Book excerpt:Pretty/Ugly by Jennifer Anne Gordon

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From the Blurb:

Pretty/Ugly

Interitus: noun. ruin; violent/untimely death, extinction; destruction, dissolution

Omelia fills the empty place in her heart with Instagram clicks, likes, and subscribes, hiding the scars of grief under a mask of makeup, cloaked in an online personality. She yearns to be someone new: a girl in a magazine, a character in a book, a beauty queen. Anything not to feel, to be numb, but the sharp pain accompanying the red spot on her face cannot be ignored. Nor can the black, spindly tarantula-like vines that creep up the side of her face and the fever she spikes, forcing her to confront the fact that the person she has become may not be who she is at all.

Dubbed ‘the New JFK, ‘ Sam is the heir apparent to a powerful but emotionally distant political family, living the life he neither dreamed nor wanted. He sleepwalks through his days filled with self-loathing, rage, boredom, and an ache under his heart that reminds him that he is not complete. He is roused from slumber when a political scandal erupts that coincides with the end of the world. Too many Adderall and Old-Fashioneds leave Sam wondering, is he crazy or haunted?

When lives are emotionally ended in childhood, it takes an apocalypse to see the ephemeral beauty of living again.

                                                                  

Prologue

As Most of You Know, My Name Is . . .

     She was barely able to drag her ass out of bed today. She felt it; she was destroyed. Last night’s drinks left her with a throat that felt like it was filled with cat hair and dried grass. The rest of her just felt a little raw. Her lips were swollen, and her mouth felt tender and chapped. She remembered Kim. She reached up and touched the back of her head, it was sore. She remembered it had hit the wall at one point. She tried to smile, but even a smile hurt.

     She hadn’t had that much to drink, just a few fruity concoctions with the girls before the slow, smoky, and sad descent into whiskey . . . Girls. That stretched the truth. Girl. Last night it was just a girl. Only a girl. Girl.

     This morning she felt like she was still there in that stupid bar, Lampadario; the music seared into her skin, eighth grade razor blades. Her eardrums hurt. It was too loud to have a conversation. She spent the whole night sipping 18-dollar Cosmos as she screamed, “What?” every time someone tried to talk to her. She only remembered one of her conversations from last night, but maybe it’s not that she can’t remember the others, maybe she never even heard them. She only heard one. She half-remembered it was about love languages and buildings that collapsed against you . . . and at the end of the night, it’s not conversations that matter anyway. The thing that mattered now was how the world saw it. Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is what she had tried hard in the last ten years to build her life on. Building blocks like this are precarious and, in the end, even memories felt like falling downstairs.

     It’s the photos and selfies she got when she was there, when she felt her life through anyone else’s eyes. She posted a few to her Instagram earlier and the hearts started coming in almost right away. She knew they would. She knew her audience.

     She shied away from the windows like a vampire and swished some room temperature water around in her mouth. She looked out the large windows near her bed, all the buildings on the other side of this city looked like empty picture frames. She was lucky; the renovated mill building where she lived had high ceilings and huge windows. The bottom floor and the two sub basements of this building were filled with sand to kill the Anthrax. The building was once a slaughterhouse. It killed herbivores, cows, sheep. Some of them had been sick. This is why this apartment building started three floors up; everything else was sand, and on top of that, expensive apartments.

     The Merrimack River, which during early spring ran high when the snow from the White Mountains melted, made the river sound like an ocean squall as it barreled through Manchester; it cut the small city into two parts. Omelia could see across the river to the West Side of the city. She saw the steeple of Saint Marie’s Church as it tried to fight against the earth and reach out almost touching the sky. When she was a little girl, she went to school close to there. It was a sprawling Catholic school that somehow seemed in her memories to be made up almost entirely of basements. That building is empty now and does nothing besides take up space and hold squatters in what has become, in the years since her childhood, a sketchy drug-filled collection of scraps. Now it is called a neighborhood.

     When she was young, there were little worlds and small communities in that part of “Manch-hattan.” They all lived in shabby houses and in three floor walk-ups. They were mainly French-Canadian speakers. She and her classmates all had parents who had thick French-Canadian accents, their voices sounded like work boot leather. They mangled the word order in most of their sentences. She remembered her father screaming up the narrow stairwell in her childhood home how he was able to scream and be exhausted as he said, “Throw me down the stairs my slippers.” No matter how many times she tried to correct him he never seemed to get it right.

     She ran her hands through her hair; it still had enough product in it from last night that she thought she could get away with not doing anything to it at all. Her face was free of makeup as she needed to be, and she was lucky enough, even now as she barreled towards thirty, that even without makeup she was what most people would call striking, not pretty, and thank God, not attractive. When she had makeup on, she was more than striking she was a work of art, a small, framed portrait in a gilded frame that hung on a museum wall. She was the Mona Lisa; except she was hot.

     Today she saw that there were shadows under her eyes. Her delicate, papery, thin skin had a blue tinge to it, and it darkened to an almost plum in the corners of her eyes. She leaned in closer to the halo mirror that was set up with her light and phone. The camera settings were perfect. They took at least six years off her skin. Even so, she thought she could see little veins; they reached though her eyelids like famine and hunger. She looked at herself, and all she could think was that she looked like the worst kind of Dickens character.

     Without makeup, she was the laundress, at best.

     Maybe she looked more scrounged up than she thought she did. Maybe she was tired. It didn’t matter though—at least it wouldn’t soon. She changed the setting on her halo light to the rose gold setting, and she noticed an immediate change in her appearance. Her mirror saw her as healthy, vibrant, and effortless. If she faked it long enough it could almost pass for happy.

     ROSE GOLD.

     She smiled, she could do that now, her real life, her make believe life only started when the camera was on. Her hand tousled her perfect messy bedhead in place. Everything before and after this didn’t matter.

     She knew when she genuinely smiled that her mouth was crooked, and she felt it made her look like the worst of Picasso’s paintings—the ones he did on plates and napkins when he could not afford the check. She also knew that when she smiled, she looked like her mother; her father used tell her that when she was a girl. His eyes would grow cloudy and unfocused. They would brim almost to the surface with tears. He went quiet after that and would stare out the kitchen window for hours. He never spoke; there was nothing to say. She tried to understand his grief over losing his wife, not to death but to indifference, but she was so little and understanding someone else’s sadness was impossible. It was easier for her just not to smile.

     To not remind.

     She checked her Instagram one more time before she switched her camera on. She is close to 1400 likes on a selfie from last night, in less than two hours; it’s not bad, it could be better. She smiled again, her real smile, her crooked one. She knew when she wore a corset made of book covers that it would be a hit. She switched over to her camera and placed it in the stand. She switched the filter to vibrant, and that filter and the rose gold light combined with the natural light from her windows would be perfect. It changed her dull green eyes to an almost emerald with specks of gold. Her dark auburn hair shined with a vibrant red in this light. This is who she is now, who she was meant to be the whole time. She started up her live stream. She was barely done waving at the camera and she saw there were 447 people watching already.

     Her laugh was deep and throaty; she had taught herself to do this without letting out a natural smile. She glanced at herself one last time in the mirror; the blue shadows under her eyes were not noticeable in this light. She breathed in and exhaled slowly.

     “Hey everyone, thanks for joining me today, as most of you know, I’m Omelia.”

***

Jennifer Anne Gordon is a gothic horror novelist. Her work includes Beautiful, Frightening and Silent (2020) which is a finalist in the Kindle Book Review Awards,  and From Daylight to Madness (The Hotel book 1), and coming out in November 2020, When the Sleeping Dead Still Talk (The Hotel book 2).

She had a collection of her mixed media artwork published during spring of 2020, entitled Victoriana: mixed media art of Jennifer Gordon

Jennifer is one of the hosts as well as the creator of Vox Vomitus, a video podcast on the Global Authors on the Air Network.

Jennifer is a pale curly haired ginger, obsessed with horror, ghosts, abandoned buildings, and her dog “Lord Tubby”.

She graduated from the New Hampshire Institute of Art, where she studied Acting. She also studied at the University of New Hampshire with a concentration in Art History and English. 

She has made her living as an actress, a magician’s assistant, a “gallerina”, a painter, and burlesque performer and for the past 10 years as an award-winning professional ballroom dancer, performer, instructor, and choreographer.

When not scribbling away (ok, typing frantically) she enjoys traveling with her fiancé and dance partner, teaching her dog ridiculous tricks (like ‘give me a kiss’ and ‘what hand is the treat in?’ ok these are not great tricks.) as well as taking photos of abandoned buildings and haunted locations.

She is a leo, so at the end of the day she just thinks about her hair.

For more information and benevolent stalking, please visit her website at http://www.JenniferAnneGordon.com

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