MASQUERADE IV

Are you all right?

What kind of a question is that?

No I’m not alright, but I’m not really any worse. Just tired. Bored. Feel like shit. You know, the usual.

I could tell you a story. To distract you.

Monologue away.

Little memories keep trickling in. I was just thinking about my mother’s spring parties in the estate gardens. I wish you could have seen it. Tiny lights were strung in long garlands from the roses all the way to the edge of the woods. The trees ate up the light and cast their own shadowy partygoers, mingling with our guests and staff and sometimes stealing one or two of them away. It always felt magical.

I think you would have loved it.

Probably not, dude. Too many rich white people. But go on.

I’m sorry. I did not

Tell me about the party.

It was
It was like something from a dream. It was a masquerade, like at Halloween, only this time the purpose of the masks was not to frighten but delight. To conceal the tepid mundanity of our human faces with glitter, feathers, and jewels. Can you imagine what a fairy tale it must have been to me, as a child of twelve? Farrow, you

Wait. I didn’t hear the gardener last night and I can’t see him on the grounds. Do you know where he is?

said you wanted to know me. Well, this is the happiest I think I ever was. Remember I told you I had a mask commissioned in the likeness of Samuel Garlan? He would be at the party — he was responsible for much of the decoration — and I thought to wear the mask I had of him, to play a joke and maybe make him laugh. I so loved his laugh, a soft, smooth warble that I now tried to emulate on my own. I tied on the mask and laced up a pair of gardening boots, which were much too large for me, and I went to the party like that. And do you know what?

Not one person recognized me. I danced into the garden and bowed to Hazel and her sister, and both of them curtsied. Curtsied! Hazel might curtsy to me in front of our parents, but Alethe? She hated every hair on my head. And yet she curtsied! And even muttered “good evening” under her breath!

I thought maybe they were playing a joke. So next I went to my sister, who was lingering at the edge of the woods. Increasingly, she spent much of her time staring into those twisting white trees, and these days she was often distracted. But Isabelle was also blunt and sensible and had no patience for pranks, so I tapped her on the shoulder.

She jumped and turned, and I was genuinely startled to see no recognition in her eyes. “Oh, Mr. Garlan!” she said. “You startled me!” And then she curtsied, too.

It was incredible. She had no idea who I was. “Isabelle, it’s me, Castile,” I said, and she gave a nervous laugh, as if she didn’t quite understand. Then she turned back to the woods.

“The wind through the trees at night is such a wonderful sound,” she said. “It almost sounds like crashing waves.”

I left her like that, staggered by the implications of my situation. I could explore the party not as a child everyone knew, but as an adult, familiar but often overlooked, with no particular reputation or baggage to inhibit the flow of conversation. Not a single person at the party recognized me as Castile Madigan, heir to the estate. They all truly thought I was Samuel Garlan, even though the extent of my disguise was a wooden mask and some overlarge boots.

You didn’t think it was weird?

Of course I did! But children, I think, have a predilection for the supernatural. I simply accepted that my mask must be magical in some way and turned my attention to experimentation. I tried champagne and no one looked sideways at me. My mother didn’t swoop in to swat the glass out of my hand. Everyone I spoke to called me “sir” or “Mr. Garlan.” My father’s business partners, men who looked at me with disgust whenever I intruded on a meeting, shook my hand and smiled and told me how good the flowers looked. I was giddy. I realized I had never been treated seriously in my life until this moment, not even by my peers. I had a reputation, you see, as a cheat and a prankster. But now, I was someone else. I had altered myself and thus the world around me, and this revelation was intoxicating. I even went to Alethe and told her off for being rude to the young Madigan heir. You should have seen the look on her face!

I can.

I can see it. I can

What are yo

Castile Madigan wanders the party at night, tipsy on champagne and giddy with the excitement of deception. The gardens glitter under the black sky, and the babble of music and conversation and crashing waves all blend together into a grand cacophony as intimate as silence.

stop

He is holding in his laughter. It’s all he can do. Tonight he has realized magic is real. Anything is possible. Wishes come true. The twisting white trees lean in, reaching.

get out

it hurts

Being someone else is all he ever wanted. In another time and another place he is real. He can be anything. Anyone. Everyone. He lingers at the edge of the woods, and something is watching him. From above, from below. Something stirs in the deep, vast and hungry and desolate. Young Castile Madigan bends double and coughs up a tiny white twig.

He starts laughing and he can’t stop. It’s everything he hoped for. There is something more after all, something more than this. He can feel it reaching back for him, and he can almost reach back. He can almost touch it.

“Hello,” he says. “Hello! I’ve been waiting for you!”

He has never been so happy.