Prompt Day# 15: A character discovers a paper mask pressed between the pages of an early edition of Poe. Account for it.
I realize I have not actually “accounted” for the mask yet, but I think you’ll see that this prompt took off like wild fire in my brain. I think (and please don’t hold me to this because it’s always like this in the beginning) it has the potential to be a novella if not a full novel. I have like a zillion ideas running through my head and every time I had to look up a factoid on Poe something else jumped off the page and insisted it too get to be in this story. I have been writing ever since and I am only stopping now to get this day’s entry posted and get bags packed for a work related trip tomorrow. I really want to keep going. I have never had this happen before so I feel like this could be something!! So happy I chose to do this.
The Poe Trunk
Laura did not usually go to things like estate sales, but when Old Lady Griswold died curiosity got the better of her. She wasn’t surprised to see many of her childhood friends at the sale. The Griswold mansion was her town’s creepy old house on the hill. The kind of house you had to be double-dared to even step on the property. No one that she knew of had ever been inside, so after the funeral that no one attended but the Griswold family lawyer, the flyer advertising the sale was the only thing people wanted to talk about. The sale consisted of many smaller household items which would be sold outright and the larger furniture auctioned off later.
Initially, Laura was dismayed to see that the house and it’s décor was no more macabre than your average antique shop. She walked though casually, hoping something would catch her eye, but the only thing even remotely interesting was a large, black dome top trunk. The trunk though had a sign saying it would be up for auction with a starting bid of five hundred dollars. That was about four hundred fifty more than she was willing to spend. On her way back out of the house, however, she saw that the trunk had been moved towards the door presumably on its way to the auction tent outside. There it sat, opened, and a teenage girl in a “Tudor’s Auction and Sales Services” red tee-shirt sat in front of it, pulling out a number of books and what appeared to be small taxidermied animals. Laura stopped, intrigued. She had not seen any books in the house at all prior to this substantial stack being pulled from the trunk.
“Excuse me” she said, bending down to the girl’s level, “are those items going to auction or will they be marked for sale?”
The girl looked up at her, brushed her hands on her pants and looked behind her as if someone else was going to answer for her. “Oh, well, I’m not sure. I thiiiiinnnnnkkkk they are going to be priced to sell outright?” she said questioningly. “They were going to auction off the trunk. I guess they thought it was empty or someone told them it was empty. Anyways, they guys were carrying it out to the tent and they stopped here and said ‘no way. That thing has to be packed full’ and it was! So, I was told to just unpack and inventory it, then I guess they’ll put the stuff up for sale.” She shrugged and looked at her paper.
“I actually came here looking for books” Laura lied. She came here looking because she expected to see all sorts of creepy shit, some sort of Vincent Price late night movie mansion like she had envisioned when she was a kid. But she did love books, and she had a small collection of first and early editions of her favorite authors, so it was worth a look. “Would it be too much trouble for me to just peak at the titles of the books? If there are any I would be interested in, I’ll gladly come back when you’re ready to sell them, but it would save me a trip if it turns out otherwise.” She gave the girl a big, hopefully trustworthy smile. The girl looked behind herself again, then back to Laura scanning her from head to feet.
“Sure, I don’t care, go ahead.” She shoved the stack towards Laura and went back to the seemingly bottomless trunk. Laura scanned the tomes stacked in front of her. They all appeared in perfect condition and to her utter shock and breathless excitement; she saw that they were all either about Edgar Allen Poe or by Poe. This was a jackpot! She trailed her fingers down the bindings and tilted her head to read them better. She pulled one carefully out of the upper half of the stack.
Of The Late
Edgar Allen Poe
Notices of his Life and Genius.
N.P. Willis, J.R. Lowell, And R.W. Griswold
In Two Volumes
T A L E S
She eased open the cover and glanced through it. It seemed like either a first or early edition, she’d need to check her sources. It didn’t matter right now, though. She wanted it. She wanted all of them, but she had a feeling she could only afford one and this one was it. She noticed there were both volumes there as well as what appeared to other books of this particular set. She knew the auction house would want to sell them together and they would want a lot more for the set than she could afford on her middle school librarian’s salary. Hoping the girl had paid no attention to the titles of the books she had pulled out, she asked if she could take it over to ask for a price. The girl, sighed obviously annoyed by this woman who was slowing her down, she gave what Laura decided was an affirmative “whatever” and took the book to the make shift cashier outside.
“I found this book lying on a nightstand in the bedroom” She lied for the second time, “and I can’t seem to find a price on it. Is there anyone who could give me a quote? I only have a few minutes and I’d love to take this book with me.” She hoped putting the pressure on would get her a price and out before they found the other volumes from the trunk. Without a word, the cashier took the book, looked it over, and wrote down the title on a spreadsheet. She picked up her phone and sent a text.
“The appraiser will be over shortly.” She said curtly. Within a minute, a man approached them. The woman explained the missing price, the appraiser commented that he did not recall having seen any books, looked it over, opened the front cover, and looked back up at Laura.
“How does forty work for you?” He asked her. She tried to maintain a poker face. He obviously knew nothing about books and she was going to take full advantage.
“I think that seems reasonable.” She said using her teacher’s voice. She paid in cash, assured the lady with the resting bitch face and attitude to match that she did not need a bag and hurried to her car. She wanted to drive straight home and look the book up on her computer but decided to use her remaining ten dollars to buy a bottle of cheap wine to celebrate her find.
Arabesque, her black cat, met her at the door. She wove herself in and out around Laura’s feet as Laura tried to carefully make it to the cabinet that held the wine glasses, pour herself a full (why not just fill it up, no one else is here to point out my faux pas) glass, and beeline to her laptop without tripping and killing herself over the damn feline.
After some investigating, she discovered the book was indeed a first edition and worth much, much more than the piddly forty she paid for it. They would be very pissed to discover how much they could have made on the whole set she thought. She’d also noted that the editor of the book, R.W. Griswold, shared a last name with the owner of the home and made a note to herself to investigate that further. Now, though, it was Friday night, and she was going to refill her wine glass, grab a blanket and curl up with her new book.
She decided to start with some of her favorites. She leafed through the book to get to the Tell-Tale Heart when her eye caught something stuck in among the pages of The Masque of the Red Death. She stopped and flipped back. A paper mask or at least a template for a mask fell out. The face cut out of the now yellowed paper was expressionless, the mouth opened slightly. It reminded her of those god-awful plastic masks she wore as a child trick-or-treating, way before latex masks went mainstream. But the paper itself was blank. A simple cut out only. The outside and inside cut-edges were stained a dark brown as if the paper had been used as a template and a marker used to trace around it. The brown color had bled further into the paper in spots giving the eyes an eerily sunken appearance and the mouth a somewhat vampiric pretense. She turned it over, again, she saw no sketches to imply this had been used as a mask itself; there was however, a faint bit of writing to the left side of the mouth. She could barely make it out. The lamp at her desk didn’t help either. She left the paper mask lying under the light vowing to look again in the morning, after the wine was out of her system.
The mask marked the beginning of the story about another mask; this one worn by death itself. It was probably the wrong story to read before bed, but it seemed like fate had directed her to read it. When she’d finished both the wine and the story, she could barely keep her eyes open.
“Come on ‘Besque, I’m not going to bed by myself” She said picking up her cat. “You know, you’re lucky I didn’t start with The Black Cat, or you’d be sleeping outside tonight, I think.” She kissed the kitty on its head and laughed nervously. She realized she was only half joking. The story freaked her out a little bit and when she stopped to turn out the desk lamp, the lifeless mask was staring up at her with its dead eyes. It was cocked a little to the side as if it was studying her. ‘Did I leave it laying like that?’ she wondered. She could have sworn she’d pushed it straight back under the lamp, but perhaps not. A bottle of wine probably does not help one’s sense of direction she decided. Still, the thing was freaky and she hated that it was now burned in her mind, an after-image left from the once bright light.