The howling wind in its wake brought a multitude of leaves, and spread them on the sodden ground like a carpet of fallen confetti. Another miserable autumn day greeted Janet as she jogged gracefully around Stewarts Park, an area renowned for its association with Captain James Cook.
Janet was twenty-eight years old and had the body of a fashion model. She would always attract the admiring, sometimes leering glances of the males, fellow joggers, or men out walking their dogs. Unfortunately, the face did not compliment the figure. It was like an engine of a Reliant Robin inside the body of a Rolls Royce.
Janet was not a plain girl; she was downright butt ugly. Her imperfection affected her mundane social life. She felt like a caterpillar, striving to break out of the cocoon; only she was not sure she wanted to.
Janet had long, red, lank hair, her eyes were too close together and her eyebrows looked as if they were trying to merge with her brow. Her teeth were protruding, and she could not walk to the end of her street without the “what’s up doc,” jibes from the cruel children. To complete her mask of horror, she had acne. “Don’t worry, it’ll clear up when you’re out of your teens,” her few friends had told her. Well, it had not.
Janet had understandably never been involved in a relationship. Her face was her Alcatraz, from which there was no escape.
“Get cosmetic surgery,” was the advice. If she could even afford it, the thought of the surgeons staring down on her ugly mug did not fill her with elation. Janet was paranoid. Walking in the town had become a terrifying ordeal. She had resorted to wearing sunglasses. They gave her the feeling of added security, as she viewed the cruel world from behind her dark lenses.
It had not always been like this. In her early twenties, she had the confidence to arrange a couple of blind dates, both which ended disastrously. Timothy had approached her from behind as she was seated at the bar, and assumed he had struck it lucky. That is, until Janet turned to face him. He bought the drinks; excused himself as he paid the gents a visit, and the last that was seen of him, he was still sprinting down Linthorpe Road. Brian had not been so discrete. He just came out with. “What the hell is that?” and departed, leaving Janet in tears.
Janet had a heart of gold and worked for several local charities. She often wondered if there was a charity for the ugly. She could relieve them of some of their funds.
Janet jogged the same route every morning, but this morning she wanted some time to herself. The following day, she was to appear on the Good Morning programme with hosts Richard and Judy, and she was terrified. Her friends had set up the opportunity for her to have a makeover, and she dreaded it. How could she face all those strangers? She even had trouble talking to people she knew, without them turning away.
Her mother reassured her, and told her that her face had character, and the makeover would show her in a real light. It was all right for her to say that. Janet had not inherited her Quasimodo looks from her mother; her father being the culprit.
Janet exited the park, and the strong gale blew into her face. How she wished the wind would blow strong enough to remove her features. Janet had no intention of making her commitment to Richard and Judy… No way!
Janet trembled. Her mouth was dry with her nervousness when she prepared to meet the famous couple. Her natural instinct told her to turn and run, but her mother and best friend, Nina barred her way. Janet looked down the line of other girls, who looked and probably felt just as terrified as she was. As her eyes took in each girl, her childhood trip to Madame Tussauds reflected in her mind, notably the Chamber of Horrors. Janet felt a little better after she examined each frightened girl, but only a little.
Her mother had gone to so much expense, buying her a new powder blue dress and expensive shoes. Janet knew she had to go through with it, but felt uncomfortable, as she was devoid of any make-up. The producer had insisted on it. He wanted the audience to see the girls in their full glory. Horror would have been a more appropriate word.
The girls were introduced and they walked beneath the bright, hot lights and into the studio, the loud applause welcoming them. Janet could not see the faces in the audience, as the glare of the lights obscured her vision. She could imagine the pointing and snide remarks being thrown in the direction of the unfortunate girls.
She walked carefully, having visions of tripping over and displaying her Marks and Spencers lingerie to the public. She sat in the centre of the group and Richard chatted to each girl in turn, backed up by his famous wife.
Janet was next, and her mouth was so dry, she dreaded her words would not come out. The water was tempting, but her hand shook so violently, she was sure to drop the glass. The camera focused on Janet, and her stomach rumbled, as she fought to prevent breaking wind.
Richard smiled. “This is Janet Downing, a twenty-eight year old charity worker from Cleveland…. Tell me, Janet…what type of charity work do you do?”
Janet opened her mouth and nothing came out. She swallowed and tried to moisten her arid mouth. She could see the stage manager, frantically waving his hands behind the camera.
“Ch-ch.-children’s charity’s mostly.”
“Excellent. And are you looking forward to your make-over?”
“Y-y-yes,” she stuttered.
“You’re a pretty girl, Janet,” lied Richard, “but with the make-over, we’ll transform you into a princess.”
The cameras moved on and Janet’s heartbeat beat double time. She felt the perspiration run down her face. She looked into the faceless crowd, certain they were laughing at her. She would have the last laugh; just you wait and see.
Janet did not recognise the girl who stared back from the mirror. She was beautiful. Her hair was conditioned and tied in a bun. They had shaved off her eyebrows and replaced them using a pencil, and her acne was invisible. The red lipstick was expertly applied as to distract the attention off the teeth, which did not look so bad. The green mascara had been added in such a way as to enhance her eyes. She was attired in an emerald green dress. Janet decided she would not wash ever again. The transformation was astounding. The butterfly had finally escaped the cocoon. The caterpillar was no more.
Janet no longer felt nervous when she was applauded onto the studio floor, amid the whistles and catcalls. She fought back the tears, not wanting to smudge the mascara. Richard and Judy were on their feet applauding. Janet turned to face her mother and Nina, who were both crying. Janet faced the audience. They were not laughing now, were they?
Janet was allowed to keep the dress. The Good Morning team had kindly booked rooms for them in the Hilton Hotel. Janet sat at the dressing table and stared at the stranger. Beneath, she was the same person, but the change was dramatic. Even Nina found it hard to believe this was the same person she set out to Liverpool with.
“Come on, Janet; let’s go downstairs for a drink.”
“I don’t know, Nina.”
“Rubbish, girl,” interrupted her mother. “You two go and enjoy yourself. I’m putting my feet up and watching Eastenders.”
The bar was dimly lit. It was early evening and devoid of custom, apart from a man who sat alone, drinking his brandy. He was dressed in a tuxedo, and watched with interest as the two girls glided across the bar room. Janet glanced at the tall, blonde, man, who was unmistakably looking at her with a huge grin on his face.
“Two vodka and oranges please,” ordered Nina.
Janet chanced another glimpse, and the blonde hunk winked at her. She felt a pleasant sensation in her stomach when she sipped her vodka.
“That bloke over there, he fancy’s you, Jan.”
“Nonsense, he’s mocking me.”
“I don’t think so, sweetie. My God! He’s coming over.”
The man pulled up a couple of stools and ignored Nina; his undivided attention focused on the redhead.
“Good evening, I hope you don’t mind if I join you. You look so lonely sitting there by yourselves. Are you from around here?”
“No, we’re from the North,” butted in Nina.
He directed his attentive eyes towards Janet. “I was wondering. Are you a model?”
Janet blushed and bowed her head. “No, I’m a...”
“She’s an actress,” interrupted Nina. The man ignored Nina, which was unusual. It was typically her who was fixed up and Janet who was rejected; only this time she did not mind.
“An actress, really?” asked the stranger. “Will I have seen you in anything?”
“No, she only has minor roles at the moment, but she’s been inundated with offers.”
Janet’s eyes met his, and like magnets, they were drawn together.
“Janet.” They shook hands. Nina might as well not have been there. Janet and Russ talked late into the night. Nina made her excuses and left them, giving Janet a wink and thumbs up as she left.
They were the only ones left in the bar shortly after midnight, and they observed the barman checking his watch.
“I think he wants to go to bed, Janet.”
“Really?” she slurred, staring into her partner’s eyes.
“Perhaps you do too?”
“I’d love to, Russ.” The alcohol had taken over. Janet was not drunk, but she would never had proposed such a thing normally; not the old Janet. Not that she ever had a chance to. She was love struck by this blonde Adonis. He fancies me, he fancies me, she kept saying in her mind.
He took her hand and led her up to his room. As soon as they entered the room, they came together, their lips meeting, Janet trying with great difficulty to conceal her buck teeth.
He undressed her slowly and took in the splendour of her near perfect body. He sucked at her erect nipples and the amorous couple fell onto the bed. Janet moaned as she felt herself building up towards an orgasm. She was a virgin and had often wondered if she would die that way, never ever to savour a man’s body.
He paused to undress and Janet gasped as she took in his muscles, not daring to look below his waist at the welcome offering she ached to receive. He took her by the hand and led her to the shower. She felt his member rigid against her stomach as he turned on the water. She spread her legs slightly, waiting for the pleasure to infiltrate her body.
Russ removed his head from her breast and brought his face up to kiss her. “Ahh!” he screamed.
He stepped back and took in the transformation. The water streamed down her face. The make-up had disappeared down the plughole, and with it, Janet’s beauty. Her hair was soaked, and gone was the sophisticated haircut. The mascara ran down her cheeks, the tears being the cause and not the shower.
“What the hell! You tricked me. You ugly slut, you tricked me.”
Janet ran from the shower, a towel wrapped around her naked body. Sobbing, she loped along the corridor and never stopped running until she reached her own room.
At check out the next morning, Janet had only one thing on her mind. She had to leave the hotel and return back home to her cocoon. The fairy tale was over. Who was she kidding? They say beauty is only skin-deep; how right they were.
Her mother and Nina noticed how quiet she was that morning. Nina put it down to her losing her virginity. It affected people in different ways.
Russ exited the lift and approached the reception desk. Nina nudged Janet. On his arm was a gorgeous blonde girl in a mini skirt. Janet bowed her head and heard the giggles and the “oink oink” noises coming from behind. She turned to face Russ, and he grimaced and made the sign of the cross.
Janet turned to the girl. “You’re welcome to him.”
One week later, Janet was eating her cornflakes after completing her morning jog. She picked up the newspaper and stared at the familiar face on the front page. It was the girl who had been with Russ. She had been discovered dead on a railway embankment in Liverpool. She had been raped and strangled. The newspapers connected the murder to the Walton strangler, who had terrorised Merseyside. Janet trembled, wept softly, and reached for the telephone.