Vanity, and a Deal with the Devil

Submitted into Contest #239 in response to: Write a story about an artist whose work has magical properties.... view prompt


Horror High School Teens & Young Adult

TW: sexual and suicidal imagery.

Jenny Murphy is gorgeous, just ask her. Her parents spoil her. Her friends admire her. Boys desire to be with her and girls want to be her, encouraging lust and envy wherever she goes. She’s dating the most popular boy in school and her teachers love her. Jenny feels the world is her oyster, spinning around her, set in motion specifically to give her everything she wants.

“Ugh, here comes Jenny Murphy. Just keep your heads down. Maybe she’ll pass us by,” Melissa Carter tells her friends at the lunch table outside.

“You know Jeremy can’t keep his head down when she’s around, if you know what I mean,” Brandon teases.

“Wow, Tosha, look at all the losers. Isn’t it neat how they congregate outside to the farthest corner like it’s their natural habitat,” Jenny says with a smile.

“We come out here to get away from the likes of you, Jenny,” Melissa tells her.

“Geesh, sounds like someone has goth an attitude. Why the long sleeves emo,” Jenny says pulling back one of Melissa’s sleeves, revealing a scar. “Oh, that’s right. Nobody loves you and you want to die,” Jenny says with a pouty face while her gal pals, Tosha and Kim, laugh.

“Booger off, Jenny. Don’t you have something else to do,” says Brandon Lawrence, Melissa’s closest friend.

“Brandon, Brandon, Brandon, are you still blowing the chess club, so they’ll do your homework?”

“That was one guy, one time.”

“It can be multiple guys multiple times. All I have to do is say that it’s so, so sit down and shut up,” Jenny says with vicious authority.

Turning her attention to Jeremy O’Neil, she smiles and sits down beside him. “Caught you sneaking a peek at me during English,” she says. Leaning in and whispering in his ear, she says, “Save me a sock,” and laughs wildly, tossing her hair as she gets up. “Later losers.”

“I wish there was some way we could put her in her place,” Melissa growls, pushing her black bangs from her eyes.

“How? She has the whole school eating out of her hand. Even the teachers and the administration think she’s the moon and stars,” Brandon says.

“If she wasn’t so pretty, no one would think twice about her,” a voice says from behind them.

Melissa turns her head and finds a young man with long hair pulled into a bun wearing a Slayer t-shirt, torn jeans, and combat boots.

“Who are you?”

“Dylan Rose. I just moved here.”

“Well, Dylan, it’s not like we are going to set her face on fire,” Melissa tells him. “But I get what you’re saying.”

“All I’m saying is that you can put the princess in her place once and for all. Meet me here after school,” Dylan says, handing her one of his father’s business cards.

“Rose Photography,” Brandon reads out loud with a questioning tone.

“It’s my father’s business. Don’t worry, he won’t be there. He’s off on Mondays. All three of you come by. I want to show you something.”


At the end of the school day, Jeremy drives them all over to the studio. It’s a quaint little brick store in the middle of the downtown area with portraits in the window. Dylan greets them at the door and leads them back to the studio. Nothing is out of the ordinary, just lights, a plain background, and a digital camera.

“My family has developed a photo editing software that has some magical properties tied into it and I’m going to show it to you.”

“Magic,” Brandon questions.

“Yeah, you brought us here for a magic trick,” Melissa says, feeling perturbed.

“Trust me, this is no trick. People pay top dollar and come from all over the world for my father’s service.”

“Service? I thought you sold pictures,” Brandon asks.

“It’s better if I just show you,” Dylan replies. “Jeremy, we’ll start with you. Just a picture of your face.”

“I don’t know, Dylan. I’m camera shy, with my acne and all.”

“You won’t be after this. Trust me. Don’t smile. Just look at the camera.”

Jeremy slouches to one side and looks at the camera, letting Dylan take the picture. After he takes the picture, he takes out the storage card and inserts it into the computer, downloading the image.

“Alright everybody, watch Jeremy’s face.”

Brandon and Melissa watch as Dylan selects tools from his photo editing software and works. Slowly they start to see Jeremy’s acne disappear. “Whoa, is this for real,” Melissa asks.

“Yep,” Dylan says, putting on the final touches. “Here, give him a mirror.”

Jeremy gasps and touches his face. He can’t believe it. He looks at Brandon who nods sincerely at his friend. “Dylan… How…”

“I told you. With a little bit of magic. Melissa, how about those scars on your wrist.”

Melissa pulls up her sleeves in a hurry as Dylan grabs the camera. He takes a picture of her wrists, downloads it, and gets to work. Within moments there is no evidence that she has ever attempted suicide. She flips her wrists over several times, astonished by Dylan’s work. Brandon watches on with his hands cupped over his mouth, tears in his eyes.

“All right, here’s what I’m proposing. I can take this camera to school and tell the students that my dad owns Rose photography in town and we’re holding a most photogenic competition for free senior pics. That should get me the pic I need of Jenny. From there we can alter her appearance, and nobody will be none the wiser.”

“What do you need us to do?”

“For starters, you have to keep your mouth shut about the software, what we do to Jenny, all of it. My dad’s boss will have us killed if word gets out. There’s a lot of money in this, and his boss is someone you don’t piss off. On top of that, I want a date with Melissa.”

“Hell, all you had to do is ask for a date with Melissa,” Melissa says.


The next day, Dylan presents the school with the competition, and everyone is eager to have their picture taken, especially Jenny Murphy. They wait until the end of the week and announce Jenny as the winner. On Sunday, they go to work on altering her appearance in such a way that she won’t want those senior pictures.

Melissa, Brandon, and Jeremy all gather around Dylan’s computer. “How should we make her look,” Melissa asks with a mischievously evil voice.

“I have a function that shows you what a person looks like if their inside appearance was seeable on the outside,” Dylan tells them. “It won’t actually happen unless I hit enter. It’s just for viewing purposes.”

“Do it,” Jeremy says. “I have to see. I’ve been so blinded by her outer beauty that I can’t see past it. I need to know what she’s like on the inside.”

Dylan selects the inside-out function. Jenny’s long, flowing golden mane is replaced with patchy stubble like she has mange. Her right eyelids are missing, and her left eye is melted shut. Her nose is gone. Her ears are tiny and pointy. Her right cheek is gone too, exposing teeth and gums.

“All I have to do is press enter,” Dylan tells them.


“…nine, ten. Ready or not, here I come,” Jenny screams across the house so her nephew knows he better hurry up and hide. At six years old, it won’t be too hard to find him, but Jenny decides to drag it out like a good aunt, make him feel good about himself.

“Are you under the table,” she says with a frightening tone as she lifts up the tablecloth, knowing good and well he isn’t there. She heard him go upstairs.

On her way upstairs she stops at the mirror above the mantle to admire herself. “Is he in the bathroom! Nope, I better go look upstairs.” She blows herself a kiss after primping her hair and heads up stairs.

“Where are you, Sebastian? I’m going to find you. Are you under the bed! No. Are you in the closet!”

“Eek, Aunt Jenny, you always find me. Your turn to hide.”

Sebastian went to the dresser to count, but he peeked open his eyes and watched his aunt crawl back into the closet. He reaches ten, and runs to the closet, flinging open the door. “Roar,” Jenny screams.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeek,” all the way down the stairs and out the front door. Jenny gives chase, not meaning to scare him so badly. When she passes the mirror above the mantle on the way to the front door, she has to turn around and do a double take. What she sees has her screaming and crying.


“For our first date you bring me back to your father’s studio?”

“I want to see what you look like through the inside-out function.”

“What, you can’t accept me as I am?”

“I do and I will. Hitting enter is up to you.”

“Okay, I’m curious. Let’s do this.”

“Okay, to really do this, you need to take off your clothes. I’ll take four shots of you – front, back, and both sides.”

“Now I see what you’re up to,” she laughs as she removes her shirt.

“No, you don’t, but you will.”

Melissa is a stout girl with love handles, thick thighs, and a butt that sags. She has a cute face but covers it with dark make-up and long bangs. She turns as Dylan takes his photos. He downloads the images and hits the inside-out function. Melissa’s hair turns to a caramel brown and the long bangs disappear, being replaced with flowing waves. Her dull green eyes are now much brighter, sharper. Her face is thinner exposing beautiful cheekbones. All of her piercings remain. Her body has tightened up. She’s not skinny or athletic, but not fat either. She would say she’s voluptuous. Most notably, there’s a sleeve of tattoos on her right arm that she would never have been able to afford.

“What do you think,” Dylan asks.

“It’s exactly how I want people to see me,” she says quietly. Reaching across him, she presses enter.

February 26, 2024 16:51

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Alexis Araneta
18:00 Feb 26, 2024

Brilliant, Ty ! I loved how cute the story is. The imagery was very vivid, as usual. “Hell, all you had to do is ask for a date with Melissa,” Melissa says. - That made me laugh. Great job !!


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A. B. H.
21:57 Mar 06, 2024

Hey Ty! I've been assigned your story to critique this week! The concept you’ve come up with is inventive! Photography and photo editing is certainly a form of art despite what some may think! Your description of Jenny reminded me of Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body! A few things I had to comment on. Although I'm not a professional whatsoever, I believe there were a few grammar/formatting mistakes, or a few lines that could've been phrased better. One thing that's helped me with those issues is slowing down, and also reading my story aloud to my...


Ty Warmbrodt
23:20 Mar 06, 2024

Great advice, but I won't be revisiting this one. Thanks though.


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Mary Bendickson
23:11 Feb 26, 2024

Better hide that magical camera. It could cause as much damage as good. What a concept!


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Michelle Oliver
23:11 Feb 26, 2024

Hmmm, I’m almost too scared of the inside out function. Quite terrifying to face who you really are. You’d hope to be glam and beautiful, but the reality is you’d probably have a wart or two, or a hump or something. Two great stories about the human condition this week Ty. Best of luck.


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Trudy Jas
16:50 Feb 28, 2024

yeah, cute story. Though, once we get past our teens, we probably realize we don't want people to see the "real" us. We've learned how to cover those inner warts. And why do those so called pretty people have to be jerks?


Ty Warmbrodt
17:05 Feb 28, 2024

Very true. But I would mind a real life potoshop session.


Trudy Jas
17:09 Feb 28, 2024

You mean you wouldn't? :-)


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