livE Spirits – by Randy Dutton
“Mommy, I want!” Little Jillian excitedly pointed at the glittering teen model on TV.
“Baby girl, you’re too young for make-up,” her mother cooed, stroking her child’s tresses while her eyes focused on the livE Spirits’ illusory effect. “But you’re right, I’ve never seen such beautiful face painting!”
“Plleeeaaassseee?” Her wide eyes begged for the extravagance. “For Christmas? I want shiny rainbows.”
The young mother smiled. “Well…they are giving away a free sample. And you’re so pretty, who knows, you could win their Christmas Eve face painting photo contest.” She kissed her child’s cheek. “Why not?! It couldn’t hurt and it’ll help make this Christmas unforgettable.” She wrote down the 1-800 number.
The livE Spirits LLC security camera watched the slaughterhouse tanker pull up to the nondescript warehouse. The driver connected the truck’s hose to an exterior feed line. He gave the camera a quick two-finger salute while the truck’s contents flowed. ‘It’s odd,’ he thought. ‘I’ve never seen a single employee.’
Coordinator turned away from the monitor. “Good. The last delivery.” He grinned at the automated answering machine’s digital counter, which tallied orders for free samples, then walked through a security door into the hermetically sealed lab.
“Production, walk with me,” he instructed a white exposure suit clad man. He pointed to the large stainless steel vats. “You’ll have one day to sterilize them.” His finger traced the production line. “Don’t neglect the piping, the centrifuges, separators, or dehydrators…and be careful!”
“Got it,” Production said. “Wouldn’t want to look like Number 23—”
“Forget she existed!” Coordinator commanded, then pointed beyond a glass wall to plastic trays being automatically filled with iridescent powdered paints. “The filling room is where mistakes could happen. Flood it with disinfectant for at least 12 hours.” Coordinator picked up a sample box wrapped in clear shrinkfilm. “Same for the packaging line, up to the disinfectant bath.”
“Nice packaging design. Simple,” Production observed.
“Yes. Marketing’s idea to put ‘A Christmas to Remember’ on a boxtop printed to look like a present, with the mix-with-water application instructions and livE Spirits Christmas Eve contest rules on bottom…nothing more.”
“No sense in giving investigators more information.”
Dozens of workers were stacking boxes in the large warehouse. It nearly overflowed with thousands of pallets of individually packaged product waiting for delivery to the post office hub.
Production and Coordinator sat down along a long folding table. They were joined by Shipping, Marketing, and Legal.
“Okay. Give me a quick update,” Coordinator prodded. “Shipping, you first.”
“We start shipping to Alaska and Hawaii tomorrow, the east and west coasts two days later, the Midwest and mountain states in three.”
“Good. Ninety percent should arrive the day before Christmas Eve.”
“Don’t want someone to jump the gun and apply the makeup too early,” Production added sarcastically.
“Marketing, how about the TV ads?”
“We’re dropping another $50 million into national marketing through Christmas Eve to encourage contest participation”
“Not Christmas Day?” Production asked.
“The contest submissions are specific. Besides, I don’t want anyone here in case someone jumps the gun,” Legal clarified.
“We have over 23 million orders filled, and probably another 7 million by tomorrow,” Production said.
Marketing snorted. “Free stuff! Public can’t get enough of it. That’s what Christmas has become.”
Legal chuckled. “That’ll certainly change come Christmas morning!”
“Thirty million children and adults playing with our livE paint. It’ll ruin Christmas forever!” Marketing added.
Coordinator said, “That’s the intent…. Production, have you disposed of the non-affected makeup we used for promos?”
“We’ll do that tomorrow.”
“With this job nearly done, can you give us a hint who’s funding this?” Shipping asked.
Coordinator glared. “There’s a reason we don’t use names here. Where the money comes from is none of your business! As Atheist Society members, you signed on to this project to destroy Christmas. Besides, you’re getting a million dollars each.”
“We put the last of the orders into the postal system this morning,” Shipping announced to the group three days before Christmas.
“Okay guys, good job! Now close it down!” Coordinator ordered. “Sterilize everything. Give the workers their separation pay. Leave no evidence!”
“The patients started coming in around noon, detective,” the ER doctor stammered. “It’s been nonstop ever since. Wherever the paint was applied, their faces are…” He choked. “…microscopic worms are eating their faces.”
A whimpering child, her face covered with a wet towel, was being carried by a tearful mother through the overcrowded hospital corridor. “Momma, my face itches!”
“I know honey. You must be allergic to the face paint,” the woman said as she approached the physician, her pleading eyes streaming with tears.
“What the hell?” the FBI agent exclaimed as the towel was momentarily lifted. The doctor pointed her to an examination room.
After she passed, the doctor said quietly, “Worm eggs saturate the paints. Once hydrated, they burrow into the skin. They’re exuding dyes…matching the paint color they came in.”
“Can you kill the worms?”
The doctor stammered, “Well, yes, with a laser, but the flesh will be scarred…and….”
“The dyes are permanent.”
“This is a cruel joke. How widespread it is?”
“The CDC is flooded with calls from across the country. They said millions are affected.”
“What’s the name of the company that gave this out?”
The doctor handed a baggie with the box and paint tray. “One of the patients mother’s brought this in…livE Spirits.”
The detective’s brow furrowed, then his brows lifted. “It isn’t livE…it’s Evil.”
“Mommy, you promised! It almost midnight!” the little girl exclaimed while sitting at her mother’s makeup table.
“I know, baby girl,” the young mother said cheerfully. “I’m mixing the paint now. We still have an hour to paint your face and submit the photo.”
Randy is another participant of the Linked In Short Story Group that I write for every month. He’s ex military, so he’s helped me out with details for my novella and I helped him out with gothic makeup. Check out his blog to see more of his writing!