Am I Pretty? | A Short Story

Am I Pretty?

Note: This is a horror story
For content warnings click here

***

Fog rolled in over the bay. It was night already and the mist settled on my skin and sank into my flesh. Tourists ducked from awning to awning, not expecting the wharf to be so cold.

The shops had all closed. The restaurants were being cleaned. Everyone was done for the day, but I stood at the edge of a pier, hidden by a bronze fisherman heaving up a net laden with fish. I was exhausted after a long day at work and had gone out in hopes of finding some form of tranquility.

In front of me, the ocean sparkled like the stars had been spilled across it. Seals barked into the night, likely fighting over the cramped floating docks.

I pulled out my phone to watch as midnight drew nearer and knew it was time for me to head home.

I turned to leave, and just as I rounded the fisherman, I caught sight of a woman standing opposite me.

Her long black hair billowed behind her in the wind, and a knee-length beige coat hung loose around her. Oddest of all, she wore a surgical mask, which left only a pair of dark eyes visible.

She was pretty enough, as far as I could tell, though her unblinking stare sent a shudder down my spine. I looked her over, wondering if I knew her, but could not recognize her behind the mask. When she said and did nothing, I assumed I didn’t and walked past her without even nodding a greeting in her direction.

I stopped at the edge of the wharf where the wooden planks turned to cement and glanced over my shoulder. She had followed me and stood in a solitary beam of light staring at me.

I ground my teeth together, tugged my hood up–as if the cloth could keep me safe–and began to walk home, trying to keep calm. I quickened my pace as the downtown drew closer and I began to stumble through groups of people leaving bars and over down-on-their-luck groups of nomads.

I tripped over one man asking for change and didn’t even turn over my shoulder as I apologized.

Though I hoped I had lost her in the crowds, I took a sharp turn and strode past a cafe that was trying to close, but people were still crammed in working, talking, loitering.

I made my way up the hill out of the downtown and paused under a streetlight to catch my breath. A chill ran down my spine as I forced myself to look back.

She stood just outside the ring of light.

My joints locked up and my skin turned to plaster. Despite being larger than her, I was terrified.

She took a step forward, but before her heel could hit the sidewalk, I bolted up the road. I tripped over a crack but righted myself before I fell. I cut through one of my neighbor’s lawns and scrambled across the street. I almost broke my front door down as I slammed into it and fumbled with my keys.

My heart pounded in my ears and blood rushed to my face. I jammed the key into the lock and fell inside my house, slamming the door shut behind me.

Peace. Shaking, I leaned against the door and looked over my house. My fish tank burbled in one corner. The too-large couch was still jammed in the middle of the room with a table stacked high with books wedged behind it.

Everything was right.

I slid down the door and listened for a moment. I heard the wind rustle the trees outside. I listened to my heart trying to slow down and my own breath. I listened to my old house creak as the fog settled over my street.

All seemed normal again, so I dared to peek out the front window, but there was nothing.

I barricaded the front door that night, then I hardly slept.

***

The next day, I had dinner plans. Though something gnawed at the pit of my stomach, I had managed to convince myself–at least mostly–that she was harmless. I didn’t think I would see her again anyway, so I went out to enjoy a few drinks with friends.

When I left the restaurant, I saw her standing on the opposite side of the street, her eyes locked onto me.

I had to walk home and kept checking back over my shoulder every so often, but she didn’t follow me this time. It was rather a relief and I brushed off our encounter as a chance meeting. Perhaps she also found it odd that we ran into each other again and was only curious about the coincidence. Though she had certainly been following me the night before.

It wasn’t easy to ignore my worry, but it was doable as I meandered around the house organizing and moving books back to their shelves. I even cleaned the fish tank and made my bed despite night creeping up over the horizon.

I was just drifting to sleep when I glanced out the window and saw her standing with her face so close to the glass it would have fogged if it weren’t for her mask.

I jumped back and fell to the floor. The wooden floorboards tried to splinter beneath me as I pushed myself away from her.

“Am I pretty?” Her voice came through muffled and quiet.

I scrambled up to my feet and ran into my room to cower in my closet. Her nails scraped against the glass and she asked me again, “Am I pretty?”

I didn’t answer. I stayed curled up so long my knees and back began to ache and my body trembled, first with fear then fatigue.

It wasn’t until dawn peeked into the closet and cast a rosy glow along the wall that I slid open the door. I blinked into the sunlight, rubbing my eyes and fighting to stay awake.

All was silent except for the birds singing and wind brushing by everything. I seized the opportunity to draw all the curtains shut and barricade the door both into my house, then to my bedroom.

I stayed shut in all day, sitting on my bed and letting my eyes dart around my room like she could get in through a mouse hole.

Even as my room fell into darkness again, I stayed awake. She would not catch me unaware.

***

I told myself the barricades worked. That I was safe now, and I should at least venture out of my room to eat. She hadn’t come the night before. She must have given up.

My eyes darted to the windows at the sound of every rustle, but the curtains were still closed. I would occasionally peek out at the street.

She was never there.

I was able to relax enough to feel tired the next night, though I still kept the door wedged shut with a chair.

***

I woke up in the middle of the night, glad I had slept at all and feeling some semblance of calm sweeping over me. I didn’t think I would fall asleep again, but I closed my eyes anyway and tried to at least rest.

“Am I pretty?”

I shot up in bed and stared into the corner of my room. Her silhouette reached out to my curtains and tugged them open so moonlight seeped in and illuminated everything with a silver hue.

She walked up to the edge of my bed and cocked her head to the side, silently posing the question again.

“H-how did you get in here?”

She clambered into my bed and on top of me. Her hair piled on my pillows as she bent down and rested a hand on my chest. “Am I pretty?”

She had a distinct advantage over me since I had let her slither her way over and straddle my hips. With her face only a few inches from mine, I didn’t think it was wise to provoke her.

“Well, yeah.” I choked out my words. “I-I think so.”

She slipped the strap of her surgical mask off her ear to reveal the rest of her face. Two long slits traveled out from either side of her mouth, almost reaching her ears. As she spoke again, they gaped open like the mouth of a snake and spilled blood down her jaw. “Am I pretty?”

I almost gagged as her blood dripped onto my skin, but I was able to keep my composure. “Yes! Of course you are.”

Her lips stretched into a smile that made her wounds shift and ooze. “You filthy liar.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out an ancient, rusted pair of scissors.

“No! I swear!” I held out my hands and tried to soothe her, but she raised the scissors above her head.

“Liar!” She plunged them down into my chest and shrieked, “Liar! Liar! Liar!”

I watched my own blood coat her hands and face. She tried to yank the scissors from my chest like she wanted to stab me over and over, but they were too slick and her hands slipped. She let out a scream that shook the walls and turned the air rancid with the metallic odor of blood.

I reached out and grabbed her shoulder. I knew the scissors were in me, but I was too numbed with shock to feel it. My eyes bulged and I wanted to beg her for my life but no words came to me when I opened my mouth. Instead I coughed and blood spattered across her skin.

The world began to spin, and just before it faded away, I saw tears rolling down her carved smile.

***

 

Am I Pretty? Is based on a Japanese urban legend. Kuchisake-onna or Slit Mouth Woman is a malevolent spirit often seen preying on children. It is said that she was the wife of a samurai during the edo period. She was also the most beautiful woman in her village. She was caught having an affair, so her husband cut open her face into a Glasgow smile and asked, “who will think you’re beautiful now?” Different stories claim she either killed herself or bled out afterward, and now haunts the mortal world asking people, “Am I pretty?”

Depending on the victims answer, she may do anything from carving a Glasgow smile into their face with a pair of scissors to cutting them in half or disappearing and reappearing later to kill them. Different places also give different outcomes. 

People claim to have thrown candies or coins at her to give them time to escape, some claim to drop things, then ran when she tried to pick them up. It’s also believed that the victim can confuse her with responses like “Am I pretty?”, “Excuse me, I have to meet someone”, or “So-so”. Though if any of these truly work, no one knows.

 

Thank you to my husband for dealing with the months of frustration this took to churn out.

Thanks to Kevin Lynn for the art and pushing me to write this for Halloween. To see more of Kevin’s art check out his Instagram @unsleepinghorror. For his poetry go to @kevinlynn_words_things. Or drop a hello on Twitter @KevinLynnII.

Extra love to Rachel (@EditingSkeleton) for taking time out of her busy schedule to help me and guide me through my first horror. She is such a wonderful edit and friend. I cannot recommend her enough.

Peter (@petahhhm), for the endless enthusiasm! (I promise I’ll send something new soon.)

Kaya (@KETomash), I am so sorry I made you read this, but I am so thankful you did.

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