Beauty is in the Eye
It was cooling down, the weather was perfect for running. Marie jogged in the last mile, casual and leisurely. No need to push — not anymore. Sure, her coach and teammates were upset. In a way, Marie was too. It had been so much of her life for so long. She slacked off, and the defined calf and thigh muscles softened as she allowed a layer of fat to cover that definition. Unfortunately, her endurance, her ability to fly, softened as well.
Alyssa had turned her transformation into a game, as everything was to her. Marie was just another challenge, a pet project. She did it in such a way that though it might sting, and her words seemed to cut, you couldn’t ever place exactly what it was that hurt. Even so, it was always so sugar coated, you still wanted more. Alyssa was the master of manipulation.
She glanced up as she headed into the dorms. Speak of the devil, the luscious blonde stood at the railing. “Hey babe!” she called down. “You’re not running off all those curves we’ve been working on, are you?”
“Just clearing my head,” Marie called up, you tyrannical bitch.
“You know how many girls would kill to eat like you do and still look like you do?” Alyssa scolded. Marie approached, pulling her long hair from the high pony tail she’d tied it up in.
“I know Alyssa. I’m so lucky,” she muttered.
“You’re my little tigress,” Alyssa cooed in her teasing way. “We just gotta make sure you don’t have man thighs. You want to wear a skirt sometime soon, right? I’m tired of putting you in pant suits.”
Marie nodded wearily, slipping past Alyssa to gather her things for the shower. Once in the dorm bathroom, she couldn’t help but stare at herself in the mirror. Her face was softer now, with the little bit of weight she’d put on. Hints of the mascara that she hadn’t managed to sweat off still darkened her lids, giving her eyes a smokey look. As much as she hated Alyssa pushing her, she was right. Appearances matter. Even she could see the difference it was making. She was noticed, talked to, flirted with, in a way she’d never been when she’d been the track star.
The dreams, though. They hadn’t stopped.
Alyssa chatted on the phone and flipped through an assortment of new songs one of her admirers had given her. 90s classics, she explained as Marie readied for bed. Luckily she was able to tune them out without much effort.
She ran. She ran hard, birds calling in the distance. It felt amazing. It wasn’t long before she found herself in the gym. Just as she was about to slip into the hall that lead down to the women’s locker room, Mitchell caught her at the door.
“Marie, where have you been?” he exclaimed, holding her arm.
“I just came in from practice. I haven’t gone anywhere,” she responded, still exhilarated from the sense of flight.
“No, you left us. Abandoned us. The whole team misses you,” he pleaded. Her heart broke at the sincerity of his words.
She liked him, always had. They’d run together, most the time, side by side through all sorts of weather. He’d come from the same high school. It was a comfortable friendship, and suddenly, she realized she missed him. She shook her head.
“I just... Things have changed!” she muttered, escaping through the double doors, unable to look him in the face anymore. She stood for a moment, taking in the tiled hall, the dim lights flickering overhead. She began to notice movements out of the corner of her eye. Flickering shadows, familiar shapes... a pony to her left, a little girl bouncing a ball, and birds. Swirling, cawing birds. It was eerie, but the familiarity of it kept her heart from racing in reaction. Her room, they were from her room. Only they’d followed her to the college. She smiled, how nice of them, these childhood comforts, following her when she needed them.
Oh, Marie... I sure hope you’re happy.
Came an echoing tune. It bounced off the tiled walls in an haunting way, and she glanced around trying to place the source. She walked down the hall, her shadowy friends dancing along the walls beside her.
What about me, Marie?
The tiles began to rattle, as if there were an earthquake, or at least, a very heavy truck driving near by. She glanced around, it was only music, right? Not an actual voice. The song continued, indecipherable, echoing off the tile walls. The pipes running along the top of the hall hissed and rattled, the faint dripping of tap from the showers at the end making it hard to make out the words, the lyrics. Still, it was haunting and strangely up beat.
Oh Marie... I sure hope you're happy...
She tensed at the words, the eerie way they were aimed at her. If it had been just a song, that was one thing... but this. It was too much.
What about me... Marie?
She stiffened there in the hall, her hands clenched at her sides. The rattling of the tiles started up again, violently this time. The pony at her left screamed, and bolted down the hall, a painful, terrified sound that echoed in her head more than in reality. Her heart pounded furiously in response. The birds started up their chatter, which grew in volume to a screeching din. She put her hands over her ears, but to no avail. The cries of the little girl — choked, hiccuping sobs of a terrified child cut through everything. Then the tiles ripped loose from the walls, pelting her. The little girl screamed out in pain, and then was silenced, The birds, the horse, all of them silenced. Only the clatter of tiles, the rushing wind they created as they all spun out around her and clattered to the ground.
In their absence, she noticed a growing shadow at the end of the hall.
Oh Marie... What are you looking for?....Oh Marie, Always an open door... what are you looking for?
The floor titled suddenly, and she fell to the ground, landing hard. She grunted in pain, and grappled for anything to hold on to. There was nothing. Only the sharp edges of tiles cutting into her hands, her legs, as she was pulled into that dark, looming shadow. As she slid nearer, shadowy arms stretched out towards her
Then they caught her. Warm, soft, human arms. The shock, the horror, the terror evaporated as she was held. Long, coarse hair entangled her and the arms of the other woman. It was certainly a woman. Only a woman would be so soft, so comforting.
The woman’s breath was ragged, gurgly. Concerned, Marie looked up into the face of her saviour. It was a mournful face. Her eyes were black pits, seeming to well with tears. Moist black, holes... It was then that she realized that it was blood — blood pouring from the woman’s eyes, her mouth.
“Ohhhh.... Marie. I sure hope you’re happy,” the blood covered lips sputtered.
Marie shrieked, jerking away.
She sat up, panting. Blinking, she became aware of the fact that she was in her dimly lit dorm room. Alyssa stared at her, caught mid-motion. She’d been dancing around the room. They stared at one another, Marie clutching her blankets, Alyssa in ruffled pink panties and nighty, using her hair brush as a microphone.
“You okay, Marie?” Alyssa asked, still standing frozen, brush held to her mouth.
After catching her breath, Marie nodded slowly. “Yeah. Just turn that music off. I think it’s giving me nightmares.”
Alyssa shrugged. “Alrighty, babe. I should sleep anyway.”
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bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...