by Jacquelyn Agliata
His face was abnormal.
Crooked isn’t quite the right word to describe the sinister smile he wore as I rolled over in our moonlit room. Perhaps devious? Monstrous? That’s not quite right either.
Off. Off is the word I’m hunting for.
His face was off.
Where his warm, wholesome, loving eyes used to be instead protruded frightening pits. His pupils were beyond dilated, as if ink had fallen into the whites of his eyes and was seeping through each microscopic vein. Every ounce of human was drowning in the blackness. Where his soft, perfectly pointed nose used to sit instead was a twitching pad of flesh. His cheeks glitching in synch with the flare of his carved out, asymmetrical nostrils. A string of code that was mistyped. Twitching and glitching.
And then, the smile.
His soft pale lips, which usually rested in a gently curved line while he slept, were cranked into a demonic position. The corners of his mouth were turned up to be almost perpendicular to his eyes, as if a child were attempting to sketch a blocky U-shaped smile.
Prior to this moment, I was in a deep sleep. The kind that was suspiciously restful. I hadn’t slept that hard in years, but something about the contortion of my body against the mattress matched with the ambient light of the moon transported me into a powerful slumber. I couldn’t say what woke me—only that my eyes fluttered open, and my vision focused on the curved tree branch that hung outside our window. My back was turned to my husband, as it usually is when we sleep.
My eyes remained on the branch for a few heavy moments as I processed my transition from asleep to awake. I slowly swept my gaze to my phone and removed my arm from its warm solace under the covers. The cold of the room hit my skin, and goosebumps rose instantaneously. I tapped the screen to check the time: 2:54 AM. I flipped on my back and looked up at the white ceiling, contemplating whether or not to get a glass of water now that I was awake. The shadow of the tree branch danced at a surprisingly rapid pace, and I stared at it, imagining what in the windless night had caused it to move so fervently.
Instead, I decided to roll over towards my husband, something I never found myself doing in the middle of the night. He insisted early on in our relationship, when we first started spending heated nights intertwined in each other’s beds, that we didn’t sleep facing each other. He had a livid disdain for hot breath in his face outside of passionate moments, and I obliged entirely. Small suggestions like that have no place taking up worry in the mind of young lovers. I never thought twice of the request, and for years happily slept on my back or facing away from the man I’d chosen forever for. My body rolled first, my face remaining fixated on the dancing branch. My head felt heavy as it followed the momentum of my body, my long, curly hair sliding against my chilly shoulders. My eyes scanned the lumpy covers before navigating their way up to my husband’s face.
I had spent no more than a few moments processing his inhuman expression when his face stopped twitching. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the shadow of the dancing branch freeze at the exact moment my husband’s face did, as if they were inexplicably intertwined.
My eyes refused to peel away from the demonic, now still smile, wondering if perhaps I was dreaming. I signaled my hand to move—to touch my husband’s face in a comforting gesture I knew he loved—but my body remained comatose. Afraid to interact with the thing staring back at me.
I decided to speak.
“Honey…Are you awake?”
No movement. His eyes, his nose, his cheeks, his smile, the branch in the window. Dead still.
“Is this a dream?” I uttered, mostly to myself. “Are you awake?”
And then, as if shattering the silence with motion, his eyes began blinking rapidly. The shadow of the branch began quaking, and he parted his lurid lips to whisper:
Jackie is a first year Theatre Education MA student with a passion for teaching, theatre, and horror. When she isn’t educating the youth of America, singing on stage, or critiquing the latest horror franchise requel, she can be found exploring nature and hiking with her fiance.