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The Woman With The Wasted Face
”What did you say?“ I spat, pinning the boy against the wall, I knew him, he was my age and he called himself my friend but I knew otherwise. ”I said, what did you say?“ I grabbed him by his collar. ”Come on, you seemed pretty cocky before. What.“ I punched him in the nose, blood splattered my jacket but I didn’t care. ”Did.“ I hit him again, more blood poured from his face. ”You.“ Sending him flying, I hit him a third time. ”Say?“ I picked him up again and thrust him against the wall.
”What are you doing?“ I spun round, a voice echoing in my ears. She stood there, her eyes on the pitiful mess that I held at an arms length, her face one of disgust. Her eyes met mine. There was nothing, not the flash of a smile as was usual, only a solemn scowl. ”What have you become? You’re not the same man anymore.“ With that she turned and ran.
”No!“ I called after her but she had gone. I was alone again; she chased fear away, the same fear that I felt when I was alone…
I threw the boy to the ground with a final growl before I ran after her. If only she knew…
”Please, Emma, come back I’m sorry.“ I yelled until my voice went hoarse and my throat felt scratchy and sore but still she ran further away into the distance, unwavering. ”Please…“
I saw her stop; a black silhouette on the horizon stood with her back to the orange sunset glow. She was so beautiful.
I had to do this right, she had to understand why. Why I had change so much, why I was this way; a monster.
Slowly, I walked toward her, my fists clenched so tightly that my fingernails made tiny half-moon indents on my sweaty palms. My mind raced, my heart pounded. If I told her, would she even believe me? Would I be putting her in danger?
I cupped her delicate face in my hands. ”Emma, listen to me…“
* * * * *
Drifting and dancing, the snow fell elegantly from the heavens, landing in front of me on the empty marshes.
I sighed heavily; a dragons-breath trail flew from my mouth. I smiled and did it again. I laughed happily to myself. Those were the days that my laughs were genuine, not a charade to mask the fear…
I stuffed my gloved hands into my jacket pockets as the cool, crisp winter winds blew. Winter here was so much more… familiar than down south. Everywhere looked like a Christmas card. Snow capped hills and tobogganing children, smiling snowmen and decorated trees; everywhere you looked there were reminders of the festivities. It was perfect, a truly traditional Christmas season.
The freezing cold marsh water reflected the moon perfectly, an immaculate double of the silver disc that hung in the indigo sky above me. Stars studded the blackness, like tiny flickering candle flames in the dark. I saw a shooting star rocket across the cosmos and I remembered what my nana used to say. Make a wish son; a shooting star is a hope to embrace.
I thought hard about my wish. I was fine; there was nothing I wanted for myself. I was happy as I was. Then I thought of my home and what I had left over the Christmas period while I visited my relatives.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I wish Emma were here with me. I miss her and I want her to know that. Smiling to myself, I opened my eyes again and took one last look at the marshes, it was so peaceful, and then I turned toward the town of Crythin Gifford
I tossed uncomfortably. My parents had ’kindly‘ allocated me floor whilst I was out and so I was left to settle down on the thin mattress on the living room carpet whilst they slept peacefully in the guest room next door.
Shivering, I pulled the duvet up over my head, curling up into a ball. I was sleeping with half the clothes from my suitcase on, t-shirts, jumpers and hooded sweaters but I couldn’t get warm. There seemed to be a chill in the air that no radiator could chase away. Too cold to sleep, I rolled out of bed.
The room was dark, the house was quiet and I was alone. I walked over to the window. Snow had continued to fall, casting a white blanket of snow to envelope the town; undisturbed and untarnished as of yet but come morning it would be covered in footsteps and trails, an irreversible change.
As I look back on that night now I realise that, in a way, I was the snow, and that once morning came I too would have changed in ways that cannot be undone. Not then. Not now. Not ever. More snow may fall, masking any imperfections but the façade has to end at some point; snow has to melt.
The town was quiet; everyone was safely tucked up in bed. Not a soul to be seen. Or so I thought…
As I looked down the street, something caught my eye. Under a street lamp, facing the window I was looking out from, stood a woman. She wasn’t from around here, I’d remember her if I saw her. Wearing a black dress that could’ve been worn by a Charles Dickens character, I thought at first that I was making her up, that she was just a figment of my imagination, that I was too tired and needed some sleep but she looked too real. I couldn’t see her face, her bonnet covered it, but it felt as though she was staring at straight at me, judging my very soul. I shivered but not from the cold this time. Was she the reason I couldn’t sleep? Was she the source of the ominous chill?
I felt drawn to her, as though we were magnets and the pull was inescapable.
Quickly, I pulled on my sneakers and quietly closed the door behind me. I raced down the stairwell to the ground floor of the flats. It was an eerie gothic building that had been converted into flats not long after the war ended in 1949.
Looking at the street lamp, I stepped out onto the street. The woman with the bonnet had moved. I stopped confused, peering up and down the street. She couldn’t have just disappeared. No one is that fast, I’d been less than a minute. Where could she have gone?
From behind me I could hear the soft sound of breathing. I swallowed. No, she couldn’t have… I mean, how had she…?
I turned round and stifled a gasp. What I hadn’t seen from the window upstairs became painfully obvious. Her hands were waxy and withered; her fingers thin and sharp. The bonnet she had fallen back slightly to reveal her face, her face was hard to look at. It was in a similar state to her hands, the skin was stretched tightly across her cheekbones, her eyes had sunken back into her face and her lips were pursed and wrinkled.
I stepped back. ”Are you alright, ma’am?“ I asked, my voice crackling as I tried not to portray my fear and disgust; I felt terrible for feeling such emotions at the sight of another human suffering. I knew how I should have felt but I couldn’t.
She didn’t say a thing in return; she simply kept on staring at me.
I shuddered. I felt sick. The sight of her nauseated me slightly; I wanted to leave her behind and go back inside but I couldn’t move. It wasn’t that I was petrified, at least not that I could tell, it was simply that I couldn’t take my eyes of her. There was something in the way she held herself and way she looked that drew me in. I wanted to know more about her.
”Why don’t you come inside and warm up?“ I reached out to touch her arm kindly but as my hand came in contact with her, it didn’t stop, as it should when a hand meets something solid.
As my hand passed through her I could feel something happen inside me, it felt like I’d hit my head. My thought became fuzzy and my vision blurred. I felt like someone was wringing me out like a dishcloth, pulled this way and that until there’s nothing left inside.
I was empty.
I must have blacked out because the next thing I knew my parents were standing over me, worried looks on their faces.
* * * * *
”I never told them anything about that night. Not the truth anyway. I made up a story, told them I couldn’t sleep so I went for a walk but I must have slipped on some ice. I’ve never told anyone; they’d think I was mad but I know what I saw, what I felt. I can’t stop thinking that it was her touch that made me this way. I asked around the town after her; they didn’t even blink when I described her. She’s a myth to them, a scary story told at campfires. She’s real though Emma, and she scares me even to this day.“ I confessed, tears streaming down my cheeks. ”You don’t know how hard it was to tell you that.“
She shook her head. ”I don’t doubt it, I just wish you’d told me earlier.“ She wrapped her arms round my neck. ”We’ll work it out.“
I rested my chin on top of her head as she snuggled into my chest. ”I’m sorry I’m such a monster. You’ve always been there for me…“ but even as I said those words I knew that was going to change.
Under a street lamp, facing the two of us, stood a woman. Not just any woman though, but a woman dressed entirely in black, a bonnet covering her wasted face.
Oh, what have I done…?