Unicorn Mirror: A Compendium of Unicorn Lore
 

Unicorn Mirror: A Compendium of Unicorn Lore

Article

 
Quill by A. C. Cobble
 

Quill

New Release Review

 
Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes
 

Seven Blades in Black

Review

 

Monthly Short Story Winner: Write About Jake & Lynn

We’ve been getting such good feedback for the short stories our members have submitted in our Monthly Short Story Competition that we have decided to post them on the main site at a rate of one a week. Today we will be looking at the winner from our April 2014 contest.

Playing Cards

This time for our writing contest we did something different. I sketched two characters with a special ability and the task was to write a story featuring one or both of them. The characters were Jake and Lynn.

Jake has a unique ability. He sometimes answers questions before they are asked – not knowing what he will say until he has said it. Often things he couldn’t really have known. This ability has proven disastrous more often than not, keeping him constantly on the move. He has just arrived in a new city, hoping to manage a longer stay than in the last. Keeping a low profile would help, but his money’s nearly spent and he’s in desperate need of a job.

Lynn has an equally unique ability. Maybe disability is a better word though. She’s unable to lie and so are people in close proximity to her. Since lies, and even more so white lies, are the grease our social world needs to work properly, she’s not a person people like to have around. But she can’t help it. She has to stay in the city and her job requires her to be among people.

Nothing about age, looks, personality or profession here. It’s up to you to craft believable and/or entertaining characters. Bring them to life!

Rules:
1. This must be prose.
2. The story must contain (at least) one of the two characters. Not necessarily POV but not only mentioned in a half sentence either.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That’s why they’re called limits.
5. Your entry can’t be published somewhere else before.

The this month’s winning story is “The Artisan’s Mask”. Our winner, LadyGreen, interpreted Lynn’s ability in a beautiful way. Thanks again for a great story! Congratulations! 🙂

You can find all nine of this month’s entries here. You can also get updates on our monthly contests on Twitter by following @ffwritingcomp. And now on with the story!

– – –

“The Artisan’s Mask”
by ladygreen

I lay the wet strip across Sir Jobel’s face, smoothing it over his straight features. It was no use – the plaster rose, molding to some unseen truth. My heart sank. Behind me, Master coughed.

“Does it look like me?” Sir Jobel asked, straining to sit.

Master worked his jaw. “No,” he said, and hurried from the room.

Jobel’s eyes followed the swish of his cape. “But will it be as wondrous as they say?”

“Yes,” I said sadly, resuming my task.

When Sir Jobel left, he promised to collect his purchase upon his return from Orlan. They were all in Orlan these days – all the fighting men. The war had been raging for as long as I had been alive; because of it, the city was beggar poor. But despite the constant gnawing hunger and empty coin purses, a fierce love of the arts flourished in Kora, keeping us alive and hopeful.

In the evenings, both the high and low born donned glittering, colorful masks fashioned in their likenesses. These were wild creations of the imagination, with only subtle hints of the wearer’s features. Most artisans made the masks as beautiful as they could. If a man walked in to a costume shop with an unusually large nose, we would shave the plaster down. Pointy chin? No problem – gone.

But my masks were different. They told the truth, and I along with them.

Master came in to the workroom as I was cleaning up. He lifted the finished mask from its hiding spot beneath the table. It looked nothing like its owner. “Lynn, what is this?”

“It’s the truth,” I whispered. “Well, what am I supposed to do?” I spat when he gave me a withering look. “It’s his soul – I can’t help it if it’s ugly!”

Master sat down on the bench next to me. “If I had my way, you’d be out of here.”

“Tell me how you really feel, please,” I said wryly.

Master smiled and shook his head. “But they do seem to have a strange fascination with you. And these…” He turned the mask so that its lines gleamed in the firelight. “You still make them beautiful, despite the horror…impossible to look away.” After a moment he put the mask down. “I just wish that we were not compelled along with you.” He sighed and got up, pausing at the door. “Just try to keep away from the others. We’ve several new patrons…we don’t want to tell them about their inner warts if we can help it.”

When he left, I wiped away angry tears. It wasn’t my fault that I saw these things inside of people.

I made a girl cry once or maybe twice.

I choked and looked up. The room was empty.

A slap or two is all you need to make ‘em play nice.

Sir Jobel’s mask. It lay flat on the table, grotesque bulges coated in golden swirls, intricate patterns and bright beads.

Slap, slap, it laughed, pearlescent teeth shining. Oh, the things I’ve done would make your lovely insides curl. Come closer and let me tell you how much blood you let from a crying girl.

Horrified, I slammed my hand down, cracking the mask in half. A sick moaning came from the pieces, so I gathered and tossed them into the fire, shivering as they crackled and burned. The mask had done something none of the others ever had. It had not just shown the truth of the man, it had spoken it.

The sound of trumpets flooded the shop, making me jump. Red banners fluttered, visible through the windows, the unmistakable laida blossoms of King Marondy waving in the dusky light.

“Hoooy!” a man called. “The king wishes to commission a mask from the artisan Lynn of the upper district, in our beautiful city of Kooooraaaaa….”

* * *

King Marondy lay in my chair, dark eyes crinkling, perfect teeth flashing. I held the plaster strip aloft, and tried to keep my hands from trembling.

“Go on,” he encouraged.

Please…don’t let him be bad inside too.

To my dismay, strip after strip buckled. A misshapen beast soon stared up with disconcerting human eyes. I pulled the dry cast from the king and quickly hid it under the worktable.

“I only share when I’m through,” I protested when he demanded to see it. He looked amazed, so I added a polite, “If you please, your majesty.”

“Fine, you will cast my son. Come here Jakendra.”

The prince was no more than four, with a cascade of midnight black curls. To my relief, the strips remained smooth and quiet as I lay them on his rosy cheeks.

“Beautiful,” I murmured, and brushed back his hair. His eyes danced beneath the plaster.

“You look like my mother,” he whispered. “She’s dead. Do you know how she died?”

Surprised, I swallowed. “Yes, young prince, but it is not for telling.” I looked back at the king, who was distracting himself with one of the artist girls.

“Father says the gods took her, but that’s what you tell babies. I’m not a baby, I’m a man.” He puffed out his little chest. “Will you tell me?”

I balked and pressed my lips together.

“Tell me,” he demanded.

I tried to stop the swell, but the words tumbled out. “Your father sent her to the chopping block.” I clapped a hand over my mouth. Would he say something to the king? Panic flooded my mind and I looked at the boy wildly.

To my surprise, he reached out and touched my cheek. “Don’t cry,” he whispered. “I won’t tell.”

* * *

The next morning, I sat worrying for hours. I held one mask so beautiful it made me want to cry and another so grotesque it made me want to hide.

“What. Is. This?” King Marondy demanded, clutching the mask when I showed it to him.

“The truth,” I said, fear ripping away at me.

He stared at the gold and cream painted bulges. The few men he had brought shifted and coughed.

“Sire…,” said one, “it is…fascinating. And we know she does not make things as they truly are, but always with some…imagination.”

“No,” I protested, wishing I hadn’t. “It is the truth of your soul.”

The king darkened. “And you? What does your soul look like? I want you to make a mask of yourself. You say you tell the truth of people’s souls – well I want to see yours.”

A small crowd had gathered in the workroom. I felt myself grow hot.

“Well?” the king boomed.

“I – I can’t,” I said, surprised at my own words. “I am nothing but truth. A mask will look as I do now. Like this.” I raised a hand to my cheek.

Anger rippled across King Marondy’s face and his men leaned forward. Feeling faint, I struggled to keep my breath even.

“Please,” I began, but he flicked his wrist and two men lunged forward. “No! Please, look at your son’s!” I held up the other mask. Cruel fingers bit into my waist and I cried out as they dragged me from the shop.

“Father, stop!” called the prince. He was seated on a chestnut pony, his round face aghast.

A sudden howling ripped through the air. The king’s mask, still clutched in its owner’s hand, was shrieking.

I have it all, it screamed.

Horrified, the king stared at it.

Sacks of grain fill my hall!

People stopped to stare. A murmur ran through them.

You go hungry, the mask cawed. And I eat. As it should be – I will always have my meat! The mask began to make disgusting slurping noises.

“It’s not true!” the king protested wildly. “I am just as hungry! I suffer with you!”

The crowd thickened, murmurs turning in to angry muttering.

Starve out the poor so the army has more!

“Make it stop,” the king commanded, turning to me. The crowd began to shout and someone threw a handful of garbage. “It lies!” he screamed. “Can’t you see?”

And the flesh of the poor? Serve it up, serve it up! You know not on what you sup.

As if they had gone up in flame, the crowd screamed and pushed toward the king, enveloping him. He reached out and grasped his son’s boot, but the boy recoiled, kicking out.

“The prince!” someone shouted. A guard took the little boy’s reigns and pulled his pony away. The king gave his son an imploring look.

“No, take me home!” the prince squealed. “Now!” Two guards wheeled their horses, and shielding the prince, galloped away.

For a moment it looked as if the king had disappeared into the rioting crowd, but then a limp form was hoisted and carried down the road. There was no missing the glint of gold beneath the bloodstained clothing.

He deserved it, said a small voice. I looked down, feeling myself blanch. The prince’s mask smiled, revealing tiny pointed teeth. Do you know how he killed my mother?

– – –

Congratulations again to our winner ladygreen! If you would like to enter this month’s contest or vote for last month’s winner, check out the Monthly Writing Contest board in our forum.

Title image from Wikipedia.

Share

2 Comments

  1. […] month’s winning story was “Song and Dance” by ladygreen! Ladygreen also won the April 2014 writing contest, so if you like this story, be sure to check that one out too. Congratulations again, […]

  2. Avatar xiagan says:

    *Doc is a title* [this is part 9 of the April’s Writing Contest’s Scavenger Hunt]

Leave a Comment