The Mask of Auberon

Another of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenges. This one's called "KIDS SAY THE DARNDERNIEST THINGS." I like this a lot better after a major rework and dumping half of it, but it's still more of a snapshot of an idea than a story. 


I kept an aluminum frame chair under the huge live oak tree out on my property. I kept it there for nights like this. The sun had just dipped down out of sight but half the sky was still a brilliant cobalt blue. This time of the year, mid-summer, the fireflies put on a show and tonight was no exception. I had a bottle of wine with me, but hadn't even opened it yet. I was just enjoying the show. 

I just wanted you to know that I hadn't been drinking. I don't touch drugs, other than a drink or two from time to time. I need you to know this, to know that I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. I don't understand why it chose to show itself to me, but the important thing is that it did, that I'm not mad or drunk or dreaming.


It was wearing a swarm of bees in place of it's head (I have to remind myself not to use gendered pronouns for whatever these things are, not matter what body or name they're using at the time.) The bees appeared to orbit a dim, golden light at the center of where it's skull would have been. They were silent, too silent for bees, but there was no comfort in that. There was a sense of movement in the orbit of the bees as though Auberon were turning its head to face me.

I shuddered. Somehow, the dry wings and stickly legs found a voice and it spoke to me.

"I can still see without a face."

I doubled over, only just keeping myself from retching, and closed my eyes. I've seen them do so many things that the bodies they were wearing weren't suited to do, but never up close, only on a screen and at a distance. It paused, probably regarding my reaction, and spoke again.

"I've upset you. It is difficult to anticipate how you will react. I thought it beautiful."

I opened my eyes, looking for a rock or log to sit on, settling instead on a grassy spot near an enormous live oak. In retrospect, it was right. The fireflies were unusually active and seemed to be more so the closer they were to the slender figure in a long purple cape over a loose white shirt and purple trousers, a twentieth century idea of sixteenth century finery. In place of its head, the orb of bees with the dim golden glow coming from inside the globe. A photograph or painting of the scene would have been stunning.

It was in movement that the beauty became something more disturbing. They never quite got the hang of how bodies worked, so the limbs moved like a spider's, independently and far too deliberate. The location of the joints seemed uncertain and changed from moment to moment. Even when their faces were human, they didn't know how to mimic human expressions, or perhaps they didn't care. When the were more creative with their visages...I forced myself to face it. So long as it wasn't talking, I could take it.

"What are you called?" it rasped and whispered through tiny legs and wings.

"Wendell," I answered, concentrating on not concentrating on the movements on the surface of its not-face.

"Wendell. Yes. Good." They are not known for their humor but I couldn't help but think it was pausing waiting for me to react. I flubbed my lines and so it continued. "Wendell, I call myself Auberon here." 

I nodded because I didn't know what the hell else to do, and asked, "Auberon...that's one of ours, isn't it? Why Auberon?"

"It is. We immerse ourselves in cultures. We wear bodies, faces, and names when we can visit. Sometimes, they are local, more often not. Cut and paste."

I stared. "Cut and paste?"

"Think of writing Mary Poppins in to Star Wars. It is not important. I am cheating by doing this. Auberon is not just who I am wearing; Auberon is a metaphor."

I closed my eyes. Watching bee bodies form words was not easy. "Auberon is a fairy. Auberon doesn't have bees."

It's arms moved in a gesture I didn't recognize but nothing about it suggested that Auberon liked my answer.

"No, Auberon does not have bees. But I do."

"Like a mask?"

"Haven't you heard? I wear no mask," and again, an expectant pause. I took a deep breath, tried to guess at what response it wanted, and again failed. 

"I'm not really very good at this."

"I am not making it easy on you, and for this I am sorry. I am not permitted to be more clear, and I am taking a risk by meeting you in this form and saying what I have said."

"I don't understand. I mean, I don't get what you're worried about. You're not really Auberon. You're not really a person."

"No, Wendell," and a low drone was forming behind its voice, "and how is it that you are certain that I am not Auberon?"

"Auberon isn't real. Auberson is a role you're playing. You're wearing him like a coat over whatever it is you are."


It was at this point that I am certain that the bees of its face swirled into, if not a smile, then a look of satisfaction or something. I blinked and Auberon unhappened. It wasn't there, and it had never been there.

I swear as God is my witness I don't know what the hell that was about. I know I'm not crazy, I know what I saw, but I can't make any sense of it. I'm not sleeping well these days. I know, I just know that it thought it had told me something important and if I could just work it out, it'd be the most important thing I've ever done. I'm not going to be right again until this is over. 

Help me, please.