“Well, I’m learning the same is true about you. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact you’re now almost as interesting as me. It’s threatening my place in this friendship.”
I tug at the scarf that unthreads from the stitches when I do, and I pull it away, my eyes landing on the mirror as the satin stitches start coming apart, my skin already sealing back together as I pull one of the healing potions out of my bedside table to hurry the process along.
“I thought you were going to tell me a story about a girl with a ribbon on her neck or something,” Anna says as I watch the ribbon return to be the lacing in my bra.
“There was a girl—”
“All stories start with once upon a time,” she interrupts, brokering no room for argument.
I groan as I drop back. “This is so not that kind of story. And we’ll talk about it when I wake back up, because I can already tell you’re going to interrupt me a lot right now.”
Pulling the covers back over my head, I start to drift off.
“Watch for Morpheous,” I mumble sleepily. “Apparently ghosts have the ability to see him even when he doesn’t want to be seen.”
“Why can’t you just tell the ribbon story to me now?”
“I need to pay a trip to the hardware store first,” I mutter under my breath just before the world fades away and the dark edges of my mind toy with me.
Anna stays quiet as I pull the box out from under my bed that stays hidden and charmed so that no one else can open it.
She already went to Damien’s house to ensure he’s inside. Apparently he’s soaking in a bubble bath.
I needed that assurance before I started this unceremonious lecture. Hopefully, she’s not telling a lie. It doesn’t sound over-the-top insane, so it’s possibly the truth.
She watches like a little kid about to open the first present on Christmas morning as I slowly unwrap the box, pulling off one pink-satin ribbon, then another, and remove the bronze charm that was tethering them together.
It all looks rather innocent in my hands, but in another’s, there’d be some screams of agony and some strangling if they tried to open this box.
Mom was paranoid about my secret, but understood my need to have collective pieces of a puzzle neither of us could solve. She’d kill me for revealing it to a ghost, but Anna has been good and kept her word and hasn’t mentioned it at untimely times.
Anna peers over at all the pretty satin ribbons in my box, along with some slightly terrifying drawings that started as a thirteen-year-old girl.
Then I start pulling out the printed pages, small books and various other little story pieces.
“Mom said if someone ever found this, they’d assume the worst. So, if by some miracle this box is opened without my permission, it all goes up in flames. No part of my secret ever leaves this box,” I say to her.
“What’s the worst?” Anna asks.
“Well, now I think she was trying to tell me I was a monster that belonged in a town like this with other monsters and a monster slayer to keep me in line.”
The music is playing in various rooms of the house, since I know their hearing is exceptional and I don’t want to risk someone listening to me from a nearby rooftop.
I have little alarm strings set up with bells also hidden, and one motion sensor that sounds like a fog horn if someone moves in front of its discreet location…in front of my bedroom door.
All my windows now have little alarms that also go off when they’re raised. I’ve spent a lot of time and money at the hardware store today.
In short, men who can turn themselves invisible has made me paranoid. I don’t even know what’s going on around me anymore.
“There are actually numerous variations of the tale,” I say to Anna as I show her the really old stack of papers that have been aged by time and tears.
I open a book up, and flip through the other little stories, that are of no importance, to get to the story that I’ve read thousands of times, my fingers touching the green ribbon on the image.
“In each story, there’s a girl with a ribbon around her neck. In each story, there’s a boyfriend, lover, or husband who is told they can never touch the ribbon or ask questions about it, in exchange for her love.”
“Which means she can’t ever trust men, apparently,” Anna states flatly.
“In each story, the boyfriend, lover, or husband grows more and more curious about the ribbon, until they become obsessed and fixate—”
“Like the monsters are obsessed with you,” she states like she’s trying to link this story to my current predicament and is searching for ways to do so.
“Do you want me to tell this story?” I ask on a sigh.
She gestures me on.
“In at least one variation, she’s old and dying and—”
“If you can’t die, then this story clearly isn’t about whatever you are,” Anna dutifully points out.
“That’s just one variation,” I cut in. “In one variation, she doesn’t age, and her aging husband finally pulls the ribbon off. In some variations, the curious boyfriend or lover pulls the string while she’s sleeping. Whether they’ve had permission or not, they always pull the ribbon.”
“What happens when they pull the ribbon?” Anna asks as she inches closer.
“Her head falls off and rolls onto the floor. Sometimes she’s instantly ‘dead.’ Sometimes she chastises them as her head rocks around.”
The horrified expression on her face is about what I expected.
“Why would people tell this story to their children? That is what is wrong with this world!” she shouts as though she’s genuinely disturbed and traumatized.
Male monsters are sexy to her. Female monsters with ribbons holding them together are disturbing. Duly noted.
“I would assume the moral of the story is that being selfishly curious could cost someone their head?” I suggest, and then shake my own firmly-attached head. “The point is, I never believed in vampires, werewolves, or anything of the sort. But I believed in this story, because it seemed so real to me.”
“You and I have a very different opinion of realism, sister,” the psychotic ghost says.
“I know. You think you had sex with a Kennedy,” I state dryly.
“I did,” she’s quick to defend. “I really did.”
“Anyway, Mom said she had no clue if such a thing could exist. Yet, the first time I should have died but didn’t, she knew I just needed some ribbon to string me back together. Now I infuse my ribbons with my healing potions to speed the process along.”
“If she knew you needed ribbons, then—”
“Don’t go down that road. I’m second-guessing my mother too much. She always called me the perfect storm of a gypsy, but she never really explained what she meant by that.”
“And you didn’t ask?”
“My mother wasn’t a woman to give compliments too often, and it sounded so much like a compliment every time she said it, that I didn’t want to question it.”
“You poor, sad, pathetically sweet girl,” she says so patronizingly, earning a glare from me. “Go on about your ribbons, ribbon girl,” she adds on a sympathetic sigh.
“I think the ribbons were a test to see if the guy could really love her enough to just trust her that pulling the ribbon was a bad idea. Gypsies can make themselves look aged if needed. Mom went out in her old lady gear all the time after just a few properly mixed potions.”
“Well, that’s downright creepy,” Anna chirps.
“Anyway, back to the ribbon girl story. If the men made it until the end of that time, she let them pull the ribbon.”
“Therefore causing them cardiac arrest in their old age when their beloved wife’s head goes rolling across the floor because of something they just did? Sounds cruel. Not romantic.”
I bristle, because it did sound romantic until she worded it that way. I’ve romanticized my existence for as long as I can remember, just to keep from feeling like life is simply too complicated.
“She’s finally giving him the chance to see behind the curtain,” I point out. “Rewarding his unyielding trust throughout the years.”
“No, she’s sick and twisted and just broke his heart while simultaneously stopping it as well.”
“Well, maybe she’s doing him a favor by letting them die together because their love is so epic he wouldn’t want to live without her,” I challenge.
“Or maybe, since she doesn’t really die, she’s just a horrible person who’s sick of boning the old dude and is ready to move on,” she counters.
“Why are you so lucid?” I ask, for once not happy about it, since within a few seconds, she’s managed to shatter the semi-romantic illusion I’ve spent years piecing together to explain my existence in the least disturbing way.
“If I’m lucid and we’re really having this conversation, then the world has gone to hell in Grandma’s handbasket,” she states with critical seriousness.
“You’re unbelievable,” I grumble as I start packing away everything again, my hands shaking as I do so.
“Why does it look like you’re about to burst into tears?” she asks as I sniff and ignore her, lacing the box back together with the charm.
“Because you’re the first person I’ve ever shared that with, outside of my mother, and you just made the girl with the ribbon around her neck sound like a sadist monster, judging me before I barely skim the surface of my darkest secrets,” I add quietly as I wipe away a stray tear and slide the box back under the bed.
“Or, I’m simply pointing out that the girl with ribbons is just a pretty monster,” she calls to my back as I walk into the bathroom. “Like all of them,” she adds as I flip on the shower and hesitate.
Annoyed, I open the bathroom door to find her smiling.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it and let you carry on with your head in the sand. We had vampires and zombies—”
“No zombies,” I sigh, leaning up against the doorway.
“We had vampires and flying monkeys—”
I shake my head, and she stops mid-sentence again.
“We had vampires try to kill you,” she says, waiting to see if I agree or not, and at my nod, she continues on. “You have some mortal cult of some sort who hunts Portocale gypsies and kills them as some sort of sacrifice to some Forsaken idol or something.”
At my impatient sound, she hurries on.
“The point is, you need to start being realistic. You don’t die, and you can somehow sew yourself together even when you’re unconscious.”
“The charms help the ribbons to hurry, but most of the ribbons have been trained to work on their own now,” I explain.
She blinks like that makes no sense.