BEYOND THE PALE

Chloe’s wedding was planned for the end of the month. As she was being fitted for her gown, she noticed how washed out she looked; the white crepe fabric and her dark brown hair against her pale skin made her look anemic. Chloe decided she would get some highlights in her hair and build up a tan before her big day and honeymoon in Barbados. This was going to be her one and only wedding and she wanted to look stunning. 

Chloe heard about a new tanning salon called “Beyond the Pale” which had opened in town and she stopped by to check it out. When she arrived, she was surprised to see a high-tech device attached to the exterior wall; there were buttons, a speaker and a monitor which was flashing a neon red message:

THIS PROPERTY IS PROTECTED BY
AN ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEM. 
TO SPEAK TO A RECEPTIONIST,

PRESS THE BLACK BUTTON BELOW.”

Times have certainly changed!

Chloe pressed the black button and was surprised when the message on the screen disappeared and was replaced by the image of an attractive young woman. Her voice came through the speaker: “Welcome to Beyond the Pale. I’m Nicole. Please press and hold the green button while speaking. So, how can I help you?”

Chloe pressed the green button. “Yes, hi. I’m Chloe and I’d like to talk to someone about your tanning packages.”

Sure! I’ll beep you in. You’ll hear a buzz and the door will slide open. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor.”

After the door slid open, Chloe entered the tiny hallway, jumping slightly when the door snapped shut behind her. She took the elevator to the 2nd floor and was greeted by the same woman she saw on the screen.

Hi, Chloe. Sorry about all the security. It’s the way of the world these days. So, you want to hear about our tanning packages?”

The two women discussed the various packages available and Chloe told Nicole about her upcoming wedding. Chloe chose a package suitable for her and Nicole showed her around the salon. She was surprised to see she was the only customer there. Nicole explained that Mondays were always slow and Chloe had picked a good day to come by; she could have her choice of any of the tanning beds. Chloe looked forward to her first session and was excited to have a deep golden tan for her wedding.

Chloe chose the futuristic Masterson 360 tanning bed; she entered the room and the door closed behind her. She noticed the keypad on the wall was flashing a red “5”; Nicole told Chloe during their tour that meant she had five minutes to undress and apply lotion before getting into the bed. Nicole further explained that Chloe had to say “Start” when she was ready to begin tanning; the lights would turn on and the cover of the bed would automatically lower and lock in position for ten minutes. At the end of her session, the tanning lights would turn off and the cover would open by itself. If Chloe needed to end the session at any time, all she had to do was say “Stop”; the lights would turn off and the lid would disengage and open. Chloe loved the easy, hands-free system; it was unlike any tanning salon she’d been to before.

Meanwhile, back at the reception desk, Nicole answered another call from the front door. Checking the video monitor, she saw it was her boyfriend Dean. She beeped him in and pressed a different button which changed the message on the screen in case any customers showed up. The message read: 

“NO ONE IS HERE RIGHT NOW.
THE SALON WILL REOPEN IN 15 MINUTES.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”

Dean sidled up to the front desk, smarmy as ever. Nicole couldn’t resist the slick and fawning type of guy.

“Hey, baby! You’re looking fine today. You gonna show me how happy you are to see me?” The words practically slithered out of Dean’s mouth.

“I sure am, babe! I’ve been fantasizing all morning about getting it on in the massage room. You ready?” Nicole replied.

Dean grabbed her hand and placed it firmly on his crotch.

“Do I feel ready, Nic?” 

Nicole giggled as Dean followed her into the massage room, fondling her ass on the way. Nicole playfully pressed her finger against his lips saying “Ssh” as she listened for the sound of Chloe’s tanning bed starting up. Confident that Chloe would be occupied for at least 10 minutes, Nicole pressed a button on the wall keypad which electronically locked every door in the salon.

“There! Nobody can interrupt us. Now, show me what you got, baby!”

Dean and Nicole started going at it hot and heavy, the heated vibrating massage bed adding to their pleasure. They were really getting down to business when there was a sudden muffled “WOOSH” and the room went black.

“Whoa! What was that?” Dean whispered.

“Must have been a power failure. No worries, babe. It’s all high-tech stuff but I know how to override the system” Nicole answered. She tapped her iPhone flashlight app and padded over to the keyboard panel on the wall. She began pressing one button after the other but nothing happened. Nicole tried repeatedly to bypass the system with no luck.

“Shoot! It’s not responding. I’m gonna have to call for help; get dressed, Dean” Nicole commanded. To her dismay, she discovered she had no cell service. Getting dressed as quickly as she could in the darkened room, Nicole told Dean to try his phone. He also had no service. They soon learned the salon phones were not working either.

“Okay, no reason to panic. The salon is connected to a main security facility. I’m sure they’re getting our alert right this minute. We just need to sit tight and wait for them to reset the codes. This is a foolproof system. No worries.”

The duo sat on the massage bed waiting for the power to come back on. Nicole elbowed Dean saying “Listen! Do you hear that?”

“I don’t hear nothing” Dean brusquely replied, annoyed that their sexcapade had been cut short.

Well, I do. It sounds like a tanning bed is running.”

“How can that be if everything’s shut down?” Dean asked.

“Well, it shouldn’t be. But listen. Can’t you hear it?”

“Yeah. I can hear it now.”

“Oh my God!” Nicole cried out. Her hands sprung to her ears trying to block out the sounds. “I can hear her!”

“Hear who, Nic? What are you talking about?”

“Chloe. Our new client. Dean, she must be stuck in the tanning bed. Oh, God. Why didn’t the bed turn off? We have to help her!”

Dean tried desperately to open the massage room door; it wouldn’t give. There wasn’t even a window in the room they could try to open or break. The air conditioning had shut down and they were both now dripping wet. Nicole was starting to become frantic.

That was nothing compared to how Chloe was feeling.

☀️   ☀️   ☀️   ☀️   ☀️

Fifteen minutes earlier Chloe was oiled up and ready for her first tanning session. She slid onto the bed, said “Start” and chuckled a little imagining herself on an episode of Star Trek. The lights turned on and the cover slowly came down and locked in place. As the warmth enveloped her, Chloe smiled thinking what a great decision she made coming to Beyond the Pale. She relaxed.

Chloe thought about getting a new hairstyle for her big day and how fabulous she’d look walking down the aisle. And, of course, her mind drifted to her honeymoon in Barbados. She was so content, so happy and certain nothing would get in the way of her perfect wedding day.

The temperature in the tanning bed started getting pretty hot; this was only Chloe’s first session and she didn’t want to get burned. She had lots of sessions to use to build up a nice deep tan. Remembering what Nicole told her about turning off the bed at any time, Chloe said “Stop”. The bed did not turn off. Chloe squinted and tried to locate the speaker system thinking perhaps there was a button she could press. The glaring lights were too much for her eyes; even wearing the eye protectors, Chloe couldn’t locate anything that felt like a speaker. Her vision was obscured and she became more agitated.

The tight quarters of the tanning bed left no room for her to move around but Chloe managed to bend her arms until her hands reached the cover above her. She pushed on the lid to open it but it wouldn’t budge. She tried again, more forcefully this time, but nothing happened; the lid was securely locked in place. “Okay, calm down” Chloe said to herself. “The session is probably almost over and the door will pop open any second now. You can do this; it’s just a little heat.”

Chloe started doing her deep breathing exercises, slowly counting off each breath as she went along. She began to relax and was even able to ignore the heat, but then she realized she had counted to 75 and the lights had not turned off. She was definitely in the tanning bed longer than the allotted time and it was getting dreadfully hot. She pushed against the lid once more; no luck.

Chloe panicked.

She began pounding on the tanning bed, screaming for someone to let her out. She was acutely aware of her delicate skin beginning to burn. She was in pain now and could feel her skin sizzling like bacon in a microwave. She began hearing little crackling noises and her face was incredibly hot. Wriggling her arms up to her head, she recoiled in horror when she realized her hair was singed. Oh God! If she didn’t get out of there soon she’d burn up!

Chloe turned into a madwoman as the pain reached new levels; her skin began blistering and oozing. She could smell her body and hair beginning to burn. Her eyes throbbed and felt enormous in their sockets. Chloe screamed like a woman possessed and reached up to cover her face with her hands. Overcome with excruciating pain, Chloe passed out. 

🔥 🔥  🔥  🔥   🔥 

The emergency alert from Beyond the Pale reached the security facility almost 15 minutes earlier. When their attempts to get through to the salon failed, they called 911. The police and fire department arrived quickly but were faced with tremendous difficulty gaining access to the building. Since the salon was a free standing building with no other businesses nearby, there was no access other than through the salon itself. The door was made of industrial strength metal; the fire fighter’s axes didn’t even leave a dent and because it was a sliding door, there were no hinges to remove. There were only a few windows consisting of thick impact-resistant lucite cubes. The fire chief paced back and forth, trying to figure out how to get inside. As far as he could tell, the salon was in violation of many building safely codes; it was a horror show waiting to happen. In a last-ditch effort, the chief and a small crew climbed up to the roof and began carefully chipping away at the tiles. The last thing they needed was for the roof to cave in.

After what seemed an impossibly long time, a crack appeared in a section of the roof. Painstakingly making the opening larger, the team lowered a ladder into the opening and climbed down. Others followed and found themselves in the salon’s reception area; it was dark and hot and there was a low humming sound coming from one of the rooms down the hall. They also heard faint voices coming from the far back area of the salon.

Tubes of tanning lotion had burst in the heat, emitting a saccharine Tropical aroma, but there was no mistaking the smell coming from the tanning room; it was one first responders never forget – the stench of burning flesh.

One group of fire fighters followed the voices which led them to the massage room. They could barely make out the sounds inside and when they called out, no one responded. The door to the massage room was not a sliding door so the fire crew removed the hinges but it took an additional ten minutes to open the door wide enough for someone to squeeze through. Inside were Nicole and Dean; they were alive but overcome by the intense heat and suffering from dehydration. They were carried out by EMTs and transported to the hospital. A police car followed; once the patients were able to talk, questions needed answering.

Another team followed the smell to the Mastersun 360 tanning room; the door was searing hot and a bright glow was visible from under the doorframe. A fire hose was snaked in through the hole in the roof and the tanning room door was sprayed with water in an attempt to cool it down. It sizzled and crackled like fajitas in a Mexican restaurant. It took a long time for the door to cool down but at last the fire fighters were able to remove the pins from the hinges and pry the door open. To their disbelief, the tanning bed was still running; clouds of smoke billowed and sparks danced across the room.

There was no discernable way to turn off the bed. A risky decision was made to cut the thick cables with a giant bolt cutter. Everyone took cover as the fire captain started attacking the cables. They spit and hissed, sparks arcing, but eventually he cut through and the tanning bed ground to a halt. Now that the room was quiet, the feeblest of murmurs could be heard coming from the bed. Grabbing a crowbar, the fire captain went to work on the latch which kept the lid locked in place. With a loud SNAP the latch detached. It took four people to lift the lid.

What they saw made even the most seasoned veterans among them cringe; a few became physically sick. Lying on the tanning bed was what remained of Chloe; her body was seared and oozing, taking on the heinous appearance of a massive slug.  With excruciatingly slow movements, Chloe managed to tilt her head a fraction of an inch in the direction of the fire fighters, made a low gurgling noise and died.

A specialized detail was called in to remove Chloe’s molten body. The salon was cordoned off and an investigation would begin immediately.

Poor Chloe. All she wanted was a golden tan for her special day. She wanted to be a beautiful bride, something all women hoped for. Was that too much to ask? How could Chloe know her simple wish was unattainable, something beyond the pale?

NAR © 2022

THI

 

   

T“TTHIS PROPERTY IS PRO

   

 

THIS PROPERTY IS PROTECTED BY
AN ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEM.
TO SPEAK TO A RECEPTIONIST,
PRESS THE BLACK BUTTON BELOW.”Times had certainly changed!

“NO ONE IS HERE RIGHT NOWTHE SALON WILL REOPEN IN 15 MINUTES.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”
Dean sidled up to the front desk, smarmy as ever. Nicole was always attracted to the slick and fawning type of guy.“Hey, babyoDean’s mouth.