by Rebecca Sukach

Sky clad, the lithe girl crept up to the window, standing on her toes to see in. She pressed her nose to the glass, peering at the sleeping children. December snowflakes drifted thickly around her, melting with a hiss as they touched her impossibly hot skin. Her hair drifted loosely in the wind, white and fine, blending with the snow. Inside, the children tossed in their dreams, some part of them aware of the eyes that watched. Cold moonlight shone through the window. Eerie shadows chased each other across the walls. She stood there, for a moment and forever, staring. When the children finally lay still, she wandered away, her bare feet making tiny prints in the deepening snow. It was a special night and the others would be waiting. She skipped towards the elm grove, spinning through the drifts.

A dark figure skulked behind her, following the vision that danced through the trees. Jack had seen the naked girl standing at the window, oblivious to the cold and snow. He had been driving home when he saw her. And now, standing in a drift beneath the elm trees, his trench coat pulled tightly about him, he wondered why he had followed. A fierce desire burned deeply within him and his fists clenched and unclenched, as fantasies he never imagined possible raced through his brain. He quickened his step, his purpose still unclear, but his desire driving him on. His wife would miss him, but he would say something. The car, work -- any excuse would do. She would never believe the truth anyway -- he barely believed himself.

Guilt ate at him as he crept through the snow, hesitating at each step, trying to turn back. Images of his wife flitted through his mind, tears springing to his eyes, freezing on his cheeks in the bitter snow. Their first anniversery was next month and he did not think he could be happier. He loved his wife fiercely and scoffed at his friends and co-workers who seemed to think a mistress was a requirement for a good life. They told him that he was an idealist and too newly wed to understand. But Jack was sure he would never understand how they could be such monsters to the women that trusted them. Yet now he found himself drawn after a ghostly girl through the dark woods, stumbling occasionally in the deepening snow, unable to turn back. Unable to go home.

Suddenly, he was on the edge of a clearing. The girl stood in the center, grinning madly at the moon. Then she was spinning again, laughing. Jack drew back, hiding, unsure of himself, of what he meant to do. He turned back towards the car when tinkling voices made him stop and peer around a tree. More of the sprites appeared, dancing in a circle, sky clad and beautiful. His eyes ached at the sight of them, timeless and lovely. Their voices rose in cacophony, joyous screams rebounding from the towering elms to the sky. Jack sobbed at the sight, his vision clouded with tears, his gut twisted as if by some unseen hand. He stumbled forward, reaching out his hand to touch the gods that danced before him. They seemed unaware of him, their frenzy growing with each passing second, bodies writhing everywhere, yet always just out of reach. Groaning with frustration that made his body ache, Jack lunged forward, catching one by the arm. As his fingers touched her, his hand burst into scarlet flames. Searing pain leapt up his arm and he fell back, moaning. The girl spun, backing away in horror from the writhing man in the snow. He tried to reach out, but the expression of revulsion in her ice blue eyes stopped him. Jack stumbled to his feet, scattering the faeries. He turned, running through the woods, sobbing, clutching his burning hand.

When Jack got home, his wife was asleep. He wrapped his hand carefully, rehearsing the story he would tell her of how the radiator had burned him. He winced as the disinfectant stung his flesh. Washing his face, he tried to blot out the images of the night. He ached with desire and longing for the inhuman beauty he had seen. The pain in his heart and his hand were almost unbearable. He slipped into bed next to his wife, automatically bending to kiss her as she turned to him. But instead of her face, the maw of an unholy demon gaped at him. A scream welled up inside him as he backed away in horror. It spoke, a monstrous, gargling hiss bellowing past a twisted parody of lips. He grabbed blindly at the bedside lamp, brandishing it at the gargoyle that crept towards him across the bed. He smashed the monster with insane fury, trying to crush its face, blot out the awful ugliness. Blood spattered the walls, as he struck it again and again. Finally, the hideous thing lay still, strange mewling sounds escaping from its lips. Jack limped into the bathroom, still clutching the bloody lamp. He turned on the faucet, splashing the cold water onto his neck.

After a deep breath he turned to look in the mirror. His eyes widened in disbelief. Shrieking, he smashed the mirror, refusing the image of the monster he saw there, the monster that was him.