29 Jul The Glamour
“The Glamour”Written by Robert Ahern 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 — 7 minutes
“Alright, class, we have a new student joining us today.”
Everyone straightened their backs and perked up, intrigued by the prospect of someone new the way only children can be. Only Michael remained slouched, head on one arm and playing at indifference, but still, he looked towards the door expectantly.
“Come in, Susie,” said Ms. Simmons.
Michael’s blood ran ice cold and his whole body clenched in fear as something rounded the corner. Something, not someone.
It was about the shape of a girl, more or less. There was a plain black dress, pulled down over what looked like an overlapping column of sticks or narrow batons, each of them appearing to narrow in the middle and swell at both ends into marble-sized knobs that might have been joints. These inferred structures – this crude mass of interlocked somethings – all came together to roughly approximate, but fail to match, the shape of a child’s torso. Occasionally, each rod would kick or tremble independently, like a nervous tick, like something struggling to stay still.
Sleeves and stockings were filled out in the same way, and here a lack of inner solidity was even more apparent. Arms hung limp and leaden while would-be knees bent backwards or sharply to one side, shifting and unsteady, as they struggled to keep whatever it was upright. Nothing of the actual occupant was visible, everything covered head to toe with ill-fitting clothes.
The “head” was somehow the worst part; a cheap glossy wig and white paper mask and nothing else to even suggest humanity. The mask’s eyes and mouth, apertures to an inner darkness, were ringed with black, oily stains. Michael stared into the slitted mouth and, as if in response, something emerged, a wistful tendril-like a human hair dipped in tar, playing about and tracing seam-width stains of the nameless black substance before withdrawing back inside.
“Don’t be shy, come on in,” said Ms. Simmons, undeterred.
The thing moved and Michael’s heart skipped a beat. It did not walk; it shambled, drunkenly, with neither foot ever leaving the ground, crooked legs bending forward and back at impossible angles as each fought against the incompetence of the other to keep their load aloft. The malformed trunk of its torso threw itself desperately to and fro to aid the process, swinging its weight around to prevent its collapse. With this insane gait, it agonized its way across the front of the classroom and towards Ms. Simmons, taking so long that Michael managed to pull his eyes away from the creature and look around him.
To his surprise, everybody was calm.
No, he thought, not simply calm. Rather than coping with the horror, they were eager, interested, and to Michael’s eye, not wrestling with anything even resembling fear. They looked, in fact, exactly as they would have if a person had walked in.
“Susie” stopped beside their teacher, and turned towards the class.
“Why don’t you tell the class a little bit about yourself?” said Ms. Simmons.
There was a pause, and for a while, Michael was unsure whether anything was going to happen. Then there was a sound, the worst he’d ever heard – its voice. It was a formless, high-pitched chorus of shrieks and drilling whines, vaguely parodying the rhythm of human speech at almost unbearable volume, but never resolving into anything like words, nor becoming language. The piercing pattern of raw noise made every cell in Michael’s body scream with primal terror, the same total, genetic fear that makes prey too afraid to run.
But no one reacted. They all remained where they were, looking bored or excited or attentive, and providing no hint that anything was amiss.
The awful noise stopped, quickly succeeded by something so bizarre it took Michael a moment to work out what it was.
Laughter. Everybody around him was laughing. Not hysterically, but as you might if a half-decent joke broke the tension of a new student’s arrival. The screeching noise returned, and now people seemed even more well-disposed towards it.
Sickening revelations unfolded in slow motion, one after another in Michael’s stunned mind.
They were all seeing something normal. They saw a girl named Susie.
They were all hearing Susie speak, talking like anyone else. She was even charming, judging by how they were reacting.
He was the only one who could see what she was.
On an instinctual level, he knew he had to play it cool, act natural, and not give the thing any hint he knew, but he couldn’t help himself. One hand clutched his desk, knuckles solid white as his heart jack-hammered against his chest.
Another round of laughter; everyone was now on board with the new girl, thinking she seemed all right. To Michael, the laughter was muffled, hidden behind the sound of his heartbeat as everything seemed to slow down. In the midst of the distraction, Susie turned her head. She looked directly at Michael, taking him in with her cold, inanimate gaze.
* * * * * *
It was recess, and Michael was leaving. He was going home, traversing the long, wooded driveway that led from the school building to the front gates.
He wasn’t interested in hanging around and trying to expose Susie for whatever she was. That could wait till he was out of harm’s way. He was alone, though. Students weren’t allowed to leave the grounds and everyone in the surrounding streets would be at work or inside and busy this early in the day, so he was moving fast, feeling vulnerable in the open spaces.
The gates were in sight, about twenty feet away. He was almost clear of the school.
And then something emerged, rounding the corner of the red-brick stanchion to one side of the gate.
It was too tall, about seven feet, and garbed in a long, musty trenchcoat of old-fashioned design, bulging grossly on accounts of its uneven, misshapen contents. Trousers extended beneath the coat, one pant leg slack and loose, mostly empty, the other taut over the now horribly familiar shape of concave rods and twitching marbles. A bowler hat covered what would have been the figure’s scalp, and over its “face” was a threadbare cloth sack, featureless save for two ragged holes that were either meant to allow for vision or simply to evoke the shape and positioning of human eyes.
Like Susie, it moved in a clumsy, tottering shamble before halting and, with painstaking deliberateness, shuffling its feet to turn and look at Michael.
Michael turned back.
* * * * * *
He was on the paved portion of the schoolyard, sitting by himself a good distance away from anyone and trying to figure out what he should do.
Then, through the milling of the whole student body, he saw her. Susie. She was amidst a cluster of girls from his class, all of them laughing and chatting excitedly, totally focused on the soulless, hellish, doll-like creature. They were getting close, trying to make friends.
And then, during another brief window of time, during which no one was looking directly at her, Susie turned again to Michael, staring him down with the oil-spill cavities of her eyes.
He tried to ignore it, but over the next few minutes, she did it again. And again.
After the third time, he’d built up his resolve and decided he had nothing to lose. He forced himself to stand up and power his way across the schoolyard, towards the cluster of girls. Towards Susie.
As he closed in the girls turned to look at him, unsure of what he was doing.
He stopped, steeling himself again.
“Susie’s a monster.”
He couldn’t think of a better way to say it. It was that simple. Adrenaline crashed through him like an electric shock, leaving him dizzy with the line he’d just crossed and the certainty that Susie knew he knew. He tried not to shrink away from the mask’s eyes, those twin wet voids.
“Susie’s a monster. Look at her, please, really look at her.”
“What the hell, Mike,” said Janine, one of the girls. “Stop being weird and leave us alone. Jesus.”
He stood there a little longer, paralyzed, trying to think of something, as everyone cast him dirty looks and began to turn away.
“Her skin!” he said, not quite knowing what his plan was before he started doing it.
“What?” said another of the girls.
“Her face! If you… if you touch it… it won’t feel right. It’s a mask.”
Their facial expressions ranged from exasperation to shock at his rudeness, but after a moment Janine glanced towards Susie.
“Susie, can I touch your face? It might make him go away.”
There was a delay, a shifting of Susie’s weight as if she was hesitating, but at last a solitary, wordless squeal emerged from the mask, evidently the go-ahead.
Janine stretched her hand out, drawing it lightly over the paper mask’s cheek. She looked back at Michael as she did so.
“It’s fine, you freak,” she began. “Now lea–” She stopped abruptly, furrowing her brow as she visibly tripped up in her train of thought. Her eyes became distant. “It’s just… it’s a little dry…”
Her eyes refocused and she drew her hand back, the momentary dissonance having passed.
“It’s just a little dry,” she repeated. “Leave us alone, okay?”
Michael gave up. When the bell rang a moment later, he all but fled, frantic in his desire get away from Susie in case she tried to retaliate in some way the others wouldn’t even see.
He passed through the building’s doors and hurried down the hallway, still a long way from his class.
He was walking for some time before he realized he was completely alone, footsteps echoing along an empty corridor that should have been bustling with other students.
He stopped and looked out the window beside him. Everyone was still outside, in their cliques and playing their games, like it was still recess and the bell hadn’t gone off.
Or, like something that could make people see and hear what it wanted them to, could also prevent them from hearing things it didn’t want them to.
He turned around. Susie was there, at the far end of the hallway, next to the door.
His chest tightened and his hair stood on end as a period of wordless inaction dragged on between them.
Then she moved, still with shambling gait, but faster now – striding and urgent and intent.
He ran as fast as he could, pounding up the corridor away from her, but the noise behind him changed. No longer a disorderly scuffling, but a rapid, shredding hiss.
He looked frantically over his shoulder and she was on the ground, face down but rocketing forward on whipping, dislocated limbs that slashed across the ground like insect wings beating almost too fast to see.
He ran faster, so much faster than he ever thought possible, but it wasn’t enough. Something exploded past him, a black blur that ricocheted off the wall and landed in front of him. It was Susie, disheveled and now blocking his path. A few stray structures splayed across the linoleum floor, displaced from within the disguise by the violence of the chase. They were like giant, chitinous beetle legs, divided into segments and separated by rounded, carapaced joints about the size of marbles. The furthermost segment of each gleaming leg tapered to a keen edge and a cruel, piercing tip.
Beside him, Michael noticed a door ajar. Fueled by pure, panicked instinct, he threw it the rest of the way open and barreled through it without a second thought, into the pitch darkness of the boiler room, where he tripped and crashed down a flight of grilled stairs, landing in a heap upon the frigid steel of the first landing, writhing in agony.
He pushed himself up and kept moving, deeper into the maze of tanks and piping, away from the light.
Slowly, taking her time, Susie dragged herself in after him.
Alone in the dark, she could dispense with the rags.
Alone in the dark, she could take what she needed.
And then her skin wouldn’t feel so dry anymore.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available