CHAPTER TWELVE: THE PLAY Inside a Rolls-Royce, 8 a.m.
One hour and one chapter later, you are seated in the passenger seat of J.D. Wylder’s Rolls-Royce, which is frozen in city traffic. This wasn’t the way you were expecting to travel, but it was impossible to refuse Wylder when he offered you a ride home. Mostly because he bugged you incessantly until you agreed.
He has been blasting 80’s music since he started up the car. Right now, some song about karma and chameleons is playing. Earlier, it was a song about the color of money.
“How many 80’s playlists do you have?” You glance at Wylder, who is seated in the driver’s seat looking exceptionally bored. His expression wouldn’t be so profound if not for the fact that you can actually see it for a change.
He turns to you and raises a very visible eyebrow over a very visible eye. “I don’t do playlists. Shuffle just really likes my 80’s music.”
You stare at him, perhaps a little too long because he wiggles his eyebrows and grins at you. You turn away with a sigh. Without the skull mask you can make out all the details of his face: unremarkable brown eyes set beneath a set of bushy, relaxed eyebrows, an exceptionally aquiline nose and…
Wylder clears his throat. “I know I’m handsome, Anon but seriously, it’s rude to stare.”
“I thought one of us would die if you took off your mask?” You raise an eyebrow at him.
“It was a fifty-fifty chance. Thought I’d warn you anyway.”
“Why do you wear that thing anyway?” You cast a look over your shoulder at the skull mask, which has been set on the backseat. Really, the thing is anything but spectacular. But still, on Wylder’s face it looks appropriately enigmatic.
“Because.” The single word is his only non-explanation.
You groan as you glance at the traffic splayed out in front of you. You have caught more than a few people glaring at you enviously through their windows. You wish you could pin a disclaimer on your shirt, something like:
I’m not rich, HE is.
You pull your eyes away from the long line of cars to look at Wylder. You are surprised to see that he is now wearing a pair of sunglasses. Something designer brand and expensive. Something that would make your wallet scream, no doubt.
“How long do you think the Fiction has before Boss shuts it down?” He asks the question completely deadpan, his face fixed on the traffic ahead of you. Still, even then, you feel judged. Like a failure. As you should, probably— because it’s clear that your idea for the Fiction is about to fail, what with the significant decrease is responses.
“Not long,” you say with as much calmness as you can manage. It is difficult not to sound disheartened.
“I figured. So what’s Plan B when Boss does shut it down?”
“I don’t have a Plan B yet,” you admit, sheepish.
Wylder snorts. “Well, I recommend it. Because whatever you’re trying to accomplish with this project, you won’t be able to do it if Boss shuts it down.” You can see his eyes flit to you when he speaks. Or maybe he is looking not at you, but at the laptop you have balanced on your lap. It is already opened to the blog so that you can read the next chapter as it is written.
“Why did you start a collaborative Fiction, anyway? Writers don’t just give up control of their work. Unless…” His eyes seem to glint behind his glasses. “…They no longer have control over it in the first place.”
You stare resolutely at your laptop screen.
And say nothing.
SELECTED SUGGESTION: #5
(Selected with Random Number Generator)
Location: A large stage in the Lord’s Dwelling, Time: ???
Ren walks into what looks like a theater where people wearing masks fill every available seat. She realizes she is on a flat platform shaped like a semi-circle and that the crowd is beyond and above her— the seats climb upwards and away, rows of pale white chairs that seem to expand into infinity.
Slowly, Ren becomes aware of the fact that she is standing alone on the stage. She also realizes that the surrounding crowds are shouting. At first, she cannot make out the words. Then the shouting resolves into a single word.
The crowd shouts out “Aphrodite! Aphrodite!” again and again as Ren stands alone on the stage, gawking at her surroundings.
What kind of trial is this?
There is no answer to her question. Only that ceaseless call for Aphrodite, which is more or less gibberish to Ren. She knows who Aphrodite is, of course— the mischievous greek goddess of love, lover to many men, one of whom was Adonis…
“Did your parents name you Adonis just so you’d grow into it?” She nudges her lover’s arm with a smirk, amusement twinkling in her eyes.
Adonis falls back against his chair with an arm pressed to his forehead. He sighs loudly, dramatically. “It’s a cursed name. Do you know how many expectations come with it?”
“Oh yes, I can imagine. Your life must be so very hard.” She arches an eyebrow.
“My life is more intense than a soap opera,” Adonis says, and flutters his eyelashes just for the effect. Usually, Ren flicks his forehead when he does that, but right now she is too busy doing research to pay him any mind. A mythology book is open on the desk before her, opened up to a page on Aphrodite.
Adonis notices. He sits up and, setting his head on her shoulder, scans the page. “Hmm, what’s this? Research on Aphrodite?”
Ren nods. “I was just reading THE STORY OF APHRODITE AND…”
A glaring light startles Ren from the memory, cutting through the darkness of both mind and stage. She puts a hand to her eyes and grimaces.
Oh. The realization dawns upon her suddenly. Oh no.
The chanting ceases as suddenly as it started; the immediate area is suffocated in quiet. Ren tries her best to glare at the audience, but, much to her chagrin, the glare does not hold when she notices that every mask in the audience is smiling at her. No, not smiling so much as leering. They are all wear the same condescending smile…
There is only a single variation of the mask. Black on white instead of white on black.
A grand voice fills the space like ink on empty parchment: “Behold, ladies and gentlemen! The woman who stands before you is none other than Aphrodite, the most pulchritudinous of all goddesses…”
Pulchritudinous? Who even uses that word?
The audience is enamored; they applaud and hoot after the narrator introduces her, and do not stop until the voice continues: “It is said that the beautiful goddess had begun as nothing more than sea foam in the ocean…”
The narration continues, but Ren has stopped paying attention. The stage is beginning to rumble, and Ren’s concentration breaks apart as she fights to keep her balance. The light above her quivers, the boards creak— and then a gigantic glass wall shoots upwards from the edges of the stage, encircling the area.
Ren blinks up at the glass wall owlishly. A prison?
“Aphrodite drifted among the waves…” the narrator says. They are the only words Ren hears before the sound of falling water overwhelms his voice. At first, it is nothing but an ominous echo. Then, just as suddenly, the sound is directly above her head.
Ren looks up.
And then a gigantic wave of water crashes down on the stage from above.
Her world collapses into quivering and endless darkness. She cannot breathe, cannot move, cannot think. Panic floods her body just as certainly as water floods her lungs. She feels like she is sinking to the bottom of an abyss. Like a stone in a river, a boulder in the ocean…
But then there is a moment of clarity, of startling resolution. She is not going to die here, beneath some manmade ocean. Not when she has made it this far, and has just begun to start remembering things.
At first she flails but then, after the panic fades to anger, she synchronizes her body and begins to swim, rising higher and higher… until she is at the water’s surface. She is sputtering, but breathing at least.
A distant cry echoes from beyond the glass wall. A cheer. Or perhaps laughter.
She has no idea how long she remains struggling on the water’s surface before finally, the manmade ocean begins to drain. By some strange magic, the water simply sinks into the floorboards, taking Ren with it.
When the last of it has drained into the stage, Ren alone remains, dripping wet and glaring. The stage rumbles again, the gears beneath it straining and hissing as the glass wall disappears back into the edge of the stage. With the glass gone, Ren can finally hear the audience.
They are laughing at her.
She clenches her fists and grits her teeth. At that moment, she wishes fervently for fire magic. Anything to burn down this damned place.
After the tittering is over, the stage once again comes alive: this time with roses rather than water. The red flowers rain down on Ren from the high ceiling and gather at her feet until she is at the center of a blood-red pile.
“And thus, the goddess of love was born,” says the narrator.
Ren’s anger abruptly crumples, replaced by shock when she realizes the narrator is now standing at the edge of the wet stage with his back turned to her. Though his voice projects across the theater, it is most clearly coming from the man in front of her.
Even as she stares, he turns and gestures to her grandly.
He, like everyone else in the theater, is wearing a mask. His, however, is colored gold and white and matches his outfit: a checkered white-gold vest over a pair of white pants. Though the hand he extends dramatically to Ren is empty, HE HOLDS AN ITEM IN HIS OTHER HAND that captures her attention.
It is the applause from the audience that forces Ren to look up and away from the object.
It is then, while she is staring out at the masked masses, that she notices one man situated in the center of the theater. He has a distinguishable aura, one that marks him as clearly different—superior— to everyone around him.
Even more damning are the Watchers that surround him. Ren recognizes the one behind him as Grace; the others are just horrid, ugly creatures that bring to mind the horror that transpired in the Ye (Not So Olde) Tavern.
If the man is surrounded by Watchers, then…
Ren fixes her eyes on him with a grimace. THIS MUST BE THE LORD.