Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prompt #2: The truth behind the smile...

I'm not used to writing short stories. They're a rare thing for me. I have noticed over the past two weeks that I write short stories differently than I do my novels. Often, there is little dialogue and my characters have no names. I also write my short stories in first person naturally, where for novels I often find third person to come easiest. Somehow, this experiment is dragging good writing out of me anyway. At least, I think it's good writing (as so far no one has told me otherwise). Here's to hoping you think so too.

Everything in our town was plastered with smiles, from the buildings to the faces. Posters hung over the streets displayed toothy grins and sayings to make sure you remembered to always show the same. The governor loved to see all the happy faces. It didn’t bother him if a few of them were fake.

We all made the effort to show our joy. Not just because it was law, but because it delighted him. He worked so hard to make sure we were content, giving us everything we needed and more. Why should we not do the same for him?

Occasionally, there would be someone who was not fine with having to show only one feeling. They would scowl instead of smile, scream instead of laugh. I thought them ungrateful and steered clear, as did everyone else. They were usually forced to leave the city, though some moved before that happened. We never thought of them again after. It was better to think of positive things.

One of my favorite ways to ensure my high spirits was to watch the puppet shows put on by the governor. He did them as often as his duties allowed and I didn’t miss a single one. Being there was like being in a story. The puppets were so lifelike and the governor’s talent was honed to perfection.

The theater was grand. The ceiling stretched high above hundreds, maybe thousands, of padded seats; enough to fit the entire town. Tapestries decorated the walls; scenes of courage and joy sewn in brilliant colors. The stage was the crown jewel of the place, however. The wood floor was polished daily and gleamed in the glare of the lights. The curtain was like royalty, a deep purple color to match the upholstery and a serious manner. Above, the catwalk was well hidden, wrapping up the illusion nicely.

I was often the only person there. While I found the puppets art, many others found them unnerving. Sitting right in the middle of the theater surrounded by empty seats made the experience all the more wonderful. Applause, or the lack there of, was the only thing that besmeared these events. My lonely attempts sounded feeble and mocking in the echoing auditorium. He didn’t seem to mind, in fact his smile grew larger,.

I was so often there and so often alone that he came to know my face and name. He seemed to value my opinion, asking after shows what I thought. With rapt attention, he listened as I praised his performance. It was a rare occurrence that I had anything to criticize. My voice took on an apologetic tone when I told him of my complaints. At the words, he would just smile, as always, and speak reassuringly, “It’s broken. I’ll fix it.”

Our friendship was one that was not well known. Curious grins flashed when, as he greeted me at the door to the theater that horrid night, he requested to see me after the show. It was the annual portrayal of our city’s beginning and everyone was made to attend. It was an important and difficult piece. I had watched him practice it many times. I thought nothing of it except that he wanted to be reassured he had done well.

The show was magnificent and flawless. I couldn’t wait to tell him so. I remained in my seat as everyone else left. Murmurs about the scene’s cleverness pleased me and the smile I showed was completely genuine.

Soon, I was the only one there. I sat in the now brightly lit hall and waited. He appeared by my side, beaming down at me. His eyes bored into mine. The feeling that my insides were being examined swept over me. He held out his hand and I took it.

We walked up the aisle toward the stage. He led me to the right where a door blocked the way to back stage. I had watched him disappear behind it often but had never been invited to do so.

Releasing my hand, he dug in his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys. The sheer number of them made my head spin. To me they all looked the same, but he picked out the right one on the first try.

Silently, the door opened. The complete lack of noise made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. That should have warned me against going forward. I wanted to make him happy though, like he made me. So I ignored my misgivings and followed him.

He shut the door behind me and all was dark. Light suddenly bloomed as he flipped the switch on the wall. I looked around eagerly for I was surely the only person who had been allowed there besides the governor himself.

The wall in front of me was covered with his collection of puppets. Only the door that led to the catwalk stairs interrupted the mass showcase of dolls. Unconsciously, I took a step. My gaze fell upon them in awe. I had never been this close to their perfectly sculpted forms. Blissful smiles rained down on me and I felt safe and loved.

Then I blinked and a wisp of red hair caught my eyes. The puppet closest to me had a beautiful face. Her expression was serene and her hair was done up stylishly. Something about her didn’t fit with her look, however. Peering closely, her eyes no longer looked joyful. They were flat and dull.

Recognition sparked in my mind. I knew this girl. She was one of those that had been forced to leave. She was not familiar to me at first because of the grin on her face. Not once had I seen her like that.

As I stared at her, the governor came up behind me. He placed a light hand on my waist and rested his chin on my shoulder. “I have not found one yet to compare to you,” he whispered in my ear before burying his face in my neck.

I continued to gaze at the puppets, picking gout more faces I knew. A horrible feeling built in my stomach as I felt the weight of the fake, unnatural smiles. My own smile was frozen to my face. “What happened to them?” It came out a whisper.

He lifted his head from nibbling my ear lobe to gaze upon the corpses, “They were broken. So I fixed them.”

Again, the word count is barely over the limit at 1,078. And again, I felt like it's just fine as it is. It seems I've gotten better at keeping short stories short since I was in the fifth grade. Or maybe my short stories were this length in the first place but 1,000 words seemed like a whole lot more then and I didn't have near as much time (compare 45 minutes to a week). So, what did you think?


  1. Wow! Mickey Mouse just got creepy. I really liked this.

  2. I just added you to our week two wrap-up.

  3. lol At first I was confused about the Mickey Mouse comment because I wa thinking about this week's stoy. XD But thank you.