Face stood at the exit of his underground home. The dirt-and-stone walls glowed faintly with green light, and glowing orbs illuminated the rooms and halls. He looked around at the assembled guests. Their number counted demons, humans, animal people, and more. His friends and family stood around, watching the man with confusion.
A tiny woman, fifteen inches tall, fought her way through their still legs. “No, Face!” She cried. “You c-can’t go!” Her voice was high and desperate. “Isn’t this your home?”
Face grimaced and knelt in front of the tiny woman. “It is, Valen. I have to go, though. It’s starting to feel like it isn’t home anymore. I’m leaving you in charge until I come back.” He lifted her and kissed her forehead, then placed her back on the ground. “You may even sleep in my room, instead of a food box.” He chuckled, and behind his mask tears began to build in his leaf green eyes. He turned suddenly. “Be well, everyone.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
His slender fingers removed his hat, and he slowly pulled his mask from his face. The process mussed his silver hair, but he paid it no mind as he pushed his brown-trimmed top hat back onto his head. “I trust my home will be in good condition when I return.” He dropped his signature beaked mask to the floor as he walked away. His heeled shoes made soft pats as he walked down the long, twisting hallway. The sound of running feet behind him brought him pause, and he looked back. “Yes?”
“Daddy, you’re a butt.”
“I love you too, Lolibu.” He smiled. “I’ll keep in touch… unless you want to come along?” He winked at his young daughter. With glee, she ran to him and gripped his hand with hers.
As Face’s mask hit the ground, Valen began to sob helplessly as she stared at it. Despite the year of abuse at Face’s hands, she viewed him as her protector and close friend. Images of being forced into a tiny box to sleep for the sake of laughs faded from her mind, replaced by imagery of Face feeding her soup in illness, or making her a tiny, if shoddy cookware set of her own, so she did not burn herself trying to prepare meals with dishes too large for her.
The crowd dispersed behind her as she knelt beside Face’s abandoned mask. She reached toward the thin white porcelain. It was still warm from resting on his face for hours on end. With shaking hands, she lifted it and hugged it to herself. The mask nearly tripped her several times as she carried it to the homeowner’s expansive bedroom.
With great struggle, she climbed onto the bed. There, she laid down and sobbed into the cooling mask until she fell asleep.
She recalled people bringing food, but rarely ate. As time went on, she began to eat again, though rarely much. Valen left the master bedroom a few times, but found the underground house barren of life. She tried to keep it clean, and forced herself to eat.
The slimes, trained to clean the home, were dying. Valen had no idea why. Dirt piled up. It became too much for the tiny woman, and before long, she only cleaned the kitchen, and even slept there– always with Face’s mask grasped tightly in her tiny arms.
Visitors stopped by less and less. They cooed over Valen for a time before they became bored of each other’s company and departed without any ‘good bye’.
Despair crept into the tiny woman, and she began to simply sleep.
Time crawled on. It felt like the pace of a slug.
Little Valen’s dreams soon became her life.
An endearing clown in a painted mask tried to make her laugh. His silver hair was bouncy, and his jokes chipper. He always told her “It’s ok.” and “Smile for me!” when she began to feel lonely. The clown joined a local circus.
He took her with him and they stayed together in his apartment. He cared for her and fed her, and she began to laugh. She began to forget why she was ever sad. She lived in an apartment now with a kind man who liked to be nice to her. He dressed in clothes that were too big for him, and used jokes and puns to scold those who insulted her.
Every week, they went to a high hill outside of town and had a picnic. He showed her new tricks, and she laughed and clapped for him.
At night, she dreamed that she was in a very large kitchen, hugging a plague doctor’s masquerade mask as she made food for herself. They were lonely dreams, filled with a numb sense of sadness in an empty house.
Valen tried not to dream very often.
One day, she was enjoying her weekly picnic with her clown, when she heard voices. “Valen!” they called. “Valen!” She looked around. They seemed to come from nearby.
“Do you hear that?” Valen asked the clown in his painted mask.
He shook his head ‘no.’
The voices called again, and she felt a strange sensation in her shoulder. She reached up and touched it. “Did you hear it that time?”
Again, he shook his head.
With a gasp, she found herself back into the empty kitchen dream, but this time, a man with silver hair and a brown suit was there. His face was frightened, and pregnant tears clung to his aquiline, beak-like nose. He pulled her into his arms. “Valen!” He shook her gently. “Answer me! Where is everyone?”
Memories rushed back, and the tiny woman began to sob. “Face!” She reached to him, expecting him to disappear. He remained solid and held her tightly in his arms. “I don’t know.” She felt dizzy, and her voice cracked uselessly.
“I wasn’t gone that long, was I?” He bit his bow-shaped lip. “I… You’re so thin.” He stroked her hair absently. “I won’t leave you behind again. Let’s get some food into your belly.”