Looking back, I should’ve realized something was wrong. That Hayden wasn’t your typical blushing bride. That she was a fucking nutcase.
She wanted her wedding on October 31st. Halloween. It doubled as her fiancé’s birthday and, growing up, it was always her favorite holiday. She was a failed actress and actually took time off of her real, paycheck-distributing job as a crime scene photographer to work at one of those crappy haunted houses each year. She liked the blood and guts. The dress up. The excitement.
I was her maid of honor, which meant I had the honor of being bossed around for six straight months. I helped her choose a theme, pick out costumes for the bridesmaids, and find a zombie wedding topper for the cake. And I didn’t think it was weird.
Not even when it came to the invitations, which were meant to look like they were drenched in blood. Not even when she complained about the design looking too fake, sliced open her hand, and let her own blood fall over the array of papers.
She swore it was actually a paper cut, a deep one that she was going to bandage, but wouldn’t it be funny if she wiped it over the invitations as a joke? I was dumb enough to believe her.
Just like I was dumb enough to believe her engagement ring was ordinary. She had it made. Special. Apparently, human ashes can be repurposed as diamonds. So she took the cremated remains of her dead mother and father, combined them, and poof! A sparkling white diamond.
She did it, so that her parents’ spirits would always be with her. So that her marriage could be as strong as their marriage. I thought that made sense. I thought it sounded sweet.
But even though I was her maid of honor, I didn’t know everything she had in store for the night. I didn’t know she’d force her new husband to include a line in his vows that went something like, “I promise to remain by your side, no matter what you do. Even if you cheat. Even if you steal. Even if you murder.”
And I didn’t know that, instead of tossing rose petals from a basket, she’d make her ‘flower’ girl toss out handfuls of dead flies. Everyone loved that little touch. Assumed they were fake. I think I was the only person to notice one shiver and attempt to fly away.
But that was part of the whole horror theme, right? It was a Halloween wedding. A gorefest. It was normal. Normal, normal, normal.
I repeated that lie all throughout the ceremony, but lost track of it ten minutes into the wedding reception. That’s when she played the video. It was a time when childhood photos of the bride and groom should’ve been flashing across the screen, along with photos of them apple picking and stargazing and bar hopping.
Instead, there were photographs of strangers, yellow eyed and blue skinned and bruised. Strangled. Stabbed. Scarred. Some were even chopped into bite-sized pieces.
I ran behind the projector and yanked out the cord. Hayden wobbled up to me in her pitch black wedding dress.
“How the hell do you think that’s okay?” I asked, trying my best to keep my voice to a whisper. “There are kids here. Those look like real fucking pictures.”
“They are.” And then. “I took them myself.”
I wanted to vomit. And I did, five minutes later, into a bathroom sink while my entire body shook. Hayden was a crime scene photographer. Owning those pictures (and projecting them onto a fucking screen on the happiest day of her life) wasn’t weird. Not weird, not weird, not weird.
I reached into my pocket for a tissue to wipe away the vomit, but pulled out a square box with a crimson bow. The wedding favor. I’d stuck it in my pocket earlier to make sure I didn’t forget it, because Hayden was so excited about it. Refused to tell me what would be inside, so I’d be surprised, just like everyone else.
I wiped my sick away with a sleeve and then opened it. To take my mind off of everything. To prove that the rest of the night would be okay. That my cousin — my favorite cousin, my closest cousin — was sane.
Except, when I removed the lid from the box, there was a flesh-colored object inside. A thumb? No. No, it was a toe. A human toe. It wasn’t plastic. It wasn’t rubber. It was dead flesh.
It was real.
The rest feels like a blur now. I know I ran back into the hall, collected as many boxes as I could and ripped them open right there on the floor, like I was an excited kid on Christmas. Inside, there were coiled up rat tails and clumps of hair and severed fingertips and even a few human tongues.
I don’t know how she got them. I don’t want to know.
In fact, I don’t want to remember any of that night. Hayden bawling as I called the police. The confused look on her face, like she didn’t do anything wrong.
And the feeling deep in my chest, the one I’m still trying to suppress, that wishes I could have a wedding just like hers.