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The face of namelessness
They made Lancelot and Guinevere look like a pair of homeless people, the way they looked together. His dark hair and brooding eyes, dark charisma, majestic profile. The way her shimmery golden hair cascaded down her back and gracefully pale neck, a few tendrils carelessly draped unavoidably over his shoulders from her seat on his lap. They had everything they wanted: beauty, popularity, an equally beautiful and popular mate.
In a school where all it took to completely redistribute the social hierarchy was a simple wish, popularity and attractiveness were incredibly dense things to wish for. According to local gossip, Nina Parker was going to make the trade tomorrow and usurp the beautiful blonde’s position as Princess.
Aurora watched the couple in front of her with a feeling of vague disgust. It was amazing how desparate they were for wishes. Already most of the school had achieved their gifts of beauty, or talent, or money, or love (though this last was only a kind of shallow love-analogue made from equal parts euphoria, desolation and obsession; the real thing, as Aurora knew from experience, was much less openly tumultuous.)
The man with the purple hair and the leather jacket had started appearing around the place about a week before. He’d lean casually against whatever was nearest, arms crossed, the stereotypical picture of dangerous nonchalance. People had been suspicious of him at first before being drawn to his dark allure.
Aurora was no exception to this.
She’d approached him on the first day, frankly asking why he was there. He’d been surprised.
“It’s rare for someone like you to be so unlike you.” He’d said, confusingly, which made her laugh, which confused him. Upon talking to him further, she’d found out that Don was smart, funny, and refreshing to be around. They’d kissed after an hour of knowing each other and were happy together. It was a remarkably different relationship than most of her school knew, especially those who wished for love.
In increasingly large groups, they’d approached him. He’d start the conversation without introductions, somehow seizing on the one thing the speaker wanted. He’d barely turn his head to look at them before pronouncing,
“Beauty,” or “joy,” or simply “cash.” And they’d gasp and shuffle their feet a bit and say, well, I mean, sure, I guess…
And he’d offer them the deal: all he needed was possession of their names for a month.
“You can’t use it or speak it or even think it; I can. Understand?”
And they agreed, in overwhelming numbers.
Aurora was the only exception to this part.
The bell rang, and the entangled couple finally unlocked their lips and untwined their limbs, to Aurora’s relief. The hauled her backpack on and calmly walked outside.
Don was waiting for her, leaning (as always) against the flagpole. He grabbed her shoulders and kissed her on the forehead when he saw her.
“Miss me?” he asked cockily, releasing one of her shoulders to run a hand through his brilliantly purple hair, messing it up even more than usual.
“In the sense that you’re both sane and interesting, and nobody else is, definitely. In the sense that you’re you, obviously.” She sighed, thinking about what it was like to be surrounded by beautiful automatons all the time, and he kissed her mouth before wrapping her in a firm hug.
“Don’t worry, luv.” He said, pronouncing the endearment with a Dublin accent. “It’s not for much longer.” She leaned into him, blowing air out through her nose, and closed her eyes.
“Why haven’t you wished yet?” the girl who might once have been called Christina said. “Like, you could totally go for beauty. You’d look good with, like, the waist-length hair thing, you know? And you could finally lose that weird little belly.”
“Yeah!” The artificially, beamingly happy Indian girl next to her agreed. “And you could get actual, like, cleavage!”
“Yeah!” the first girl nodded, the motion disturbing her perfect, chocolate-colored curls so they fanned out like a model’s. “You’d look good with cleavage!” They nodded again in unison, the Indian girl bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet a little. Beauty and Happiness; they were strangely inseparable.
It was amazing that these two had used to be her best friends.
“Seriously, ‘rora,” one of the rich ones was saying. “Go for the cash.” It was Saturday, and it looked like it was about to rain. Aurora was standing at the bus stop immediately outside the school, her arms wrapped around herself to keep warm. She was surrounded by beautiful people, talented people, famous people, rich people. Her earbuds had been snugly in her ears until the girl addressing her had pulled over in her sky blue corvette to walk over and talk to her.
She swayed slightly on her Jimmy Choo stilettos, her breath shallow behind the tight bodice of her white Dolce and Gabanna dress. The fingers which reached up to brush a lock of perfectly styled dark hair out of her eyes glittered with Tiffany diamonds. Yes, she’d donated around a thousand dollars to charity, but it spent the rest on extremely displayable things- a beautiful car, new clothing, the bedroom she’d had remodeled and never stopped bragging about.
“Diana, I-” she’d been about to say that she was fine without money, really, but stopped at the shocked look on the girl’s face.
“Diana?” She repeated tentatively, and Maybe-Diana twitched.
“I’m not Diana, am I? Yes. No. Definitely. Wait, no. I mean…”
The confused, horrified nameless one started to stumble down the street, asking everyone she passed, “Do you know my name? Do you know my name? Do you? Please,” She grabbed the collar of the baffled quarterback, who can gone from slightly-above average to roughly the size and shape of a refrigerator in one day: “who am I?”
“Don!” Aurora called frantically when she saw him. She’d taken a different bus, going to the lake where she knew Don came to brood, instead of going home. She practically tackled him, and he held her fiercely.
“They’ve started thinking about calling their parents.” Her voice was muffled by his shirt and she raised her head to speak more clearly. “But every times somebody tries to say their name, they can’t hear it. There’s just kind of a weird buzzing. They can’t see lips moving either; their vision just goes all black until the name-saying is over.” They stood in silence for a moment. Then:
“It’s interesting,” he said, “how personal names are. Yes, technically somebody else chooses them, but we choose what we want to be called, named for. Remember those legends about true names?” Aurora nodded against his chest.
“Every name is intimate. It’s an acknowledgement of somebody’s existence, an expression of a relationship, a sign of an emotion. When that’s gone, completely gone, so is the identity. It wasn’t their names I took. It was everything that a name could encompass.”
Aurora looked up at him skeptically. “When why’d Diana hear me?” He shrugged.
“Something had to make them realize they don’t know who they are anymore. Before that, they didn’t even notice when their names were said.”
Aurora pushed herself closer to him, getting herself under his jacket and pressing up against his soft shirt.
“Don,” She said finally, caressing the word in her mouth, “It’s terrifying.”
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Don looked up at the opaquely cloud-filled sky. The air was the kind of cold that made him feel like he was pouring frost down his lungs with every breath. The kind of cold which seemed to exist to remind him of the warmth he felt around Aurora.
A few honey-and-blood colored leaves swept across the pavement in the wind, the raspy sound they made sounding like words.
Do it, they suggested.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a regular plastic water bottle with a few drops of perfectly clear liquid at the bottom. He shook it slightly, watching the liquid catch the meager light of the streetlamp and turn it into amber and topaz light-jewels.
Carefully aiming it away from himself, he waited until a light breeze swept by before yanking off the cap with the kind of determination usually reserved for grenade pins.
The feeling of suddenly knowing who you are is cripplingly empowering. You want to fall to your knees while standing tall and shouting at the sun while curling up in a corner and whimpering. You make promises to yourself, hating yourself for knowing that you’ll never fulfill them while loving the fact that you love yourself enough to make them. It feels like a swallow of fire while drowning in ice.
This was difficult to describe to the EMTs. It was even harder for Aurora to tell them why she was the only one of hundreds of students to not be crying or laughing or screaming hysterically when they showed up in response to calls that entire rooms full of students had collapsed, some of them ripping off their clothes, other furiously breaking mirrors and ignoring how the glass cut their hands, others sobbing joyfully with misery.