Short Story
                                           I Am The Horror
                                                           By Jeremiah Minihan

   I could call this story the beauty and the beast. But that would work only if you believed that I was the
beast and Beth was the beauty.  Maybe that is the case -- it certainly wouldn't be the other way around.

   My name is Frederick Poulin, and I am forty-five years old.  I'm a big guy, athletic looking and healthy.
When I stand in front of the mirror after a shower, covering my face, I can imagine myself as an actor or a
dancer or a famous sports figure.  But then I drop my hands and have to confront the dreadful look of my
face, with its terrible damages and scars.  But more about that later, when I tell you about my father.

   I am expecting Beth at two o'clock today to discuss my situation. Beth is my stepmother, but she is only
thirty, young enough -- well, not to be my daughter but to be a younger sister and an annoying one at that.  
We have fought about my father's will, and I know now that she has won.  And now she has to deal with me
and what will happen next.

   When I touch my torn face, I remind myself that it was my father who caused this.  He had my mother and
me in the car, and he had been drinking all afternoon.  We were on our way back to this house, this
cottage, and he could not make the turn on the narrow, twisting Maine road.  The car burst apart, but the
lucky drunk was able to shake himself off.  My mother was crushed and I was left with a limp and a ravaged
face.  The doctors said that I was young and would heal, but that never happened, did it?

   In the years since, each time my father would visit, he would hang his head away from me, surely
shamed by what he had done.  He kept me here, at the Maine cottage, and provided me with tutors,
nurses and cooks.  I was never allowed to go out -- I could never be allowed that privilege.

   As I grew to be an adult, I thought that perhaps I should remove all mirrors so that I would not have to
look at myself.  But I did not do that.  After all, you get used to your appearance; you even come to love it.  
And of course I enjoyed the startled and shocked looks of the few visitors we had.

   Five years ago my father first brought Beth to see me.  My nurse, Mrs. Hayes, had told me that he was
bringing someone special to see me.  I asked her what that meant, but she said nothing, only smiling as
she smoothed the sides of the wide dress she always wore.

   I was allowed to walk outside the cottage during nice weather.  I liked the rough stones of the cottage
and the turrets and swirling shingles.  The darkened stained-glass windows gave the cottage a sinister
look, like one of the castles from a fairy tale.  My father had purchased the place cheaply from a client who
could no longer maintain the giant bauble.  Father had most of the rooms closed during the winter, but
even so, the ancient furnace whirred and sputtered during the coldest of days.

   "You have to come in now, sir, your father and his friend will be here soon."

   I was going to quarrel with the old thing, but I came into the house and tossed my jacket onto a rack.  
Mrs. Hayes had been here for decades, and I suppose it must have irritated her to address me as an adult.

   "Why should I come in, Mrs. Hayes.  I want to be out to welcome them."

   "No, my dear. I think his guest will need to be prepared for this."

   "You don't want them to be frightened by a creature, you mean." I waved my fingers and shrieked.

   "Stop it now, sir."

   The car crawled across the crunchy driveway, and my father got out.  He looked surprisingly fit.  The last
few times he had visited, he had seemed sad and distant.  But this was different.  He almost seemed to
be skipping along.  He bent at the passenger door and swung it open so that the small, slight girl could
step out.  She was blond, I remember, and her thin face made her almost seem childlike.  I pushed the
curtain back and withdrew further into the library.

   "Hello, Frederick."

   "Dad." I spoke quietly, formally.  I barely hugged him and did not take his hand.

   "Frederick, I want you to meet Beth."  He paused briefly.  "We are going to be married."

   I stared at Beth.  She was shocked, of course, but I am sure the old man had prepared her.  She
approached me and said something.  She nodded a little, and she had this look of resignation.  It was as
though she was naked, and she had to go out into a crowd.  She could do nothing but move forward,
accepting the inevitable.

   "Your father has told me about you, Frederick, and I know we will be good friends."

   At least she didn't try to pull the kind stepmother routine.  That would have been awkward.

   This afternoon, her car moved easily across the driveway just as a knife would slice across a piece of
cake. The car looked new and expensive.  I'm sure it was, but I have never driven and did not know much
about cars.  I hid a little beside the curtain, expecting a phalanx of men in suits to emerge with her, but she
had come by herself.  Taller-looking now, she had a more determined posture than before.  Perhaps it was
the elegance of her outfit or the clipped hairstyle.  She turned toward the cottage, looking to see if I was
watching.  But I would not give her that.

   "Mr. Frederick is waiting for you, ma'am.  This way."

   "Thank you Mrs. Hayes.  You have done so much for him-- for all of us."  She was pumping my nurse's
hand in an odd way.

   "Hello, Fredrick."

   "Hello." I felt myself suddenly blush like a schoolboy about to be punished.  I recovered, though and
looked at her.  She could lead the conversation.  I would not.  Perhaps she sensed my gloominess,
perhaps not.

   Beth was pretty.  I have to say that.  Her narrow face had not changed at all in the five years since we
first met.  We saw each other from time to time, of course, but this meeting was significant.  In fact, I knew
it would be the last time we would see each other.  For that reason, I suppose, I took careful notice of her,
the sharpness of her breasts and the curves of her legs and behind.  I can appreciate such things, even
someone like me, who has never been with a woman.

   She laughed suddenly, in a harsh way.  "This cottage.  I don't know what your father saw in it.  Twists and
swirls -- it looks like something out of Hansel and Gretel."

   "My mother liked it," I answered quietly.

   "Yes, I see."

   "I'm being rude.  Would you like some tea or coffee?"

   "No, thank you.  I have this." She reached into her bag and pulled out a metal water bottle which she
wagged at me.  I imagined her in tight gym clothes, slurping on the bottle as she listened to whatever
foolish music she listened to.

   She was looking carefully at me.  I have to give her that.  She did not glance away or let her voice
tremble.  For a moment I almost thought that perhaps I was not as horrible looking as I thought.  But that
was not true, of course.

   "You know Frederick, we have to make some changes."

   I knew, but I did not want to talk about it yet.  "At least have some salt water taffy.  It is delicious.  Mrs.
Hayes just brought it from the beach."  Like a happy puppy, I bobbed my head at her until she took one and
popped it in her mouth.  I started eating one, too.

   "I feel bad about this, but I don't see any way out."  She sighed in a way that I had been expecting.  "Your
father did not leave things in good shape."

   I gave her the hard look that I had been working on.  She stared at me, too.  It was one of those silly
situations where one person breaks first.  I thought how vulnerable she looked, too.

   "I'm sorry, Frederick, but this is one of the places that must go.” she continued quickly.  “I'm not immune.  
The penthouse on Park has to be sold, too."

   "Poor little girl, all impoverished."

   "Stop it or I will smack you." As she spoke, I thought about the New York apartment, I had seen pictures
of it, but I would never have been allowed to visit it.

   She was going to say something, but her hands were trembling.  She ate a piece of taffy or two.

   "Where do you plan to send me, Beth-- some institution?"  I tried to sit up straighter than I was, looming
over her, I suppose, but she was pretty tall herself.  At least she appeared that way now.

   We both turned as we heard the car on the driveway.  Beth looked puzzled until I told her that Mrs. Hayes
had the afternoon off by previous arrangement.

   "Of course Mrs. Hayes can come with you if that is what you want."

   "That may not be necessary, Beth.”

   She looked quizzically at me.  "Ok.  We -- financial advisors-- had in mind some place near Portland --
not in the city."

   "Because in the city would be too expensive.  Suburbs, cheap place, right?"

   "You're being sarcastic again.  No, we thought a small house or apartment would be fine."  I frowned –
as well as I could.  "Stop it, Frederick.  I have some samples to show you."

   Then we talked about other things.  At first I wondered which of us would feel it first, but of course I am
larger, and I was not surprised when she began to get sick.

   "I'm not feeling well, Frederick.”  She paused.  “Mrs. Hayes?"

   I grinned.  I knew how terrifying a grin on my battered face must appear.  "She will not be back for hours.  
And by then, it won't matter."

   She tried to rise, but was having difficulty.  As expected, her eyes swirled about.  

   "The candy," she whispered.

   Of course.  The taffy.  Once I had selected the poison (just household material), you have no idea how
easy it was to unwrap the pieces and work the stuff into it.

   "Yes, yes," I replied.

   She looked terrified.  "But you took them, too."

   "And I will not escape either."  I had started to feel the effects myself as we were speaking.

   Minute succeeded minute, but I had already entered the territory of acceptance.  Beth was crying now
and clutching herself.

   "Poor Beth.  Didn't your parents warn you about taking candy from strangers?"

   She looked sadly at me.  "But you are not a stranger, Frederick.”

   "Yes, I am," I said slowly. “Yes, I am.”
About Jeremiah Minihan

Jeremiah Minihan lives in
Rochester, New
Hampshire, USA. He has
worked as a software
developer and project
manager in the insurance
and banking industries,
both in New Hampshire
and Boston.  He writes
short stories and essays,
and has previously
published stories in Pif
Magazine, Dark Dossier,
Yellow Mama, and
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