Charlene, bless her heart.

“I can’t remember things lately.” Charlene tottered in on silver platform shoes like she’d chugged a six pack in the car. That woman did not just cause a scene; she was the scene.

“Well, I don’t know about that, but you ain’t got no appointment today,” I said. Her yella hair with dark roots was frizzed out, bedraggled, and just pitiful. My bunions was acting up and I surely did not have patience for her mess on that day.

“I can’t remember things lately,” Charlene said.

“Yeah, honey, we heard you the first time.” Marva glanced up over Georgia Belle Franklin’s gray hair helmet.

“See what I’m saying, Linda?” The last syllable drew out into a whine. “And I been getting headaches too. I wonder if I got something wrong in my head.”

It would have been bad business to laugh, and I hope no one ever accused me of being bad for business, but Lord help me.

She stood there in a pink leopard print mini-dress over knobby knees and those hootchie shoes, shell-shocked hair sticking out in every direction. The hand holding her cigarette shook, and the other disappeared into a snarl. Unh. I didn’t wanna know what itched in there.

Something wrong in her head. I swear.

“Where have you been hiding since the last time you dragged yourself in here?” I asked her, like I always do. “What’s it been this time, six months?”

“Oh, I been around,” she said. Like she always did. But her eyelids drooped halfway down over shifting eyes, and she smiled a tiny smile, just the corners.

She exhaled a last smoky breath and put her cigarette out on her palm.

Without flinching.

Then she tossed the butt into a pile of hair I’d just swept up, dropped her purse on my station, and stumbled over to the sinks. When she collapsed into the first chair, her head hit the sink so hard Miss Georgia Belle even heard it. Something – the sink or Charlene’s head – cracked.

We were all staring at her. Marva’s finger froze on the hairspray trigger, and the mist started to pool and drip off one side of Miss Georgia Belle’s hair.

“You gonna lather me up or do I have to wash my own ha-ir?”

That little wobble in her voice gave me the heebie jeebies.

I felt downright unwilling, I don’t mind saying. But I didn’t have anybody in my chair at the moment and the house payment was coming due. Gotta take every dollar the good lord sends you.

The sprayer flattened the hair against her head, and I started trying to work the shampoo into the tangles. That’s when I felt it.

Her scalp was moving. Throbbing lumps squirmed under my fingers.

Lord help me, I screamed loud enough to wake the dead. Charlene’s skinny chest heaved upward and her eyes rolled back. A wet, ripping sound opened a bloody gash from her temple to her ear, and something between a maggot and a snake wriggled down her neck.

Now, I am not the Orkin man, but that thing didn’t look like no bug or vermin I’ve ever seen on God’s green Earth. Its fat, gray body looked like brains from a zombie movie, except it was alive and had a round suckermouth on one end with these skinny, fleshy noodles instead of teeth. They whipped all around, stretching and retracting and gen’rally making me want to puke.

It oozed over the side of the sink and piled on the floor with a splat.

Charlene went all limp in the chair when the last of it slithered out, and something gross oozed out of the hole in her head. But then the breath stopped right up inside of me, because she started twitching. Now I am pretty dang sure that she didn’t survive that thing busting out of her skull, but there she was, hauling herself out of that chair. I ain’t ashamed to say I peed a little.

I hauled my ass back to where Marva’s hand still pointed hairspray at an empty spot. Miss Georgia Belle is pushing 80, but she was out the front door so fast nobody saw her go.

“CharLENE!Whatthehelldidyoubringinmyshop?” But hollering at her wasn’t going to do no good. Her mouth hung open and she shuffled along behind that slimy bag of nastiness. Zombified, that’s what she was.

Marva and I held on to each other and screamed our fool heads off right up until that trashy woman tripped and slung some of her head goo all over the mirror on my station.

Well, I don’t know what corner of New Jersey that thing came from, but let me tell you. Every single inch of the place has had my blood, sweat, or tears on it. Of all people, Charlene Jackson thinks she’s gonna come up in my beauty parlor, turn into a damn zombie, and leave her bloodsucking aliens all over the place.

She’s got another think coming, that’s what.

I snatched the hairspray out of Marva’s hand and grabbed the lighter I had stashed behind the counter. I didn’t raise two juvenile delinquents for nothing. A flick of the lighter and a burst of hairspray, and the freak show on my shop floor went up in flames.

Mercifully, Charlene dropped to the floor once that thing was nothing but ash. Whatever ungodly force animated her corpse apparently went up in smoke with the bugs.

“I guess she’s in a better place now,” Marva said. “Maybe she’s got better hair there, too.”

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