Friday, August 14, 2009

Wordzzle 76 - Masks

This is my contribution to this week's Wordzzle. Wordzzle is a game in which each week word lists, used to create stories, are given on the blog Views from Raven's Nest. Participating users post their stories on their own blogs.

This is the twentieth time I've played the game.

Ten Word Challenge:

flea market,
falling leaves,
who was that masked man?,
keeping kids out of trouble,
I'm a believer,
bonnet in the attic,

Falling leaves blew through the deserted flea market. Before it had been a flea market it had been an amusement park, and before that a place for circuses and fairs. It had been one thing after another, for generation after generation. Right now it seemed to be between incarnations, haunted by the ghost of its former self and without any indications of what might come next. I walked through it, looking at the remains of what it had been.

Eventually I became aware of someone walking beside me. We talked for a bit, about various things. When I turned to look at him, he was wearing a clown mask and a clown costume. It seemed odd, but I didn't say anything about it. We continued walking.

"Too bad this place is closed again," I said. "It used to be popular, but the owner ran out of money."

"Yes, times are hard, many places have closed. This one will reopen eventually, as something else. It always does." He wore a cowboy mask and a cowboy outfit now.

"There's not many places for kids to go, now," I said. "Not many jobs for them either. I'm afraid a lot of them are going to get into trouble."

"I'm a believer in keeping kids out of trouble," he said, dressed like a ringmaster now and wearing a mask with a long curly mustache.

"You seem to have a lot of costumes," I said.

"I also have a bonnet in the attic."

"Oh? Which attic is that?"

"I have many bonnets, in many attics. Some are quite nice, but I wouldn't mind being seen dead in any of them," he said, wearing a leprechaun mask and costume.

"I have no idea how you do it, but you do the best job of switching costumes I've ever seen."

"I accept your compliment, but there's no need for superlatives. It's easier than it seems, and not entirely what it appears," he said, looking like a magician.

"You're speaking in riddles."

"Perhaps, but I speak as I think. Misunderstanding may induce misdirection, but I give out no disinformation," he said, looking like an old wizard carrying a staff.

We had reached the other edge of the flea market. He turned to me, looking like trapeze artist. "I have to go now."

"What shall I say when people ask 'who was that masked man?'"

"We all wear masks. Tell them what you like."

"I don't wear a mask."

"Then here, take one of mine."

Then he handed me a mask that looked like me.

Mini Challenge:

deep in the forest,

Deep in the forest, away from the cities, away from the government, away from anyone who knew him and anyone he knew, he found an old trunk. He stood there looking at it, wondering why someone had left it there, in the forest. He felt he should probably open it, but it wasn't his, and though it had apparently been abandoned, it might not be. He rubbed his upper lip with his finger, a nervous habit of his. He couldn't just go away and not see what was in it. There might be something valuable, something that shouldn't be left out here and lost.

When he opened it, he saw that it had a wide tray across the inside, formed into sections for holding different things. The tray held a variety of items, old letters and keepsakes and heirlooms, some charming and some not. He lifted the tray out, and saw that underneath it the bottom of the trunk was gone, and the ground under it as well. A wooden ladder led downward, changing into a steep staircase as it went. He heard distant sounds, distorted, and caught glimpses of bright pinpoints, like eyes reflecting light.

He stared, flabbergasted, then suddenly put the tray back over it and stood there leaning on the edges of the trunk, trying to catch his breath. Then, trembling a little, he slowly took the tray back off. The trunk was now filled with a variety of items. There were old shoes and old dolls, and pieces of dolls, and old boots and old gloves.

He also came across an old wallet, very old. He opened it up and looked inside. It didn't have any money or credit cards, but it had a driver's license. The driver's license had his name and his signature, but the wrong address. It also had his picture, but not the one he had on his license. It was a poor picture, and faded, but he seemed to be older in it.

He finally put it back, and put the tray back in and closed the lid. He leaned on the lid for a while, trying to absorb what he had found and what had happened. He couldn't make it work, though. Nothing fit in, nothing made any sense.

He straightened up and stared at the trunk. It shouldn't even be here. What would a trunk be doing in the middle of a forest? He felt he should leave, really felt he should leave, but somehow couldn't bear to. He couldn't leave like this, with everything making no sense.

Finally, he hesitatingly opened it up again, and slowly took the tray out, almost afraid to look. As he took the tray out, he could see that what was inside had changed again. He held the edge of the tray against his stomach and peered over it. The trunk now held a body. It was on its back with its knees by its face. The eyes were staring outward, the mouth slack, the face blank and expressionless. It looked much like him, but instead of being clean-shaven, it had a long mustache that curled up at the edges.

Suddenly the eyes turned toward him and winked. He screamed and dropped the tray back down on it and backed up a few steps. He stared at it, his eyes big, his face in a grimace. Then he went toward it and quickly closed the lid and moved the clips into place to latch it. Then he backed up again and stared at it, breathing hard, a shudder running through him.

Something tapped him on the shoulder. He recoiled and turned away from it and ran mindlessly through the woods. Suddenly something big was right in front of him and he tumbled over it, hitting his head on a rock on the ground. Dazed, he dimly saw the trunk again, beside him, and heard voices talking around him. They all sounded alike and it was hard to follow the conversation. Consciousness faded, then, and his sleep was troubled by strange dreams.

He finally awakened, late in the day, and sat up and held his head and groaned. Beside him on the ground was the massive trunk of an old tree. A squirrel came out on top of it and scolded him. He stared back at it, then began to move slowly closer, softly talking to it. The squirrel ran along the trunk to the base, where the tree spread out in a tangle of broken roots, and ran over the edge into them and disappeared.

The man got up and followed it and found that the tree was hollow. Deep inside it he saw two eyes shining in the darkness, looking back at him. He wondered if squirrels' eyes were supposed to shine in the dark. It didn't seem right, but he wasn't sure. It was hard to think with his head hurting like this. He started to move in closer, to stick his head inside the tree, but then he paused, and finally drew back. The eyes looked back for a while, but then were gone. He started to go into the tree then, without even thinking about it.

He crawled in on his hands and knees into the darkness, his head and back scraping the top of the tunnel, the air full of the smell of rotting wood. Then suddenly the space seemed to open up quite a bit. He could feel the change in the air and in the way sounds came to him. He seemed to be close to the edge of a vast underground area, though he couldn't see much in the darkness, just occasional distant pairs of pinpoints that could have been eyes. He paused, unsure what to do or whether it was safe to go on.

Suddenly, something grabbed his hand. He screamed and tried to pull his hand away, but it wouldn't let go. He screeched and pulled and pulled, and finally yanked his hand away and hastily backed out. Standing up, he backed away from the trunk, staring at the hole, breathing hard. This was a very strange place. Whatever was in there, he really didn't want any part of it.

He twirled the end of his long mustache, a nervous habit he had, then turned and walked quickly away.

Mega challenge:

flea market,
falling leaves,
who was that masked man?,
keeping kids out of trouble,
I'm a believer,
bonnet in the attic,

deep in the forest,

"Are you a believer?" a voice said. "Are you a believer?"

"I'm a believer in some things," I said. I was deep in the forest, and no one was around, but it didn't seem important somehow.

"Are you a believer in me? Are you a believer in us?"

"I don't know who you are or what you want me to believe in, but I guess I can say that I believe I'm hearing you."

A tiny woman flew out from among the trees, on long dragonfly-like wings. "Perhaps that will be close enough," she said.

I suppose I should have been flabbergasted, but I was only a little surprised. It seemed strangely normal. "You look quite charming," I said.

"Thank you," she said. "You said the same thing the last time, but it's always appreciated."

"I saw you before? I don't remember it."

"Yes, humans are frequently like that."

"If I saw you before, why did you have to ask if I believed?"

"It helped to put you in the proper state of mind. Humans sometimes need prompting."

"I suppose I should ask you to take me to your leader."

"We do have leaders, but not governments as you think of them. However, it is not necessary to see one at this time."

"Do you have cities, then, or something else you can show me?"

"We do not have cities. What would we do with them? We live in homes in the forest, in trees or under rocks or behind waterfalls, and whatever other place that we may like."

"Can you take me to your home?"

"Yes, but it will be a more difficult journey than you think."

"Let's go, then. I want to see it."

She turned, then, and led me on a winding journey through the trees and underbrush. Things got more dense and tangled as we went, and soon I was fighting my way through branches, with falling leaves hitting me on the head and shoulders. "Is it going to be much longer?"

She turned and looked at me, hovering in the air. "Do you believe?"

"I guess so. I'm here aren't I?"

"Then let's continue. We still have a little ways to go."

Soon I was finding the path through the branches easier, as they grew mostly above me, but I was having trouble with tree roots, as they seemed to be increasingly in the way and of enormous size. After a while I was actually having to climb over them.

"Here we are," she said, landing by a hole in the base of a tree. "This is where I live."

I walked up. "Can I go in?"

She turned to me, and I realized that I was now her size. "Yes, you can. For a while."

We went into the tree, into a little room that had been carved out of it. Giant spoons hung on the walls. In the middle was a little wooden table with thimbles around it to sit on.

"You don't sit on mushrooms?"

"We sit on whatever's convenient. Sometimes it happens to be a mushroom, but usually it's something else. Not everything is as it is in fairy tales. There's a lot of disinformation out there."

"Do you live here alone?"

"I have some children, but they're not here now."

"What about your husband?"

"Our customs are not your customs. The father sometimes visits and sometimes not. He was here more often in the early days."

"I see, I guess. What do your children do? Where are they? Are they in school?"

"We don't have schools, though we have teachers. Perhaps the children are being taught something now. I don't know. We don't have schedules."

"You just let them learn when they feel like it?"

"We let them learn when they are ready."

"I would think that if left to themselves, they would more often choose not to, and would spend most of their time playing and maybe getting into trouble. Discipline is a big part of keeping kids out of trouble, and there doesn't seem to be much discipline in what you describe."

"We do not have much of a problem with them getting into trouble. Our definitions of trouble differ, though."

I walked up to the walls and looked at the spoons. They were evidently made by humans, for the use of humans.

"We like to collect things," she said. "The things in here have been collected over many generations. We tend to regard them all as heirlooms, even the newer ones. We do not regard time as you do."

"What else have you collected? Can you show me?"

She led me deeper in the tree, through winding corridors to other rooms, and sometimes up stairs carved into the wood. Many things had been collected, of a wide variety. Much of it seemed like flea market or garage sale type of stuff, but not all of it.

"You don't seem very interested in collecting the best or the greatest or the most valuable."

"We tend not to think in superlatives, thinking more of what is needed, of what will work or may work, and of what we like or may like. Sometimes this does result in collecting something valuable, such as jewels or something in silver or gold, especially if the item is very pretty. Usually our needs are filled with lesser items, though."

We continued our tour. After a while I came across a giant black band hanging on a wall, with huge eye holes in it, like a mask for Zorro or maybe the Lone Ranger. I went behind it and put my head through one of the eye holes. "Who was that masked man?" I said.

"Who do you believe that he is?"

I blinked. "Does my belief make a difference?"

"You are here and you can still say that?"

We continued on. In one room I saw a long wooden rod hanging on hooks on the wall. "What's this?"

"It's a staff, a walking stick."

"You mean like a cane? I didn't think you people needed such things."

"We usually don't, but this one has special significance."

She didn't say anything more about it, and I moved on, looking at the other things. Finally, after looking in a far room that contained a collection of giant shoelaces and king and queen playing cards, I sat down on a giant spool of thread there and rested for a while.

"You have quite a bit of stuff."

"Yes, and there's even more. We have underground rooms, too. They can wait for another time. There's a bonnet in the attic that you might be interested in seeing now, though."

She took me up some more stairs, which wound around and around and finally ended in a large room. It was mostly empty, but contained a few things. She led me over to what was apparently a small jewelry box, looking very large here. I had no idea how they managed to get it in here, or up the stairs. She opened it and took out a small, fairy-size green derby hat, and handed it to me. I looked it over. Inside I saw a name on the band. It was my name. I looked at her, then put it on. It fit perfectly.

"I guess this is my hat."

"Yes. You have worn it many times."

"I'd look at myself in it, but I don't remember seeing any mirrors."

"We sometimes find pieces of mirrors that we can use, but the ones I have are all in the underground rooms. They don't always show what you would expect, though."

"I see. Well, it's been a fascinating experience and I'd like to stay longer, but it must be getting late. I wouldn't want to have to go through the forest in the dark, so I'd better get going."

"Time works differently here, and doesn't always correspond to what is happening in the outside world, but yes, it's probably time to go."

"Can I keep the hat?"

She looked at me. "Do you believe?"

"Do I believe? In the hat? In the experience? It all seems real. I guess so."

She led me down, and through the rooms and the other stairs, until finally we were in the first room. I looked around it, looking at everything, trying to fix it all in memory. I was starting to feel a little light-headed for some reason. Perhaps it was all that going up and down the stairs, though it wasn't as tiring as I would have thought.

"We should go now," she said.

She led me out and I followed, as if in a dream. Outside, the wind had picked up a bit. Giant leaves blew across the ground in front of me. Beyond the tops of the trees, far above me, the sun passed behind a cloud. Things suddenly felt more threatening, ominous. I shivered. She urged me on, back across the giant roots that grew smaller as I went, and back through the tangle of branches. Finally, we seemed to be back somewhere in a more normal part of the woods, though I didn't recognize where I was. I guess one part of the woods looks too much like another.

I noticed that she was small again, and the trees seemed normal size to me. I reached up and felt my hat. It was still there, and still fit me. I was feeling funny, though, and disconnected from things. I wasn't sure I could find my way out of the woods from here. I looked at her. She hovered in a beam of sunlight, looking back at me. She looked as she had when I first saw her, but she seemed different somehow, more distant and unreal.

"Will I see you again?" I asked.

"You always do. Just remember to believe."

A wind slowly swept through the trees, making a growing roar. I heard a hooting sound, and turned my head and saw on a branch nearby an owl looking at me. I shivered, and a wave of fear went through me. I turned back and looked at the unfamiliar forest. Why had I stayed out so late? I felt I had to leave, to get out of here, but I wasn't sure which way to go. I scratched my head and something fell, something like a tiny hat. Something swooped in and caught it, something like a strange oversized dragonfly, and was gone.

I stared at the empty air unbelievingly, open-mouthed. I had never seen a bug that big. And where did that little hat come from? Well, I would have to think about it later. I needed to find my way out of the forest before it got dark, or before something else happened.

Whatever that meant.

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Blogger Argent said...

Wow, three amazing encounters this week. I thought I knew where the first one was going but I loved the ending. I thought it was going to be a "and I turned to look and there was no-one there" thing but you finessed it beautifully. I liked the two "trunks" in the middle one also and that last one, very eerie. You create such good atmosphere in your pieces and do it so deftly (jealous). A pleasure as always.

3:31 AM, August 16, 2009  
Blogger Raven said...

Unique and fascinating as always. It's always a delight to read your stories and see where your imagination is going to take me.

10:20 AM, August 16, 2009  
Blogger Akelamalu said...

As always your imagination astounds me! I didn't play this week.

Pop by my place tomorrow there will be a little something for you m'dear. :)

11:59 AM, August 16, 2009  
Blogger Richard said...

Fantastic and wonderful writing. Loved it.

5:19 PM, August 16, 2009  

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