For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.
Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.
Wish me luck!
I think I’ll do one more character sketch today, and move on to something more complex for tomorrow, when I don’t have to work and I can spend more time pulling information together. Perhaps one of my cities or Evil Corporations….
In any case, the randomizer today gave me Marisse Leroux from day 162: A Day Out. Of course, if I talk about her, I also have to talk about her sister, Lola Whittier. So let’s do a two-fer today!
As a bit of background information, this story was written for a Worth1000.com contest, the theme of which was “Halloween.” I thought about the topic for a while, and decided that I would invert the way Halloween is usually done. Instead of people pretending to be monsters for a day, how about monsters that pretended to be people? A fine start… So let’s see what the story tells us about Marisse and Lola:
- At the beginning of the story, they appear to be two beautiful women. Lola has pale skin, long auburn hair and green eyes. Marisse has deep brown skin and “hair that was nearly blue-black.” Lola is wearing a blue suit with matching nails. Marisse is wearing a Little Black Dress ™.
- They live outside Sylvania City, about a half an hour by bus. The walk to the bus stop is a long one, so it’s safe to say they live in a non-urban environment.
- It is implied that they don’t get out much. They “pointed out the things that had changed since the year before – a new strip mall, a restaurant that had gone under, a house that had gone somewhat overboard on the holiday decorations.”
- Lola is the more conservative/shy of the two, whereas Marisse is more outgoing and risque.
- Their Halloween excursions are a regular event for them.
- Lola and Marisse have known each other “for ages.”
- Lola thinks that Marisse “could be a little much sometimes.” She wants to be able to talk to someone else once in a while.
- Dogs don’t like Lola very much.
- Sunset is a key time for them on this day. As we learn at the end of the story, they remain human until the sun sets, at which point they revert back to their true monstrous forms.
- Upon the setting of the sun, Marisse “shrank and withered, becoming a skeletal version of herself. Her eyes burst into flame and sat in her dessicated face like two hot coals. Her hair whipped up around her head in an unseen wind and waved about, dry and rasping. Her mouth opened, a black and toothless maw, and a howl…filled the air.”
- Upon the setting of the sun, “Lola’s back arched and lurched, and two great wings burst forth. They were long and spindly, and webbed with tattered skin that was nearly thin enough to see through. Her skin turned the dull gray of unpolished granite and cracked at the joints. A dull red glow came through the cracks, like molten stone, and when she moved there was a grating and crumbling sound. She stood on thin, insectile legs…”
- Lola is at least a thousand years old.
Okay, so that’s a lot to go on, but it still leaves a lot of really fundamental questions unanswered. Who the hell they are being chief among them. Let’s take a look at the questions this story raises, in the order they occur to me:
- Where are they from originally?
- How did they come to know each other?
- Who were they before they became monsters?
- Why do they become human on Halloween?
- Why does their transformation only work until sunset?
- What kind of monsters are they?
- Why do they seem to be so unfazed by their condition?
- What do they do for the rest of the year?
- Why do they live near Sylvania City?
Well, hell. I have a feeling that I’m going to have to do a whole lot more world-building just in the process of answering all those. The upside is that it will give me more to work with in other stories set in this world. If monsters like Lola and Marisse can exist, then so can a lot of other things. Let’s see if I can brainstorm some answers with whatever the Elves of my Unconscious decide to give me.
Where are they from originally? I like to think that Lola and Marisse were never human to begin with, actually, which pretty much crosses question #3 off the list. But it then shoots us right to #6, so why not go there first?
What kind of monsters are they? Other stories set in Earth Prime either state or imply the existence of a dark universe that abuts the one these stories take place in. Stories such as Bequeathal, Sleeper, and Business suggest that there are people whose sole job is to make sure the Horrible Things from that universe never break through – and to fight them to the death if they do. They are the Custodes Omnium, the “Protectors of All,” and their job has been to keep those Things out of their universe.
They do not always succeed. In The Quarry, two boys discover one of these dark gods near their town, and the crew of the popular TV show StoryBreakers actually come close to freeing one of them entirely – before sacrificing themselves to send it back to the Hell that spawned it.
So we have a place for Lola and Marisse – or whatever their names are – to come from. They’re not Elder Gods or anything like that, though. In the Hell Dimension, they would probably be lower-tier nightmares. Relatively powerless beings who are only really good at physically attacking or dominating humans, rather than unmaking their reality piece by piece. So that answers #1 as well.
How did they come to know each other? Answering this question will require me to come up with a social structure and cultural milieu for the Hell Dimension, which is going to take more than just this evening to work out. I like to think that the closest analog to how they met each other would be that they were doing volunteer work together. If the Hell Dimension had volunteer work, which it doesn’t, but there’s no better comparison. They met each other doing an activity that they enjoyed – making hats out of strangled kittens or something  – and clicked as friends pretty quickly. Or whatever it means to be “friends” in the Hell Dimension.
So there we are – a pair of monstrous girlfriends in a horrifyingly incomprehensible Hell Dimension that abuts Earth Prime. Now that that’s cleared up…
Why do they become human on Halloween? That requires the investigation of another important question: How did they get to Earth Prime? My guess is that they were summoned. I mean let’s face it – if there’s a whole universe of unspeakable horrors just a shadow’s depth away from our own, you know some jackass is going to try and use it for his own nefarious purposes. So, a thousand years ago or so, some young, wanna-be sorcerer summons these two nightmares from beyond the veil. I reckon he thought he was going to get a god or something, but he was barely strong enough to keep Lola and Marisse in line, so it turned out he was lucky.
What’s more, he couldn’t send them back. Either he didn’t know how or it just wasn’t within his power, but he had called them and now he had to keep them. Unfortunately for Lola and Marisse, their summoning included a condition that they could not harm him (which was clever on his part) as well as a condition that they obey him. Also clever. But the two monsters, in the fashion of anyone who’s ever been conscripted to do a job they didn’t really want to do, followed the letter of the law very closely while abandoning its spirit.
For example, the sorcerer never explicitly commanded them not to murder his entire family.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t get rid of them and they couldn’t get rid of him. They were stuck together until his death half a century later, and by that time they had developed a kind of grudging respect for each other. What’s more, Lola and Marisse had become fascinated with the human world and how it worked. It was so very different from the one they had come from, and it seemed much more interesting. Plus, the kittens almost never tried to kill you.
Before he died, the sorcerer granted them a boon – one day a year that they could be human. Again, whether the single day limitation was because of his lack of ability or knowledge is unknown. Maybe he was still irked about that whole “murdering his entire family” thing. But the spell took effect on the day he died, which would eventually be known as October 31 – Halloween. Every year after that, they could be human for a day, reverting to their own monstrous forms at sunset.
Why do they seem to be so unfazed by their condition? It took a while. They had good years and bad years, years where they were hunted by the local citizenry and years where they partied until they could barely get home again. Sometimes they railed against the unfairness of only having one day, but in time they came to accept that it was just the way it was going to be. A thousand years is a long enough time to get used to pretty much anything, and by now they look forward to their yearly transformation.
As the narration implies at the end of the story, though, they don’t usually get involved with individual humans. This is often the case with immortals, who lose track of people after a generation or two. The only constant in their lives is each other, and for good or ill they’re stuck together. At least until they meet another immortal being, which could be a really interesting wrench in the gears.
NOTE TO SELF: Have them meet another immortal. See what happens to their friendship.
Of the last two questions, the easier one to answer is #9: Why do they live near Sylvania City? They certainly weren’t summoned there, as Sylvania wasn’t founded until just before the American Civil War. Basically, these ladies – or “ladies” – have done a lot of traveling in their years. Sylvania is just where they happen to be right now. They live on the outskirts of the city because, well, monsters, but the location seems to agree with them.
So, What do they do for the rest of the year? That… is an excellent question. What do monsters do in their free time? I know they like Earth Prime, and they’re pretty much over their “kill everyone” phase of a thousand years ago. If you live in a place long enough, it rubs off on you. Earth bends towards life – living things are everywhere, life emerged early in the planet’s history, and it’s famously hard to kill. The Hell Dimension is all about death. Moving from there to Earth Prime, Lola and Marisse have come to appreciate life in its many and varied forms.
I like to think that Lola is a nature photographer and Marisse watches a lot of daytime TV, but that assumes their monstrous forms will allow them to do those things. They live in a world that they have come to love, but that world would hate and fear them if it knew they existed. That makes their Halloween excursions all the more important to them – it really is the one day a year that they can go out among the world without hiding or worrying about being attacked by people who don’t know any better. Their lives the rest of the year are probably pretty lonely.
Plot Hole: Katherine, a commenter on the story, pointed out that if they were only human once a year, where did they get their dresses and nail polish? An excellent question, and in the revision that I did to actually submit to Worth1000, I basically had their clothes and such become part of their transformed bodies. That’s the fun with fantasy – you can make up any old thing to paper over those pesky plot holes!
Ideas for future stories: As above, introduce another immortal to them and see what happens. How would they react to having a third person in their relationship, and what would be the ultimate outcome? I reckon it would be like any close friendship when a new person is introduced: the balance is upset one way or another, and Lola and Marisse would have to make adjustments to factor the third person in. I think their friendship is solid enough to survive it, but the novelty of having someone new that they can actually spend time with will probably lead to a lot of hasty decisions on both their parts.
Also, they should have a chance to return to the Hell Dimension at some point. Either someone offers to send them back, or someone from home comes to get them. Either way, they should face that choice and have to pick their allegiance. I’m pretty sure we all know which they’d choose – but do they?
They could be outed as monsters, see what happens there. How can they convince the world – and the Custodes Omnium – that they’re good monsters, really? And what would happen if, in the end, they were both outed and accepted for who they are? Maybe they save kids from a burning building or something, I don’t know… It would be interesting to see how they deal with the freedom to be who they are.
On a meta-level, monsters in fiction are an excellent way of looking at how humans deal with each other. They are racism and discrimination and fear made flesh, and offer instruction on how we are to handle our relationships with other humans who are different from ourselves. By using a monster, we can examine our reactions to The Other in an enhanced light, and perhaps figure out the ways in which we treat our fellow human beings as monsters. By starting with monsters, perhaps we can learn to treat ourselves and others better.
A lofty purpose for Lola and Marisse, but I think they would be good characters to use for that purpose.
 If they had kittens in the Hell Dimension, which they don’t. And even if they did, they would be Hell Kittens and probably very hard to strangle.
Lola stared at herself in the mirror and ran her fingers through her long auburn hair. “This is great,” she said. “I mean really great!”
“I know,” Marisse said, coming into view behind her. She spun Lola around and stooped to look into her sister’s eyes. “Nice, nice,” she said. “Green is good on you.” She stood up straight and turned around to show off the short black dress she’d managed to squeeze into. “How’s this look?” she asked.
“You look great,” Lola said, and she actually meant it. Marisse was gorgeous – tall, with deep brown skin and hair that was nearly blue-black, even in the light of their bathroom. She stood like a supermodel, a hand on her hip and made a pouty face like the ones they’d seen in so many magazines. “Seriously,” Lola said. “That is amazing.”
“And thank you,” Marisse said. She ran a finger down the lapel of the jacket Lola was wearing. “You don’t look too bad yourself, my dear.” She picked up Lola’s pale hand and examined her nails. “Brava on your choice here, too.”
Lola smiled and blushed. “It’s the same blue as the suit,” she said. “I can’t believe I actually found it.”
“Well, you did, and you look amazing.” Marisse turned them around to look in the mirror. “We both look amazing. And you know what?” She put her arm around Lola, and Lola could practically feel the confidence welling over from her. “We are going to have an amazing Halloween this year.” Marisse hugged her close. “Mark my words.”
The morning sun was barely a hands-width over the treetops by the time they left their house and began the long walk to the bus stop. They tottered in their high heels and laughed about it as they walked, and they drew stares from everyone else who was waiting by the time they got there. Marisse made sure to stand next to a middle-aged businessman, and she tried flirting with him. She stood in the corner of his eye and smiled at him, and then looked away when he looked at her. A few more times, and he took out his phone and started frantically tapping away so that he didn’t have to look at her. It was all Lola could do not to burst out laughing.
The bus ride into Sylvania City took about half an hour, and they were on the edges of their seats the whole time. Lola pointed out the things that had changed since the year before – a new strip mall, a restaurant that had gone under, a house that had gone somewhat overboard on the holiday decorations. When people got on the bus, they giggled and pointed, and more than once made people stand up and move to other seats. Among the morning commute crowd, they were by far having the most fun, and even on Halloween, that was strange.
They stepped down from the bus in Bemrich Circle, in the most touristy district of Sylvania City, and squinted in the bright sunlight. “Okay,” Marisse said. “What time’s sunset again?”
“5:05,” Lola said. She’d had it up on notes around the house for a week, and made sure she remembered. “We have just a little over eight hours.”
“Well, then, let’s get to it!” Marisse gestured widely and grinned. “Where do you want to start?”
The choices were endless. Sylvania wasn’t the largest of cities – nothing like New York or Boston or Corsair – but it had an eclectic spirit all its own. The downtown was full of people and buses and cars, little bookstores and restaurants and huge national department stores. There were museums along the Hortus and a new walking park that had been built along the Edles River last year. They could spend days here, if they wanted.
But they didn’t have days.
Lola watched the people getting off the bus, tired and hurrying to catch taxis or run to their offices. “How about we get some coffee?” she said, pointing to a small shop on the corner that was doing brisk business with the commuter crowd. Marisse clapped her hands and they dashed across the busy street to join the line.
When they finally got to the counter, an exhausted barista greeted them with, “Welcome to Javaville, what’ll you have?”
Lola and Marisse exchanged glances, and Marisse struggled to keep a straight face as she turned to the young man. “I would like,” she said, over-enunciating each word, “one soy milk latte.” Lola started to giggle and Marisse gave her a slight shove. “And a blueberry muffin.” Lola started to laugh hard enough to attract the attention of the other customers, and the barista arched an eyebrow.
“Anything for your friend?” he asked.
Lola leapt to the counter. “Yes,” she said, her voice taking on the sing-song quality that people use when they talk to children. “I’d like a mocha espresso, please. And one of your delicious scones.” She smiled, showing as many teeth as she could, and the barista had to blink a few times before he rang them up.
They sat in the cafe and planned their day, occasionally glancing around at the crowd and watching the other customers as they came in. They would go to the Finamore Museum of Art first and see the traveling Picasso exhibition they were hosting. From there, they planned to hit some of the nicer boutiques in the heart of downtown and try on clothes. Not to buy, of course, but just for the fun of seeing themselves in something new and different. Marisse tried on the more risque outfits, doing her best to make even the saleslady have to blush and clear her throat and recommend that perhaps she would like to wear something a little more modest. Lola tended towards the more conservative, trying to imagine what she would look like at a fancy dinner party, or perhaps a wedding. She stood in front of the mirror and smoothed down the fabric and let the images form in her mind. No matter that they wouldn’t happen, of course. It was Halloween, and if ever there was a time to play dress-up, it was now.
They had lunch at the top of the Denton department store and ate small pasta dishes while looking out at the city.
“I never get tired of this,” Lola said. “I just wish we could do it more often.”
Marisse took a sip of water. “Me too,” she said. “Me too.”
After lunch they went to a bookstore and browsed for a while, followed by a subway ride to the Hortus, the great park that defined the heart of Sylvania City. The sun was on its descent by now, and they only had a few more hours left to them. The red and gold leaves glimmered in the sunlight as they walked around the Great Pond, enjoying the brisk autumn air. Their spirits were more subdued now, but they still looked at the world around them with glee and astonishment from time to time.
“I think I need to sit down,” Lola said after a while. She sat, took off a shoe and started to rub her foot. “You go ahead. I’ll meet you by the fountain?”
“You sure?” Marisse asked. She glanced across the pond to the fountain and back again. “I can stay here.”
Lola shook her head. “No, you go. I’ll be right behind you.” She smiled and shaded her eyes against the sun. “Don’t worry.” Marisse nodded, but still looked uneasy, glancing back a few more times as she walked away.
Alone, Lola closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out. She liked Marisse – loved her, even. They’d been together for ages and doing their Halloween excursions for as long as she could remember. But Marisse could be a little much sometimes.
Lola’s thoughts were sharply interrupted by the barking of a dog. She opened her eyes to see a golden retriever straining at the end of a leash at her, growling and barking. The young man holding the leash pulled and yelled at his dog. “Rocky! Rocky, knock it off!” He gave the leash a sharp tug, and the dog stopped barking. He bent down to hold it and looked up at Lola. “Sorry,” he said. “He’s usually not like this.” Rocky had gone quiet, but he was still staring at Lola with fear in his eyes.
“That’s all right,” she said. “Dogs don’t usually like me very much.”
The young man scratched Rocky’s ears and smiled. “I can’t imagine that,” he said. He turned to Rocky. “You gonna be good?” he asked. He stood up and Rocky growled quietly. The young man nodded at Lola. “He’ll be good.” He stepped over to her and offered his hand. “I’m Shane,” he said. “But you’ll probably remember me as the guy with the dog.”
Lola took his hand and smiled. “No,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll remember you.” She looked up at him and squinted. “I’m Lola,” she said. The sun was behind him, making it hard to get a good look at his face. “Would you like to sit down?” she said. “It might save me some eyestrain.”
Shane commanded Rocky to stay, and took a seat next to Lola. He looked out over the water with her for a while, and the sun dropped lower to the horizon. “It’s my favorite place in the city,” he said, not turning to her. “It’s one of the biggest reasons I stay here.”
She smiled. “I like it too. I just wish I could come more often.”
“You’re not from around here?” he asked.
Lola shook her head. “I live outside the city with a friend of mine. We… we don’t get out a whole lot.”
He nodded and leaned back against the bench, but didn’t push the topic. Instead he asked about her favorite places to visit, and offered some suggestions of his own for the next time she and her friend managed to get into the city. She, in turn, asked about what he did and how he lived his life, and she found herself resisting the urge to dig into every detail. They talked well together, and she had a conversation unlike any she’d had in a long time. With Marisse, there was nothing new to talk about. They knew everything about each other, but here she was finally in new territory.
And he was good-looking, too. That certainly didn’t hurt.
They talked for a long while, and only stopped when Lola finally heard Marisse calling to her as she ran along the path towards her.
“Lola!” she yelled. Marisse looked panicked, and she’d lost her shoes somewhere along the way. “Lola, the sun!” she flung out a hand across the pond. Lola looked, and to her horror realized that she’d let the sunset slip her mind. It was already dropping behind buildings, and she felt her insides go cold with panic.
“Oh, god,” she said, and stood up quickly. Rocky jumped to his feet and started barking again, and Shane tried to calm him down. “Oh, god,” she said again, “I’m so sorry…” She backed away from Shane and took Marisse’s hand. “I really.. .I really have to go.”
He looked up at her and glanced at Marisse. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
Lola surprised herself by smiling. “No,” she said. “Not really.” Marisse tugged at her, but Lola stood still. “I really wish I could stay, Shane,” she said.
He stood up and put his hands in his jacket pockets. “I don’t understand,” he said. “What’s -”
Lola’s scream cut him off. It was high and keening and terrible, and she doubled over and dropped to the ground, followed quickly by Marisse. Shane tried to go to her, but Rocky positioned himself between them, growling and barking furiously. All Shane could do was watch as the shadows grasped at Lola and Marisse and they started to change.
Marisse shrank and withered, becoming a skeletal version of herself. Her eyes burst into flame and sat in her dessicated face like two hot coals. Her hair whipped up around her head in an unseen wind and waved about, dry and rasping. Her mouth opened, a black and toothless maw, and a howl that chilled Shane’s blood filled the air.
Lola’s back arched and lurched, and two great wings burst forth. They were long and spindly, and webbed with tattered skin that was nearly thin enough to see through. Her skin turned the dull gray of unpolished granite and cracked at the joints. A dull red glow came through the cracks, like molten stone, and when she moved there was a grating and crumbling sound. She stood on thin, insectile legs and turned to Shane, who was on the ground covering his eyes with his arm.
She looked at him, wishing her true face were capable of expressing something other than unholy rage. She wanted to explain, to say that she was sorry, but her mouth couldn’t do that anymore. Her day as a human was done. From tonight, it would be another year of being the monster she’d always been.
Lola growled at Rocky, who whined and cowered behind Shane, who had finally managed to peek out from behind his arm. He was terrified, as he should have been, and Lola felt that strange ache in what used to be her heart. Other years had been fun. Little breaks from who she’d always been. But this was the first time she felt like there could have been more days, more time.
She ground her teeth and turned to pick up Marisse. Her friend was still groaning, and her groans lingered long. She held Marisse close to her and sprung into the air, her tattered wings somehow holding her aloft and giving her the lift to fly back to their house outside the city. It would be another year before she and her sister could venture out in daylight again, and she wasn’t at all sure that was what she wanted anymore.
For the first time in a thousand years, there were tears in her eyes as she flew.
This is done not only for Halloween, but for the Worth1000 Halloween 2 contest. Of course, I’ll have to trim it somewhat – maximum word count is 1,500 and I’m well above that….