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
Some Bewitching Line Drawing by Jennifer Weigel
This month we are going to explore more fun marker art from Jennifer Weigel, starting with black and white line drawing. Jennifer is getting ready for her big Life Is Brilliant solo show in March and has snuck in a few spookier themes, so she wanted to share them with you here.
The magic is strong in this Witch Way line drawing with its fun witchy head-topper, complete with striped hat band and star dangle. No self-respecting wizard’s ensemble would be complete without it.
And now the adorable Kitty Witch will don the Witch Way hat and cast a spell of cuteness on you. You gotta wonder just how the hat stays on but best not to question these things. We all know it’s magic…
The devil is in the details in this Not Today Satan line drawing, and boy is he pissed!
This She Devil is just plain goofy. Maybe she’s coyly playing innocent; it’s not a look most devils can pull off, seeing as how innocence really isn’t their schtick…
This little spider came down to your tuffet to remind you to Hang in There. She is very well-intentioned and is only looking out for you. I guess maybe she’s not so little though, she is an Argiope after all…
LTD Tripped Out Motivational Posters
Tripped out… in case you just couldn’t get enough of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the return of the infinite bagel with EVERYTHING on it…
Artwork description: kaleidoscopic image of pink hairy horror (This is actually a fink fuzzy frond plant not unlike a Cockscomb but with longer thinner flowering feelers rather than the fuller protuberances you see on a full-bodied Cockscomb plant. I have no idea what it was, but it was very odd so I had to snap a photo.)
Image text reads: Mixing Magic Mushrooms & Peyote Just remember: once you open that Pandora’s box, you’re never going to get the pink hairy tarantulas back in it…
Artwork description: kaleidoscopic sunflower backlit by the sun with text and rainbow eye overlay
Image text reads: Eye See You Eye See All (in circle text so you can start and end reading wherever). In an ideal context this would be printed in the bottom of your tea mug or on a record that can slowly spin.
For more crazy tripped out fun, check out Weird Al’s post on Craig’s List…
The Elves Reunion, a short story by Jennifer Weigel
I had heard tale that The Elves dwell in these woods. Many underestimate The Elves; they have a fondness of heart for Tolkienesque Middle Earth fantasy stories and tales where Elves are the most highly civilized, virtuous and intelligent. They forget that those are just myths, save for The Elves being cunning. Remember that the Pied Piper was an Elf, and the children he took were not destined for such a glorious fate.
My sister lost her firstborn to The Elves. She hadn’t noticed the Changeling until it was too late. Her baby had already long since been stolen away. She was so distraught she refused to eat or speak. She locked herself in her room. Or my family locked her into it as she succumbed to the madness. Such are the ways of the family, for all of our protection. We never question but follow as expected, as a means of self-preservation. It has kept us all alive.
But I couldn’t get the sinking feeling out of my stomach; the grief became too overwhelming. That is why I came here. I know I will not be able to rescue the child, nor my sister. But I seek to avenge their meaningless deaths. To ensure that it doesn’t happen again. My family will never act. I am tired of the Village Elders just shrugging these things off in hushed whispers and badly shrouded secrets. It happens time and again. We are all expendable. They never do anything.
So here I am, in the Elven wood. Alone. As soon as my family figures out that I’m here, they will disown me. They probably already have. Again, it is for our own protection. I’ll be just another casualty of The Elves. Everything is so structured, so regimented. Anyone who dares act in opposition to the rules vanishes. We are all so afraid.
I lay in wait. It’s just a matter of time before the portal appears. The Elves use the portals to travel across time and space. They appear where and when they wish. But this time, I will go through first. I know not what is on the other side, just that the portals allow only one to traverse in each direction. We will trade places, if only for a moment until another portal forms. Hopefully that will be enough time.
The trees shift and morph. Falling leaves drift slower and slower towards the ground. There is a stillness that I cannot fully express. My breath hangs heavy in the silent air. There is no sound, no smell, no taste. It is time. The hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise. I can sense the opening forming. There is an uncanny familiarity in this moment, as if I have been here before.
As soon as the portal opens, I dash through. But something isn’t right. No one came through from the other side. Or did they? I cannot tell. I am alone, in limbo between states of existence. The world spins around me. I can feel the drift. Is this what death feels like? Cold unbroken silence? I feel distant eyes upon me everywhere, all around me, in the trees, the clouds, pinpoints of light that shimmer through.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe this is all according to plan. But who was orchestrating the exchange? My idea was only half formed in those passing pensive moments I am able to think for myself, few and far between. My family, the Village Elders… no one allows time for freeform thought. I hadn’t considered what would happen after the portal exchange. I never really got past step one.
A voice greets me from the trees. It is hauntingly familiar but seems only a distant memory.
“I’ve been expecting you.”
The world slowly comes into focus. Clarity restored, the leaves circle me in an embrace. My sister emerges, her dark eyes smiling. She cradles the baby in her arms.
“You made it. You escaped,” she sings.
“I didn’t see anyone,” I retort, skeptical. I hadn’t recalled having seen any Elves, dark nightmarish fiends that they are, wild, unkempt, uncouth. Savage beasts like Pan or Krampus. Is this an illusion? My sister seems so lifelike, so much herself. She is the joyful young mother I had known her to be. Filled with love and laughter. Light dances about her, and she shimmers.
“Not in passing,” my sister clarifies. “You have been living among them your whole life. I had done so as well until the baby was stolen. My heart broke; I had to follow after. That was when I learned the Truth.”
“Why do you think we are so sheltered? Why are we forbidden to do anything? They do so to protect us from the Truth about who and what we are,” she continued. “We’ve spent our lives evading that which we truly know ourselves to be. We were the stolen ones, not the other way around…”
I notice that the portal I came through is still open, reinforcing my idea that no one had passed through the other way. It is as if the portal was opened specifically to call me through. My sister extends her hand, beckoning me to join her. There is a gleam in her eye I cannot pinpoint. She seems happy, but something still isn’t quite right. I’m still uncertain why I am here, in this time and place, as if destined to be present in this moment, in this decision.
The Village has fallen away to the woods. There are no breadcrumb trails to follow home. The idea of home itself seems distant like yet another illusion. Nothing makes sense anymore. I am unsure whether I am coming or going. Two paths lay open before me. Which shall I take?