Smooth and Pale

Thirteen figures stood in a silent ring at arms’ length from one another, each one wearing a smooth, featureless white mask and a dark shroud that draped to the floor. The hem of each cloak gathered against the floor in a crinkled heap, leaving no part visible of the creature beneath.

The faceless figures turned their heads down to stare at a tense, young boy who sat on the cool, stone floor. He sat hunched with his arms and tail wrapped around his knees, the bluish-white skin of his arms exposed by the short sleeves of his tunic. His hair, waist-length and silvery white, was loosely tied back to expose long ears that held deliberately still in order to betray no feeling.

The tall figures took a single step closer, tightening the circle around him in perfect sync. The room enclosing them glowed purely white, perfectly smooth, with no features defining the walls or ceiling except their bleakness. The infinite blankness and starkness overwhelmed him. The boy worked very carefully to keep his breathing consistent as the figures drew closer, and willed his pulse to remain just as steady.

A static sensation prickled at the inside of his skull, breaking the dead silence and dissolving the sense of boundary between his own headspace and the surrounding atmosphere. Only the quietest, softest hum could be physically heard, but within his head the static became deafening as the circle expanded their auras to fill the room.

The static swelled in intensity and volume as the figures took their final steps forwards to seal the circle. As they closed in around the boy, the tip of his tail twitched and shuddered uncontrollably, betraying the anxiety he’d worked so hard to conceal. A clear, eerie voice that filled every crevice of the room and sprang from no discernible source prompted:

“Choose one.”

The youth stared straight ahead, his frigid blue eyes unblinking as he looked right through the cloaked figures around him. The voice had a tinny, intense vibration to it that somehow made his skin crawl. He tried to ignore it and block out the static, but it didn’t work. With a barely perceptible increase in aggression, the voice repeated:

“Choose one.”

As the prickling frequency vibrated with increasing intensity, he felt he had no choice but to tune in and attempt to obey the order. Closing his eyes and inhaling deeply, he opened his senses to the various, subtle differences between the sources of each aura.

One glowed blue. One shimmered in red and grey. Another felt low and resonant, like the rumble of an earthquake. One felt subtly malevolent. So did another one, and another– malice seemed common. Then one energetic signature felt . . . pained. It stood out from the rest by radiating a quiet sadness, and rippling with a different kind of blue than the first– less pink, and somehow colder.

“Choose one.”

The voice took on a dual pitch, sounded simultaneously deeper and higher– fuzzy and metallic. It sounded more aggressive. The boy could no longer moderate the speed of his pulse as effectively, and felt his panic beginning to build. He opened his eyes, his slit pupils dilating and quivering as he nervously scanned the surrounding figures.

They were all the same height. They all wore identical shrouds. They all wore identical masks. He couldn’t see their hands through their gloves, and he could not see their feet. They all had the same number of limbs and the same number of fingers. None of them moved . . . They all looked exactly the same. His panic rose right alongside the volume of the static frequency, and together they began to blot out his vision as if gnarled, black vines were growing through his brain. He didn’t know what to do– everything was happening far too fast.

“Choose. One.”

The voice began to sound angry, its dual pitches dropping further away from one another to create a much more jarring sound as they blended with the metallic echo. It sounded like a monster. It sounded like a threat. The youth began to hyperventilate despite his best efforts to keep calm, and felt tears spilling over. He looked desperately from one figure to the next, passing over the auras of the red one, the sad one, the malevolent ones . . .

“CHOOSE ONE.”

The static deafened him, simultaneously roaring and shrieking as it scraped against the walls of his mind. He desperately tried to determine which figure he should choose . . . he didn’t even know why he had to chose one at all. He crawled closer to one of the figures looming overhead, but it felt wrong. He started sobbing.

“CHOOSE ONE.”

The voice screamed, blaring like a siren, bellowing its demand more and more rabidly each time. Everything was overwhelming. The whiteness of the room, the sameness of the figures, and the ever-rising pitch of the static– the horrible, wretched static that felt like it was crumbling his mind into sand. He couldn’t think properly, and began to feel the last shard of self-control slipping from his desperate grasp.

“CHOOSE ONE.”

He screamed in a feral attempt to block out the sensory overload, clawing at the sides of his head, wishing more than anything for the loudness and pain and fear to end. The auras that surrounded him flashed through his head faster than his conscious mind could even process. Malevolent – Blue – Sad – Malevolent – Grey – Red – Earthquake – Grey – Sad – Silver – Blue – Sad – Sad – Sad –

“CHOOSE ONE!”

With a desperate shriek, the boy flung himself towards the feeling of sadness– the only sensation that felt somehow familiar, the only energy that seemed even vaguely close to safe. Everything screamed too loudly for him to be able to process what he was doing, but he felt himself clawing at one of the shrouds, pulling and grasping like a feral beast as if it were his only hope of climbing out of that place.

The sad creature beneath the shroud put its hands out to catch him, firmly gripping his arms and pulling him to his feet. As the boy screamed and screamed for everything to stop, an ear-shattering tone pierced the room for one long moment, signaling completion. All the static energy in the room abruptly faded and ceased.

The youth collapsed against the form of the creature who caught him, gasping and crying, his mind numb from being so brutally overloaded. The creature’s arms were strong, gentle, and soothing. As he felt those cold arms wrap around him, he felt a sense of relief.

It was over. For now, at least . . . it was over.