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The Moon Is a Mask

I danced over water, I danced over sea,

And all the birds in the air couldn't catch me.

Traditional

The mask seemed to have alighted on a stand, in the window of a small shop of crooked masonry, wedged between two alleywaysa thoroughfare seldom used by anyone. It was as if the mask, flighting by in darkness, had been drawn to rest there, like a bird at sea that notices the mast of a benighted ship. Somehow it had melted through the glass. The rest of the window was full of secondhand or thirdhand articles, unlikely to draw much attention, a plant pot, a set of fire irons, a rickety table with the feet of a boar. The mask was not like these things. It was a jet and liquid black, black feathers tipped and rimmed by silver sequins in such an aquiline way that it resembled, even alone and eyeless, the visage of a sooty hawk or a black owl.

Although almost no one frequented the alleyways, a very few people did pass there. Sometimes others came to the shop purposely, to sell, and, rarely, to buy.

Twice every seven days Elsa Garba trod up the south alley and turned into the east alley, on her way to clean the house of a rich doctor on the street Mignonette. On other days Elsa Garba took other routes to her other drudgeries about the City, and did not pass the shop at all.

The morning that she walked by, the mask seemed to see her. She stopped, transfixed.

After a moment, she went up the step and pushed at the shop door. It opened, and a bell rankled loudly. From a strange gloom that comprised boxes, chests, stacks of books, the shopkeeper emerged like a shark from some rock shelf under the sea. He was not surprised to confront Elsa Garba, although he had never seen her before, not even noticed her on her twice-weekly treks back and forth outside his shop. She looked twenty, and was perhaps younger, little and thin and gray. Her hair was scraped into a scarf and her coat tightly belted at a bone of a waist. She was like so very many others. She was nothing.

I must tell you, said the proprietor at once, in a fruity jovial tone, that business isn't good. I can't promise you very much, whatever it is you have to offer.

I don't want to sell, said Elsa Garba. How much is the mask?

The mask? Which mask is that?

The mask of black feathers and silver.

That mask? Oh dear me. That one. The shark fluttered its fins lugubriously. I'm afraid I hesitate to tell you. A very beautifully made article, from a festival I believe, worn by royalty

How much?

The shopkeeper closed his eyes and told her with a look of terrible pain. It was laughable, absurd, that such a creature as this one should even dare to ask.

Elsa Garba said, Keep the mask for me until this evening. I'll bring you the full amount in cash.

Oh, my dear young woman. Really.

I don't suppose, said Elsa Garba, you'll have many takers. At such a price. But I won't quibble. I expect you to have the mask ready, wrapped and waiting, at seven o'clock this evening.

I close at seven.

Then I won't be late.

And so saying, the gray little thing went from the shop, leaving him between annoyance and amusement, definitely unsettled.

That day Elsa Garba stole from the house of the street Mignonette. She had now and then done so in the past, as she had done so from other houses of her various employers. They were all oblivious, having far too much and not keeping proper track of it. In this case it was a bottle, one of many dozens, from the doctor's cellarshe had long ago learned how to pick the lock. She sold it in Barrel Lane, near the church of Our Lady of Sighs. No questions asked. It was a fine brandy. It gave her just enough.

At seven o'clock she returned to the shop at the joint of the two alleys. The proprietor had shut up early, perhaps to spite her, or only to ward her off. Elsa Garba rang the bell on and on, on and on, until a light appeared and next the proprietor. She showed him the money through the window. Then he had to let her in and wrap up the masknaturally, he had not done so beforeand Elsa Garba took her prize away into the night from which it had come.

Elsa Garba had been a drudge all her short life; she was actually sixteen. Her mother had been a prostitute and her father a lout who soon vanished from the stage. At first Elsa had carried the slops, scrubbed the floors, dusted, polished, mopped up vomit and other juices, at the brothel. Then, when he mother perished of overuse, absinthe, and gin, Elsa had been offered work of another sort. She had not wanted it, and besides was thought too poor a specimen to earn much in that line. The madam, however, affronted at Elsa's aversion to the trade, kicked her out. Elsa bore her skills, such as they were, into the wide world of the City.

She could read a little, she was self-taught, and she could write a few words, and add a few numbers together if she must. In this way she was not often shortchanged. She worked in a laundry until she saw how the vapors killed off the laundresses. Then she took herself away and hired herself to anyone who wanted a maid of all rough work. So effective was she at her profession that employers thought her a perfect treasure, and although drab and lifeless she was also clean in her person. She never thieved anything obvious, such as food, and so they loaded her with discarded dainties. Elsa Garba often feasted on the tail ends of salmon, on stale caviar, and exquisite cakes whose cream had ever so slightly turned. Drink of the alcoholic type she disliked, having been given forced sips by her mother and the madam in her formative years.

Soon Elsa had acquired an attic room at the top of a gaunt old house near the clockmakers'.

No one was ever admitted to this room.

Elsa had no friends.

At night, when her long day's employments were done, she would climb up the stairs of the old house and come to her door, which she would unlock with two complicated keys in a motion known only to herself. And then she would leave the earth behind, and step into her chamber.

The room was not large, with a ceiling that sloped sharply down to one side, having set in it a skylight. By day, the skylight showed only the skies above the City, their washes and clouds, their dawns and sunsets, and after dark, the skylight showed the stars and the passing of the moon. In itself, therefore, it was valid and beautiful. But additionally around the edges of the light had been fixed on some pieces of stained glass, like a mosaic, which by day threw strange rich colors upon the room. The walls of the room had been covered in an expensive wallpaper of ruched silk, and where here or there a patch of damp or a particularly virulent crack had defaced the paper, some object stood before the blemish, hiding it. In one place was a great urn from which grew a gigantic jungle plant, whose glossy black leaves reached to the skylight and spread across the ceiling. There were pendant paper lamps with tassels and prismed lamps upon stands of silver gilt. The great bed that filled up the higher half of the room had a headboard of ebony and carved postshow it had been got up the stairs and in the door was a wonder. Embroidered pillows, lace, a feather mattress and quilts covered the bed. In one angle of the room was a tall pier glass. And in the other a gramophone with an orchid of a horn. Upon a silvered rail hung four or five dresses of incredible luster, and from an ivory box left purposely open, spilled jewels which, though made of glass, were nevertheless reminiscent of some trove of the Arabian Nights.

Once Elsa Garba had entered and locked herself in, she put a record on her gramophone. It was a symphony of the composer Cassarnet. Then Elsa stripped off her work clothes and her scarf, and put them neatly away in a chest. She next washed herself from head to toe as, on every third night, she washed also her hair. Revealed, her hair was fine, silken, and inclined to blonde. Next she dressed herself in a dress of sealike satin hung with beads, and delicately powdered and rouged her face, darkened her lashes. Then she sat down at a tiny table to her supper, which tonight was only some sausage, cheese, and grapes from the market, and a crystal goblet of water from the tap in the communal downstairs kitchen.

When she had finished her meal, Elsa rose and went to look at herself in the brightly polished pier glass. Her exotic room was as spotless as any of those to which she attended. Over her shoulder she saw reflected the white china head of a beautiful woman, life size, which she had bought years before and which she called M'elie. By sleight of eye, Elsa was able to transpose upon her own features the exquisite ones of M'elie. And presently, instead of tying it on herself, Elsa took the mask of black feathers from its wrapping and presented it to M'elie. Then she went to the gramophone and rewound it.

Elsa did not speak to herself, or to any object in the room. She had no need for this solace, which presupposes the desire for a listener, confidante, or bosom friend. Nevertheless, one word did escape the lips of Elsa, as she tied the mask upon M'elie's face by its black satin ribbons. Oh, said Elsa. It was not a cry of alarm or pleasure, merely a little sound, a little acknowledgment. For the mask, fastened upon M'elie's pure white features, altered her. She became grave, full of flight, hollow-boned ,

The hour now grew late for music, for like herself the other occupants of the house near the clockmaker's were prone to rise at dawn or earlier. Elsa let the music fade and went to her bed. She always slept fully clothed in one of her beautiful dresses, and such was her instinctive care, that she moved very little in sleep, never harming or crushing them. She slept also in her paint and powder, which she would wash off at sunrise.

Elsa Garba slept, with her hair spread upon the tinsel pillows. And M'elie watched, with the eyes now of an owl.

All was quiet. In the City from far away came once a sound of riot, a smashing of bottles and a drunken scream, but these things woke no one, being not uncommon.

The stars moved over the pane, and dimmed, and the sky began to glow with another light.

Elsa woke as a brushwork of this light fell on her neck.

She rose and washed her face, put off her dress and donned her drudge's rags, bound up her hair, and drank a portion of weak, gray coffee from a china cup.

Then she descended the house, having locked her door upon her chamber, and upon M'elie in the mask.

There were four apartments to clean this next day, and Elsa Garba did not arrive at her attic again until after nine o'clock; she had heard the bell striking from the Clocktower.

The moment that she had opened her door and closed it behind her, she felt an alteration in the air of her chamber. So she did not turn on her electric light but lit instead her candles in their pewter stands. And by this light, then, she came to see M'elie was quite changed. She had become a harpy. The china skin was corruscated by china feathers, from her head her hair rayed out, tiny claws seemed to grip the cabinet beneath her. The candles gave to her eyes within the mask a feral gleam.

Elsa Garba washed and dressed herself in a deep new silence. She did not bother with the g^ateau someone had given to her. She drank some water, lifted the mask in her hands before the mirror. Would it be conceivable to risk such a thing?

M'elie sank back into the candle shadow. The tiny claws vanished from beneath her and her skin was smooth.

Elsa placed the black mask over her own eyes and brow, and the upper part of her nose, and slowly tied the ribbons.

She felt a tingling. She looked into the mirror. She saw a young woman, slender as a pencil, in a dress of water drops and cobweb, and her fair hair flowed down like rain. But she had the face of a bird, a sort of black-feathered owl, and her eyes were the eyes of an owl.

How light I feel, said Elsa, aloud . I feel I would float.

And she lifted her arms. And she rose two or three inches, but only two or three, from the carpeted floor.

What shall I do? Elsa asked. She looked at the skylight. Then, mundanely climbing on a chair, she opened it a little way. She went to her bed and lay there. Elsa slept in the mask.

In the morning, Elsa took off the mask and washed her face free of feathers, and her eyes became human again.

She locked her chamber, leaving the mask lying on her pillows, where her head had rested.

It took a week of such nights before Elsa Garba turned into a bird. The metamorphosis was gradual, strange, and sensual. Elsa's sensuality had until now been all to do with things , but through the mask she graduated via an objectthe mask itselfinto the world of living matter.

At first only her head was altered. She came to see upon her features not a mask but an integral inky feathered skin, from which the rest of the face of the owl, its actual mask, evolved. Her eyes, rather than being contained behind the mask, were set into the mask. It was a curious owl, unlike any she had ever heard tell of, or seen in any book of pictures her various employers might have owned.

The feathers spread down her neck, over her shoulders, down her arms, little by little, with a delightful tickling. Then a vast new strength came into her thin strong worker's arms. Her hands, that only makeup and powder could whiten, turned to exquisite claws like diamond. She had grown smaller, and compact. Her body bloomed like a bud. Her tiny breasts were feathered and the beaded dress, now enormous, fell away. Her feet too grew claws. She raised her arms and, like the spreading of a peacock's fan, she found herself winged. Armed and armored, weaponed and flighted.

And so at long last she rose up through her skylight as the bell from the Clocktower smote for one o'clock in the morning.

The moon was slender and going down, Elsa, or Owlsa, had now an impulse to soar over it, leaping it like a bow. But instead she circled the old Clocktower, staring down on the roofs and pylons of the City, mystic in starlight, weirdly canted, wet-lit, like some painting of an insane yet talented artist.

Here and there in the country of rooftops, she beheld a faint late light burning. Electricity, even at this hour and from this height, and behind the proper drapes, had its romance.

Owlsa dropped. She dropped to stare in with her great masked eyes at the scene of a drunkard sitting over his brandy. She spurned him, giving off a faint derisive screech, maybe like the cry of a hunting owl. It startled him; he spilled his drink and staggered to the window, pale and fearful. Something is always watching us, especially as we sin against ourselves.

At another window, Owlsa saw the sick, dying, and the priest bending low, and the incense was so sweet it reminded her again of the upper air, and she spun away.

She spun like a dart from the City, out over the suburbs, which the river divided in a cruel and wanton way, its bridges like hoops, and the lamps upon the banks so wan and treacherous, who could cross by night without their hearts in their mouths? But there were people abroad. They moved about.

Far off too, she saw a train, a gust of fire upon the darkness, springing on its meaningless journey somewhere, clamped to the earth, without flight.

At last there was a window with an oil lamp, one whose electricity had failed or been taken from it. The window was ajar on the night as if to beg a visitor.

This was also an attic room, but dusty and dirty. Tumbled clothes and books lay about, used plates and glasses.

On a bed too narrow for them lay a young couple. In sleep they had separated as much as they were able. She wore a grubby slip, and he nothing at all, and in the liquid lake-light of the stars, he was naked to the ankles, naked enough that nothing was hidden, but his feet.

Owlsa came on to the windowsill, where by day the girl fed sparrows.

Owlsa looked upon her prey.

She lifted like a ghost and settled like one on the young man's naked breast. Daintily she stepped across him on her diamond claws. She bent her beak to his arched throat, and rent him. He did not struggle, could not wake. He writhed a little, and Owlsa beheld and felt as she stood upon him the mighty thumping of his heart. The blood poured out black, and Owlsa put her beak into his blood. It was good. It was the freshest food and drink she had ever known. She sucked it up, and he trembled and groaned faintly, his smooth body surging under her claws, and she stroked him with her wings to soothe him, until she was done. (His partner did not wake at all.)

Then Owlsa left the lamplit room and soared out again into the night.

She felt filled by lights, by sparks or stars. But she was not satisfied.

She flew away, inward again on the City, and heard the clocks and bells tolling for three o'clock in the morning.

There was a window without a light. It was a window whose frame seemed stuck with platinum and cold, faceted stones. It was not. But it was the window of a rich woman who lived high over the City in a tall tower, in an apartment lined with white furs. And her window stood open, for she thought this healthful.

The rich young woman lay face down in her pillows, having herself drunk a little too much champagne. Over her neck and shoulders streamed long black tresses, heavily curled and shiny from attention.

Owlsa sat upon the young woman's creamy back, above the guipure lace of her night robe. Owlsa parted the long hair with her beak, and fanned softly with her wings: A lullaby. Lulled too by her champagne and her capsules for sleep, the rich young woman did not know Owlsa sucked out her blood from the nape of her neck.

Then Owlsa tore out strands of the young woman's wonderful hair, plucked great clumps, to line her owl's nest. It would be enough to leave the victim partly bald for the rest of her life. With the sheaf of black curls in her beak, Owlsa lifted from the window and flew away. She was satisfied. For now.

Below her the City wheeled. A faint blush was on the edge of the sky. The stars set.

For a moment Owlsa did not know where she should go. Did she not have some nest, high in some ruined belfry of the City? No. It was an attic room near the clockmaker's.

She hurried to outfly the dawn.

As Elsa Garba trudged to and from her work, she saw peculiar tidings on the stands of newspaper sellers. A young woman of great wealth had been set on during the night, wounded, and a third of her hair torn out at the roots. Some gangland vendettathe money her father had left her being unwholesomewas mooted. Elsewhere, a young man had been taken ill with an injury to his throat, but he was a nobody, and only the smallest paragraph about him worked its way into the journals several days later, following a spate of such attacks.

A plague of bats was suspected. The citizens were warned to keep closed their windows by night.

By night.

How she flew about. She was just. From the poor she drank the life blood, as has always been done. From the rich she took other things. Their glossy hair, their manicured fingernails, small jewels of unbelievable value, silly items they loved and which were worthless. From one, a banker, she took an eye. It was only glass, but what terror it caused, and what headlines.

In Elsa's room Owlsa left her trophies. They were cleaned where necessary of blood, and laid out upon velvet pin cushions, the hair wound around silver pins. An eccentric display. Sometimes a name or place she had heard murmured was written down for Owlsa by Elsa. Armand, Cirie, The Steps, The Angel, Klein, Hiboulle.

She did not attack her employers. She discarded them contemptously. Owlsa did not remember them.

It was a dark wonder in the City, the bat plague. Windows were closed, but always there were some that were not.

There was a tenement that craned toward the moon. Everything below was sordid and unprepossessing. The streets mean, the alleys sinks and quags of filth. Refuse and miserable lives made dustbins of the rooms. But above the skyline of the City, and especially of the tenement, up there, always, something was beautiful. The sky was a source, if not of hope, at least of cleansing. Even the smokes that trailed across it became gracious. The shapes of cloud were wonderful as statuary, the evenings and mornings, the stars and planets. And the moon, which on this night was full.

Alain was a mender of things, and he had been mending some old iron pans, a flowerpot, a doll with a head that had come off, and other articles, for people who could not afford to buy new. By day he worked too, in a graveyard, where he cut the grass with a great scythe, like the Grim Reaper himself, but apart from the scythe Alain did not resemble the Grim Reaper. He was fair-skinned and handsome and his dark curling hair had turned the heads of ladies at funerals.

Alain's room was a cluttered place, of no special attractions. Cracks ran up all the walls, and the lopsided bed would have crippled one unused to it. Everywhere lay the items of his mending, so that it was also like an odd sort of curiosity shop. And in one corner, on a pile of old newspapers, sat a birdcage.

The cage was wonderful. It had belonged to an old lady who had fallen into penury, and once had contained three parrots. It was very large, and its bars were silvered. In shape it was like a great dome with two lesser domes, one at either side. Alain had been mending the bird cage, in which the old lady had perhaps wanted to keep a pair of sparrows, when she had died. Sometimes he thought of selling the cage. But the difficulty of persuading anyone to buy it, or give him what it was worth, daunted Alain. Money of any worthwhile amount was forever out of his reach; to chase smaller coins seemed pointless.

When he had finished his mending of things, Alain would sit long into the night at his narrow window, gazing at the sky. He had become insomniac gradually, although he was so young and worked so hard. He was unhappy with a sadness that can be borne, that does not starve out pleasure, but that never goes nor ever can go away.

And this night, as Alain watched the sky above the tenement, he saw a great black owl fly by, out of a window half a mile off and up over the disk of the full moon.

At once a spark of wild excitement pierced Alain in the side. For he knew (at once) that what he saw was neither natural nor perhaps real. It was as if he had yearned for hallucinations.

Moreover, the owl, as though it knew of his inclination, did not fly away. It circled over and over, and then suddenly came down upon a neighboring ledge only an arm's length from the window.

Alain stared, and quickly saw what was so strange about the owl. Its head was far greater than its body, and was like a beautiful black mask of feathers set with glowing eyes. The owl too had little breasts buried in its feathers, and its claws, of which it had also a pair, batlike, at the ends of its wide wings, were like diamant'e.

Alain opened his window, quietly, not to startle the night owl. Beautiful thing, he called, beautiful thing. And he poured for it a saucer of some cheap but nourishing wine he had supped on, and put it out onto the sill.

The owl hesitated awhile, but then it came. It landed daintily, and folded its wings. It looked into the saucer and he saw its glowing eyes mirrored there. Then it turned suddenly and flew into his breast. Even as he felt the soft firm feathered warmth of it and his hands went out to hold it to him, there came the needle thrust of its beak as it tore into the side of his neck.

A vampire, said Alain. You're a vampire, my love.

And he held the owl gently, supporting it while it drank the wine of him.

The most odd and sensual feelings flowed through Alain, perhaps because he expected them to. As the drinking creature went on, he drew dreamily nearer and nearer to a floating and dissociated orgasm, unfelt since the innocence of childhood. Wild images of a naked woman clad in black feathers, with fair silken hair, pressed to his body, her teeth in his throat, her soft claws milking him another way, tipped him suddenly into ecstasy, and he cried aloud.

The owl, startled after all, went to spring back. Alain seized it strongly. He held it to him, and as the shuddering left his body, he held it still. The diamante clawsthey were hard as diamond scratched at his breast. But now he was the cruel one. He bore the black-feathered thing to the birdcage on the newspapers and thrust it in. He shut the door on it. Come live with me and be my love, said Alain, who had shifted back the slabs of storm-tilted stinking graves, and mended toy soldiers. I shall feed you as you like to be fed. But stay with me. Stay.

In the great cage the owl padded up and down. It found it could spread its wings, and spread them, but there was no room to fly.

When you're used to me, said Alain, I will let you go. You'll fly over the City and come back to me.

Then he placed wine and water and some crumbs of bread in the feeding dishes of the cage. The owl tried to peck him with its silver beak. He laughed. The wound in his neck had ceased bleeding. He would wear a scarf tomorrow.

He hung the cage in the window, where his bird might watch the sky, and watched it in turn from his bed until, near dawn, sleep claimed him.

Those who were used to Elsa Garba's punctuality were surprised. She must be ill, they said. But none of them knew where she had her room, or cared enough about her to inquire. If this goes on, they said, after the second or third omission of her visit, we'll have to look elsewhere.

Elsa Garba knew, inside the feathered shell, the mask of Owlsa, that she had another life, but it grew dim and vague as she lived in the cage of Alain.

At first she longed only for freedom. At night, when (the window closed) he let her from her confinement, she beat about the room. She scratched him over the eyes and he laughed at her and slapped her away, and caught her and brought her to his throat. And there Owlsa drank like a child at the breast. Her bad temper faded. When she had been fed, she would allow him to pet her and stroke her feathers. His groans and cries of delight had only the meaning for her of given responses to her own obsessive cue. He was not rich, and so blood was all she asked of him. Soon, when he let her out, she would fly more softly around the room, alighting only to look at thingsan unrepaired toy caravan, a pot of dead camellias then she would spring to his neck and he would receive her. They would lie on the lopsided bed. He would tell her she was a maiden from a dark forest. If he pulled one feather from her wing, she would assume her true shape and he could bind her forever. But he never did this. Perhaps he was afraid her true shape might disappoint him.

Weeks passed, and this was their ritual. But Alain did not yet allow Owlsa free to fly about the City, for fear she would not return to him.

He grew very pale but was not listless. If anything he was stronger than ever, and worked at heaving up the great stones that a winter's storms had toppled. As he scythed the graveyard grass, the young women turned their heads, sometimes even through tears, and saw him.

Alain brought gifts for Owlsa.

He wound the cage bars with bright beads and put mirrors of silver-gilded frames into it. He placed a pot of living camellias in the corner of the cage for Owlsa's convenience, and also to give her a screen, a garden wherein to disport herself. Her cage grew beautiful, as the room was not.

Then came again a night of the full moon, and Alain opened the window, and opened the door of the cage.

There's the night. Here am I. You must come back to me or I shall pine to death.

Owlsa left her cage slowly. She flew slowly to the windowsill and looked out into the night.

The sky was clear, a lily pond of stars, and the great white face of the moon like a drowned girl floating in hair.

Below lay the City, its slanted roofs, its towers and pinnacles. Here and there a chimney gave a cloud of lighted smoke.

Remember, said Alain, smoothing her back, her folded wings, if you leave me I shall die.

But Owlsa lifted up into the sky, up and up, higher and higher until the light of the moon seemed to burn her out.

Faithless. Lost, said Alain. And he slammed the door of the cage angrily shut upon its riches.

Owlsa flew.

She flew across the tops of churches like palaces and churches like temples. She saw the colored windows and heard the singing to God, which to her was like the sound of cattle lowing in the market, or the rush of the river beneath a boat. The river she saw also, its shining loops and flimsy bridges. It was as if she had forgotten everything. She flew above graveyards and parks. She saw revelry on the streets, where tables crowded the pavements and cold electric lamps were lit, for she was out very early.

She even flew about the Clocktower, and over the gaunt old house where Elsa Garba had had her room. But Owlsa had forgotten Elsa, and Elsa's room was long since raped, the door smashed in, pin cushions thrown out in marveling disgust. A prostitute lived there now, as if in mockery, and her faint complaints could be heard to the music of the gramophone, which now played not Cassarnet but a tune with syncopation and a saxophone.

Owlsa flew and flew. She joyed in her freedom. The night was her tapestry, which she stitched with her wings. The hours were cast off her needles.

The moon turned thinner and gray, as if it might melt and reveal some shadow shape behind it, but it did not. Then toward morning there were only stars.

Owlsa flew toward the tenement that now contained her chamber of bars and beads, mirrors and flowers.

She came to the window of Alain.

She stood upon the sill.

The window was shut.

On the lopsided bed lay Alain in the arms of a young girl like a wilted chrysanthemum. They twined and groaned, and the girl sobbed, and Alain cried out in the way he had cried when Owlsa fed from him. Just the same.

In the cage, the camellias were dying.

Owlsa flew off from the sill like a cinder from a fire. She flew up into the sky, searching for the moon. She felt a frantic need to find the moon again, to follow it down to where it went under the world, and so she rushed with a rapid heartbeating of wings into the deathly west.

And the air tore by her, and the belfries and towers of the pitiless City that cared not even for itself. And as the wind rushed at her, she felt a peculiar loosening, at her face. It was as if a skin came painlessly away, and suddenly winged off from her. She saw it. It was black and feathered, tipped and rimmed with silver. It was the mask. The mask had flown from Elsa, in the sky.

And already and at once she felt herself changing. Her feathers were scoured away and she was only skin and bone. Her slender arms flapped meaninglessly, and her pale small hands. Her legs and feet weighed her to the earth. She fell.

And as she fell, she saw the mask fly on over the hill of heaven into the west, following the sunken moon.

Then she struck the ground. It was stone, and killed her outright.

She lay on a grave, on her back, all smashed. But her face was not damaged, and her face was the face of a beautiful owl-woman, with shining eyes yet open wide, and the long streams of her shining hair running off from her with her blood into the scythe-cut grass.

Those that came on her in the sunrise were amazed. They hid her quickly underground, knowing such things must not be thought of very much, for it was obvious she had fallen from the air.

But in our secret hearts we know: The moon is a mask; it conceals something that hides behind it, passing over the sky and watching us. What can it be?


The Glass Dagger | The Book of the Dead |