You can only see her when you can’t see her.
There are a lot of theories surrounding her: she was a great beauty who died of a wasting disease that left her hideous in death, she was attacked by a spurned suitor and committed suicide after he disfigured her face, she was murdered and mutilated to keep people from identifying her. Whichever version of her untimely end is given, what follows is always the same.
When the Shy Lady appears, you’re in trouble.
No one knows how or why she picks her victims. They can be man or woman, child or adult, any race, creed, or religion. The only thing that links them is their bad eyesight. She waits until they’ve taken off their glasses or removed their contacts before she makes herself known, always standing at a distance, always just out of clear view. Descriptions are vague, but it’s been said she seems to be wearing some kind of dress, white or red, it varies, and she has long, pale hair.
“Could you love a creature like me?” She asks.
Don’t say yes. If you do, she’ll pull you into a bone breaking embrace and squeeze the life out of you.
Don’t say no. If you do, she’ll fly into a fit of rage and you’ll end up a cut up mess that only dental records can identify.
If you run, she’ll just show up again later to get her answer.
I didn’t know any of this. Not until the first time I saw her.
Or, rather, “saw” her.
I’ve been nearsighted my whole life and can’t see more than a few inches in front of my face. Without my glasses, my eyeballs are pretty much just for decoration. The only times I don’t have them on are when I’m sleeping or showering. It was when I was doing the latter that I first encountered the Shy Lady.
I was in the middle of washing my hair and singing nonsense down at the brown blur that was my dog, Samwise, lying on the bathmat just outside the frosted glass shower door. He could be a high strung critter at the best of times, so when I heard his first growl, I didn’t think anything of it. A bird could chirp a mile away and he’d be grumbling about it. The whimper that came after was more unexpected.
And when he started clawing at the shower door, desperate to get in, I knew for sure something was wrong.
As I started to turn toward him, a flash of color from the door, which was opened into my bedroom, caught my eye. Red. I had no red in my bedroom. It was all white with splashes of purple, something my sister teased me endlessly about when she visited. What I found calming and peaceful, she found sterile.
But now there was red.
I almost slipped with how fast I jerked around. Between my fuzzy eyesight and the opaque glass, all I could see was a human-shaped blur in shades of red sitting on the end of my bed.
It felt dumb leaving my mouth. My sister lived a thousand miles away. There was no way she’d be in my house, sitting in my room.
The figure on my bed hadn’t moved. I began to try and rationalize it. I’d left a dress out without remembering it. My husband had snuck flowers in a really, really tall red vase into our room before he left for work. Something he’d never done, but no time like the present to start, right?
Samwise continued to claw wildly at the shower door.
“Could you love a creature like me?”
It was asked in a raspy, sad whisper.
Samwise howled. I screamed.
I’d learned a long time ago that the best spot for my glasses was always within reach, and I was never more grateful for that lesson than in that moment. I snatched the plastic case I kept in the shower and snapped it open to grab my glasses.
By the time I’d put them on, the woman was gone.
There was no work for me that day. Just checking that all the doors and windows were locked, looking for signs of a break in, and searching every square inch of my house for any shred of evidence anyone but myself and my husband had been inside. Of course, there were none, and I was left doubting whether I’d actually seen anything at all.
It was that doubt that made me keep the experience to myself. I didn’t even mention it to my husband, Alex, when he came home that night. He would’ve listened, been supportive, offered insight into what I might’ve seen. But I didn’t want that. I just wanted to forget how deeply unsettled I’d felt. How that voice had made my skin crawl, if there’d actually been any voice at all. Samwise had been barking so much and the water was running; I could’ve interpreted a completely innocent sound as words. I’d read somewhere that brains do that sometimes, same with finding faces in objects. We try to humanize things.
Alex and Samwise went to bed before me that night. I stayed up to watch the tail-end of the movie we’d started. At some point, I started to doze and took my glasses off to rub my eyes.
The moment they’d been removed and the room became a swirl of colors and vague shapes, I heard her again.
“Could you ever love a creature like me?”
The question came from the kitchen behind me. It was dark, barely lit by the glow of the TV screen, and I could barely see anything except a slash of red against the shadows.
She was closer this time.
My throat constricted painfully, cutting off the yelp that was trying to force its way out. Instinctively, I shoved my glasses back on while reaching for the table lamp.
Once again, she was gone as soon as I could see clearly, but this time, a quiet, frustrated hiss lingered where she had been.
Alex was confused, and then concerned, when I leaped into bed and shook him awake. He let me ramble on about what I’d seen in silence, nodding every now and again to let me know he was still listening. I told him I thought the house was haunted.
He laughed. Out of all the reactions that I might have gotten, that was the last one I expected. I was hurt that he wasn’t taking me seriously and, when he saw that, he took my hand and apologized.
“It’s just not like you,” he said.
“To get so wrapped up in a story!”
When I just stared blankly at him, he continued.
“Remember I told you about the Shy Lady? We’d watched that show about urban legends and you asked if I remembered any from when I was a kid?”
I didn’t, but I had had a few beers before then. Maybe too many, looking back on it.
“You know, you can only see her when you can’t see her? That one? She haunts people with bad eyesight or something, I don’t really remember the details.”
“So…you’re telling me…”
“That your imagination is working overtime.”
I let Alex go back to sleep after he comforted me for a bit, but I had trouble making myself turn out the light and take off my glasses. I sat up in bed beside my husband, Samwise curled up between us, and hugged my pillow to my chest.
Slowly, hesitantly, I slid my glasses halfway down the bridge of my nose until I could just peer over the top of them. My heartbeat was so loud I’m surprised Alex didn’t wake up again.
She was there. Standing at the foot of the bed, a blur of red and pale yellow, so close she could reach out and grab my leg. When she spoke, her raspy whisper had gone from sad to simmering.
“Could you ever love —”
Samwise stirred, his hackles raised. I pushed my glasses up quickly. My vision was perfectly clear again, and the Shy Lady was gone. I laid a hand on Samwise’s head, both to comfort him and to take comfort from his sturdy little presence, and tried to calm my shuddering breathing. Whatever Alex wanted to believe, I knew what I’d seen. I knew I was being stalked by something and that it was getting closer, and angrier, every time I saw it.
My glasses didn’t come off again for a long while.
I read a lot online in the next few days. Anything and everything even remotely related to the Shy Lady. I learned the various rumors about her origin, what supposedly happened when you answered her question, the certain fate that seemed to follow her sightings. But that couldn’t be all there was to it. If people knew about her, there had to be a way to escape her.
All anyone said was that you had better invest in some 24 hour wear contacts.
When I grilled Alex for more details, he just shrugged and said the only thing he remembered was that she chose people with bad eyesight to avoid being really seen.
You can only see her when you can’t see her.
I don’t know if it was brave or stupid what I did next. But after hearing that she didn’t want to be seen, I got an idea in my head. The next time I was home alone, I locked Samwise safely in my room, where he whined and pawed at the door, as if he knew what I was going to do.
I turned on every light in my house despite it being the middle of the day and I pulled one of the dining table chairs over to the wall. Once I’d sat down, my back to the wall and the house opened up in front of me, I took a deep breath and removed my glasses.
I’d barely gotten them off before I heard her, angry and growling.
“Could you ever love a creature like me?”
She was only feet away, still blurry and indistinct, but obviously a woman. I could see deep red lines, the same shade as her dress, running across the pale skin of her face. Her breath was slow, gurgling, and sour. My nails bit into the seat of my chair as I clutched it, both to keep myself from running and from putting my glasses back on.
Samwise was shrieking from the bedroom. The door shook as he clawed and leapt at it.
“Could you ever love a creature like me?” She repeated herself darkly, insistently.
She wanted her answer.
The Shy Lady and I stared at each other. I was almost afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak.
My voice shook when I finally forced the words out.
“Let me get a better look at you. Come closer.”
She howled and swept backwards. Her hands were in front of her face. It seemed to be working! Emboldened by my success, I stood and dared to take a step toward her. The Shy Lady cowered further away.
I continued walking toward her, convinced that at any moment my legs would give out and I’d collapse. She continued to shrink away, weeping and mewling, until I’d backed her into a wall.
“Come closer!” I shouted over her.
With a final, furious cry, she crumpled to the floor. I blinked and she was gone.
I’d never vomited from fear before, but I did then, all over our hardwood floors where she’d just been.
I’ve not seen her since, but I still keep my glasses close at hand. Who can say if the trick I used once will be enough to ward her off a second time? Still, I wanted to pass my story on, in case anyone else ever finds themselves in the presence of the Shy Lady.
At least now, you might have a chance to escape her.