The Haunted Faire
The wind was howling as she pulled up to the dank, grey iron gates. All around her, darkness took hold and wrapped its chilly arms around her; on the horizon, the promise of light, and sound, whispered to her. She pulled her shawl tighter around her and stood lightly on her toes, searching in vain for the lock. The mangled, rusted key had been pressed into her hand by a horned, stout dark purplish figure as she wandered briskly down the crowded street. Before she could see the thing clearly it had disappeared into a shadowed side street.
A single handwritten note was attached to the key, a looping bow holding onto the rough parchment note.
"The Haunted Faire. A chance to leave the world behind.
Midnight, The Forgotten Field.
Magic, illusion, wonder - escape."
Escape. The word had stuck in her throat and haunted her for the remainder of the day as she was shuffled along to her lessons: arithmetic, grammar, prose, Neopian history. Her favourite subject, Arts and Crafts, had once again been 'forgotten' to be included during her tutoring session, all of her wondrous and colourful creations locked away in an unused room across the hall. This didn't matter, however, as she barely heard a word her tutor had droned during the session, her mind wandering continuously to the key burning a hole in her pocket. Escape.
She snapped from her reverie with a start and stared once more at the relentless gate blocking her from the alluring light and tantalising noise in the field. The eerie gloom surrounding her offered little help; she couldn't see any sign of a lock. She stamped her foot in frustration and let out a "Hmph!" before turning on the ball of her foot, determined to stomp back to her warm, brightly lit room and sleep away her troubles. Or, she would've, had she not run into a solid mass of flesh in the middle of her huff.
"Lost?" The mass spoke! A faint light seemed to follow him around - a captured faerie, she noted, buzzing just over his shoulder, a tiny lantern illuminating the area - and slowly his features became clearer. A short, stubby hat sat stoutly on his head; his clothes were well worn but not shabby, his striped waistcoat only revealing a couple of moth-bitten holes along the edges. His pale, greenish tinted skin shone dully in the faerie's lantern and a calculated smile creeping to his face. He repeated, "Lost?"
She didn't know what to say. The tiny voice in her head - the voice of reason, her mother joked, the voice she silenced the most - screamed that she should run - fast - away from the figure before her. But there was another, more determined and persistent than the first, which whispered to her, answer him. She cleared her throat timidly before regarding him closely.
"I was given this," she responded quietly, holding out her hand. The little key seemed to reflect in the faerie's light, brightening as it hadn't before. The odd man looked down and a small chuckle escaped his lips, his small hat jerking to the side. He leaned down, his nose mere inches from her palm and the key, before shooting up and regarding her closely.
"Where did you get that?"
"Someone gave it to me in the street."
"Someone, eh?" He chuckled. With a single digit, he pushed his hat back into place and continued, amused, "And why, may I ask, did you come here on the whim of a stranger?"
She stopped. Nervously, she bit her lip. Why had she come? All things considered, this moment had to be the silliest, and most dangerous, thing she had ever done: accepted a key from a strange shadow; snuck out of her warm, safe home in the dead of the night; travelled to the forgotten field on the edge of town; and now, standing in semi-darkness, chatting with another complete stranger, a stranger who was at this moment regarding her intensely. Swallowing carefully, she responded quietly, "I want to escape."
A lone eyebrow shot towards his green hairline but he remained silent.
"I'm tired of being cooped up in rooms, reciting tedious facts and figures, kept away from the outside world - bar my weekly walks in the market - and being treated like some sort of fragile Baby Cybunny plushie!" She flushed at her outburst, her hands curling into tight fists. Again, the figure regarded her closely, his lips set in a faint smile. "I'm tired of having what I want put away in favour of what everyone else wants. I want to see the world, I want to get away, I want to get out." She stamped her foot again. "I want to be me!" She exhaled loudly, her nails digging into the soft skin of her palm.
His smile broke into a grin, his off-white teeth flashing in her direction. Amazingly, he didn't look menacing; more horrifyingly endearing. He stepped back half a step and dropped into an elaborate bow, sweeping his hat off his head and across the dirt, barren floor, a mischievous glint shining in his eye. He straightened himself, his eyes finding hers, and motioned to the gate with an elaborate gesture.
A tendril of fog wrapped around the centre-most bar in the gate and spun, first in a slow, lazy circle before speeding up to a dull, grey blur, and there was a mighty bang, the fog bursting into a million directions. She stepped back, crying out in astonishment and covering her eyes. Slowly, she opened her eyes, her mouth dropping in shock.
There, in the dead center of the gate, was a rusted lock. A lock that definitely hadn't been there before. She turned, speechless, and stared unbelievably at the figure before her. He shrugged and smiled his mysterious, tight lipped smile before gesturing towards the lock with a slight tilt of his head.
It felt as if a dozen of Baby Blus were coiling themselves into a tight ball in the pit of her stomach. The tiny voice was back and was shrieking adamantly in her head, telling her once more to run - run away, now! - as fast as she could and hide in her soft, plush bed. She ignored it once more and steeled herself. On jelly-like legs, she took a wobbly step forward towards the gate. The key was beginning to burn in her tight fist.
The eerie silence that had once surrounded her was replaced by a low buzzing sound. Over across the field the lights and frivolous sounds seemed to grow in intensity. But the Cybunny didn't see anything, her gaze focused solely on the enchanted lock before her. She stopped, an arm's length away from the lock, and felt her muscles tighten. Once again the overwhelming sensation of fear seemed to grip her, her body rigid and cold, as if she had been dunked in icy water.
What was she doing here? This was madness! Pure, utter, nonsensical madness! Her life seemed to flash before her eyes, the tiny voice in her head abandoning verbal attacks, resorting instead to a visual barrage of warm, cosy memories. Stability. Propriety. Tradition. Family. Was she really going to throw all this away? She could just stop this madness right now and walk away and pretend this never happened. Throw the key down the Wishing Well and forget. Go back to normality.
"You were chosen," a voice whispered in her ear. She jumped with fright and turned her head slightly. The odd green man was standing beside her, his gaze locked intensely on the brightness before them. "You were given that key for a reason - you are a reason. This is a chance at a life of magic. Illusion. Riddles. Adventure." He paused, allowing his words to penetrate her mind, before continuing, "You could perfect your craft."
"Craft?" Her ears perked up. Her voice sounded strange to her - quiet but determined. She could feel the fear slowly drain from her, an unsettling sense of calm washing over her.
He turned his head to face her, a ghost of a smile playing on his lips. "You like arts and crafts, correct? Fond of masks?"
She thought back to her art and craft creations, hidden in the unused spare room across from her tutoring room, a layer of dust settling on their colourful and intricate designs. She had always been good with her hands and, from a young age, had a way with colour, textures and designs. Masks were her favourite. Masks were her favourite means of escape. She made her masks colourful and unique, vibrant. She adored creating a mask from scratch. The feel of the fabric, feathers and other textiles brushing against her fur as she gently lowered it over her face. She felt invincible with her masks on. Immortal. Before all her siblings had left the house, they had all enjoyed playing together, putting on various masks and going on journeys around the garden - riddles were a family favourite, and she, even though she was several years younger than her siblings, was as sharp as a tack and quick as a fox.
Her masks were an extension of herself. They were her freedom.
But she was always inevitably asked to take off her mask and become a proper lady. Her freedom had been fleeting. But this wasn't. This freedom would be permanent.
"Go on." His voice was soft this time. She met his eyes and gave him a small smile. As if by magic, she felt her arm move on its own. In no time at all, the key had found its way into the lock with a resounding click. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
Freedom. Escape. Magic. Adventure.
She turned the key. With a flash, both the key and lock disappeared and the gates shuddered open. Suddenly, the darkness seemed to fade away and bright, warm light began to blossom. She felt a firm hand on her shoulder; the odd man was still there, a broad smile bursting across his face. "You made the right choice." He gave her a slight push and she walked past the gate threshold, towards the light and colours.
The Faire seemed to come alive as they got closer. She could smell the salty, caramel scent of popcorn hovering in the air, the light tinged with various shades of greens and blues. The sounds of laughter and singing floated through the air, a steady thump of lively music resounded across the field. They crossed the field quickly and soon they were both wrapped in the light and noise of the Faire.
The man leaned in closer and spoke over the sound of the music. "Welcome to The Haunted Faire!" he presented delightedly, gesturing grandly with his arm. She followed the arc of his arm, her mouth open. Everywhere she looked, Pets were laughing and enjoying each others company. The atmosphere burned with excitement and wonder, a crack of magic buzzing in the air. Various Pets of all walks were bouncing and dancing in the grand square, while others stood on the fringes, placing their bets on the Wheels and eyeing up candied apples and other treats. Eerie pumpkins lined the field in a perfect circle and orange and black banners flapped lazily in the air.
She turned to her unlikely companion, a broad, glistening grin adorning her face. "Thank you for this, er," she stopped and laughed, "I didn't quite catch your name?"
He stuck out his hand and clasped her palm in his, shaking it ecstatically. "The name's Bart. I run this Faire."
"Oh!" She exclaimed, covering her mouth with her hand. Her head was spinning, the sights, sounds and smells of the Faire encapsulating her completely. It felt like heaven. For the first time she felt complete. Home. Bart laughed and clasped his arm around her shoulders, steering her away from the dancing forms, towards a rickety-looking cart partially covered in shadow, the lights flickering with pale orange light.
"Do you like it?"
She rushed from his arms and inspected the cart, a girlish squeal escaping her lips. Sneaking onto her toes she peered into the finely cut gap which stood at shoulder height. Inside, five irregular shaped poles stood bare against the far wall; the adjacent wall was taken up completely by a wooden workbench littered with a variety of textiles, feathers, glue, glitter and other raw materials. She was itching to get inside and get creating but was stopped by a firm hand on her shoulder.
Bart's face was still lit up, an amused expression on his face.
"Can I go inside?" She practically bounced on the spot, tugging at Bart's sleeve, resisting the urge to drag him to the other side of the cart in search of the door. "Please?"
"In due time, my dear," he responded. He lead her away from the cart - she nearly whimpered at the thought of being separated from her new home - but soon quieted at the sight of the modestly sized signpost before her. It was empty. At the base, hovering near the base with a tin of dark paint, sat a fidgeting Captive Shadow Wraith. "I believe you've met my Petpet, Reginald?" Reginald snapped his jaws in introduction, the mangled, rusty key that had disappeared hanging around its neck.
"Him?" She was dumbstruck. The stature and colour was unmistakable - this was the hobgoblin creature that had found her this morning! She bent down and pet the creature on the head, laughing as he tried to nip at her fingers.
Bart cleared his throat. "I believe it's time to make this official." He motioned his head slightly to the side, towards the blank signpost.
"This is mine?"
Bart nodded firmly, grinning broadly. "Your name?"
She licked her lips before responding gleefully, "Saskia. My name is Saskia."
"Wonderful!" Bart clapped his hands together and stepped back before commanding Reginald to paint. They both watched as the little creature floated up and, as meticulously as possible, sloshed the dark ink on the unmarked wood.
"'Saskia's Cart'. I like it. Catchy," Saskia mused, scratching her chin thoughtfully. "So, what do I do?"
Bart grinned at her. "Tell me, what do you think of a new event: 'The Masks of Dread'?"