migraines, but instead a deep internal pain. Her hair was a shield, Eris thought, to hide herself from the world. The fact the woman wore sweatshirts and sweatpants too often strengthened this thought. The woman was convinced she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t see the same picture-perfect body she saw on TV, in magazines, movies, ads and billboards. She tried to follow her dreams of being an inspirational author. She couldn’t get any story past the publishing phase. She settled for working in a bookstore. She had a cat once, but it died after five years of her owning it from stress induced trichotillomania. Her parents divorced at a young age. Her mother raised her, meant well, yet kept insisting she needed to dress nicer, be more confident, yet never backtalk, which
meant never try to correct mother dear even if she was wrong. Good girls were supposed to mind their business. Parents were always right. She developed into a quiet, soft spoken girl with a mother that meant well but tried too hard.
Eris first saw the woman packing her whole apartment into cardboard boxes and plastic bins, prepping for a move. The aspects of the dream-woman’s life was a movie that pieced itself together over days, weeks, and months that spanned out as Eris refused to dye her roots. Eris had recognized slowly and surely that the painkillers, bleaching of her roots, and special hair products wouldn’t solve her problems. She vowed to watch the woman in her dreams. Tried to piece together her life as the lone audience watching a lone movie.
A month earlier in the dream-woman’s life, she upset a snarky customer who insisted on having a certain book that the store didn’t have in stock. It was a new release, but the shipment to the store was delayed.
“Well, you obviously can’t manage even a simple job. This book came out two days ago.
How can you not have it?” The customer stormed out after the woman had tried to explain the situation, to no avail.
A co-worker shook their head and made a tsk noise with their tongue once the customer was gone. “Cranky weirdo. Maybe if he got the ReLive procedure he’d be more likable.”
The dream-woman realized what she wanted and needed to do then. Maybe she’d stop hating herself for feeling like she didn’t fit in. Stop hating her body, stop hating her inability to handle people yelling at her, and maybe be able to properly care for a cat.
She signed the extensive paperwork for the ReLive procedure with the name Vivian
Angela Ray. The procedure was taking the world by storm and the Governmental Council of Societal Balance was behind it. Only after all the paperwork was filled out, processed, and extensive background research was run, did they deem people worthy or not to receive the treatment. It was free. Paid for by the Governmental Council itself. It was their promise to make people feel worthwhile, to be contributing and happy members of society.
Vivian had received the letter of acceptance in the morning of the day she started packing. It was in a white envelope with a gold sticker seal. She cried as she unfolded the letter, tried to read it all the way through, but only really focused on the word ACCEPTANCE written in a gold cursive font.
Eris’s head pounded while she lied there in bed, piecing the bits of her dream together. She wondered if that’s how the procedure actually worked. Vivian was just a normal sad case that the ReLive advertisements which plagued media everywhere tried to appeal to. She was a sucker for a potential scam.
Hate your life? Feel like you’re insignificant? That maybe you were destined for better things? ReLive can help you with that! Apply today and see if you’re one step closer to a new and better life!
“Do you really think it works, that it’s even worth it?” Eris had asked Briana at lunch one day. The rumors floating around about ReLive made her curious, like everyone.
Briana shrugged and popped a chip in her mouth. “No one protests, everyone seems happy. Guess it works, somehow.” She sucked the salt off her fingers. “But I hear they only target the small people. The ones that would be missed less. It’s like a test, to see where things
will go. Celebrities, idols, and big names can’t have it done. They’re too ‘important to society.’ Can’t have a big name or big face suddenly changing on us. That’d be too much of a shock.”
Vivian was a small case. A relative nobody in her own eyes and in the fact that she isolated herself from everyone. She lost contact with her friends after college. They’d all gone their separate ways, were always more social than Vivian, and she was too scared to be the one to reach out to them. She wasn’t even going to tell her mother her plan.
Radio silence was too much for Vivian. It’d draw too much attention and too many questions. She packed a special box of old photo albums her mother had given her when she first moved away. They were a gift to remember the childhood, fond memories, and people she left behind as she moved off into the world to become her “own precious grown up self,” or at least that’s how her mother put it. The photos were mainly Vivian and her mom and other family members or family friends. There were a few pictures of Vivian when she was in elementary school with a girl who had thick, curly hair that she couldn’t remember the name of. Vivian didn’t want the albums. She’d hardly looked at them. She hadn’t protested taking them because talking back is not allowed. You should be thankful for what you get. She didn’t know if her mother had copies. She sent the albums back to her mother with a note that said:
I won’t be needing these anymore. Sorry, Mom.
Eris got up and took more painkillers. She used the bathroom, grabbed a fuzzy red blanket from the living room couch, and curled back into bed. She shut her eyes and fell asleep again. The pulse of her aching head her a personal lullaby.
This time, Eris’s dream spelled out the big day. The big day that the rumors she’d heard, and her own imagination, crafted. Vivian awaited her new future. She sat on a white cushioned chair with only her purse filled with her phone, wallet, and keys in a modern, minimalist styled waiting room. She faced one of the pure, sterile white walls decorated by a few silhouette portraits. Were the silhouettes of stars of low budget movies that thought they would become big hits one day, a zookeeper that secretly wished they’d have a fatal accident while feeding the tigers, or no one specific? It didn’t matter. The old you was unknown, forgotten, utterly erased. That was the only way to become the new, ideal you. The you that felt an acceptance in society as a true, redesigned, more contributing member instead a sad sack of nothing. Maybe Vivian would be an actress, a model, a motivational speaker, or even the notable author she failed to become to begin with after it was all over.
A man wearing light blue scrubs called her name and led her to another room. It was pure white, like before. A cushioned, off-white chair that looked like it belonged in a dentist’s office rather than a doctor’s office sat perfectly in the center of the room. The only other bit of furniture was a desk with a computer and a shiny black stool.
“Please put all your belongings in the back corner of the room, adjacent to the computer, and change into the gown on the seat,” the nurse said, gesturing to the patient’s chair. The dream willed the man’s voice to sound like a mocking, too formal, too cheery intercom announcement projected on speakers that echoed throughout the room and only happened to match up with his mouth. “The doctor will be in shortly.” He smiled before exiting the room and the door closed behind him with a heavy thunk and click.
Vivian peeled her clothes off. There was nothing wrong with her body. She was beautiful with a nice butt and average chest. The curve of her hips could be enticing, if she properly accentuated them. But she didn’t see it and didn’t let anyone know. Her baggy clothes had always hidden her beauty. She put on the gown, folded her clothes and placed them in the indicated corner with her purse on top. She sat in the cushioned chair and wiggled into it like a bird hunkering down into its nest. The lights were bright.
A harsh knock sounded on the door before a man wearing a fitting lab coat and large circular, wire-framed glasses with dirty blonde hair strode in with a tablet tucked under his left arm. He approached Vivian and stuck out his right hand, leaning in a little too close while smiling broadly. “Hello there Vivian! My name is Dr. Alchem—” he pronounced it like alchemy, but without the y “—and I’ll be the one to carry out your ReLive experience today.”
Eris stirred in her sleep. The afternoon sun tried to press through her bedroom window curtains. A thin sliver of light fell upon her face. She groaned, rolled over so her back was facing the window, and threw her blanket over her head. She didn’t want to wake up. She had her dream-movie to watch. She wanted to know what the procedure would be like, what exactly it’d do.
The procedure was conducted with a machine called the remapper. A bulky metal contraption that rolled up behind the patient. A large, black, U-shaped, magnet-like contraption extended from the metal tower, sticking out parallel to the ground, and neatly slid up to surround the back and sides of the patient’s head. Dr. Alchem had already wheeled it out and put it in
place. Vivian looked like a mock, medical version of Sleeping Beauty with black hair that was too long and no prince to wake her with a kiss. Or maybe she was like Frankenstein ready to be brought back to life. Or just a lone, sad girl, trying to find a way to love herself.
Eris didn’t know if this was how the actual procedure worked in real life, but this was how her dream said it did. The process used was known as Neurological Remapping through Advanced Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, otherwise known as NR-ATMS. It was an elaboration on transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. Normal TMS could produce
non-harmful electrical pulses to specific parts of the brain, to inhibit or stimulate certain sections, like preventing movement in a patient’s right hand for a short time. NR-ATMS took things to new extremes. It remapped the whole structure of the brain and subtracted and implanted memories and personality traits that weren’t fully based on genetics. It stimulated and implanted desirable characteristics to develop the new you. Either Eris’s subconscious was a genius fed by a cocktail of imagination, crude scientific knowledge, and rumors of the ReLive experience, or disturbingly crafty and potentially insane.
The dream jumped. Flashes of images and memories of Vivian’s life passed by. They were the pieces being erased by the remapper or implanted to take their place.
A fourth-grade girl with straight black hair played with her friend at recess. It had rained significantly earlier in the day, causing deep puddles to form in sunken parts of the ground that refused to absorb any more moisture. The girl crouched at the edge of the playground, her friend who had thick, curly hair at her side.
The rain had brought a sacred ritual of theirs about that day. They were imaginative kids,
and to make a wish, you had to sacrifice something to get something else. Sometimes people prayed to a form of god.
The girls plucked up worms still crawling about the damp black top and dropped them into the crystalline pool of water in a divot of grass. The worms thrashed about in the water as they slowly drifted to the bottom, their tiny pink bodies cradled by the deep green blades of grass in need of a trim.
Two worms. One for each girl. A sacrifice to the gods their childish minds created for themselves, with no real meaning in something they believed to be for a better future.
A woman with shoulder length, bleached blonde hair lied on a beach towel basking in the sun. The sand radiated warmth around her and the waves ebbed and flowed, crashing and rumbling a handful of feet away. The woman wore a baby blue bikini. It fit her perfectly, cupped her average chest and butt without showing too much or too less. It accentuated her enticing curves. The seagulls cried overhead, and children squealed as they splashed each other with water.
The patient awoke a day later, as prescribed by the ReLive procedure. She stood before a full-length mirror still in her gown. She asked for a pair of scissors and a nurse reluctantly complied and supervised from a distance. The patient stared pointblank at the eyes she no longer knew staring back at her in the mirror. She raised the scissors and lopped off her long black hair grown to sway around her body with a few, broad, rough strokes. The locks fell in sheets until what was left barely brushed her shoulders. She turned away from the ghost in the glass and
looked at the nurse.
“I’m supposed to be blonde,” she said.
The nurse moved to pat her on the shoulder and retrieve the scissors. “You can bleach your hair later, once you’re released. But please, for now, lie down again. The doctor will come in to run some final tests on your vitals.”
The patient complied, and the nurse cleaned up the hair littering the floor.
A doctor arrived. His name was Dr. Alchem, pronounced like alchemy without the y. His glasses were ridiculously large, but a solid fashion statement that accentuated his eyes. His black shoes were well polished.
“Looks like you’re all clear and ready to go, and here are your belongings,” the doctor
said as he handed over a purse with only keys, a wallet, and a phone. They were complimentary items of the treatment. The phone was used but would work well enough. An address written on a slip of paper tucked into the wallet would help the patient find her new home.
It was the wallet the patient fixated on. She fished out her ID, like she needed to confirm who she was. Her lips twitched into a smile as she read her name. The doctor smiled in return, then left the room and sent in a nurse.
The nurse handed back the patient’s clothes. A pair of stylish, black leggings with lacing up the sides, a floral top with just the right amount of pattern as to not be too busy, and a pair of ankle boots. The nurse left to let the patient change. She admired herself in the mirror after dressing and before letting the nurse back in. She always knew she was in fashion and on trend.
Ten minutes later and the patient was stepping past the automatic glass doors to find the SUV she was promised and said would be in one of the front parking spots to her left. Her phone
rang, and she paused. She dug it out of her purse and stared at the foreign number. She answered, purely out of curiosity, and to get a feel of how the phone worked.
“Vivian! It’s been so long since we talked,” a woman said on the other end, her tone sliding into slight distress. “I hope you’re doing well, especially since you spontaneously sent back a whole box of photo albums I sent with you. Remember? My whole gift for when you first moved out? I told you I had copies of most of these at home, and I thought you’d want these for keepsakes and just fond memories to look back on. You wrote a short note saying you didn’t need them anymore. Did you get them all digitized like what’s all hip and happening these Days?”
It was hard to get in a reply. The woman’s speech was almost breathless, and the shock of the foreign caller who talked so familiarly didn’t help.
“Uhm, I’m sorry ma’am, but I believe you have the wrong number.”
The woman on the other end sounded offended. “Why, Vivian Angela Ray, please don’t play tricks like this on your poor mother who you haven’t bothered to call in ages and always happen to almost never be available when I try calling you. If you don’t have the time to chat with me now, then at least do me a favor and tell me why you suddenly don’t want all these precious photos.”
“Ma’am, I’m really sorry, but you’re confused. My name is Eris, Eris Synthian. Not Vivian. I apologize for the confusion, but I really need to go.” She hastily hung up and slipped the phone back into her purse before going back to finding her car. She found the silver SUV after a bit, clicking the unlock button to use the slight noise to help her officially locate it.
Eris flung her purse down on the passenger’s seat and plopped down in the driver’s with a sigh. She briefly glanced at her phone as it rang again with the same foreign number. She shook her head as she started her car and pulled out of the parking lot.
“Vivian Angela Ray,” Eris said to herself. “What a pretty, lively name.”