Prologue | MuteTown
My heartbeat slows to a gait as I open my eyes, sunlight streaming through my window. I sit up, mentally exhausted from the slew of dreams thrown at me in slumber minutes ago. I feel weightless. Renewed. I walk to my bathroom, not paying attention to how long it’s taking me to get there, my mind effortlessly analyzing every intricate detail. The unbelievable softness of the shag carpet against my toes. The gentle way the sun kisses my arm, leaving my skin with an indefinite glow. The daunting silence of the entire house, like it’s holding its breath as I make my way across my bedroom.
Everything’s silent. Waiting. Patient.
I stop when I reach the mirror that beckons me from its place above the sink. I don’t look like myself, my honey irises darker than I remember, my hair reflecting the same shade. The birthmark that used to highlight the space just beneath my left eyebrow isn’t there anymore, and I find myself questioning my sanity.
You know who you are, I tell myself. Snow Bailrith. For some reason, the name doesn’t feel so familiar anymore, like I’m not entirely sure it’s my actual identity. I try and push that thought aside as I rummage through the cabinet for my makeup. I know I’m supposed to be somewhere today, but I can’t quite remember where.
I pump a decent drop of base onto my index finger, marking both cheeks with lines like I’m going off to war. I work them into my skin in a circular motion, taking note of how dull my eyes suddenly seem. A low growl forces me to stop what I’m doing and stay as still as possible. Out of my peripheral vision, I can see a white Husky in the doorway, teeth bared, ears down.
Lily. My dog. Snow’s dog. I back away slowly, trying my best not to upset her. “Lily, it’s me, girl. What’s wrong?” She takes another step forward, threatening me with her tone. “Easy, girl.” From her body language, it’s almost as if she doesn’t recognize me. That makes two of us.
I take it upon myself to step forward, just far enough to observe myself in the mirror once more. What I see-no, feel frightens me beyond compare. My face isn’t a face anymore. All distinct features, like my eyes or my nose, are smoothed into one surface, painted with spider webs of greenish blue veins. I’m a Mute. That’s why I didn’t feel like myself. Why Lily doesn’t recognize me. I’m a monster.
There’s no doubt that she’ll protect her territory from me, a newfound stranger, yet oh-so-familiar. I scan around the bathroom for something to defend myself with, to use as self-defense against my own dog. I find nothing, somewhat relieved that I won’t have to face the decision of injuring her to save myself. I plant my feet firmly in runner’s stance, holding Lily’s gaze as long as I can before I propel myself forward, the impact avoided by a single strand of hair and fur.
I stand myself up weakly, in total shock. Before I have time to contemplate anything else, I head for the door, slamming it shut behind me just before Lily has a chance at escaping. I clutch my heart, making sure I’m still alive, and realize something even stranger:
I’m fully dressed.
I don’t remember getting dressed.
I jog downstairs, momentarily skipping two at a time. The house is silent, ignoring the growls and vicious snarling emanating from behind my bedroom door. All I keep thinking about is how far that could’ve escalated.
I’m glad I didn’t find anything.
“Mom? Dad?” I call out for my parents, afraid of letting them see me like this - a monster who successfully swallowed their daughter whole. What a sight for sore eyes.
“Snow?” I hear what’s supposed to be my mother’s voice echo off the walls, listening carefully at its unfamiliar tone. “I’m in the kitchen, honey.” I’m steps away from the doorway, afraid of confronting her. Of letting her see me like this. I couldn’t live with myself this way, even if it meant stopping my heartbeat to save my family the sorrow. The embarrassment.
I step into the kitchen without a word, my mother’s back turned towards me. The air around me reeks of something other than baked goods or pizza, my senses not quite capable of deciphering the distinct smell. I edge my way towards her, hoping she doesn’t feel my presence. I’m directly behind her now, the simple act of peering over her shoulder a suddenly daunting task. I rise to my tiptoes, the sight hardly pleasing.
She’s mixing a thick, red substance in a bowl, slimy coils of blue surfacing now and again. My mother turns to face me, wearing what I assume to be a wide-toothed grin, although I sure as hell can’t tell. She’s a Mute, too, all distinctive features of her face blended into one surface, hers more interrupted with silver veins than mine. I nearly collapse in horror, my bout of fear propelling my entire body backwards, straight into the edge of the island counter.
She tilts her head for a second, her voice spiraling in ribbons around me, spoken out of thin air. “I’m making your favorite, honey. La cocotte nervure. Your father suggested I use the Type A blood from the freezer, but I insisted on Type O. It has more of a . . . metallic taste.” She chortles deeply and I’m at a loss for words, mind spinning with a plethora of dead-ended questions and recurring suggestions of how to end all this. The problem is, I’m not sure there is a way.
I don’t even know what this is.
I bolt for the front door, ignoring her distorted calls for me, yelling parental phrases like, “Don’t be out too late!” and “Be home for dinner!”. I’m running down the street, my feet carrying me to an unknown destination. I’m trying to focus on not thinking, not freaking out about all this.
How could I not?
I don’t have a face.
My mom doesn’t have a face.
My dog doesn’t recognize me.
By the time my sub-conscious thinking subsides, I find myself sitting in a coffee shop booth, the room engulfed in incinerated wallpaper and broken light fixtures. I rise, not daring to touch the coffee cup sitting patiently before me. The length of the hallways haunt my thoughts, feeding me with wicked nothings that keep me aware and on edge.
I am cautious, the weight of roaming the corrupted place weighing me down. The faint sound of footsteps forces me to rethink my hesitation. I take a quick glance over my shoulder, a second look absolutely necessary because of the pure shock of it all.
A massive figure looms at the end of the hall, face similar to both me and my mother’s, except the whole front is missing, and in its place are actual cobwebs. From as far as I can see, the miniature crawlers don’t seem to have a problem with it. I make a run for it, not exactly sure it’ll do any good in protecting me from the greater monster version of myself.
I take no heed to the wall, using every last bit of strength in me as an energizer. To my surprise, the wall melts upon impact into freezing water, the water I’m falling in, darkness surrounding me like clouds of smoke. I’m slowly sinking to the bottom of what I assume is at least a river. I force myself to swim toward the bottom, wanting to get away from the monster that’s after me.
My arms are getting tired, my biceps screaming at me from within. I remind myself not to inhale, the thought of my life ending at this moment not such a foreign result in my head. I land in a bed of sand with a polite thud, unable to comprehend how well I can see when I don’t have eyes, and is supposed to be the darkest region of the river.
Without thinking, I walk over to a rust-stained pickup truck beckoning me with hunger for attention. A pickup. Underwater. I swim through the space where the window should’ve been, the cab of the truck expanding before me into a tunnel, practically asking for me to crawl through it and accept my fate.
I do what it tells me, still holding my breath, my human lungs probably collapsing and withering away inside my monster ones. If I even have lungs. I keep crawling, the cool metal beneath me starting to freeze, burning my knees and tearing at my flesh. I propel myself forward, landing harshly on the floor of my bedroom. I check to make sure I’m still alive, my computer monitor reflecting the face of Snow Bailrith.
The last thing I hear is the jolting pop of a door being slammed before I’m engulfed in absolute darkness.