Master of Ceremonies: Part Five
Vira looked upward toward the water’s shimmering surface. Desperate for air, she furiously kicked her hind legs in order to push her head above water, but something was tugging on her hips, holding her back. She peered down, fearing that the imp was dragging her down.
The fabric of her dress had gotten caught on a tree root! Vira tugged on the dress in a panic, but it did not come loose.
She quickly reached for the root with her paw and unhooked her dress from its snare, allowing herself to push off of the riverbed and thrust her head above the water. Gasping, Vira pulled herself out of the river and coughed up water onto the muddy grass beneath her. She angrily breathed out, "Goodness… that was dreadful."
She glared at the nearby tree whose deep roots had almost killed her. On the verge of tears, she shook her body forcefully, trying to both dry herself off and calm herself down. Had the creature pulled her in, or had she just panicked and lost her balance? She couldn’t remember.
Without much hesitation, she looked down at her body, repeating in her mind, "Please have worked."
True to its word, the reflection had worked its magic on her! Vira’s body had new curves and new fur. She also felt a pair of faerie-like wings pushing against her dress, trying to break free.
Thrilled by the thought of a beautified appearance, she took off running toward the fairground for her glorious finale.
She went through the field of flowers, re-entered the woods, and ran until she found the iron fence. She grabbed it and listened to the rowdy crowds inside, straining her ears until she heard Branston’s voice over the distant loudspeakers. He was raving about model number 26.
"I’m late!" she panicked as she took off running again. The soaked dress pressed coldly against her, and its drooping hem was collecting mud.
Vira dashed through the woods and followed the trail to the fairground’s front gate, where she flashed her soggy, paper wristband to the Grarrl guards and entered.
She ran through the crowds toward the beauty contest tent, nimbly dodging anyone in her way. The loudspeakers echoed throughout the fairground that model 28 was now on stage.
When Vira reached the contest tent, she ran around the outside of it toward the back. A Chia officer guarding the back entrance kept her from entering.
"Vira Claymore. I’m the finale!" she sputtered, showing the Chia her plastic, contest wristband. He examined it carefully.
"Model 13? You’re extremely late," he said, letting her pass.
She ran inside in a frenzy looking for her outfit. It was fortunately easy to spot since it was the last one on the rack. A stagehand noticed her presence and spoke into his headset.
There was only one other model backstage, number 30. All of the other contestants were already out there waiting for the big finale!
Vira grabbed the black dress and headed into the dressing room. She struggled getting her sopping, yellow dress off, especially because of her new wings and tail that were trapped inside the fabric.
Her fur was soaked! Fortunately there was a pile of clothing that some of the other models had left behind. Vira grabbed a garment and hurriedly dried herself off.
Applause roared from elsewhere in the contest tent as the 30 models were wrapping up the show. "And now for a surprising, grand finale," Branston announced, "we have a very special guest. The eldest daughter of… Mr. Claymore himself! From right here in the Haunted Woods, model 31 is the gorgeous… stunning… Miss Vira Claymore!"
Vira desperately threw the sheath dress over her head, but she couldn’t get it on. It was stuck on her new wings! She threw her dress to the ground in a fit and stepped into it, hoping for a miracle.
Surprisingly, the supposedly tight dress slipped right on over her new curves! With her tail down, Vira slipped the dress upward and hooked it over her shoulders.
"Hold on, folks," she heard Branston say, appeasing the awaiting crowd.
Vira left the dressing room and found the leather boots. The stagehand was frantically signaling her over.
To Vira’s surprise, the skinny, leather boots also slipped on very easily. She strapped them up and jolted for the stage. She almost fell over because of the awkwardness of the boots, but she managed to regain her composure and stride with pride as she stepped out from behind the curtains and into the spotlights.
The audience was silent but captivated. Vira strutted down the long runway, hoping that her delayed arrival would only serve to amplify the stunning charm of her newfound beauty.
A brief wave of laughter suddenly spread through the audience.
Vira strode quickly but warily down the runway as the laughter slowly dissipated. Several members of the audience then began whistling at her, and suddenly a wave of applause and cheering commenced.
Feeling somewhat relieved, Vira reached the end of the catwalk and turned from side to side, showing off her dress and boots. She spread her wings out, hoping for a more dramatic stage presence.
"I forgot to accessorize!" she suddenly realized.
Fortunately, the audience cheered her on anyway with one last, great applause. Struggling to wear a pretty smile, Vira turned around and headed back down the catwalk to where the other 30 models were waiting as the clapping died down.
Someone in the audience then shouted, "Where’s the bearded Kacheek?" The audience laughed again.
And another, "The freak show was at four!" The audience laughed even harder.
Vira turned around again and froze. What was going on? Why had they been laughing? Were they talking about her or something else on stage? She tried scanning the audience, but the spotlights prevented her from seeing anything.
"Freak show fashion!" someone shouted from the back, and the loud laughter continued.
To her dismay, Vira suddenly realized what was going on. They were talking about her! If the terrible thought that had finally crossed her mind was true, her greatest fantasy was becoming a nightmare. She put her paws up to her head and quietly pleaded, "No! Please, no!"
Vira’s heart sank in despair. Something tragic had befallen her! She had to get away and see it for herself.
She leapt off the end of the catwalk and spread her wings, gliding over the first few rows and landing in the open aisle. Everyone cheered and applauded! She ran out of the contest tent and into the darkness; the sun had finally sunk into the woods, and darkness had filled the fairground.
The most promising day she had ever had was now behind her, and the only thing left waiting for her was the one thing that she feared more than death.
Vira’s hope was swallowed up by misery, and pain sunk deep into her soul at the thought of looking like that… creature that had tried to kill her.
She entered the nearby funhouse and looked into one of the distortion mirrors—expecting to see the hideous reality of what had happened to her—but nothing showed up in the mirror’s awry reflection. Passing by a few other mirrors, Vira realized that her reflection was completely gone! What strange curse had befallen her?
"Hey, I need your help!" she said to a nearby Aisha. "What do I look like to you?"
"Oh, your costume’s great," she smiled. "You look just like a vampire."
"No!" Vira breathed out to herself, putting her paw to her face nervously. Her greatest fear had come true, but for some reason she couldn’t even see it for herself!
She turned back to the distortion mirror. "Get back here right now, you ridiculous reflection," she hissed, pounding her paws on it. "I know you’re in there." Vira desperately scanned the details of the images in the mirror.
Then something yellow caught her eye. In the mirror’s reflection, someone in a sunflower-yellow dress was standing in front of a pink curtain and was waving at her to get her attention.
That was her own dress.
It was her!
Vira released a paw from the mirror and swung around, spotting the funhouse’s pink curtain behind her, but there was no one there. She looked back at the mirror and saw her own yellow dress disappearing behind the curtain.
Her reflection was getting away!
Vira dashed across the hallway chasing after her reflection, thrusting the curtains aside and entering the next chamber.
Empty corridors stretched as far as she could see, and bright lights shone down on her from above. Looking around, she caught a glimpse of the yellow dress to her right and chased after it.
In her hurried pursuit, Vira suddenly hit an invisible wall face-first and tumbled backward to the ground. After a moment of pain and bewilderment, she quickly got back to her feet.
Pressing her paws against the glass ahead of her, she realized that she was in the fairground’s mirror maze and surrounded by illusionary pathways. Her reflection, however, was not showing up in the mirrors, thus making the maze ahead impossible for her to navigate.
"Get back here!" she shouted, taking a few steps forward into another sheet of glass. She then tried to go to her left and right, but the deceitful mirrors kept blocking her. "Where are you, Vira?"
As she frantically changed directions looking for a way through, she heard her own voice laughing at her. "I’m right here with you, like always."
In the mirror ahead, Vira spotted a beautiful Acara dressed in yellow. It was far away, though, as if it were really standing in the corridor behind her.
Vira turned around to face the Acara, but instead her gaze only met more empty mirrors.
Angrily, Vira whipped around and smashed her tail into the mirror where she had seen the Acara, causing the glass to crack. She hit it again with her tail and let the glass shatter to the ground.
Running forward, Vira caught another glimpse of the hem of the fleeting yellow dress, but it kept dashing between mirrors, hiding itself in the maze.
"Stop running! Talk to me, right now!"
Vira began smashing mirror after mirror with her tail repeatedly until each fell to the ground, destroying the Acara’s hiding places and the invisible barricades. Sharp pain shot through her pointed tail, but Vira only cared about one thing.
"Show yourself," she shouted with indignation, "and give me everything back!"
Vira refused to accept that she would look like that hideous creature that had pulled her into the Demonica River. In her rampage, she continued smashing mirrors, hoping to eventually smash her fist into her reflection’s smug face, but the pointless chase drained her of all her energy.
After a few minutes, Vira stopped and hit her paws against one of the unscathed mirrors around her. "Come back! Please…" she begged, breathing heavily from the chase.
But no one came.
She looked around her at the chaos she had left behind in this solemn chamber. Terrified onlookers had all fled the scene, and glass lay scattered throughout the room. Vira’s tail was covered in blood. Defeated, Vira sunk to her knees and sobbed.
"You lied to me," she cried out to the empty mirrors around her. "You said you would help me be beautiful. Now please give it all back…"
She reached a paw out to a mirror hoping that her reflection would shake paws with her again and reverse the spell, but her claws hit empty glass. Tears streamed down her face.
"I’m so sorry," she apologized. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry."
Vira echoed her apology over and over, but there was no one in the mirror to forgive her of her costly mistake…
To be continued…