scythe_of_time: (bloodbend)
[personal profile] scythe_of_time
Short Story
            Her face fell. 
            “Oh,” she finally said, feeling like her heart was a champagne bottle christening someone else’s ship.  “I see.  Congratulations.”
            “It’s not like I don’t like hanging out with you, Claudia,” Joel said, rubbing the back of his neck which she adored so much.  “It’s just that—”  
            “You have Jean,” Claudia sighed.
            “And, um,” he said, looking away.  “She wants me to stop talking to you.”  His back was pressed up against the wall near the lockers, and Claudia thought the position was oddly appropriate.  “You understand, right?”
           Girlfriends are always doing things like that, she thought.  Aren’t they?
           “I see,” she said, and her face fell.
           What she did not expect was that her countenance would continue to fall.
           In fact, her visage had peeled off her head like a thick citrus rind and fluttered to the floor near her feet.

           Now, Claudia was a sharp girl, and, after quickly recovering from the terror of being struck blind, lifted her fingers to her head in order to sort out what, exactly, had happened.  The skin that had been left behind was as smooth as an egg.
           “My face!” she tried to shout, but found herself rather unsuccessful without a mouth.
           Joel had no such issue. “Oh my God!” he screamed, and Claudia realized with relief that her ears were still attached to her head and not somewhere on the floor. 
            She knelt slowly, spreading the tips of her fingers against the cool tile.  Unfortunately, her search revealed that her features had moved. 
           “M-Monster!”  Joel shouted, and she could feel the breeze generated by his flailing.  Apparently she’d moved a little too close.  “Get away from me!”
           Claudia wished she had eyes to roll or eyebrows to narrow.  This blubbering idiot was the boy she’d stared at lovingly during AP English?  The way he was spazzing out, it was almost like he’d never handled a crisis before.  How did he draw her attention in the first place?
           She decided to tamp down her treasonous thoughts which said she’d never dealt with anything like this before either, and concentrate on finding her face.  After a few more minutes of fruitless hunting, Claudia recognized that she’d have to expand her search radius.  The idea of blindly scraping the floor without any way to communicate with others did not sit well with Claudia, so she tried crawling her way towards where she thought her book bag may be. 
           Perhaps, she thought, once I recover my notebook, I can write a message to Joel to shut his trap and do something useful.  
           Joel was making so much noise banging against the lockers to get away from her that she could barely catch him swearing under his breath.  Unfortunately, by now his insistent yammering had attracted the attention of other members of the student body.  Rather than silently milling about, the mob erupted in a cacophony of sound as soon as Claudia reached her bag.  While she couldn’t pick out individual voices, the tone, she decided, was undeniably unfriendly.
           Claudia retrieved her notebook and instantly regretted taking Spanish rather than American Sign Language.  It would have been so much easier to communicate with gestures rather than writing blindly.  After locating a pen, she tried jotting down, “Could someone please help me find my face?” but was distressed by how difficult it was to keep her hand steady.  She tore off the page and settled for a large “S.O.S.” on a fresh sheet, which she held up to the gathering of students.
           Something sharp glanced off her head, and after an explosion of pain, Claudia felt something warm and wet trickle down past her left ear.  The crowd hooted and jeered.  Claudia could have sworn she’d heard Joel going on about monsters again.  More sharp objects pelted her.  One particular item slammed into the lockers, and from the sound of the metal creaking, she was sure it was heavy enough to leave a sizable dent.  
           They’re throwing things at me, she thought, feeling strangely detached despite her blooming headache and the pinpricks on her limbs.  Now what?  She knew she should be experiencing mild terror, but it was easier to just stow it to focus on something she could change.  Clearly, her acquaintances weren’t going to help her, and some were even giving into violent intent.  The only thing she could do was to keep looking for her face.
           “Stop!” a boy roared, and Claudia could hear the ripples of laughter as he pushed through the crowd.  “Stop it!  Don’t hurt her!”
           What the hell? Claudia indulged in a brief flare of annoyance.  If you were going to be a knight in shining armor, why couldn’t you have shown up before I was bleeding?
           “Claudia, is that really you?” he panted, kneeling over her with his back to the crowd.
           She nodded sharply.
           “I’m Ben Masterson,” he said.  “You know, from AP Calc?”  She felt short fingers close firmly around her elbow.
           Ben... Masterson?  She remembered that three of his fingers on his left hand were malformed and that his ears were massive.  While those were his most prominent features—isn’t he also freckled? she wondered—Claudia could not remember ever making him a subject of close study.
           He grunted, and she assumed the stone-throwing hadn’t stopped.  “We’ve got to get you out of—” he started, but she interrupted him with a fierce headshake.
           “Face,” she scrawled.
           “Ah,” he said, releasing her arm.  “Right, you still need to find that, don’t you?”
           “She’s a freak!” she could hear Joel shouting.  “And he’s right there with her!”
           As the members of the swarm began shuffling their feet towards the two pinned against the lockers, Claudia frantically searched the floor.  She felt Ben following suit, trying to shield her from as many thrown things as possible.  Soon he was almost pressed against her, and she guessed that the mob was pressing in on him.   
           Just when Claudia was beginning to spiral into the edges of panic, her hand closed around something thick and warm, like a sheaf of paper baked in the summer sun.  Her fingers tingled, and she knew she’d found her wayward features.  She ached to try it on immediately, but she knew there wasn’t time, and she didn’t want to lose it again.  Rolling her face up like a scroll, she shoved it in her pocket for later.
           “Great,” Ben hissed.  “Now we make like deciduous trees.”  He wrapped his fingers around her hand and pulled her to her feet.  “Are you ready to run?”
           She nodded, and gripped his arm as the throng lunged.
           After a harrowing few minutes of people-dodging—wherein Claudia and Ben were almost separated twice—she was startled to recognize that he’d finally led them to a quiet room.
           “Safe?” she wrote.
           “Yes,” he said.  “The chemistry lab.  Here.”
           If she could have blinked, she would have.
           “Oh!” he said.  “I guess you can’t see gestures, right?”
           Not too bright for a knight, are you? she thought unkindly.
           “Well, anyway, I think we should hide under the lab tables,” he said, and Claudia heard the creak of a door hinge.  “The cabinets are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, and I, uh, happen to know this one’s empty.”
           He helped ease her in, and once she was as comfortable as she could be in a wooden box with gangly Ben Masterson sitting beside her, she retrieved her face from her pocket.  Unfurling the smooth skin, she heard a click and assumed it was Ben’s flashlight.  
           “That’s so cool!” Ben chirped.  “I wonder how it happened?”
           “???” she wrote, and shook her notebook to ensure he saw her message.
           “Oh,” he said.  “I was just wondering how your face fell off, and whether or not the anomaly could ever be reproduced.  Y’know, for scientific purposes.”
           She shook her head at him, meaning to convey something akin to, “show some respect,” but he missed the gesture.
           “Don’t worry!” he said, his tone ludicrously cheerful given the circumstances.  “We’ll fix this, and you can get back to expressing yourself in no time!”
           Since she couldn’t groan audibly, she smacked her forehead with the flat of her palm.  She was fairly certain that he understood despite not being able to read his body language. 
           Anyway, she thought.  It’s time for me to end this facial farce.
           Retrieving the face from her pocket, she took two corners and—hoping it wasn’t upside down—she pressed the thin material against her bare skin. 
           It slipped.
           Frantically, Claudia rolled it up onto her head, trying to get the two surfaces to stick.  She dug her palms into her face, pressing it against her cheekbones until she was sore.  She fiddled with her features, turning them this way and that, thinking that maybe, just maybe, she’d been holding them wrong.
           But her face fell again, and her heart fell with it.    
           “I thought as much,” Ben said quietly.
           She whipped her head around to face him.  What?
           “When I first heard about your situation, I figured you’d need some sort of glue to get back to normal,” he explained.  “After all, faces don’t simply fall off without some sort of bonding failure.”
           So, she thought, I’ll have to apply and reapply adhesives just to have a semblance of normality?  
           She felt like crying. 
           Claudia grabbed Ben’s hand, seeking comfort, but jerked back when she found his three misshapen fingers instead of whole digits.  When he leaned away, she felt thoroughly ashamed for being repulsed.  After all, here he was, sticking by her despite having the entire school turn against them, and she was by far more deformed than he was.
           “Monster,” she wrote, and to her surprise, she heard a sharp intake of breath. 
           Ben was quiet after that, and it took her a little while to realize he may have thought she was describing him.  She was about to press her pen to her paper when he interrupted her. 
           “Nah,” he said, nudging her lightly.  “I mean, yeah, you’re a little freaky, but I’ve seen a lot worse than you on this campus!”
           Claudia’s head felt congested and hot.  While she recognized that he was just trying to make her feel better, it was still the wrong thing to say.  She’d had a hell of a day, and even if she survived it and managed to put things to right, she didn’t know if her life would ever be normal again. 
           It was just too much.  Too much.  She wrapped her arms around her knees and leaned her head on them, sobbing without tears or sound.
           “Oh, Claudia, don’t cry.  Um…”  He wrapped an arm around her shoulders carefully and left it there.
           She stopped when her stomach felt sore from the heaving, and patted his hand.
           “Hey,” he said, giving her trembling shoulder a little squeeze.  “You’re gonna make it through this.  All right?”
           She nodded.
           “Now, we could use Krazy Glu—” he started, but she interrupted with a furious headshake. 
           “Cyanoacrylate,” she wrote, lettering slowly and large.  She didn’t know why, but she thought he’d know about the dangerous carcinogen present in Krazy Glue.  If she were more honest with herself, she would admit she was showing off, though she hadn’t the faintest idea as to why.  “Cancer.” 
           “Oho!  So you have an interest in chemistry?”
           “Fave,” she scribbled.
           “Cool,” he said, closing his right hand around her own. “Mine, too.”
           Claudia felt a blush color her cheeks.  She wished idly that she could see the effect of blood under skin bereft of features. 
           “Glue?” she wrote when her hand was free.
           “I keep some soft bond glue with me at all times for, uh, special purposes.”
           She tilted her head.  “Pranks?”
           “Okay, I admit it,” he said, and she could feel his shrug against her body.  “I was the one that glued the principal’s desk drawers shut.  “But not with this stuff,” he continued.  “It can last for up to four weeks, which is why I’m thinking it will work for your particular problem.”
           But why would you have toupee glue? she thought, and then wrote, “Y U have glue?”
           “Ohh, um, well,” he said, stuttering.  She could picture him turning red to his ears.  “You’re not the only one that has body parts falling off.”  Before she could react, he continued timidly, “I’m bald.”
           This guy keeps getting stranger and stranger, she thought.  But it’s not like I’ve got room to talk.
           “Anyway,” he said, appearing to have overcome his confession-induced shyness, “If we’re going to apply this adhesive with any degree of success, we have to wash your face.”  She could feel his shoulders shift back and forth, and the jerky action made her nervous.  “It’d probably be a good idea to clean around your hairline with rubbing alcohol, too; I don’t have to do that for my wigs, but I know it’s a step that’s not wisely skipped.”
           “Have alcohol?” she wrote.
           “Yes,” he said, though Claudia thought he sounded uncomfortable.  “I’ll have to go and get it from the supply closet in this room.  Thankfully there are sinks here, too.”  He squeezed her shoulder lightly, making her jump.  “I’ll be right back, okay?”
           When he returned to wash her face, he was surprisingly gentle.  The cloth he’d chosen from the supply closet was soft and wet and warm, and she felt the crusty trails of blood she’d forgotten about flake off of her temples, her jawline, her cheekbones.  She barely felt his fingers as he tilted her jaw left and right, up and down, and by the end of it she couldn’t tell which hand he was using to position her head.
Claudia decided it didn’t matter.  Her skin felt fresh and pure, and as it cooled in the air she realized how much she’d missed being clean.  The alcohol was a trail of subdued stinging.
           “Now it’s time for the glue,” Ben whispered.  “Don’t touch it; it has to dry.  Okay?”
           She nodded, and tilted her head up and to the left, where she thought it might be easiest for him to work with.
           Even though the applicator brush was tiny, he was able to quickly spread a thin layer of glue across the empty expanse of skin on her head.  She spent an agonizing few minutes waiting for it to dry completely—what if it didn’t work?  What if I have to go into hiding forever?—before Ben told her it was time.
           “Here we go,” he said, his tone almost reverent.  “Are you ready?”
           Claudia leaned towards him, placing her hands flat on the cabinet floor.  She felt him roll the thick layer of skin and features onto her head, and then sit back, releasing her. 
           Her face stuck. 
           Claudia could have cried in relief, had her eyes been working. 
           The first sense that returned was smell.  Ben smelled of chemicals and earth.  He smelled of sweat and acne cream and strong, deodorant.  He smelled of blood and oranges and something tangy she couldn’t quite identify. 
           To her surprise, she realized she could taste him if she wanted to.
           Claudia reveled in the scents—categorizing each one for further study later—but she had to confess a certain impatience to see what he looked like.  Light soon burst over her newly glued retinas, and sight and shadows with it. 
It was difficult to get a good look at him by the light of a flashlight, but she was able to clearly make out his enormous ears, a shock of a red wig, his uneven smile, and his two hands—one with pianist’s fingers and the other a webbed lump.  
           He really is freckled, Claudia noted with satisfaction.
           “I guess we really saved face today,” he said, grinning his crooked grin.
           “Wait,” she said, blinking as she tested both her eyelids and her mouth.  Her eyes were a little watery from the sting of the adhesive, but they seemed intact.  Gratitude swept over her for both the use of her eyes and her ability to speak.  “Did you just make a pun?” she sputtered.
           “Hm!”  He wiggled his massive ears.  “Is that such a bad thing?”
           And Claudia smiled.
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October 2012

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