WEAR HER SKIN
words by Lynn Novella
*protected by copyright*
If you ask me, Jessica was always a pretty girl. Uptight, but pretty. I don’t know why she wasn’t happy with herself, but then again that’s just how folks are these days. Unhappiness is an epidemic.
And I should know, because people think I’m unhappy all the time. I’m not – I just like being alone! Nothing wrong with an old lady loving her freedom.
Anyway, I watched that uptight Jessica watch the other pretty girls every single day. An old woman like me, nobody notices who I’m watching anyway. So I sat behind that big clunky computer machine and pretended to work, and I saw with my own eyes everything that went down at the call center. Saw it firsthand, and now of course everyone wants to make believe they know what happened. But I’m the only one that really knows the truth.
It all started when our co-worker Ellen – a popular college girl with long hair, legs up to there, and breasts out to here – threw some great big party. Of course she didn’t think to invite Jessica. She didn’t invite me neither, but hey – an old lady like me has no business hanging out with twenty-somethings anyway!
When Jessica found out she wasn’t invited to this party, she just about had a fit. Crying and going on, you know. I had to sit in the restroom with her for 20 minutes just to comfort the poor baby! Never had babies of my own, so it felt good to be there for somebody. I just thought she was a nice kid.
Anyway, while I’m sitting there consoling her, she starts telling me how all she wants is to “belong” and have friends. I tell her, friends are overrated. Because they are! I tell her, look at me. I have no friends, no children, and I’m the happiest old lady she ever did see!
But that didn’t calm her down one bit. After she stopped crying, she got this wild, determined look in her eye. I think that was when Jessica made up her mind to become well-liked.
That’s how it all started – with simple, good old-fashioned social climbing.
Days later, this girl came into my cubicle grinning like the Cheshire cat. She held a pretty black velvet jewelry box.
“Miss Jenkins,” she said to me all giddy, “look what I got for Ellen.” She pulled a gift box out of the jewelry chest and opened it to reveal the most beautiful shining diamond necklace I ever saw! Took my breath away.
“Now don’t you think that looks a little fancy for a random gift to a co-worker?” I said with eyebrows raised.
But nope, that girl was a supreme suck-up. She told me, “It’s costume jewelry. Got it at a kiosk in the mall. Ellen always wears such beautiful necklaces, so I think she’ll love it.” This was when I knew something was a little off with Jessica, if you ask me.
She went to Ellen’s cubicle and gave her the necklace. Rumor had it that Ellen thought the gift was extravagant, but couldn’t deny its beauty and accepted anyway.
About a week after that, Jessica came running to me again. “Look Miss Jenkins,” she said, her voice filled with pride, “look at this Facebook picture of Ellen wearing my necklace.”
And sure enough, right there on Jessica’s too-expensive smartphone was a picture of Ellen all dressed up for a night on the town, her gifted fake diamond necklace sparkling under the moonlight.
“She’ll invite me to her next party,” Jessica said with steely resolve, and she scurried off. These kids, I tell you.
Here’s where the story gets strange.
Pretty girl Ellen got sick fast – real fast – and within a week she had come down with some awful viral disease that zapped her of all energy. We were all so shocked! She couldn’t go to work or school anymore. I made sure to visit that poor baby at the hospital. She looked like a shell of her former self, withering away into skin and bones. Her hair – all that pretty hair – just fell clean off her scalp.
And Miss Jessica. Well, she grew prettier and more outspoken by the day. Rosy cheeks, luminous skin, curves all over. You know, the kind of gal that makes folks stop and stare.
Ellen soon passed away. Such a young girl! The whole thing just broke my heart. As we all mourned, Jessica just flounced around, flipping that hair this way and that, lips red and lashes long. I didn’t think much of it – maybe she had found a new love! I was happy for her, really. She wasn’t so uptight anymore.
“Miss Jenkins,” she said to me one day, her pouty lips curved into a coy smile, “guess who just asked me on a date? Josh!” She let out a high-pitched squeal of delight.
“Wasn’t Josh Ellen’s boyfriend? Rest her soul,” I asked, eyebrows raised again. That Jessica…
“Kind of. They only went on a few dates. He’s all broken up about Ellen, and so we’re gonna hang out and comfort each other.” A smile, but those eyes belied Jessica’s true intentions.
Jessica and Josh became a hot item around the office. From behind my computer, I saw them kissing with their tongues all out. Just disgraceful. I knew something was up with Little Miss Jessica, but I didn’t know just what it was. Not yet, at least.
About a month after Ellen mysteriously died, Jessica came down with some kind of sickness and just like that, she was out of work for days. She came in the office once to speak with our boss, and I saw her wearing a black hoodie, a black overcoat, a scarf, gloves, and sunglasses. In the summer! You could barely see a peek of skin, whereas the previous week she had a worn a skirt so short I could almost see her you-kn0w-what. Hmph. Something was going on!
Even more strange: she was carrying that damn black velvet jewelry chest. What was she gonna do with that?
Curious, I watched Jessica pull another gift box out of the chest. She walked it right over to Tiffany’s desk. Tiffany was Ellen’s best friend and another pretty girl. She had beautiful doe-like eyes and a wide, charming smile. And she was nice as all get-out! A sweet kid.
I watched Jessica leave the gift box on Tiffany’s desk, along with a note. She quickly scurried back out of the office with her head down.
I was already on to Little Miss Jessica, so I got right up and went to Tiffany’s desk to read the note. It said something like, “Oh Tiffany you’re such a great person and I want to suck up and offer my condolences with this necklace” and sure enough! Right in that gift box was the same type of necklace Jessica had given Ellen. That jewelry chest must’ve been full of them.
I don’t know why, but Tiffany wore that necklace within a month. Can you guess what happened next?
That’s right! Bam, just like her friend Ellen, Tiffany fell sick and began to wither away. Her skin turned a pale greenish-gray, her eyes sank into her face. Her arms and legs hung limp off her bones, her energy gone. Her family in tears, her friends shocked, her doctors dumbfounded. And there was Jessica, again, glowing like a flower leaning into sunlight, eyes bright, dresses short, her smile wide and charming.
I kept my distance from Little Miss Jessica, because I knew she did some funny witch business with that jewelry chest. I’m from the South, and we know not to mess with no demons! But I watched her all the same.
Some time after Tiffany died, like clockwork Jessica lost those pretty good looks and got sick again. We don’t get benefits at the call center, so the boss made her come in anyway. She wore that damn hoodie, coat, gloves, scarf, and sunglasses again. Made sure not to speak to nobody – hell, they didn’t even know she had come in that day! But I did, because me and Miss Murdering Jessica sat right across from one another.
And again, like clockwork, I watched Jessica carry a note and gift box to Rebecca, the pretty front desk girl who was only a junior in high school. The depravity!
I watched Rebecca open that box and saw her eyes light up at the sight of that fake diamond necklace. I was convinced that the witch Jessica had put some kind of hex on it, making it appear more beautiful than it actually was.
When Rebecca excused herself to take a restroom break, you know what I did? Miss Jenkins took that gift box between the thumb and forefinger, marched it right outside to the dumpster, and threw it right in! No more babies dying on my watch.
Jessica’s health got worse and worse. Always with the bulky clothes, the hoodies, the gloves. Always shivering, like she was cold. Her eyes began to sink into her face, and she lost a lot of weight. Whatever funny business she had gotten herself into surely wasn’t paying off now!
“Rebecca,” she whispered in a hoarse, sickly voice, “did you get the necklace I gave you two weeks ago?” I peeped between the cracks of my cubicle as Jessica tried to have a private conversation with the front desk girl. She coughed and doubled over, her back slightly hunched.
“Oh, Jessica, are you okay? I hate that Sam keeps making you come in although you’re sick. It’s just not right,” Rebecca said. Such a sweet baby! “I did get the necklace, but I didn’t even wanna tell you that one of these assholes stole it. We’ve been keeping a look out for it.”
Jessica didn’t say a word in response, but I saw those evil eyes flare with anger.
That night, I had already left the office and was walking out when I realized that I left my purse inside my cubicle. This was the night I really found out what happened to those two poor girls.
All the lights were off because everyone went home for the day, but I heard heavy breathing. I was scared out of my mind! I tiptoed to my cubicle, grabbed my purse, and turned around. What I saw next still gives me nightmares to this day.
Jessica sat with her back turned to me. She wore only a white satin slip, stained with blood dripping from her outstretched arm. She jerked back-and-forth and grunted in pain as she used a long needle and thread to sew up some kind of wound in her arm.
“… Jessica?” I asked cautiously. That’s me alright, always trying to help even when I know someone is a murderer.
She jumped and dropped the needle. “Miss Jenkins!” she cried. My heart took a dip – I can’t stand to see babies cry! “Miss Jenkins, please help me!!”
She showed me her arm. Lit by the glare of her computer screen, I saw a long vertical cut from her wrist to her elbow. The skin looked like a volcano eruption, uneven and broken. Mixed in with the blood and bone was an inexplicable mass of rose petals and seething insects – cockroaches, maggots, and other tiny crawling bugs. They dropped to the floor with disgusting thuds and plops, and seemed to be endless.
“My God!” I whispered. “Jessica what has happened to you?”
“I gotta sew it up!” she said, frantically looking for the needle and thread. “The witch told me, she said ‘Seal your skin or the rot begins’. I have to seal it up!”
“Jessica, slow down child! Tell me what happened!” I spotted the needle and thread, picked it up, and showed it to her. “I will help you, just tell me what happened.”
As I sewed shut the bugs and rose petals inside of Jessica’s arm, she talked.
“Miss Jenkins, I never meant any harm. I only wanted to be beautiful,” she whimpered. “I found the jewelry box at a kiosk in the mall. The woman told me she was a witch, and said the box had dark magic. She warned me that it brought evil, but it also brought beauty. And I only wanted to be beautiful.”
I nodded my head in agreement, but really I was looking for the nearest exit. She continued, “She told me to gift the necklaces to those who I admire, and their charms would come my way. I didn’t know she meant they would die! I didn’t know! Not until after Tiffany.”
Suddenly, Jessica stopped crying. “As long as I have the box, I must keep finding souls for it to consume. Otherwise, I will die myself, and in this horrible way. I’m filled with nothing but these maggots and rose petals! I’ve made tiny cuts here and here, see,” she lifted her slip to show me the small incisions, “and it’s nothing but bugs and rose petals. ‘Seal your skin or the rot begins. Seal your skin or the rot begins’,” she repeated over and over.
I was all done with her arm. Would you believe that this ungrateful girl didn’t even thank me! She just put those gloves back on and stood up to go.
“So what now, Jessica? Will you return the box and end this? Have you tried returning it to the witch?” I asked.
“Of course, Miss Jenkins. I would never want to take someone’s life on purpose.” A smile, but once again Jessica’s eyes belied the truth.
Miss Jenkins may not mess with demons, but I have morals, you know. I couldn’t let her get away with murder, not on my watch! As Jessica used the light from the computer to inspect the stitches on her arm, and as she slowly (due to her injuries) put on layer after layer of all those bulky clothes to hide her rotting skin, I carefully grabbed that jewelry chest, popped it open, and tossed the remaining gift boxes in my big purse!
Too bad Jessica saw me do the tail-end of all that.
This old lady had to run for my life away! Whew – I almost broke a hip. I ran to the parking garage and hopped in my car with her hot on my tail. She got in her own car and tried to chase me down!
But Miss Jenkins is no fool. I drove to the nearest police station and parked right outside the front doors. She pulled in the parking lot behind me, took one look at where we were, and pulled right out! Hmph.
I was the one who found her body, you know. The boss hadn’t heard from her in a while, and deeming me the “closest” to her – turns out she had no living family – sent me to check on her.
Her apartment door was wide open, and before I even entered I smelled the maggots. I saw her body – the skin split straight down the middle of every one of her limbs – and I saw the sea of blood, rose petals, maggots, and bugs crawling all over her face. Another lost soul.
I didn’t say much about it even though the call center was abuzz with news of the third death of a young girl in less than a year. Nobody even asked me about it, really. They don’t care about the ramblings of an old lady like me!
But I know Jessica stole the life and beauty from those girls, and there ain’t nothing or nobody that can tell me any different. I’m the one who got rid of those necklaces, and I’ll never say where I tossed ‘em. Not even on my deathbed!
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