Read an intriguing excerpt of the A. C. Wise’s story, “A Thousand Faces Minus One” by A. C. Wise, from the critically-acclaimed collection that drops TOMORROW!
After you read this excerpt, swiftly go to your preferred bookseller, and order yourself a copy right away to read the rest of this haunting and macabre psychological twister!
A Thousand Faces Minus One By A.C. Wise
Donovan dreams of a man without a face .
Or rather, the man has a face, but Donovan can’t see it . It’s hidden under a black hood, like a criminal in an old movie might wear as he’s about to hang . The man doesn’t do anything other than stand in the corner, but somehow that simple act induces a sense dread . The man has a message, or there’s something important Donovan has forgot- ten . The man has come to take away something Donovan loves .
Donovan wishes the man would get it over with, but he only stands there, breathing, and the cloth over his mouth goes in and out, in and out .
He shouldn’t be thinking about Paris—he promised himself he wouldn’t, but how can he avoid it when Notre Dame is burning? The footage is horrifying, the towers going up in flame, and the skeletal remains of the building afterward . He watches the videos over and over, unable stop, and he thinks about Henry .
It’s been over two years since he stood atop the cathedral, gazing out at the city spread below . Bright sunlight stretched shadows across
the courtyard, flattening the people they belonged to into dots. Then Henry had put a hand on the small of Donovan’s back, whispering in his ear, and warmth had spread like fire across Donovan’s skin.
Their “chance” meeting had been pre-arranged, but that didn’t lessen the thrill . Donovan felt like a spy, slipping into a role Henry had designed for him, pretending to be someone else and leaving his own failure of a life behind . In the instant before turning to see Henry for the first time, he’d been swept by the vertiginous feeling of doing something incredibly dangerous, and yet being incredibly safe at the same time .
When we meet, I want you to pretend we’re strangers. Henry had sent the message while Donovan waited at the airport, brand-new passport clutched in his hand. He’d never flown interna- tionally before, couldn’t afford it . But Henry had paid for everything, flying Donovan—a complete stranger—seven and a half hours across the ocean to meet him at the top of Notre Dame .
We *are* strangers, Donovan had texted back, tacking on a smiley face . He’d stopped just short of using the eggplant emoji, even though they both knew they were meeting up explicitly for sex . It felt too forward, like a cartoon vegetable implied an intimacy he hadn’t earned .
That’s not what I mean. Pretend you’re not you. Pretend to be somebody else.
In that moment, Donovan had almost gotten cold feet and backed out. Henry had picked his dating profile out of hundreds, and con- tacted him, but now he wanted him to be someone else . And who could blame him? Donovan was barely able to afford his shitty one- room apartment, working shifts at two different restaurants, and ready to give up on ever having a music career . He was a loser .
Whereas Henry seemed too good to be true . Older, smart, funny, a foodie, a world traveler, and he had the kind of money required to fly a stranger to a whole other continent based solely on a handful of messages exchanged through a dating app . Donovan had put his nerves aside . What did he have to lose, really? And when would he ever get an opportunity like that again?
So he’d flown to Paris, gone to the top of Notre Dame as instructed, and nervously waited . Then Henry’s hand rested on his back, and his lips brushed Donovan’s ear . Donovan’s mind had gone completely blank . Henry could have whispered anything—a comment about the view, a request—a demand—to fuck him . All Donovan registered was a dizzy sensation of lust, as though he was falling from the top of the cathedral .
Donovan wishes he could remember Henry’s words . He would have something to hold onto now . As it is, he doesn’t even have pic- tures . Henry had made him promise not to take any, and Donovan had obeyed, like he’d obeyed all of Henry’s other rules, except one .
He’d spent a week in Paris pretending to be someone else, ordering what Henry told him to order, visiting the places Henry wanted to visit . Donovan let himself become someone for whom it was per- fectly natural to dine in fine restaurants and drink expensive cham- pagne . Ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, watch the city dissolve in a smear of light below . Visit the catacombs under the city, walk through the galleries of the Louvre, find a quiet, shadowed corner along the banks of the Seine, and go down on his knees to take Henry’s cock in his mouth, while tourists sailed by, oblivious to their presence .
When he’d come home, he had been somebody different . Within a week, his life had transformed; he’d gotten an offer from a producer based on the demo recording he’d made, just when he’d been ready to give up. Like Henry choosing him out of all the profiles on the dating app, it was another impossibility, the offer he’d always dreamed of . And he’d been almost too heart-broken to take it, until his best friend Mel had all but slapped him upside the head and forced him to accept . Now, if he wanted to, Donovan could afford to fly to Paris on his own, stay in the same hotel he stayed in with Henry, eat at all the same restaurants . Only Notre Dame is gone and it wouldn’t be the same . It will never be his Notre Dame again, the exact place he stood with Henry’s hand on his back, telling himself over and over it would just be another hook-up . Telling himself over and over not to fall in love . Except even then, at the top of the cathedral, it had already been too late . He’d broken Henry’s rule before he’d even delivered it . Donovan had lied to himself, told himself it would be fine. But the end of the week, Henry had kissed Donovan perfunctorily, a brief touch of lip against lip, and put him in a cab .
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