I weave my way between the glamorously dressed guests, their fake laughter and mocking smiles making my stomach churn. A bead of sweat slithers down the nape of my neck and disappears under the hem of my collar. I glance around at the small groups of men and women, discussing the various canvases mounted on the cream white walls. Their perfectly neat white teeth and all too clean fingernails, clasped around bubbling glasses of champagne reflect the blank whiteness of the walls they stand before. The illusion of perfection disgusts me and I push on, eager to escape the airless environment that surrounds me. A slender man with floppy hair and a turtleneck is chatting loudly with two elegant older women. He beckons me over excitedly and the two women regard me with hungry eyes. I avoid eye contact and dart to the left, disappearing behind a long wall of paintings. He shouts after me and I speed up, trying to distance myself from his pitiful cries. With my crumpled suit, stubbly face and long hair, I feel out dressed and out of place. People turn and stare at me with morbid curiosity, as if I am an exotic yet dangerous animal one would find at a zoo. The tie around my neck feels tight, the creeping hands of claustrophobia choking the oxygen from my closing throat. The hum of chitchat, the clink of the champagne glasses and the nauseatingly repetitive music plague my already throbbing head and I burst through the toilet door, on the verge of exploding.
I yank my tie down, unbutton the top of my shirt and stagger to the nearest sink. I vomit heavily into the bowl and reel back, gasping for air. My legs buckle slightly and I slide down to the bathroom floor, resting my head against the cool tiles of the sink unit. Although there is a terrible taste lingering in my mouth, the large empty bathroom eases my anxiety and the tightness in my chest alleviates. I close my eyes and soak in the silence of the room. When I feel recovered enough I force myself up onto my feet. I am still slightly dizzy so I wash my face and hands in one of the other sinks. All I want to do is stay in the serene, isolated bathroom but I know I have to go outside and mingle with the infuriately dull company. So gritting my teeth, I straighten my tie, flatten down my suit and leave the bathroom.
A deathly silence greets me on the other side of the door. I look around puzzled, expecting to find the bourgeoisie art lovers indulging in conversation and alcohol. However to my surprise I discover the room to be devoid of any sounds. Everyone has their backs to me and as I cautiously move further into the large studio, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck begin to prickle. No one is moving. They are glued to the spot, some of them with their glasses of champagne raised in the air, permanently frozen in time. My heart throbs loudly in my chest as I move towards a small group of people nearby. I swallow hard and move around to face them. A silent scream traps in my throat and I stumble backwards into a painting, knocking it to the floor. To my utmost terror I find that the people standing in front of me have no faces. All of their features are missing: Their eyes, noses, mouths, eyebrows and ears. In its place resides a blank piece of flesh. My eyes drop to their hands and I shudder. The fingernails, knuckles and palm lines are all absent. Not believing my eyes I move to another group and investigate. I am met with the same results, blank canvases, each and every one of them. Starting to panic, I dash from group to group, trying to find a face among the featureless. In a desperate attempt to restore normality I rush over to the turtleneck man and grabbing him by the shoulders, spin him round. His body feels stiff and heavy, like a corpse that has undergone rigor mortis. Another blank face presents itself. I extend my shaking hands towards the fleshly patch of skin and touch it tentatively in trembling fingers. It feels soft and clammy and it throbs ever so slightly against my fingers. I recoil in fear and clasp my hands to my chest protectively. Although he is immobile, the skin itself feels as if it is breathing. I shiver, imaging there to be some semblance of the man still trapped inside, conscious but unable to see, hear, smell or move. I move towards the glass doors of the building, wanting to escape the horrid nightmare that surrounds me. I reach for the handle and freeze as I catch sight of my reflection. I raise my hands to my face and prod the empty flesh of skin. I go to scream but the lack of a mouth prevents me from doing so. I stare in abject horror at my faceless reflection, trapped forever in an empty vessel.
© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.