Posted in Stories, Writing

The Masks of Misfortune (Part 4 of 4)

Read Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Daisy soon began to cough as smoke filled the room.  Her eyes stung and she staggered forward.  She fell, and her hands and knees hit cold stone instead of the wooden floorboards she had been expecting.  She began to crawl, and immediately bumped into something.  It looked like a pile of clothing, but when she bumped it, it moaned and began to uncurl itself.  Daisy saw a girl with long black hair seated before a roaring fire.  She seemed undeterred by the smoke that was billowing forth from the pit.  The girl was crying.  She held something in her hands, and was poking with a stick at something else in the fire.

Daisy felt as though she recognised the girl, and tried to shuffle around to better see her face.  The girl took no notice of her, and continued to poke at the fire with the stick, sniveling and muttering apologies.  She tossed the last object into the fire, and Daisy gasped.  It was her mask.  Daisy leaned forward and saw the melting faces of the other two masks, as the flames licked away at them.

“Isabella!” called a voice from another room.  “Come now or we’ll miss the boat!”  The sobbing girl got to her feet and grabbed a bundle that had been sitting beside her.  She ran out of the room, not daring to look back.

“Isabella?” Daisy muttered, letting the name sink in.  A thought entered her mind, and she suddenly felt very desperate that she couldn’t let the masks be destroyed.  She wanted to pull the masks from the fire, and even reached a hand out to them, near enough that the flames licked her skin, but before she could feel the sweet release of grabbing one in her hand, she felt her body being tugged by a strong force and abruptly found herself transported.  She appeared at a dock where a large sail boat was moored.  It was being loaded up with cargo.  Seagulls circled above, crying out to one another.  Daisy quickly spotted the girl, standing with her parents.  They started to make their way up the ramp to the boat, and Daisy followed, growing more and more curious.

The girl was shown into a room.  Daisy hastened through the doorway before the door could shut, and almost ran straight into the girl’s back.  The girl had stopped short in the doorway and stood frozen, staring in horror at the bed.  Daisy’s eyes followed to where the girl was looking.  Her hands flew to her mouth.  On the bed, lined up in a neat little row, leaning against the pillow, sat the three masks, looking as beautiful as ever, completely unmarked.  Trembling, the girl collapsed to the floor.

“No,” she whimpered, “it can’t be.  No!”  The girl dragged herself over to the bed and peeked through her hands at the masks again.  She gave a little moan and flung herself onto the bed.  “You’ve brought nothing but pain and misery – what more do you want from me?”  The girl pulled her hair and gripped the sheets and flung herself about.

Daisy crept forward.  She slowly reached a hand out to the masks, feeling strongly pulled towards the beak-nosed.  It gleamed out the most invitingly.  Suddenly the girl threw herself over the masks, hiding the beak-nosed from sight.  “No!” she hissed, and Daisy froze.  Did the girl know she was there?  The girl gathered the masks in her arms, clutching the beak-nosed tightly.  “It killed him,” she whispered, and Daisy thought she saw the girl glance up at her.  Then the girl ran out of the room and Daisy ran after her.  She tried to call out, but the mask she wore wouldn’t let her.

The girls ran to the hull of the ship.  The ship had long since launched, and they were out in the middle of the ocean.  It was night, and there was a great wind howling through the sails, as the waves crashed around them angrily.  The girl ran to the end of the ship.  Daisy ran after her, slipping across the deck as she went and shielding her face against the harsh spray.  The girl had a wild look in her eyes.

“No!” Daisy screamed, sensing what she was going to do.  The girl hurled the masks over the railing.  Daisy reached out, leaning as far as she dared, trying to catch them, but they were well beyond her reach and they disappeared into the ocean.  “How could you?”  Daisy clutched her face in a panic.  There came the distinct sound of dripping water, as she tugged on her hair and felt her throat constricting.  She needed the masks!

The scene around her dissolved away, and another one appeared.  Daisy found herself standing in a street that seemed very familiar.  It was her street, back home in London!  Relief flooded through her as she realised that this had all just been some horrible nightmare, no doubt brought upon by whatever she had drank or eaten at the Grayson’s masquerade.  “I’ll give that Emma a piece of my mind!” Daisy huffed to herself.  “Serving such questionable things at her party!”  But Daisy couldn’t really be mad, for she was glad to be safe at home.

She ran up the steps and burst through the front door.  She stopped abruptly.  This was not her home.  Nothing looked familiar here.  Confused, she hurried to the parlour and stuck her head in.  She blanched.  The girl was in there.  Daisy swooned.  This couldn’t be happening; it wasn’t a dream, it was real!  She felt the mask upon her face still, and watched as the girl got up and slid by her.  Daisy followed her upstairs, noticing now that boxes lay all over the house, some open and in the process of being unpacked.  The girl went into her bedroom.

Daisy heard dripping water, and the girl clutched herself and Daisy knew she could hear it too.  Slowly the girl approached her trunk, and opened it cautiously.  Daisy leaned in anxiously.  The girl slammed the trunk shut again with a cry, but not before Daisy saw all three of the masks sitting there, looking so innocent and pristine.  Daisy knelt by the trunk, wanting to open it, thinking the most of the wonderful black beaked mask.

“It will kill him.”  This time the girl looked right at Daisy, and the moment their eyes locked, Daisy felt chilled, as though a cold hand had reached through her and grabbed her heart.  A blackness seemed to be seeping into the room around them.  “Don’t let them come back after.”  The girl’s voice was scared, and she nervously looked around her, eyeing the blackness which was closing in fast, but she spoke directly to Daisy.  “They’ll always come back if there’s someone who wants them.  They whisper lies, tell you what you want to hear, promise life forever, and everything else – but all they bring is pain and suffering, and death!  Don’t let them come back!  You have to break their cycle!”  The girl’s voice was now echoing all around Daisy, multiplying and swooping in from every direction.  “Don’t let them come back!”

Daisy could hear hissing and spitting; from within the trunk came a loud banging and rattling, and the trunk began to shake.  What was inside was trying to force its way out.  The girl screamed as the blackness engulfed her, her mouth elongating into a gaping black hole until her image shattered, the millions of pieces falling to the floor and skittering away like little black beetles.  Daisy reeled backwards in fright, clutching her face; the mask had tightened and she felt as though her head would be torn in two.  She clawed at the mask in a frenzy, desperate to get it off, but it clung all the tighter, squeezing and hissing.  She tripped and fell on her back, hitting her head, and then she felt hands on her, grabbing her and they pulled the mask off.  As soon as the mask was lifted from her face, all the rushing noises in her ears stopped, her chest no longer convulsed, and she could breathe once more.  She sat up and found herself face to face with Rathgowl, who clutched the mask in his hands.  She scooted backwards, fearful of being too near to it.

“Well!” he wheezed.  “What did you see?”

Daisy looked back, eyes wide with fright.  “No!” she gasped.  “No, it’s not true!”

Rathgowl pounced on her, pinning her to the ground and shaking her.  He was practically foaming at the mouth.  “Tell me,” he shrieked.  “Tell me!  I must have the secret!”

“They’re lies!  They’re all lies!  There is no secret, no chance at immortality; it’s a lie!” she sputtered, as the weight of Rathgowl grew more fierce.

Rathgowl roared, his hands flying to Daisy’s throat.  “No!” he screamed, squeezing his hands.  His nails bit into her neck, and she gasped and squirmed beneath him.  “Tell me!”

Rathgowl was grabbed suddenly from behind and thrown across the room.

“Harry!”  Daisy scrambled up, her chest heaving.  Harry punched Rathgowl in the face, forcing him to the ground.  “Tom!”  Daisy ran and cowered in Tom’s arms.  She felt the tears come rushing to her eyes.

Rathgowl’s body lay unmoving.  Harry straightened up and wiped his hands.

“Is… is he dead?”  Daisy peeped out, still clinging to Tom, who held her protectively to his chest.

“Forget him,” Harry growled.  His voice softened.  “Are you okay?”

Daisy nodded, holding tighter still to Tom.

“Let’s get out of here,” Tom said.

Daisy let out a great shriek, pointing behind Harry.  Rathgowl was crawling towards them.

“Give me the girl,” he hissed, stretching out a spindly hand.  Tom pushed Daisy behind him, and held his arms out on either side to block her.  Rathgowl reached into his cloak and pulled out a gun and pointed it at Tom.  “Give me the girl.”

Tom refused to move.  Harry jumped forwards.  In a flash the gun went off, and Daisy screamed.  One body fell to the floor with a loud thud.  Daisy ran forward and collapsed beside him, pulling him desperately into her lap.  She leaned over him, tears running down her face.

“No, no, please no!”  She pressed her hands to the wound, praying the blood would stop.  “Harry,” she whispered, eyes filled with tears.

Around her, she sensed Tom and Rathgowl struggling with one another, but all she could see was Harry, her knees supporting his head, and his blood, so much blood, soaking into the floorboards.  Her hands were stained and the blood gushed out around them, but harder and harder she pressed on his stomach.  Harry coughed and his breath came in ragged bursts.

“Daisy,” he coughed.  He reached up and brushed the hair from her face.  “Daisy, hey, it’s okay, d-don’t worry.”  He coughed and gasped, a trail of blood trickling down his chin.  He took her hand.

“No, Harry, please.  Please don’t die.  I need you.  Please don’t leave me, Harry.  Harry!”

“I’m here,” he whispered.  He tried to force his eyes to stay open, but they slid closed, and he gave another weak cough, more blood spilling from his mouth.  “I don’t want to pretend anymore.”

Daisy stroked his cheek, tears spilling from her eyes.  “No more pretend,” she agreed in a shaking voice.

Harry smiled.

Daisy felt his grip loosen.  She leaned over him, sobbing, and pressed her forehead against his.  “Please no, please no,” she repeated quietly over and over.  She lay tangled over his still body for a moment.  She sat up slowly, a blank look upon her face, and raised her bloodied hands to her eyes.

A shout from Rathgowl brought her back.  The gun had been flung across the room, and Tom had pushed Rathgowl back, who now hovered on the edges of his heels, very near to the window.  Daisy’s face contorted with anger, and she sprung up towards Rathgowl.

“You killed him!” she screamed, and with a strength unknown to such small girls as her, she threw her hands against Rathgowl’s chest and he stumbled further back, losing his balance completely.  He tumbled backwards and hit the window sill, the force of his body breaking through the glass.  His shriek echoed out as he fell to the ground far below.

Neither Daisy nor Tom spoke.  Tom eyed Daisy and she stared back at him with hard eyes, her cheeks still damp with tears.  Tom ducked his head, not wanting to see what he knew Daisy’s eyes were saying.  Tom picked up his friend and they left the house in silence.  They walked to the hackney, going passed Rathgowl’s lifeless body, neither one acknowledging it.

They returned to London.  Daisy gathered the three masks and clutched them tightly to her chest.

Several days went by.  Daisy and Tom did not see one another during this time.  It wasn’t until Harry’s funeral that they spoke again.  Tom accompanied Daisy home after the funeral.

“And you saw the girl?” Tom was asking now, after Daisy had told him what had happened to her when she put the mask on.  He held the eye mask, looking over it carefully.

“Yes.”  Daisy remembered the girl’s words clearly.  “We have to destroy the masks.”

“Of course,” he said slowly, his thoughts on the girl.  Daisy picked up the jester mask and the death mask.  She held her hand out to Tom for the eye mask.  He held it in his hands a moment longer, his fingers tracing over its curves, then he handed it to her.

Daisy wasted no time in throwing the masks into the fire.  She hugged herself.  There, it was done; they were finally gone.  She breathed a sigh of relief.  She led Tom out of the room.  Tom glanced back; he smelt the faint scent of cinnamon in the air, and it gave him a shiver of pleasure.  His eyes lingered on the masks as they burned in the flames.

Tom returned home, his thoughts not on Daisy, nor on Harry, nor on anything that had happened over the past little while.  Tom thought only of the girl; that cinnamon air had gotten right into him and he could think only of the chance to see her again and hear her musical laugh once more.  He pulled open a drawer in his desk, and there sat, as if they had always belonged, the three perfect masks.  Tom smiled dreamily as he reached in and put the jester mask to his face.

It giggled.

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