Hey! It looks like you're new here. You might want to check out the introduction.

Hiding in Plain Sight · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 500–900
Show rules for this event
The Man With No Face
They called him “the Man With No Face”, but only because “the Man With the Forgettable Face” left little impression. And impressions were everything.

He sat at a café: sipping his tea, solving the morning crossword, glancing at the article about the latest robbery, and smirking at the fact that, in a few minutes’ time, he could get up and walk away from his unpaid bill without anyone stopping him. He’d had to flag down a waiter for his Earl Grey, and signal to another one that his table was still occupied and no, the family of four could not therefore have it yet.

For as long as he could remember, he’d been a non-entity. School tutors repeatedly reported him for truancy, and since it made no difference whether he actually turned up or not, he’d taken to wandering the school and learning from the library by himself.

Still, they might not remember him, but they remembered his documents. He’d passed his exams spectacularly. He’d obtained careful references and had learned to rely on paper rather than people. University had accepted a name, even when it couldn’t find him.

What a name he had, though. Willowby Hopkin-Hawkes. Not a name one could forget. Paper anchored him, or so he’d thought.

Then one day, it had gotten worse.

Regardless of how many letters he sent his bewildered parents, slowly but surely they became confused as to who he was and why he was sending them anything. When they stopped replying at all, he’d confronted them, but had been no more substantial than a will-of-the-wisp. He could smash furniture—and had—but their only comment would be which of them had been careless this time, own up, when did you do it Harold?

One by one, schoolfriends—or colleagues, rather, since friendship with the faceless was out of the question—forgot he even existed. Showing them photographs had initially worked, but eventually his face in the school photos became blind spots to them too. Tutors showed no recognition of his name.

It was as if the world had forgotten he existed.

Yet new people helped. They recognized him. Perhaps, he'd speculated on his days off, there was a time limit to how much exposure he had with people. After that limit, he vanished from their memories and from their very eyes.

A useful talent, in some circles…

Someone coughed. Willowby lowered his paper.

“Ah,” he said, jovial as a snob. “Rufus Knight.” He checked the clock. “Punctual, as always.”

“Well, I have three incentives.” A snappily dressed old man eased his weight onto a chair opposite, and confident as a lion ordered a coffee in passing. “This is an establishment of impeccable taste. One has one’s professional reputation to think of. And I wouldn’t miss a second of your company—” hastily, he checked a scrap of paper in his pocket “—Willowby.”

“Three hundred thousand for your account, as promised.” Willowby kicked something under the table. “‘Tis a pity you couldn’t lend me a better lock-picker. There’s such a thing as professionalism.”

“Admit it: my boys did their homework with the passcodes.”

“The passcodes didn’t get me caught, Rufus.”

A twitch crossed Rufus’ face. “That’s Mister Knight to you.”

“It’s not exactly a gourmet picnic in a police cell, you understand.”

Rufus shrugged in the manner of a man to whom “done time” was little different from a weekend break. “Why didn’t you just use your… charm on them?”

Willowby grimaced at the pause. “Hardly a charm, Rufus.” He ignored the resultant twitch. “Sometimes, it’s more like a curse.”

“A curse that’s just gotten you a hundred thousand richer…” Rufus frowned again, reached under the table, shuffled some papers, and even laid them on the table for all to see before reading: “Willowby.”

“There’s more to life than riches, Rufus.” No twitch this time: Willowby grimly noticed that. “In a hundred years’ time, who will be the greatest thief the world has ever known?

Once more, Rufus shuffled the papers and read them carefully. They were case files. Memory aides.

“Willowby, you are the greatest thief of all time,” Rufus said, chuckling as he did so. “The fact will remain when the memory has… When you are the greatest…”

A frown crossed Rufus’ face. After a while, he stared blankly at the chair Willowby sat on as though wondering why it was there.

Willowby sighed. Not again.

He’d robbed museums, galleries, private homes, and even people in the street in broad daylight. He’d occasionally been arrested, and within hours either walked out a free if forgotten man or—in rare cases like this one—been rescued by teams of anxious crimelord lackeys eager to keep his services. And his name on their books.

It made no difference. The greatest criminal mind in the world had only seconds to gloat to anyone before they forgot he was right in front of them. The very papers now disappearing into Rufus’ suit would soon become blind spots too. He’d be wanted in over fifty countries, if only they knew he existed.

Only the thrill of crime—the great rebellion against a world determined to delete Willowby Hopkin-Hawkes—retained its fun.

Eventually, he walked out with the suitcase meant for Rufus. No money could bring him satisfaction, but it would at least briefly soothe the emptiness inside.
« Prev   6   Next »
#1 · 2
Well at least Lyra Willowby found an occupation suitable for his... talents.
#2 · 5
Interesting premise, but even in the span of less than 1k words, we dwell on his talent for too long. Since it's revealed more or less at the start, we're not really building up to anything more. I personally would have gone the opposite route: things going wrong, as opposed to him making the same kind of escape as so many times before

Prose is very good though, good pacing, decent humor that doesn't outstay its welcome. Good job!
#3 · 1
· · >>HiTime
Cassius is persuaded that this guy is me. In some aspects, he’s right, though I’m no super-talented thief. But yeah, pretty much forgettable, that was my goal in life.

The character is pretty weird, in a good way. I mean, it bears a waft of Twilight Zone. However, there is no story here. It’s just a bio. The first half clearly is, the second half is a sort of "crypto-"bio, the bio is embedded in a dialogue but that’s still a bio. What did the guy steal? What/whom for? That’s questions the text doesn’t answer.

So, it’s hard for me to rank this high because, despite the good idea, there is no real arc or progression in the characters. It’s just a big chunk of exposition.
#4 ·
Good Stuff: Willowby becoming a thief to hide his "inner emptiness" is a neat spin on the "invisible person" idea, and I liked the snobby smugness he shows towards Rufus. It's actually interesting to see how his life played out and how he turned to crime when it got worse. It adds an emotional element I wasn't expecting, when he's just resigned to it. The language flowed naturally, and I liked the little touches like his reminding the waiters he's still at his table, and Rufus using memory aides.

Bad Stuff: The power seems inconsistent at times. Sometimes, he seems to control it enough to get noticed briefly, sometimes he can't. Would Rufus really bring case files with him to talk to a possible criminal? And I won't go as far as >>Monokeras, though I like the bio format, but it does feel like it could go further than it does. The first half drags a bit too.

Verdict: Solid Entry. It doesn't do as much with its idea as it should, and you drop the ball here and there. But overall, I liked the characterization and the background given, and I think it achieves what it wants to. All while making itself mostly fun to read. That's a good sign!
#5 · 2
Why, hello, Background Person. I don't suppose you play the lyre and are haunted by a particular melody from deep within your soul?
#6 · 1
My review:

Characters and Dialogue: Willowby is a very interesting character, whose casual criminality comes across to me as that of a "gentleman thief." If this was your intention, I might tone down the irritation he shows toward Rufus; it's not becoming of such a character. If this was not your intention, then more needs to be indicated e.g. in the first part as to what exactly his feelings toward society are, with respect to his condition.

Plot and Pacing: The fic appears to be split into two parts; one being the exposition/internal monologue on Willowby's condition, and the other being the talk with Rufus. Both of them are overall written quite well, but seem to have some extraneous bits, if I were being picky. The reader ought to be able to piece together the "gimmick" on his own without quite so much example, and might be more satisfied to read a longer second section, which could explain in more detail the plan that he and Rufus executed. Indeed, my only larger grievance with the story is that not much really happens; it's just a character description, and a minor encounter to add to said character description.

As well, it was a little unclear to me how Willowby managed to walk out with both his money and Rufus's; once he had vanished, I was more worried that he wouldn't be able to convince Rufus to give him either.

Style, Form, and Grammar: All very top notch. Thoughts were conveyed very lucidly, and despite the obvious time limits, appear to be polished quite well. Well-balanced, grammatically rich sentences like "A snappily dressed old man eased his weight onto a chair opposite, and confident as a lion ordered a coffee in passing" reminds me a fair bit of good French writing, but now I'm just rambling.

Final: This will rank fairly high on my ballot.