[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The trailer’s roof is repaired with a tarp. A hand-painted sign advertises psychic readings by Madame Celeste.
Inside one bedroom, trophies line the wall with a gilded spray-paint sheen. A small black-and-white TV is on.
Bree dances around her room, earbuds in, hitting complex poses with each beat of a song only she can hear. Eventually she turns off the music, then the TV. A commotion sounds in the next room. Through a keyhole in her door, she inspects.
Every signifier of cheap mysticism decorates the trailer’s living room. A center table with the inevitable crystal ball takes up most of the space. Bree’s mama, Madame Celeste, sits across from a patron, Mrs. White. The customer is rambling through tears.
“I felt this presence – evil, malignant thing – and I look down and Tangerine is gone off his leash. The thing that took him – it moved so fast. Brushed up against me too.”
Mrs. White rolls up her sleeve to show an unwholesome rash. “I’ve had this on my arm ever since. The doctors say it’s seasonal. ‘Seasonal’ my hind-end.”
She looks at Madame Celeste with dewy eyes. “Could you help me?”
Madame Celeste takes the woman’s hand. Suddenly the medium’s eyes roll back, the clocks stop, and the table shakes. Madame Celeste lets out a sustained note that transitions into convulsive chanting.
Mrs. White is transfixed, blowing her nose with her free hand before stowing the used tissue in her purse.
“When your husband broke his leg, walking Tangerine got him out of a severe depression. He insists a picture of the dog be in every room now.” She recites this speedily, as if the information comes from a source outside herself.
There are two beats of silence. Madame Celeste’s eyes go back to their normal brown. She exhales.
“I saw your dog, Margie. He is safe. He will live a long life, but with different owners. That’s all I saw.”
Madame Celeste moves to a cupboard, pulls out a glass container with herbs before returning to Mrs. White.
“Mix with water, then put this on your arm. Keep it on two hours, then take a long bath. In a week, you’ll be good as new.”
Mrs. White navigates the tissue in her purse to retrieve Madame Celeste’s payment. “Thank you,” she tells the medium with sincerity. “You’ve put my mind at ease.”
Madame Celeste leads the woman to the door, turning off the neon sign to indicate she is closed to walk-ins.
“Mama,” Bree begins, entering the room, “is her dog really safe? I can tell when you’re protecting someone’s feelings.”
Madame Celeste sighs. “The dog was eaten by something inhuman, demonic. Mrs. White’s lucky. It could’ve taken her just as easy. When I touched her, I saw a flash of it.”
Madame Celeste leads Bree back to her room. “Don’t think of this,” she says, tucking her in. “You need to get sleep for Miss Magnolia in the morning. You’re gonna do great.”
“Is that what your plastic crystal ball says?”
“It’s what your resume says,” her mother assures. “You will knock ’em dead.”
Madame Celeste turns off the bedside light, kissing her daughter’s forehead.
Sunny Montgomery’s room is large and tastefully decorated. Like Bree’s, one wall displays a bevy of gold and silver trophies. Sunny is on the floor, on her back like a cockroach, struggling to get pants to button. She grunts with each attempt.
The maid enters, asking how Sunny is.
Katrina helps Sunny to a standing position. “Raise your hands like a ballerina,” she commands with a foreign twang, “and breathe in.” Once Sunny has, the maid buttons Sunny’s pants with ease.
Sunny hugs Katrina right as her grandmother, the woman of the house, enters. Sunny’s disposition sours.
“I have your shake,” Mrs. Montgomery announces to her granddaughter. “Mmm...electrolytes.”
“Be mindful Katrina,” she says when Sunny refuses to drink. “My granddaughter’s jeans are so tight, a button is liable to pop off and blind us.”
Sunny downs the glass, shuddering at the taste. “Yeah, Katrina, and while you’re at it, don’t light any matches. The injectables in Grandma’s face are flammable.”
On the day of dress rehearsal for the Miss Magnolia Pageant, eight high school senior girls sit in a makeup room. Each has a swivel chair, a vanity mirror and is accompanied by a female guardian. Only Sunny can afford a designated MUA.
“They booked the makeup guy from Hollywood,” one mother says callously.
Another giggles, maniacally back-teasing her daughter Anna’s hair: “Kill me if I ever need Freddy Krueger’s makeup artist to look good.”
Madame Celeste is disturbed to see everyone, even Bree, chuckle at the Montgomerys’ expense.
To Anna’s mother, she says, “How about we leave looks out of this? This is Miss Magnolia – we’re not giving it a good name.”
Anna’s mama groans. “A sermon from the devil’s whore. Rich.” Two other mothers flank her. The medium bites her tongue, outnumbered.
Once she gets back to Bree’s chair, her daughter is smiling. “This is why I’ll never have friends, Mama.”
Sunny’s MUA buffers a fingernail while music blares from the girl’s headphones. He works on the thumbnail, distracted, before realizing there is no more nail. It has fallen to the floor.
“Jesus,” the man named Abel exclaims. He tries to re-attach the nail, but it merely falls again. Sunny doesn’t notice, still preoccupied with her music. He ventures to touch another nail, and it falls.
“Mrs. Montgomery,” Abel begins.
She doesn’t bother to look over at him. “Listen, just do what you can. No one’s expecting any miracles.”
By now, Abel cups the fingernails in both hands. “Th-they keep coming off,” he stammers. Then, realizing how unsanitary it is, he drops the fingernails. All of them are gone now except for a bedazzled middle finger.
“What is wrong with you?” Mrs. Montgomery asks, shaking Sunny violently as the girl is just registering what is happening. Abel lets out a shrill gasp, which prompts Sunny to scream. Now all the girls watch Sunny brandishing her nail-less fingers.
When they too begin screaming, a nervous Sunny projectile vomits brackish blue all over the room. Abel flees, clutching his chest in horror, never seeking payment for his work, and taking a bus home that very night. The room is in chaos as Sunny continues to spew.
Bree says, “What is happening?”
Madame Celeste calmly comments: “This looks like Satanism 4 Dummies.”
Sunny runs around the room. When the vomiting slows, she holds out her hands, but no one takes her in, even Mrs. Montgomery.
“My body, my body” she repeats, reaching for them. Madame Celeste takes the girl in her arms, cooing, “It’ll be alright. We will get you help.”
“The hell you will,” Mrs. Montgomery interjects, forcing herself between Sunny and the medium. “For all we know, it was your armchair devil worship that did this.”
Madame Celeste throws up her hands. “I was only trying to help. And I’m not the only one in this town rumored to dabble. Do you know what people say about you?”
The dowager backs off. “My granddaughter is fine,” she says simply. “It was something she ate.”
Once the bedlam has settled, pageant organizers are called in. Rehearsal is cancelled that day as the entire space must be sanitized.
Hours later, Sunny’s condition has worsened. She is larger in stature and girth. Veins in her neck pulsate at an alarming rate. Mrs. Montgomery is at her bedside, as Sunny spits another tooth on the floor.
“At this point, you’ll have to eat all your competitors to win Miss Magnolia,” Mrs. Montgomery quips further.
Sunny heaves in bed, stretching painfully. Cracking noises sound like bones growing more elongated, a body changing shape against its will.
“Why did you make me into this?” the young woman pleads.
Mrs. Montgomery sits down on the bed. “Well,” she begins thoughtfully, “I wanted to give you an edge in the Miss Magnolia pageant, in life too. Make you thinner, fairer, soften that nose you inherited from your mother.”
“So what happened,” Sunny asks, the pain subsiding for a moment. “Why am I falling apart, Grandma?”
Mrs. Montgomery shrugs. “Maybe I mispronounced a word in the rite or didn’t sacrifice enough goats.” The old woman gets up, kissing her granddaughter. “I want you to win this pageant. You want to win it. I say eat the competition.”
Sunny stares at Mrs. Montgomery with red-tinted eyes. “You’ll get yours for doing this to me.”
“I’ve got the devil on my side, kiddo. I’m not scared.”
Once Mrs. Montgomery has shut the door, gingerly, Sunny punches a hole in the wall.
The next day, Sunny is wheeled into the makeup room by her grandmother. Though the room has been cleaned, there is still a grey tinge to it from all the mess. Bree says hi to Sunny, who only grunts in response. In addition to being larger, there are also new welts on her face and arms.
The room is abuzz with whispered malice.
“Have you ever seen a human being that shade of grey?” one of Sunny’s competitors asks.
“Maybe expired meat at Piggly Wiggly,” another wisecracks.
Madame Celeste keeps her mouth shut this time. But even she must admit, Sunny looks bad. There is something very wrong with the girl.
The peanut gallery cuts up until Mrs. Hart, the pageant organizer, enters the makeup room. She greets the contestants as a collective before calling roll. By the end, two girls from her sheet are missing. With a sweeping, histrionic motion, Mrs. Hart marks their names off the paper.
“Miss Magnolia means something,” she begins. “It’s grit and consistency. Truancy isn’t rewarded here, ladies.” The girls shake their heads, each saying “No ma’am”, and at this response, Mrs. Hart’s smile widens.
She slaps her knee to signal a change in topic. “Last week, I said we’d be getting group costumes. Well...”
She leaves the room, returning seconds later with cardboard boxes. Mrs. Hart mimics a drum roll, but does it shoddily.
“Hot pink,” Mrs. Hart says with reverence. Once the boxes are opened, the costumes are distributed according to size. When she gets to Sunny, Mrs. Hart winces.
“This may not fit any more.” The pageant head’s blue eye shadow helps strike a particularly sympathetic look.
Mrs. Montgomery smiles reassuringly. “She’s
a growing girl. I’ll get it adjusted to fit.”
Hours after rehearsal, Anna Lundy, or Contestant 4, is in the kitchen with her mother, who packs away leftovers.
“I didn’t raise you to be a quitter,” Mrs. Lundy says.
“Miss Magnolia is dark-sided,” Anna counters, placing dirty dishes in the sink. “Can’t you feel it every time you’re around them?”
Her mother is resolute, slamming the fridge shut. “You aren’t quitting. Final.”
Anna flashes a peace sign. “I made my decision. I’m going to bed. Goodnight Mama.”
Once upstairs, Anna can hear her mother put on an old record. It’s classy and symphonic, music made hundreds of years ago.
“God, I hate Mozart,” Anna says, using a mountain of pillows to muffle the sound.
Anna woke about an hour later. Two hours before Daddy’s home, was the first thing she thought. Mama will be reheating his dinner.
The record downstairs still played, which wasn’t abnormal. The curious thing was it was skipping, playing the same bit again and again. A sloppy eating noise, like a room of impolite uncles at Thanksgiving, nearly drowns out the Mozart.
“That’s not Daddy or Mama,” Anna thinks, taking the needle from the record. Silence. Whatever is eating in the kitchen stops.
“Mama?” she asks the darkness, moving cautiously to the door.
She pushes it open with her foot.
Mrs. Lundy is tied to the table, partially opened like a dissected frog. The room is decorated in her blood. Mrs. Montgomery lightly drags a knife along Mrs. Lundy’s navel. This causes Anna to be so angry she charges the old woman, despite Sunny’s fearsome new size.
Sunny grabs her by her ponytail, jerking Anna backwards on her behind.
“Do you pray to God?” the monster asks.
“Of course.” Anna fights back tears from the fall. “This is the Bible Belt.”
“Then I’ll allow you to speak to him,” Sunny said, “before I eat you.”
The grandmother watches, gleeful, like this is a circus act. The old woman was eating Anna and her mother’s favorite brand of salt and vinegar chips, right out of their pantry. The disrespect brought on a second wave of anger. She charged Sunny this time, brazen, burying a cutting knife into the monster’s shoulder.
Sunny has her jaw unhinged before a drop of blood can fall. Anna goes down in three bites. They wait for Mr. Lundy to get home, then Sunny eats him too.
Back at her estate, Mrs. Montgomery and Katrina stand in a clearing, 30 feet across, in otherwise waist-high reeds. A fire in the center illuminates a large goat and several hissing snakes in cages. Bordering the clearing, their backs to the untrimmed reeds, are robed men undulating in a way that sounds like Gregorian chants mixed with a grumble. They tower over Mrs. Montgomery and Katrina by well over a foot.
The robed figures have dug holes in the earth and now fill them with the Lundy’s unmatched parts. Blood seeps into the soil and seems to disappear, as if the Earth has swallowed it up. Mrs. Montgomery leads the goat delicately from its cage only to slit its throat. The blood hits the ground and seemingly disappears into the grass. Beneath them the earth rumbles. Whatever they are feeding below is pleased. Three of them escort a dazed Sunny to the center of the clearing, close to the fire. Mrs. Montgomery stands on her tiptoes, slashing the engorged vein in her forehead.
A deeper rumbling occurs. Sunny gasps and her eyes go back to normal. Thunder claps, and Mrs. Montgomery opens her mouth as blood falls from the sky.
“He’s happy with us,” she says, exhilarated. “We’ve pleased him.”
Bree had a bad feeling when Anna didn’t show up for the next rehearsal. This feeling is only amplified as she knocks on the Lundys’ door. She didn’t particularly like Anna, but the girl is no quitter.
Anna’s purple-grey hue when she answers the door is the first thing Bree notices.
Once they are on the couch, Anna confirms she is quitting the pageant. “Your mama is letting you quit after all she’s spent on voice lessons?” Bree tries to make sense of it.
Anna scratches her ear and a piece of the lobe falls into her lap. Anna, or whatever Bree is visiting with, doesn’t notice the gore.
You’re not Anna, Bree thinks, and Mrs. Lundy enters with milk and cookies. The woman’s skin is the same shade as her daughter’s.
“Enjoy, ladies,” the woman tells them, and Bree smiles graciously, though at what she isn’t sure. When she takes the plate, she sees a bloody rash on the woman’s hands, similar to her Mama’s customer Mrs. White.
Anna says “You look shaken, Bree,” with a politeness the true Anna would never extend, even touching Bree’s forearm in comradery.
At her touch, Bree sees Sunny and her grandma killing Anna’s family, the eating of flesh and the ritualistic nature of the raining blood rite in the field. Her mama was right. This is Satanism for Dummies.
Bree pulls away disoriented. Since the Lundys are no longer human, she doesn’t feel “Anna” or “her mother” are owed the politeness of a thorough goodbye. Once the door is shut, Anna says, “Good luck with Miss Magnolia.” But Bree is already gone.
Sunny’s room is covered in discarded food packaging. A pile of TV dinners is a principality; there are Chinese box outer lands, leaking rice that’s almost indistinguishable from the maggots. Only maggots wiggle.
“I’m hungry,” Sunny bellows. “Meat, meat!”
Mrs. Montgomery sighs. “Let me guess, if I don’t call for 30 meat pizzas, you’ll start grumbling about eating me again.”
Sunny belches, causing Mrs. Montgomery to wearily reach for the phone.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
An hour later, the pizza car pulls up. Paul, the delivery guy, carries all six bags to the door of the estate and uses the door knocker.
Katrina answers the door, taking half the bags, wordlessly, leading him up the stairs to Sunny’s room.
There’s no light on the second floor, and the only sound is a guttural moan coming from the room they seem to be headed toward.
“Is that dude okay?” Paul asks.
At the Miss Magnolia Pageant, Mrs. Hart leads the five remaining girls in prayer – they are in the hot pink outfits from days before, each accented with blue eye makeup and powder, resembling guinea hens.
By the time Mrs. Hart recites the Lord’s Prayer and gives them another pep talk, singing “Hero” by Mariah Carey, the show kicks off with the group dance routine.
Each contestant nails the steps. Even Sunny, absurd proportions and all, is enough of a pageant veteran to pick up choreography. Only Bree performs with aplomb, though, smiling genuinely as she dances. Individual talents come next.
Contestant one is a singer, but not as good as Anna would have been.
“Bum note after bum note after bum note,” Mrs. Hart whispers to no one in particular.
Contestant One comes off stage and the judges scribble comments and scores. Next is Sunny, who comes onstage in a sparkling champagne-colored dress with a split down her Hulk Hogan thigh.
She exposes her leg while ragtime music plays. A garter belt holds knives all around, and Sunny points to a mannequin 20 paces backstage, illuminated by the stage light. Raising her hands before the crowd, she throws the knives to a dramatic crescendo in the music. Each land with successive thuds, hitting the wall to outline the mannequin’s head precisely.
The ragtime stops, replaced by a heavy metal guitar solo. Sunny rips the lower half of her dress off at the knee. There are more knives attached to the other leg. She throws them to spell out the first initial of her name – a perfectly legible “S”, right as the music stops.
There is deafening applause in the small auditorium. Sunny is a clear contender.
The next contestant, 95 pounds and 5’1”, performs an eating show. She powers through twelve Arby’s roast beefs in a four-minute span. The applause is rousing, but less than for Sunny. The next contestant does a monologue, and the one after that shows her aptitude for the trumpet by playing a song that sounds eerily close to funeral taps. This receives the weakest applause.
Finally, Bree is called to the stage. A feminist anthem dance song begins, and she lands a multitude of complicated poses to every beat, mixing ballet, hip hop, and tumbling. At a timely lyrical moment, she lands a perfect split. When Bree’s performance ends, she can’t help but notice that Sunny’s cheers eclipsed hers as well. She beams regardless, taking a humble bow.
Mrs. Hart returns to the stage as the judges tabulate their scores. Mrs. Hart waxes about her days as a contestant to give the judges time to do the math. A member of the audience eventually runs the envelope up to the stage.
“Second runner up,” Mrs. Hart announces, “is Bree Morgan.” Bree moves center stage, bowing, then hugging Mrs. Hart and taking her trophy. Miss Congeniality is named as the Arby’s burger girl.
Mrs. Hart attempts another drum roll. “Ladies and gentleman, your Miss Magnolia is...Sunny Montgomery.”
The crowd is once again uproarious in their cheers. Mrs. Hart awkwardly places a sash over Sunny’s broadened shoulders, then the tiara on her Frankenstein monster brow.
From there, Mrs. Hart goes into a rendition of “Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” while a man on piano plays sparse keys. Mrs. Montgomery cries happy tears at the sight of her granddaughter with the crown. No one seems to notice the crown on her head has penetrated her scalp. Maggots leak out of Miss Magnolia’s hairline and from one eye. As Sunny wipes them away, the audience mistakes them for the humble tears of a rightful winner.
If they stop applauding, they’d hear Sunny saying, in a low timbre “I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I’m hungry.”
Hours after the pageant, Bree is decked out in black. Madame Celeste opens a cabinet where she keeps herbal mixtures and salves. She retrieves 20 vials of home-made magic combustible. “Throw the vial, the glass breaks, and a fire hotter than hell springs up,” mother instructs daughter, tapping the vial with an acrylic nail too long and impractical for their work that night.
The Montgomery house was the only one for three miles. Bree and Madame Celeste pull up to it stealthily, headlights off.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Bree says. They sit in silence with the windows cracked until both are jolted by a deep, animal wail.
“That cause for investigating?” Bree asks.
“Actually, yes.” Madame Celeste readies the vials.
The two get out of the car, easing the doors shut. When they reach the house, Madame Celeste points to an open, second story window. The wails are coming from inside this room. Since Bree has more upper body strength, she lifts her mama up to see inside. The macabre room has only one chair and a table piled with decaying fast foods. Walls are adorned with crude Satanic script.
At the center of the table is a mass of faces, anchored in a blob of fatty tissue. The pink-hued skin is rife with intensely contrasting blue veins. Madame Celeste recognizes the faces. They appear to mimic seven stages in the life of one dead man. One, for example, is aged twenty, and the last appears to be in his seventies. The thing has no limbs. Just vocal faces in the amorphous blob.
Katrina is impatient. “What do you want, Mr. Montgomery?”
The youngest demands pizza and ice cream. The oldest wants steak and applesauce. Katrina spots a stale pizza slice on the floor and stuffs it in the creature’s mouth. For the moment, this particular face is satisfied as the others continue to hound, “More food. More, more, more.”
The maid rubs her bare arms with her hands, implying sudden chill. Moving to the window, she shuts it on Madame Celeste’s fingers.
Stifling a scream, the medium tumbles to the ground. Then she and her daughter take off running into the woods, in case they were seen. Whatever Madame Celeste saw, Bree thinks, she’s never seen her mama this scared before.
In the woods, Madame Celeste describes the many-faced creature.
“It’s the old woman’s husband. But just his face – seven of them, different ages.” Then, reflecting. “Arthur Montgomery was a legend in our town. To us, he had more money than God. He’s been dead since you were in diapers.”
“Mrs. Montgomery has gone too far. We have to burn it down, Mama.”
Madame Celeste agrees, and they are soon heading back. Bree throws a large rock through the back window then helps her mama through.
They follow the sound of aggressive snow coming from a television set. Sitting right on the floor, in the living room, is Sunny, still in her Miss Magnolia sash and crown. The dress is in tatters.
Mrs. Montgomery is dismembered on the floor, and Sunny feasts on one of her detached parts. To top it off, Mrs. Montgomery’s severed head wears a cone-shaped party hat. Bree pauses to take it all in, as Madame Celeste throws the first explosive vial.
“Hello Bree.” Sunny smiles, chewing a tibia. “Did you all come to celebrate with me?” The monster is unfazed by fire in the room.
“No,” Bree says, as Sunny advances, holding Mrs. Montgomery’s limb like a drumstick. As the monster’s jaw unhinges, Bree quickly lands a vial inside of it that bursts precisely as she intended. The fires around her have grown by feet in seconds.
Mr. Montgomery’s screech is louder, as glass and wood crack from the fire. Katrina runs out the door, and Bree starts after her. But Madame Celeste yells to leave it. She is preoccupied with throwing vials into every room while Sunny, her lower jaw missing, still advances on Bree.
Bree throws another vial directly at her competitor’s mangled face. The resulting carmine spray lasts for seconds. A distinct ding in the explosion can only be the Miss Magnolia crown shattering to pieces. When the spray has settled, the six-and-a-half-foot creature still stands for a good ten seconds until, head displaced, she topples over.
The medium and her daughter head for the woods again, to the remote spot where Madame Celeste parked. Cruising down the highway, windows down, they can smell smoke from the Montgomery house, with a hint of smoldering flesh. In the distance, a police siren sounds throughout the rural valley, and Bree is sure she can hear the Mr. Montgomery too.
“I don’t ever think I’ll stop seeing all those eyes,” her mama said, white-knuckled, gripping the wheel.
Website maintained by Michelle Bernard - Contact firstname.lastname@example.org - last updated April 1, 2020