By T.M. Brown

(From CHM #7 January 2020)

Wynona stood in front of the mirror. She didn’t like what she saw. Her cheeks were flushed with winter cold. Her hair had refused to surrender itself to the comb. Even her smile betrayed her, revealing the subtle stain of years spent sipping at coffee and tea. Wynona had never been a woman to neglect her appearance but, on today of all days, everything had to be perfect.

Today was not only a Sunday—which obviously required the most attention be paid to one’s looks—but her anniversary as well. She put on her finest jewelry including a gold chain necklace set with a small imperial jade cabochon. It was the same necklace she had worn on her wedding night. It had once made her feel simultaneously regal and sensual; imbuing her with the majesty of a queen and the wry cunning and sensuality of a courtesan. Although the intervening years had left her appearance somewhat diminished, the jade necklace had yet to fully lose its power. When worn along with a set of her most ornate earrings, she almost felt beautiful.

For now at least, that was the best Wynona could manage. She turned from the floor-length, antique mirror and made her way toward the dressing room door. Just before leaving the room, however, she glanced back at the old mirror and gasped at what she saw.

After all those hours poring over her growing list of cosmetic deficiencies, she’d neglected her eyes! She’d meticulously applied mascara and eye liner all while failing to notice they were completely bloodshot. Her once piercing, blue eyes had long since faded. Worse, she now strained to see in the near perpetual gloom of their 19th Century Victorian home. The house’s ornamental features cast odd, long shadows that seemed to actively resist illumination.

Now her eyes looked as frayed as her nerves. She’d spent decades perfecting her ability to maintain a calm demeanor, to be the model wife. Now her eyes betrayed her in a violent, dramatic fashion. They revealed a woman that was past her prime, on edge, and nearly perpetually worried.

She rushed back to her makeup counter, rifling through drawers in search of something to reduce the redness. There were hundreds of lipsticks, mascaras, eye liners, powders, primers, concealers, lotions, and balms… yet she seemed to have nothing capable of treating eyes that gave her the appearance of a vampire!
As she dredged up the last contents of a fifth drawer, she came across a small, gaudily decorated tincture bottle given to her a few years back by an old friend named Brie. Always a bit of a suburban hippie, Brie had ordered her a variety of poorly packaged herbal remedies—including the small bottle she now held. Its peeling, handwritten label read:

Eyebright

Two drops per eye

See Things More Clearly!

With no other options readily available, Wynona decided to give the remedy a try. She reasoned that, short of permanently losing her vision, her eyes couldn’t get much worse than they already were. She wasn’t about to let anything screw up this day. She had to be perfect.

*~*~*

As marriages go, Wynona’s had been a good one. It had started, as all the best do, in a flurry of passion. Wynona had been raised in a conservative household. Her father, a reasonably successful banker, had left most of the parenting to Wynona’s mother—a strict homemaker and disciplinarian. With her father frequently absent on business and her mother intent on bringing her up as an honest Christian woman, Wynona received little of the coddling frequently associated with her status as an only child. She did, however, receive the full burden of expectation. She performed well at school under constant pressure from her near omnipresent mother; receiving top marks in her classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and most importantly—avoiding the depredations of teenage boys.

Everything changed when Wynona left home for college and she met her future husband. Not only was he tall and athletic; but he possessed an intensity which drew people to him like moths to a flame. He was articulate, worldly, and seemed to have a passionate opinion about every topic under the sun. Naturally, he was accompanied by floozies and hangers-on at virtually all times. Finding his retinue intimidating, Wynona was initially content to observe him from a distance.

Like so many other women—and men—she soon became fixated. He exuded an aura of confidence, subtle machismo, and at moments, guarded sensitivity. Like a planet caught in a decaying orbit, she found herself inexorably drawn to him and their impact, she just knew, would be life changing. Still a virgin upon her arrival at university, she began throwing herself at his friends and flunkies just to be around him. The sex was wild but devoid of passion. She combined her newfound sexual prowess with her long-practiced innocent, bookish demeanor to forge a persona so hot that not even he could ignore her.

It worked.

Several nameless flunkies and a few dozen outfit combinations later, she finally caught his attention. Overnight, she’d gone from being invisible to shining so brightly, she could not be denied. She felt alive for the first time in her life. He was hooked.

The next few months were a blur of passionate lovemaking, long conversations, and a feeling of connectedness she never would have thought to wish for. He eschewed his hard-partying, philandering lifestyle without Wynona ever having to say a word. They were married within the year.

Her parents never accepted their marriage and after a few screaming matches, they never spoke again. Wynona remained unsure as to whether they had truly disowned her or if the break had been mutual. It hardly mattered either way. Her new husband was good to her. Whatever problems they had were easily overcome by her blind admiration for him and an undeniable sexual magnetism. Their fights, however intense, were merely a form of foreplay. It hardly mattered when she dropped out of college midway through her sophomore year. He was already making enough money for both of them, and they soon moved into a small apartment on the outskirts of town.

*~*~*

With her face now presentable, Wynona began perusing outfits. Knowing that her selection wouldn’t matter much to her husband somewhat diminished the excitement of the process but she felt a growing sense of apprehension anyway. A man’s taste, especially one grown a bit long in the tooth was never particularly variable. The less she wore the better. Even as she aged, his tastes evolved to embrace her new features; the wrinkles, the lines, the scars. He seemed to revel in the manifold fractures and upheavals that mired a once pristine landscape.

Shadows danced across the room in perpetual flight from the flickering flames of a dying fire. The bedroom’s small, iron fireplace was not merely ornamental. Rather, Wynona kept it burning as the room’s sole source of light.

She’d loved fires and candles once. She found them romantic. Her husband thought the same. Now they were the only light she was permitted to use. Her husband’s condition prohibited contact with bright light and as it worsened, she had stopped using them entirely. She had hoped that the gesture might lift her husband’s spirits. That she might demonstrate a sense of solidarity with him. That it might make him feel less alone.

It hadn’t worked.

Despite trying on just shy of a dozen dresses, Wynona felt no closer to finding the right one. She stood there wearing each, staring in dissatisfaction at her reflection in the bay window facing the darkened street beyond. The dinner she’d spent all day preparing wouldn’t stay hot forever. She wanted to wear something sexy… maybe even something beautiful. Each dress was a disappointment. The scars were getting increasingly difficult to hide. She begrudgingly narrowed the selection down to two; a red, obnoxiously tight cocktail dress and a somewhat more conservative green number. She preferred the green as it still managed to hide most of her disfigurements. She didn’t have to guess which her husband would have preferred—back when he cared at all.

There was a time when she would have preferred to keep the curtains shut while she changed. Now, she didn’t mind. Her husband preferred them to remain open. He hadn’t followed up on the request in years, of course, but she’d kept them open all the same. Even after all this time, he was undeniable. Besides, she imagined how she must look to some passerby on the street— her form backlit by the cracking fire. She liked to imagine that one day a young man—one not so different than what her husband had once been—would take notice and fantasize about her. She didn’t have any motivation beyond that. In more than one sense, she’d been nothing more than a silhouette for years. Wynona saw no reason to change that now.

She chose the red dress.

*~*~*

After the newlyweds had moved into the apartment together, there was a brief period of marital bliss. Wynona had her own place to decorate, money to go shopping, and as it turned out—little else to occupy her time. Her husband was away more than she would have liked, consumed by the competing demands of securing his tenure and those of his other family across town. There was also the nagging complication of their marriage not being legally binding that began to generate friction between them.

Wynona was actually happy for the other family in her own way. She remained content that they all seemed to make such a potentially awkward arrangement work. It didn’t hurt that the lovemaking also remained passionate and her new husband continued to provide her with everything she required. In an effort to fill the gaps during the time they were apart, however, Wynona took up recreational drinking and drug use. It all started innocently enough—cocktails and weed with the girls—and quickly devolved to a pretty legitimate heroin addiction.

After Wynona hit a low point shooting up with junkies and sleeping in a series of poorly maintained storage units, her husband rode to the rescue. She remembered with perfect clarity the day that he pulled up in his Chrysler LeBaron and saved her life. He apologized for everything he had put her through and even promised to leave his old wife, Kaitlyn, and their two children. He told her that they’d start over, just the two of them. One day, he’d promise they’d move to Florida together. The next day he would promise Spain. It hardly mattered to Wynona. She simply wanted to be with him.

Unfortunately, her husband’s plans to leave Kaitlyn and the kids never seemed to materialize. He finally received his promotion to tenured professor and his roots in the community only seemed to be growing deeper. Meanwhile, his sexual demands had grown more unorthodox and some of the passion seemed to be fading. Wynona was no longer satisfied with talk about leaving his old family. She wanted what they already had.

She pictured herself in the 19th Century Victorian home off a leafy cul-de-sac. She pictured herself driving Kaitlyn’s Mercedes with the top down and the breeze blowing through her hair. When she finally worked up the courage to confront her husband and demand what was rightfully hers, he seemed neither surprised nor upset. He told her that she’d have it all and sooner than she expected.

This time he wasn’t lying. Once again, her husband delivered.

*~*~*

Her clothing selection complete, Wynona left her second floor bedroom and began her descent to the first floor. As usual, the house was dark. The only source of illumination originated from distant streetlamps. Even this dim light was filtered through the skeletal branches of the property’s ancient oaks. While her tired eyes strained against the gloom —they weren’t really necessary. She was intimately familiar with the old home and all of its contents. She had no need to fear bumping into or tripping over something out of place. Nobody visited anymore and her husband no longer left his bedroom.

She was the undisputed queen of all she surveyed.

The scent of glazed ham guided her to the kitchen. She immediately began to worry when she noticed the slight smell of smoke intermingled with that of cinnamon and star anise. She plucked the ham from the oven, observing it as the molten glaze burned her flesh. With the hot, sticky syrup running down her arm, she gave it a quick sniff and a lick. It was indeed burnt.

Damn.

She didn’t have a backup plan. The whole thing would have to go. She then proceeded to toss the five pound ham like a basketball into the awaiting maw of the trash can.

Nothing but net.

The sides could still be salvaged. The potatoes and asparagus looked alright. Unfortunately, she had trouble plating them in an appealing manner due to her badly burnt hands. She did the best she could under the circumstances.

With the ham gone, the dinner still lacked an entrée. Nothing but a prime cut of meat would suffice for such an occasion. That left her with only one option… the steaks in the fridge! Cooking them would only take a moment and the entrée could be saved. Just as she turned on the stove’s burners, however, she thought better of the idea. She instead concluded that there was no time for such preparation. She’d have to serve them raw. She could always make it up with extra gravy.

She removed the still bloody cuts of meat from their butcher paper wrappings. The cold meat felt good against her raw, freshly scalded hands so she stood there for a few minutes holding them in the dark. As she pressed her hands into the chilled, premium sirloins, she took the time to listen for rodents. After a few minutes of near silence—excluding the creaks and groans commonplace in any old home—she concluded that there were indeed no rats in the walls.

There better not be. Tonight had to be perfect.

*~*~*

As it turned out, getting rid of Kaitlyn and the kids had been far easier than Wynona expected. Her husband took care of everything. There was a bit of unpleasant business seeing the old harpy naked but in the end, her husband had talked to her and Kaitlyn had done the right thing for all of them.

With the old family gone, Wynona had it all: the beautiful old Victorian home with bay windows overlooking quiet, shaded streets; the Mercedes; even all of Kaitlyn’s uppity wardrobe. The house felt like home almost immediately. The Mercedes felt like it was custom designed for her. Even the clothes fit just right. It was all so… perfect.

For years, her husband was around more often, present, and genuinely engaged with her life. The sex became increasingly demanding, but it was worth it. The passion was there and above all, he was present.

Then Lindsey entered the picture. After that, everything changed.

All the signs were there before Wynona even knew her name. Her husband was gone more, he seemed perpetually distracted, and the sex dropped off. She demanded to know the slut’s name. Her husband denied, obfuscated, and even counter-accused but never said an honest word in all his meandering explanations. She had to discover the truth for herself.

Her husband certainly had a type. There were no surprises. Lindsey was, of course, a student. A thin, doe-eyed redhead. And of course, a dirty tramp.

She confronted Lindsey in the middle of the university quad.  She called the girl all sorts of unseemly things—all of which were exceedingly warranted—and made a series of quite explicit threats, all of which she fully intended to carry out if necessary. Fortunately for both her and Lindsey, she never had to follow through with any of them.

Her husband could clearly not be trusted, and despite the fact that she still loved him intensely, his loyalty was clearly not guaranteed. It wasn’t even his fault, really. Men were prone to pursue greener pastures as they aged, particularly the sort of men with appetites as voracious as those of her husband. It was her fault for not taking action to prevent his infidelity sooner.

Her threats against Lindsey must have worked because her husband’s attention drifted back to her. One day, after a particularly vigorous and excruciating lovemaking session, she found herself overcome with love. As he lay naked, sprawled out on the bloodstained mattress, Wynona determined it was time to ensure her husband’s fidelity once and for all. She went out to the garage and gathered up the rusted snow chains she had purchased years ago.

Chaining her husband to the old, iron bed frame had been a more awkward and laborious process than she initially anticipated. She could never be certain, but she suspected he might have been awake for the entirety of the thirty minute ordeal. Either way, he was clearly awake by the time she fancied her task complete. He neither cursed her name nor strained against his bindings. He just lay there; a self-satisfied grin twisted onto his beautiful face. His precious words flowed like honey from his lips:

“You were always the one.”

*~*~*

Since their recommitment, or “the binding” as she liked to call it, their marriage had continued to be a happy one. For the first time in her life, Wynona allowed herself to succumb to her own overwhelming sense of pride. She had really done it! She had made her marriage work.

Sure, they had their problems, but so did everyone else. They both made compromises to keep one another happy. She agreed to keep him fed and cared for and to satisfy his more carnal desires every Sunday. In return, he agreed to stop straining against his chains and to never see Lindsey or any other woman ever again. That was the agreement, and both had kept their end of the bargain.

It was his worsening ailment over the intervening years that drove many of Wynona’s more practical day-to-day constraints. She couldn’t interact with anyone outside the house because of the germs and nobody seemed to want to visit because of the smell. The light bulbs were removed one by one; beginning with the fluorescents, then the LEDs, and finally the incandescents. Her movement within the house was restricted to carved out pathways due to the consistent threat posed by rats and the shadows that sheltered them. It was a lot to handle, especially as the years drew on, but she was up to the task.

Her happiness increasingly hinged on how the events of her Sunday unfolded. A good day brightened her whole week. A bad day left her feeling as if the pervasive gloom in the house might swallow her whole. Now that their anniversary and Sunday converged… it was as if the stars had aligned. The thought made her sick to her stomach. She felt as if her life—nay, her very soul—depended on the outcome of this one night. The closer it drew, the more nervous she became.

It had to be perfect.

*~*~*

As she ascended the three flights of stairs to her husband’s attic bedroom, Wynona took a last moment to admire her reflection in one of several hallway mirrors. It was a particularly dark, overcast night, so she quite reasonably expected to see nothing. She was therefore quite surprised to see her reflection staring back at her, clear as day! Not only had the eyebright tincture removed all of the redness from her previously bloodshot eyes, it had restored their youthful glow entirely! The dull grey had been replaced by the intense, azure blue of her youth. She rushed up the final staircase to her husband’s bedroom, nearly spilling the contents of the dinner tray in her excitement.

As Wynona gracefully opened the door to the chamber, she scanned the room beyond. It was a large, open bedroom with sharply slanted ceilings on account of the gabled roof. She knew the contents of the room by heart but could not see further than a few feet in front of her. While her eyes had become conditioned to the darkness present in the rest of the house, the gloom that her husband preferred to wallow in these last few years was special. It had an unnatural quality to it. It pooled and resisted integration with the space around it. If regular darkness was water, her husband’s undulating black ichor was oil.

Wynona stepped into the room, oblivious to the unnatural shadows that coiled around her. She dutifully closed the door behind her and sat the dinner tray down on a small counter near the doorway. Her hands now free, she began to undress, more than a little frustrated that her husband couldn’t be bothered to see the outfit she had clearly put so much effort into selecting. Fully disrobed, she picked the tray back up and walked toward the bed.

The inky blackness began to disperse and Wynona’s husband revealed himself to her. He had grown fat under her attentive care, the old tire chains and their successors straining to contain his pallid, swollen girth. His once chiseled features had been overwhelmed by successive folds and creases; each straining against the next for prominence on his grotesque figure.

His entire body could have been viewed as sickly comical in nature, had it not been for his face. Wart-covered flesh obscured all but his most prominent feature: a twisted, gaping mouth that curled into a permanent smile and wrapped around his face like a child’s bib. Rows of needle-like teeth cowered behind thin cracked lips that seemed unwillingly thrust outward. With his lips’ protrusion, his gums had been left exposed and laid bare the rot his soft exterior struggled to contain. His jet-black eyes appeared mole-like and tiny, apparently losing the battle against his steadily increasing mass.

He breathed heavily in anticipation of what was to come, shuddering against his own enormous weight.

Wynona meanwhile struggled to maintain her growing fear and excitement. There was a wicked lust in the pits of her husbands’ eyes and it was clear he had made himself ready for her. She climbed atop his damp, putrid mass while carefully balancing his dinner tray in one hand.

With the shadows steadily unfurling around man and wife, Wynona could now vaguely see her reflection in the two floor-length mirrors that flanked her husband’s bed. Each revealed what she both knew and feared to be true. She saw an aging woman, covered in thousands of scars and attempting her best to mask indicators of death’s manifold flirtations. Each scar bore a different name for the same man; a different name for her husband.

Before his more manly desires could be fulfilled, her husband must be fed. Seeing as the entrée would be served raw, she braced herself to provide an extra-large portion of gravy. He would let her know when to stop.

She placed the tray on her husband’s swollen belly and took the steak knife into her hand. In a single, practiced motion she cut open her left wrist and let the gravy pour out onto the anniversary dinner. Her husband watched her unblinkingly, his meaty tongue raking against his hundreds of needle-like teeth.

After pouring a generous portion from her wrist, she looked expectantly at her husband and prepared to staunch the bleeding. His tongue now danced with delight.
“More.”

Somewhat surprised, Wynona acquiesced to her husband’s demand. She found her gaze drawn to the two mirrors before her. Where once both mirrors had dutifully born the reflection of a scarred woman well past her prime and astride her husband, one now deviated strangely from the other. The left accurately reflected what she knew to be reality, and the right portrayed a slightly younger version of herself. The woman on the right had fewer scars and a firmer body. Even her eyes were brighter.

She was losing too much blood now. Her head felt light. Her vision flickered in and out. She looked to her husband for reprieve but found none. His beady eyes flashed with intensity and an unusual firmness added gravity to his voice.

“More.”

The woman in the left mirror wasted away as gravy spouted from her wrist. She rapidly shriveled into an old crone —enfeebled and brittle. The woman on the left grew younger. The names cut into her flesh faded. The scars on her wrists disappeared. Wynona saw herself as she had once been, young and beautiful. Her breasts were full and firm, her hair vibrant and voluminous, her eyes piercing and azure blue. She was beautiful.

Except it wasn’t herself that Wynona saw in the mirror.

The likeness was close, remarkably so, but her features were slightly off. Wynona’s head was spinning and the oily gloom pressed back in around her. The room and her surroundings began to give way to shadow. She had trouble making out the image. Then, it occurred to her —it was Lindsey! That slut had somehow manifested herself—naked—in her husband’s bedroom!

With a sudden sense of purpose, Wynona clutched the open wound in her wrist, desperately trying to stop the bleeding. Her husband shook his head, his hideous smile still frozen in place.

“More,” he demanded firmly.

“I don’t have any more to give,” Wynona replied plaintively.

The weakness in her own voice surprised her. She’d lost even more blood than she’d realized. She grasped at her wrist; wrapping it in the thick, cloth napkin she’d brought with her for that sole purpose. She could still stop the bleeding. She could still save their anniversary.

Her husband’s eyes warped into pinpricks of pure blackness. His blubbery right arm tore through his restraints in a single, effortless motion and locked her arm in an iron grip.

“Yes… you do” he stated flatly; rolling her arm back to expose the wound and blood-soaked napkin Wynona clutched so desperately.

The reflections once contained within the two mirrors stepped through the blackness surrounding her, now freed from their imprisoning frames. The lifeless old crone grasped her right arm with a skeletal hand. She immediately felt a chill wash over her. Wynona’s flesh near the crone’s bony fingers turned black and rotted before her very eyes. Lindsey grabbed Wynona’s left arm, her touch warm and gentle.

As color faded from Wynona’s vision, the blue in Lindsey’s eyes remained. Wynona struggled to explain that she didn’t want to die, that she wasn’t ready, that Lindsey was a slut and a homewrecker and doomed to suffer the same fate.

Wynona’s voice failed her and nothing left her lips but incoherent mutterings.

She looked to her husband through her failing vision. The Devil pulled her close to his cracked lips and whispered:

“You were always the one.”

In that moment she saw him as the man he’d once been. He was strong and handsome with compassionate eyes. He was beautiful and he belonged to her.

Her husband would not be denied. The Devil would not be denied.

Wynona let go of the cloth napkin and let her gravy fill the dinner tray. Her anniversary had been perfect. She had been perfect. The eyebright had worked its magic beyond expectation.

As darkness swallowed her soul, all she could see was blue.

End.

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