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Fiction: Beauty by Emma Hines
Words by Emma Hines
Image by Christine Stoddard
I can’t wear the same outfit in public twice. Not because the tabloids will judge me, but because nothing I wear outside of the ten-foot high electrified fence that guards my house ever makes it back in one piece. Once, when I was feeling particularly masochistic, I looked up how much scraps of cloth that had touched my body were going for on eBay, and it made me sick.
My hair goes for more, though, which is why I have so little of it left. Most of my money goes towards wigs, to hide the bloody mess that is my scalp, and makeup to hide the blotchy mess that is my skin.
The line between a blessing and a curse is thin as the thread on a fairy-tale spindle.
You see, Faeries don’t like it when you seek them out. Faeries don’t like it when you wear iron in your party dress and corner them in the club. Faeries don’t like it when you force them to promise you a favor.
Faeries do like it when you don’t choose your words wisely.
Make me the most beautiful person in the world, so that everyone will love me!
I looked it up, and it would have been easier to give me clear skin, a straight nose, a better body, and healthier hair. Instead, it opted to change the beauty standards of every society on earth to match my appearance, which would have taken a monumental amount of energy, but, then again, that Faerie was pissed.
At first, it was fun. I got Instagram followers and modeling jobs and secret admirers who sent me dozens and dozens of roses every night. I paid an assistant a hundred dollars an hour to do my hair and help me dress read all the love letters to me while I lounged on my bed and ate chocolate after chocolate from red boxes shaped like hearts. People would stop me in the street to ask for my number, to flirt, and sometimes just to stare and admire the view. I got all the free drinks I could handle, and then a few drinks more.
Now they crowd around my house in droves, screaming my name to the point where I can’t sleep at night. The love letters turned into pleas turned into threats of what they would do if they couldn’t have me. I hired bodyguards, but they turned on me: first they wanted signatures for their children, then they wanted my old clothes for their wives or for themselves, then they wanted me.
Now I have a gun, and a fence with a voltage high enough to knock them out.
The enormous mansion, the one with enough rooms that I could trash one every week and just move to another without worrying about cleaning up the mess, is too big to defend well, but I can’t move now. I’m trapped. They wait outside like vultures, screaming at me when I get my mail. I’d avoid going out of the house at all, but my mail is a delivery of food each week, pushed through a slot that people try to jam their hands through, fingers clawing at anything they can get. I have to put makeup on my arms so I can’t see the red lines made from sharp nails.
So I spend my days doing my makeup and patrolling the halls, my gun drawn, making sure that none of the rooms have been broken into.
Tonight, though. Tonight is special.
I’ve done a lot of research on Faerie curses and how to break them. The Faerie must be beseeched on the anniversary of the curse being placed, and, if they are in the mood to do so, they will break the curse. I missed the date the two years before because I was too busy partying, and last year, I realized that I didn’t know the name of the Faerie who cursed me, which is vital to summoning them before me.
The benefit of being a shut-in is that there isn’t much to do but dig and dig and dig through blog posts and podcasts and conspiracy websites to find Faerie names.
So tonight, I barricade myself in my room and settle myself on my bed, the gun in my lap, loaded with iron bullets. I’m wearing the wig that most resembles what my natural hair used to look like, styled like my hair was the night I decided I was sick of being ugly and was finally going to do something about it. The dress I’d worn had been shredded in some late-night rave long ago, and I just can’t bring myself to open the closet I’d shut months ago, sick of dressing up to march around my house like a soldier. Instead I wear the shirt and sweatpants I’ve been wearing for the past few days, hoping the Faerie won’t care. The website made it clear that Faeries are more likely to take pity on pretty people.
Am I beautiful to the Faeries?
I’m about to find out.
I pull out the handwritten list of Faerie names I’d compiled and open my mouth to start whispering them to the darkened room-
“There’s no need for that, beautiful one,” a lovely voice says. I startle, my finger finding the trigger of the gun as I level it towards… towards… “No need for that, either.” The gun is snatched from my hands and flung across the room, landing at the feet of the Faerie. It makes a face and nudges the gun neatly aside with its foot. “Clever of you to get iron bullets, though.”
“How-?” I stammer, and it replies,
“When I’m bored, I like to come see how the most beautiful human in the world is spending her time.” It comes over to where I am seated on the bed and picks up the list. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you?”
“Please,” I whisper. “Help me.”
“I’d love to, I really would, but alas, I cannot,” it tells me, shredding the list and sprinkling the scraps of paper on my covers.
“Can’t Faeries break the curses they place?” I ask. The Faerie laughs, a sound that is so beautiful it makes me want to dig my fingers into my ears until they bleed.
“Certainly, we can,” it says. “But what plagues you is not a curse. It is a gift. And it would be unspeakably rude to attempt to return or regift what I have given you, wouldn’t it, little mortal?”
I scream and dive off my bed, lunging for the gun, and crash into the sheet-covered, full-length mirror that rests against the wall. But by the time I have it in my hands, the Faerie is gone, and I am left to stare at my reflection.
My wig is askew, revealing parts of my bloody scalp, and I’ve smudged my makeup, revealing patches of my ruined skin.
The next morning, I do not bother to put on a wig, to do my makeup, to dress up, when I go out to get the mail. Usually I’m able to tune out the screaming, but this time, I hear a girl shout, “Look at her hair!”
For an instant, I think that maybe this is it, maybe they’ll realize how ugly I look-
But instead she grabs a fistful of her hair and yanks it right out of her scalp.
“It’s a new trend!” she exclaims above the noise of the mob. She turns towards the cameras that are always waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of me, and holds up the chunk of hair, the ends bloody. “Look, now I’m pretty, just like her!”
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