I was suspicious, at first, when the work-from-home mother who makes $1000 a week appeared at my doorstep that rainy winter evening. I wasn’t accustomed to welcoming strangers into my home, especially not in these misbelieving times. I almost slid the bolt across the door, but something about the look in her eyes, magnified through the peephole, made me hesitate. “Please,” she said. “Please, I only want to help you double your effectiveness.”

I opened the door an inch – just enough to get a glimpse of her rain-lashed hair clinging against her white neck. Her eyes were wet and pleading.

“Double my effectiveness?”

She nodded vigorously. “While whitening your teeth.” Her voice was soft and low – I had to tilt my head down to make sure I caught every word. She inched closer to the door, and I noticed that what I had initially thought was a backpack or a purse wasn’t a bag at all – something small and dark and heavy was clinging to her back.

“Don’t come any closer,” I said. She halted.

“I won’t,” she said. “I won’t.” She held up her hands pleadingly.

“Tell me your name,” I said from behind the chain.

She shook her head and I realized with dawning horror that pearl-sized drops of blood were oozing from the puckered sites where the creature had dug its claws into her skin. “You’re hurt -” I said, but she shook her head again, more vigorously this time.

“Please – don’t -”

I stopped. A single tear fell from her eye and mingled with the rainwater coursing down her face. A simple face. A lovely one, perhaps, if it hadn’t been etched with agony and fear.

“It’s helped -” she gasped, then composed herself. “It’s helped local singles in your area. 1 weird old tip. To banish belly fat. A weird old trick. You’d never guess it. Secrets of mangosteen – of acai – of working from home – of – just one easy step. You only have to take one survey. The secrets they don’t want you to know about.”

“I don’t know if I can,” I faltered. She jammed her hand against the open door and I felt the strange heat of her skin.

Please,” she said.

Her voice was steady now, but her eyes – I’ll never forget the mute anguish burning in them as I turned away, too afraid to reject her outright and too ashamed to try to help.

Her screams went on for hours after I finally closed the door.