The life of a young teenager named Sarah, who sees a world everyone else is blind to.
The winter night air is a bitter frozen fire burning Sarah with every breeze. She sits in the snow, back up against a tree, her arms resting on her knees. Numbness begins to creep its way up her limbs, though Sarah pays it no mind. Her only concern is with the mask, which rests in the palms her hands. How light a life lived feels in the hands of another. I don’t want to be alone…
Morning is a broken record in the Ashworth family home. Sarah wakes up long before the sun rises. With a desire to wake, but little reason, she forces herself through the same cooled shower. Sarah still shivers and tenses as the liquid bullets of cold strike her skin; however, she has found it the fastest way to start the day. Breakfast is two eggs and a bowl of oatmeal, with a cup of chamomile tea. They say chamomile fights depression. Some time back, Sarah would say this every morning to her father. When she herself first heard it from Jessica, Sarah was inclined to believe. Now, saying this would be as empty as the cup before her. It hasn’t cured or even begun to treat her father after all.
Sarah carries her father’s breakfast up the stairs to his study. He is still working; not that he ever really stops. It might also be correct to say he never starts too. Ever since the death of Sarah’s mother, her father barely leaves the study. It’s been five years now. Five years of chamomile tea and empty tomorrows. Sarah’s father was once a great children’s author; however, that was when Sarah’s mother was still alive. He wrote so easily for her. Now, he sits in his study staring at the blank piece of paper. Why can’t he write for me? It is a question Sarah asks herself often. Sarah isn’t angry with him or saddened by his lack of affection, she couldn’t be. She is merely curious; though perhaps she shouldn’t be. Sarah is different; the kind of different families don’t talk about. In front of the door to her father’s study, Sarah grips the handle, turns the knob, and takes a deep breath.
Happy: smile, higher pitch in voice, slightly raised eye brows, open eyed.
“I brought your breakfast, father,” Sarah exhaled with her prepared expression, as the door swinging open. “It’s the same as always: eggs, oatmeal, and chamomile tea.”
It’s a small study. The walls to either Sarah’s left or right are shelved with books; all of them written by her father. A desk lies just before a bow window, which faces parallel to the door. Behind the desk, Sarah’s father sits. He has withered to a corpse; a slight rise of his head is all that signals Sarah he’s not yet dead. A familiar reek falls over Sarah, while she walks toward her father. A musk of rat bodies and moldy wood; It’s become his favored cologne. The room seems to have wrapped itself in the fragrance, as well.
She brings the tray over to the left side of the table. While placing it down, she takes a peek at the empty page gripped by the typewriter. Still nothing. Sarah pulls back and awaits a thank you. She knows there is no gratitude to be gained; but, it gives her time to examine his mask. It was once such a funny mask. The large crack that spans the length of it has thickened. Sarah often considers trying to tape or glue the crack shut; yet, a part of her knows it won’t help. His once brilliant blue happy sun mask has dulled to a decrepit gray. His long nose has lost nearly three-fourths its length; falling off inch by inch ever passing day. His pink eyes, which stared toward the heavens; were now black, half closed, and fixed on the floor. Even the two rings of sculpted flames, which spun around the centerpiece, had long stopped. Many of the flames have even broken off and turned to dust. The only part of the mask that has remained the same is its smile; but, with the rest the way it is, the smile feels so very fake. It’s such a pathetic thing now.
“Well, enjoy your breakfast,” Sarah says still holding her expression of happiness. “I have to go to school, but I’ll be home as soon as I can. Tonight we’re having stew. Try not to forget to eat lunch.”
With that, Sarah left the dingy little study. She knows it’s only a little longer before she’ll have to find a new home. She isn’t stupid. He’s hanging by a thread and soon the thread must break. Sarah has kept her father alive long enough. She had hoped to keep him alive until her eighteenth birthday and inherit the house, but it seems that won’t be possible. Down stairs in the entrance way, Sarah puts on her boots, gloves, hat, and winter coat before grabbing her school backpack. She heads out into the snow covered forest which surrounds their house.
As Sarah makes her way down the path to the bus stop, she can’t help but think how much she hates winter. The trees have lost all of their wonderful leaves, which would dance to every breath of wind. It’s a simple animation, but made the world feel so much more alive. They would not return for months. For now, there were only the trunks, as their naked slumbering selves. They too move with the wind, but it takes such a strong gust. There is no beauty to it. The skeletons jerk back and forth cracking under the pressure. It’s a torturous sight.
Though this opinion, Sarah has found, is held only by herself. Everyone else talks about how pure and beautiful winter is. How they love its frosted trees and white snow. They’re fools. Of course, after all what could be beautiful about white. To Sarah, it’s not so pure. No, it’s rather empty. It covers what little gray she has been allowed in life.
There is one season is even more poorly identified by the public. This would be autumn. Everyone says how pretty that one is too; but, Sarah does know better. It is a time of slow death. While the rest of the world watches green leaves turn red, she only sees them fall from the trees dying one by one, void of any life. Every day the trees are left more naked. The snow comes just in time to blanket the corpses in a white sheet.
Seven years have passed since; Sarah was “diagnosed” color blind. She is told time and again that the world she sees is not the real one. Her “disorder” makes the world seem gray; when, it’s really full of beautiful color. They have it backwards. To Sarah, humanity is color blind; tricking themselves into believing the world is more beautiful than it really is. How else could anyone be fooled into believe the death of hundreds of thousands of leaves is beautiful? It’s all a sickening lie. Perhaps; but, what Sarah wouldn’t give to believe in the lie with everyone else.
When the bus comes into view, Sarah can see she has arrived a little late. The bus is already there and only a few more passengers are still in line. Even though, she runs the rest of the way; Sarah makes the busman wait on her. She jumps in and pays her fare before walking to the very back corner of the bus, furthest from the busman. It has become her normal seat and everyone seems to know it. Even on the most crowded days, with plenty of people standing, this seat is always there for her. They still pity me. Over the last five years, the town has treated Sarah with the utmost kindness. They always tell her what a strong child she is. They always help her with anything they can. At first, the town’s relentless kindness was for little Sarah seeing her mother die and had transferred over the years to young Sarah caring for her father. It is an announce Sarah could do without; after all, it wasn’t like any of them were offering to help her father. He has become a town whisper. No one speak of Mr. Ashworth out loud and defiantly not around Sarah. He is a dead dog in an alleyway. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one wants to deal with it. Is this what I wished for?
Sarah turns her head to the bus window. She can clearly make out her own mask in the reflection. It’s an occurrence Sarah likes to avoid, but always forgets to. Out of all the masks she has seen, this one is her least favorite. I’m monstrous. It’s a simple fox mask with no details whatsoever and pure white. It’s such an empty thing, her mask. Sarah can’t help but hate it. It’s no different than the snow covering the corpses of leaves. Maybe, I am dead. Is that what I wished for?
It was when the world went gray, Sarah started seeing these masks. Yes, a seven-year masquerade in the gray ball room; this was her life. The masks have come to be the only color in Sarah’s world; though, few are actually painted with more than gray. Sarah has come to admire this world of hers and even shares it with one other; however, she has not seen him in years.
Sarah pulls herself from the window and faces the crowd of passengers. A young boy is crying. He is not yet wearing a mask. Most children under seven don’t. Children don’t hide who they are or maybe the soul just sees no reason to be seen yet. The rules of Sarah’s world are not all that clear. This is not to say she has learned a few. The father, who is telling the child to be silent, is wearing a wolf helmet. He’s probably one of the miners. Helmets were common in men; perhaps due to being more emotionally protective. This is not to say women can’t have helmets, Sarah even has a cousin named Ellen, who wears a helmet. She’s a member of the Navy and very enclosed.
Animals, like this father’s wolf, are common in masks and helmets. There are few suns and moons, like Sarah’s parents. These always seem to belong to artists. Not that the shape is all that important. Color is what really matters. Most masks are shades of gray; this father is no different. He’s an average man, who will live an average life, until he dies in a most average way. Regardless of shape, if it’s gray, it’s not special.
Speaking of not special people, Sarah found herself in the presence of, lady gray peacock, Jessica McDillenger. Jessica is the town princess and loves having people know just how special she is. It’s no surprise that she dawns a peacock mask; always strutting her feathers, which flow up from the mask like a living flame. It would be quite beautiful if it wasn’t so gray.
“Hello Sarah, so this is a bus. And I see you chose the very worst seat. Really, why sit all the way back here? Beautiful young ladies, like ourselves, should sit where everyone can see us.” Jessica stated with a most enthusiastic tone. How I hate you.
Jessica is the daughter to the richest and most prominent couple in the whole town, district and country. Her father is Norman McDillenger; which Sarah knows as the green dragon. He is a greedy, but wise old man, who owns the town’s coal mine and lumber mill. He also owns somewhere of about forty other companies all parented by McDillenger Inc. Sarah finds him both admirable and intense. When Sarah was younger, she would try to look at the floor in Mr. McDillenger’s company. The old dragon’s red toothy grin and angry yellow eyes brought fear to little Sarah. If she knew how to cry this mask would make her. Even now, Sarah finds the old dragon quite overwhelming compared to the simple animals of the every day crowd.
On the other hand, Jessica’s mother has a mask so beautiful; Sarah never wants to look away. A most fitting mask, Francesca McDillenger wears a majestic phoenix rapped in shades of orange, red, and gold, with feathers flowing down her head like hair. She is best known for giving all her millions away to charities from time to time, only to make it back over the next few years. In a news article Sarah read, she remembered Mrs. McDillenger saying, “Being rich is boring. I prefer the challenge of getting rich any day. It’s a wonderful confidence builder to make as much money as one possibly can from nothing.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jessica announced. How something like you could be your parent’s daughter? “Why is someone like me riding the bus?” maybe you were adopted.
“Well daddy is running for governor and he thinks it would help if I took the bus like everyone else. You know, to show we are just like anyone else.” she continued. You are just like anyone else!
Jessica is not blind to the fact that she isn’t like her parents. If anything she’s just as aware as Sarah. Among the countless details of Jessica’s peacock mask are two that depict this. The first is the long beak, strange for a peacock, but similar to the once long nose of Sarah’s father. Jessica tells tall tales and knows it. The other is her docile eyes with tear lines running down from them. Whenever around her parents, Jessica becomes quit, afraid of saying something wrong. Sarah has even seen the McDillengers lecture Jessica about her average grades and lack of discipline. Sarah has always found it pathetic of Jessica to put on such an act; however, Sarah is no different in this.
Showing no sign of leaving, Jessica takes a seat next to Sarah. The closeness makes Sarah feel ill. She hates having to put on her happy face for Jessica, but the McDillengers are close friends of the Ashworths and the only reason they have a home right now. Even the money Sarah uses to buy food comes from the McDillengers. They send a check every month. Sarah has no problem taking the money and her father doesn’t seem able to care. So, Sarah and Jessica are besties regardless of what Sarah thinks.
The bus stops yet again. This is the second stop from Sarah’s house, which meant Lilith would be getting on. She is two years younger than Sarah and worships the ground she stands on. Of all the people Sarah could do without, Lilith was not one of them.
“Sarah, I see you’re sitting in the usual spot,” Lilith said as cheerful as ever followed by a noticeable change in tone, “oh, what are you doing here, Jessica?”
Jessica, who doesn’t seem to notice the change, only hears another opportunity to talk about her family. As Jessica goes on talking, Lilith squeezes herself between them and rests her head against Sarah’s side. Jessica says something about it being too tight, but Sarah just puts her arm around Lilith and replies, “There are more seats further up, I think.”
Jessica, ignoring Sarah, goes back to talking about her family. Sarah drowns her out by looking over Lilith’s mask. It is a sun similar to her father’s only filled with color. The main color was some type of yellow, with a bit of orange to it. Sarah has been color blind since second grade; so, it’s hard for her to correctly name many sophisticated colors. If she had to guess, this one is called amber. Pink and violet are also used throughout the features of her sun. Her nose is normal and the mask has no mouth. A stream of pink caresses the right side and paints a soft and kind eye.
The mask is as beautiful as it is broken. Lilith has an abusive drunk of a father, but only Sarah knows this for sure. The cracks to Lilith’s mind and soul are etched into her mask; yet, she tends to them well. Staples hold the cracks together and bandaging covers most of the left side. The abuse has not stopped Lilith from living. She is a lot stronger than Sarah or Jessica; but, can’t see it. Sarah often wants to ask Lilith how she cares for her mask; though, the question would come up in the form of talking about her father’s abuse. Sarah knows Lilith would deny her father beating her. Even if Lilith would talk about it, it’s not like it would make a difference in Sarah’s father. It would be pointless.
Lilith is a good kid and doesn’t deserve the life she has been dealt. Sarah never understands what such a girl sees to admire her. It could be that both have bad fathers and everyone thinks Sarah is handling it so well. In truth, she just doesn’t care. It is part of Sarah’s illness, she can’t feel things the way others do. It’s possible Lilith takes this cold demeanor as mature or something. Sarah lifts her left arm to place on Lilith’s head. As she does, Sarah sees the scar across her wrist. It’s been seven years since you came to me. Sarah remembers that day so clearly, the day the world lost color.
Sarah did everything just like they told her to: a circle made of blood, a star inside the circle; she had even lit a cup of her father’s brandy on fire for the center. So where was he? Sarah looks down at her still bleeding wrist, “I should never have trusted such idiots.”
Sarah was so sure it was going to work. She needs a wish granter and this seemed the easiest way to get one. Sarah already tried the local well and didn’t have the money to buy a ton of lamps. She thought of looking for a monkey’s paw, but where to start? This was the cheapest and easiest answer, but nothing is happening. She felt so close to a cure.
When Sarah was drawing the blood for the circle, she thought how she would soon know happiness and sadness and all those other emotions. She wondered how close they were to fear and excitement, two of the emotions she is capable of. What would it feel like to cry for the first time or laugh with passion? She can fake laughing, but wondered what it is like to really laugh. Was it even different? Most of all, Sarah didn’t want to be sick anymore. She saw the way her parents look at her, like some kind of abomination. It isn’t a very noticeable look. Still, Sarah sees it; the pity and fear in their eyes every time she tries to smile or laugh. They know its fake. Sarah doesn’t know why it’s wrong not to feel; but, they made it clear that something was definitely wrong. If only it had worked. She continues to wait, blood dripping down her hand until the strangest thing happens. Sarah began to feel sleepy. I already took a nap though…
When she wakes up, Sarah finds herself in a bed. Two strange people wearing bizarre masks stand at either side of the bed. “I think she’s awake. I’ll get a doctor.” The masked man says just before rushing out of the room. Dad?
“It’s going to be ok, honey,” now it is the masked woman talking. She is holding onto Sarah’s right hand.
“Mom” Sarah mumbles. The masked woman places a hand behind Sarah head and pulls her in closer before saying, “Oh, honey I’m so glad you’re awake.”
Sarah turns her head to the left. It’s a hospital room. Everything looks a little different. Something isn’t quite right. It isn’t until Sarah looks at her wrist that she final realize what’s wrong. Her wrist has been bandaged up and her skin has turned a light gray. Head still swimming, Sarah struggles with what she’s feeling. It’s not fear. It might be curiosity. While returning her gaze to the masked woman, Sarah notices the presence of a third guest. It’s a man dressed in black and adorning an equally black top hat. He is sitting in one of the chairs, staring right at her. In his right hand, a long cigarette holder rests between his index and middle finger. A lit cigarette is burning at the tip of the holder. As he flicks the holder, breaking loose the burned out end of the cigarette, Sarah wonders, are you him?
“Sarah,” a voice calls out to her. Jessica, what does she want? Now Lilith is joining in, while pushing Sarah back and forth, “Sarah.”
Surprise: wide eyed, slack jaw
“Oh, I’m sorry Jessica. I was somewhere else. What were you saying?”
“Um, well, I was asking if you will be attending my family ball.” Sarah had forgotten winter break is only a few weeks away. The McDillengers host a ball the first weekend. It is one of the few times Sarah gets to see the phoenix and dragon together. It is always a glamorous affair for the girls. This is no different for Sarah, well maybe a little different. She gets to see all the masks belonging to the elite. It’s a beautiful masquerade filled with more colors than any rainbow. “Of course, I wouldn’t miss it.”
“And… what about your father, darling; is he doing any better?”
“I… I don’t know.” This is a lie. Sarah knows he is getting worse; yet, it would make no difference to tell Jessica that.
“Oh, I see. Well maybe a party is just what the old man needs. I could ask daddy to send for him. You know how close they are… were.”
The three girls now sat quietly on the bus. There would be no further words spoken until they reached the school’s stop. School is, to no surprise, just another day. Finals are nearing and everyone is exited for the winter break. Everyone, but Sarah; she knows it will mean full days stuck at home caring for her father.
After school, Sarah heads over to the park. She finds watching the young maskless children playing entertaining. Their faces are always so animated. It’s a good change from the stillness of the masks. She sits on one of the swings gently moving back and forth. The kids are busy throwing snowballs at one another. It isn’t as fun to watch as Sarah had hoped. Soon, she finds herself once again lost in the memories held by the scar on her wrist. Sarah rubs it with the thumb of her right hand and recalls the first day she didn’t feel alone.
It was a snow covered day, not much different then today, when Sarah was brought home from the hospital. When asked why she did what she did, Sarah lied. She told her overly concerned parents she had heard it was a way to talk to those who had left us. Sarah gave a lovely performance explaining how she has missed her grandma so much and just wanted to see her one more time.
“Not in there sweetie,” father yells, just as Sarah reaches her bedroom door.
Surprise: wide eyes, raised eyebrows, slacked jaw
“I’m sorry sweetie, but we moved your things to the guest room, I…” he hesitates, trying to think of the best way to say what Sarah already knows, It’s the blood right? You and mother need time to clean up your beloveds little mess. “We think its best you have a change of scenery.”That’s the best answer you can come up with, you’re a writer?
Understanding: gentle smile, nod head, close eyes
”Alright father, I’ll be in my new room then.”
Sarah walks over to the guest room. It’s the room across the hall from hers, no more than five steps of difference. She opens the door and walks in. It looks just like the other, except its gray. Her mother and father put everything in the same place, just without the color. Sarah walks to the window and can see forest, just like in the other room; only, it too was gray. A change of scenery, I guess he is kind of right.
“Lovely room you have here,” Sarah turns to see a dark figure sitting cross-kneed in a black throne chair. The enormous chair was centered on a rug. It is the man from the hospital. It is him.
“Though, I liked the other room more. Not many people use so much of their own blood to summon me.” his face is masked. No, his face is the mask. It resembles an old manikin head and is as pale as bone. Crude details are forced into it. A long crack forms a smile that reaches from ear to ear. Stitches run the length of the broken smile. “Really, you didn’t think of killing a cat or a few mice, maybe a puppy?”
“After all, suicide by blood spell is normally a last resort.” He has wide angry eyes. They are as neatly formed as forcing a chisel through a hardened pot. They were uneven, cracked, maddening eyes. Beyond the eye holes, there was nothing: no eyelids, no eye brows, no white, just an endless ocean of black. Two crimson rings, fixated on Sarah’s position, floated in this ocean of black; though for some reason, Sarah could not believe they were real. Demonic contacts?
“Well child,” This is the empty, retched creature that Sarah will come to admire. This is the fiend that she will befriend. This is the demon that will grant a single wish for a simple cost. This is the monster that will leave Sarah alone in the world once more to suffer the consequences of her actions. This is the devil named Sam. He inhales a breath of smoke and exhales, “What can I do for you?”
Sarah continues reminiscing on those two years she spent in the company of Sam. He refused to grant her wish for emotion. When she complained that he was suppose to do whatever she wanted, He replied, “Do I look like a Genie to you? I don’t grant wishes. I make contracts and only contracts I’m interested in.”
Sam could have left right then and there, but decided to stay with Sarah. He was intrigued by her mask and would wait till the day she could think of a new wish. Sam was far from a perfect creature and it would be a lie to say Sarah was happy; but, it was no longer about what she was; rather, what she wasn’t. For those two years, Sarah wasn’t alone. She never had to lie to Sam. He accepted her emptiness and never judged Sarah like her parents did. Sarah didn’t need to hide herself behind fake expressions. After all, Sam could see her mask. He could see all of her. Sarah came to think that maybe this was enough, maybe Sam was enough.
“Is this how you spend your days,” a familiar male voice says from Sarah’s left. She turns to see that same tall man caped in black and sporting an equally black top hat. Excitement fills her as she sees his familiar long broken smile and angry madman’s eyes. He is even still flicking the same cigarette handle he always has. Sam! Sarah leaps from her seat and straight at the devilish figure. Sam pushes back on the swing, allowing Sarah to fall to the ground just in front of him. Her face meets the frozen snow, but she doesn’t care. He’s back and that’s all that matters.
“Are you mental, child?” He snaps. “How many times have I told you, no one else can see me? If you grab me, what would people think? Really, seeing some girl just floating in the air?”
“I’m sorry,” Sarah says, quickly followed by Sam’s retort, “No, you’re not.”
Sam is right of course. Sarah would jump at him a million more times, not the least concerned with the rest of the world. After all, Sam is her dark knight. He is just as empty as her, just as uncaring and selfish. Sarah gets to her feet and brushes off the snow. “Are you here to collect me?”
“You sound terribly excited at that thought,” Sam states with a flick of his holder, “few people are ever so happy to see me. Do you really want to die so young?”
“I’m alone here and father isn’t the same as when you left.”
“That’s not surprising. Last I saw of him, he was kneeling over his dead wife. Few people are ever the same after losing their spouse.”
“Why am I not enough to live for?”
“You tell me; you’re the one who asked if I was going to kill you not ten seconds ago.”
Sarah sat back in the swing and once more began moving back and forth. “I’m just tired. The world seems so blank. Don’t you ever feel that way?”
“Of course child, but I’ve been around for millenniums, wandered the world a dozen time over and lived through every war mankind has every waged. You’re fourteen and have never left the town you were born to. The way I see it, you haven’t given life much of a chance.”
Sarah stands up from her swing and seats herself in Sam’s lap. “What are you doing, child?”
“Giving life a chance,” Sarah replies. Sam feels as he always does, neither warm nor cold. His existence a void in the world, but there is a comfort to it. Sarah rests her head against his chest. There is neither heart beat nor rise as he inhales smoke from his cigarette. He is as still as the body of a doll.
They stay there, silent for hours. There is really nothing to talk about. Sarah thought of asking Sam who he is here to claim, but knew the answer. She wanted to know why he left her for five long years, but feared the answer. She has almost fallen asleep, there in his lap resting up against his body, when a mother yells to her son, “Lorene, come along its getting too dark to play!”
Sam rises from the swing, forcing Sarah to her feet. She turns to him, curious to what could be so important that such a perfect moment has to end. Sam is looking at his pocket watch, “Well child, it’s been…interesting, but now I have to get to work.”
He leaves before Sarah can argue. She waits for a bit hoping he will return. Eventually, she decides to head home. Sarah takes the bus to her stop and walks through the dark sleeping forest. It was far later than she thought. Father must be starving. She could use something to eat herself.
When Sarah reaches the house, she throws her coat, backpack, boots, gloves, and hat to the floor. The house is as still as ever. He must be in his study. Sarah walks up the stairs and down the hall to his study. She enters the room. It’s no surprise to Sarah what she finds on the other side. The moon beams through the bow window. It casts a blue light on the motionless body of Sarah’s father. His mask is gone. Sarah walks over to the lifeless corpse. On the ground beside the body Sarah finds her father’s mask. It has split in two. In each hand, Sarah holds one of the halves. “So, now you’re gone to.”
“Hello, child,” Sarah hears Sam voice behind her. There is calmness to it, a slight hush, “looks like he finally passed.”
“How,” Sarah asked not yet turning to face Sam, who replies, “Just withered away, child. Depression is a slow poison; but, it can claim the best of men.”
“Is this what I wished for,” Sarah asks turning to Sam. He takes a breath of smoke before speaking, “No, this is just life. People like us…and him naturally live in a world painted by a pilot of gray. Though unlike us, he’s got a rainbow of color on the other side. You should know. You were the one who wished me to take her.”
It is a cold winter day, in her little gray room. Sarah is just about ready to make her wish. She has only a few more questions. She has grown dependent on Sam’s companionship and wants him to be with her forever. It’s a simple wish, but there are complications. “Those are the rules, child. I can’t just take your soul as my own. You have to wish for something with greater or equal value.”
“What kind of wish,” Sarah asks, “would cost my soul?”
“One of death that defies the role of destiny,” Sam replies flicking his cigarette holder, “all I need is a name.”
It didn’t have to be Sarah’s mother. She was a caring mother, who even gave up her successful acting career for Sarah. It was fate she walked by Sarah’s room that day, just collecting laundry. Sarah merely catches a glance of her through the crack in the door and whispers, “mother.”
Sam rises to his feet taking in a deep breath from his cigarette. Sarah follows shortly behind. Sarah’s mother is at the stairs, when Sam reaches her. His hand extends just grazing her neck. She turns to look behind her. Sam and Sarah’s mother’s mask are so close they could kiss. He exhales the smoke. Her hands drop the laundry bag. Her body goes limp. The dirty laundry, which now coats the stairs, seem to do nothing to dull the violent crashing. Sarah stands still. She only hears the cracking of wood and maybe bone. Every thud seems to echo the same.
Sam begins walking down the stairs. Sarah hears the screams of her father, who has most likely just realized what happened. He passes right by her and Sam on his way to his beloved wife’s body at the bottom of the stairs. Sarah follows suit, but at a snail’s pace. When she reaches the stairway, Sarah can see her father weeping over her mother’s body. She doesn’t see Sam or her mother’s mask. Sarah walks down the stairs and passes her parents. There is no sign of Sam in the house. He has left her.
“Yes, that’s right and you left me,” Sarah says pulling her father’s mask to her chest, “and you’re going to leave me again.”
Sarah wouldn’t be alone, not again. In a second, she finds herself running past Sam, who does nothing to stop her. Down the stairs and out the door, she runs. The snow burns through her socks and into her feet. The frozen air stings to breathe. Sarah engulfs it as she sprints deeper into the forest. Not again, not ever again.
She slips and tumbles through the snow. Unable to run anymore, she rests herself up against the nearest tree. Sarah holds the two halves of her father’s mask out in front of her. The rings of fire are gone. The eyes are now closed. His once grand nose cut down to just a stump. Did you know? Is that why you couldn’t love me? The mask was silent. She stares at it for hours. The cold takes her.
“You’ve made quite the mess of things, child.”
“I’m sorry.” Sarah replies knowing exactly what Sam will say, “No, you’re not.”
He isn’t wrong, he never is. Sarah has lied about who she is to every person she ever met, but not Sam. So she tells the truth, “I don’t want to be alone!”
“I know, child,” Sam states as he pulls out his pocket watch. He flicks his cigarette holder, “In a few minutes you’ll be beyond saving.”
“I’m going to die,” she looks up at Sam, “I…”
Sarah looks back to her father’s mask. She doesn’t know what to say. Sarah knows when she dies, she will be with Sam. She would have killed herself years ago, if Sam had not told her not to. There were rules and Sam broke most of them. If Sarah died and he wasn’t there to collect her someone else might. Now, Sam was here. Isn’t this what I want?
“Don’t you dare do that,” Sam yells forcing Sarah to return her gaze onto him, “I can see it in your face. Don’t you dare make this special. If there’s one thing about humans I truly hate; it is how they’ve come to romanticize death. Death is the most common, uninspiring thing to ever happen. Do you know almost two people die every second? Do you understand that, child? Death is more common than even a second.”
“You’re going to die, I’m going to rip your soul from your body, and then we leave.” Sam inhales another breath of smoke as Sarah blankly stares at him, “So close those eyes, relax, and sleep.”
Sarah does as Sam instructed. She already feels so tired. The cold has run its course and blankets her in a numb sheet. It feels like only a second, before nothing. The abyss is broken by a familiar hand. She reaches out to it and is forcefully pulled forward. Sarah sees the same gray world she left. Her hand gently held by Sam. She feels as light as a feather, wearing nothing but her birth and caped by the black shadow of her death. For the first time, Sarah can feel the weight of her pale fox mask. It was the symbol of her mischievous, but empty life. Sarah could feel the pressure of ground beneath her bare feet, but not the cold of the snow. She turned to see what remained against the tree. A frozen creature, as gray as the forest around it, laid there sleeping and empty. It wears a matured version of a familiar face Sarah has not seen in seven years. Sam was right; there is nothing special here. This creature is just another of the hundreds of thousands of dead leaves that fell before it and soon the snow will blanket it, too.