A/N: All characters, concepts, and story © 2012 The Ninja Squirrel.
Above me that shop bell gave a faint 'Ding' as I walked into the door. Inside it smelled like mold, wax, and dust. I stopped and looked around with a hint of uncertainty. The smell reminded me of my Grandmother's nursing home.
"You're sure this is it, Lizzy?" I inquired, turning to the person who had followed me into the shop. Lizzy, my close friend and roommate, nodded eagerly.
"I'm positive; this is where I saw them. C'mon Sarah, they're back here!" She set off into the depths of the shop, platinum blonde ponytail bouncing enthusiastically. With a smirk I followed behind her.
Lizzy had always been the more enthusiastic and brave of the two of us. We'd been assigned as roommates by our university when we had both been freshman, over a year and a half ago. Now we shared an apartment off campus a couple of blocks from this antiques shop Lizzy had dragged me to.
"Sarah, I found them. Back here!" Going toward Lizzy's voice, our goal came into sight: a display case of masks. Next week the university was hosting its annual Winter Masquerade. Lizzy and I were both going, whether or not we got asked out. Lizzy had come here earlier to fuel her strange, never ending lust for old books and stumbled upon these masks. There were five in the case. Two of them were only designed to cover little more than the left eye. One was in the shape of a butterfly wing and was made of a delicate, but stiff black lace. The second looked a little like flame, but it was white with gold edging. Something about this mask gave me the jitters and so I moved on to another one. It looked like it belonged in a Halloween shop, not an antique store. It covered all but the lower jaw, and was painted all white. It had small eye holes, edged in bright yellow, and two black stripes ran down the forehead. At the bottom it was shaped to look like teeth. A freaky skeleton was not what I wanted to dress up as for the Masquerade. Shivering I looked at the next Mask in the display case. It was a simple mask of black silk, edged in white. It was pointed slightly, giving the impression of a beak. Looking at it gave me some comfort after the freaky masks. Alongside the black silk mask was a bird mask. Its silver beak was small, and delicate; most of the mask was white, with a small embellishing of silver at the top, and a small blue stone set in middle of the forehead. There were a few blue feathers at the top corners giving the whole mask a gorgeous look. Lizzy was holding the black lace one and staring at it with delight. Obviously my choices had been reduced to four. I stepped around my roommate to pick up the blue bird mask. It was pleasantly cool to the touch, but sent shivers along my arm as soon as I touched it. It felt right for me, like I had been waiting for it or it for me. I knew that this was the mask I would wear for the Masquerade. Lizzy and I were so absorbed in the admiring of our chosen masks we did not hear the footsteps behind us.
"So are you here to gawk or are you two going to buy then eh!" A creaky voice from behind startled me and I nearly dropped the exquisite bird mask. An old man had snuck behind us and was looking at Lizzy and I with an annoyed expression between crankiness and curiosity.
"I don't know about my friend but I'm buying this butterfly mask!" Lizzy didn't seem the least bit startled, although I could hear her breathing heavily, meaning she had been just as scared as I had been.
"I'd like to know how much this mask costs, please," I inquired politely. Unlike my roommate, I was a little more tight-fisted, since I had less money to spend. The look on the shop keeper's face softened, before he smiled.
"45 years I've been waiting for those masks to find their owners. For a while I thought I would charge them through the nose because of how long they'd kept me waiting. But then I did me some research and I found out how important those masks are. So you two can each have them for free."
"Really!" Lizzy was dancing up and down gleefully gently cradling the butterfly mask to her chest. I stared at the man dumbfounded.
"Thank you, mister!" She exclaimed as I was forcefully dragged from the shop. I just let myself be dragged from the shop. I was too struck by the man's words.
'He's just giving away these gorgeous masks? Why! Don't tell me, they're contraband or something! It is beautiful, though; perfect for my dress to the masquerade.' Thoughts adrift in confusion, suspicion, and happiness at our unexpected find, I allowed herself to be dragged all the way back to the apartment.
Something about the mask bugged me. It had been two weeks since Lizzy had dragged me out to purchase it and so far no cops had banged down their apartment door ordering their arrest. I took that as a good sign, but something wasn't right. The first night I had the mask I had set it on her dresser, facing my bed, and hadn't gotten any sleep that night. It had felt as if the mask's eyes were boring a hole in my head, demanding that I pick it up and hold it. The next morning, in exasperation, I had thrown it into my top dresser drawer and gone to try and cover up the bags under my eyes. Now it was Friday night and I was sitting at my desk, trying to study and failing.
Lizzy was out clubbing with friends as usual so I was alone in the apartment. I had elected to stay back and get some work done, to try and head off the massive amounts of course work I knew would come next week. Try as I might, I still felt an uncomfortable feeling coming from the top drawer of her dresser. This is ridiculous. Sighing I got up from her desk and opened the drawer where I had tossed my mask. Looking at it I reached out and played with one of the feathers absently. I could almost hear the mask begging me to just hold it, what harm would it do, just to have it by my book while I studied…
"FINE! You win." With exasperation I picked up the mask and carried it back to my desk. Sitting down I set it on her lap, and picked up my chemistry book again. The hours ticked by quickly. I worked all the way through next week's chemistry homework, and had gotten the first three chapters of her communications book read, too. Glancing over, my clock read 2:34 am.
"Wow. I hadn't realized how much time I had spent." I gave a huge yawn. "Just a quick nap I think," and I put her head down on her desk, pillowed by my textbook, and quickly dropped off to sleep.