"You have got to be kidding me." Rob Kingson stared at the woman standing in the waiting room outside his office in awe, sincerely questioning the sanity of his manager. "This is her? Are you out of your mind?"
"I know she's a little - quirky," Amanda said, holding up a hand in a weak attempt to calm him. "But her manager assured me that she's the best in the business."
"I don't care if she's Mother Teresa," Rob said incredulously, slamming a palm down on the desktop as he stood up. "Get that gothic freak-show out of my studio." Amanda sputtered and Rob rolled his eyes angrily. "Fine, I'll get rid of her," he said. He straightened out his jacket and then stormed out into the waiting room. The girl turned to look at him and he was hit by the full atrocity of her appearance; pale skin, heavy, overwhelming black make-up, a tattoo along a misshapen cheekbone, and a thick black trenchcoat that looked so outrageous even a freak like Michael Jackson wouldn't have worn it. And that was just the start of it.
"Mr. Kingson," she said. She smiled at him, but there was something about the curve of her lips that made him feel like she was mocking him. "I'm Kendra."
"I'm afraid there's been some sort of misunderstanding," Rob said flatly.
"What do you mean?" Kendra asked, cocking her head. One of her pale eyebrows arched like she was daring him.
Rob gave her a charming smile. "Your services won't be needed," he told her. "See, your manager assured us that you were an adequate young woman. Clearly he was mistaken."
"I am more than adequate for this job," Kendra said assuredly.
"No, you're not," Rob answered. "Look at you. That is not the sort of face that we can put in front of a camera. Unless maybe it's Halloween."
To his surprise, Kendra smirked at him. "Hmm, I guess I just missed the beauty boat, didn't I?" she asked.
"Most definitely," Rob said. "So if you wouldn't mind getting out of my studio, I need to go find myself an acceptable new anchor."
"Good luck with that," Kendra said. Rob turned to walk away but she called out, "My, my, it looks like the apple didn't fall far from the tree here, did it Robert? Like son, like father."
Rob pivoted, surveying her suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"I thought Kyle was a piece of work, but you, well, you take the asshole cake," Kendra said. "But he was able to change his colours. Maybe you can too."
"Who the hell are you?" Rob snapped. "How do you know my son?"
Kendra simply flashed him a condescending smirk and turned on her heel, her coat flaring around her. She stepped into the lift and he caught one last look of her knowing smile and her piercing green eyes before the silver doors slid shut and she disappeared from sight.
Rob turned and walked into his office. "Find me someone new," he said angrily to Amanda. "There had better be someone new in here tomorrow morning when I get here. Someone who's not a freak of nature. Or else you'll be looking for your replacement, got it?"
"Yes, sir," Amanda said immediately. Frustrated, Rob grabbed his briefcase and stalked back out. Inside the lift he leaned back against the wall, rubbing at his forehead where he could feel a stress headache forming. When the lift jerked to move downward the world around him suddenly spun and he had to grab the rail to stop his knees from buckling.
"God, how am I supposed to put up with this kind of incompetence?" he muttered aloud. The pounding in his head had gotten worse and as the lift stopped at the lobby he felt his stomach churn. Damn that Amanda. She knew that he couldn't handle this sort of stress in his line of work. It was going to put lines in his face, and being ill would do nothing for his complexion.
He straightened up again and walked out of the lobby as composedly as he could. The vertigo hadn't faded any yet and watching the world tilt in front of him was doing nothing to ease his headache. Amanda must have called for his car, because the black towncar was parked on the curb and when he stepped out onto the pavement the driver opened the door for him.
"You feeling alright, Mr. Kingson?" the driver asked, eyeing him as he walked to the car. "You don't look so hot."
"That's none of your business," Rob snapped at him. He climbed into the car and glanced up at the driver long enough to say, "Get me home. Now."
The entire ride home he sat slouched in the back seat, clutching his stomach. Every time he glanced out of the windows he saw flashes of staggering green eyes or a twisted smile among the spinning world outside, until eventually he pressed his eyes shut and kept them that way.
"We're here, Mr. Kingson," the driver announced, opening his door for him. As Rob climbed out he looked up at the taller man and for a second he thought he saw a flash of tribal ink on his face; curling, eccentric designs that triggered somewhere in the back of his mind. Then he blinked and they were gone, replaced by just the slightly concerned gaze of his driver.
Rob stumbled up to the apartment and collapsed on the sofa, stretching his legs out and holding his head in his hands in a futile attempt to keep everything from moving. The faint nausea had turned into a sharp, clawing sensation, like something was trying to tear him apart from the inside. His skin felt hot and flushed, and he quickly stripped down to his dress shirt, unbuttoning it half of the way to cool his body.
"What's the matter, Robert? Not feeling so well?"
Rob lifted his head and saw the woman, Kendra, standing against the sliding glass windows. Her black dress had been changed for a white one, and she looked somehow less odd but more frightening at the same time.
"How did you get into my house?" Rob asked, standing up even though he felt his legs wavering beneath him.
"You didn't learn anything from what happened to Kyle, did you?" Kendra asked and clicked her tongue disapprovingly. "You saw what happened to him, the price that he paid for his cruelty, and it didn't make even the smallest dent in your own. You turned him away, your own son, because he wasn't beautiful enough for you and your perfect world anymore."
"It was you." The realization struck Rob to his core and for the first time he felt a flash of genuine terror erupt inside of him. "You're the one who made him like that."
Kendra smiled in response. "He learned. Can you?"
There was a sinking feeling in Rob's stomach as he shoved past her, approaching the full-length mirror on the wall. The same one he remembered Kyle crashing into in his desperation to hide his hideousness from him. He stepped in front of the glass and stared.
He looked like Kyle. No, he looked worse. The black designs on his bald head and neck were thicker and the scars cut deeper and longer. Silver ridges glinted across his skin. His eyes had faded to a dull greyish colour and his lips were coarse and cracked. Frantically he pried his shirt further open and his gaze followed the evil tattoos as they wrapped down his torso and disappeared beneath the waistband of his slacks. And there, on his forearm, was the black tree.
"You know how this works, don't you Robby?" Kendra asked. She had stepped up beside him and seemed to be admiring her handiwork in the mirror. "One year for someone to say I love you, or stay this way forever."
"No. You can't do this to me." Rob turned around, fully intending to do whatever it took to make her take back her curse, only to find himself alone. She had gone. Horrified, he looked down at his shaking hands, taking in the dry skin and the yellowed nails. He turned back to the mirror. He was hideous. A monster. With a snarl he grabbed small, framed photograph from the shelf on the wall and hurled it against the glass, watching his reflection shatter and fall away, piece by piece, until the monster that was Rob Kingson was gone.