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The worst thing my mother-in-law ever did was to let me live.

The worst thing my mother-in-law ever did was to let me live story logo

The worst thing my mother-in-law ever did was to let me live.

I know that nearly everyone has some kind of a horror story about their mother-in-law, but I can confidently say that meeting Gwen Myrick was the worst thing that has ever happened to me and that will ever happen to me. I’m not exaggerating. Because of what she did to me, I struggle with short-term memory loss, blurriness in my vision, and constant pain in my left arm. More importantly, no one who once loved me recognizes me anymore.

Every night before I go to sleep, I fantasize about what would have happened if I’d simply told her to go fuck herself instead of welcoming her into my life. Better yet, if I’d pinned her to the ground and slit her throat open from ear to ear. I imagine the blood fountaining into the air, and best of all, the look of terror in her bulging eyes as they glaze over.

She took everything from me. Everything.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

****

It all began when John suggested staying at Gwen’s place until the contractors had finished renovating our house. “I know you two don’t get along,” he continued, “but she’s changed. She wants to apologize to you. And it makes the most financial sense.” That was true; the contractors had discovered multiple errant pipes and major wood rot, and they needed to shut off our water for at least a week while redoing the piping.

Even so, I still would’ve preferred staying in a roach-infested motel to staying with Gwen. Hell, I would’ve preferred staying in a cardboard box. Saying that we “didn’t get along” was putting it mildly. I had a great track record with most parents of my significant others; they liked that I was easygoing, soft-spoken, and polite. But the first time I met Gwen, six months into dating John, she’d physically recoiled from me as if I was a venomous snake. “Oh,” she’d said, before pasting a huge fake smile on her face. “It’s nice to meet you, Evelyn.” Yeah right.

Since then, she’d made it painfully clear that not only would I never be good enough for her precious son, but that she also planned on being the only woman who mattered in his life. Period. She made countless passive-aggressive comments about my appearance, stole my belongings, and peppered John with questions about who he loved more. The event that finally made me demand that we go low-contact occurred during our wedding reception. After the best man made his speech, Gwen ran onto the stage and sobbed into the mic for five solid minutes. She refused to let go of it until John came to her, at which point she clung onto him like a limpet while he tried to escort her back to her seat.

“Please, Evie,” John said, interrupting my thoughts. “It’ll only be for a couple of nights, and if she’s awful to you, we’ll leave right away. Do this for me?”

I stared into his pleading blue eyes, mentally kicking myself because I did want to do this for him. Thanks to my mom, who’d raised me to believe that women should always be compliant and accommodating, I’d never been good at denying anyone anything–whether it was the panhandler on the street hustling me for another ten dollars or my coworkers pressuring me to take notes for them during our meetings.

Looking back now, I wish more than anything that I’d just held firm to my boundaries. But hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? And I never could’ve imagined the depths Gwen would sink to in order to punish me. So, I pushed aside my misgivings. Maybe this was a chance to reset my relationship with Gwen. John and I planned on trying for kids soon, and if we had any, she would be their only living grandparent. “Okay, fine. Let’s do it.”

John immediately lit up and tugged me in for a kiss. “You won’t regret it, babe. She’s turned over a new leaf. Trust me.”

****

But I was regretting it plenty by the time we turned onto the dirt road that led to Gwen’s cottage, and not least because we’d lost cell reception during the last thirty minutes of our trip. Gwen had moved last month, and this was our first time seeing her new residence. It was a simple one-story structure made of red bricks and neat white trim, encircled by red maples and about thirty miles from the closest town. Green moss inched its way over the gabled roof and a lacery of vines crept down the walls. The sinking sun lent the entire scene a soft orange glow, turning her cottage into something that looked like it had been lifted straight out of a fairytale. The sight made me want to drive in the opposite direction as fast as possible.

“It’ll be alright,” said John, seeing the expression on my face. He turned off the car engine and the sound of crickets chirping greeted us. It had also rained recently, a warm rain that stated more clearly than words that spring was icumen in. Before I could respond, the front door of the cottage swung open and sent a rectangle of light falling to the ground. A tall figure stood framed in the doorway, her face shadowed, peering out at us. Gwen.

Deep breaths, Evie, I told myself. But I still lagged behind John as we walked up to her. “Evelyn!” she trilled, as though she’d never once stolen my engagement ring to try it on herself. Her bright blue eyes were wide with what had to be feigned delight. “I’m so glad you’re staying with me!” To my surprise, she pressed me into an unwanted hug. Although she wore a floral perfume, an unpleasant, musty smell emanated from her skin, one that made me think of a flooded basement that had been locked up for decades.

“Thanks for having us,” I replied, trying desperately not to let on how awful the smell was. Christ, this went beyond skipping a shower for one day or three.

“Well, you must be absolutely famished! Come inside, come inside.”

John and I exchanged a look, and he nervously scratched at the back of his neck. “Um, actually, Mom, I thought you got our text. We grabbed dinner on the way up here and we were thinking of heading straight to bed.”

A brief, ominous silence ensued. It wouldn’t have been a big deal to anyone else, but Gwen couldn’t stand it when people disagreed with her. And she could have taught a master class on emotional manipulation: she wielded her words the way a skilled surgeon wielded a scalpel, knowing exactly where to cut and how much pressure to exert. I waited for her to point out that she’d spent hours laboring over dinner, and how ungrateful it would be of us to decline it.

Instead, she gave us an understanding smile. “Of course! How about I put dinner in the fridge? You can just help yourselves later tonight if you’re hungry!” I couldn’t help it; my jaw dropped. Despite all John had said about Gwen turning a new leaf, I hadn’t believed him. What the hell had happened to her? No, it had to be a facade. People like Gwen didn’t change. She might be on her best behavior now, but she’d throw a temper tantrum as soon as it became clear that we wouldn’t bend over backwards to accommodate her anymore.

As we followed her through the living room and kitchen, I saw that most of her cottage remained barren of furniture and decor. She hadn’t brought any chairs or tables, and no photographs or artwork adorned the walls–only foul-looking satchels made of discolored yellow-brown leather. They were covered in black stitches and tightly cinched shut with a length of hemp rope. Each one could have easily fit in my palm, and they hung from iron nails above every window and every door. Gwen had always been superstitious; she threw salt over her shoulder if she spilled it, avoided walking under ladders, and knocked on wood for luck. But these satchels made me feel weirdly uneasy, and I hurried down the hall to catch up to John, only for Gwen to stop so suddenly that I nearly bowled her over.

“Here you are! I’m afraid I only have a twin mattress set up in the spare bedroom. One of you will probably have to sleep on the couch.” I only barely managed to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. I should’ve known that she wouldn’t let us sleep together in the same bedroom if she could prevent it.

“I’ll take the couch,” said John immediately.

Gwen didn’t bat an eye. “Great! I’m off to bed. See you two in the morning!” She strode into the master bedroom directly across from us and shut the door. I suspected that the walls in here were thin enough that she’d hear us talking, so I simply gave John a speaking look and went into the spare bedroom.

She’d shoved the twin bed against the wall to make space for all the cardboard boxes piled around it. Curious, I opened the cardboard box closest to me. It was packed full of cloth-bound books and they all looked incredibly old; most of the covers had become worn from constant handling. I pulled out the top few books and laid them down on the bed. The Golden Bough. The Eleusinian Mysteries. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature. The second title rang a dusty bell somewhere in the back of my mind, and I frowned in thought. Where had I heard it before?

Someone knocked on the bedroom door and I jumped, nearly toppling the cardboard box and its contents to the ground. I shoved the books away and opened the door cautiously, my heart racing. John stood on the other side. He raised his eyebrows as he looked at me. “You okay? It’s not too bad, right?”

I opened my mouth to point out that Gwen was forcing us to sleep apart from each other, but I didn’t want to pick a fight when she was only a couple of feet away from us, on the very first night of what was supposed to be a week-long stay. More to the point, I couldn’t bring myself to wipe the earnest look off his face. I knew how difficult it was for him to be caught between us, the both of us tugging him back and forth until he was close to fraying to pieces in our hands.

So, I sighed and said, “Yeah, not bad. I was just about to go to sleep.”

“Alright. Good night.”

I sank onto the bed, certain that despite how exhausted I felt, it would take me forever to actually fall asleep; I was still keyed up from the stress of interacting with Gwen. But even as I thought that, my eyes slid shut. I had a nightmare that night, and I remember every single detail of it because it’s the same nightmare I’ve had every night since then.

I dreamt that I opened my eyes to find myself floating high above my own body and next to the ceiling. Although the window blinds were tightly shut and all the lights were off, everything was as clearly illuminated as if it was day instead of night. I’ve become a ghost, I thought, but I didn’t feel alarmed or surprised; instead, I felt a calm acceptance. Nothing could hurt me anymore. I drifted through the closed bedroom door and across the darkened hall of the cottage until I reached Gwen’s bedroom.

There, I felt the first stirrings of fear. Gwen was still awake; she sat in the center of an enormous spiral carved into the wooden floor, surrounded by a sea of black candles. As I watched, she took out a medium-sized wicker basket from underneath her bed and opened it, revealing a small stone statue. It depicted a beautiful, nude woman, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes closed in gentle repose. But there was something disquieting about her all the same; in the flickering, uncertain light cast by the candles, she almost looked like she was breathing.

Gwen reverently placed the statue in front of herself and spoke a series of guttural words in a language I didn’t recognize. Then, she raised a black-handled silver knife from beside her. And before I could stop her, before I could do anything other than gasp in shock, she plunged the knife into her mouth and forcefully twisted it with both hands. Dime-sized rosettes of blood bloomed on her nightgown, and her bulging eyes rolled madly in their sunken sockets, alight with a fevered conviction. Abruptly, the world lurched around me and I found myself in her head, seeing through her eyes–

As the point of the knife dug deeper into her gums, agony pierced through her and reverberated around her entire being. But she would have endured any pain for her son, done anything for him. He always was too kind-hearted and generous for his own good…too easily taken advantage of. That mousy bitch who’d poisoned him, turned him against her (what kind of son held secrets from his mother?) was just the latest example. But that was alright. She’d take care of him; she always did. Mothers guided their sons, protected them, instructed them…all for their own good, of course.

She dropped the knife and pinched her front tooth tightly between thumb and index finger, rocking it back and forth until it came loose from its socket. Then, she delicately placed it in front of the statue. It had changed while she was looking away from it. The woman’s face had split open vertically, both halves peeling back to reveal a huge, thick mass of writhing serpents almost twice her height. Their revolting yellow eyes burned with a malevolent, alien intelligence, and they glared straight at me.

Yes, they hissed.

I came awake with a scream behind my lips and looked around myself frantically. Sunlight streamed brightly through the window blinds. I knew I was awake, but the dream felt more vivid than ever, and I was unable to shake the terror that had slithered into the pit of my stomach and coiled there. I kicked away the blanket that I’d twisted into a sweat-soaked rope and went over to the bedroom window to pull up the blinds.

The window faced the back of the cottage. Crows flitted from branch to branch, and a pair of chattering squirrels chased each other around a massive tree. It was a peaceful woodland scene, an illustration that belonged inside of a storybook, and it was all wrong, like looking at something too perfect to be real. A stage set. One of Gwen’s satchels hung over the window. Without thinking, I reached out to yank it down–

–and snatched my hand back, revulsion shuddering through me. The texture had been soft and supple, and strangely warm. Like touching something alive. And worst of all…I tried to shove aside the half-formed thought. You just imagined it. It didn’t really twitch under your hand.

But every nerve in my body screamed at me to run and not look back. Something was seriously wrong here. Fuck it. I’d make up some excuse to give to John; it was hardly like Gwen’s opinion of me could sink any lower. Decision made, I hastily repacked my duffel bag and opened the bedroom door–only to find Gwen already standing on the other side. I involuntarily uttered a small scream of surprise; she’d been standing unnaturally still and silent, her head cocked and her eyes fixed unblinkingly on the doorknob, as if she’d been listening to me move around in the bedroom.

“H-hey,” I eventually managed to say. “I was, um, just going to find you. I think I need to leave.”

“Leave? Why on earth would you leave?” Gwen was dressed in a white blouse and loose-fitting black pants, her long dark hair twisted up into an elegant chignon. As always, she looked perfectly put together. I wavered for a brief moment. A doubtful inner voice asked, are you sure you’re not overreacting? Are you really about to run out of here just because you had a nightmare?

“I need to run some errands,” I said. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”

“But you can’t leave, honey. John took the car.”

My heart stopped in my throat. “He…took the car?”

“Oh yes. I believe he received an email about your house. The contractors needed him to come back down. It’ll just be the two of us here today.” She reached out to caress my face while I just stood there, speechless. Her smile revealed a full set of yellowed teeth, at odds with the rest of her picture-perfect appearance. “Why don’t you put your bag back in the bedroom and let me make you some tea, hmmm? John tells me that you like chamomile.” She bustled away, humming an unfamiliar tune under her breath.

What the fuck was going on? There was no way John would have left without telling me anything. And there was no way in hell that Gwen would ever be so happy about spending the day with me–right? I took a deep breath and fought the urge to obediently unpack my duffel bag. If what I’d seen last night had really happened, then there had to be some kind of evidence in Gwen’s bedroom. Before I could think better of what I was doing, I strode over to it and went inside.

It looked…normal. Completely normal. She had a king-sized bed in the middle of the room and a threadbare grey rug covering the floor. An enormous oak wardrobe loomed opposite the bed. I felt like an idiot. What I had been expecting? A goat with its throat slit, hanging from the ceiling? Esoteric symbols painted in blood? Even so, I went over to her bed, groping underneath for the wicker basket.

Just as I was ready to give up, my fingertips encountered something rough and scratchy and I pulled the object out. It was a wicker basket; the same one I’d seen in my dream. Somewhere inside, a voice screamed, STOP! Don’t open it! I thought fleetingly of Pandora’s box, of all the horrors she’d unleashed. But I had to find out what was going on. I opened the lid, my stomach tight with dread.

The statue wasn’t inside…but something else was.

The doll. The Evelyn doll. I stared at it disbelievingly, my hands shaking so hard that I nearly dropped it. It was made of cloth, stuffed with cotton, and wore a scrap of fabric I recognized, cut from a dress that Gwen had stolen from me last year. Its dark brown hair looked eerily similar to mine, and I remembered all the hair brushes that had gone missing every time Gwen visited us. And its face–she’d sewn shut the tiny brown eyes and the tiny pink mouth using black thread.

It was time to leave. Now. But my legs wouldn’t move; I was frozen in place like a mouse that had just caught the scent of a snake winding its way through the underbrush, hardly able to think or breathe with fear, much less run.

“Evelyn? What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

I shoved the doll into my pocket and spun around. Gwen stood in the hallway, a vertical line creasing her forehead. “I’m so sorry,” I blurted. “I guess I was looking for, um, a spare toothbrush? We were in such a rush that I didn’t pack mine and…” I trailed off, horribly aware that I was babbling. She’s insane, I thought. Completely insane…

The expression on Gwen’s face was unreadable. Finally, she said, “Well, let’s sit down in the living room. We can drink our tea there, don’t you think?” She turned around without waiting for my answer, and I followed her down the hallway, my mind racing. There was no doubt in my mind anymore that I needed to get the fuck out of here and never interact with her again.

Gwen handed me a mug of steaming hot tea and sat down on the couch. She had her own mug in front of her, untouched. I noticed for the first time that she was holding one hand behind her back, as though she had a weapon. Maybe a knife. A chorus of alarm bells rang in my head, and instead of sitting down, I remained standing.

“You know what?” I asked, trying to make myself sound casual. I set the mug down and edged closer to the door. “It’s such a beautiful day. I think I’m going to take a quick walk before I join you.”

“No, I don’t think so. You’re staying here.” All the warmth had dropped out of her voice. We stared at one another, the living room table separating us by only a few meager feet.

“I’m leaving. You can’t keep me here.”

Gwen smiled an awful, horrible smile. It transformed her face into something ghoulish. “That’s where you’re wrong.”

We both went for the front door at the same time. I got there first, but an excruciating pain pierced my left shoulder. Liquid warmth ran down my elbow and wrist, and I turned to see Gwen about to stab me with the black-handled knife again. I just barely managed to grab her wrist; it was hard to hold onto her, much harder than it should have been to restrain someone her age. I twisted her wrist until she dropped the knife with a pained hiss. She shook me off with a snarl and I nearly fell over. If I had, I don’t think I would’ve gotten back up again.

Her lips had peeled back to expose her bared teeth and her hands had hooked into claws. She reached for the knife. Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed my mug and threw the contents at her. She screamed as the tea scalded her skin and shrunk away from me. I ran for the front door and slammed it open, not bothering to put on my shoes; I knew that she’d recover soon. Adrenaline rushed through me as I sprinted out of the door and away from the cottage, momentarily giving me the strength to ignore the persistent throbbing pain in my left shoulder. I had hoped she’d lied about John leaving, but I didn’t see him or the car anywhere nearby.

I started down the dirt road that led away from the cottage, one hand held against my still-bleeding shoulder. I’d dropped my duffel bag while struggling with her over the knife, which meant that I didn’t have my keys, wallet, or anything else except for my phone, and there wasn’t any cell reception out here. But fuck it, what mattered right now was getting far enough away from her. There had to be someone else living out in these woods too. Someone who would tell me where to go or who would let me hitch a ride with them.

Eventually, the dirt road forked in three different directions and I couldn’t remember which route we’d taken to drive up here. But I didn’t want to spend too much time dithering between them either. If I slowed down at all, Gwen would catch up. So, I chose the left-hand path. For a time, it seemed to lead in the right direction. It was only gradually that the path trailed off into non-existence, and I didn’t realize that it had totally disappeared until after I’d been walking for nearly an hour, pushing past low-hanging branches, stumbling over protruding tree roots, and trudging through sharp thorn bushes that left deep scratches against my bare feet.

I stopped and looked around myself, trying to backtrack. It was pointless; everything looked exactly the same. And I realized that the woods around me had become completely still and silent. No birds hop-skipped from branch to branch and no mosquitoes or midges buzzed around me. I hadn’t seen a single other living being since leaving Gwen’s cottage; it was as though the entire world was holding its breath. I grimly fought down the sense of clawing hopelessness. There was a meadow twenty feet ahead; maybe I’d be able to climb up a tree and get my bearings before the sun set and I became completely lost. Unless you already are, said a familiar doubtful voice inside my head.

I slowly made my way towards the meadow. And screamed.

It was a beautiful spring meadow, maybe the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. A profusion of yellow and white wildflowers and lush thigh-high grass filled it, and the flowers seemed to nod cheerfully at me as a cool breeze rustled through them. The smell that reached me was one of sunlight and warmth, and growing things. It was the kind of place where I could have gladly sat down with a good book and picnic, content to spend the whole day drowsing against the moss-covered rocks.

Gwen stood in the center of it. Waiting for me. She smiled humorlessly and said, “I suppose I could have let you keep running. But I was getting tired of waiting for you. I’d like to get this finished before John comes back, you know.” The knife in her hand glittered in the sunlight.

I turned around to run and it was as though I’d smacked into an invisible brick wall. There was something keeping me trapped in the meadow, and when I darted a baffled look over my shoulder, I realized that the wildflowers had been cut into a specific pattern. A spiral. Gwen advanced on me with a grotesque smile fixed on her face. “Stay the fuck away from me!” I yelled. “I mean it! Or else–”

“Or else what?” she asked, with cold contempt. She stopped and held up a familiar doll in one hand. “You left this behind while you were running out the door. Do you want a demonstration?” She didn’t bother waiting for me to respond before casually tearing off the doll’s left arm. It dropped to the dirt, the cotton stuffing floating after it.

That can’t work–it won’t. It’s not fucking real, it’s just a doll–

There was a loud crack. And white-hot agony exploded in my arm. I looked down and tried to scream. Nothing came out except for a harsh gasp. She’d broken my arm into two neat halves. Two of the bones in my arm had punched through my skin and now jutted into the air. Blood poured down from them in thick lines. I could see the exposed muscles and nerves and tendons wrapped around the bones, glistening slightly. I managed to move my fingertips a little, and that was all. The rest of my wrist and hand was completely numb. The idea of ever being able to use my arm again–the idea of ever typing on a laptop or playing the piano again–was unthinkable. Grey wings unfolded over the edges of my vision and I swayed on my feet. I was close to passing out.

“Get up,” I heard Gwen say. I raised my head a few inches off the ground, enough to look at her. I didn’t even remember collapsing onto the ground. She was still smiling. “Get up, or I’ll keep going.”

The world went blurry and unfocused as I tried to scramble up to my feet, and I barely held in another scream. Tears dripped down my chin, and I dropped my head, unable to meet her eyes anymore. “I can’t.”

“Let’s do the knee next, shall we?” She began to twist the doll’s left knee, and I felt a corresponding tightening in mine, the ligaments and tendons all beginning to warp and twist under her fingers.

“NO! NO, PLEASE!” I shrieked, and nearly passed out from the effort of screaming. Somehow, I managed to bear the pain in my left arm long enough to get onto all fours. And then I crawled to Gwen, strands of my hair plastered to my face with sweat and tears. I hate you, I thought. I fucking hate you, why won’t you just die? But hatred didn’t give me enough strength to stand and fight; I was too terrified. She wouldn’t hesitate to hurt me. Hell, she’d gladly break every single limb of my body just to watch me shriek and sob and beg for the pain to end. When I was only a few feet away from her, she gestured at me to stop. I did, and whispered to the ground, “Why are you doing this?”

“Do you really need to ask? For John, of course. He belongs to me. Not you.”

“He’ll never love you,” I said dully. “Not the way you love him. And once I’m dead, he’ll know that you had something to do with it. He’ll find out. Somehow.”

Gwen knelt down next to me and stroked my hair tenderly. “But you’re not going to die, Evelyn.”

I stared at her, puzzled and uncomprehending. And then something began to bulge under her skin–that’s the only way I can describe it. It was as though some other shape was inside of her, pushing at her skin until it began to slough off in great scaly patches. I screamed in renewed terror and tried desperately to scrabble away from her, but her arm shot out and she closed her hand around my wrist in an iron grip. The urge to struggle diminished the longer I stared into her eyes; her black slitted pupils showed me twin reflections of myself, drowning in a dark, alien sea.

She dragged me closer to her and her mouth opened–wider–wider–wider–until it had unhinged and her jaw had dropped down to her chest. Silvery drool dripped down her lengthening fangs. As I stared into that impossibly huge maw, that gaping black hole where loathsome things weakly squirmed in the darkness, I realized that she intended on swallowing me whole, and the worst of it was that I wouldn’t die. I’d be trapped inside of her forever, screaming soundlessly in fresh agony every single miserable day. The strength in my legs ran out all at once, and my mind began to rip itself loose from its moorings as she squeezed me tightly–

And her mouth closed over me–

****

I passed out. I must have passed out, because when I woke up, I was lying in front of Gwen’s cottage. Every joint in my body ached, and even though it looked whole again, my left arm still throbbed with agony. I could barely move. “Shhhh,” I heard someone say–someone with an incredibly familiar voice. My voice. I blinked in confusion as a woman who looked just like me leaned down and cupped my face. I recognized the scar under my chin that I’d gotten in fourth grade, and the butterfly tattoo that I’d gotten after my mom passed away, behind my right ear.

But I still didn’t understand, not until she smiled cruelly and lifted my hand up. My own hand was wrinkled and covered in liver spots, and it trembled in her grip as though caught in a fever. “What the fuck is going on?” I tried to say, only to stop in horror mid-sentence. Because that wasn’t my voice either; it was Gwen’s voice. The realization struck me with sudden and violent force.

I was inside of Gwen’s body. And she was in mine.

She pulled out a small clear vial from her jeans pocket and uncorked it, tipping the contents into my mouth. I tried to spit it back out, but she raised her eyebrows and pinched my nose shut. “Do you really want me to use the doll again, Evelyn?” No, I didn’t. I obediently swallowed the liquid. It burned as it went down my throat and brought tears to my eyes. In only a few seconds, the left side of my face went numb and my entire body began to jitter and seize, my feet drumming helplessly against the ground.

“HELP! JOHN!” Gwen screamed, sounding convincingly distressed. But her eyes gleamed with an awful triumph, and before I passed out, I thought I saw movement inside of her pupils. Something unspeakable, vast and reptilian, slithered through them. “Hurry! Your mother is having a stroke!”

****

I only remember scattered fragments of what happened afterwards. I know that I briefly woke up during the ambulance ride and found John hovering over me, his face twisted in anguish. “Don’t worry, Mom,” he said, touching my shoulder gently. “It’ll be okay. Just hang in there.”

I tried to talk to him–to tell him what Gwen had done to me–but my throat abruptly tightened and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. The words I wanted to say remained a knot locked behind my teeth. All I could do was stare mutely at him, hoping that the aftereffects of the potion she’d fed me would wear off soon. It would take me months to realize that I could never talk to John again. Any time I tried, I became physically unable to speak. And if I tried to write to him instead, my hands would shake so hard that I could only form wild, looping scribbles across the paper or a jumbled mess of letters on the computer screen.

Not that that ultimately mattered since Gwen took over all the communications between us. She told John that she’d realized life was too short to hold grudges. She wanted to make it up to me. In the weeks following my “stroke,” Gwen often visited me while I recuperated at the hospital. She never said anything; she didn’t have to. and simply sat there, drinking in my fear and impotent rage the way someone might savor a glass of fine wine. But even those visits stopped months ago.

I kept thinking that John would realize something was wrong eventually. Gwen and I weren’t alike at all; she’d slip up and say something wrong, or do something odd, and the truth would come out. And once it did, John would come here and the two of us would find some way to reverse what she did to me. For some reason, this is the only website where I’ve been able to write about what happened, so I forced myself to type up this post, even though it took me hours to write a single sentence. Someone needs to send this to my husband so that he knows the truth.

At least…that’s what I thought. I’ve since realized that there’s no point in trying to change anything anymore. I’m giving up. You see, earlier today, I received something in the mail. My nurse had to help me open it because my hands trembled too badly for me to do it myself. It was a card addressed to me in John’s handwriting, and inside of it, he’d included a photo and written two simple sentences–two simple sentences that shattered my entire world.

Guess what? You’re going to be a grandmother!

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