by Patrick Bernardy
“You’re so pale. Ugly and pale. You know that, right?”
Agnes turned her head and glared at the raven. Its beak was closed, and its beady eyes gazed at her without emotion. It didn’t even give her the satisfaction of looking smug. She turned back to the mirror.
The bird was right, though. She was ugly and pale. Pale like an apparition. Her nose was grotesquely upturned, the nostrils two unsightly ovals in the middle of an unattractive face; irises the color of runny shit, and eyelids with no lashes; lips so thin, the color of a mild bruise.
“Yes, you know that,” the raven said. “You've been ugly since the day you were born. Other children ran from you, called you ‘Ugly Duckling.’ You remember?”
Agnes shifted her position in front of the dresser so she could see the bird in the mirror. “Shut up!”
The raven obeyed.
“It's not going to work, Agnes. Nothing ever will. You'll always be ugly!”
Again in front of her mirror, Agnes was applying lipstick. She rolled her eyes and turned to face the bird. “It'll work, this time. You watch and see!”
She turned back and began teasing her hair. The show started at eight, and she didn’t want to keep her new friend waiting.
“You've had dates before,” the bird continued. “A few firsts, but never seconds. They only agree to go out with you because they feel sorry for you. You tried to kiss one, once, remember? What did he do?”
“He threw up on me.”
“Yes, you made him puke, you’re so ugly.”
“That's not why he threw up. He'd been drinking.”
“You'll never get one back here, you know.”
Agnes closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“You realize you're hideous, even with all that whore-paint?”
She turned and threw the brush at the raven, missing it by a foot. It mocked her with its silence and stillness. This time, it would work. “Just watch and see.”
The woman’s name was Anna, and she was only a little late. She was blonde and petite, so pretty that Agnes could only stare at her as she rambled on about her university classes. They had met at a local coffee-house and struck up a conversation, Agnes feeling bold after a strong latte.
They had one thing in common: a love for gothic horror and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and this topic kept them talking for over an hour. Agnes had been shocked when Anna invited her to the movies; she didn’t seem to mind her appearance at all. In fact, she seemed attracted to her conversation.
After the movie, she felt spellbound by Anna. “I have an original copy of The Raven and Other Poems,” Agnes told her outside the theater.
“No, I do. Copy from 1845, the year it was first published. Would you like to see it?”
“You have it with you?”
“No, it's at my house.”
Anna seemed hesitant.
“I also have some awesome gourmet coffee and a really good stereo system. We can talk.”
“Yeah, okay,” Anna agreed.
“Poe wrote that the most sublime subject in literature is the death of a beautiful woman, the only topic worthy of poetry,” Agnes said, smiling down at Anna. She straddled the woman’s waist on her bed, caressing her cheek lovingly. “Have you heard that?”
“How can she answer you if you have her drugged?” the raven asked beside her.
Agnes turned and faced the bird. “The question was rhetorical, bird-brain. She's a literature major and would know that.”
Yellow light bathed her room from a lamp on the nightstand. Anna was breathing deeply, her eyes closed. Agnes lowered herself and brushed her lips against the woman's. The kiss was intoxicating.
“It does you no good to turn gay, either. Women find you just as ugly and pale as men.”
“Shut up, for once, would you? I know what I’m doing. Watch and see!”
“You are dumb, too. Stupid as the day is long. Brains would have been something, but you have nothing. No brains, no looks. You're a waste of a life. Hopeless.”
“So you say,” Agnes said calmly, enraptured by the beautiful sleeping face in front of her. “I better tie her up before she wakes.”
Anna's eyes fluttered open.
Agnes was surprised how calm she felt, how in control. The woman tried to speak, to shout, but she was gagged to the point of choking on a dirty washcloth. She tried to tug free from her bonds, but her hands and feet were secured tightly to the bedposts in carefully tied knots.
Standing on Anna’s right-hand side, near the lamp, she held up a razor blade for her to see and gave an adoring smile.
Anna’s eyes went wide with fear, and she struggled further in vain.
“So, you're going to go through with it? This is your last chance to stop.”
Agnes tilted her head and looked toward the corner of the room. “I've told you repeatedly to shut up. You're supposed to be dead!”
Anna turned her head to follow Agnes' gaze -- a screech of wretched horror erupted from her throat, muted by the gag.
Walking to the other side of the bed, Agnes picked up the stuffed raven that sat on a shelf above her mother’s corpse. “I don’t want to hear you anymore right now.”
Her grossly obese mother -- strangled just that morning -- was tied to a dining room chair, her head thrown back, eyes open, toothless mouth agape. A worn and grimy nightgown clung to her ample girth-rolls like a massive tarpoleum. Agnes lowered the razor blade and squeezed her mother's cheeks, the sickening aroma inside her mouth forcing Agnes to wince and look away for a moment. She retrieved her mother's limp tongue - which was noticeably devoid of moisture - and stretched it taut, sawing it off near the back with the razor blade. She discarded the stiff, putrid organ in a small waste can and sat the stuffed raven back on the shelf.
Beside her on the bed, Anna thrashed like never before, her gagged scream a continuous melody of terror.
A half hour later, Agnes was again seated in front of her dresser. In the mirror, she could see Anna, her beautiful face now a gruesome sight. Her eyes were lidless and bloody, two round, blue irises completely surrounded by white, bulging in sightless agony in their sockets. A thin slice across her neck - the stroke that killed her - was still oozing blood.
Agnes placed the young woman’s bloody eyelids over her own, the long lashes doing marvels for her shit-brown eyes. Lifting the small glass of the girl’s blood she had collected, she dabbed two fingers into it, smearing it onto her cheeks in firm, deliberate circles.
“It’s not going to work,” the raven said. “I told you. You're just too ugly.”
Agnes' hand paused briefly, and she sighed, looking at the bird in the mirror. “Yes, mother, it will work. I am going to be pretty, just like you always wanted. Watch and see!”