The Winner: Writing.ie Short Story of the Year 2023

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Story, Short Story Winner

At the An Post Irish Book Awards, a fabulously glittery evening, hosted by Miriam O’Callaghan, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin was delighted to announce the winner of the Writing.ie Short Story of the Year 2023: ‘Such a Pretty Face’ by Moïra Fowley from her collection Eyes Guts Throat Bones (Orion)
Click here to read all the shortlisted stories, and to read Moira’s story.

It was another tough year with some brilliant stories entered from publishers, journals, literary magazines (online and physical) as well as popular magazines – this is a real opportunity for short story writers. Our judges Henrietta McKervey, Bob Johnston and Simon Trewin had their work cut out for them. As several of the writers were saying on the night, a short story is often more difficult to craft than a novel, with a relatively few words taking many months to perfect.

Woman smiling at camera holding the award for The Writing.ie Short Story of the Year
(Moïra Fowley)

Read Moïra’s story here:

Louie’s face itches. The kind of itch she knows would be real satisfying if she scratched. Nails up under the chin, round the back of the earlobes, along the hairline, deep. Like lifting a scab. Kinda like coming, if Louie is honest. The belly-groan of it.

Louie keeps her fingernails short, for obvious reasons, but there’s just enough of a moon-crescent of white to really take some skin off. Her whole hands twitch with the wanting of it. She won’t now, though. Later, maybe, when there’s no one around. Right now there’s the party, and the porch out to the decking in the garden, and the drinks, and someone’s secondhand smoke curling around the hair at her temples (that itches, too). And Mina.

Mina’s had a few good drinks, gin and something, curl of lime in the glass and ice cubes clinking. She picks one out with slick-slippery fingers and puts it in Louie’s mouth, which is how Louie figures she’s flirting. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, with Mina.

The ice is brittle, cracks between Louie’s teeth. She chews it so her mouth gets real cold, then fishes another out of Mina’s drink to run along her face. Drips melt off her eyelashes.

‘It’s cooler outside,’ Mina says. Takes Louie’s hand (another point for flirting) and pulls her outside to where Tegan, Rob and Rob’s boyfriend are sitting in the grass, tugs Louie’s arm so they’re all sitting together (point for not flirting). Louie doesn’t get why they stick so close at parties when they all bloody live together in the first place. She’s not used to them yet, really. She’s the blowin, the new housemate, new colleague, new in town. She should be glad to have some time to sit together in the fresh-cut grass of the garden, without the dishes or dust-balls or unplugged chargers to argue about. With so many other people around. There’s friends of Mina’s and co-workers of Tegan’s and Rob’s boyfriend’s bandmates, which is a mouthful at the best of times. Louie knows nobody.

You’re like the bride at the wedding with nobody on her side of the aisle, says Tegan, with a laugh. Bubbles in her prosecco glass.

Louie’s face itches when she cracks a half-forced smile.

Louie’s a lady of mystery, Mina says. Her legs are bare, real long, real close to Louie’s. (Point for flirting or just proximity ? Hard to tell.) We don’t know where she’s from or where she’s been.

You know where I’ve been,says Louie.

Mina laughs. Mystery woman, she says again.

You’ve got a low profile, is one of the first things Mina says to Louie, six months ago now, on the night she first moves in. Louie pretends not to know what she means.

By which I mean you’ve got no profiles.

And we’re good at stalking potential housemates, Rob adds. He’s set up Louie’s coffee machine in a corner of the kitchen. It’s the biggest thing she’s brought with her.

Are you one of those anti-internet people ? Tegan asks, where the word people isn’t the one she would’ve picked if she wasn’t being polite. You think it’s rotting our brains or collecting our souls or data or whatever, spying on our every move ? Tegan isn’t often polite, in fairness ; Louie thinks it strains her to try.

I mean, Mina says, aligning herself on Louie’s side, it is. We all know that.

I’m just a private person, I guess. Louie smooths her hair down over one shoulder, still not used to the brown, the straight ends. I’d rather just live my life without needing a witness.

Tegan rolls her eyes but Mina smiles.

Can we witness ? she asks. Pull up a chair. Have a drink. Tell us where you’ve been.

This is what Louie tells them : she’s been on the road for months. What roads, Tegan ? Well, the long way from the airport. Different countries’ roads, before. Which countries ? You know. The usual. Louie travels for work. She took a gap year to travel the world. A gap from what ? College, post-grad, a mid-career switch. She took a couple of gap years, what can she say, rich family. She has family all over, really, ex-pat kid of ex-pat kids of military brats. What military ? You know. Got some American, some British, some Indian ancestry. Irish too, obviously. Family in Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia. Can’t place her accent ? That’s why. International schools in Tahiti, Kerala, Germany. How many languages does she speak ? A bunch, with varying degrees of proficiency. That doesn’t answer your questions, Tegan ? Too bad, too bad, really, Louie can’t be more specific. Woman of mystery, Mina says.

At the party, smell of gin-breath and weed-smoke, blacker smoke from the fire someone’s started in the cement pit they use for barbecues. Louie vaguely wonders what they’re burning. Belching and billows. Rob’s boyfriend pulls him to his feet to join them. Mina stretches her legs – bare, white, long, blue-glitter varnish on her toenails – and her knee knocks Louie’s. Louie doesn’t move away. Tegan leans into the space on the grass Rob left behind. It’s his party, technically. The first of them all to turn thirty, although Louie’s turned thirty a couple of times. She doesn’t say this, obviously. Her birthday’s supposed to be in September. Thirty next September. It’s hard to keep it straight, with the gin. The smoke drifts over and the garden smells like burnt sugar, itchy.

One good scratch, deep in under the hairline, that’s all she wants.

Well. That’s not all she wants.

Mina tips her glass towards Louie and Louie takes a drink. Eyes locked, lashes long. Definitely flirting.

Later, more good drinks later, little lime shavings tanging their tongues, they are talking about exes. Their circle has expanded ; even the ones who had been burning biscuits in the barbecue fire are sitting on the grass on cushions or the throws from the couch or just their own bare legs, dimpling a little with the chill of the dark night.

They’ve known each other a long time, most of them. Some since childhood, more since college. Between them, they can draw invisible strings, an incestuous spiderdiagram of who has dated whom, slept with whom, kissed whom in teenage games of spin the bottle. Mina’s number’s highest, when they’ve counted the tally. Tegan right behind her.

Mina almost spits her drink when Louie tells her.

You aren’t friends with any of your exes ? Not a single one ?

Not a single one.

Tegan’s laugh is mean as fingernails on a blackboard. You can’t have had many exes, then.

But Louie’s count is higher even than Mina’s. She keeps the real number to herself, only shrugs at Tegan and says, I guess I’m just hard to get over, Tegan.

Right, says Tegan, and Louie can tell she’s holding back real carefully from saying something the others will chastise her for.

So tell us, Mina asks, her whole face an invitation. Since we’ll never meet them, tell us about these exes of yours.

This is what Louie tells them : there was Preeti, in high school, brown eyes and white teeth, that perfect gap between the two front ones at the top that you could fit a fingernail in. Dark hair, bobbed under her chin. Cheeks these perfect apples, lips like something you could eat. How did it end, Mina ? Well. When Louie’s ma found out she was livid, put a stop to the thing at once, but they were only going to move on anyway. There was Anja, dyed blonde hair and plump lips. Dollface, the men called at her from building sites and bar doorways. Hey, doll. She tossed her honey hair. There was Julianne, first year out of secondary school, one of the gap years, Louie says. Brown curls and freckles, braces that bit when they kissed. Caustic bite to her words, too. Sharp little teeth in that lovely mouth when the braces came out. When she broke up with Louie they were all that she could see. Sharp and white and lovely.

There was Sarah and Coral and Amy. Red hair, black, dyed purple and chopped to pieces, undercut so bleached it was almost green. Pale skin, brown skin, freckles, lips, teeth. Eyes all shades of blue and brown, one pair green.

And the latest ? asks Mina. The one you left before you came here ?

Louie touches the lids of her own eyes, her cheeks, so gently. That one, she says, looked a little like me.

Sometimes at night there’s this litany of names. Names Louie’s called out in bed, names she’s since called herself, names that then get moaned by mouths who own other names that may then one day be hers. Pink lips, red lips, lips bitten and bruised and smiling filthily or sweetly. Sometimes at night the ghosts of those names whisper in Louie’s ears, lips touching her skin.

There are places in the body where skin is thinnest. Shallow cuts along the forehead, little line drawn on a wrist, small nick in the inside of nostrils, fingernails a little too sharp against that inner vaginal wall. Easy to bleed, there. Small wounds weeping so much blood.

Louie’s lips crack first. All the chapstick in the world couldn’t keep them supple. Each kiss a fissure. That’s when Louie knows it’s time.

That, or she goes and gets her heart broken again.

Hearts bleed hard from shallow cracks too.

Later still, every bottle of gin well empty, the party disperses. Mina and Tegan kiss their exes and their exes’ exes, and their exes’ new girlfriends who are now their friends too. Rob retires to his bedroom with his boyfriend.

Mina put some kind of dried flowery herb on the black-smoking fire a while ago and now the garden smells like a summer forest, sways like Louie’s on a tyre swing between the trees. She should go to bed, get out of her clothes, turn on the shower in her en-suite and dig her nails into the skin of her face to scratch this goddamn itch but Mina’s wrapped her in a soft patterned blanket and there’s still a few ice cubes left in the bottom of her latest drink. Besides, Mina’s still up, heavy lids on her eyes, legs all languorous so close to Louie’s skin.

Tegan looks at Mina’s legs stretching the length of the sheepskin rug she’s dragged out of the sitting room to lie on and sighs, See, that’s why you’ve been with so many exes. (Her esses are sibilant with the drink.) With a body like that. Thin as a reed, those legs. S’no wonder.

Mina’s body’s a willow, bending with the breeze. She swings a cushion at Tegan, playing. Misses by a mile. Oh, come on, she says to Tegan. With that ass, anyone’d have you.

Tegan stretches like a cat and turns her back, leans over one hip to look at the others. Tegan is a Botticelli painting. With claws.

Tegan looks at Louie, then, as if realising she hasn’t been complimented yet. Louie knows her own body. It’s stocky, strong, utilitarian. Louie’s body is not a reed or a cat or a painting. Tegan says, with deliberate hesitation, And Louie, you’re, well, you’ve got such a pretty face.

I do, thinks Louie, it’s true. It is a pretty face.

*

She had screamed when Louie took it. They don’t often scream; usually they stay asleep, eyelids twitching over shades of blue and brown, one pair green. Maybe their lips part when she slices the skin, maybe they breathe a little deeper as she peels it off them, sinew and bone exposed. It takes forty-three muscles to make a human expression; Louie read that somewhere once. She makes sure they’re all slack, those muscles. Easier to get a knife in. The eyes come last, with a coupla good pops. Louie loves the sound. Loves how the world looks different, afterwards, through her ex’s eyes.

Louie watches Mina : beautiful, laughing, tripping over the steps up to the decking, hand in Louie’s hand. They tumble into a bedroom – Mina’s, tangle of fairy lights around the headboard, cluttered desk overflowing with coffee cups. Mina doesn’t hesitate at the threshold, which Louie thought she might. Small show of nerves, that dance of consent before clothes come off. Louie imagined Mina biting her own lip, casting her eyes down and then up again, ready to let Louie lead. She doesn’t let Louie lead.

Mina pulls her down with a force Louie couldn’t have expected. Mina : trust and laughter, a light touch, sweet hesitation. Or so Louie thought. Instead Louie finds there is a ferocity to her. Her long, slim limbs suddenly all muscle, her hands hard, her lips insistent. Before she can think, Louie’s up against a wall, head arching back, lips busy, all but trapped. Suddenly Mina is calling the shots. Louie likes it, this unexpected outside force.

It’s Louie who’s thrown bodily onto the bed, not Mina. It’s Mina who climbs on hands and knees over Louie, teeth at her shirt collar, hands at her belt. It’s Mina who strips her, fast and fierce, barely letting Louie take a breath between kisses, clash of teeth around her bottom lip, almost hard enough to draw blood. It’s Mina who leaves a trail of wet bruises along Louie’s jaw, her neck, each collarbone like Mina could rip them right out of Louie’s skin.

Louie’s never felt this before but also she has. She’s a bit drunk, maybe, she realises a little too late. She’s a bit more pliable. A bit more ready to lie back and let somebody else lead for once. She ignores the itch moving like pins and needles along her hairline so that it almost feels like sweat from the warmth and the willing body above her, like the tingles when Mina fists the hair at the nape of her neck and pulls, meets Louie’s mouth again and again before pressing her back into the mattress, hard.

Julianne was the meanest, in a way that wasn’t calculated, carefully adopted, like Anja. Like Louie herself can be, if she’s honest. Julianne was mean down to her bones. Blade of bite to every word she spat. Those things’d make you bleed. Tegan reminds Louie of Julianne, sometimes. Sharp toothed, sharper tongued. The things that tongue could do.

Louie’d been the one to tongue her, at the end. Break-up sex, hot and hard and humiliating. Long gaspgroans far above her, thighs both sides of Louie’s pretty face. Sex makes people sloppy, loose. The drugs she had given Julianne took a while to hit and Louie’d only ever fuck her sober. Consent is vital, always.

Not so mean now, eh, Julianne, Louie’d thought, gently touching her ex’s sleeping face. Each muscle slack and soft. Pliable, nowhere near the sharpness Louie’d been cutting herself on for months.

Now whose heart is broken, Julianne ?

Most of the time, they never even wake up.

Lying half on Mina’s pillow, half on the lean ridge of Mina’s upper arm, Louie’s face itches. She gives a small experimental scratch, quick and contained so it won’t wake Mina, right under the back cartilage of her left ear. Shudders all through her. She stifles a groan. There’s nothing like scratching an itch. Her bare legs wrap around Mina’s, still wet where they meet. Almost nothing. Her eyes close, briefly, and when they’re open again Mina’s staring at her.

You okay ? she asks.

Yeah, Louie whispers. Never better. Just a mosquito bite or something. Go back to sleep.

Mina happily closes her eyes again and Louie breathes easy.

Six months she’s been here. Eight’s the longest she’s lasted and that time her face was pretty much falling off by the end. Red rash along her hairline, deep welts from scratching in under her jaw. They got infected, the scratches. Oozed yellow pus and clear liquid all over the pillow. Crusted up every evening. Hot water and a flannel to loosen the scabs.

She can feel it coming. Deep, relentless itch. Skin crawling. Heat in every pore.

Not long now.

Louie looks at Mina’s face, so close her features blur. Scatter of freckles on the bridge of her nose. Eyebrows half a shade darker than her hair. Bow lips. Cheekbones to kill for.

Such a pretty face. Prettier than Louie’s, even.

Louie reaches out a finger and traces the outline of Mina’s face from a centimetre away. Makes a map. Soft touch of intent and air. The hollows of her temples, the curl of her fringe, the pout of her lips in sleep, the dip of her dimpled chin.

What are you doing ? A whisper against Louie’s knuckle. The tickle of breath makes Louie surge forwards and kiss Mina, open-mouthed and desperate, fold herself against her sleep-sated body and take Mina’s face in both her hands. Her fingers press against the hinges of Mina’s jaws, her hairline, the sweet soft spot in under her throat. Short, sharp nails against flesh. Mina moans into her mouth.

Right there, right here, this is where the knife goes in. Slick slice and a wet caress. Louie traps Mina underneath her, heavies her hips as weights against her, moves when Mina moves, matches her moan for moan. Still her hands won’t leave the sides of Mina’s face.

What are you doing ? A soft groan spoken over Louie’s lower lip, followed by sharp teeth, a grunt, hip-thrust. Louie doesn’t answer. Grinds harder, thigh high between Mina’s, rocking on her elbows, fingertips pressed against her temples, her throat, those cheekbones. Very soon Mina stops asking what she’s doing and only pleads for more. Louie comes so hard it takes fifteen thuds of her heart before she can take a full breath again.

Did you do this kind of thing with all those exes of yours ? Mina asks, a little later, when she’s got her own breath back. Eh, mystery woman ?

What kind of thing ? Louie’s breath’s still quick, upper thighs still slick.

I dunno, Louie. Learn their faces by heart ?

Louie barks a laugh. Do you always take charge right off the bat ?

It’s Mina’s turn to laugh. Did I surprise you ?

You did, yeah.

Mina lifts Louie’s face to hers with a fingernail right up in under the pulse point of her throat. Mina’s nails are longer than Louie’s but Louie’s not complaining. Later, there’ll be a mark. Small white crescent where she swallows. You underestimated me, she says.

There’s something to Mina’s words, something to the tone of her voice. Something like a mirror, familiar. More familiar than the reflection that looks out at Louie, later, when Mina has fallen back asleep. Louie in their shared bathroom, tilting her chin to take in every bruise necklacing her throat. A love bite along the line where the knife slides in. Louie may not recognise her own face now, not fully, but she recognises that.

And so, she begins to think, does good, kind, delicate Mina.

Amy was kind, Louie remembers. Kinder even than Preeti, who’d been only barely seventeen, hesitant as Louie and just as broken-hearted in the end, not that it mattered. Amy was delicate, cried quietly when she and Louie broke up. Black liquid eyeliner running in grey rivers down her cheeks in the prettiest way, watercolour lines connecting her freckles in pretend constellations. Louie thought of those tears often, in the years that followed. Even with her pretty face, Louie never made crying look that good.

Louie cried, the first time. Preeti’s closed eyes, jaw slack, every muscle at rest. Louie’s hands shook. She thought a lot about the nature of things. What made a person. How she could live with herself after. Turns out she didn’t have to, when she could live as somebody else.

Still, she cried when she took it, blamed her broken heart. And that evening, she cried with different eyes, red-tinged tears mingling with the smell of bleach, fingers raw from scrubbing. There was a lot of blood. She’s learnt, long since, to lay down sheets.

Now, Louie loves the mess. Slick slide of the knife, spill of warm blood sudden on her hands. It’s a little like sex, when Louie gets down to it. That give, two fingers lifting willing flesh from giving gore. The wet ridges of muscle over bone. Slippery sheets. Quick breaths. Sweet release.

At this point Louie needs it. And not just because of the itch threatening to overwhelm her, the skin of the edges of her face on fire, nails right in under, digging deep. Low growl of satisfaction but it’s not enough. Beside her, Mina sleeps, little ring of bruises already forming along her jaw.

Mina comes up behind Louie at the sink, whispers in her left ear so low Louie can barely hear her.

You tired me out so much I didn’t notice you get up.

Louie reaches around for Mina’s hands, links them across her own waist. The water is sudsy, sloshing over the sink. At Mina’s bare toes the bag of bottles Louie’s spent the morning filling clinks.

Louie arches her neck back, grins into Mina’s mouth.

You’re welcome.

Come back to bed, Mina murmurs.

What, you want me to tire you out some more ?

Mina’s laugh’s like the tin wind chimes strung up in the garden.

Now it’s my turn.

Wasn’t that the first time ? Louie chuckles, remembering how she’d underestimated Mina, how Mina called her on it proudly. She can feel her heart beat in every bruise.

Mina nibbles at her bottom lip. Fair’s fair, Louie. I give as good as I get.

I’ll say. Louie turns, overflowing sink forgotten, clink of bottles barely registering at her feet.

Leave the dishes, Mina whispers. Let me help you scratch that itch.

The problem with skin is that bodies are stupid. Bodies see anything foreign as a threat, an invasion. That’s why pregnant folks get so sick in the first trimester. That’s why transplant survivors have to work so hard for their bodies to accept the newly donated organ. Skin’s an organ like any other. Louie’s face can’t take it.

She’s not sure of the science but some last longer than others. This one’s been quick to fall apart. Maybe it’s because she screamed when Louie took it, the drugs diluted somehow so she didn’t just stay asleep, breathing shallow while Louie’s knife ran deep. Whatever the reason, Louie’s skin is seething like there’s something electric underneath, the itch like a constant shock zipping at her temples. There’s a burn behind her eyelids every time she blinks. Even her gums tingle around her teeth, and those have always been hers.

Mina’s noticed. Louie doesn’t know how but Mina’s noticed.

Points for flirting, Louie’s thought, a handful of times a week until now. Points for friendly, points for proximity. It’s only later, when Mina pushes her down on Louie’s own bed, kisses the itch under her skin hard enough to burn, that she considers points for Mina being the love of her goddamn life.

Back in bed Mina traces one long nail along Louie’s hairline, down around the whirl of an ear, lining her jaw with sharp white that fast fades to barely red.

Mystery woman, she whispers, and to Louie it feels like a declaration.

You’re unexpected, Louie tells her, arousal loosening her tongue.

Mmm, says Mina. Were all of those exes of yours expected ?

Louie just nods, even if it’s only partly true. Then she allows herself a small smirk. Why, she asks. You planning to be my next ex ?

Mina matches her smirk for smirk. Not gonna happen.

Then what is this ? Louie motions at their bare bodies, more tangled than morning bedsheets.

This ? Mina leans forwards, not the slightest trace of hesitation, and kisses Louie first firmly on the lips, then at the point under her left ear where the itch is fiercest. This is true love.

It’s much later when Tegan and Rob and Rob’s boyfriend emerge from their respective rooms to reluctantly help clean. There are stains on the couches and singe marks on the grass around the fire pit in the garden, something that looks suspiciously like the burnt remains of a shoe in amongst the sticks and the ashes.

They can tell, the others, that something’s happened, even through the haze of their hangovers. It’s in the way Mina orbits Louie, makes excuses to touch her, compliment her (all of those were points for flirting, Louie realises with hindsight). Rob and his boyfriend exchange a look while Tegan smirks knowingly.

Have fun last night ? she asks, syrup-sweet, slightest of emphasis on the second word.

Mina glows too much for a woman who drank seven glasses of gin and something the night before. Louie lets her face crack into a smile, ignores the way her skin feels papery around the edges. Her jaw aches.

You okay ? Mina asks, back against the hall door, heel of her foot kicking against the wall. We don’t have to tell them.

Tell them what ? Louie’s teasing.

Mina smiles, shakes her head. What she says surprises Louie more than anything Mina did last night. Tell them what you’re about to do.

They round the door to Louie’s bedroom, Mina leading again, pressing Louie back, chest to chest and knee to knee, no room to manoeuvre.

Oh yeah ? Louie asks, voice slightly muffled by Mina’s bared throat, hands already roaming, voice rough around the edges. And what is that ?

Mina reaches around Louie, clicks the door shut behind them. She untucks Louie’s t-shirt and runs her hands up Louie’s front, fingertips grazing her breasts. When Louie makes a low Hmm of pleasure Mina grabs her hips and moves her thigh high between Louie’s legs. It hits just right.

Louie moans into her open mouth but Mina takes Louie’s chin in one hand and holds her steady. She murmurs the words but they’re clear as anything, eyes on Louie’s dry, itching eyes. You’re about to take that knife in the bottom drawer of your wardrobe and slice the skin from Tegan’s pretty face.

Anja laughed a lot, called Louie’s humour ‘dry’. You’re killing me, she’d say, her eyes wide blue, her doll face smiling. Who gave you the right ?

When she found Louie’s knife in a wardrobe drawer she chuckled. Big bad, she called Louie, pretty mouth mocking. You don’t scare me.

Nothing scared Anja. She was the one people fled from. When she broke up with Louie it was brutal : a list of her least-desirable character traits falling off Anja’s plump lips like drops of honey. All Louie could hear, though, was the sharp, awful sound of her own heart breaking. A mouth is a weapon even if it can’t skin a whole face.

Anja smiled when Louie took it. Like she was in on the joke. It took hours to pull those lips off. Careful force, sharp slow tugs, and still Louie almost tore them. By the end she was sweat-soaked and panting with the effort, the deliberation. For weeks afterwards she slept like the dead.

Louie has to admit, this is easier with two. She’s used to mixing a drink with sweat still on her skin, letting her kisses slow and deepen as it kicks in. She’s used to knowing every inch of the body below her, to tracing the gentle marks she’s made. It’s different, when the still-sex-sticky body next to her is very much alert, and handing her the sharpened knife. It’s different when the house isn’t empty, all three housemates out cold, one lying fully clothed between them.

It’s Mina who bends her neck to check Tegan’s breath. Steady, slow. It’s Mina who tilts Tegan’s head back, exposing her throat. Her chest falls and rises in the silence. Louie wields the knife but it’s Mina’s sharp intake of breath that she hears when the tip slides in.

At any minute, Louie thinks, Mina’s going to stop, scream, pass out, something. At any minute she’ll realise she can’t stomach this. It isn’t when the knife slices clean and wet through skin. It isn’t when blood spurts bright between them. It isn’t when Louie, not without relish, angles both her thumbs at the same time, applying that perfect pressure at the red, wide corners of Tegan’s hazel eyes, and twitches at just the right angle to pop them right out with a satisfying splat.

Louie’s face itches. Deep frisson at her hairline, tingle of burn along her jaw. With Mina watching she hooks her nails right in, digs up and under, shuddering like she’s coming, breaths fast and hard. Mina’s pupils widen but she doesn’t say a thing. Louie gives one of those bellygroans, fingers working faster, deeper in under the skin, hard bite of nail like the best fucking thing in the world.

Her whole face peels off and it’s like a benediction. There’s nothing that comes close to this satisfaction. Louie groans again, harsh and low. Mina’s breath is quick.

When Louie pops her old eyeballs out she’s in the dark for a time. It’s like the biggest trust exercise she can imagine : her face, her future, in Mina’s willing hands. Mina’s breath stays steady as the wet rustle of her fingers.

Here, she whispers, and Louie can feel the slide of mucusy membrane easing over her empty sockets. Before they’re even attached she can feel Mina’s fingers pressing so carefully. A small moan curls in Louie’s throat. One slippery pop each and they’re in and oh, the relief. Louie groans.

Fuck, she says. Yes.

Louie can’t blink yet so Mina’s fuzzy, like dust over an old picture. Still, Louie can tell she’s smiling. Smiling at Louie like she’s the most beautiful woman on earth. Louie, who doesn’t have a face.

Mina leans in, dust-flecked and gorgeous, and with Louie’s muscle and sinew exposed, blood dripping from jaw and chin, rivulets running along her neck like sunsetstreaked mountain streams, Mina kisses her ravaged lips, red on red, licking into her mouth, opening wide. When she breaks the kiss it’s Mina who moans.

Over her kisses Mina presses the fresh face and the relief is immediate. The skin’s pliable, smooth. The lips are moist. The eyelids soft. Louie blinks and smiles and frowns, testing her reactions. She opens her mouth wide and Mina kisses her again.

There you are, Mina says.

(c) Moira Fowley

Congratulations! Official photos to follow on this page 🙂

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