Her obsession made him jealous, but her transformation confirmed his worst fears.
The Crimson Rose
Mallory Branson was a level-headed woman. She was also logical, practical, and meticulous in all that she did. Being the editor of a local newspaper required she sort the nonsensical from the rational. It was a daily process that took up eighty percent of her time and energy. So much so, that she brought such mentalities back home. She had no children yet, and it was something she and her husband of five years, Brad, had agreed upon. The little critters could wait until they were mentally and emotionally prepared to handle the extra burden. Besides, she wanted to protect her precious Waterford crystal collection in the curio cabinet downstairs. The thought of fingerprints on the glass, or something (like say a ball) smashing through it, gave her the chills.
Her greatest joy came in cleaning the little figurines and plates. On a Saturday morning, one could find her in a pair of comfortable jeans, a shirt and an apron with gloves on her delicate hands, kneeling reverently before them. There were simply no words to describe the warmth and satisfaction she experienced after each gleamed with her care. All figurines were placed in a straight line, and she had placed a piece of clear tape on the wood surface so she could tell exactly where each one stood. Any pushed beyond that ‘line’ was unacceptable. It was the only way she could tell if someone had gone peeking into the cabinet without her permission. Guests and friends could look and admire, but she was always careful to stay between them and the cabinet, as if warding them away for fear they’d sully it with their very breath. Even her precious husband was not immune to her possessive nature with the collectibles.
One day, he had made the mistake of bumping against the side panel while trying to vacuum the room. Mallory, who was on her way to the kitchen from grocery shopping, dropped the bag of vegetables to the floor with a breathless shriek as she watched her figurines rattle and tremble within their cocoon.
Brad didn’t know what hit him. One moment he was trying to get his footing, the next he was pushed away with such a tremendous force that he fell to the floor in pain and surprise. He lifted his gaze slowly to the most frightening sight. It was something he would never forget as long as he lived. He’d even swear that it wasn’t his wife standing above him.
Her usually mild green eyes had blazed with a fury unmatched. Her features were pinched, nostrils flared, lips parted and bared for a moment to reveal canines that almost looked razor sharp. Her hands had formed fists by her side, and as Brad cowered away, he realized that she was clenching them so tight, drops of her blood fell to the carpet like silent rain.
"Ba…baby?” Brad had called out tentatively, wildly entertaining the idea that he might end up dying in his living room. His heart was racing, palms sweaty and cold. He struggled to gather moisture in his mouth and could barely move a muscle in his body.
However, he needn’t have worried as his words seemed to have the right effect. He watched her blink, as if waking up from a daze. She lifted her blood soaked hands slowly, eyes widening in growing panic. Somehow, Brad finally found the strength to get to his feet and to pull her into his arms, muffling her shriek of fear and confusion. He could still remember how shaken she had been. How her body had shivered and quaked while sobbing against his chest. He didn’t mind that she was staining his shirt with her blood, but it still didn’t stop the dull flame of trepidation that flickered in the pit of his stomach. His wife was potentially dangerous and as he stared at the curio cabinet before him, Brad knew he had never hated anything so much in his life.
The troubles began two weeks later, on a Saturday morning after Brad had spent an hour of mowing the lawn under the blistering heat. Jogging into the house for a glass of orange juice, he found her standing before the curio with a blank expression on her visage. He knew she had bought a new figurine last night. It was a crystal carved in the shape of a maiden with a single clear rose clasped between her hands. She had unwrapped it at the dinner table with a precision and gentleness that made Brad feel almost jealous at the attention the inanimate object received. It was a pity she rarely showed that much compassion in their bedroom these days. She was always too tired from work, or would simply allow him a kiss and not much else.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” she asked in a breathless whisper. Her eyes seemed to glow with the luminescence from the figurine, her cheeks flushed as if she had just experienced the most intense orgasm yet. “And you wouldn’t believe how much I paid for it too.”
“How much?” Brad had asked, not really interested but hoping to indulge in her infatuation. He considered having a long and serious talk about her obsession with the crystals. It had all been in good fun at first, but now—
“Fifty dollars,” she replied smugly, although there was a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes that disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared.
Brad raised a brow in question. “That’s not possible. Those things usually go for no less than a hundred and fifty bucks – even for the tiny ones. Are you sure it’s the real thing?”
That seemed to be the wrong question to ask for she lifted her eyes to pin an irritated look at him. “Don’t you think I’d know when something is fake or not? This baby is the real thing. The old lady had a whole collection of them, but I wanted this for myself. I needed it, Brad. I had to haggle with her about the price, but eventually we came to a compromise.”
"What compromise?” He wanted to ask what old lady as well, but decided that would have to wait until another day.
“Nothing much,” came the vague reply before she wrapped up the figurine again. That had signaled the end of the conversation.
The rest of the week had gone by with little to no fanfare. Her job was becoming more demanding, he had to deal with the same. Both were too tired to get into more detailed conversations and sleep came easy once their heads hit the pillow. However, it hadn’t stopped Brad from noticing the moments of ‘spacing-out’ that Mallory went through some days.
Seeing her in the living room after mowing the lawn was one such instance. He had to call her name several times before she could even recognize his presence. However, when she eventually did turn around, Brad fought back a cry of fear and surprise at the face looking back at him.
That’s not Mallory!
The face was much younger, the eyes a pale shade of blue. Although her flesh was still like porcelain, Brad had noticed a scar—
--running down the side of her face. However, a blink and a shake of his head brought things back into focus. It was his Mallory again now standing before him with a bemused expression on her visage.
“Are you okay, baby?” she had asked, reaching up to caress his cheek gently. Brad shivered at the clammy touch and struggled to make a coherent sentence. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She laughed at her witty comment and walked out of the room, but not before Brad took a quick and fearful glance at the curio cabinet. In his mind, he swore he could still see a reflection of the girl with the blue eyes staring right back at him with that small but knowing smile on her pale lips.
He was afraid to get into bed with her that night.
As he brushed his teeth, he chided himself for being such a worrywart. So what if he had seen two different versions of people other than his wife in the past month? It didn’t mean she was going crazy. In fact, he was beginning to think he was the one going insane. Perhaps his heavy work load – what with the fiscal year coming to an end and all – was consuming his rational thought processes. If he brought up the discussion with Mallory, he was sure she’d laugh it off and try to explain things in a logical way. That was his Mallory for you. She was always the calm, cool, collected—
“Aaaaaaah! My hands!! It burns!! Oh dear God, it buuuuurns!!”
“Mallory!” he cried out in fear, darting out of the bathroom and almost cracking his skull against the door as he threw it open forcefully. His wife’s voice had been filled with so much pain, it had seared right through his heart and down his spine. However, he came to a screeching halt at the foot of the bed, eyes becoming as wide as saucers at the unbelievable sequence of events taking place.
His wife, his dear precious Mallory, was breaking apart.
The cracking sound was now deafening and Brad could only watch in horror as his wife writhed and twisted on the bed in agony. Her arms were stretched out before her, the ‘scars’ he had seen earlier that day becoming more evident as they seemed to begin from her cuticles, crawling up her fingers and palms, to her elbows and shoulders. Her flesh was being ripped to shreds, but instead of blood, crimson crystals dropped to the bed like hailstones.
“Help…me…Brad,” she croaked as she tried to reach for him. But she had no arms now, and her attempt to move resulted in the ear-splitting sound of her lower body giving way from her thighs downwards. Brad could feel his mind unraveling like a spool of thread. He sank his hands into his hair, nearly ripping it out of his scalp at the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that consumed him. His scream of terror and anguish was lost in the shattering sound of crystals that spilled from his wife’s lips. Thousands, no millions of them soon came gushing out of her throat, her eyeballs bulging from their sockets as if struggling to release the many more deep within her.
Her last words, which sounded eerily like ‘damn that old woman’, would be lost in a most spectacular explosion, for there was now nothing left of Mallory Branson but a bed filled with the most beautiful crimson crystals ever seen.
Brad would later be found lying before the curio cabinet with his mouth filled with what seemed to be broken pieces of crystal. However, the display case itself was completely empty, except for the lonely figurine of a maiden girl now holding a crimson rose between her hands and a knowing smile upon her face.