Wicked Pieces by Mary Leoson

The crone’s skin sagged like a melting candle. It hung in drips rolling off her face—molten, dying.  The eyes were marbles peeking from sockets, pale and glassy. They faded more each day, dimming windows to the outside world. Her lips, once blood red, had given way to pale pink and yellowed at the edges like old paper. Crevices reached out like branches, tears in smooth fabric, worn with time.

This was what Melissa saw when she looked in the mirror—a shadow of what once was beautiful. She’d sit for hours, gazing into the surface, haunted by a distorted reflection. Her beauty stared back at first, poised beneath a layer of powder, lashes curled, lips stained. But the image morphed before her eyes. The color faded. Flawless skin wrinkled. The sand slipped through the hourglass, grain by grain.

Each heartbeat was a wish not granted, a dream escaped to the cobwebs in the corners of the room. They clung there like flies meeting their doom, thrashing about as a spider came to feed. Life’s poison pulsed through her veins, sucking away vitality, seeping in through the cracks in her face.

There was a time she longed to be older, to feel freedom and a man’s affection. The foolish girl was still trapped inside her somewhere, clawing to escape the fleshy prison. She thought she’d be an actress, embodying drama and moving her fans to tears. Or, she’d be a lawyer, righting wrongs with her wits. Maybe she’d be a homemaker, nurturing children and a husband, making warm meals, followed by chocolate chip cookies and bedtime stories before sweet kisses goodnight.

The hag’s mouth turned up at the corners, remembering a simpler time, a hopeful one. But reality leaked in through the edges, drawing the smile downward, tugging on the loose skin, too tired to argue. None of these plans had manifested according to her dreams. Her mind tumbled, looking for someone to blame. Her mother should have warned her better—made her go to college. Her father could have supported her—given her the push to pursue law. And her husband, the ghost of the man she’d fallen in love with, might have shared the spotlight. Now she was nothing but the failed actress. The college drop-out. The aged mother, only called when a bill is overdue.

Her gaze hung low, focused on a hairbrush that held too many loose cast-offs, graying and forgotten. When her eyes returned to the mirror, she was met with a pointing finger. It hung there like a fire iron, ready to stir her ashes. The nail had grown out, the remnants of what had been a lovely manicure, now chipped and uneven along the edge. The knuckles were swollen, worn from cracking under pressure, angry and defiant. The finger blatantly accused her, egged her on.

“Don’t you point at me,” she whispered. “I gave up everything for them. I am a goddamn saint.”

Her nose rose in the air as she spoke, her ego inflated. But she did not look dignified. Her nostrils flared and her eyes became slits, threatening, venomous. And the finger pointed.

“Fuck you,” she said, her voice louder. But the finger didn’t falter. In fact, it inched closer. At first, she thought it was her imagination. She blinked. She rubbed her eyes. She even sat up straight, shook her head. But it kept moving, crawling toward her.

It touched the surface of the mirror and bulged out, a bubble of reflection intent on grabbing her. Melissa jumped, tensing in alarm. She tried to stand but fell backward and off the dainty dressing stool. She struggled to her hands and knees, then took a breath. Surely, her eyes were playing tricks on her. She shouldn’t have mixed that Xanax with the wine. At this realization, she rolled her eyes, laughing at her silliness. Of course, it was the medication. The hilarity took her until she giggled and tears streamed down her face.

As the laughter dissipated, she looked up to the ceiling where the shadows crawled with the setting sun. It would be time for bed soon, and she’d put these demons to sleep. For now, she indulged her buzz, wondering what life might have been like had she made different choices.

Her lips were still spread in a smile when she heard the cackle. It came in a delayed echo, bouncing around the room, growing louder with each pass. Had the laughter ever belonged to her? It was dark—sinister.  Cupped hands covered her ears, tighter, harder, but brought no relief. She shut her eyes and opened her mouth to scream but then the silence came suddenly. It engulfed her in perfect quiet, empty and haunting.

Melissa hesitated, then crawled on her knees toward the dressing table. Graceful, young hands reached up to steady herself on its edge. She rose slowly, peering over the polished surface, past the perfume bottles and makeup brushes, to the looking glass. Within was only gray, a dull reflection of the fading wallpaper on the other side of the room. As her knees straightened and she stood slowly upright, the image adjusted, and her young face emerged.

The woman was beautiful, though her eyes were wet with tears. The wrinkles were gone, like an eraser had rubbed them away. Her red lips were pouty, her neck creamy and smooth. She dared not breath. She wanted to look like this forever. She wanted to freeze time.

Without her permission, her hand reached out to touch the image, so beloved. She was an angel, a promise, a muse. To her surprise, the reflective surface was warm, but she didn’t want to question it. The likeness moved with her in perfect choreography, swishing this way and that. She was enraptured

The hum started slowly, like a flapping of wings. Not one pair, not two, but thousands, moving together, keeping the time at bay. She stood taller, prouder, reveling in what she saw. She could do anything when she looked like this—young, beautiful, ideal. People would listen to her now. Men would do her bidding. Women would envy her. It was everything she wanted. It was power.

Her chest swooned with hot breath, her pride growing, her smile spreading. And she focused on the irises that peered back, vibrant and determined, filled with life. But they flickered—a small shift that brought with it a memory. And the doubt snuck in between joy and ecstasy—feelings of regret, fear, worthlessness. The edges of the mirror turned rusty and the hum dimmed, making way for a scream that held the power of her youth—the collective dreams she should have released long ago. Her hope had been locked in a cage, rotting. It made one last bid for freedom as vanity.

The lovely smile morphed into a wicked grin. It was seductive, unforgiving, determined. White teeth flashed between rich red lips, the edges pointing toward charming dimples. They danced, taunted, whispered, “come hither.” Melissa froze and the smile was no longer hers. Before she could pull her finger away from the surface, a gnarled hand grasped her wrist. It tightened, twisted, burned. 

The scream exploded from her like a shrieking cat, high and sharp. It scorched her throat, strangling her from within. She pulled away desperately, but the harder she yanked, the stronger the vise became. It drew her toward the mirror like a black hole, slowly, steadily, until she came face to face with herself. Her nose crushed against silver, breath fogging the surface between screams, until there was a crack.

Shards pierced her skin. Liquid dribbled onto the table, covering the lipstick, the powder, the delicate perfume bottles in sticky crimson. Skin peeled like an onion layer, and what was once pristine became marred with gore. The blood glittered with diamond debris, a last light for a dying hope. The actress sighed dramatically, the lawyer swore revenge, and mother grieved what once might have been. And the last thing Melissa saw before the darkness took her was her beautiful face in pieces.

Leoson teaches composition and psychology courses at the college level in Cleveland, Ohio. She loves to write with her dogs at her feet and somehow survives on decaf coffee and protein bars. She holds an M.A. in English & Writing from Western New Mexico University and an M.S. in Psychology from Walden University. Her writing has been featured in the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, TWJ Magazine, The Write Launch, GNU Journal, The Gyara Journal, Genre: Urban Arts, Obra/Artifact, and on NPR’s “This I Believe” series. You can learn more at www.maryleoson.com