IT STARTED WITH AN ITCH
Morgan Franklin browsed the beauty aisle, studying the different skin care creams before her. Last week, her former best friend Madison had made fun of her for her skin breaking out. So, at the suggestion of her mother, they visited the local grocery store to see what they could find.
Morgan continued down the aisle while Mrs. Franklin began to shop for herself. At the end of the aisle, there was a supermarket employee standing at a sample table. She wore a permanent smile and a name tag that said ‘Valerie’.
Valerie’s sample table had a standing mirror along with different small, quarter-sized containers of skin creams perfectly laid out and organized in alphabetical order based on different conditions.
All were branded with the name Within.
“How about a sample?” Valerie suggested.
Morgan stared at the creams before grabbing one from the ‘acne’ pile. She opened the container and smelled it. “It smells really good.”
“Ah, yes, all of the ingredients are one hundred percent natural, taken from some of the rarest plants in existence, from some of the furthest parts of the world.”
“Go ahead! Try it out!”
Morgan opened the container and dabbed her finger into the cream, which felt like silky milk. She looked at the mirror and rubbed the cream on one of her pimples.
“That means it’s working,” Valerie assured her.
Morgan’s stomach dropped immediately as Ben Anderson walked past the sample table. She had sat behind him in U.S. History last year. He noticed her and smiled. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Morgan replied shyly with a smile. She caught her reflection in the mirror and remembered the acne. Her smile disappeared and she turned away from Ben, embarrassed. He continued onward with a chuckle, shaking his head.
“School crush, huh?” Valerie asked.
Morgan looked away.
Valerie took out a larger container of the acne cream and graciously handed it to Morgan. “For you. On the house.”
Morgan beamed with happiness and gently took the container from Valerie. “Are you serious?”
“From one girl to another.” Valerie winked.
Morgan smiled, then turned and walked away while Valerie watched on.
That night, after her shower, Morgan stood in front of the bathroom mirror. She examined her acne for a moment, then picked up the container of Within and read the label.
Beauty lies within the eye of the beholder.
Apply at night.
Shower before use, or wet face with warm water.
Step 1: Take a dime-sized dollop of Within. Smell the sweet aroma of the
Chlamilidae amblyrher. Feel the silkiness from the extract of
Lituma rufalis. Notice the attractive pink color of the Lagodectus tigralia.
Step 2: Apply Within to the affected skin area, sensually rubbing it in until
completely absorbed. You will feel a tingling sensation. This is
Step 3: Sleep. Let Within do the rest.
Tip: Accept your beauty within for better results.
Morgan snorted at the tip. She opened the container and scooped a dime-sized dollop of cream with her index finger. One by one, she covered each pimple with the cream. When she finished, her whole face tingled like the directions said it would, and she looked in the mirror with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
“This better work,” she said with a sigh.
Then she climbed into bed, turned off her light, and fell asleep with anticipation.
Morgan woke up scratching her cheek. She sat up and yawned before she got out of bed and headed to the bathroom. The moment she turned on the lights and saw her reflection, she gasped.
Blotches of red, all over her face.
The acne had grown worse and bubbled into small blisters.
Her cheek, the one she had scratched, leaked of yellow pus.
Morgan moved for the door to alert her mother, then stopped. Did she want her to see her like this? She was just as judgmental as the kids at school. Morgan could only imagine the comments she would make about her appearance now!
She slowly opened her door and peeked through, but stopped when she saw a sticky note on her door.
Went out and about. Be back this evening.
Morgan sighed in relief, but it was short-lived when one of her blisters popped and squirted thick, yellow pus onto the sticky note.
She felt sick to her stomach and rushed to the bathroom, but immediately stopped and shuddered at her reflection. What was happening to her face?! She examined the blisters more closely. They physically throbbed, and her entire face tingled as if small bugs with spiky legs skittered beneath her skin. Then, she felt it.
Another itch. On her left shoulder blade.
It was spreading.
She looked at her back and noticed more blisters decorating her rashy skin. The sight caused her to breathe heavily, and she sat on the toilet to avoid collapsing onto the bathroom floor. That cream that lady gave me, Morgan thought, it didn’t make things better! It made things worse! This is all her fault!
Morgan snatched her phone and searched the number of the store. When she got through to a customer service employee, she told them about Valerie and the face cream she had given her.
“Okay, first of all, we don’t sell a cream by that name,” the employee said. “And second, we don’t hand out product samples in our store.”
“But she…I…I need to talk to her. Something’s happening to me! My skin!”
“You should probably call 9-1-1 then,” the employee said with an attitude.
Frustrated, Morgan hung up. As she pulled the phone away from her face, pus stretched from her ear to the phone like gooey egg yolk. Morgan gagged as she wiped the pus off of her phone screen and opened the Internet browser. She typed in the ingredients of the cream: Platanistoidea nivalis, Orcinus barbus, Bos dromedarius, even Phalangeriforme coturnix. Nothing came up in her search results. There was no company contact information on the label. No warnings or caution notes, even.
Morgan felt like an idiot for trusting some stranger with herbal remedies. And tomorrow was the first day of high school! She couldn’t go looking like this! She imagined herself arriving at school and becoming the laughing stock for the entire four years she’d be there, being known as rash face or some stupid nickname that the other kids would make up for her.
The terrible thoughts made her rash even more irritated. Her blisters were on fire, like ants were constantly stinging her skin. She could feel it in her organs, convinced that even her insides were covered in the rash. No matter how much she scratched at herself, she couldn’t get deep enough to satisfy the itch. Pus leaked from both her ears. Her tongue tingled, and when she looked at it in the mirror, she noticed more of the ulcers growing inside of her mouth.
Morgan looked at the container of Within with anger. She grabbed it and moved to toss it in the trash when she glanced at the bottom of the label.
Tip: Accept your beauty within for better results.
She read the tip over and over again. It made her think. She risked her looks over some stupid pimples, something that everybody gets. Why did she care what Madison thought, anyway? Why wasn’t she happy with who she was? Why be pressured into thinking that beauty means everything? All of these self-image thoughts bounced around her head.
She hated herself for thinking that she was ugly before.
She began to cry. Not from itchiness or irritation of her skin, but for herself. She grieved who she was before, and wished for anything to take it all back.
Her skin bubbled more and more as the rash completely took over her body. Blisters formed on top of blisters, pus-filled sacs ready to burst at the slightest touch. Boils grew together that made her hair fall out and her fingernails peel away. Cyst-like bubbles crusted over her eyeballs.
The itching became overwhelming. Morgan’s anxiety flew through the roof. She grew lightheaded and collapsed to the bathroom floor.
“Morgan?” her mother called. “It’s the first day of high school. Don’t want you to oversleep!”
Morgan groaned from grogginess, and from the flood of memories filling her head of what had happened the day before.
Then she became terrified, of what she expected next of the rash.
But she realized: she could see. She stood to her feet and slowly peeked at herself in the mirror.
Her skin had cleared up. Not completely, as some pimples still dotted her face, but the rash was gone. The blisters had disappeared. The itching was no longer there. Was it just a nightmare? She smiled, so hard that she laughed. She admired her face as she ignored the persistent knocking from her mother.
She was back to her normal self.
She opened her bedroom door and greeted her mom. “There you are,” Mrs. Franklin said. “You must’ve slept all day yesterday.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I guess so.”
“Get ready or you’ll be late!”
Morgan quickly got dressed and cleaned up. She left the house and began her walk to school through the neighborhood. Along her walk, she passed by Ben Anderson’s house just as he was leaving the front door. He noticed Morgan and jogged up to her.
“Mind if I walk with ya?” he asked.
Morgan practically gawked at his question. “Sure,” she said. They continued to walk down the neighborhood street.
“Excited for high school?” Ben asked.
“I guess,” Morgan replied. “I mean, I’m nervous.”
“We were the big kids in eighth grade. Now we’re gonna be the grunts again.”
Ben smirked. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry.” Morgan smiled as he continued, “You’re cool.”
“I am?” she asked. Ben chuckled. “Thanks,” she added.
They walked quietly for a moment before he chimed in, “Did you end up buying that beauty cream you were trying on at the grocery store the other day?”
She looked at him, embarrassed. He smiled at her. “I did…not…,” she lied. “Just trying samples while shopping with my mom.”
There was a moment of silence, then Ben said, “Good. You don’t need it.”
Morgan smiled, but inside she was screaming.
The first day of high school went perfectly.
On her way home, Morgan decided to take the route through town. Across the street from her was a bus stop where a woman stood with a suitcase. She looked at the woman and stopped as she recognized her. It was Valerie, from the store.
Valerie, still with that smile plastered on her face, waved to Morgan.
Morgan looked around and waved back hesitantly.
Valerie winked. A bus drove past the bus stop, completely ignoring Valerie standing there waiting.
When the bus passed, Valerie was no longer there.
Confused, Morgan continued on home as a thousand thoughts buzzed in her head.
When Morgan walked through the front door, she was immediately greeted by her mom.
“Oh honey! How was school?”
“It was fine,” Morgan said with a grin.
“That’s great. And nobody said anything about the…,” Mrs. Franklin gestured at her own face, referring to the acne.
Morgan stared at her mom for a moment and smiled. “You know what, Mom? I’m okay with it. It’s normal.”
Mrs. Franklin examined her, then smiled back. “Well, good for you, honey. If only Madison had the same mindset as you.”
“What?” Morgan asked.
“Oh, her mother stopped by today to chat. She said Madison also broke out in acne. I hope you don’t mind that I gave her some of that cream that you bought!”