I stared into the mirror while unwrapping the cloth from my head. There weren’t any marks to prove that I split my head, and I still couldn’t believe that had happened. I felt fine, completely fine, but. . .it scared me to know that I didn’t feel any pain. What exactly did the imposter do to bring me back and . . . when was she going to get me?
I glanced over my shoulder, but I was the only one in the room. I turned back to the mirror; dark circles were under my eyes and my skin had red spots. I scratched at them, but they instantly began to ooze blood. I took a cloth and desperately wiped it.
I gasped and spun around, Naomi was standing there in a short dress covered by peacock feathers.
“You weren’t answering the door.”
“I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t hear.”
Naomi frowned and saw my cloth covered arm. “Did you hurt yourself? Let me see.”
I faltered but allowed Naomi to see the scratches. “I. . . there were these red spots and. . . I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done anything.”
Naomi gave me a sympathetic look and took the cloth so she could treat the wound. “It appears that you’re getting hives. It happens when you’re anxious. Nothing to worry about, we just need to clean the wound properly, but please don’t scratch at them again, it’ll only make it worse.”
“Alright. . .”
“Fortunately, it’s not that bad,” Naomi said, “but it’s very dangerous to damage your skin like that, you could leave a scar.”
“Alright. . .”
“I know hives and other break outs are irritating, but its best to use ointment on them and do nothing else. They disappear in time.”
“I understand, Naomi, thank you,” I mumbled. “You’re. . .very motherly.”
Naomi looked at me with mild surprise, but that changed to a smile. “Ah, I didn’t realize. I suppose it’s instinct.”
“I think you will be a wonderful mother.”
“You think so?”
“Yes,” I said and then a thought occurred to me. “Um. . .I’m not sure if it’s in my place to say but. . .Molly could use a new mother since Hertha’s gone.”
Naomi’s smile widened and her eyes became glassy from tears. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Sophie. When it’s the right time, I’ll ask if she would like that.”
I smiled but then it disappeared when I asked, “So, is there a plan?”
“Yes,” Naomi said, “the performance will go on as usual, Ashton and I will be going first so when we’re done, we sneak into her room and lace all her wine with poison.”
“But what if she’s in the room?”
“She’ll be watching the performance, so we’ll be able to get into her room.”
“Do you think poison will work?” I asked.
“We couldn’t think of anything else,” Naomi said, “well, Ashton suggested stabbing her in the back but it’s better to do the deed in a subtler way.”
“I see, and the poison is from—”
“The plants in our kitchen are poisonous. I’ve already ground them up to a powder that’ll dissolve in the wine. It won’t take effect until she drinks it.”
“I know this is grim to talk about, I’m sorry,” Naomi said.
“It’s a monster. . .not a person. It’s different,” I mumbled.
“True,” Naomi said, “Anyways, I best get to my platform. Do be careful, Sophie.”
Molly turned to me, surprised, she had on a bell-shaped dress and ballerina shoes, but her face didn’t match the charm of her attire. Even though she wore makeup, it didn’t hide the tiredness in her eyes.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” she admitted, holding her hands together. “I’m nervous about the plan.”
“Me too,” I said, “but we can trust Naomi and Ashton. All we can do is continue to act like everything’s normal.”
“Right.” Molly shuffled her feet uneasily against the wooden floor. “Where are you going to be during the performance?”
“I’ll be in the amphitheater,” I said. “She’ll be there too, but I’ll do my best to avoid her.”
“Okay,” Molly said, “after my performance I’ll go sit with you to make sure you’re safe.”
“When are you going on?”
“I’m right after Naomi and Ashton,” Molly said. “Though. . .I may have to shorten my piece; Jerome hasn’t been feeling great.”
“I don’t know, he might’ve eaten something that he shouldn’t have,” Molly said, biting her thumb. “I bet the twins’ accidentally gave him fish again.”
“Is there any medicine you can give him?”
“Yes, but he refuses to take it,” Molly answered sadly. “I’m worried about how he’ll act during the performance. He’s taking a nap right now, so maybe when he wakes up he’ll feel better. If not, I’ll use one of his favorite toys to entertain him.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said. “I’m sorry to hear about Jerome, I hope he gets better soon.”
“Yeah. . .” Molly nodded slowly and moved across the room, stopping at the door. “I’ll see you soon, Sophie, please be safe.”
Isaia and Isaac were helping each other stretch in one of the tents. I still couldn’t tell the two apart even though I had been there for a couple of weeks already. They kept to themselves, but seemed friendly enough at my welcome celebration. I wanted to get to know them better, and wished the atmosphere had been as joyful now as it had been that day. Who knew how long we all had left.
“How are you two doing?” I asked them.
“Good, we’re doing one last stretch before the show,” Isaia said, continuing to stretch his legs while Isaac was doing his arms.
“Heard things haven’t been that good for you as of late,” Isaac said, “you gonna be okay?”
“I hope so,” I said, “thanks for your concern.”
“No problem,” Isaac said.
“Um,” I started, “I’m simply wondering, did you feed Jerome any fish?”
The twins exchanged odd looks, turned to me and shook their heads.
“No,” Isaac said, “is Molly accusing us again?”
“Well, no,” I laughed nervously, “it’s just that Jerome hasn’t been feeling well lately.”
“Oh,” Isaia said, “no, we didn’t give Jerome anything.”
“I see,” I mumbled. “Well, at least Molly will be happy about that.”
“We only gave Jerome fish once, right, Isaac?” Isaia asked, turning to his brother.
“Yeah,” Isaia said, “and that was what, a year ago?”
“Really? I thought it was earlier?”
“Nope it was definitely last year.”
“Oh, ’cause I could’ve sworn—” Isaac’s thought was cut off when the high-pitched whistle from the train pierced through the wall. I glanced out to see the train rolling in just outside the aviary.
“Huh,” Isaac started, “isn’t the train supposed to arrive later?”
“No, you lost track of time,” Isaia said and turned to me. “So, you’re really going to leave tonight?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You should visit us sometime,” Isaac suggested.
“Yeah,” Isaiah agreed, “and we’ll throw another party for you.”
I smiled. “I’ll be sure to come back, thank you.” I wrapped my arms around both twins’ shoulders and added, “Please be careful out there.”
They both said, “You too.”
I headed to the amphitheater just when the audience was arriving. Children younger than I were bouncing about in excitement, while their parents laughed along with them and made sure they didn’t run off. They were blissfully unaware of the monstrous being that was in their presence. The imposter was in the midst of the crowd, greeting the audience and beckoning them to their seats.
When she was done, she climbed onto an elevated seat above the amphitheater where she had a perfect view of the entire area. The imposter had a goblet in her hand and slowly drank from it as she watched the rest of the audience settle in. I thought I should make my way to sit as well, but a familiar voice behind me called out,
There was Oscar with Bo who was sitting on his shoulder. Bo was holding out a box.
“Bo has a gift for you,” Oscar said and nudged the monkey off his shoulder. He jumped off and landed on my shoulder, holding the box in front of my eyes.
“Thank you.” The present opened to reveal a smaller package, wrapped in red and white, that contained a bar of chocolate.
“Molly told us that chocolate’s your favorite.”
“That’s very kind, thank you.” I broke off a piece and slipped it in my mouth. The creamy goodness melted on my tongue; I couldn’t help but take another bite.
“Molly also told me you haven’t been well,” Oscar said, “I wished I could do more for you.”
“The chocolate and the other gifts were enough,” I said. “I wished I could’ve done something for you two in return.”
Bo hopped back on Oscar’s shoulder and he received a friendly pat on the head from his master. “Bo and I simply want you to be careful.”
I smiled back. “You too.”