15 Jun Ensorcell
“Ensorcell”Written by Meagan J. Meehan Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 12 minutes
It had started with a word. Ensorcell. Pollyanna had first overheard it when she was a child, playing with her Barbies in the spacious parlor as her mother prattled away on the phone to one pageant organizer or another.
“She’ll absolutely ensorcell everybody, she’s a natural!” Adeline gushed every chance she got, always eager to promote her daughter.
Pollyanna asked her mother what the strange word meant one day shortly thereafter while they were waiting at yet another terminal to board yet another plane to go to yet another beauty pageant.
“It means to enchant or fascinate or absolutely bewitch,” Adeline had said, beaming. “It’s what beautiful girls like you do to anyone who looks at you.”
Pollyanna had felt special. Not everyone had the power to ensorcell. Of course, ensorcelling could go many different ways.
* * * * * *
Adeline Marbury had first come upon the word “ensorcell” in an old book of fairy tales. She had frequently escaped into books as a girl to escape the insufferable mundaneness of her daily life.
Pollyanna was named after an unabashedly cheerful character from an old book. She was named so because Adeline lived by the mantra that it was important for girls to smile; looking pleasant was part of being beautiful…and smiles impressed the judges, which was the primary objective, after all. Whether it was her smile, or her pearly white teeth, or her bleached blonde hair, or her perfectly manicured fingernails, immaculate makeup, and shimmery skimpy costumes, Pollyanna had won the judges over time and time again. She had trophies and ribbons to prove it.
Pollyanna had been enrolled in beauty pageants since she was three years old. Her mother had started prepping her for a life of pageantry practically since she learned she was pregnant with a girl.
“You’re blessed to have these opportunities darling,” Adeline Mayberry had told her only child time and time again.
Adeline had seen beauty as the begin-all and end-all to having a successful life. She had been an undeniable beauty in her day, a true Georgia peach: blonde-haired, blue-eyed, slender, pale—central casting for supermodels. Yet she had also been from a solidly working-class and strict religious family. Her momma wouldn’t let her wear makeup even when she was sixteen. Instead, Adeline had spent most of her youth stocking shelves and working the cash register at the family’s general store.
Adeline’s escape came when she was sixteen and met Doug Jahn—nine years her senior, a law school graduate, and hailing from a respectable family of old money. Moreover, Doug was the only heir to his recently deceased father’s fortune. He and Adeline crossed paths at the county fair and, the way Adeline told it, Doug had been smitten—even downright ensorcelled—with her from the moment he laid eyes on her. The way the local gossips told it, Doug was desperately seeking a pretty, prim, and proper wife to distract folks from his questionably quirky behavior, especially his weirdly close attachment to a local waiter named Bob, who was also mysteriously still single well into adulthood.
Adeline practically dragged Doug down the aisle, eager to escape from the drudgery of the store. After they married, she zealously spent money on clothes and makeup and dolling up the sizable colonial mansion that Doug had purchased for them. Two years into the marriage they had Pollyanna, their sole child. Adeline reveled in making her parents beg to see their only grandchild. Needless to say, relations were strained.
If Adeline enjoyed decorating her house, she absolutely delighted in adorning her daughter in every frilly, fancy get-up she could find. Beauty pageants were the cornerstones of Pollyanna’s childhood. Her mother told her over and over again that learning how to apply makeup, strut-walk, and feel comfortable in sequins was her best chance of finding success.
“You’re so pretty, Polly,” went Adeline’s mantra. “You’re gonna be a rich man’s wife and live like a queen all your life, just wait and see.”
Pollyanna loved both her mother’s praise and the way she glimmered when she was standing under the stage lights in full costume. Initially, she hadn’t enjoyed the spray tanning, or sitting for hours getting her makeup done, or attaching wigs and extensions to her bleached hair, or the weird sensation of acrylic nails, or the way the fake eyelash glue stuck her lashes together…but whenever Pollyanna had dared to have a meltdown, her mother matched her tantrum tit for tat.
“I’m trying to secure your future, so stop being such an ungrateful brat!” Adeline would shriek, alongside similar statements, until they were both in tears. Over time, Pollyanna stopped fighting. She didn’t like to upset her mother and, when she was a good girl, she got a Barbie doll. Adeline said that tall, thin, blonde Barbie was a good role model.
Pollyanna’s grandparents were horrified by their grandchild’s relentless pageantry involvement. Decidedly not ensorcelled with glitz and glamour, they vehemently protested what they considered the sexualization of their sole grandchild from toddlerhood onward. Yet every time they complained—or dared to utter a single critical comment—Adeline distanced herself further until there was no relationship left and, subsequently, no further protests. For his part, Doug said nothing about anything. Since his marriage, he had stayed away from Bob but got closer to the bottle. He lived in the same house, but Pollyanna rarely saw him. When he died of liver failure when she was six, neither she nor Adeline shed many tears.
After Doug’s death, Pollyanna’s involvement in pageants increased dramatically. She could afford to enter bigger and grander contests everywhere from Texas to California to Las Vegas. Pollyanna loved traveling but she loved performing more. Singing and dancing had become her forte and joy; she knew no greater thrill than performing on stage and hearing the audience applaud.
I’ve ensorcelled them, she would think to herself, smiling ear to ear whilst taking a bow. In her spare time, Pollyanna constantly practiced her routines and that dedication had been her downfall.
When she was fourteen, Pollyanna lost her balance while twirling on the patio. She fell awkwardly and banged her head hard on the brick-coated ground. She split open her forehead, broke her nose, and knocked out two front teeth. The doctors at the emergency room said she was lucky to have avoided a concussion, but her mother couldn’t be comforted.
“You’ve ruined your life!” Adeline sobbed when she saw the stitches embedded within her beautiful daughter’s forehead. “Who’s going to want you now?”
Those words stung Pollyanna more deeply than any said before, but she hadn’t responded. There was nothing to say.
A dentist implanted two false teeth that looked and felt real and her nose healed cleanly leaving no trace of the accident…but the scar on her forehead remained. Despite her initial outburst, Adeline didn’t turn her back on her only child; much to the contrary, she did everything in her power to find a cure. She took her to specialists and applied every type of healing cream on the market…but nothing completely erased the deep scar that the injury had placed upon Pollyanna’s otherwise flawless skin. Pollyanna participated in three pageants after the accident but didn’t win a single one. Even the professional makeup artists couldn’t cover the mark and the other contestants—and their mothers—pointed and snickered audibly. Adeline finally decided to stop entering the pageants, but she refused to stop searching for a remedy.
“You’ll be right as rain soon, sugar, don’t you worry,” she’d tell her daughter. Pollyanna was skeptical, to say the least.
Yet the remedy was found at a big makeup convention in New York City. Adeline and Pollyanna didn’t go every year, but whenever they did make the journey to The Big Apple, they enjoyed themselves immensely. Traditionally, they spent a day or two at the show and the rest of the week seeing the sights of the city, especially Fifth Avenue. Yet the first trip they took to the makeup show after the accident was not nearly as leisurely. It was a stone-cold mission to regain glory.
They didn’t find glory, but they found Ilona Muntean. She was manning a stand at the back row of the exposition which should have been inconspicuous but which somehow commanded attention. From the moment Adeline and Pollyanna spotted the stand they were drawn to it like moths to a flame. The woman presiding over the ensemble of bottles and jars introduced herself as Ilona and she was gorgeous; she possessed an enviable beauty that any aspiring model would kill for. She also promised that her potions could transform plain women into beauties and make gorgeous women irresistible.
From the moment Pollyanna met Ilona, she knew that she had found the person who would most alter the course of her life. It wasn’t a feeling she could explain, but there had been a definite connection to Ilona—an allure—that even the most professional of photos could not capture.
Ilona spoke with a singsong accent that was as alluring as the scents of her perfumes. Pollyanna couldn’t remember exactly what had been said initially—it was as if she’d been half lulled (ensorcelled) to sleep—but she did remember Ilona approaching her with sympathy-filled eyes and gently brushing back her long bangs, exposing the scar.
“A scar is imperfection, yes, but I fix,” she’d cooed in clear yet broken English. “Sit down, I make disappear.”
Pollyanna had done as instructed and allowed herself to be lathered with creams and gels as Ilona’s bewitching voice told her and her mother about all of the benefits of her creams and serums. With a sly smile, she called them potions. Pollyanna didn’t know exactly how much time had passed, but when she rose from the chair and looked in a mirror, her scar was noticeably lighter. The next morning, it was gone.
Adeline and Pollyanna had shunned the rest of the city and spent every day at the makeup convention, huddled around Ilona’s booth, talking to her and buying up her stock of beauty treatments. Ilona told them she was from Moldova but lived in New York. After the convention closed, she had even invited them to her apartment for tea.
The apartment was more akin to a penthouse. It was big and fancy and full of ancient-looking art; clearly Ilona’s beauty business had served her well. Once, whilst searching for the bathroom, Pollyanna came across a darkened room that smelled of incense. There were old scrolls and paintings hanging on the walls depicting demonic entities. There were also many photographs of misshapen, disfigured children…most of who appeared to be female. Pollyanna had let out a yelp of surprise and stumbled backwards. Then Ilona was next to her, speaking words of comfort.
“This my dark collection,” she explained. “Demons…the ugliness I fight with my mixtures. Photos show children I support by charity…Them I cannot cure.”
Whilst the scattered photos and disturbing artwork seemed weird, scary, and unsettling, Ilona’s explanation was convincing. And so, Pollyanna had simply shut the door and thought no more about it.
By the fifth day since making her acquaintance, Adeline and Pollyanna felt as if Ilona was an old friend. It was difficult to go back to Georgia. They had to purchase extra luggage to carry back all the bottles and elixirs they had secured. They also kept in near-constant contact with Ilona via email.
Months passed. Pollyanna entered and won three pageants, her flawless features ensorcelling the judges as expected. Ilona provided Adeline with creams to fight the insidious crow’s feet that were infringing around her eyes and Adeline clearly liked the results she saw when she looked in the mirror. Yet Pollyanna noticed her mother looking frailer and more drawn by the day; at times it looked like she had aged twenty years without realizing it. Of course, Adeline refused to see a doctor. After all, she didn’t feel sick. In fact, she didn’t seem to notice anything but positive improvements.
“We’ve got to focus on becoming Miss America,” Adeline told her daughter. “And modeling. You’re almost an adult. Now all these doors are opening for you. In two or three years, we’ll be in Hollywood! Can you imagine your name in lights, sugar?”
Pollyanna could and it sounded good. After all, plenty of models—especially supermodels—went on to act.
Yet, no such things happened. Instead, Pollyanna’s world was turned upside down one morning five weeks after her eighteenth birthday, and six months after returning from New York, when she found her mother lying in bed, cold and dead. The doctors said it was a massive aneurysm.
Adeline was promptly buried next to her husband and Pollyanna was left alone and devastated in the big house with ample money…and having no idea what to do with herself. In desperation, she called Ilona for advice. Expecting merely comfort, she was surprised by Ilona’s generous offer.
“Come, you be my assistant,” Ilona had said soothingly. “I have room in house, you stay here. You be model, yes?”
It sounded too good to be true…but Pollyanna recalled Ilona saying something about having a hard time finding suitable help. Pollyanna did like the excitement of the city and she was intrigued by all the modeling opportunities it offered, and so she promptly gathered her things and got on a plane. She didn’t bother selling the house; she assumed that she would likely come back to Georgia from time to time.
Life in New York was ensorcelling; a whirlwind of conventions and parties and modeling shoots. Pollyanna met celebrities and got interviewed by modeling magazines; she even walked the runways during fashion week. Yet after a few months, all the excitement started to affect her. She felt tired and noticed that her skin didn’t look as rosy and healthy as it once had. She awoke one morning and discovered several gray hairs protruding from her scalp. Ilona, who never seemed to age past thirty-five or so, laughed at the younger woman’s panic and handed her a supplement to drink. For the first time, it didn’t seem to work. Pollyanna continued to feel listless, old.
A few weeks later, Pollyanna’s graying hair started to fall out in clumps, her back ached, and her feet felt oddly numb. She wanted to see a doctor but Ilona said all she really needed was fresh air.
“We go my country,” she said. “It nice there, we settle you.”
Ilona brought Pollyanna a plane ticket and the two of them traveled to Eastern Europe. Pollyanna didn’t enjoy the flight. She felt feverish and sore in ways that not even the comforts of first-class could abate. Ilona assured her—as well as any flight attendants who dared to inquire—that she would be fine and Ilona was so convincing, so soothing and soft-spoken, that everyone believed her without further question.
Pollyanna barely remembered landing. She didn’t recall exiting the plane, collecting the luggage, or anything about the airport. She couldn’t recall hailing a taxi or journeying into the city, but she did remember Ilona practically carrying her—with seemingly superhuman strength—into a grand building that was more castle than mansion. Apparently, Ilona had more money than she ever let on.
Ilona brought Pollyanna into an ornate bedroom and laid her down to rest amid a sea of plush pillows on a lush mattress and silk sheets. Pollyanna didn’t know how long she slept or how many days went by. She was in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of Ilona coming in and out of the room. She was made to swallow unusual tasting drinks and rubbed with intoxicatingly scented ointments. Oddly, she vaguely recollected signing paperwork…but she had no idea how to differentiate between dreams and reality. The word “sleep” was gently cooed seemingly continuously, compelling her to periodically drift back into darkness.
At some point, Pollyanna regained consciousness. She felt very weak and very sore…and very strange. She tried to move her legs and agony instantly shot through her back. She crumpled, feeling discombobulated, wrong. Her head felt as heavy as lead and her body jerked abnormally as she used all her wane strength to move toward the edge of the bed. She felt stray strands of hair lace her fingertips as her hands gripped the bed sheets. To her horror, she realized that her teeth were loose and her tongue was badly swollen…something was seriously amiss.
Pollyanna groaned. It was painful to move but she had to get to a mirror, she had to see the state that she was in. Then she would call for an ambulance. She obviously needed a doctor desperately.
She fell from the tall bed awkwardly, landing hard on the floor with a sickening thud. She cried out; her ribs throbbed and she couldn’t get her footing. Her eyes couldn’t quite adjust in the darkness of the room, but she realized that her legs were tiny and thin—almost mangled—as if they had shriveled up into her. Gathering her slight strength, Pollyanna pulled herself along the floor. Her arms practically screamed as she stretched them outward; their muscles were clearly reducing and weakening just as her legs had.
In the distance, Pollyanna saw a dim glint of light. She understood that she would not be able to stand up and look in a standard wall mirror, but there appeared to be an old and shiny suit of armor in the corner. It was surely reflective enough to let her assess her condition…alas a distance of twenty feet might as well have been twenty miles. Huffing and groaning with effort, Pollyanna slithered across the floor and struggled to the foot of the well-polished knight’s armor. Nothing could have prepared her for the vision staring back at her.
She was skinny, and her eyes were sunken into her gaunt face like those of a skeleton. She was mostly bald and her lips were cracked and caked with blood. Yet it was the state of her body that elicited a scream of horror—her legs were indeed withered, and her arms were starting to retract unnaturally, and her spine was curved crookedly, rendering her into a misshapen lump of humpbacked flesh.
Suddenly the bedroom door burst open. Pollyanna threw her head to the floor, crying out as the sudden burst of light assaulted her irises. Then Ilona was standing over her, looking younger and fresher than Pollyanna had ever seen. She didn’t look thirty-five; she looked twenty-two at most.
“Hospital…” Pollyanna tried to say only to discover that she could not speak. Whatever had happened to her had made her incapable of articulating words or emoting anything more than guttural gurgles.
Shhh…Ilona crooned and, for just a moment, she changed. For the first time, Pollyanna saw Ilona for what she really was—an ancient crepe-skinned skeletal witch with eyes as black as coal; more demon than human. Pollyanna recoiled in terror and blinked hard. In an instant, Ilona was back to her beautiful self, staring down at Pollyanna ruefully, undoubtedly understanding exactly what she had just seen. One thing was immediately clear: Ilona had ensorcelled her…completely, truly and utterly ensorcelled her. Adeline had been right; Ilona was certainly something else…something else entirely.
“You go now,” she lulled mockingly. “You served me well, beauty.”
And so, Pollyanna found herself carted off to an institution where she was locked away with other pitifully deformed beings. She recognized several of them from the photographs she had seen in Ilona’s Manhattan apartment; images of their pathetic existences displayed like trophies. She supposed her own photograph was now a cherished part of that macabre collection.
Pollyanna tried to explain what had happened to her, but like all the others, she could not speak coherently. Cruelly, photos of Ilona were displayed upon the walls of every room. After all, she was the primary patron of the asylum…the same establishment which she populated with a never-ending daisy-chain of global victims whose homes she acquired and fortunes she stole along with their youth and health and beauty. Without outright murdering her victims, Ilona nonetheless took their lives.
With no family left to claim her or declare her missing, Pollyanna remained in the asylum. Her vision and mobility decreased, but compared to some of the other older patients, she was in good condition.
Among the victims, Pollyanna was indeed a beauty.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableMeagan J. Meehan Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A