Posted in Stories, Writing

The Masks of Misfortune (Part 2 of 4)

Read Part 1

A few days later, Tom and Daisy returned to the shop to pick up the masks.  They were surprised to find Mr. Fessip all worked up in a frenzy.  He explained how someone had tried to rob the store the other evening.  The front window had been smashed.  Things had been thrown around the store, and much had been broken but nothing taken; it was as though whoever it was had been frantically looking for something specific.

“What bad luck I seem to have fallen into!” the old man sighed, and then brightened.  “But luckily for you, your masks were unharmed!  I brought them home with me last night to finish working on them.”  He handed over the three cases.

Daisy peeked into one and saw the eye mask peering back, looking bright and brand new, its paint and pattern fully restored.  She looked up beaming.  “Oh thank you, Mr. Fessip, thank you so much!”  She gave him a hug then bounced out of the store, with Tom following behind carrying the cases and smiling at her.

They made a quick stop to drop off Harry’s mask.  When informed by the maid that he was out, they left the mask with her and carried on to Daisy’s.  Tom placed the remaining two cases on the table in the parlour and opened the one with the jester mask in it.  He pulled it out and stared at it curiously.

“What’s on your mind, dear Tom?”  Daisy came up behind him, resting her head atop of his, her hands wondering across his chest and playing with his tie.

“I just can’t seem to get that man out of my head – you know, Rathgowl, the one who tried to buy the masks?  I wonder why he wanted them so badly.”  He felt Daisy’s shrug.

Tom ran his hands along the mask, the jester’s face gaping up at him.  “Ouch!”  His hand lurched backwards, dropping the mask.  “That edge was sharp!”

“Oh, Tom, you’re bleeding!”  Daisy grabbed his hand.

“I’m fine.”

“Let me just go get something to clean that up.”  Daisy rushed out of the room.

Tom bent and picked up the mask, checking to see if he had damaged it.  He had the sudden urge to see himself in it, so he pressed the mask up to his face.

He heard a girl laughing.  He turned but saw no one.  The laugh echoed again, ringing all around him, coming closer.  “Daisy?” he called.  No reply.  Someone giggled in his ear.

Tom’s vision fogged over and he could no longer see.  He shook his head and reached to take the mask off but his arms wouldn’t move.  He blinked rapidly, trying to clear away the mist.  He saw a blurred figure standing before him.  It giggled, and the sound washed away the fog.  Standing just in front of him was a young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen.  She was wearing a peculiar dress and her black hair hung loosely, waving down to her waist.  Her blue eyes sparkled, staring unblinking back at him.  He wanted to reach out and touch her.  He breathed deeply, and she smelt intoxicatingly of cinnamon.  He took a step forward but fumbled.  The girl’s hands dashed up to her mouth and she laughed again, a musical, lilting laugh.  She turned and fled.

“Wait!”  Tom started after her.  He realised suddenly that he no longer seemed to be in the parlour, but was in a narrow street instead, with a watery canal to his left and tall buildings to his right.  The girl was a few steps ahead of him.  “Come back!”  He needed to get closer to this girl, needed to touch her.

The girl ran forwards again.  She darted left and crossed an arching bridge leading over the canal.  When on the other side she turned back and waved invitingly.

“Isabella, don’t go so fast!”  That was not Tom’s voice.  He felt something push by him and he saw a little boy now, around eight years old, running after the girl.  “Papa says you mustn’t leave me!”  The boy seemed on the verge of tears.  He crossed the bridge and the girl held out her hand to him.

“I wasn’t going to leave you, silly!  But we must hurry if we want to see the celebrations!  Come on, I don’t want to miss them.”  The girl caught up the boy’s hand and the two of them ran off together.  Tom followed closely behind, never taking his eyes off the girl’s head.  When she ran, her curls bounced.

The chase went through more narrow passages, crossing over many canals, and swerving left and right.  Every now and then, the girl would wave to someone who was passing by in the little boats floating along the canals.  Finally they reached a large open square.

Crowds of people were milling about the square, each dressed in an elaborate costume of some sort.  There was a band playing somewhere and people were laughing and chattering to one another.  The ladies all wore elegant dresses with ruffles and lace; the men’s outfits ranged from harlequin jumpsuits to billowing robes; most were wearing masks.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” the girl gushed, squeezing the little boy’s hand.  “Come!” she commanded.  She led the boy through the crowd, Tom following.  They walked past a looming clock tower built of red brick, the girl sneaking food from tables and passing it between her and the boy.  They looked around themselves in awe.  There was so much colour, so much brightness, so much going on that it was easy to get swept away in the celebrations.  They watched and laughed as people walked by juggling and doing other tricks.  They applauded the dancing couples who moved swiftly across a make-shift stage.  They clung to each other when the acrobats brought fire into their performance.  Throughout it all, Tom could still hardly take his eyes from the girl.  He wanted her to notice him, but she seemed oblivious to his presence, they all did.

Suddenly, the girl stopped short and gasped.  She was standing by a table that had several masks on display.  Her eyes grew very wide and she drew a little nearer.  “They’re beautiful,” she breathed.  The little boy was tugging at her hand, wanting to go look at something else, but she didn’t move and his hand slipped from hers, and they were separated by the crowd, the girl’s attention only for the masks.  Tom crept closer and glanced at the table, feeling as though he recognised some of the masks but his eyes were quickly drawn back to the girl’s.  Her eyelashes fluttered.  The girl peeked all around her.  The vendor had his back turned to her.  In a flash, the girl’s hand shot out and she grabbed three masks off the table, a jester, a beak-nosed, and an eye-mask.  Then she ran into the crowd, calling to the boy.  She shoved the black beak-nosed mask into his arms, silencing his protestations with a firm glance.  Tom reached out, and this time he swore his fingers had caught in her silky hair, and he shivered with excitement, the smell of cinnamon wrapping itself up in his smile.  The children ran away.

Tom suddenly found himself laying on the ground with someone leaning over him.  A far off musical voice was calling to him.  Tom – Tommm.  Yes, it was the girl!  It had to be!  She’d come back to him.  He shook himself and sat up, and the mask fell to the floor.  Daisy was bent down next to him, peering at him anxiously.

“Tom?”  He looked all around him; he was back in the parlour, with only Daisy.  “Tom, dear, what happened?”

“I-I don’t know,” he stammered.  “What a strange dream,” he murmured, for of course, that’s what that must have been, a dream.  “There was a girl,” he smiled goofily, “she had the most wonderful laugh.”

Daisy sat back and squeezed her hands together.  “Oh,” she said quietly.

“I was at an outdoor celebration, and there was water and music!”

“Tom, dear, are you feeling alright?”  Daisy placed her hand on his forehead.

“And the girl!”  Daisy pursed her lips.  “You actually kind of look like her.”

Daisy’s shoulders relaxed and she smiled.  “Oh!”  She helped Tom to her feet.  “But why were you wearing the mask?”

“I don’t know, I put it on and then – I don’t know.”  Tom picked up the mask and looked at it.  It seemed to chortle back at him.

Daisy eyed it wearily.  “You put the mask on, and you saw all that?”

“I suppose so, yes, but it’d be foolish to even suggest that those are in any way related.”

Daisy seemed less sure.  She wrung her hands.  “Maybe we’d better warn Harry…”

“Where is Harry anyways?  He said he’d be here at five, and it’s already a quarter past,” Tom said, glancing at his pocket watch and trying to avert Daisy’s attention.

Daisy blanched.  She knew full well that Harry was never late for anything.  “We left the mask at his place.  What if he’s…”  She glanced at the floorboards where Tom had been lying only moments before, seeming like a corpse to her.

“Nonsense.”  Tom waved his hand.  “Don’t be so ridiculous; I probably just had a head rush or something.  It wasn’t the mask,” he scoffed.  “I’m sure Harry’s fine.”

At that particular moment, it just so happened that Harry was not fine.

When he had arrived home earlier that day, he had received the case with the mask from his maid.  Going up to his bedroom, he eagerly pulled off the lid.  He wondered idly what sort of costume he could wear with it for the party that night.

“Better see what it looks like on,” he said to himself.  “Then I can decide.”  Harry put the mask over his face and looked at himself in the mirror.

“I look really menacing,” he laughed to himself.  “Fun.”

The eyeholes in the mask were quite small, making it difficult for him to see.  He moved forward slowly, going to turn on the lamp on his bedside table.  He tripped and stumbled, flinging out his hand to grab something.  His hand bashed against the corner of his desk and he felt a tingling sting and something warm dripping down his palm.  He regained his balance and clutched his hand.  “Damn,” he muttered.

Harry walked to the bathroom and put his injured hand in the wash basin.  He looked at himself in the mirror and chuckled when he saw he still had the mask on.  He was about to look down again when he noticed movement behind him.  Harry turned but saw nothing.  He faced the mirror again and jumped.  A girl stood reflected in the mirror behind him, staring vacantly at him.  He spun around again but there was no one in the bathroom with him.  Harry felt his heart beating frantically in his chest.  Slowly, he turned back to the mirror.  The girl was still there, closer to him now.  Her black hair was tangled and hung in strands across her face.  She wore tattered grey rags, so that the only colour glancing off her came from her big blue eyes, but even those looked dull and empty.  She began to cry, but instead of tears, blood slowly trickled down her face.  Her nose started bleeding and she opened her mouth as if to call for help, but started coughing instead, coughing blood into her outstretched hands.

Harry’s body shuddered and he was finding it harder and harder to breathe.  He tried to take in air, but could only gasp.  The mask clung to his face, suffocating him.  His fingers were desperately trying to force their way under its brim to pull it off, but the mask only grew tighter.  The world around him spun and he felt an agonising pain in his chest.  The vision of the girl loomed in and out, blurring at the edges.  He could hear her weeping and it filled his ears with sorrow.  He saw a little boy with pus-filled welts all over his body lying in a bed, dying, the girl kneeling next to him and sobbing.  He saw flashes of the girl running and the little boy who could not stop coughing in bed, and he felt panic rise within him.  Scabbed and rotting hands were reaching out towards him and disembodied voices were pleading for help and screaming with pain, and the girl would not stop crying.  Please forgive me, she sobbed suddenly, falling at his feet and crawling towards the little boy, who appeared once more, a corpse asleep in bed.

Then everything disappeared and Harry was once more in his bathroom, the mask coming freely off into his hands.  Harry clutched the wall for support, drawing in deep ragged breaths.

Not long after this strange event, Daisy and Tom were about to send someone to go and fetch Harry when there came a loud knocking at the door.  Moments later, Harry himself burst into the parlour, hair sticking out at all ends and breathing heavily.

“Oh Harry, dear, whatever’s happened to you?” exclaimed Daisy, rushing to his side at once and flattening his hair.

Harry did not speak for a moment, but strutted over to the sofa and sat heavily upon it, leaning his head back and throwing up his feet.

“Something strange is happening,” he stated, and waved his left hand, which the other two only just now realised was holding the death mask.  “I saw something very peculiar in my bathroom today.”

“Well, that can’t be a first,” joked Tom.  Daisy glared at him.

Harry told them what had happened.  Daisy reeled back, clutching Tom’s arm.  “Do you believe me now?  It’s the masks!”

“It’s not the masks!”  Tom shook her off.  “Look, I’m sure there’s a logical explanation to all of this.  I can’t think of one right this moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“Oh,” Daisy wailed, “I’m never putting this thing on now!”  And she pushed her mask away from her, which had been sitting innocently on the coffee table, shining up at them all.

“Yes you are!”  Tom turned to her.  “You’re the one who wanted to go to the masquerade so badly in the first place, so we’re going, and that’s final.  This is just your silly imagination running away with you again; everything is fine.”  Daisy bit her lip.  Tom’s face softened.  “Daisy, I promise, nothing is going to happen to you; I won’t let it.”  He held out her mask to her.  “Just put it on, and you’ll see.  Everything is fine.”  Daisy glanced at Harry and he nodded reassuringly to her.  She timidly took the mask from Tom and slowly brought it up to her face.

“We’re right here,” Harry encouraged.  With shaking hands, Daisy placed the mask over her eyes and tied the ribbon behind her head.

The three waited in silence for a moment.  None of them would admit it, but they were all holding their breath.

“What do you see?” asked Harry.

“Nothing, just the parlour,” said Daisy, relaxing her shoulders and smiling.

“See, I told you, nothing to worry about.”  Tom clapped his hands.  “Now let’s get ready for the party.”

Daisy walked towards the window.  She peeped out into the street, which was growing dim with the evening.  A carriage glided by.  People were passing to and fro, hurrying home from work, thoughts of an upcoming supper by a warm fireplace drifting through their minds, seeming to lift them right off their feet.

Daisy felt herself being grabbed from behind, and the scream caught in her throat.  She was lifted off the ground and spun around.  She choked out a loud shriek.

 

Read parts 3 and 4

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