It was a moon filled night. The type of night that cast shadows among every path and on every tree. The two girls ran through the woods hand in hand, sharing laughter and whispering secrets. Emily took long strides forward, leaping over tree branches and dodging bushes like a gazelle. She was something to be seen and always had been. Now at the young and confusing age of eleven, her body was starting to fill out, pulling glances from everyone, no matter if they were sitting in a restaurant booth or roofing a house. It was as if a radiant glow spilled out of every pore in her body, a walking goddess just waiting to be worshiped.
Then there was Becca: ‘the other one.’ The one that people would size up next to Emily. She could never compete with her best friend. She knew this ever since they met in kindergarden, sharing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches under the bright glow of fluorescent lights. As the years passed, Emily became the central focus of underage desire. While Emily was getting phrase and compliments, Becca always stood to the side, half in the shadows, slowly becoming an empty shell to others and herself.
Of course she acted like she didn’t care. She was smarter, funnier, wittier and her family had much more money than Emily’s. Regardless, no matter how much she struggled to raise her self-esteem there was always that small nagging ache in her heart whenever people flocked to her best friend. While Becca always tried to stay out of the way, Emily was always pulling her towards her, making sure they both stood side by side- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Emily would tell her in the most enthusiastic of voices, “you shouldn’t be worried about what other people say or think. All that matters is that we are best friends. We are best friends right?” Becca would always nod in agreement “Of course, of course.”
That was how the midnight runs began.Two girls in desperate search for some kind of freedom from their boring midwestern farm life. They would both sneak out of there houses at exactly 11:45, racing to meet up at the trailhead of pinewood creek. It’s entrance was overgrown with ferns causing the illusion that it was a magical place long forgotten. They never said a word to one another when they met at Piinewood Creek. Some things are better said with silence, and this mute agreement suited them.
They felt exhilarated racing through the forest, the tingling feeling of cold sweat dripping down their faces and backs while they jumped over brush and tree branches. Nothing was straight for the girls, not even their running. They zigged and zagged through the forest, their hearts filled with such spirit. Some of the local farmers began to believe that the woods were full of real werewolves hearing only faint whisps of the girls heavy breathing. Of course, both of the girls knew differently; and they always found it incredibly humorous when they heard the local farmers speak of the werewolves that were haunting their property line. Once the girls had made plans on new and inventive ways they could frighten the farmers, but none them them ever came to fruition. Even the girls relatives feared Pinewood Creek forest preserve. Becca’s grandmother, Ruby McDonna, would always warn her about the woods. “There is a deep evil residing in the woods, people go in and most of the time never come out.” While this made for a wonderful campfire tale, it never worried the girls. Instead, it caused the opposite, turning the girls nightly run into a challenge, proof that they were strong enough to defeat whatever evil lurked in the forest.
Despite the adrenaline running through their bodies, something felt off this night. This run felt foreboding and different.. There was a certain level of excitement. It seemed to rise up from the underbrush into the green canopies of the trees. Becca could feel the vibrations of this frenzy reaching all the way in- deep into the depths of her soul. She glanced over at emily who was running right next to her, always at the same speed, always side-by-side. Becca was unsure if Emily could sense this new experience; and in some ways, she desperately hoped that Emily was not having the same experience she was. Sometimes you want things simply for yourself. After a mile, the girls were practically gasping for air, their lungs burning from their determination to always run, never walk. It was during this short break that the girls discovered something that they had never seen before- the burnt structural remains of a house. The foundation lay on the forest floor, parts of the cement crumbling from the wear and tear of time. Only a closed door stood on what had once been a front porch. This new discovery was enough to cause the girls to pause, hands on their knees gasping for breath.
“What is this? Did we get lost?” Emily asked. She gave Becca a questioning look, unsure of how to proceed with this creepy red door.
“I…don’t know” Becca stated. She finally stood up tall carefully analyzing and considering closed door. It stood closed in a lonely sort of way as if it was waiting for it’s previous owners to open it once more and come into their isolated home.
“Should we open it?” Becca asked, bushy eyebrows raised.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of freaking me out.”
“Come on, don’t be such a baby,” Becca nagged, trying to think of a way she could convince Emily to open the mysterious entryway.
“I’m not a baby! I am older than you by three months so if anything that would make you the baby!” Emily hated being called a baby or anything else that demeaned her. She looked at the door and quickly looked away afraid of what resided behind the gateway.
“Fine then, open it. Unless you’re scared.” Becca quickly began to mock her best friend, mimicking her in a weird distorted voice which drove Emily insane. The simple fact was that sometimes we should leave certain doors closed, that was what her mother had always told her anyways. As the mocking continued Emily could feel the heat rise up into her cheeks and a deep anger grow in the pit of her stomach. If Becca wanted the door opened that badly, then fine she would do it: her, the brave door opening. Emily took quick strides towards the door. A quick glance behind the door revealed that nothing was there. Nothing to fear- it was just an ordinary door.
Emily reached for the doorknob, hands shaking from both fear and anticipation. She touched the cool silver handle, hesitating a moment before she turned it. Laughter began to echo from behind the two of them. The girls quickly darted around looking for the source of the laugh, that deep harmonious laugh. Seeing nothing Emily turned her attention back to the door knob. This time it was a voice that came from the woods behind them.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Both girls about faced again, eyes squinting in the darkness trying to make out some sort of shape or movement.
“Just a word of advice my new friends. Sometimes things are better left alone. Curiosity killed the cat you know.” They finally spotted him, casually leaning against a tree intensely watching them through dark eyes. HIs clever charm caused both girls to feel a deep tingling sensation that seemed to vibrate from their head down into their loins. He looked so beautiful, like some kind of angel dressed in black slacks and black polo shirt. An alarm seemed to go off in Becca’s head. This man was pristinely groomed for someone who happens to be lurking around in the woods late at night.
“Nothing will happen if I open this door” Emily stated bravely. “All those legends of evil and devils are simply that, legends!” Becca rolled her eyes at this; it annoyed her to see Emily trying to act smart in front of people, especially strangers. In most cases Emily had no clue of what she was talking about. The brave statement brought a wide grin to the stranger’s face, flashing a lovely set of perfect white teeth. He pushed off from the tree and sauntered towards the two of them, observing them as if they were specimens in a lab. His eyes finally landed on Becca- his smile widened.
“My, my. Look at those eyes. I haven’t seen such green eyes in a long time. You must be very luck to have such a commodity.” This brought a true smile to Becca’s face. She suddenly liked, no, loved this stranger. It was the first compliment that she had ever received. Seeing this interaction between the two of them brought about a deep rage in Emily’s heart. She was not pleased with this man. She was the pretty one, not Becca. Becca would never be pretty with that baby thin mousy brown hair, crooked teeth and bushy eyebrows. Emily simply couldn’t figure out why this man was not giving her any attention or any sort of affection. The stranger tilted his head in Emily’s direction, eyes sparkling with delight. He was obvious laughing at her, even if the laughter did make a sound.
“‘well, since you are such a brave young girl, then open the door, that is it if you wish.” Emily couldn’t believe it, he was challenging her. She hated him. Becca on the other hand, was falling more and more in love with him. There was only one tiny problem- she felt comfortable around him but also uneasy. It was like a thin balance between ultimate trust and ultimate deceit, and she desperately trying to balance on that tight-rope.
Finally having enough of this nonsense Emily opened the door. It swung back with a deep creak, as if it hadn’t been opened for centuries. The three of them peered inside, looking around for whatever it was that may have resided there. They were met with their own reflections staring right back at them. The stranger walked through the doorway first, both girls following behind him. They were greeted by a large mirror which was carefully placed in the middle of the room; a mirror so pristine that flashes of moon beams were bouncing off the glassy surface.
“My, what a lovely mirror,” he stated softly. He quickly stood in front of it and began to look at his appearance. He took note that he looked quite disheveled and quickly brushed his hair to the left- adjusted his shirt and slacks. Seeing that this mirror was harmless Emily ran forward and looked into the mirror, a gasp of breath involuntarily escaping from her lungs. It was as if Narcissus himself had just found his reflection. She looked so beautiful. She began to stroke her face gently with the tips of her fingers, smiling at the image of herself.
The stranger then turned towards Becca, a mischievous look twinkling in his eyes. “‘Would you like a look little lamb?” Becca shook her head vigorously.
“No, I already know what I look like.” Her voice was full of sadness, something that she tried to hide by staring down at her sneakers, which were now covered in dirt and dead leaves. “I see.” He gave her a quick nod and turned away from the glass, focusing his attention on her. In a few quick strides he came up close to her face, causing that uncomfortable feeling to turn into dread.
“‘Do you not think that you are pretty?” Becca could feel the deep despair rise up from her gut. No, of course she was not pretty, that was just a fact. He leaned in, cheek pressed against cheek, and whisper in her ear: “What if you could change that?” Becca pulled away and look right into the man’s eyes, trying to find something in their murky black depths. There was nothing there, just coldness. What was he playing at? Was he mocking her, trying to make her hurt more than she already did? With this he offered her a smile.
“Well, would you change it?” he asked again. She began to stare at her dirty shoes again, trying her best not to back down against this strange person.
“I guess so.” This brought a victorious smile to his face.
“Well then, don’t I have a little surprise for you.” He chuckled and quickly glanced over at Emily to make sure she was back still transfixed on her reflection.
“I can help you Becca. I can make you happy.” She didn’t know how he knew her name, but at that moment she didn’t care. She needed this warmth, this compassion.
“How?” Tears were beginning to well in her eyes. She quickly wiped them away with the sleeve of her hoodie.
“There is an old story. And remember, all old stories have some kind of gruesome trail that the hero must go through. But, in this particular belief it is said that if one is brave enough to spill the blood of an innocent, then he or she may receive any wish that you want. But of course, that is only a myth and there are always consequences.” It was almost as if Becca had been knocked out of a trance. Her right hand felt heavy. She was now holding a dagger- a blade that looked so deadly, so long and sharp. It seemed as if the weapon was simply dying for the chance to taste blood once more.
The man led Becca towards the door and begun to speak in a very quiet and sad voice. “I am very hungry Becca. It has been so long, so so long. No one comes into my woods anymore, except for you my lamb. My beautiful hero. Because of this, I will strike a deal with you if you so choose. It’s really quite simple: you help me and I will help you.”
“‘What do you mean?” The man sighed.
“Sadly I cannot take the soul of an innocent. Although, if they are released from their earthly bodies by someone they love, I am free to feed. And I am so hungry Becca. So Hungry. Really it is some kind of haunting mojo nonsense. But, never the less, it is a rule and I am a stickler for rules.” He then let out a small laugh and focused his whole attention on Becca.
‘I will give you her beauty, if you help me get her soul.” This statement caused Becca to freeze, a paleness taking to her skin. Was he really asking her to murder her best friend, the one who had always been there- sleepovers and s’mores, scary movies and swimming pools. All those memories with this one person that in a way she loved. The sentimentality didn’t last for long though. The desire to finally be the pretty one was taking over her. Becca imagined her whole life then, complete with the beautiful husband, some beautiful kids and of course beautiful dogs.
“Yes, the possibilities are endless.” He said while gently running cool fingers down Becca’s now tear stained cheeks. She looked over at Emily, simple and vain Emily. Suddenly Becca remember all those times Emily had secretly spread rumors about her. Becca had always known it was her, but yet she still stuck by as a loyal friend- the sidekick, the goon, the ugly minion that waited upon Emily.
“Why would you want to be loyal to someone who cares little to nothing about you, except to use you as a comparison to show how pretty she is.” He was right. This man was right.
Becca turned, hesitating for a moment. She looked back at the man “you promise you will do this?”
“If anything, I am always a man of my word.” He gave her a gentle reassuring nod and nudged her forward with his hands. Each step that she took towards her friend felt slow and sounded loud on the old cement floor. After what felt like an eternity, Becca was standing right behind Emily.
“What is it?”
“Haven’t you been looking at that mirror for long enough?’
With that statement Emily snapped. “You’re just jealous that I have something to look at.” Becca was shocked at her words. She had had enough. Emily would never change and it was about high time that she got everything she she justly deserved. Becca was tired of being the ugly girl, the outcast. With her hand firmly grasping the handle of her dagger Becca quickly grabbed Emily by her blond ponytail and pulled her head back roughly, revealing her lovely throat. That changed in a matter of seconds, as Becca quickly pulled the blade across that beautiful throat. It happened quickly. Blood began to pour from the open wound. Becca quickly let go of her hair and took a few steps back. Turning around Emily looked at her best friend with eyes filled with surprise. She began to try and gasp for air, which was simply causing the blood to pour down over her chest at a faster rate, dying her white hoodie a deep red.
Growing bored, the stranger finally spoke: “You must finish it.’ Without a second thought Becca violently threw Emily to the ground, the two girls grappling one another. Emily never stood a chance, she had lost too much blood and she could feel the world growing hazy around her. Using this to her advantage Becca arranged herself so that she was sitting on top of her, binding Emily’s arms underneath her legs. Tears streaked down Emily’s beautiful face, smearing the mascara that her mom never approved of her wearing.
Becca smiled down at her poor, helpless best friend. Taking a deep breath she drove the dagger right into Emily’s heart with a force so fierce that it easily broke the chest plate. Becca forced herself to stare into Emily’s dying eyes. She felt emotionless- uncaring. It was finally done. She violently pulled the knife up from Emily’s chest, causing streaks of blood to coat her face.
The man clapped from the doorway. “Beautiful. Truely beautiful. I could not have done it any better myself.”
Becca was filled with a feeling of power, something so large it was hard to keep it suppressed within herself. “Keep your promise! You said you’d make me beautiful so do it. Do it now!”
“Of course of course, but first things first.” The man walked towards the two of them, both lifeless in their own way, his eyes alight with hunger and excitement. Becca began to stand slowly and cautiously, making sure that she had hold of the dagger at all times. After a brief moment of the two of them staring each other down, the stranger reached down to the top of Emily’s crown and with a quick sharp pull out came a vague and ethereal image. Something that looked like wispy air, somehow being both shiny and grey.
The man’s teeth seemed much sharper now, his handsome looks seeming to shift between what they once saw and some kind of beast. Always the gentleman he turned towards Becca and gently spoke:
“Excuse me, it is not proper for a lady to see a ravenous man eat. So please excuse me for one moment.” He turned away from her and began to feast. She could hear the screaming and a loud ripping sound. Becca then realized that this man, this glorious stranger, was the ripping apart Emily’s soul bit by bit, savoring the flavor of one as young as her. It only took seconds, but when it was done, there seemed to be some kind of relief in the air. He stood up tall and turned to face Becca once more. “Again my apologies. I was very hungry. Now then, with that aside, lets get down to business shall we?”
He looked down at Emily’s lifeless corpse and delicately reached into her eye sockets, removing first the left eye and then the right. Wet and slimy, they sat like a pair of marbles in his open hand.
“Eat them.” Becca took a step back. “What?”
“I said eat them. If you truly want to be beautiful then you will do as you’re told.” All the fun and mockery had left both his voice and his face. She knew in that instant that this was a now or never offer. Trying not to tremble, she took both of the veined eyes from his hand. She tightly shut her eyes and shoved the eyeballs into her mouth, quickly chewing the gooey mess. Swallowing them was the hard part and she could feel her mouth begin to water. She was going to vomit.
“Keep them down Becca.” Sighing, he turned back to look at himself in the mirror, analysing his face and hair. Slowly Becca opened her eyes, feeling as if this was all some sort of dream.
“I did it, so now what?” He smiled. “I am so glad you finally asked. Come and see your transformation.”
‘No. Emily got transfixed in the mirror. I don’t want to be eaten.”
“‘Emily took her outward appearance too far. It allowed the mirror to capture her in it’s reflection. But you, you are different. There is no cowardice in you, no vanity. Well, not yet anyways.” He chuckled at his own joke.
With a heavy sigh, Becca stepped over Emily’s now deformed body and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She gasped at what she saw. She was indeed beautiful. Her hair thicker and fuller- no dead ends and a glossy shade of mahogany. Her teeth were now perfectly straight, her nose narrowed, eyebrows trimmed into a perfect shape. Even her body was thinner.
“I…I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. How did this happen?” Becca took a step back and stared at the man in amazement. He smiled at her, watching her through the mirror.
“I told you, I am always a man of my word.”
“‘Who are you? How did this happen?” Becca could feel herself falling in love with this dark and handsome man, the first man to ever take notice of her.
“Well, certain body parts when eaten affect certain features on a person. One time a man ate a full heart so that he could become brave.” He let out a loud bellowing laugh at that. “It was both disgusting and beautiful all at once. As for my name, that is my secret. We never tell.”
Finally he turned to face her.
“You seem like a good kid Becca. So let me give you some advice. Run home, tell no one about what has happened here on this night under the full moon. This will forever be between you and I.”
“Can’t I stay with you a little bit longer?” That statement seemed to stun him for a moment, not exactly sure of how to respond.
“You are the first person to ever ask me that. Do not worry Becca, my good girl, we will absolutely meet again one day.” Becca could feel the courage and confidence swell deep within her. She strode towards him, raising herself up on her tip toes and gently gave her stranger a kiss.
“I shall love you forever. Thank you.”
“And I you, my beautiful dark queen. Now run, run as fast as you can, before I eat you as well.’ With that being said, Becca turned and raced straight out through the open door, pushing past her limits to get out of the woods and into her house. Once she exited the forest Becca took a quick look at the damage that she was going to have to hide. To her wonderful surprise, there was nothing there. Not a single drop of blood existed on her person. ‘It must be some kind of sign’ She thought. She knew that tomorrow was going to be a good day at school. People may ask about Emily, but she would just say she didn’t know. She would give a ‘maybe she’s sick’ excuse. The sun was beginning to cause the sky to lighten into a golden and purple sky. She had to hurry and get into her room so she could pretend to be asleep. Left open to await her arrival, she began to shimmy herself through the window, climbed into bed and pretend to sleep.
Days, weeks and years passed with Becca keeping her beauty, but also trying not to become vain as Emily had done, and whenever she began to dote on her looks she would hear the man’s dark laughter echoing from deep within the woods.