One Size Fits All

Chapter 1

The Tailor & The Actress

The skin dented. Luminescent in micro-layers, together dense and solid, it folded under the pressure of Grace's fingers. Like an ocean of citrus peel it rippled and sank, soft, like fresh window putty on a hot day. It pushed up through the spaces between her fingers without much force and in the cruel white of the ceiling light she could have sworn that she could see the veins beneath the rind of her Scottish tan.

A timid tear birthed itself just below the lid of her eye and she promptly wiped it away when Fleming entered the room with her new dress carefully draped over his forearms. It glittered with pearl and gem interwoven.

" It looks like the moon, Fleming, " she noted kindly, employing her skill as a big screen liar to mask her desperate disappointment that still warmed her fingers. The dress would never fit and she dreaded the imminent embarrassment of having to slither her way into it in front of Feming and his seamstresses.

Fleming was the most sought after tailor and designer in Hollywood. He was a peculiar old thing, hair as white as snow, erect above a substantial widow's peak in all directions, as if static attacked it by nature. Behind circular glasses he glared at her and smiled gently with emerald eyes and he raised a ferally haired eyebrow at her.

" You are going to look beautiful in it, deary, " he professed, laying the gorgeous white dress before her, where she could observe its every intricacy. On silk, woven delicately, she noted the pearly buttons, crowning the lining of champagne old lace, the likes of which queens and ladies could only wish for.

Her belly ached. She carefully lifted the raiment and listened to its whisper in every movement of fold and frill and she raised her eyes to meet that of her beloved friend and tailor, who stood anxiously awaiting her fitting of his latest masterpiece. Should she feign fainting? Maybe excuse herself under pretense of stomach problems? Her mind terrorised her with the flashbacks of flab and lard that she had seen below her skin not ten minutes before.

" Oh, and I got your something, " he suddenly exclaimed, his excitement marring the speed with which he waddled in his crookedness of spine and age. She was thankful for the momentary reprieve. His broken frame, dressed in brown trousers lifted too high and a green waist coat that would have fitted him perfectly, but for his skeletal torso, moved diagonally, it seemed, like a crab, to bring her a golden box. It was very expensive, she could tell, and on it lay a bow of dark green which gave it a royal feature. He reached out his hand to her, presenting the box much as he always presented a new garment - with sunken chin, his face down in reverence. Had his body not been to frail, it would have been a perfectly good bow in her honor.

" Oh Fleming, " she smiled, and reached for the gift with stately grace, as only an accomplished lady of 1920's Cinema would. It was heavy in her palm and she gleefully lifted the lid and beheld a most exquisite piece of jewelry inside. Wrought in gold, the bracelet sported an ivy motif, its tiny leaves laid with minuscule emeralds to color the vines entwined in finest craft of gold complexity. Before her the beauty shimmered and just past the vision of the piece the ancient face of the tailor lit up in happy anticipation at her reaction, deepening his wrinkles and igniting a gleam in his eye. He nodded imperceptibly.

Grace removed it from the luxurious lap of the satin fold and heedfully she clipped it around her wrist. It snapped loudly as she did so and the sound seemed to break the spell Fleming was under. He jumped back and laughed heartily as Grace tilted her head in kind acceptance and reached to bless the old man with a hug. She smelled wonderful. As always.

There was an odor of jasmine about her that never failed to fill any room she occupied, leaving her presence known in a most obscure manner. The piece looked stunning upon her wrist. Like all her dresses, especially made for her to compliment her beauty as she complimented the prettiness she would wear without fail.

But now came the time that she could no longer procrastinate the bedeviled fitting and she sank her head as she made her way to the screen provided for her. Her clothes fell to her feet and she lifted the mastery of fabric with a moanful sigh.

Well, you have to do it sooner or later. Just suck it up. It is still nine days to the awards ceremony. Black coffee and cigarettes. Black coffee and cigarettes.

Her thoughts badgered her as she climbed into the dress, gently and ever so slowly raising it over her humongous thighs, feeling its mild constriction and trying not to allow her insanity to win. Now she pulled slightly harder, her fingertips gripping the edges of the material to force it over her buttocks and hips with effort.

" Is this the same size as the one I wore at the Green County Fund raiser, Flem? " she asked nonchalantly.

" Why yes, my dear, exactly the same size. I figured to make this one the same size as it

was fairly recent and I'm sure you would not gain a whole dress size. Ever. "

The old man giggled and she laughed a bit too loudly over the absurdity of it all as the dress strained over her breasts and she dared not anticipate the outcome of the zipper.

" Yes, I know, " she continued, her effort evident in her panting words, " I would not dare pick up a single pound after Lloyd threatened to fire me from The Girl Next Door to My Door. Oh yes, that man made sure I do not shove another leaf in my mouth if I wanted that part and see, if I did not listen, I would never have attained this award. "

Fleming did not look pleased. But he looked not pleased by himself, where his favorite actress could not see his disapproval. She was delightful to him. He adored her and he hated how her comely beauty was always drained of substance through everlasting diet upon diet. Deprivation of any sort did not sit well with him. He always fancied himself a bit of a subdued Hedonist. Grace was beautiful just as she was, but in the past years she had diminished her curves a great deal on the altar of Fame. He had hoped the new gown would fit for her sake, but he hoped it would be too small, to feed his selfish happiness that she was more healthy for it.

Time stood still suddenly. The world came crashing down and all was lost to creation as the awful sound echoed through the room. It split the silence like an aural cleaver and provoked gasps from Fleming's assistants.

Rrrrrriiip

Fleming's fear came to pass. He pinched his eyes painfully as the sound of the tearing fabric blasphemed in the holy cathedral of Fashion, his ears damaged not only by the accident, but by the unheard scream that his dear Grace must have held inside. This was 1924. Dresses were loose fitting, no matter how small in size and strings of pearl adorned skinny collarbones as a rule of law. No rips. Oh no, certainly no rips.

She held the torn dress her body defiled against her, streaming tears warming her cheeks. Through the obscured vision of water and salt, Fleming's odd frame crawled toward her, his arms outstretched and his head slowly shaking from side to side.

" It's not problem, my dear. Don't you fret, " his Irish accent now more significant through his American drawl. Grace always noticed the Irish coming through stronger when he was emotional and a ripped garment of silk was an emotionally rocked as a tailor could get.

" I'm so sorry, " she implored, but he waved his hand to dismiss such unnecessary prayers. He nodded for her to hand him the dress and assured her that it is all fixable. With a hearty wink he lifted her spirits somewhat and ordered sternly for his seamstresses ready his implements and called for more fabric of the same caliber so that he could correct his error of misjudging his measurements. Grace loved him for such a false excuse.

Upset in no uncertainty or masking, Grace burst out in a wail of sorrow at her huge curves and shameful comeliness.

" I knew it! I knew it, Fleming! And I was stupid enough to even think I'd fit in there! " she screamed now, unashamed of the tantrum.

" Hush, hush, hush, " he protested, his eyes closed beneath raised eyebrows reminiscent of a schoolmaster who knows best.

" Now, now, " he said after she calmed enough for him to hear himself, " it is not the end of the world, love. Why..." he set his spectacles straight on the bridge of his nose, "...why do you insist on being like everyone else, my dear? Why do you not accept that beauty is beautiful, no matter it's size? Is the mountain not as awesome as the bee? "

" You don't understand, " she sniffed, bewildered by his seeming indifference to her plight. His crooked old hand brushed her crinkled blond hair off her face, revealing a pair of giant blue eyes on her tiny face, wrapped in a silken skin of extravagant make-up that threatened to become a mess of black Picasso. The perfectly curved lips that bled in lipstick hue now shivered unhappily, the quivering replacing her usual show-stopping smile that appeared so profound during her cabaret.

" I do understand. It is you who seem blind to your sparkle, love, " he almost whispered.

" Don't you see? " her voice was furious at him, but her eyes begged him to comprehend.

" Yes, dear, I see. I see a goddess that does not need the throne of glamor to wield her scepter. I see the pure pleasure it is to behold one such as yourself, no matter what your body is dressed in. Do you not see....you? The truly beautiful are those who see themselves without using a mirror. "

" This is why I make these beautiful garments. I do not make them to beautify you. I make them to give them purpose. Silk, satin...their power lies in their wearer. What is a dress without a beautiful woman? I have never made one ugly dress, Gracy. Not one. Each stitch I make is a testament to the guile of the feminine. Why do you not embrace your unique size? Why do you not wear your body like the queen wears her crown. It is after all, the temple of your soul and my dear, you are a most magnificent temple."

His words echoed through her sullen mood and died too soon, before they could reach her self esteem. Grace carried with her the coffers of shame and self-hatred cultivated in a youth riddled with ridicule and embarrassment. When she was a child, her mother solved problems with food. Grace grew up the fat girl. The favorite plaything of bullies and bitches everywhere she went. It was not until she fell off a horse and broke her jawbone that she first acquired a taste of the less hefty. Her injury had prevented her from eating solid food for some time and she shed an amazing amount of pounds in the process. For years she kept the weight at bay and the obsession held her high. Hollywood noticed the fat girl's pretty face as soon as it was visible, void of excess, and she shot to the top of the A-list in no time.

But Baroness Beauty claims a most exuberant price. Grace's lifestyle adapted to antacids and full cream milk to accommodate just some of her eating disorders. Her nights were sometimes host to long hours of weeping at gaining a pound and losing a role. It took a lot of sacrifice to get this far and her world would crash down if she could no longer maintain her looks.

" Thank you, Fleming, " she urged him to halt his incessant sermons.

He merely sighed and laid his hand on her shoulder.

" You'll see, my dear, " he breathed with labor and walked away, " you'll see."

Chapter 2

The Delivery

The night was windy, but dry and the maid's cursed under their breath at the amount of dust that settled now on everything before the windows denied the debris access. Fleming had just arrived to bring the newly sewn garment to his beloved Grace Rafferty. He had hoped she would show resilience in her woes and receive the slightly larger altered dress with an open mind.

Through her lavish home he slowly made his way, the posh gift box in his arms and he greeted, as always, her servants in a polite manner. Up the stairs he went with great difficulty, but persisted in his exhilaration. The wind howled outside the magnificent windows, announcing the storm to come and he hoped to be home before the first downpour. Maroon carpets, thick beneath his tread, matched the long drapes that fringed the great window at the top of the stairs. Through the glass the lightning threatened to strike him down and he winced at it's blinking eye, feeling not altogether safe in the warm light and comfort that surrounded him in the grand actress' mansion.

Giant vases from Africa, carved intricately by knife in hand stood sentinel along the rising steps. The dark wood spoke ominously to the eye and he disliked it's subliminal muti immensely. Perhaps he felt challenged, perhaps he felt impatient of any other magic but the Celtic kind. Her paintings were tasteless. Hung carelessly, if only too seem extravagant, but in fact grossly kitsch, they covered most of the sublime marble in the walls that was most certainly intended to be decoration enough of its architecture.

As Fleming reached the top stair the long corridor greeted him, in all its vastness quite claustrophobic and statically stretching if one stood still enough for long enough. The same dreaded decor lived there but he dared not judge the lady's taste, for he himself was one of her choices and the association would be of ironic insult.

The thunder cracked so violently that his heart stopped at its voice and at once every light in the mansion was extinguished by the power failure that followed.

" Fan...tastic, " he muttered, stopping in his tracks to find a lucifer to light his way to Grace's chamber, where she would most certainly be frozen in fear. That much he knew about her. She was terribly frightened by darkness and on occasion before, he was witness to her terror - a frozen, wide-eyed little girl she would become when the shadows become more than the rays. He pulled his silver lucifer from his jacket pocket and struck a flame to illuminate his way. Had any soul been there to behold him, they would have noticed in uncertain fear, something quite off about the old man, for his green eyes seemed to take on a light of their own for but a second before he started along his way towards her chamber door once more. The storm had come, it seemed.

He turned the doorknob carefully, as not to alarm his dear friend and he elected to make himself known before she would be confronted with eerie sounds and perhaps lose her mind in a moment of panic.

" Gracy, love, " he called carefully as he pushed aside the door in his way and entered the pitch dark room that enveloped him.

" Grace, it's only me, dear. It's Fleming. I've come to bring your dress, " he almost asked the latter words and attempted to sound unworried for the persistent silence that he walked through. It was not like her to remain still when summoned. After a few more attempts at luring her out, he realised that she was absent entirely and decided to lay her dress on her kingly bed that took up most of the room's center. Every now and then the flame would die out and he would give it a moment before lighting it again.

In the intervals between thunder he would hear a peculiar metallic tap emanating from her bathroom and he followed the sound to find the source of the annoying chime. Darkness cloaked his sickly frame as he entered the bathroom, guided now by only the lightning in its momentary revelations. The window was wide open, inviting in the powerful wind and it drowned Fleming in its coldness. The old man's eyes stretched in horror.

Between him and the window over the bath, hung the swinging silhouette of a woman, the beautiful bracelet on her wrist tapping against the water pipe on the wall with every rocking swing her corpse afforded the rope she hung from. The evil wind propelled her movement in a macabre metronome of horror. His hands covered his wide open mouth in disbelief, but before he could utter a sound in report, the electricity came back on, revealing Grace's blue and bloated face, tongue protruding in a white foamy residue that mingled with the vile vomit that still sat on her chin, neck and breasts. Her eighty five pound body was limp and purple. The vomit ran down her legs and dripped off her feet to where she must have stood in it before hoisting herself up on the bath. Her tracks led from that spot to the toilet bowl, unflushed, still lending evidence to her last bulimic frenzy.

For the first time in his existence, Fleming screamed.

Chapter 3

The Fat Girl

The Prom was a week away and Patty had still not found a proper dress to wear. It bothered her no end that her likeness would be captured on film forever. Forever people would look back at the ' Class of '89 ' and see...well, this.

Her attempts at diet after diet had failed miserably and she had no idea how she was going to shed enough pounds before Prom. Then again, she did not have a dress yet anyway, and constantly she would entertain thoughts of just not going, but her mother would have none of that. Unfortunately for Patty she was an only child and the center of her mother's smothering and ultimately the object of her mother's unintentional ridicule.

Eileen O'Malley refused to see her daughter's flaws, a most admirable maternal trait, unless that meant announcing the sentiment unceremoniously in public affairs in the presence of said daughter on several occasions. See, in the Sixties Eileen was a popular girl in high school and, jock cocks aside, she rode the wave of social glory and ended up crowning it with a Prom crown.

What Eileen failed to see, however, was that she was not a ninety pounder anymore. Her breasts had now thrown in the towel when gravity gave it a K.O. and the judges signed off on her face a long time ago. Her skin was discolored and wrinkled beneath a ton of make-up and her body resided daily in a pair of spandex tights, the pastel hue of which would change every morning and it did a terrific job at accentuating shapeless thunder thighs riddled with hail damage.

Of course her hair had to remain blond and she funded the development of several Peroxide factories with her treatments, not really minding the dark roots that lay a few inches into the top of her hairdo. Her shoulder pads distracted the eye from her trailer trash fashion sense, but only a little.

Patty's mom had dragged her into the only boutique left that had not born witness to her embarrassment. The afternoon was young when the two plump women took to the boutique, to conquer it utterly and emerge victorious, come hell of high water. The store was a trendy joint set to entrap mostly late teen and young adult attention seekers with its glitzy gear meet fancy ball gown stock.

It was the kind of place where girls called 'Bunny' or 'La-Shae' would congregate and Patty summarily dug her heels in at the entrance. Eileen took her by the wrist with one hand and flicked her fag out with the other and with her bitchiest Clint Eastwood stare, she motioned with her head that Patty had better get her ass inside or Northern Ireland will happen at home.

Denial was her mom's best attribute, she figured. She denied that her marriage was over. She denied that she was well overweight. She denied that her daughter was not pretty. The list went on and on. In Patty's opinion, her mother's denial had just ultimately turned her into an unhappy, fat chick that everyone laughed at and gossiped about behind her back. It broke the girl's heart, but she knew her mom wouldn't believe all this even if she told her outright.

Patty dropped her eyes to the floor and proceeded with her mother, deliberately not noticing the prying eyes of some particularly mean girls from her school who were also there to claim their stake in the beauty war. On the side of her face, Patty could feel the burn of disdain, her hate-telepathy on full throttle, no matter how the angel on her shoulder protested to feeding those dogs.

It is a feeling most women of lesser appeal are familiar with. A most destructive anti-venom it was, self-esteem, but no matter how strong the golden wall your friend or mother builds for you with their sermons on inner beauty and outer jealousy, no matter how self-assured you walk into the room, repeating endlessly your mantras of faux-ignorance, they always get you. They always seem to get you. Somewhere along the way they manage to outshine you, outdo you and out-best you and your wall rots beneath a tidal wave of reality and you realize that you are just fat. Ugly. Stupid. Delusional and invisible, except to those who have smelled your blood in their ocean. They circle.

On the sunny Saturday afternoon, Cyndi Lauper serenaded Patty's relentless search for that perfect dress and she eventually picked three. They were hideous numbers, but Eileen's apparent misjudgment of dress sizes prompted the perky sales assistant to step in and deal the rasp-voiced fake blond the losing hand that her daughter is a 'large' and that her size dress is not as freely available as 'normal' girls. Her shrill insult, though unintended by virtue of indifference, cut through the self-conscious teenager, but she had learned not to feed the dogs, thanks to her strong willed angel-on-shoulder.

Patty could hear the she-sharks snickering as she entered the fitting cubicle, greeted by the evil trinity of mirror devils that could not wait to present her with a surefire image killer.

The first dress, a stringy green lace number did not make it past her thighs before quitting in its gaping ascent. The brunette teenager with a defective shoulder angel kicked it aside like a bath rug as the sweat began to trickle over her back and brow and she felt the welling of muck in the pit of her stomach. Outside her mother rasped loudly, announcing every question with a great lack of tact.

The zipper strained over her right side, fanning out in that repulsive 'V' that she dreaded. It just wouldn't go any further upwards and she could feel the embarrassment mounting inside her. Her face felt hot and clammy, as did her fingers, which now just slipped off the zipper continually, making matters so much worse. She could feel all the mocking glances on her and her ears became receptive to the teasing whispers, amplified by her lack of breathing.

The zipper failed in its hold and instantly ran down all the way, allowing all the neatly tucked flab inside to fall out in unceremonious bulges. The onlooking women hid their faces in their garments and accessories, behind clothing racks and some just covered their mouths with their hands, but their laughter seeped through. Tears flooded Patty's eyes, turning everyone in the store into warped, mutilated demons, laughing at her misery.

She quite imagined that, to her mother, she was an unwanted dress that restricted all freedom that life could hold. Totally the wrong color, too. Then again, in her defense, a dress is only as tight as your ass is big. Any garment has potential beauty and the power to make its wearer more attractive, but only if the wearer has an amount of beauty to offer too. Maybe you are the one who needs to be adjusted.. Face up to your slips and fix them, so that you can wear any situation with style and ease and that you will do your life as much justice as it does you. Wear your own size.

Her mother limped her dumpy frame over to the cubicle.

Patsy almost visibly retracted at her mother's approach. Her emotions played musical chairs between sadness, disappointment and maybe a little hate too. She was already ridiculed beyond redemption. The store clerks still looked at her with that look. A look that depicts pity and revolt at the same time.

" What do ya say, love? Does that one go all the up? I know you have a bit of a caboose, but you just wiggle, see? "

" Oh God, kill me now, " Patty begged under her breath.

" What? " came the harpy sound from outside.

" Nothing. I don't know yet, Ma! " she quickly added to attempt a muzzling on a whining puppy that was going to piss on her already fragile reputation.

The red dress, smooth and simple appealed most to her, but again, it seemed petite and frail in her podgy fingers and this time she tried to enter the garment by letting it drop from above her. Over her head it went, her arms flailing up in the air as she wiggled to let it drop and it fell down to her torso, but got stuck above her breasts, straining in a crumpled mess around the circumference of her body. Her perspiration stained the fabric as she wrestled the dress off of her, restrained by it and unable to use her arms.

From the other side of the store, the assistants and customers, all under twenty five years of age, howled with laughter at the comical sight of the restricted waving of arms, flapping madly to make an escape from the ball gown that was stuck around the fat girl's head. Of course, it was only to be matched by the trailer trash has-been Prom Queen that paraded in front of cruel mirrors that she seemed to be blind to, striking poses of yesteryear in clothing that none but ridiculed her figure.

Patty began to panic, her ears sharp to the cackling hyenas in the store and her mother's incessant blabbering about her tiara in 1967 to which no ear paid attention anyway. She could not see through the red material and accidentally bumped against the door of the stall, releasing herself to the world, half naked in old lady underwear and jello shot flab under the maniacal panic of her unshaven arms. Unknown to her, the open stall door and her mother off somewhere in the department, insulting another mirror. Patty was alone in her hell. The dress she had kicked on the floor grabbed her ankle and she came off her feet.

" Timber! " a boyfriend of a shark yelled, as the laughter now came undone from restraint and the entire store roared in laughter as Patty's weight hesitated momentarily before slowly manipulating her balance too much to one side, and she came down hard on a floor she could not see coming. Apart from the blinding thump that rattled Patty's brain in a blistering bolt of pain, her skin chafed off where her plump carcass shifted on the floor and then, like a curse from the gods, an awful ripping sound shocked the audience for a second before the second wave of laughter erupted. She opened her eyes under the material, her teary vision only restricted to the fibers on the floor.

The store clerk caught her breath in horror and the ripping ball gown and raced toward the squirming girl on the floor, while Eileen finally came out of her self-involved cocoon for a moment and realized what was going on. She sped to her daughter, attempting to get her out of the damned dress she was now forced to purchase.

" My God, what are you doing? Do you think I am a millionaire? How am I supposed to pay for this now? I was going to pay for this in installments and now I have to buy it cash! "

Eileen's blatant, loud financial hysterics drove Patty into the ground and she wished she was dead. She'd sooner have had her face ripped off by Rottweilers that to show it in public ever again, but that was not her privilege, nay, her face was revealed when an old lady came from nowhere and pulled the dress off of her.

She was tiny, mousy, and she had a very distinct nose, long and thin like a rat's. Her beady eyes gleamed with pity and she ran her hand over the girl's tear-soaked cheek with the care of an angel. Patty's eyes met with the old mouse lady's. For a minute they just stared at one another, their eyes open doors to a soul meeting. A deeply motherly welcome came from the old lady and in Patty, she in turn, saw a lost little animal she dearly wanted to help.

But she was not a shepherd. As much as she would like, she was not a savior. The realization displeased her greatly and she quickly jumped up and made for the door as fast as her frail body could carry her. Outside the sun started on it's demise for the day, leaving most of the small town possessed of long shadow and dark corner.

Patty did not care anymore. She stood up in her underwear as the people around her simply stared now. Next to her a small blond sorority slut was still giggling at her predicament. The demeaned brunette sucked in her breath and struck the baby shark with a right hook that would drive a boxing promoter wild. Her fist rammed the jawbone of the girl with such force, fueled by disappointment and abandoned concern, that her knuckles cracked under the force and peeled the skin from her hand. She knocked her off her feet completely, sending the blond sprawling on the carpet as Patty herself did not ten minutes before and as the girl met with the carpet, fragments of white bone scattered from her mouth onto the ground. Amidst the sudden violence, the crowd in the store gasped in disbelief, shocked to silence. The humiliated Patty stood without feeling, quite literally as well, for her hand was broken and yet she felt nothing but rage.

" I will not take anyone's shit anymore! " The words flowed from someone else living in her mind, it seemed. " I will not pay for this dress. I will not pay for Buffy's medical bills, " she taunted, her eyes filled with brute hate for the bleeding brat on the floor, " and I sure as hell will not allow anyone to mock me...ANYMORE! "

And with that, she dressed in her own clothes, the crowd so astonished that not one dared stir, and she took to the street outside.

" Hun! Where you goi..." her mother started, but Patty screamed back as she left.

" Just buy yourself a pretty crown, would ya? That is the only way you will ever be beautiful again. Go back to the Sixties! I'll be home when I feel like it. "

Eileen could not believe what had just happened. She started discussing the damage costs with the store owner and wept at the thought that the plastic buffy on the floor would cost her way more than a torn dress. The sun stung the windows, blinding the people in the boutique as they watched the furious teenager follow the mousy lady down the road which led to the downtown area of Silkwood's industrial region.

Chapter 4

The Perfect Dress

The tiny legs of the odd old lady seemed to scuttle as she walked down the deserted side street of the small town industrial area. Narrow and eerie, the street's tarmac was broken along most of the sides where the road became pavement. Flanking it on both sides stood four story brick buildings, the border walls of mostly warehouses and abandoned factories.

Patty very much got the impression that she was walking down a long room that happened to be outside. The orange buildings impaired her view of anything else in town. No trees, no store windows and no cars. Not one single car came down this street, because it was not much more than an alleyway, an excuse for robbery and rape, rather than a path to the next block. This was a desolate part of downtown, the grass growing through the cracks in the asphalt and weeds overgrowing the spalls in the pavement, stirred madly by the wind that had become aggressive at the close of the day, much as Patty had.

It was no problem to keep up with the old girl who started a good two blocks ahead of her, but was now merely meters ahead of her. The small creature ignored her footsteps and she figured it was on account of her bad hearing perhaps, but in fact she had no way of knowing that the old lady's ears were as sharp as an animal's.

From behind she looked breakable and old fashioned. Her feet rested in typical flats with soft soles, so soft that she made not a sound in her treading. On her back fell a long gray braid, done like the pictures of Viking gods' mustaches Patty was always amused by when she'd read through thick books of valiant quests in mythology and marveled at the simple, but intricate pen drawings that accompanied the tales.

Her dress was simple and reminded Patty of a farmer's maize sack, but for its simplicity it was remarkably colorful. Inside the fabric it seemed to hold captive the rainbow, for indistinctly the colors would change ever so slightly whenever the light escaped the growing shadows and fell on her. Thus Patty could not establish a specific color for the tiny frock.

As they came to the end of the tunneling street, the lady turned the corner into the last street, the boundary between town and the railway lines. It was almost completely unused, save for the odd delivery to the back entrance of shops that faced the previous street. The wind howled around the corners and its melancholy wails provoked a deep sadness in the teenager and she pulled the top of her shirt over her chest to warm her slightly. The wind whipped her straight black hair as she entered the last street, aptly named Boundary Lane.

On her right side lay the railroad, lonely and bare with only weeds and barbwire fences keeping it company. The old railway office looked at her from behind cold broken windows and she wondered what was living in its heart that very moment. Maybe the ghosts of railway masters or clerks were there now. Maybe the spirits of passengers waited for residual train apparitions to arrive, steady in their way, away from her eyes.

But there was nothing there.

To her left were the service entrances of a warehouse, the giant aluminum doors rattling under the force of the late afternoon wind, but still the mousy grandmother continued unfazed on her path. It was very cold now, unusually cold for a late summers day, but Patty was determined to see where her new friend was going. Suddenly the old woman stopped dead in her tracks, as if listening, waiting. Patty moved stealthily up against the wall so that the woman's turning face would not catch her in the corner of her eye, but she did not turn her head further than a few degrees and then she simply turned and disappeared into a double glass door on her left that Patty did not even notice in the wall.

The dumbfounded teenager followed suit and found herself entering an antique store. Its entrance may have been small but it was huge inside. It rather resembled a grand museum than a mere little store of old curios. The odor of dead roses permeated the palace of history and pipe smoke infused her nostrils, the tobacco sweet and strong from behind her.

Mousy lady was nowhere to be found.

Patty turned to find an old man sitting in a high back chair, enjoying his pipe and watching her intently. He was dressed quite classy, although his attire was from a different era and he dropped his gaze toward his lap, in which lay his hand, holding a pocket watch.

An eyebrow raised, he puffed dreamily at his pipe and looked up at the spellbound girl.

" Snoop around, " he lent her a naughty smile through his clear mighty voice, and his mischief urged her to stalk through his establishment to her heart's delight.

Her knees dented unintentionally in a little curtsy and she could not help but smile, feeling that familiar welcoming warmth again that she had received from the old lady in the store. She moved through the shelves of sideboards and cupboards of bygone days, their engravings delicate and amazing in the hand of their carvers. Everywhere she looked there were trinkets of intrinsic value, priceless things that only Sheikhs and Pharaohs could possibly acquire and yet, here she was, invited to snoop around.

Through mazes of gold, marble and velvet she found her way to the back of the store, where she beheld the most eerily alive, but phenomenally sculptured statues. Horses and warriors stood proud in marble, African gods were locked behind wooden boxes and on a coffee table from Turkey, she found an iron hourglass, standing as high as her knee, carrying within it the molars and incisors of a hundred wizards. Instead of horror, she found herself fascinated. What a macabre measure of time it was. Among all the treasures of cannibal kings she found suddenly a pristine mannequin that resembled, very much, a living woman.

Seated on a throne, the doll stared out ahead of her with arresting blue eyes and silken white hair in crinkles about her perfect face and sloping down over the back of her neck. On her arm she boasted a bracelet of ivy and emerald in gold threads woven, a most magnificent piece, but it was her dress that enthralled Patty.

" Pretty, yes? " spoke a tiny voice next to her and she jumped. The mousy lady smiled kindly with a crooked finger reluctantly pointing at her. Patty was pleasantly surprised and nodded eagerly.

" I love it. I had never seen such a perfect dress in my life. It's like you know, royal and stuff, " Patty beamed.

" It was made by a master tailor in 1924, " the mouse nodded unequivocally, almost swooning in her presentation. Patty's mouth hung open and she turned her gaze upon the living looking doll and her gorgeous dress.

" How much does it cost? "

" Your soul, " the old lady stated darkly, her smile giving way to a heavy brow.

Patty's heart jumped and her face revealed the fear she harbored to the great amusement of the old lady who suddenly shrieked in laughter, clasping her dainty hands together in pure delight. Patty's relief prompted her to laugh along and she raised her eyes to the old man in the front of the store incessantly staring at his pocket watch at regular intervals.

" Oh don't mind him, " she snickered, " he is obsessed with that railroad track. Been so since I met him in the Fifties. What you have to concern yourself with is your heart, my dear. Your beauty, " she tapped at the girl's chest, " that lies right there, not in some shiny gown."

Patty explained that she had to find a dress for the Prom and that she had been starving herself for days to fit into anything that does not have 'large' written on it.

" But if you are a large, " the lady replied, " you should live large." She offered with her advice a warm playful wink at Patty, but saw nothing but determination in the girl, who protested fiercely that it was unacceptable to live large, when everyone else is a medium and the lucky ones are smalls.

" That is the beauty of it. Your size is yours. Wear...your...size, " she hammered the words with great urgency. " It is your charge. It is your pride and your place. If you wear it too small, you find yourself uncomfortable all the time. If you wear it too big, the world does not see your appeal. Embrace that you are the size you are, because there are no dress sizes in love or in beauty . There is only the inner. There is only the unique treasures we hold and are within ourselves, that which we offer to compliment others. Where they are found wanting, we supplement. Where we need, they compliment. What would the world be if everything was uniform? A mess! A mess, I tell you, " she threw her hands up in the air like Patty's Jewish friend always did and it made her smile, but she remained adamant. She wanted the dress.

In the high back chair the old man drew in his tobacco and once more looked down at the broken pocket watch, which somehow continued to keep time with its stillborn arms. He smiled at the face of the clock as downtown Silkwood was haunted by the distinct sound of a steam locomotive's whistle. The old man got up and walked toward the chatting ladies in the back of the room and did not even glance back at the still empty railroad station that was steeped in the phantoms of the past.

They almost appeared to be bickering, but their banter was harmless and careful.

" What is this all about? " he inquired.

His wife explained the situation and how dearly the child wanted the dress, but was unable to pay for it. He insisted that it was not for sale, but the young girl insisted, almost rudely, that she should be allowed to borrow the dress, since she could not purchase it. And so the bickering barter went on for a while until the mousy lady realized there was no talking sense into the child.

" Oh, just let the girl take it, " she frowned at her husband, "...it is after all a good fit..." she looked at the brunette girl, " ...one size fits all."

But he knew his wife's wicked sense of humor bordered on the malicious and he tried all he could to avert a tragedy, but her insistence was iron and he dared not oppose her will.

He had learned that costly lesson a very long time ago and he knew that her will was indeed unmatched. The girl had displeased his wife, ignoring the wisdom of her pleas and she was compelled to act upon the foolish sentiments of the mortal who would not listen.

Patty's eyes now begged as both women awaited his decision. His spouse stood with authority behind the girl, her eyes glinting with eagerness. It was after all his to give. He made it with great care a long time ago, last when he stitched carefully to accommodate a bit more of the actress who owned it.

" I tried to tell her that she is beautiful just as she is, dear, " the witch nodded to sway her husband's verdict. " But she is starving herself to look like all the others. She is adamant in being who she is not, just to please society, " she spoke like a gossiping hen, and then she struck Patty's deathblow.

" Starving herself. The next thing you know she will start purging her meals like an ungrateful princess."

His eyes grew cold. His wife smirked at her accomplishment, but the decision was not voiced yet. He knew his she possessed a soul black as coal and it would delight her to punish the young girl for not heeding her wisdom. There was no in between with her and that made her evil in her intent. The girl had her hands locked below her chin and doing what modern parents named the 'puppy eyes'. It was a silly method to employ, in his opinion, but then again, modern parents only held the name, not the valor of the word.

" No, " he decided.

His wife gasped, her morose pleasure doused.

" No, young lady, " he stared Patty down, " that dress is too small for you. " He opted for cruelty to an already fragile sense of image, for it was a kind act in disguise.

It had hurt him to say such a thing to such a pretty child and he quickly left the room as not to have to see her heartbreak. His wife followed him aggressively and slammed the office door behind her. At length they argued in there.

Patty was bewitched by the evening dress and like an addict mad with want, she proceeded swiftly to remove the dress from the mannequin. One of the arms came off in her haste, but she cared not for the accident. She would be long gone once they discover the damage. The plump girl rolled the garment under her arm and sprinted through the creepy artifacts towards the front door, taking great care as not to alert the old couple to her misdeed.

As she crossed the threshold the ice cold wind swept her breath away but she continued speedily on her quest, secretly proud of her successful sin and she laughed out loud, her glee resounding through the narrow naked streets of the slumbering town that just found the night.

In the store, the broken arm of the mannequin cracked upwards to the shoulder. The enamel chipped ever so gradually, like an egg about to birth a chick. Slowly the coat of white cracked wider, a black smile gaping until the shells began to peel off and fall to the floor in fragments of revelation. Then, like an avalanche, the entire coating came apart and fell to the floor like a broken vase and there sat on the throne a remnant of the cruel past of a beauty who did not wear her size. The skeleton with the broken arm sported a grotesque grin, her bracelet fallen and her weight goal finally attained.

Chapter 5

The Washer

Patty's legs were burning under the onslaught of her flight. Street lights lit up the early evening bit by bit throughout Silkwood and the air became colder with every step she took towards home, where she was convinced there was an inquisition waiting, complete with firing squad. But she did not care. Against her breast she held the Holy Grail and she would let it go over her dead body.

Occasionally a passing car would light her way more than the weak lights from the high poles on the pavement and the head lights would indicate the cold by illuminating her breath and stretching the shadows of things around her into elongated devils with talons of living shade. Her skin was on fire from the cold evening air on perspiration and her footfalls echoed in the desolation of the empty town. A strong odor of burning wood and dry leaves emanated from the yards of her neighbors and she dreaded the absence of light on the bridge across the waterway and its rivulets that linked her home to the main street she was fleeing through.

In the fading light of the main road she now powered down to a walk through the dangerously empty park that led to the bridge. Although it was wide enough, few cars ever crossed it as a route, because it was unsafe and old, but it was perfect for your average pedestrian criminal and she took her time to it. Town was pretty quiet at night and she could now even hear her footsteps on the soft grass under the trees. The bridge came into view. An ugly pale blue structure that had not had a fresh coat of paint since she went to see Footloose with her friends and they got powder blue all over their hands.

Far off she could hear a dog barking. The only other sound was her own breathing, now less urgent. The prize in her arms rustled uneasily and her heart jumped at the anticipation of the fitting, this time in private and alone. From the wind in her ears came a soft moan somewhere nearby, but the light had fallen behind and she was unable to see the source of the sound. It became a weeping, bitter and heartbroken, and it seemed closer than before. Patty felt a distinct tingle go through her, a most unwelcome sensation, and she elected to push through to reach home sooner than later. The wind was angry and she feared getting caught in a rainstorm.

Lonely and marked she felt approaching the foreboding bridge. The wind wailed like a sorrow ridden wraith and it matched the supernatural air perfectly, sealing Patty in its fear cocoon. The events of the day had now almost completely disappeared and she was faced with quite the task of braving her own nerves in a situation where everything opposed the notion. Her pupils dilated in the dark as the wicked voice haunted her senses, a woman's voice, crying like a child and it grew louder as she approached the river. All manner of explanations darted through her head of a lovelorn student that might be parked by the river, lamenting a fling. That was her safest assumption, but it was, in fact, entirely inaccurate. She knew this and her thoughts were confirmed when she crossed the bridge as softly as she could.

Patty made a conscious decision not to look in the direction of the weeping, but as with all human decisions, it was quite fallible in the face of temptation and she turned her face just slightly to see if she could see. And she saw.

At the bend of the river, well visible somehow in the absence of light, knelt a woman in white, washing clothes in the river at this late hour for such things. Ardently she washed the bloodied clothing on a rock near the bank, her expression void of sadness in the aural ambience of the still weeping voice. It was not her voice, but it was. Only it came not from her mouth. It was just there.

Suddenly the slender figure of the redheaded beauty in white rose to her feet and lifted a white garment from her pile of bloodied clothing and Patty lost her breath when she beheld in the hands of the wraith, her own precious stolen dress!

Within a second the fiery washer turned to face Patty and at once her ghoulish mouth stretched unnaturally, emitting from it, a most frightful shriek that rattled every bone in the plump teen's body and she fell to the ground with her dress in her arms, oblivious to the demonic beauty and her wails that had come to foretell her death.

Chapter 6

The Garden Thing

A strong hand lifted the faint girl into a sitting position. Patty opened her eyes to two Indian boys, cyclists, one behind her holding her fast and another unscrewing a bottle cap to offer her something to drink. There voices were gentle and their questions inquiries of concern but what was most important to her was that their voices were alone. No female voices were present and she was greatly relieved by it.

She took a swig of the energy drink in the bottle and grasped around for her dress, but the world started spinning once more at the thought of the pretty washer woman she had encountered and she watched the world fade to black as the boys' hands grabbed at her and their voices withered into darkness with the rest of the waking world.

Patty awoke once more, this time finding herself safe and sound in her own bed. Her lamps were on, their soft yellow light a blessing and her covers lay light and warm upon her comfortable body. She had been bathed and dressed in her warmest PJ's and in the living room she could hear her parents discuss the footie in colorful terms a sailor could envy. Obviously she had slept through Sunday, because the match was on. It was Sunday night, then.

Next to her bed stood a glass of water which she promptly drank down. She emptied the glass within seconds and the cool water soothed her greatly. She was elated to see her dress on a hanger outside her closet, washed and pressed neatly, ready to be fitted. It was a moment as near to perfect as any she had ever experienced.

Her mother came upstairs to check on her and found her awake, sitting up in bed. They made no huge task of saying their sorries and swiftly put the whole ugly matter to rest. Eileen put out her cigarette in the glass Patty had emptied, so as not to get the awful small on her daughter's brand new dress. On inquiry, Patty relayed to her mother how the kind lady from the antique store gave her the dress to soothe her broken heart. A lie that she felt no friction for telling.

" Well that was very kind of her, but I still have to pay for that bloody red thing you raped and I'm taking the money out of your allowance every month, " the has-been beauty queen grunted, again displaying absolutely no concern for the rape of her daughter's dignity instead.

" Besides, Aunty Lorna is here for the week from Ireland and she is downstairs right now, eating all my Strudel, " Eileen jabbed, dismissing entirely Patty's ordeal this day.

Patty did not care. Her wound was so deep that it yielded no pain or blood anymore. All she cared about was getting herself into that dress. It was small, way too small for her plumpness, and yet a strange desire told her that if she ventured that risk, it would profit her greatly. It would just fit. It just would, without explanation. She knew it.

"So, are you going to put it on then? " Eileen coaxed.

" Yeah! I'll call you as soon as I have it on and you'll see. You'll see, Ma, this is the most perfect dress ever."

" A bit small though, eh? " her mother noted, and even for her, the deluded amongst size measurers, the dress looked like it was perhaps a tad too small. " But I tell ye, if it looks nice you call us and me and Aunty Lorna will take a photo of it, alright? "

Patty nodded.

She walked to open the window, but stopped her effort instantly. Her blood ran cold as her gaze fell upon the woman under the trees outside. The night was pitch dark now, but again the apparition held her own light so as to be beheld properly by those unfortunate enough to draw her. The woman in white was on her knees again washing clothes, bloodied and wet. It struck the girl as odd how the clothing could be washed in that location, as there was none but lawn there where the washer woman sat.

Patty dreaded what was to follow and waited, somehow unable to leave the thrall she was under.

" What are you looking at? " Eileen asked just short of the door, lighting another fag.

Her daughter did not react, and she took it as teenage attitude and shut the door behind her. She came downstairs to where the frumpy cousin of her husband sat on the couch, stuffing herself with pudding.

" She good? " asked the thick woman with her filled mouth as the crumbs escaped her hairy mustache in its movement. Eileen cast her a hard look as she went to the window that faced the same way her daughter's did. She did not reply, but drew back the curtains to see what Patty was so bedeviled by a minute before. Lorna's attention was peaked and she pulled herself off the couch with great labor to see what was out the window.

Eileen saw the woman dressed in white kneeling in her garden and an uneasy feeling mingled with an unexpected recalling of folklore from her childhood that she did not summon. Her anticipation unsettled her and she hoped that what usually happens would not manifest here tonight. The strange sight was hopefully a mad wife of a neighbor or a drunken floozie who sought refuge somewhere quiet. But then Eileen saw the washing in the water that did not flow there and her heart stopped.

" She is a washer, " she whispered to herself. Lorna swallowed quickly.

" Who? " she asked, her eyes scanning the dark garden to see what Eileen was looking at.

Eileen turned to Lorna, her eyes frozen and big.

" The washer woman in the garden, " she said.

Lorna knew at once what was happening. In her mind she remembered her own encounter with the wraith back in 1953, when she was a child in the town of Kinsale.

" You see her? " she asked, still scrutinizing the garden, while Eileen faced her dead on.

" Yes, I see her, clear as day. Right on my lawn, washing her bloody clothes. Lorna..." she suddenly gasped, " it is the Bean Sidhe! "

Eileen's words fell off her mouth is slow motion, at the same time cutting through the air of safety that loomed in the house until now. Not a moment after she uttered the dreaded thing's name, came the awful keening that possessed the very being of every O'Malley present. Lorna was deaf to the screech, but Patty came racing down the stairs in panic, her arms flying about by her sides and her feet fumbling in discord to her body from the sheer fright she endured.

The thing screamed until the windows shuddered so, that Patty and Eileen huddled in a corner, their hands on their ears. It disturbed Lorna, who had quickly drawn the curtains to spare them more tension. Somewhere in her keening the rage would melt into weeping, then escalate again to a mortal scream. Finally it died down in a loud death rattle that rang in their ears as if it were their own.

Chapter 7

Wear Your Size

The events of Sunday night remained a secret between the mother and daughter. Lorna had come to stay for the week and now found herself a purpose - to keep her family members sane until Patrick O' Malley returned home from his business trip in New Orleans. They three women had stayed up all night and Patty decided to take an extra day off school. Her ordeals had made her unbearably sensitive, as one normally becomes when matters of supernatural threat confronts one, and she took Monday to get further away from Saturday's humiliation and the horrid moments that followed.

Monday was, by the grace of the Lord, as normal a day as they could have wished for. It was lazy and of mild weather. They sat in the summerhouse in the back yard all day, sipping liqueur and picking roses, joking about things that had no connection to the un-ordinary and all three deliberately hid their overwhelming anticipation of the events to come that was heralded by the beautiful redheaded washer woman.

They discussed, instead, matters of the heart, high school crushes and the eagerly awaited Prom of the coming Saturday. As the afternoon drew to a close, Patty finally decided to fit the dress so that she would know a few days ahead where the necessary adjustments would have to be made.

" You go on, dear, and I'll snap a few pictures of you if you want, " Lorna smiled before consuming another slice of pound cake.

Patty went upstairs. As she entered her room she could almost hear the chorus of Cherubim chime as she laid eyes on her stunning gown. She closed the door as the last strong rays of the sun still darted into her room, cheerily decorating her bedroom in stripes of warmth, adding to the degree of coziness therein. In the corner next to the window stood a full length mirror, mostly a devil of a thing that reminded her of the negative aspects of her physical charm, but this day she hoped it would present another perspective.

Naked, save for her lace panties, the plump Patty proceeded to step into the dress, avoiding the eye of the mercury mistress that beckoned her reluctance to look. The vain goddess urged her to see herself for what she was, but Patty would not adhere to its wicked calling.

The dress was white, embroidered paisley motif with old lace and tears of pearl. It seemed to be weeping, running it's panels of lace and beading down the length of the bottom part as a waterfall would release a river. Over the chest it boasted the most intricate needlework in white and champagne, its motif ancient and Celtic, weaving of ivy and vine in circles of crests long forgotten. No queen could match the state of it and it was magnificent in detail, the shoulders adorned in three separate dainty straps, the width of twine and the texture of silk.

The teenage girl's heart jumped continuously as she began to lift it ever so carefully up her legs, praying silently that it would not rip of tear in the process, not because an ill fit would disappoint her, but because it was so perfect, almost celestial, that she could not bear to see it defiled in any manner whatsoever. It cloaked her legs and still kept coming along with her hands as she gently pulled it over her flabby tummy and ample hips. To her astonishment it continued over her voluptuous bosom and she almost wept with joy when the garment fell against her skin in perfect comfort, void of any strain. She patiently lifted, on each side respectively, the three straps over her shoulders and she found herself at once, and for once, fitting into a dress so perfectly that any outsider would think it a piece especially sewn for her.

Very reluctantly she came towards the mirror, eyes almost shut in fear of the revelation, but what the looking glass lent her, stole her breath. On the other side of its surface, her reflection boasted a demi-goddess of pristine beauty. It was her face, her moles, her pimples --- but it only embellished her. Her body disappeared within the dress, becoming one with its design, as a pebble becomes hidden, though present, in the enveloping of a pond and becomes the shape of it. There she stood, holding her breath in amazement, not to make it fit as always, beholding the tall, slender Patty in the mirror. The dress did not sit on her, nay, on the contrary, her body had become the shape of the dress instead and even her flabby arms seemed thinner, her collarbones accentuated as if to fit the gown.

Patty had grace.

She screamed suddenly, not anymore able to contain the unbridled awe she felt for the first time in her life, to see herself without aiming a heavy object at the mirror. Her mother and Lorna jolted up the stairs and in the doorway they halted in their tracks in absolute astonishment. For the first time in her life Patty was beautiful. For the first time in her life, Eileen was speechless. Lorna promptly whipped out, from nowhere, her Polaroid camera and shoved her cousin out of the way to get a clear shot of Patricia O'Malley, ignoring the eerie aspect of the transformation. It was so subtle that it could be an optical illusion, but it was concrete enough to anyone who had a trained eye on their family members.

Deep inside her soul, Lorna knew that she was taking pictures of the pretty girl, more for evidence of the unnatural things in life, than for pleasure. A strange thing was happening here and she needed proof of it, even while not certain of what she needed the proof.

In Eileen's mind, her reminiscence flashed like Lorna's camera. Her glory days of high school and the way she bewitched boys in her evening gown the night she was crowned Prom Queen, although she never determined if it was her beauty or her oral favors to three of the judges under the table at the Spring Fling Dance that earned her the crown.

The gay photo shoot continued for some time, amidst wild laughter, gloating and general merriment of the Irish girls who sure knew an opportunity for a party when they saw one. Lorna poured the drinks and they headed out once more, at the dying of day, to sit in the twilight glare of the sky and celebrate the strangely wonderful thing that was the dress that fitted.

As the evening wore on the older women became quite intoxicated, but not entirely uncontrollable and their singing of old Irish folk songs echoed through the quiet neighborhood.

" I am so going to school tomorrow, " Patty bragged, her self-esteem turned almost to sheer arrogance now, and it was a welcoming state of mind for once.

" Now you don't go and spoil the dress before Saturday, love, take it off and hang it up, " Eileen said through the harrowing smoke of her twenty fifth cigarette.

But Patty thought to keep it on a little while longer. It was addictive to be stunning.

The night matured into silent darkness and Patty found that her dress pressed a little too much on her hips when she sat down on the chair, so she stood up a bit. She had unwrapped her mother's grand pearl-colored shoes earlier and it gave her even more height, a slendering thing in itself, but the heels in the lawn made it quite uncomfortable for her to walk and she decided to go upstairs and put them back in the box.

On the back door steps, she found the dress confining around her calves when she raised her feet to mount the next step. It was rather annoying to find her legs so restricted, but it was part of the sacrifice of being dressing posh. Through the living room on her way to the landing she scoffed at the straining of the back seam on her buttocks as she walked and the straps on her right shoulder irritated her skin a tad, and she loosened it with her fingertips, leaving red dents in her skin.

Outside she could hear the old bags laughing and singing and it made her smile. The pictures lay about the table next to the stairwell and she briskly walked up to her room. Her breasts pressed against the chest piece, painfully chafing her bare nipples inside and the tops of her breasts peeked over the seam and bulged in an unflattering way.

Patty dismissed the unhappiness that crept into her stomach and kicked off the shoes. The box was on her bed and she bent to pick them up to be packed away, but found herself unable. The waist of the dress was too tight. It held her torso so tightly that she could not move. In the mirror she still looked the same, without strain or bulging curves, but what she felt was quite the opposite. Her legs bent to try and pick up the shoes, but instead of the wickedly tight gown tearing, it deterred her from her movement. The fabric was incredibly strong woven art and it did not stretch even a bit, no matter the force Patty's body applied by movement.

Panic slithered through her gut.

It was not the kind of panic she always felt when something does not fit. It was a panic of the threat of death. And with this realization came the voices. From nowhere and everywhere drifted a relentless whispering every time the dress moved. Rustling had now become spoken word. It was a mocking, childish chant, like the work of an imp would say:

Inhale, exhale, can not feel my toes

Coughing, choking, blood is on my clothes

The straps now stirred on her shoulders and she could not, try as she might, release their pressure. Her chafing skin gave way and trickles of blood that seeped through the bruises that ensued. Patty yelped a little as she ground her nails into her own skin to undo the terrible cutting of the straps while the embroidered chest piece shifted, adjusted, and became increasingly taut over her breasts and abdomen. It restricted her breathing so that she gasped loudly in a failed attempt to draw breath.

Crimson stains were born on the hem of the chest piece, her collarbones bending under the immensity of the demon straps that would not snap. The whispers continued their chanting and on occasion she could swear she heard laughter.

Patty felt the dress press her so hard that she caught her breath and coughed. The whisper giggled hoarsely, like a witch, amused. A cackle, wheezing through a constricted airway, surrounded Patty. She fell to the floor when the hem wrapped itself around her ankles and she lost her balance. Try as she may, she couldn't call out to her mother, even at the top of her lungs. A scream would come forth, but immediately it would drown out into another dimension, dying weakly into nothingness. Her panic was uncontrollable now. Writhing around on the carpet in the demon dress that kept constricting she called for help that none but the deaf could hear, her ribs slowly snapping one by one, caged by her flesh as her body was caged by the garment. The pain made her jerk like headless chicken, the burning of tissue as the nerves were greeted by broken bone. It filled her mouth with blood, the coppery taste confirming her injury. The whispering would not let up, repeating itself like an unholy nursery rhyme.

She gasped like a fish would when it is left out of water. Burning breath and bloody tongue, she still attempted to reach the shoes on the floor. Her madly grasping fingers managed to lock onto one, and she flung it through her window with the very last strength she had in her. As it crashed through the window, she heard the final keening of the Banshee.

Now her heart was pounding in her ears, her head the drum of her demise, timing the ending of her heart's rhythm for her to prepare in its macabre mercy. It felt as if her head was going to explode from the pressure of the maniacal tourniquet on her body that cut off the blood flow to her brain.

The whispering increased in cadence and urgency, loud and sickening in her ears, and then it ceased completely. Her eyes bulged out of their sockets moved under pressure from her swollen brain. Blood kept bubbling up into her throat as she experienced the tightest fit of her life. By now her dress had shrunk about four sizes, impossible to pry even an inch away from her skin. The fabric cut into her flesh in a slow methodical manner and imprinted its pretty paisley design on her skin. A macabre tattoo, inked in bruises.

It would not tear! It just did not tear, no matter how tight it got! The ghastly garment sang its cursed lullaby to Patty's dying ears as her lungs finally collapsed and her heart exploded in her chest. She vaguely felt her tongue protrude forward before she ran out of breath, the hot red fluid filling the cavities of her ears.

Her lips were so pretty now. Cold they were quickly, but the blood stained them into a beautiful pink hue and her bluish tongue lolled to the side. Motionless, Patty's corpse lay on her bedroom floor, pretty as a peach as far as bruised angels went. The whispering ceased the moment Patty died and with her, it exhaled its final breath too....until the next vain girl who refuses to wear her size tries it on, of course.

It was the secret of the gown...and of the Elven gentleman who had sewn it. The tailor Fleming, his race known for their magical weaving and knitting, with which, since the knaves and knights of old walked the earth, humankind and its debauched vanity were entrapped and cheated to the relinquishing of their souls for it. A race of Irish elves who were charged with the punishing of mortals, vain, lives still amongst man and mountain alike.

They are fair creatures, and like humans possess free will with the boost of ancient wisdom to share. But those who would not hear, those who would lose their souls to conform in the name of acceptance are a slap in the face of the Creator, for they rebuke their specialness and reject their honor.

Beware the tight fit of conformity.

Wear your size.