Anonymous looked up at the sky, not trusting the colour smeared upon the horizon. Horizons could be misleading, they knew. Horizons could convince you it was still daylight, even when the whole of the sky arced above you in a sprawl of midnight. Looking forward was not always enough. Sometimes, you had to look up.
Directly above Anonymous, the moon cut its teeth into the clouds, drawing blood and bruising the darkness with its waxen light, waning at the edges. It was time.
They did not have long. The witch had told them, as she reluctantly handed them the bag of herbs, that the spell would only be useful for the minute or so that the moon was at its highest. The minute was upon them.
Fifty five seconds left.
Cursing themself for having lost track of time, Anonymous reached into their trouser pocket and pulled out the little drawstring bag. With hands shaking in anticipation, they emptied the contents into the small well they’d dug into the earth all those hours ago, and covered it back over with dirt. Fingers crossed behind their back, they stepped away and waited.
It did not happen immediately. Magic takes time, the witch had said. Magic does not come to you when you ask for it; it comes to you when it’s good and ready. You can cast all the spells you like, scatter all the herbs and make all the offerings, but magic cannot be summoned - only tempted.
The seconds ticked by, and Anonymous waited.
This had been a long time coming, they reflected. They had waited too long for the taste of power on their lips. They had been too long distant from how it felt to be in control. They had learnt too early their place in the world, and they had too soon come to rue it. The chasm between want and have had grown inexorably bigger since the day they were born, and now they were here.
The mound of earth did not move. Anonymous thought about the time they had first felt insignificant - the first time they had realised that they stood small in the face of all things - and counted the seconds.
With ten seconds left before the spell died, the magic came.
Magic has no face, has no body. It takes no form and it holds no weight. The witch had told Anonymous this herself. Magic simply is; it is because no other word will do, but it is not. It cannot be, and has never been, and yet it is.
When Anonymous thought about it, it was all rather complicated.
Best, then, not to think at all. Best to give voice to thought and make it speech.
Anonymous cleared their throat and began.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I summoned you here - ”
I was not summoned.
They flushed, the soundless sound surprising them even though they had been expecting it. Do not fear the voiceless voice, the witch had warned. It speaks, and is silent. The words are only half your own.
Breathing slowly, they tried again.
“No, of course not. Sorry. I’m not - I haven’t used magic before.”
And you still have not. I am not here to be used. Say what you would have, and I will do the same. This is not a service. This is a trade.
“Right. Yes. Sorry.” They inhaled, exhaled. This was the only chance they would have to resolve the conflict that had been the shape of all their life. This was the resolution of aporia; of feeling as though they deserved everything, yet having nothing. Of knowing that they should be free, but being everywhere in chains. Of wanting, and of not having. “I want to feel powerful.”
In what sense? Power is not all-encompassing. The queen ant is powerful to the workers, but weak to the heel of the boot. What power would you hold? Do you seek to command nations, or to master the arts, or to take another as your own?
Anonymous considered how best to formulate their response before replying. Precision was key here. The witch had made it clear that magic would grant you what you asked, whether or not it was exactly what you wanted.
“I’m tired of being silent,” they said eventually. “I’m tired of being unable to say whatever I want. I’m sick to the teeth of thinking all these thoughts - great thoughts, too; thoughts that could topple cities and part seas - and being forced to keep them to myself, all because other people think that their own feelings are more important. Well, what of my feelings? What of feeling inadequate? What of the weight of being told to keep silent? Do they know what that does to a person?”
As they spoke, they could feel their heartbeat rise, pumping and roaring in their ears, in their veins. “Sorry,” they added. “I’m getting carried away. But to answer your question - I want to have the power to speak my mind.”
In all things?
They contemplated it. “Yes. In all things.”
The silence was real for a few moments before it became illusion.
I can help you.
“And will you?”
Yes. It will require exchange, however.
At these words, Anonymous could hardly contain their excitement. “Anything. I’ll give you anything.” They took their purse out from their other pocket, and held it out towards the mound. “I have money. I have a house, too, but that’s back in town. You mightn’t like it there. My neighbours - ”
I would have your face.
Anonymous faltered. “My what?”
Your face. That is my offer. I will give you unlimited and unprecedented power to speak your mind. All thoughts you have will be given voice, and you will never again be forced to turn away from speaking aloud what you have always been taught to keep silent. In return for this extraordinary power, I would take from you your face, and in so doing I would give myself form and body. You would never again be silent; I would never again be invisible.
“But wouldn’t I suffer without a face? How would anyone know that it was me who was speaking?” Anonymous asked, wringing their hands around their purse.
I have named my payment. Now I would name my price. The price of this power is thus: the knowledge that all thoughts you give voice to will be dampened by your lack of face. That everything you ever say to another will be tempered by your lack of identity. That no-one will again know whose thoughts you speak; only that you do speak, and in all things.
There was nothing for it. They would have to decline. They could not accept these terms. What power came at such a price, after all? What king had ever ruled his country with no name or face? What lover had ever made another theirs with no identity?
All the times they had been asked to hold their tongue; all the times they had been scolded for speaking their mind; all the times they had uttered the wrong words at the wrong time and had suffered for it: all this had been for nothing.
Although, Anonymous admitted to themself, the thought did appeal on one front, and one front alone. It was undeniable that a certain freedom was gained by completely giving up one’s identity. After all, who could be held accountable for a deed when the deed was done by one with neither name nor face? Who would they scold when the words that were given were not the words that were wanted? Who would suffer when the things said were not things that people wanted to hear?
Only those who heard them, of course, and not the one who spoke them.
And immediately, ashamedly, wonderfully, the decision was already made, had perhaps been made years ago.
“It’s a deal.”
You agree to the payment and price?
“I do. Take my face, and give me the power I seek.”
The deal is struck.
And then the moon, which had begun to falter at its peak, was suddenly once more at its highest. The minutes had been returned.
Hand trembling, Anonymous reached up to touch their face, only to find that, of course, there was no face. Where their image had been - the folds of their mouth, the curve of their nose - was now smooth and featureless. There was nothing there at all.
“Are you happy?” came a voice from behind them.
Anonymous whirled around, and came face to face with their own face, worn by another. “Who are you?” they asked, and a thrill chased up their spine at the realisation that there was no fear behind these words at all. Their voice did not falter. The question was biting, crystalline.
“I am Magic,” replied the impostor, “given form by our deal. Is it to your satisfaction?” It cocked its head inquisitively, Anonymous’ old eyes seeking validation in their new setting, and Anonymous felt powerful. They were looking at their old self - their weaker, voiceless self - and they were free.
Anonymous drew a deep breath in before responding. “is having a ginormous fat peen a deal breaker for you?” they asked.
Magic blinked. “I don’t understand.”
“yano,” continued Anonymous, “cuz u short.”
“Why are you saying that?” asked Magic, eyes darting left to right in placid uncertainty. “I don’t understand. I gave you what you wanted. You could say anything you wanted, and no-one would ever hold you accountable. You could take a lover with intricately crafted sonnets, bend ears with your scintillating rhetoric, and yet you choose - ”
“is having a ginormous fat peen a deal breaker for you? yano cuz u short,” interjected Anonymous, feeling giddy and drunk with power.
Magic blinked again. “You have the choice of a thousand languages, billions of words - ”
“is having a ginormous fat peen - ”
“Sometimes,” Magic interrupted, “silence is the more powerful weapon after all. I could undo what I have done, but I think it best not to bother. Some people will never learn. I wish you luck with all things, and may you one day find your power useful, for it will not aid you in the pursuit you have chosen.”
With that, Magic was gone, and Anonymous’ face was lost to them forever. Now alone, Anonymous looked gleefully at the small mound of earth that had been their salvation. They thought of all the things they would say tomorrow, and they smiled.
At least, they would have smiled, had they been able.
Far away, Magic rolled its new eyes, and decided to write a sonnet.