Four hundred dollars

“Put my face on doll face and doll face on me.” 

That was a rather weird request, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. 

I replied- “Sure. When do you need it?” 

After I sent the message, I opened the image attached to the email. It was a thin, blonde woman. She held a plastic barbie doll in her hand. 

I opened up photoshop. It was time for work.

Using the selection tools, I carefully replaced her face with the face of the doll. It was a bizarre request, yes. The picture I ended up with was beyond anything I had ever made, and trust me, I’ve seen a lot of creepy images in my lifetime. 

Being a photoshop expert pays a lot, but when you’re just starting out and you have to make money, you have to do what you can to earn that extra buck while you’re still learning. Thankfully, the internet makes it easier and using a couple of freelancing sites and instagram, I finally had a business. It was fun, and it paid for the occasional dinner once in a while. 

My whole product was swapping the faces of two people, or a toddler and a person, or a person with his pet. 

Also, the usual placing the Taj Mahal on a person’s palm, or the Eiffel Tower under a person’s finger, was part of the services I offered as an amateur image editor. 

I know there are apps out there for this now, but they’re not as accurate as I’d like them to be and people still pay for the human touch. I usually charge $40 for each picture and that works out for me. The weirdest pictures I ended up making usually involved swapping faces of pets with their owners. Those usually made me laugh by the time I finished making them. 

Pasting the doll’s face on the woman’s picture ended up producing something else. For one, the woman now had eyes which covered more than half her face. The eyes were perfectly circular, with a blue border around her slightly oval and black iris. In between those giant eyes was a tiny opening which was supposed to be a nose. Right below the nose were her extremely tiny lips. The presence of empty space all over her face made it all the more unsettling. Who knew dolls had such misleading proportions?

On the other hand, pasting the woman’s face on the doll didn’t make it half as creepy as what the woman’s version looked. The doll now had an extremely realistic face. When I was done, I looked at what looked like a giant doll holding a very small human. I wanted to laugh and perhaps I would have, but at that moment, I didn’t. Something about the picture felt wrong. But then I got the reply from her. 

“As soon as you can, please. I sent money. Check please.” 

Instantly I got another notification. The payment had been processed. $400.

Yes. Four hundred dollars. That’s what I’m supposed to make after editing a hundred pictures, not just one. A small part of me was filled with happiness and wanted to let this slide by. But that would’ve been wrong. 

I replied back attaching the picture. 

“Hey [redacted], 

I have attached the picture after swapping the relevant faces. However, I think there is some confusion regarding the payments. I run an honest business and it is $40 for each picture and not $400. I’ll be returning the extra money. Do let me know how you like the picture or if you want any changes on it. Thank you!”

I hit sent, opened my payment wallet and sent back $360. Once that was done, I felt strangely happy. I did the right thing. Four hundred dollars could have been very useful to me, but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. 

Just then, I received a notification. I opened it and saw that she had sent the $360 back. I thought that whoever this client was, she was very technologically challenged and anyone else would’ve taken advantage of it. But not me. 

I opened the app to send back her payment when a new email popped up. It was from her. 

“Thank you. Love it so much! 

 Keep the money. I insist. 

I will mail you again.”

I read the email again. Those four hundred dollars weren’t sent by mistake. She wanted me to have it. She liked my work too. I stroked my beard and smiled. I knew I wasn’t an artist but it is true what they say. The difference between a starving artist and a successful artist is not their talent, it is how rich their fans are. 

Judging the woman who wanted her face to look like a barbie doll, it seemed like I had found my first rich fan. 

Hey, four hundred dollars were four hundred dollars. I needed it. 

I wasn’t going to upset her by denying her generous gesture. 

I replied, “I’m glad you liked it. Thank you for your support and contribution. This means a lot.” 

I was about to walk away from my computer when I received another email. It was from her again. I opened it. 

This time, it was a different woman holding a different doll up in the same angle. 

“I pay again, $ 400 , if you put doll face in her face and her face on doll”

Those first three words were like music to my ears. Four hundred dollars, and for what really? 

“Sure. Is this your friend?” I replied and then I wondered whether I should have asked that. There was no need to overstep my boundaries. 

I expected an email from her but instead, I received a notification on my payment wallet. 

Four hundred dollars. I know earning 800 dollars within a few minutes isn’t a big deal to many people, but for me, it felt like hitting the lottery. Without a proper day job, I was burning through my savings, so this was pretty big deal for me.

Then I received another notification.

“Yes. She very good friend. Do you have friend?”

I knew I had to reply. This woman just sent $800 for photoshopped pictures. She deserved the fastest replies.

“Yeah, I have a couple of friends. Although I don’t see them much anymore, we’re still in touch.”

I sent the mail and got to work. This woman was holding a similar barbie doll. She had blonde hair, was slightly healthier than her friend and wore a yellow top. The fact that the barbie was also dressed in yellow made me realize that her friend probably planned it.

Like her friend, she was posing with the barbie and standing in front of a window frame. Through the windows, I could see that there was a green field which probably meant that she lived in a rural area.

Carefully I swapped the faces, putting extra attention to  details to at least try to justify the amount of money I was being paid for them. In the end, the final picture looked as weird as the previous one.

A middle aged blonde woman with large ping pong ball-shaped eyes, a tiny opening for a nose and small lips underneath the nose, with the rest of the face being empty. I wanted to laugh at the final creation but the eerie, creepy face of the doll-faced woman staring back at me made me sick. I focused my attention to pasting her original face on the empty face of the small doll she was holding.

When it was done, I was about to send it when I saw another mail from her.

“Why you not see your friends anymore?”

I replied, “We grew up together but most of them flew away to different parts of the states and settled there. But we get to meet at occasional events like someone’s wedding and stuff like that. That’s fun.”

I sent the mail. Then I sent the picture and thought about whether telling her about my lonely social life was absolutely necessary.

“Received pic. It’s good. Thank you. Where do you live?”

Now, I know I may come off as someone who is not smart enough in these situations but despite my overbearing friendliness, I wasn’t stupid enough to give her my location. 

“I’m glad you liked the picture. I live in Hawaii. Is there anything else I can do?”

I waited for a reply, but the one I got was the least descriptive email ever.

“Ok”

That was it. The next day, she sent another picture and I happily edited it, replaced the face of the new woman with the doll she was holding and sent it back.

Another 400 dollars, like always.

I was slowly starting to wonder why she kept asking me to do this. I know this question should have come to me sooner, but it was weird, right? Taking off faces of dolls and putting them on your own face?

But the only reason I didn’t complain was because of the money. 

Four hundred dollars were four hundred dollars. I wasn’t going to deny myself that. Here’s a brief overview of the email conversations before I realized how irreversibly trapped I was.

-------------

Her: Thank you friend. Received pic. See you later.

Me: Thanks. It’s always great hearing from you!

Her: Sent new pic. Please do change and put doll face on her and her face on doll. Sent money too. See you later.

Me: Hi. Thanks. I sent the picture you requested.

Her: See you later.

Her: See you later.

Her: See you later. 972  Drummond Street, Newark, New Jersey - 07101.

--------------

Beside that final “See you later” was my address. I stared at the words and felt my heart pounding in my chest. I had heard of hackers figuring out the location of someone’s place by tracing their IP address or whatever but I didn’t expect her to do something like that. For one, she was gullible enough to hand me four hundred dollars every time for silly photoshop edits. 

I thought about what to tell her. On one hand, I didn’t want to lose my most profitable customer. On the other hand, I really didn’t want to interact with someone who just typed out and sent me my own address. 

The screen showed another notification. I clicked on it. 

-----------

Her: Why did u give me wrong address? See you later.

----------

With trembling fingers I typed out, “I used to stay in Hawaii for a while. I don’t anymore. Sorry.”

I sent the mail. I thought about asking her how she got my address and why she sent that to me, but I was too terrified at that point to do anything. Part of me wanted to close my computer and call the cops.

But I sat there, staring at the blank screen, feeling cold sweat drip down my forehead. 

I waited for a reply but when the reply didn’t come, I opened up the previous picture to make the necessary changes. This picture has a woman wearing large round glasses holding a barbie doll. I zoomed in on her face, brought the selection tool near her glasses- but that’s when I saw something that raised every hair on the back of my neck. 

I moved away from my monitor, my heart beating rapidly and hands too cold and numb to move. I stared at the glasses again and the faint reflection in them. 

What I was seeing wasn’t physically possible, but there it was- right in the glasses, a reflection of three women standing in front of her. One of them, the woman who I was in daily contact with, held her phone pointed at the woman and was taking her picture. But in that blurry reflection, I saw the faces of the three women. They didn’t have normal human faces. In fact, their faces looked almost cartoonish. 

Just like the pictures I created by swapping faces of dolls with theirs, they had the big flat eyes that stretched across half their face with tiny noses and lips. Faces of dolls, on all of them, looking past my soul as I pet zooming in. My fingers trembled as I panned to the right again, dragging the shaky mouse. And there they were, all of them having the same disfigured faces that no human face should ever have. 

A notification popped up on my screen. 

New Email. 

I opened it. 

“Turn around.”

I don’t know about what you think, but no email should have those two words in them. 

I flipped in my chair and turned around instantly, not giving myself time to process the dread I felt in my body. In front of me, I saw two women, both of them holding two dolls in their hands. I had seen those women. I had seen those dolls. 

I made them. 

They looked exactly like I expected them to look, exactly what I saw on the screen earlier. The women had faces of the dolls. The dolls had faces of the women. And they were exactly how I photoshopped them to look- large doll eyes, small noses and tiny mouths on giant heads, detailed human faces on tiny doll bodies- if there was a proper time to faint out of pure fear or have a heart attack, it was that moment. 

They all opened their mouths, but they didn’t need to move their mouths to speak. I understood what they were saying in my mind. The world went dark as they told me what they wanted, who they were and what I had to do for them. 

Then they vanished. I turned around, finished the job I was being paid four hundred dollars for and sent the picture to her. 

They said that by getting a human to trade faces is the only way they can wear the bodies of the souls they devour. They said that no woman is safe, and soon, all will meet the same fate. 

What they have in store for men is worse. If I tell you what else they told me, you’d think I was insane. It’s just… too much knowledge about our own frail nature. Too much information about how insignificant and powerless we are, compared to those who are feasting on our souls. 

They said that money’s not a problem, but someone willing to do this work is rare. They said that I could deny and they would leave me alone and wipe my memories, and I wouldn’t remember anything.

Perhaps I should’ve taken that deal. 

But four hundred dollars are four hundred dollars. 

———————

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Link to my books-
Before Apocalypse: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08245Y25N

SCARE SCARE Trilogy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07YNMF9CD

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