The Intolerable Mask Collection

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

February 21, 2024

Welcome to Carrot Ranch Literary Community where creative writers from around the world and across genres gather to write 99-word stories. A collection of prompted 99-word stories reads like literary anthropology. Diverse perspectives become part of a collaboration.

We welcome encouraging comments. You can follow writers who link their blogs or social media.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

Mirror Image by Dianne Borowski

It was like looking into a mirror. She was me, down to the ugly scar on my chin. Inwardly I felt sick. Who was this person whose mask was my face. I stuttered, “Who, who are you?”
Throughout my entire life I hated my face. From my odd shaped nose, gray eyes and thin lips, I hated my appearance. I moved toward her, then ripped the mask from her face. I screamed. Her face was partially gone.. I was horrified. She reached out to me but I couldn’t touch her. I ran, sobbing, hating myself for turning away.

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Successful Son or Successful Mask? by Celestial Burgess

In the mirror, Tom’s reflection was a stranger’s—hidden behind the “Successful Son” mask. His mother’s expectations weighed heavily, the mask’s edges digging into skin, a constant reminder of the life he performed, not lived. Each compliment on his “perfect life” tightened its grip, suffocating the dreams he once had. Tom longed to rip it off, to breathe, to show the world his true face—flawed, uncertain, real. But at dinner, as his mother’s eyes sparkled with pride, he felt the mask fuse further, the line between the persona and the person blurring. Empathy? Perhaps. But first, he needed it for himself.

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Let Her Out by Simon

May I?
No!
Why?
I will be a laughing stock.
You are beautiful. The mask is not necessary.
It is needed. I’m not a real girl.
So?
Look at my beard. Probability of getting killed is 99%
No. Walk with me let’s see who has the guts to comment on you.
Why are you doing this?
Because as your wife, I am supporting you.
I’ll be a Joker.
The world is a Joke. Stop living as defined.
Let me shave.
That’s a good idea.
You know what? Burn this mask. I don’t needed it.
Proud of you honey.
Ditto.

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Happiest Day by Sweeter Than Nothing

Her face felt brittle as she tried to smooth her expression into something more recognisable as happiness, this is the happiest day of your life she told herself inching her fake grin wider as the camera flashed, beside her, her brand new husband slouched and accidentally tugged on her veil.

“Sorry babe,” he muttered, whiskey fumes from his fetid breath burned her eyes. Or was that despair making them sting with unshed tears? Of course not, it was happiness shining in her eyes, right?

Her mask nearly slipped but she rallied, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

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Comes the Springtime by Liz Husebye Hartmann

I’d taken to the deepest forest,

Slipping under darknight canopy,

Desperate for a glittering mask,  

A gilt-net bag of Turkish Delight,

Strands held tight in concealing ice.        

***

Climbing into the sleigh,

I’m swept away,

My heart shrinks sere in rushing wind,

Until nothing is left

In my hollowed chest.

***

Gazing sidewise, longing-wise,

Eying pomegranates and ice wine,

To become forever stilled.

***

Then you come for me,

Warm, fierce, laughing and apologetic,

On that damned polar bear:

Furs and fishy breath,

Less than perfect.

***

My heart melts,

Grows toward your light,

Still there, after all.

Because Turkish Delight never satisfies.

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Masking the Pain by Sadje

Smile a smile and don’t show your true feelings to the world. That was the mantra she grew up with.

Her face was covered with a false expression of bravado, that she wanted to tear off and throw away, but she was supposed to be strong, and brave.

Pain was to be hidden even when her heart was breaking and crying tears of blood.

But one day, she had enough, she tore away the despicable mask of indifference and showed the world her real face- a face full of emotions.

Surprisingly, her tears earned her the respect she craved.

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Masking Tape by Geoff Le Pard

Little Tittweaking’s film industry is renowned from one end of the High Street to the Chemists. It’s famous series, the War Stars brilogy* stars Daft Ada. Daft hates only one thing: her bespoke mask hides her asthma and emphysema. ‘It’s intolerable,’ she complained to the series’ famed director, Ann Cutt. Ann offered Daft a choice: lose the beautiful features and normal breathing or become a gasping headless villain. ‘You’re asking me to cut my own throat,’ she moaned. Ann was unmoved, ‘In this business, sometimes there are no good choices to make if you want to keep a head.’

*brilogy: a grouping or series that gets better with each new instalment

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Growing Pains by Sue Spitulnik

The ten-year-old girl got off the school bus with tears in her eyes. She went to her mother in the house, “My friend Toby has been mean to me lately. And he’s started swearing a lot. Why would he do that?”

“Isn’t he the oldest of his siblings, and their father left them?”

“Yeah. So.”

“I would guess that’s a mask of bravado because he hasn’t figured out how to be ‘the man of the house’ and still be a kid.

He’s trying to be tough.”

“Oh, I guess I understand, but I liked him better before he changed.”

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The Mask of Pretense by Ruchira Khanna

We often seek happiness in external factors such as material objects, situations, and occasions.

However, life is unpredictable, and not everything is in our control.

It’s best to avoid having expectations from anyone. This way, we can teach ourselves to find happiness in whatever we encounter.

The power of pretending to be happy is extreme and can help us keep our pain at bay.

By training our minds to be present and aware, we can better cope with life’s challenges.

Training your mind and being aware of the present situation will help you cope with everything thrown at you.

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Behind the Mask by Ann Edall-Robson

The 24/7 body pain etched into the creases of his face was one thing, but the twinkle that had left his eyes was another. He couldn’t go on with the ‘I am tough’ persona he used to try to mask the hurt from her. She’d manage the chores, she said. He gave her a hug, let his lips brush over her forehead, picked up his rifle, and opened the door to the predawn light. Today he will hunt for deer. She had given him that when she told him tomorrow she would go with him to the doctor.

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Intolerable Policies of a Pandemic by D. Avery

“Yes, I’ll help chaperone. A Mardis Gras theme is perfect. Finally, fun masks in school! Remember how your students found the covid masking so intolerable?”

She remembered. But, glad to be finished with remote learning, they’d been willing to endure the masks to keep each other safe. And now this group of students was planning unmasked after-school events.

“Yes, we’ve come a long way since 2020,” she said. “One thing, though, Hon. Masks aren’t allowed. School policy.”

“What? It’s Mardi Gras.”

“Has to do with shootings. New school rules to protect students.”

“But no new gun rules from Congress!”

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The Inquiry by Bill Engleson

They have summoned me. Demanded I attend. I have no other option.
I present myself, am processed, and shown where to sit.
It is a stark room, puce colored.
In this clay-wedged room, I sit on one side of a table opposite three of them. Their faces, each of their faces, has skin as tight, as wan as melted plastic.
They stare beyond me as if I were invisible.
Perhaps I am.
I look across the table at this human wall of blankness.
From deep within I find the will to offer a half grin.
They do hate hilarity.

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Peaceful Perambulation by JulesPaige

in spring light
way from the pain
that murmur

He moved to a warmer climate by the sea. Walking the pier he still needed a cane. For years he wore a mask of comfort. He refused to let others know just how much pain he was in. Until finally he got that hip operation. And then he wondered why he had been so stubborn. After all, he had moved away from the cold of winter. Now he could watch the starlings in large and small groups without pain, while strolling the long pier.

a murmur
separate starlings
a whisper

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Through The Screen: Unmasking the Silent Writer by Rockstar Girl

The mask through the screen why won’t you come clean I have been waiting for an hour for you to click the reply but you left me and my pages dry and there is no ink to fill just tears to cry while you are doing well I wish this mask was roses because then I could pluck the thorns with no remorse unlike you who is the face of the cover but you choose to be undercover you may write with conviction but your letters give you the satisfaction because you don’t have to put your heart out.

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The False Mask by Vignette Swanepoel

‘We all wear a mask to cope with our daily lives. I can only hope you’re different. The world is callous and bears no forgiveness. The mask may appear a simple solution, but it will destroy your false hopes and unrealistic dreams, eventually killing you. Don’t be deceived. Your smile will gleam bright, but when you hide behind the walls of your home where nobody can catch you, the tears will gleam brighter than your smile. Please be wary when you put it on. Do not let it destroy you like it destroyed me,’ read my mother’s suicide letter.

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Intolerable by Tina Stewart Brakebill

the curtain rises
born with intuitive grace
we bask in the show

then tears build a wall
and days unfurl into years
the party grows old

till a new moon shines
nothing left (or right) to chance
toss the dice once more

in the hush we feign
betting on the hand of fate
to change destiny

but stripped to the bone
the curtain of darkness falls
a shroud for the shame

still the day begins
a trick of light and shadow
burning umber sky

an unwary smile
a mask we still wear each day
hiding our true face

intolerable

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Under the Hood by Kate AKS

Here he is. Most scary words. To be recognized, to be identified. It was just work. Just for a day. You wore a mask, hood and no one will recognize you ever.

What to do with walking and height?

I saw you at the castle.

Yeah.

Why a tiny door at such early hours? She asked.

No one is ready for the truth.

You are a gardener, I knew it.

Perfect guess.

The gardener, to learn some plants, to put some seeds. All is much better than to be a hangman.

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Childhood Raiders by Charli Mills

They came at night when the dark hid the dust their horses’ hooves spawned. In the dope of sleep, she’d smell the land before the riders arrived. An earth warning. She’d wake to flee, slipping outside to hide her small body deep in the chasm of an Old Oak where her swing hung from a sturdy branch. This was no game. Yet the entire mounted posse wore white kitten masks with painted smiles. She shivered when her father would join them, whiskey bottle setting his eyes aflame. He meowed her name, sweet and playful. The tree whispered, don’t answer.

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Childhood Restored by Charli Mills

She removed the kitten mask they forced her to wear. She held up a mirror, cautiously. Older. Wisps of silver in her hair. Her face. No one else’s; her own. She noted her lopsided smile, imperfect features, the way her hair softly touched her cheeks. The Old Oak told her the mask they placed would come off, but years of fear and grooming made the feat feel impossible. She pictured scars. Torn flesh. Shattered bones. Her face was simple, strong, and as beautiful as the tree had promised her it would be. Not how they tried to mold her.

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Spa-tacular by D. Avery

“Hey, Pal. You’re mucking out the barns? Where’s Kid?”

“Dunno, Shorty.”

“I’m lookin fer my dog. Reckon they’re t’gether?”

“Mebbe. Aw, jeez, there they are, an Curly too. Wallowin head ta foot in mud.”

“Kid! Thet cucumber coins on yer eyes? Them was fer my cucumber sanwich.”

“You kin have ‘em after I’m done here, Pal. Jist mud bathin, complete with mud-mask facial. You might like sportin alligator hide, but I find it ta be intolerable.”

“I find yer mud bathin ta be intolerable, Kid.”

“Cuz you had ta muck the barns?”

“Thet. An cuz thet ain’t mud, ‘zactly.”

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Facin Facts by D. Avery

“Aw shift, Pal!”

“Calm down, Kid. Ya been shitfaced b’fore. Anyways, jist joshin ya— thet’s good clean mud.”

“Phew. So? Now I’ve wiped the mud off, how’s my skin look?”

“Real smooth.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Thet mud’s like spackle, filled in all yer wrinkles. Jist don’t crack a smile.”

“Hmmph. Then folks’ll think I’m you, with yer permanent restin grump face. Mebbe I should make a mask fer you ta wear. Make ya less scary lookin.”

“I ain’t skeery lookin. Jist got a serious visage. Mebbe you should take things more seriously too, Kid.”

“Seriously? That’s a intolerable outlook, Pal.”

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Thank you to all our writers who contributed to this week’s collection!

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9 Comments

    • Charli Mills

      My forgetfulness, Liz! Such a lovely 99-word response, too! I’ve updated the Collection. Thanks for your patience as I was away from the Ranch for a few days.

      • Liz H-H

        No worries. As Dori said to Nemo’s dad “Just keep swimmin’ swimmin’ swimmin’…” ????????

      • Charli Mills

        ????…two lost souls* swimming in a fish bowl year after year…????

        *expanding lost souls to lost links, lost IP addresses, lost posts, lost comments

        Thanks, Liz. ????No worries, be happy….????

  1. Jules

    Some masks are for safety, others for fun… the ones that hide the truth, can make us glum.

    A bunch of relateable tales of woe and recovery. Well done all.

    • Charli Mills

      It reminds me how people reacted to wearing PPE masks during the pandemic — some felt freedom in a mask and others confined. These stories capture that diverse expansion of intolerable masks.

      • Jules

        Very true.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Re-cappin fer Red

    “Those three still wallowing, Pal?”
    “Yep. Lissen, Shorty. Kid’s bringin yer dog up ta date.”

    *We been waitin fer ya, Red. Heck, the first prompt a the year was yer name! An a while back she was on about a dog in the desert. Then she was on about recovery, more like showin up an makin the best a things. Reckon that’s what she did when she went with her hub through wreckin weather, despite feelin like a fish outta water at first. Then she found you, Red, or vice versa, an ya both were no longer lost.*
    “Woof!”
    XXX
    *There’s so much ta tell ya ‘bout Carrot Ranch, Red. You’ll meet lots a characters! Ernie lives up the creek. He was shacked up with Sassy-squatch but she left him, prob’ly jist because our writer don’t wanna write ‘bout that, but Ernie’s some upset, he can’t mask his emotions even through his grizzly beard. An there’s the LeGumes, Pepe an Logatha an their little Bambeano. An Logatha’s sister, Cheri d’Sharte. I get along with ‘em jist fine, but they’re no breath a fresh air, despite prevailing winds. An we all love ta see Frankie ridin in on ol’ Burt.*
    XXX
    *Frankie’s an old friend a Shorty’s an Burt’s her mail-horse. I expect she’ll show up soon cause when I asked her would she want ta meet ya she said, would I! All excited like. But that might a been a reference ta her hand carved walnut prosthetic eye.
    There’s other characters that’ve been through. But the one ya really gotta watch out fer is Pal. Pal is a grumpy curmudgeonly know-it-all, always stompin down my ideas. But Red, pigs have flown on this Ranch! Right, Curly?*
    “Oui, oui!”
    *Unicorns graze here!
    Dream it an write it, Red. Welcome home!*

    • Charli Mills

      Red fits right/write in at Carrot Ranch, easily slipping into yarns as he is both a character and dream figure. Great summary of who he can expect to meet, especially the unicorns. Red will be a great leader dog, running in front of the herd of stories that gather at this Ranch. He’ll learn to give the unicorns rooms and not get in Frankie’s blind spot. He seems too interested in the smell o’legumes and I hope he doesn’t roll in something he shouldn’t. But there’s plenty of bathing water around. He sure likes Curly, Kid. And look at him nuzzle your face. He likes you, too!

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