The glamour store was at once cool and incredibly, incredibly creepy.
Stef touched the empty skin suit hanging to her right, maintaining contact for three seconds before jumping away from it, and wiping her hand on her hands like she had touched something…evil or rotten or cursed.
‘I am…’ she started, but couldn’t find the words to finish the sentence.
Ryan quirked an eyebrow at her, then went deeper into the store. He spoke with the clerk for a moment, and was directed to a section towards the back.
Stef trailled behind, trying to keep herself tucked closely together as much as possible.
The concept behind the glamour suits was in theory simple – and quite sensible – but altogether strange at the same time.
In his TL;DR explanation, Ryan had said that fae ran the whole gamut of what level of human guise they were naturally able to take on.
For fairies, it was easy – hide the wings, and claim the wild hair colours were simply dyed. Hobs seemed to have problem with glamours – with the creepy skinsuits providing some protection, but their fae features tended to bleed through, meaning the disguise was temporary at best.
Nymphs seemed to have a relatively easy time adapting to looking human, but maintaining a consistent human look was where the problem came in – there was no switch in their tree brains to turn “human”, so the suits had come into use.
When a nymph – or other fae – were young, parents would purchase a glamour suit that looked like it could plausibly be the offspring of their human glamours – keeping key facial features, skin tones, and the like.
The baby fae would then wear the suit, learning to push their glamour out to match the suit that contained them. The training suits – which were far more advanced than the basic skinsuits hanging around them – would retreat sections if the glamour beneath matched the appearance that was being aimed for, and appear again if some element of the glamour changed.
And little by little, baby fae would learn to keep a single, consistent human appearance.
The skinsuits, on the other hand, were more like IRL Mission Impossible masks – an intelligent, synthetic skin that bonded to the person wearing it, translating expressions and sensations through the disguise layer.
The clerk left them in an area of the store populated by just the head portion of the skinsuits.
‘No need for a full glamour,’ Ryan said, ‘it’s just for today.’ He pointed to a pod the protruded from the roof. ‘Just stand under that for a moment.’
She dutifully walked under the weird, smooth pod and stood on the red sticker circle beneath it. Red light poured out, bathing her for a moment, before it became small, laser-pointer beams, which encapsulated her head. The light disappeared, the machine beeped, and there was the sound of a ticket being printed.
Ryan tore the ticket away and looked at it. ‘This shows the best size matches. Look for the yellow tags.’
There were a number of human masks – deep blacks and browns, graduating gently to lighter browns, then lighter still – she held up a hand and tried to find one of the white heads that matched her hermit-pale skin, and found one, only a few racks over from a glamour head so pale it may have been depicting achromia.
On the racks behind her were a number of non-human heads.
‘What are these for?’ she asked, holding her hand near a head made of vines. ‘Cosplay?’
He nodded. ‘These are temporary masks, so they’re often used in theatre and costume.
There was a silver face with the pattern of a golden butterfly over the eyes – something that immediately made her think of a Venetian mask. ‘Is this some kind of fae, or just a mask?’
Ryan lifted one of the silver masks, and checked for a yellow tag. ‘They’re something no one is ever quite sure existed. It’s a common choice for-’ He smiled. ‘Well, quite honestly, they’ve become a bit of a symbol for young people wishing to distance themselves from their parents.’
‘It’s kinda pretty though.’
‘You can try it on if you like.’ He pressed a button on the yellow tag, and a light, lemony mist came out of the bottom of the mask. ‘Just a disinfecting cycle, in case anyone has tried it on.’ He handed her the mask and pointed to a mirror. ‘Just pull it over your head, and breathe. It will constrict, and feel uncomfortable for a moment, then it should just feel natural.’
She nodded, took a breath, then pulled it on. It smelt like lemon and latex, though she was sure that the material it was made of bared no resemblance to latex.
The mask sucked into her face, the choking feeling overwhelming her like she was trapped inside of a plastic bag.
‘Scared,’ she said, ‘kinda scared,’ she said, taking a step backwards.
Ryan put his hands on her shoulders – something that she was convinced was the “default agent comfort” position – and she tried not to freak out even more.
Holes opened up in the mask, and she could see through slightly lopsided eye-slits.
A few more seconds passed and the latex smell disappeared, and the eye-slits lined up. A weird shiver of static electricity ran over her head, and suddenly, everything felt normal.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Just…just gimme a second.’
Stef turned back to the mirror, looking at her new face in the mirror – silver skin had replaced hacker pale. She raised her eyebrows and the mask raised them at the same time, reacting like her normal face would.
The butterfly around her eyes twitched, fluttered its wings for a moment, then settled back into her skin.
‘Wah…I don’t know the emote for that,’ she said, poking at one golden wing.
‘It’s on a randomised time,’ Ryan said, ‘you can’t control it. Are you happy with this one?’
She nodded, and he removed the tag from around her neck.
She touched her hair – it had gone through the mask, allowing her to keep her natural hairline and colour – something that explained why all of the masks were bald.
Ryan turned and walked towards the counter. He paid for the mask – tapping a credit card against a small reader, which thanked him with a small smiling animation.
‘I don’t know what the currency conversion rate is like, but-’
‘Half of that amount was insurance,’ he said, ‘I’ve just rented it for the day.’
‘Oh, okies.’ The butterfly wings flapped into her field of vision. ‘I’m still having-’ She bounced on her toes. ‘We’re in Faerie. Do you know how many circles I jumped in when I was growing up, trying to find one that worked?’
‘It’s unlikely that you would accidentally find your way into Faerie,’ he said as they started to walk away from the glamour store. ‘There are boltholes, but those usually take you from one place on Earth to another, they’re escapes passages, not conduits back to Faerie.’
‘I’m not saying there aren’t rabbit holes for inquisitive young girls to fall down – stair technology was not always so accurate or controlled, but it would have taken a measure of good luck and bad luck to come across one.’
‘I wouldn’t have minded. Okay, I would have minded a little. I’ve got no wish to be Alice, trapped in the maths metaphor from hell.’
Ryan stopped by a cart vendor, and bought a bag of green chips. ‘May I ask who you did envisage yourself as? My son loved spies and astronauts. Here, try one of these?’
The bright green was familiar. ‘Are these…’ she fought with her memory to remember the name. ‘Something like aioli chips?’
‘Aole chips,’ he said.
She nodded, trying to fix the pronunciation in her head.
Ye aole tavern.
Ooh, that works!
She took three off the top and munched on one. ‘I thought- Aren’t these like fortune cookies? Eaten at the end?’
He nodded. ‘Those served in restaurants are. Street vendor aole, on the other hand, is just a good walking around snack.’
‘No arguments here,’ she said as she dug for a few more chips. ‘And…a pirate mostly,’ she said. ‘I had kind of a one-track imagination when I was a kid. I did play mad science with my dolls though. Curse of reading Doctor Moreau young, you end up making a Ken doll into a hideous mutant bear thing and-’
He was giving her a very strange smile – somewhere between amusement, pride and horror. ‘How old were you when you started reading Wells?’
She stared down at her feet. ‘Five or six?’
James had hated it. Hated her reading, especially reading things that weren’t full of bright colours and simple stories. Hated her stealing books from his library – even though there was no real way for him to tell.
She had disobeyed him, she’d been bad.
The words had been too good to keep away from. Science, magic, adventure, a dozen authors with stories too big and too grown-up for her, but had made her mind explode all the same.
She knew then to keep the language and stories to herself, to go over and over dictionaries to try and find out the meaning of words, but sometimes a question had slipped out.
Her dirty shoes were really interesting.
She hung her head further forward.
Children shouldn’t read, I know! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m-
‘-sorry. I’m sorry.’
Ryan crouched in front of her, and she buried her face in her hands, trying to push away memories and bad thoughts. The mask was well-designed enough to let her cry – something that made her snort, then cry harder.
There were arms around her shoulders – Ryan hugging her, something that James had never done. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘sorry. My head’s always just so fucked up and-’
‘Do you remember how old I am?’ Ryan asked.
She inhaled through her nose, trying to suck the cry-snot out of sight, then lifted her face out of her hands. ‘Is this my daily non-sequitur?’
Ryan gently wiped at her face with a handkerchief. ‘What do you know about the Orson Wells broadcast of War of the-’
‘Was that an Agency coverup? Was it an actual martian invasion?!’ Thoughts of her father’s disapproval retreated. ‘Tell me, tell me, tell me!’
Ryan wrapped his left arm around her shoulders, holding her close as they continued down the street. ‘The actual event is the same as what you know, a misinterpreted broadcast, with some minor panic and accusations of cover up.’
That couldn’t be it. ‘And?’ she prompted.
‘And there were a lot of fae who panicked. Humans have no idea if aliens are real or not, all fae grow up knowing that visitors from another world are possible. Many fae interpreted it as a potential invasion, and began to run to Agencies for sanctuary. There’s video, Stef, of fairies trembling in fear of martians.’
He smiled, and she started to feel better. ‘Yes, there is. I don’t have it onboard with me, but I’ll pull it from archives and bring it with me next time I visit.’
He cared. He really cared.
Stef slipped out from his arm, took two steps in front of him, and ran at him, hugging him as tightly as she could as she made contact. ‘Thank you,’ she mumbled into his chest. ‘Thanks for making everything better.’
‘I love you too, Stef,’ he said.
She sniffled – he’d known what she meant, even if the words were impossible to say.
Alexandria was easy to love, dolls demanded little. Frankie demanded more, but gave her everything in return – a laptop was a weird best friend, but she couldn’t ask for anyone better.
They were objects of love that didn’t ever say it in return, lifelong companions who-
Loving people – even one person – was so, so much harder.
People were a lot more complicated. Rejection from people hurt so much more.
Mother had died. Peter had run away to Neverland.
It was easier not to have connections, it was safer, it was- Stable. It was stable and it was what she knew.
But you’re not alone anymore.
She hugged him again, then bowed her head so she could wipe her eyes dry. She made a few attempts to form words, but nothing real came out.
‘Come along,’ Ryan said. ‘Let’s get some lunch.’
[table id=15 /]
The glamour store was at once cool and incredibly, incredibly creepy.