Not having a face would be considered a detriment to most people, but not Esther. She was rich enough that her condition made her a curiosity, not a freak. The upper-class crowds she frequented rarely asked rude questions about her lipless slit of a mouth, or how she could see perfectly without eyes. She didn’t offer up information about those everyday realities of her condition, either, because she preferred to talk about how she got this way. Born this way, she told everyone.

“People think,” Esther said, “that facelessness is a condition of the poor. But it’s a misconception. It’s a defect common to royalty that spread to the lower classes by accident. In Austria, you’ll see plenty of Habsburg descendants with no face.”

This was all a lie. Esther had been born with a face, and she hadn’t been born rich. Only last year she’d been a vagrant, begging for money in Grand Central Terminal.

It was one year ago when that man approached her. Impeccably dressed, with a bowler hat and a kind smile. Knelt down and lifted Esther’s chin.

“You deserve a chance,” he’d said, and held up a thousand-dollar bill.

Esther’s eyes widened. She reached out.

“Not so fast,” said the man, pulling it away. “Everything has a price. How about we play a little game?”

Esther sat up.

“I give you something- this thousand dollars- and I take away something, too.”

He grinned and flicked his wrist. Esther’s face went white-hot, and she gasped for air, groping at her head.

“You seem a clever girl,” he said, dismissing her reaction. “Take this money and see how well you spend it in a world without a face. Meet me back here in one year. I’m fascinated to see the results.”

Esther was, in fact, a clever girl.

Her first purchase had been a stunning outfit. Nothing you’d expect a faceless beggar to wear. Silk, velvet, lace, high heels and pearls. It cost most of the thousand dollars. The shop girls scoffed. This was why she was poor- such reckless spending.

But it was enough to intrigue Lana Vaughn, the steamboat heiress she’d met at the restaurant she went to for lunch. A faceless woman in haute couture? When Esther explained her faux-royal background, Lana insisted on taking her to the charity ball that night.

Prejudice was so useful when it worked the wrong way.

A handful of carefully acted lies, and Esther weaseled her way into staying at Lana’s apartment, becoming business partners with a textile tycoon, and making enough money to hire a team of private investigators. Their target? The Face-Stealer, and the secrets of his magic.

Because when they met again, she’d be ready. When he met her, all smiles, and said, “You’re the first one who didn’t squander the cash,” and she smiled back. All teeth.

“You called this a little game,” she said. “You’re not the only one who can play games.”

And she flicked her wrist.

Submitted: February 14, 2020

© Copyright 2023 Ariel Kalati. All rights reserved.

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What an intriguing story. It's such a curious idea and you executed it so well; explaining enough so that it made sense but still leaving that little bit of mystery. Great job.

Thu, July 2nd, 2020 7:17am

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