I have been inactive on this blog for a little too long, distracted by other events and concerns in my life including caring for parents, and, perhaps, have also neglected my blogger friends. Forgive me for that. Lately, I have been busy writing and posting both on Vocal Media and Reedsy Writing Prompts for various writing challenges, with both non-fiction articles and short stories. So, I have the rights to republish those works here, so I will begin to do so. This is one of them, published recently on Reedsy for a fairy tale theme from the writing prompt, “Write a cautionary tale about someone who lies too much.”
As a music box played a soft but melancholy tune, Moonbeam dreamed of the masquerade ball the king was throwing that night. She had no gown, only a drab dress of coarse fabric and nondescript color. She did have a mask, a white sequined mask with upright bunny ears. She put it on and looked at herself in the mirror. Her clothes might have been humble, but she had a crowning glory of golden ringlets that fell to her waist. With the mask on, one could still see the beauty of her rosy lips, but her eyes and her very identity were hidden. It was rather exciting. She took the mask off and put it into her satchel.
Suddenly, she remembered there was an old text about masks. Pulling down a heavy, old tome from the bookshelves, she found it in its weathered pages. “Do not wear the mask of deception. Do not deceive your fellow men. If you do, you will become hardened and your heart will be hard.” She might be wearing a mask tonight, but everyone would be wearing a mask at the ball. She closed the book, returned it to the shelf and thought nothing more about it.
Taking her satchel with her, Moonbeam went out into the street and walked through the city, and, eventually, wound her way through an open market. There, a beggar boy sat on the ground by a fruit cart, which was piled high with starberries, windberries and earthberries, sparkling like gems and smelling sweet as honey. She could tell the beggar was a street performer from his colorful rags with tattered ribbons flowing down from the hems of his knee pants. A hat full of coins sat on the ground beside him.
Moonbeam leaned down to him. “What a lot of coins you’ve collected.”
“Yes’m’” he said.
“You must have done a lot of dancing,” she said. She smiled in a way she hoped was sweetly.
“Yes’m.’ Would you like to see? I do a fancy bit at the end where I stand right on my head. Folks seem to like that part the best,” said the boy. He smiled a dimpled and lopsided grin then wiped a bit of dirt from his face with this sleeve.
“No, that’s all right,” said Moonbeam. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a small object. “This,” she said, “is worth more than all of the coins you have there altogether.”
“It is?” said the boy, leaning in to get a closer look.
What she held out was a button, a big very beautiful button with crystals that shimmered when they caught the light. “I’ll trade you this button for your hat full of coins.”
“Oh. Yes ‘m!’” he said. He pushed his hat forward and took the button with its artful imitation, gazing at it like it was a glistening prismstone from the mines of Luwannton.
Moonbeam emptied the boy’s hat of coins into her satchel and then promptly used some of the coins to buy a bag full of mixed berries from the berry cart. She popped several of the delectable berries in her mouth, wiped the purple juice from her chin with the back of her hand and quickly walked on, carrying the rest in a bag.
After she’d walked a few steps, a thought came to her, so that she did not know if it came from herself or elsewhere. Perhaps, the boy will have no means to get his dinner tonight, and you didn’t even leave him a berry. Then, she fumed and pushed that thought away like she was stuffing overflowing rubbish into a bin and slamming the lid on it.
He is a boy of the streets. He will have to be tough and hardy. He can’t be so fragile like glass. With this new thought, she pushed onward.
Moonbeam continued to wind her way through the stalls in the market: brushing past colorful silks here, there jingling fancy horse harnesses embellished with bells, and everywhere, smelling delicious aromas, both savory and sweet, from the food stalls. As she continued, her steps were not as easy as before. Her feet felt heavy, and her legs began to feel stiff. “I am merely tired,” she thought. When she stopped at a stall selling clockwork mechanical figures and watched a brass doll walk stiffly through a crowd of children, she thought, “I am like that doll.”
Next, she saw a most beautiful ice blue gown in a seamstress’s stall with a sweetheart neckline, mutton leg sleeves and an impressively full and gauzy skirt. Every inch of it was covered in iridescent glimmer. The seamstress, sitting alone in a corner, nearly obscured by her creations, was dressed more simply, in a dress as coarse as the one Moonbeam wore, and though she wore a thimble as she continued to work, her fingers were covered in calluses and pokes.
Moonbeam knew she did not have enough coins for the dress, but perhaps she could arrange a trade similar to what she had already done that day. As the seamstress looked up, she peered into her satchel and pretended to look. “I don’t have the coins today for that gown,” she said, “but I can give you this key.” She pulled out a skeleton key and showed it to the woman.
The seamstress shrugged, “What good is a key to me?”
“It’s not the key so much that’s valuable,” said Moonbeam. “It’s what the key can open. My father has a stable over that hill there.” She pointed beyond the seamstress’s head. “This is the key to a unicorn’s stall. I will write down the address and give you this key and this voucher in exchange for the iridescent gown.”
“A unicorn, you say?” asked the seamstress, poking her head out from its screen of hanging clothes. “What breed?”
“A Southern silky,” said Moonbeam, “the finest.” She picked up a quill pen and parchment and made out a voucher, also writing an address, a false address. The skeleton key was of no use to her anymore and only opened an old wardrobe that had already been converted to firewood.
aving made the exchange, she went behind a screen at the back of the stall and put on the gown and then the mask, stuffing the old coarse dress into her satchel. She spun around and looked at herself in the mirror. As she twirled around, her skirt swished, its iridescence shining like crystals, its semi-transparent nature like glass.
Standing still and looking at her masked face in the mirror, she thought she could pass for Princess Butterfly who also had long, golden hair. It made her think. Princess Butterfly had a small, berry red mark on her cheek. Taking a berry from her bag, she squeezed it and used some of the juice to mark her cheek. The effect was quite successful.
Moments later, things began to look a bit peculiar. Her gown continued to sparkle, but her face, hands and the fleshy parts of her were barely visible. “It’s only the light, only a trick of the light,” she thought. “My eyes burn.” She blinked away tears and turned from the mirror.
Walking out in the market again, although she looked fine and felt pride in her beauty and appearance, physically, she felt worse than before. Her legs felt stiffer. Her feet stung. Every part of her hurt, even her heart – perhaps, especially her heart, that felt like an old mechanism winding down. She remembered the mechanical doll and thought it was running more smoothly than she was. Moonbeam almost felt like she needed a key to wind her up again.
She passed a jewel merchant’s stall when she heard a voice call, “Your Royal Highness!”
“Yes?” She spun around, although she spun around like a doll on a turntable.
“Your father, the king, had me reserve this just for you,” said the merchant. With a key, he opened a chest and pulled out a velvet box. Opening it, he revealed a crystal tiara.
Now, this is what Moonbeam truly wanted, to be revered as the princess, to be regarded as important and admired for her glamour and beauty. She lifted the tiara from the box, and her arms ached so that she could barely lift them to place it on her head.
Moonbeam walked onwards, imagining everyone looked at her with awe. Though she reveled in the awe, she felt more ill than before and her motions were slower and more painful than any old grandmother in the kingdom. She walked, creeping and creaking, a little ways further until she reached the center of the Swanton town square just beyond. Then, she stepped no more.
Moonbeam is still there in the Swanton town square – frozen as a glass sculpture. Her golden ringlets turned to fragile coils of glass. Beneath the glass exterior casing of her torso, a black glass heart is suspended.
Some people of the town, seeing her in this form, wanted to break the fragile sculpture to bits, but the duke over this region put up a plaque instead. “Let this be a warning to those who, in selfishness and greed, deceive their fellow men. As the old text says, ‘Do not wear the mask of deception. Do not deceive your fellow men. If you do, you will become hardened and your heart will be hard.’”
© 2021 Susan Joy Clark