Story by
Cole Webber
Artwork by
David Monniaux

Karen Wutani was fidgeting with the wireless lapel mic a teenager had brazenly tried to clip to her camisole tank-arm. “Hey… watch it! You can’t feel this Milf up on tv!”

“You’re not on TV yet. And it’s just the microphone… for the interview.”

She rolled her eyes and let out a sigh as close to thunder as she could, ruffling her manicured straight black hair, cut in a firm line at the bangs.

“Honestly, you kids…” He started to dart off.

“Wait a second! What’s your name!” He turned and stared, eyes as wide as his worst acne spots, and gulped before moving away. But she saw the name tag. She took out a small sequinned day planner and jotted down the name with the brass bullet sized pen, recapping it with its fake diamond cut plastic jewel. 

And that would deal with that… she smirked a small and light mm-hmm. She wondered what the microphone could pick up on.

The lights blurred their hungry yellow teeth in her eyes. But hers were hungrier.

“And we’re back!” The anchorwoman said. More of a talk show host — she guessed that was what sold. They were seated in polished leather armchairs in front of a screaming blue background, to look like a calming haze when transmuted over a live feed. The dramatic duh duh duh or peppy corporate guitar music didn’t echo from any speakers or on stage bands… she supposed they must add all of that in post. The room was, in reality, painfully quiet and lonely. In reality, like all things…

“We have with us today kids crusader Karen Wutani, here to talk about the shocking details about what could be in your kids flavoured yogurt, fruity cereals, even strawberry ice cream,”

“It’s just about everywhere,” Karen said, nodding her head with fake exasperation.

“It is so frightening,” the host gave the command, on repeat from their rehearsal just moments before. “Now, tell me about just what is wrong with these synthetic — satanic? — can we still say satanic?” she looked knowingly to a studio audience that wasn’t there, and to smiled to cheers that were added from mere phantoms, “dyes and flavourings.”

“That’s a good word for them, Jean, because they’re downright evil. Some of these synthetic chemicals, which just litter the food on the supermarket shelves today, can do so much damage. They cause autism, turn amphibians gay, and even rot your teeth out with just one bite.”

“Wow!” Jean looked with fake shock across the cameras to the very real and very close wall. 

“And the worst offender of all is Red Dye Number 40: it’s made from oil bitumen and crushed up beetles. It’s in just about everything, from Tylenol capsules to Froot Loops cereal. It’s even added to natural apples to make them shine brighter in store bins!”

“How horrifying? But what exactly does Red Dye Number 40 do?”

“What doesn’t it do, Jean, what doesn’t it do! It’ll eat away every major organ, it’ll turn your kids disobedient, it’ll engender a taste for rock music and the occult, it’ll even make them more fertile now and less fertile later!”

“Hello shameful teenage pregnancies, goodbye respectable grandchildren and grandmotherly matriarch!”

At that they surely must add a gasp through to the airwaves from their imagined audience stand in for the very real old and mid-age ladies, watching, waiting on every word, at home. Most of them were now biting their lips, chewing their nails. She continued her oozing sales pitch:

“Worst of all, worst of all ladies and gentleman” (Che had to imagine them to really make her voice boom past the studio wall) “It will remove them from society! Their grades will drop! Their pregnant bodies will drop out, and rot away like meth addicts! And they may as well be. It’s the same stuff in this, this, Red Dye Number 40!” Images of undifferentiated crystal chemical flashed on the screens behind them. She imaged the hoots and hollers now being added in the depths of her impending silence, and the those to match in the minds of the women at home.

“Well, what can we do abo—“ But she was too excited. This was no longer the rehearsal.

“That’s why I have created Red Dye Number 5, and own and market it through my own company, Wutani Concepts, free from influence from any of the big interests that are killing you and your children! Red Dye Number 5 accomplishes all of the same taste, aroma and colour requirements, and is all natural, and full of healthy vitamins and supplements. So look for products with the approved by Karen sticker on them at your supermarket, or even buy Red Number 5 on its own to add to drinks, to spice up chilli, to soothe your strawberries — all while getting a healthy boost of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. All natural. All American. All Karen Wutani at Wutani Concepts.”

“Wow Karen,” the host continued, slightly annoyed by the flagrant cut off “That is incredible! Thank you for sharing with all of us,” again motioning and making eye contact with a million stars of imaginary blips, “and all of us at home too. And in other news, watch out! Watch up! Are UFOs disappearing your children! In the last three months, unsolved child disappearances have been up 40%, leading inve….”

She didn’t catch the kid on her way out of the cramped studio. They hadn’t splurged for air conditioning — or maybe it was too loud for the telecasting equipment — and it was sweltering under the fake heat lamps. Her skin was melting off her $40 foundation like a wax figurine. She breathed the cold air out of the studio. The green steel door rumbled shut behind her. Palm trees swayed in the air — not really cold, but tolerable. She paced around for an hour, determined to find him. But he had already left: he must have known what was good for him. But surely he didn’t, because he hadn’t yet fled the city.

“…witnesses report seeing strange lights before seeing their children, teens, adolescents, vanish. Usually at night and usually near water. A pandemic of the paranormal may just be hitting the West coast. Up next is…”

She found his puss riddled pubescent face on facebook, easily enough from the name tag. She posed with a picture she used as the marketing employee for her company — which in reality didn’t have any. It was so easy to look so much better nowadays. Or maybe it was easy back then, when all you had to pay for was letterhead, not followers. And followers for those followers. She already had for this account, Anne McPhereson, the polite 24 year old with impossibly perky breasts, highlights shining and bulging just as well as her curled, bouncy blonde hair. Friends on snapchat, find the location, and she was parked in the van outside of his house. It was a small California midcentury bungalow, warm light echoing through open space under artfully slanted grooves. There were no blinds or curtains. She watched him by himself, scuttling like an ant through the stone kitchen and fireplace. The television crackling on the nonsense channels she frequented as a guest — but would never watch. Itching the time away — in restless laziness — for the next day. That would never come.

She never noticed any cat or dog, but just as she was preparing to come with a ruse, he stepped outside anyway for a smoke. The lull of the lighter flame lapped her attention up. Her old eyes darted under large sunglasses, rims hiding her facelift scars. The lonely night winds whistled past the freeways, past the suburb buffers, through the slits she left in her window. She could smell the weed in her lungs before he could see her. She sprayed him with a delicate, repurposed perfume bottle. It was the old kind, with a ballon on a delicate pedestal. Elegantly victorian.

He woke up hung upside down in a basement, dripping with either leaking sewer water or condensed sweat. Or… it was too dark. He couldn’t see. 

She stepped out, naked. Her breasts sagged on the top, but were held up by wire-tight -thin and -straight scar tissue on the bottom. Her tummy, clearly tucked, led to freshly shaven legs, and… “You’re just the type of boy who is useful to me. I have a thing for younger men.” She produced a knife with a slick flick of her slender wrist. “Ogling now? Well…” She sliced it quickly, taking off more than his pants, “I like them especially clean down below,” With feet in stilettos, her only article of clothing, she kicked a bucket into place just quick enough to catch the falling slurry of debris. He howled like a werewolf. Or… “A bitch in heat,” as she put it. It spurt onto her. She could only feel it, by the pressure. Blood of course is completely human-temperature. “I like… to feel it.” She walked up to him and bit his face so hard his lip began bleeding, and one of his pimples popped from the pressure of her teeth. She spit sloppily, and all of it fell into the bucket below. “All the better. Life needs a little favour.” 

“It was… just a … microphone…” He was gurgling out of a semi-functioning tongue, and lips quickly swelling to become trembling, twitching, writhing caterpillars. She walked back, slowly and firmly, driving each heel and thigh into the ground, to her table of other instruments. Karen’s Own Homemade Bakery. Nothing is better than all-natural, do-it-yourself.

She added the chunks of red slime into the boiling broth on the stove. She was still naked. The tick splashing let out screaming water which singed her breast. She winced in delight. She was a masochist, as well as a sadist. She rubbed the drips of water on her again, to cl3ear off the still dripping, just now caking blood. Soon the reduction was done, and poured via funnel into neatly labelled bottles of Karen Wutani’s Red Dye Number 5. All Natural! Free from synthetic chemicals! High in iron and protein! The label read.

Four moms sat at a patio table, on a veranda bathed in reflecting green rays from a sun bathed garden. Pastel appliances hummed distantly through the chattering air. Birds chirped. Chimes hummed soothingly, all around. Leaves fluttered. No bugs wandered… somehow. Maybe they were scared of them.

All of their hair was greying. Most had covered it up with poor dye jobs that were obvious, but were becoming their own sort of beauty standard, as well as the surgeries. Obvious, impossible, impractical, and yet all the more valuable for it. For it, like exercise, was all to show that you hadn’t ‘stopped trying’… as they said at exactly these gossip sessions. Jenny had allowed her grey to morph into a more tasteful blonde. She was also the natural health nut — and was most scorned in the group all the while about it, for being ‘pretentious’. Although here the bandwagon came that they were all firmly aboard. 

A fifth woman joined them, clamouring with a silver tray of tall margarita glasses. “All natural Red smoothie!” They glistened, painfully bright and pigmented, in the uneven light flecks, like stars, of the complex of patio sales and sunshades. The ladies drank them through straws adorned with umbrellas. Chunks came with it, and got stuck in their teeth. 

“Fruit? Fruit? What kind of fruit is in here?” 

“It’s delicious!” 

“Oh no: it’s all just the Wutani emulsion! I think they started adding freeze dried fruit. It’s all the better! Less water weight, less love handles.” 

“MMM.” 

“MM-hmm.” 

“Ah yes,” the ladies chimed. 

A silence of simple slurps. Until it had to be interrupted, for appearance’s sake.

“Whatever did happen to Stacy’s young boy?” 

“Missing. Yes, yes, three days now.” 

“There’s gotta be a search!” 

“A search? There already was one, didn’t you know?”

“Oh but at least you didn’t show up like Annie. Did you see what she was wearing!” 

“Oh, poor thing.”

“You know, I love she just feels so comfortable. Being like that. I could never…”

“The vigil’s tonight.”

“You know, I think with Billy now there’s not anyone on this street who still has their kid… left!” 

The women cackled wickedly and knowingly, but only to the extent as if they had just ordered a pitcher of sangria.

“You know what I think it is?”

“No?”

“What?”

“Tell me!”

“It’s that Red Number 40! Just like Karen says on all the programs! That’s what it is, I tell you… probably just ate them right up, out of their Front Loops like an acid out of thin air.”

“I know, I know. All those chemicals those kids have, they’re bound to get rotted out, to rot away with.”

Jenny slurped through the straw. The drawl blended with the summer heat and aromatic creature noises. Of something gone…

“Kids these days, they’ll put anything into their bodies.”

“It’s a shame, it’s a shame. So young. They’re just not wise enough yet.”

“Immune system’s not up to snuff. It’s simple Dagwin!”

“I know, I know. Let’s just be thankful — and I am thankful, to God, everyday — that now we have Red Dye Number 5!”

The ladies clinked their glasses together in a rhythmic circle, and laughed.

[Photo CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Stories
The Lessor