To follow on from yesterday’s post, today I want to introduce you all to Helen Attinson. A naive young woman, she enjoys her job, loves her husband and is looking forward to starting a family… such a shame she has die!
Helen finished cleaning the first hand and then began the process all over again with the second, when out of nowhere a wave of nausea swept through her, followed by a dripping sensation in her nose. To her own surprise as much as Marion’s, Helen noticed that her nose was bleeding. The blood was dark, as good as black, and poured from both nostrils at an alarming rate.
“Excuse me,” she said, getting up from behind the table and half running back into the kitchen area, pinching her nose with one hand, using the other to keep stable as she tilted her head back.
Once out of sight, Helen was more panicked in her movements; she swept with her arms in desperate search of a cloth or piece of kitchen roll to help try and stem the bleeding. Once she had tissue stuffed up each nostril Helen slumped against the wall and rested with her hands on her knees. Her shirt was soaked through with blood, and she saw a puddle on the floor that covered enough of the linoleum to cause her speeding heart to skip more than a few beats in her chest. When Helen stood up, the bleeding had stopped. She stood braced against the countertop, waiting for the shaking to stop. Helen took the spare shirt she always had hanging on the coat stand and headed back out to Marion. She gave herself a cursory check in the mirror and wiped away the remaining blood, offered herself a half-hearted snarl; old habits really do die hard.
The salon was spread over two buildings, joined by a connecting door, one side dedicated to hairstyling and facials, while the other section (where Helen was and her colleagues Rosie Singh and Martina Petrova were all busy at work on their own final customers) was set up for manicures, pedicures. The waxing rooms were split two at the rear of each salon area. Martina and Rosie chatted to their clients as they worked and didn’t even look up when Helen returned. Marion Dubois meanwhile had moved on to the matter of where she intended to spend her summer, and with which one of her suitors she was more likely to choose to take with her for company.
“I’ll just go for the opaque this time I think, I’ve got a busy week planned,” Marion said. The stride of her conversation wasn’t even broken. Helen considered it a near certainty that Marion hadn’t even stopped talking the entire time that she had been gone.
Helen heard her request, making a mental note on which of the many small colorful bottles she had lined up on the metal tray that she needed to use.
“So…Venice, I hear it’s beautiful there. Mark and I looked at it for our honeymoon, but we couldn’t afford it,” Helen answered, feeling distant and generally strange.
She found out two weeks before that she was pregnant, she hadn’t told anybody, not even Mark, her husband. He worked for a medium-sized insurance company in the city. It was a low pay job; but given the current climate, they were both just happy to still have work at all. She wanted to wait until the time was right before she broke the news to him, and she blamed that on her distracted mind and apparently rebelling body. She knew he would be happy, there was no question about his reaction, and they had spoken about having kids at some length already. Helen was just concerned that their financial situation wouldn’t be able to support them. They still had to pay off Mark’s student loan, their wedding, not to mention the mortgage on their recently purchased house. It all came down to the fact that they didn’t have the stability that family life demanded. Helen was fairly sure that she could pick up some extra shifts in the salon; one girl had just quit a few weeks before and had yet to be replaced, but that was only a temporary solution because, once she gave birth, she would be out of work for a while. That was when the extra costs would be noticed most.
“Yes, Venice is always lovely, I love it in February. I don’t know why, there is just something about it, and in the summer it’s just too hot. Anyway, are you sure you’re alright, dear? You don’t look at all well. Maybe you should have a lie down.” The concern in Marion Dubois’ voice was genuine. She hadn’t seen how bad the nosebleed had been, nor did she notice the change of clothing, yet the change in Helen’s appearance, her white face, cold hands and distant starry eyes was unmistakable.
Helen didn’t hear her, however…
All she heard was a deep guttural growl, not unlike that of a hungry stomach. Helen stopped working and looked up. She knew she was in the salon, she could see it, including the hideous piece of modern art that occupied the majority of the wall opposite both the main entrance and Helen’s regular workstation. However, Marion Dubois was gone. In her place was a shriveled elderly woman, someone she didn’t recognize but looked as though she belonged in a fairytale, possibly offering an apple. The hag looked at her, and Helen simply stared at her. She was a witch, complete with a large, hooked nose adorned by a large hair-sprouting wart. Her eyes were as black as coal and they held Helen’s gaze and she could feel her skin begin to burn and prickle with heat.
Helen began to sweat, her hands were clammy and her heart increased to such a tempo that it felt as though it was pumping in slow motion. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt bloated and useless in her mouth. The witch’s hand, which she only then remembered she was holding, tightened around her own. The grip seared her flesh, while the long, gnarled nails – more like talons – sliced into the meat of her arm. Delicate tendrils of smoke rose from her arm, seeping between the witch’s fingers as the flesh continued to cook beneath her grip.
The witch continued to speak, her words – vile guttural sounds. Helen shook her head as the hot, sulphur-rich breath hit her.