by Andrea DeAngelis

Beauty was all I wanted, and I was not born beautiful. I was never going to be unless I did what was required. I tried the non-invasive methods—topical, oils, ointments, pastes, restrictive regimens and brutal routines, starvation diets, extreme exercises and contortionist contraptions. I have undergone the usual surgical procedures—nose job, breast augmentation, lipo wherever curves couldn’t be contained, Botox, fillers and innumerable lip injections. My face is so taut that no flashes of hurt or anger can disturb its unyielding surface. I have been brutalized—my jaw intentionally fractured to make my face smaller, six ribs removed to fit the jeans on Melrose, my brow and butt lifted so they would never fall. In the quest to reshape my meaty arms, the bruising from the surgery resembled prison tattoos for weeks. I have sought out the weird and bespoke—eyelash transplants from where men enjoyed less hair, my unmentionable carved into a baby flower as useless as a decorative doily.

My deluded ugly nana always said beauty is your soul not your flesh. But what is the use of a soul if you are alone? And my nana has been alone as long as I can remember. Men don’t stay when beauty fades, my mother would say, and she would know. They all left her— father, stepfather, fiance, boyfriend, longtime fling and finally no one who wasn’t drunk on desperation and loneliness.

At the height of all my torture and prime, the beauty standards evolved and my “perfected” look was derided as deranged. The very body I’ve damaged to make their body was now worthless. This body I can no longer run with because surgeries have left me fragile with a constant burning sensation in my breasts. This body has always belonged to everyone else.

But one person’s necromancy is another’s salvation. I had heard of a shaman up north who can salvage my hurt and sacrifices into a Penanggalan, a ghost demon, whose appearance during the day will bewitch the beholder, whatever their quirk or kink. At night, I will terrify. What you see you cannot unsee. These future grotesqueries inspire me.

When I look in the mirror, I see who I was before I chased beauty. I still hate her weakness. Before I was camera-ready, I was on camera, the pretty-plain girl next door on a reality TV show. My disappointing reflection circulated like a virus. The rhinoceros nose before the emergency rhinoplasty next season.

I have paid an exorbitant amount for directions to her house, deep in the redwood forest. A hand-painted sign demands I remove my shoes before stepping onto the swaying rope bridge woven in and out of the giant sequoias. I am unused to walking barefoot. But as I wend my way, I find my joints don’t ache as they do in towering heels. I come to the end of the bridge and at first, there appeared to be nothing but the dense old-growth woods. Then the shaman abode’s edges became apparent. Her home was a mirrored glass cube wrapped around the trunk of one of the tallest trees. Its exterior blended in with the darkening sky and greenery. Before I could knock, a panel slid open and I slipped inside. I was greeted with a disappointing interior of plain plywood, impoverished furnishings and a small walnut of a woman. I knew I was in the right place because the outside was prized above all else.

Unlike the doctors who have operated on me, the shaman asked me repeatedly if this was what I wanted. So much of my flesh was already dead, there would be no returning to my original form, she explained. I already knew this. I am a living doll, a body not my own. I can touch and stroke this flesh not feeling the caresses.

You will have to live off the blood of others, she told me. I said, well, they have lived off the blood of me. I have been sliced, constricted and dissected to become what they want and then discarded. Why shouldn’t I consume their flesh the way they gouged mine?

She warned me, you will need to rip your head and entrails from your body every night to feed. Fangs will pierce through your gums and you will choke on an elongated wiry tongue. As you feed throughout the night, your organs will engorge with all you have taken.

Why not hollow out my insides? If I am empty, I can fly.

Your empty shell will remain behind to rapidly decay if you do not return before dawn, she said. You will need to soak in a bath of vinegar for one hour; apple cider vinegar is the most rejuvenating.

I nodded.

The necromancer worked her magic with blood and dust, silicone and maggots, kissing bugs and collagen brokering the demon pact for me. I starve all day every day to feed in darkness, a familiar routine.

Wrenching my head and internal organs from my body, the pain pales in comparison to my debilitating recoveries from past surgeries. Steam and the sweet bitter smell of shit rises from my innards.

The first time I swept through the night air without my body was the freest I have ever been. My tentacles of hair extensions put to practical use, flapping away like wings. My organs could be mistaken for twinkling fireflies, except my gory viscera leaks all the bodily fluids I’ve tried to control in the past. A drop drips on your exposed bare flesh and burns through bone in my rage. You look up already screaming, I am monstrous but a true beauty to behold. If you are not beautiful, you are nothing. It is only what is considered beautiful that changes. 

Andrea DeAngelis is at times a poet, writer, shutterbug and musician ( living in New York City. Despite her insomnia, she can’t seem to stay away from tentacles, claws, fangs and screams. Her writing has recently appeared in The Molotov Cocktail and Timeless Tales.
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