My writing mojo has been M.I.A. for a little while now.
I’ve always loved to write, to create myriad fantastical worlds and flawed characters and preposterous plots. And yet I’ve never been able to finish a book. Perhaps I don’t want to put that final full stop on a story that I’ve loved to live within for so long.
It hasn’t gotten easier. I’ve been writing one book for ten years now. Ten years! Ridiculous. But I haven’t been able to let go of that story which has captured my imagination since I was thirteen years old. So many things have happened in my life since then – GCSEs, A-Levels, an undergrad degree and now I’m over the halfway point of my PhD – and yet that book refuses to end.
So I aimed my imagination in a different direction – to short stories, flash fiction, and the world of writing prompts. To restrain myself to a limited word count, and produce a tangible thing by the end, and finally put a full stop to the fiction.
I started sending off entries to writing competitions.
One story I was particularly pleased with was called the Wrong Face. It was a submission to the launch of a mysterious new literary magazine called 404 Ink, and the theme was error. This prompt really got the creative juices flowing, not to mention a hint of the macabre, I even cast the thing in my head [Starring Jason Statham and Elizabeth Debicki, directed by Adam Wingard].
It didn’t get anywhere in the competition, but I was sent the loveliest email from 404 Ink with gave great feedback and a lot of hope for the future. I will always be very grateful for their kindness, and look forward to following the launch of their magazine in the not-too-distant future.
Even though I hadn’t been successful this time, it gave me the opportunity and the motivation to imagine again; to be inspired again.
[Update: as of 31st October 2016, this story has been selected by The Folks Publishing for their October issue; many thanks to them for publishing this story on their website, which you can access here].
And here is the finished piece in its entirety:
THE WRONG FACE
The man checked his watch for the eighteenth time and tentatively adjusted the face he was wearing.
Skin on skin, not as erotic as it sounds. Take it literally, or don’t. But the man was wearing another’s face. There’s no other way to break it to you.
You should’ve seen how they told him. He’d seen Face/ Off, Mission Impossible, even Freaky Friday. Fiction, not fact. Now made flesh. Apparently. His. Or at least the one he’d been assigned to wear. Some people had too much money; not content with making fortunes, they now made faces.
Funny word, isn’t it, when you say it enough times?
Even funnier when you look in the mirror and see one that isn’t your own looking back at you. Not funny ha ha, though.
It was a synthetic skin, of course. One that moulded to his own bone structure while reshaping some features to resemble someone else. He didn’t know who his likeness was, and he wasn’t paid to know. Wearing another’s looks was weird enough – delving any deeper was masochistic.
Not quite as bad as waiting for the woman to arrive, mind. It would be a simple op, much the same as the thousands he’d gone through. Get in, make the deal, get out. The client is always right, no matter what they ask of you.
But she wasn’t here yet, and he was getting antsy. He made an emergency call and got through to the boys in the Office. She’s late, he said. I haven’t got all day.
His face was itching. Not his own face, the other face.
Sorry, we got the times mixed up, they said through the phone. Administrative error, nothing to worry about. They’d only been off by a few minutes.
His hands clenched into fists. They were lucky they were just voices in a phone. An administrative error. He’d killed for less.
He didn’t tell them that. He just hung up and crushed the phone under his foot. See how they cope with that.
A few minutes later a Rolls Royce pulled up in front of him. The door opened. The backseat was lavish. And empty. He didn’t ask questions. He just got in.
Champagne on ice. Sinatra on the speakers. Fancy ride. Nothing he wasn’t used to. Didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the perks.
They stopped too soon. He’d only downed half the bottle. Hurt to leave it there. But he had to. Only polite. He still had standards.
The door opened onto a warehouse. Fancy no more. The Rolls was gone the moment he was out. He was alone. His face was itching. Not that one, the other one.
The voice echoed. It was close by. He turned. It was a woman. The woman.
Woman’s a funny word too, isn’t it?
She sat in a gilt chair. Dripping with diamonds. In a warehouse. Decadence wasn’t the word. The champagne was kicking in. It was making him brazen.
I’m late? You’ve got that the wrong way round, love.
Meeting should have been half hour ago.
I say it’s now.
He paused, remembering his place. Whatever you say. You’re the client.
And don’t you forget it.
He held his tongue and took the seat the gestured at. You proposing a deal?
I want you to kill someone for me.
Oh, a despicable human being. Ruthless. Heartless. Merciless. The usual. Shouldn’t be a problem for the likes of you, I imagine.
You have money?
Money is no object, I assure you.
Tell me more.
What else do you need to know, for heaven’s sake?
Name’s a start.
I thought you’d want to know why.
I never ask why.
A strange maxim.
A wise one.
You should try it out for yourself one day.
You start asking why, all you ever get are pretty lies and ugly truths.
Not yet, you don’t. But you will.
Thanks for the advice, but I’m tired of playing games. I’ll give you the name of your target, and then we’ll never have to see one another again, savvy?
Fine by me.
The woman reached down for a briefcase at her feet, and handed it to the man. It was unlocked. He slid open the fasteners and lifted the lid to see what lay inside.
It was a mirror.
He looked up. Confused. The woman wasn’t. She was smiling.
Haven’t seen one of those before, have we? I suppose you’ve never really taken a long, hard look at yourself, have you?
Who are you?
Don’t you recognise your own daughter?
What are you on about?
Don’t you even recognise yourself?
The man looked at the mirror again. He could see the seam under his jaw where they had replaced his face with another’s. Nose, lips, cheekbones, chin were all unfamiliar to him.
But they still hadn’t worked out how to do the eyes.
Whatever face he wore, the eyes stayed the same. But they fit this one better than the others. Something stirred in his memory; this face, his original one, painted red with the blood of his first kill.
The woman rose from her seat and began to circle him. She glittered dully in the dim light of the warehouse.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, you’ve worn so many faces in your time, it’s no great shock that you don’t even recognise your own when it was staring back at you.
The man began to convulse in his chair. His limbs were electric, his bones burning inside his skin. He coughed blood and spittle onto the mirror.
His throat felt cobwebby. He managed a word or two.
Not champagne, I’m afraid. Something a little stronger. It kills slowly and painfully. Not over hours, but weeks, can you imagine?
The man’s face began to itch. Not one, but both – the same faces layered on top of one another like Russian dolls. How many had he stacked in his time? So many that he had forgotten his own.
It’s rather poetic, isn’t it, dad? She continued, coiling around him like a cobra. I’ve given you a far better end than most would. Think of it as a mercy kill. That should be a novelty to you. Your final assignment, and my first face. Unless it’s your life you take into your hands, for a change.
She stopped in front of him, her diamonds glistening like scales. She held a gun in cupped palms, like a child holding a school project, seeking daddy’s approval.
Time for a fresh face.
Wouldn’t you agree?