In the Shadow of the Mask

Reflecting

It was simple necklace… woven with a woolen string and a little piece of stone… she had made it for Theresa after she broke the original necklace. Sparrow remembered it was a summer day… a year after she came to live with Theresa in the Gypsy camp.

She had been looking one of her head bands, but couldn’t find. She thought maybe she left it some of Theresa things. While looking through Theresa’s wardrobe, she found a wooden box about the size of a loaf of bread. It was had deep carving of symbols she didn’t understand. A length of carved ivy outlined the box and it felt smooth to the touch. It was latch which meant that she shouldn’t open it, but a peek wouldn’t hurt. Looking around to see if anyone was around, Sparrow unlocked the box and opened it. It was like a treasure chest. Several of Theresa’s necklaces and other pieces of jewelry lay inside. Putting on just one wouldn’t hurt. Taking the one with the braided cord and what looked to be a plain, ordinary rock, Sparrow held it up to her neck. Not knowing what it looked like on her, she quickly searched for a mirror. She didn’t know if Theresa had a mirror not… considering, but surely she had something that was shiny enough for Sparrow to see her reflection. She found it. It was an old silver platter, from what Sparrow could remember, that Theresa had forever. Its surface was smooth with an etching of grapevines delicately laced with one another going along the border. She was so excited to see what she looked like that she pulled the thinning cord a little too hard and it snapped. The little shard of rock fell to the floor with a tink. She knew she would be in trouble if Theresa ever found out. Sparrow quickly picked up the stone; it didn’t appear to be damaged, but there was no way to repair the cord. She picked up the wooden box and put it back where it belonged, hurried out of the Caravan and into the surrounding woods. She passed many people that asked if she was okay, but she couldn’t answer back; afraid that she would say something about the broken necklace.

When she got to a secluded area where she was sure that nobody would see her, she started to dig a little hole. She would bury the evidence. As she heard some of the adults say in the camp, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. She really didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded good to her. She placed the broken cord and stone in the freshly dug hole. Picking up a hand full of dirt, she stopped and looked down at the item that was once one, but now two. Theresa wouldn’t know it was missing; Sparrow hadn’t seen her wear it in a long time. However, it was something precious to her and she deserved to know what happened to it. She thought long and hard about what to do with the necklace. She didn’t want to get into trouble, but she didn’t want to disappoint Theresa.

She didn’t know how long she sat there, but when she looked up to the forest canopy, she saw stars twinkling through the open patches. It was growing dark and she wasn’t sure if she could navigate back through the forest at night. Red hot tears ran down her cheeks at the thought of being lost in the woods at night. There were all sorts of nasty things that lurked at night. That’s why the Gypsies closed the great wooden gates at night. She huddled up against a tree, pulling her knees up to her chest. She looked around every time something rustled or cracked.

She shouldn’t have been looking through Theresa things. She shouldn’t have tried her necklace on. She should have told her right away that she broke the necklace. There were things that she should and shouldn’t have done, but there was no point in pondering it now. She would have to stick it out in the woods for one night; surely she could do that.

Rustle… something was moving through the fallen leaves. Sparrow looked around to see if it was someone looking for her. She saw no figures, but what looked like several humps moving towards her. She knew what they were instantly; Beetles. She normally didn’t mind taking on a few Beetles, but she was without her popgun. There was no way she could fend them off. Taking hold of lower branches of the tree, she pulled herself up higher off the forest floor. Maybe if they came up the tree trunk she could kick them onto their backs and make a run for it. The Beetles came closer; their shiny exoskeletons glittered in the dim starlight. One took the lead, hissing as it crawled up the tree trunk. Sparrow pulled up her leg as far as she could and then brought it down on the ugly monster’s face. It screamed as it landed on its back and started to struggle. Two others soon followed and Sparrow quickly kicked them down. Two more came and she kicked them onto their backs. The first one she had knocked off managed to rock itself enough to get right side up. It crawled up the trunk with two others. She hit two with her feet, but the last one latched onto her leg pants. It bit down hard and she left out a scream. Kicking her leg back and forth until it let go, she pulled up her leg to see what the Beetle had done. There was a bite wound; blood was pouring from it. She didn’t have time to tend to it; three more Beetles were coming up the trunk. She kicked them down with pain, but they just kept coming. Kicking a little too hard, she fell from her perch to the ground.

All the Beetles started to swarm towards her. She kicked and pushed herself back as they drew nearer. She called out for help, but no answered… no one would… no one knew she was… no one… The Beetles were about to reach when something jumped over her. It pounced on the closest Beetle and tore off its wings. It was her dog. He must have followed her or had been searching for her… or maybe he had heard her cry for help. He barked and growled at the other Beetles. They clattered their wings and snapped their mandibles, but he wouldn’t move. Another Beetle approached; he tore into and it was no more. The others backed away and disappeared into the darkness from which they came. He snorted, turned around and scratched the earth in victory. Sparrow reached out for him and he came into her arms. She felt like crying, but there was no time for that. She pulled herself up; he helped her balance as she stood up. Her leg hurt, but she could walk.

Making sure she still had the necklace, she and her dog walked slowly out of the woods. They came to the path that lead to the Camp. The torches that lit up the gates were still burning bright as they approached. The great wooden gates were still and people were outside calling her name. They ran up to her and asked if she was okay. She showed them her leg, but said it didn’t. They brought her into the Camp and closed the gates behind them. One of the women cleaned her wound and bandaged it. The crowd that had formed around her started to part and Theresa came forward. Sparrow couldn’t look up at her; Theresa didn’t say a thing, but held out her hand to lead her back to the caravan. They walked in silence, not saying a word. Sparrow wanted to say that she broke her necklace, but she couldn’t. She crawled into that night; sleep never came.

The next day she still hadn’t told Theresa about the necklace. She went out into the woods, this time with her faithful companion and collected tuffs of fur from shedding rabbits. Bringing back as much as her pockets could hold, Sparrow asked for someone to show her how to turn the fluff into string. The same woman that had bandaged her leg the night before volunteered to help, but she suggested to use flax instead of rabbit fur. They gathered up a lot of flax and crushed it until the fibers came out. They pulled and spun for the whole day. Sparrow then took the flax thread and braided. With some of the leftovers, she wound them around the stone and attached it to the braided rope. She was proud of what she had made, but not why she had to.

Taking in all the courage she could muster, Sparrow went to Theresa and explained why she went into the woods. Theresa listened without saying a word. She made no sign of disapproval or anger. Sparrow finished her story and presented her handmade necklace to her. Theresa took it and felt it. Her fingers traced the braided rope, feeling every grove and texture. She took each end in and placed it around her neck. For a moment, there was a strange smile on her face. It was the one when she really liked something. Sparrow smiled too. She knew that what she had done was wrong, but she was so happy that she made it right. Maybe Theresa had felt the same…

Looking up to the ceiling, Sparrow thought about the daisy. It could have any daisy to anyone else, but to her… it was much more. She always loved daisy; ever since she was a child.

Rose had always said that a daisy was the rose of the common people. A daisy always stood tall when other flowers had started to fade. Its bright yellow center stood amongst the duller yellows, reds and oranges. It was like a bright ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. Its delicate white petals where like that of a Queen’s dress. They were soft and tickled the nose when rubbed underneath. Daisies, to Sparrow, were the most beautiful flower in the world.

This daisy, the one brought to her by the masked man, was no ordinary daisy. Instead of a golden yellow center, it was rusty orange. The petals that were supposed to be the color of pure snow were cream, like that of the inside of freshly baked bread. It was the first daisy that John had ever given her. That day… in Bowerstone Market…

The dirt path abruptly ended giving way to a stone bridge. It was entrance to an old city that Sparrow knew all too well. Its great walls held the city in, but it felt like it would spill over at any moment. Its hustle and bustle never seemed to end. In some ways, Sparrow missed it when she was a child growing up amongst the Gypsies and the wilderness. There were a few things she didn’t miss. She observed many times when people would push others if they were in a hurry. They wouldn’t even give an excuse me or an apology. Rudeness, Sparrow felt, was sometimes just part of living in the city.

There seemed to be some many children that day. They all came running up to Sparrow asking about her adventures in Oakfield. They asked about the Hobbes’ Cave and if she truly thought that the hideous creatures were once children. She didn’t know herself what to believe, but she told them that it was nothing more than a fairytale. They seemed satisfied by this, but others wanted to know about the Wellspring Cave and all its horrors. She tried her best not to say too much about the underground graveyard. She didn’t tell them about the headless skeleton that fought with every fiber of its being to defend the scared well. Sparrow spun a marvelous tale, but left many details out. Their parents probably wouldn’t be too happy with her if they knew what she was telling them. All the children were happy with her version of things, they ran off yelling which roles they wanted to play in their make believe world. One yelled that they wanted to be Sparrow and fight all the others that would play as Hollow Men and Bandits. They argued about this because they wanted to play Sparrow. One girl stepped forward and proudly stated that she would play Sparrow because she was a girl and so was Sparrow therefore she was the only one that could. The boys looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. A boy stepped from the group and said fine, but he was going to be Dash and the others would be his loyal bandits. All the boys raised their hands and said ‘Get the Hero!’ The children ran off to play their games. Sparrow could help but laugh.

As the others ran off, Sparrow noticed one boy that was peeking around a corner at her. His cheeks were redder than any rose and his stare was that of longing. He was a young boy, probably around ten or so. His brown hair was all over the place; his bangs hung over his eyes to point where they were barely visible. His clothes, though nice, had holes in on the knees and elbows. He saw her staring at him and quickly ducked behind the wall. She smiled as she walked over to where the boy disappeared. She peered around the corner to see the boy holding a flower and sighing. She said hello in the sweetest tone she could. The boy jumped out of surprise and quickly hid the flower behind his back. Approaching her slowly, he stopped in front of her and stared at his feet. She bent down and asked what was behind his back. Bringing his hand around slowly, he held out a daisy. She asked if it was for her and he nodded his head. She gladly took it and thanked him for the thoughtful gift.

It was a daisy; her favorite flower. His little cheeks turned red as he quickly leaned in and snuck a peak on her cheek. Running off, the boy yelled that his name was John and that he really liked her. Sparrow wasn’t sure what to think. A little boy had just given her a daisy, kissed her and ran off while professing his love. She stood up and walked out of the alley, twirling the flower between her fingers. She tried not to think about it, but it stuck with her.

She left the next day and went on to other quests, but every time she stayed in Bowerstone, little John was always around. She always ended up with a daisy from him wherever she was in town. The first one was always her favorite. It was so different from the others, with its orange center and cream petals. It was like its giver; a little off, but one of a kind.

John was still like that. Even after ten years of labor in the Spire, he still held a flame for her in his heart. The moment she stepped into Bowerstone, she was greeted with a daisy for a little boy that had grown into a young man. She had to admit that’s when she blushed when she saw him. He had grown quite handsome in ten years. His hair was combed and well-manicured, though his bangs still hung over his eyes. This gave him a mysterious look that made the girls around stare contentedly at him. His eyes, a lovely hazel brown, still had that longing look in them. She too looked at him in the same way.

The parades of daisies that he gave her were all special, but it was the first that she placed in a big book and pressed. It was perfectly preserved and looked as fresh as the day he gave it to her. It was one of Sparrow’s treasures that she always kept safe. She knew that the daisy she held in her hand was that same one. She had left the book she pressed it in with John, though he didn’t know it was in there. She had never told him that she kept it. It was like her little secret that made her blush every time she thought about it. But now… now it only brought fear.

She held both items; looking down at both of them. Both held memories of people that she really cared about. Both meant that he had been near them… even had them within his grips. The thought made her sick, both mentally and physically. She wasn’t sure what to do.

How could she choose between them?


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