Hello, Thieves and Pleasers!
Have you ever hidden your true feelings from others? Like maybe you get hurt, but you smile through it so that no one knows it? I wonder why we do that… hey, are you okay? You can talk if you need to. I think it’s time you opened up, because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
Your Mask is Slipping
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
This prompt immediately brings to mind the idea of us all having a self that we show to the world, and a self that we don’t let anyone see.
That is one possibility you can explore this week; a character who only ever shows others their happy, upbeat, and optimistic self. They seem to not have any problems in the world, but they just hide it from everyone and try to deal with it themselves. What happens when it becomes too much? Who would be the first to notice that falter in their smile? Contrariwise, perhaps you choose to write about someone who tries to act tough and scary to keep everyone away for whatever personal reason, but then one person sees that they aren’t nearly as mean as they make themselves out to be. Does this person continue to observe and maybe even try to become friends with the big scary person? Or maybe you choose to write about the cat who thinks— sorry, knows that they are the center of the universe and that these petty humans are not worth their time… except those ear scritches feel awful good… and that lap looks so comfy. But can the cat really be such a suck-up? They can enjoy these simple pleasures and still dominate the world, right? You could even write about a criminal profiler, someone who takes all the pieces at a scene and determines what kind of person to look for. Someone who knows far too well how to make that mask crack and slip.
You could even take the literal route with this, like a ninja or thief sneaking in somewhere to steal something precious, but their mask has a loose thread or the head strap broke and needed to be tied. Perhaps they need to fight off security single-handed because the other is keeping the mask up. Or maybe it slips at the most inopportune time and the camera captures their face. Or maybe you choose to follow the romance of two people at a masquerade, dancing the night away as if no one else existed but them. But then it’s revealed who they are. How do they respond to such a truth? Does one or the other flee in shock, maybe even embarrassment?
So many masks, so many secrets. All it takes is one little slip to change someone’s world. Whether it’s for the better or not is entirely up to you.
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
Tune into the stream this Saturday at 3:00pm CST to see if you made the cut!
The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit! Get ready not just to share what you’ve got, but to give back to the other writers here as well.
Rules and Guidelines
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The invitation had called it a masquerade ball.
As far as Jay can tell, she’s the only one in a mask.
There are other guests, of course. They flow across the marble floor, joined in twos and threes to dance. Some are in jackets cut tight to the waist, flared at the hips. Some are in gowns, sweeping curtains of tulle or silk that whirl outwards when they turn.
Jay thinks they’re people.
From the head up, it’s hard to tell.
Perhaps, on closer inspection, the fur is expert pelt work, the scales glazed bits of ceramic, the antlers polished wood. But she’s been watching from her corner by the punch and she sees no seems, no mechanism to open the jaws when they speak.
She doesn’t belong here.
The feathers on her mask itch.
“Is this your first time?”
Jay’s fingers dart away from her face.
Someone has appeared at her shoulder, a man dressed in burgundy velvet and a dark bow tie. He has the head of a fox, and it grins when she looks up.
“No need to be bashful! We’re all new at some point or another. Though I have to say, doesn’t seem the best fun, loitering here all night. Hm?”
His voice is high, cloying and amused.
It closes a fist around Jay’s fluttering heart.
“Perhaps I could be your escort for the evening? At least for a dance.”
“I should go. It’s late.”
“Nonsense! The moon’s still high.”
And he isn’t wrong. It feels as if she’s been it this corner for hours, but the moon hasn’t changed. It hangs, silvered and full, framed in the gilded skylight’s perfect circle.
She plucks at her reasons to stay. Another excuse. Anything.
“I can’t dance.”
The fox scoffs.
“Oh, I very much doubt that.”
He takes her elbow, pulls her from her perch, and they stumble across the floor to the throng.
The feathers on her mask itch.
She can hardly see through the eye holes.
Jay doesn’t belong here.
They don’t stop.
“An ungraceful bird. Can you imagine?”
Smile Don’t Break
By Jesse Fisher
Relax, it is going to be fine. There is nothing to be mad about. It is just one thing, nothing that needs to be done but move on. It is not an issue just keep walking, ignore it all.
No, it is nothing, it is nothing…wait I have to keep smiling. The smile needs to stay, the thing was nothing.
It is only two hours, how can it be two hours. Why am I not off yet? This day is too long, I want to go home now.
Next thing was the eternal rage, flame rising above my vision until the sound came from my mouth. The sound of a beast and the growl filled my ears.
The world stopped, nothing moved. Not even a sound came to my ear.
I want to just curl up and be away from this place.
I woke up in a cold sweat. My hands gripped the blanket, letting go. I checked my hands, there was no blood, only stress marks. I wonder if it was a fully dream or just a prediction of what my mind saw.
My rage was too great, my self control failed me. Even in a dream it was not enough to just deal with it in screaming and letting it out. I must keep it in, bury it until it is but an ember and not a single thing of fuel goes near it. For if I do, the backdraft will be too great for me. Once more the flames will rise and my world will be burnt down.
True Black Heart
WARNING contains the following: self harm, mentions of abuse, blood, vomit, attempted suicide.
“I said shut up!” Edward broke his fist against the lockers. His heart skipped a beat at the promise of pain. “I finally said yes to Amilia, but only because she practically begged to come over. I know they are hurting her. She won’t tell me. I’m her friend. I just want to protect her!”
‘Liar,’ his heart throbbed. Edward dug his nails into his shirt. ‘It’s because the only one allowed to hurt her is you. We stare at her wrists wishing she would let us be the ones to cut her. Every new scar, you fight me to keep us from sinking our teeth in to reopen the wound.’ Edwards’s mouth drooled, but couldn’t tell if it was because he was going to be sick or because his heart had won over his body.
Edward let out a broken wail, but no matter how hard he cried, his heart wouldn’t stop throbbing. Every beat it whispered twisted nothings inside Edward’s ears. His heart pounded so hard he puked down the hallway. Feeling faint, Edward fell to his knees in his own filth. He was too tired to keep lying to himself.
The most dangerous person to Amilia was him.
Through tears, Edward grabbed the scissors from his backpack, sinking them deep between his rib cage. Each jerk of his arms pulled it over his lungs, desperately trying to sink the edge into his heart. He couldn’t tell if he ever made it that far, but as the blood spewed, his heart finally went quiet.
Then Edwards’ blood turned black.
“It’s so nice you’re a coward.” The rhythm of Jakyl’s words robbed Edward of his desperate escape. He laid limp in his shadow’s sharp embrace, black tendrils slithered back to engulf him. Edward’s mind became lost in the bloody oceans of Jakyl’s eyes. “You’ve starved me, so I’m going to go out and gorge myself. But don’t worry,” he petted Edward’s head with his claws, mouth shattered into a wild grin as they merged, “I’ll make sure you’ll be the only one allowed to hurt Amilia from now on.”
“I Have Something to Say”
William poked the fire as the awkward silence passed through the small camp. He hazarded a look across the fire at his companion. Erin was cleaning her blade with a cloth. Neither of them had said much, but William wanted to describe so many things.
When he had first met Erin, she punched him in the face. Probably broke his nose too. She was always angry, always ignoring, and sometimes downright insulting him. But there were always moments where… the two just seemed to connect. He made her laugh. She gave her a purpose. They built each other up despite how different both of them were.
William had to admit by now that his habit of being selfless had gotten them into more than one fight. And there were also many times where bumbling trust had gotten them caught and nearly killed. Yet there were times Erin admitted she had not made this journey easy either. Especially early on, Erin barely let them rest and marched William ragged. She had been almost always uncompromising, unyielding, despite knowing how long their journey would be. In truth, William was honestly taken aback when Erin apologized to him. And then, soon enough, little by little, William felt at home with her.
He had already found her indomitable will something to respect, but whenever she softened to him, his heart nearly skipped a beat. Whenever she would look at him with those sky blue eyes, he felt a bit lost for words. Her rose-red hair was striking and beautiful. Whenever he was next to her, his heart beat just a tad faster. Whenever he made her laugh, he felt the world become ever so brighter. Every day, despite getting more and more dangerous, he felt happier and happier as he was with her. There were so many other things he wanted to say. So many emotions he should convey.
He met her eyes for the briefest moment. Both of them looked away. William felt his cheeks flushed and he wondered if she felt the same.
“Sh-Shut it and go to bed!”
“Red and White”
By Hemming Sebastian Bane
Rot sat on the bed, knee bouncing as she watched the door. It was fine. Tobias was on a rescue mission in the Realms of Night. He’d be away for a week, then he’d return. The redhead took a deep breath. The confrontation with the forces of the Vast Deep had been three months ago. Tobias visited her just three days after that. Since then, he’d been on assignment while she healed.
That’s when it hit Rot: maybe he wasn’t coming back. It wasn’t uncommon; some werewolves sent on dangerous missions died in the line of duty. Rot shook her head. That wasn’t Tobias. Tobias was as skilled as any oneironaut. He had traversed many dreams. Tobias always came back. Even when others didn’t, he did. Rot knew it. Tobias would be back. Maybe he was grabbing some venison. Yes, that was most likely.
Rot bit her lip and looked down at her hands. Why did she want Tobias home so much? She’d already thanked him for helping her in the past. They were just friends. That’s it. Just. Friends. So, why did her heart beat faster when she saw him? Why did she forget how to breathe when she heard his voice or saw the flash of his hair? Rot scoffed. She wasn’t afraid of Tobias. Tobias would have hurt her a long time ago if he wanted to.
But this feeling WAS fear. Of what, Rot didn’t know. She took another deep breath. Where was he? Suddenly, a creak at the door. Rot shot up from Tobias’ bed, hand on the handle of her tomahawk. The sun streaked through the crack. A man with shock white hair entered. The man Rot had been waiting for. The werewolf inquisitor swore her heart stopped beating for a moment. Tobias smiled.
“You were waiting for me? Oh, sorry. I was grabbing –”
Before he could finish, Rot bolted towards him, wrapped her arms around his neck, and pressed her lips to his. Tobias let out a surprised grunt.
“What was that?”
Rot blushed. “I… don’t know.”
And without another word, she left.
Something That Wasn’t There
by Carrie (Glaceon373)
“I can’t believe it,” Violet said aloud to the mostly empty office. “I can’t believe they haven’t fired me yet.”
From the other side of the room underneath the windowsill, something sat where there should not have been anything at all. But that thing still nodded slowly, transparent eyes focused on Violet.
“I’m new. I’m inexperienced. I’ve messed up, like, seven times today. So obviously someone should fire me, right?”
The thing under the windowsill moved as though it breathed, but made no noise.
“I mean, I talk to you all the time!” Violet stood up and began pacing. “Well, not all the time, obviously, but one of these days someone’s gonna walk in on me and say ‘hey who you talking to?’ and—”
Violet immediately sat down again, realizing the potential irony of what she had just said.
The thing under the windowsill blinked in response.
Violet sighed. “You’re right. These feelings are probably all in my head. Are they bouncing around with you, by any chance?”
The thing gave a glance that could be considered pitying.
Three gentle knocks hit the door. Violet shot up to open it. “Hi!”
“Hello Ms. Miller!” Her superior looked down from her tall stilettos. “I’m just here to let you know that the boss wants to speak with you once he finishes this meeting, which should be in the next five minutes or so. Just letting you know!”
The supervisor walked away. Violet slowly closed the door, made sure it clicked, then collapsed to the floor.
“I am so screwed! I’m getting fired. In five minutes!”
She leaned against the door, gasping for air. The thing under the windowsill stared back at her.
“Got any tips for this, fella?”
The thing blinked.
“Okay, that’s fine, I’ll just…” Violet stood back up and smoothed out the creases in her blouse, “I’ll just smile and take it. Professionalism! Right?”
The thing also stood up, but in a way unaffected by the force of gravity.
“… you’re going to follow me in there and make me blow it, aren’t you?”
It lives beneath the skin, crawling out when given opportunity. (North Cedalia Cultists)
The Hound Mother was not a god of colors, but rather a god of void. A clean death, pure sacrifice, a fresh start for justice and vengeance.
Jackson did not breathe, unblinking, silent. Inky blue tears rolled down his face, and his eyes were empty pools that, if one looked closely, glimmered with uncountable stars, dead gods floating in the void-between. His nails were black, his teeth sharpened, as if he was on a hunt for his lady-mother, but he was like soft wax, slack and still.
Even dead gods dream.
“You’re right, they got ‘im good, luv.” Stana rocked backward on her heels, golden mask firmly over her mouth.
Katarina did not handle stillness well. She was bound to the Unceasing Heart, and right now the air shimmered faintly red around her, showing her desire to move.
The void that lived under Jackson’s skin did not react to her twitchyness.
Stana casually handed over another squish. Katarina had no idea where they were coming from, but was appreciative. She had shredded three today already.
“We ‘ave two options. One:” Stana clapped her hands, eye smiling, “we can wait for him to walk back. They just stranded him way out inside his head, he’s partly void, he’ll get back eventually.”
R-r-iiip went the squish.
“Or, I can call a friend, and see if we can slap a tether on ‘im n drag him home.”
Katarina nodded, squeezing the tattered remnants of the squish.
Stana pulled out another one. Katarina pounced on it with all the grace of a drowning man and worried it between her fingers as Stana pulled out a runic phone.
Katarina reached out and poked Jackson. The scattering of void over her fingers burned, and she was suddenly impossibly aware of her own heartbeat, burning red under her skin.
A yellow hand caught hers. “No touchin, luv, I don’t want to drag ‘u back too.”
Katarina drew back, her veins burning red and the rhythm of the universe loud in her ears. Too loud actually- her heart sounded like a drum, and was rattling the windows.
Ryan stepped into the repaired Volkswagen. He took a deep breath then slid the key into the ignition.
Erykah watched Ryan through the windshield, her fingers crossed. Excitement made her bounce on her toes.
The engine chugged and sputtered, so Ryan pumped on the accelerator, forcing more gas into the engine. Suddenly, it roared to life. Ryan revved the engine, then took his foot off the accelerator. The engine slowed to an idle, and ran steadily.
“Whooh!” Erykah cried out in glee. She rushed over and opened the passenger door. “We did it!”
Ryan nodded and turned the ignition off. “Thank you for your help. I’ll run it through the OBD tomorrow. Maybe we can even take it out for a spin.”
“Why not now?”
Ryan shrugged. “Let’s just accept our victory for today. We put in a lot of work. Besides, if it’s running, I’ll still have to leave it here. You can’t drive, Cris is at home, I have my other car here.”
“Oh.” Erykah felt slightly disappointed, then perked up again. “I have beer!”
Ryan grinned. “Nice!”
Erykah ran to the bar fridge, and pulled out a couple bottles. She opened one of the bottles with her teeth, and handed it to Ryan, then opened the second one the same way and drank half the bottle.
Ryan took a swallow of beer. “I don’t think I could have done this without you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I was happy to help.” Erykah grinned.
Ryan didn’t answer. He just stared at her.
Erykah felt her face get warm. “What’s wrong? Is there something on my face?”
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Erykah took another swallow of beer.
“You’re looking a little green.”
Erykah looked down at her hand. The skin was turning a dark green. Panicked, she ran for the bathroom, and slammed the door.
In the mirror she saw her Orcish visage materializing. The excitement must have damaged her glamor.
There was a knock at the door. “Is everything okay?”
“I’m going to need a minute, Ryan.”
You Have Nothing to Worry About
by Matthew (Handsome Johanson)
The bride anxiously waits at the entrance to the venue. Soon, the ceremony would start, and she would be married to the love of her life. Her aunt approaches her with a smile and a hearty laugh.
“This is an amazing day for a wedding, my dear. How are you feeling?”
“Nothing could make me happier.” she laughs. “H-how do I look? Is my hair in check?” She pats her lacy white dress a few times, making sure it’s as smooth and flowing as possible.
“Oh, you look absolutely radiant, dear. Nothing is more beautiful than you, today.”
The bride giggles, nervously. “Thanks, Aunty.”
The signal is given for the bride to enter the venue, and her father takes her arm and walks her down the aisle.
Here comes the bride.
The groom blushes at the sight of his gorgeous bride. Soon, the music stops and the speeches begin.
After a heartfelt introduction, the priest continues. “For they hold true love in their hearts. Nothing has more true love for the bride than the groom, and nothing can prevent the groom’s true love for the bride from outlasting time.” The priest smiles at the pair. They say their vows and proceed to the final section.
“If anyone should object to the bonding of these two, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
Anticipation runs through the crowd as they wait for those final words.
“I actually agree with you, Mr. Priest. So, I shall speak up.” A figure stands up in the crowd. He wears an ornate mask, and a fancy robe that covers his entire body.
“Uh- Excuse me?”
“I am in love with the bride. As everyone has said, today, I am perfect for her, and she is perfect for me. I have nothing against the groom, but I think-”
The bride’s rage, which had been building since the start of the interruption, erupts. She screams at the man. “And, just WHO do you think YOU are?”
The man camly removes his mask to reveal that the robe was completely empty.
“I am Nothing.”
By RVMPLSTLTSKN (The Saga of The Deep One’s Wake)
“You want me to never say ‘mother?’” Padas had asked.
“Forget it exists if it helps,” Vienas told him. Her normally muted expression was flushed, excited. He’d never seen her like that before and rarely did after.
But he knew, didn’t he? Somehow he had known and refused to accept it. Hadn’t he? Was it a condition of the soul to know its fate and disregard it? Hide from it? Or preach out against it? Could gods truly hide the truth from mortals so callously? So graciously?
He looked down at Vienas, now wrinkled and weathered like the pages of her beloved scrolls. Her hair had gone brittle with age and broke into tufts. Her eyes, perpetually closed, flickered as he once again asked, “Why?”
“Because I’m your wife,” she snapped.
Padas had never been good at arguing, Vienas, well, she had been an expert among experts. He’d had lots of practice defusing her in their forty years together.
“That’s why you should let me heal you,” he whispered.
She opened her eyes and met his gaze. The damage in them was terrible. He felt tears welling.
“It’s not healing, Padas. It’s ascendancy.”
“We should be doing it together.”
“No, we shouldn’t.”
“Our children need us, Vienas!”
“No, they need a father. Not a blind old crone. There will be other mothers, Padas. There always are.”
“I don’t want to do this without you.”
“I’m not going anywhere, ever.” She took his hand. “Just let me die, my love.”
He sobbed and coughed. He was blinded by rageful tears and felt like he heaved up his soul. Vienas took his hand with both of hers and moved it for him until, with a gentle clatter, he felt pearls between his fingers and heard a final whisper of:
—For you, the living.
Night on the Town
“This is a bad idea.” I said more to myself than my companion.
Its… Their… His? His back was blessedly facing me as he placed finishing touches on his human mask, the flesh gently lapping at the infinite edges of where his face should be, impossibly… crawling and stretching around him.
“Do Not Fret.” His hushed, crackling voice emanated from every corner of the room, most of all from that thing left on the floor. That thing that had been a person with a face. “Our Venture Shall Be Swift.”
“And what… shall I call you?”
“You May Call Me By My Name.” He replied, turning to face me in the guise of a well-attired gentleman. A dark suit pooled around his borrowed form, and a bright golden cravat encircled his neck where the bruises…
“You know I have trouble with the sounds.” I swallowed uncomfortably, focusing on my words rather than anything else. Anything else. “How about Nathan, or Theo? Maybe Leto?”
“Leto?” A hand touched the skin of his face in thought, an unsettling mimicry of human gesture. “I Like That Very Much.”
He pulled his hand away, the edge of his face peeled slightly at the movement revealing what was beneath. I could feel my own sanity peeling away with it as I stared.
“Your face is, uh…” I unconsciously clawed my own jawline as I tried to show him where he had come undone, warm blood trickling down my fingers.
His reply was a hushed sigh before he adjusted the face. He then straightened before me, as if ending a performance, or asking for a compliment. It felt fake, but the gesture was…
“Reasonably… reasonable” I choked.
He reached toward me, plucking my hat and coat from my quaking arms, their size seeming to shift in the motion, molding to him and his shape. Finally, he held a gloved human hand in my direction and I stumbled towards him as I reached for it, feeling something in me begin to shift too.
“Then, Shall We Be Off?”
Her Final Hour Upon The Stage
The witch’s sleepy little cottage fell silent. Edna blew out the candles. She sat down at her chair (she called it her “throne.”) She took out her old grimoire, sang old songs, and chanted old words. The castelet upon the table began to come alive.
“Lights, camera, action!” The old woman whispered gleefully, lost in the world of her own making.
It was her masterpiece, her life’s work. She’d been a puppeteer for her entire long life, and this was her magnum opus.
Edna took hold of the strings, as each of her darling little playthings came onto the stage, each playing their own special little role.
The old witch forced her puppets to fall in love, just to rip away their lover before they could confess their feelings. She made them feel the fear of death. For just as she could give the puppets life, she could just as easily take it away. She instilled in them the fear of mankind. She forced them to fight wars that for them lasted decades. She forced them to play the parts of inquisitors, torturers, and dictators. The puppet who once took hold of the little world in the castelet and ground the other puppets beneath his feet – that one was always her favorite. The little thing’s performance had always stunned her. After all, all she did was set the stage. Her puppet chose the path.
The night progressed, and oh, what a performance! So many tears, so many wonderful little puppet tears! So much delicious, sumptuous little puppet anguish.
But as the performance came to a close and the dead had been mourned, Edna, the witch in her withering years, made a fatal mistake. She dropped the strings of her favorite actor.
Her creations were no longer just puppets at that moment. The truth had been revealed, and they beheld their newly discovered creator with terror. But with it, the distinct wound of seething hatred. And just like that, her crown slipped and crashed to the floor. The old witch’s final hour upon the stage.
Who is That Masked Man? (A Tiefling Tale)
C. M. Weller
Countess Cordelia Maripose Heartsalve Bellarin saw it in an instant, when her sneer at the word ‘Whitekeep’ made the Tiefling adventurer’s permanent smile lapse. It was just a flicker, but it was there.
“Matched with one of the Barons, ja? I hear they’re a deplorable lot.”
“You know of them?”
“I’m from there. Originally. Father sent me away for being an embarrassment,” an almost habitual tap of his horns, indicating where the embarrassment lay, “and I’ve been trying to get back so I can be even more embarrassing. But enough of my woes. This is about you. I bet it’s Tansie. They have the worst reputation.”
“Worse than any of the Barons. I’m meant to bond with the Whitekeeps themselves. If they let their Barons be that horrible, I have solid terror regarding the Viscount.” She deliberately let her tears flow, rather than restrain them. “I heard Earl Valiant browbeats his Countess into stony silence. You know what that does to any son he raises.”
Now that pointy grin was a grimace. Almost a sneer. “I can see clearly why you want to run. I know some people who can help you. Make you a new life somewhere far, far away from Whitekeep.”
She said, “To hell with that entire frozen mountainside. I want none of it.”
Now it was a definite wince.
“What? They didn’t want you, why should you want them?”
He rallied magnificently, pasting that false smile on with renewed vigor. “But of course, it’s the one place I belong. Freezing my tail off with the Demon Lords. Bowing to the Blood Throne… fighting giants… all those horrible things.” An airy blue hand once more indicated his whole self, counting him among the horrible things there. He was still smiling, but that proved nothing.
“One day,” she said, “I hope you have cause to show the world a REAL smile.”
His true emotions were in his glowing golden eyes. Peeking out behind the mask he’d made of his whole face. “I’ll talk to my allies,” he said. “I’ll find a way to help you.”
By Constellasphere (formerly Inky)
Voi raised his head from the window to see Emery standing there with a mug in her hands, steam coming off of it in transparent white ribbons. His neck still ached from having a tracking chip torn out so he found it difficult to comply with the instilled protocol to give full eye contact. Regardless, he did his best to raise his head and look at the taller woman.
“Yes ma’am, it is beautiful.” All around him were the sounds of droplets falling in unison, coming to clear away the remaining snow. Oddly placed street lamps in this poor sector illuminated the weather in a way that he’d never experienced before, taking away a breath he didn’t have. It was as if glass were shattering and falling at once.
“Isn’t it worth smiling for?” Emery asked, her brown eyes shimmering as she stood in a ray of light.
“Sorry ma’am…I-I don’t know how to smile. I don’t know if I can.” He murmured, trailing off until his voice couldn’t be heard over the rain. The machine was expecting Emery to shrug and simply look on at the natural spectical, the problem to be forgotten and swept away by the breeze.
To his surprise, she set her mug aside and reached down to pinch his cheeks, tugging them upward with little effort.
“M-ma’am…!” His facial muscles felt a bit stretched, as he had only known the same neutral pose for an amount of time he couldn’t count. The woman herself did the same, but without the need of hands holding her face up. “That’s all there is to it, just raise the corners of your mouth. You have a right to express yourself, so don’t think you have to wear the same face, hun.”
Emery let go of his face and chuckled under her breath, her hands on her hips. “Give a try; the more you do it, the more natural it’ll feel.”
He couldn’t explain why he felt nervous; maybe it was trying something new, or having eyes on him. Regardless, Voi didn’t want to disappoint. Focusing on his muscles and sensors, he pictured Emery’s expressive face in his mind.
‘Smile…I want to smile…’
A Cracking Doll (Alice’s Story)
By Calliope Rannis
Day twenty. Day. Twenty.
Day twenty of this excruciatingly long expedition through the wilderness, without so much as a simple hamlet to stop and rest at. Oh, ‘the wilds will be quicker to travel through Alice!’ Sure Elethia, sure. I bet you love feeling so important right now, leading us through these endless miles of grass and hills and rocks. Especially when you know that you are the only one good enough to keep us fed on whatever berries, rabbits and (ughhh) mushrooms you find. You are having the time of your life, while I haven’t been able to enjoy any of my normal pleasure activities in over a fortnight and–
“You are scowling.” What? I am?
I sit up, forcing my face back into a decent, neutral expression. Good. Now I should probably–
“And you hid it again. You keep doing that. Why? Why do you keep pretending that your emotions don’t exist?” Great. That damn Satyr just loves to talk. Wonderful.
I turn to look at her, sitting near the fire in her ridiculous, impractical dress, her spotty skin and her too-bright, too-green eyes looking right into mine, and I say:
“My emotions are my own, Willowvine. They do not concern you in the slightest.”
…I responded too quickly. I should have taken longer to compose a response, that one had too many flaws–
“No one’s emotions are alone, dear Alice. Our feelings inevitably affect everyone around us, for good or ill. I’m a singer after all. I know these things better than most.” Like that one. Dammit.
I try to respond. “What I meant to say was, uh, I mean ah, I-” Stop it. Stop talking. I’m only making things worse. This is getting worse and my breathing is too heavy and my eyes hurt and–
“Alice? Are you–”
“STOP IT! STOP!! TALKING!!!”
I said that out loud. By all the stars, I said that out loud.
In that moment of silence, with the entire camp stunned in surprise, I stand up, turn and run away from camp, as my stupid, indecent, pathetic tears cover my eyes.
In Need of Repair
Vex had been late—she was never late. When she finally came into the office, her exosuit impossibly quiet despite its heavy footfalls, she blamed her tardiness on repairs.
The half-truth bothered Detective Toller, more than the hundred others he had let slide. This time, Horace struggled to unsee her pulling a four-foot rod of iron out of her chest without a single drop of blood or her cold execution of her assailant right after. Last night painted those lies differently now.
“Are you ready to go, detective?” She asked. “I’ve been informed—”
“What kind of repairs did you need?” He interrupted.
Vex’s fox-shaped helmet cocked slightly. “I was involved in a foot-chase last night. The suspect made a jump between two roofs; I did not. My landing was less than flawless. I sustained damage falling through some scaffolding. Still caught up with him, though.”
“Nice work, real nice, but…” Horace rubbed his chin. “You sustained damage? Or your suit?”
Vex’s head leveled again, somehow making her helmet’s glowing blue eyes seem more sinister than before.
“It’s strange,” Horace continued, thumbing through a stack of papers on his desk. “We only had a couple arrests recorded last night, two guys in a drunken brawl. Nothing in here about Stevens.”
There was this strange, whirring noise Horace never noticed, just barely audible, coming from her helmet—odd, but that was all. He expected to see her swallow hard, but she hardly flinched, she didn’t even sway. She was statue-still. Unnaturally so, save her right hand, falling at a snail’s pace toward her sidearm.
Then Horace realized how much he tilted his hand—she hadn’t mentioned the man’s name.
Within seconds, the entire office was in chaos. Horace’s gun was aimed at Vex, Vex’s was aimed at him, and every other officer was scrambling to determine which of the two they were supposed to be pointing theirs at.
“I think it’s high-time you took off that helmet, Vex.” Horace said.
Vex’s head tilted downward, a motion he came to see as a grin. “I think we both know I am incapable of that, detective.”
Failure Can Never Be Undone
by Lunabear (Temptation’s Fire Universe) (Please don’t read on stream)
Everything here reminded Chase of HER.
The refinery. The statues. It was… unnecessary. Empty reminders of happier times.
Muffled footsteps approached.
The anguished voice grated against his eardrums.
“Father.” Chase’s eyes stayed down. His back was straight. It NEEDED to be.
Don’t look at him.
“I’m…worried about you. We haven’t talked in ages, and where your sister is is anyone’s guess. I miss you all so terribly.”
A heavy hand on his shoulder.
Chase bolted down the hall.
The words nettled the back of Chase’s neck, but he swatted them away.
He burst through the double doors leading outside. The setting sun lashed at his face, leaving ashy welts.
His scream morphed into a fierce growl as he threw up his hands in protection and circled to the right of the manor, avoiding most of the damage.
Chase ran as far as his anger could carry him.
Cobblestones gave way to grass.
His fire cooled only when he saw the pristine white of the blooming night flowers. The dreaded sun had dropped, leaving the stars to dance in the sky.
His wounds were healed, but he still felt the sun’s scorch.
Magnificent, DETESTABLE light!
The winds announced winter’s early arrival, but he was captivated by the field.
He heard her humming as though it were underground.
He had been right there.
Why hadn’t he been faster?
She should be–
He spun in a slow circle as he hummed along. His hands drifted lightly over the rows, their petals still retaining a slight warmth from the sun.
Her voice grew in proximity, but kept its melodic softness.
Wild grass and juniper.
A blanket of cold, yet familiar and inviting.
Eyes the color of crocus.
No sign of her. Of course she wouldn’t be here. She’d never be again.
His knees hit the dirt, as heavy as stone. One long nail sliced into his other palm. He welcomed the pain.
Vocalizing a few unfamiliar notes, he stained each chrysanthemum within his reach.
The night never felt more empty.