The Masque Books website is now live, and my novella Land of Dreams is available for purchase. It is a fanciful story that takes place in a fanciful setting in which I weave a few mythic figures together with an anxious young woman to create a story about small triumphs.
Here is how it opens:
“Are you ready?”
Two dog-headed statues stood, side by side, in a room no bigger than a closet. “They don’t speak, but you’ll hear them,” the old man had said. He’d never mentioned the hole in the floor. He never told her she had to jump.
“Oh, hell no.” Celeste looked back the way she had come.*
An old man with filth crusting his fingernails and a face half-hidden behind a graying beard had told Celeste of a place where her dreams could come true. She had stumbled into him late one night as she’d been walking home from work. He had grabbed her by the chin. She’d thought it was a mugging; she nearly pissed herself. But his eyes were young and green, and there was something reassuring in them, and when he made no move to hurt her she had stopped screaming. He’d told her about a rusting metal door in the alley behind the dollar shop, and the place that lay beyond it. When he let her go, she’d run all the way back to her apartment and locked herself in for three days.
After the incident, after she’d calmed down, she told herself she’d imagined the whole thing. Tried to put it out of her mind. Earlier this evening she’d stood in front of the bathroom mirror, hating everything she saw. A broken doll with dull hair and tired eyes. I’m twenty-six years old, she had thought, and I have nothing. Her last and final foster family had called her China Doll, for her unnaturally pale skin. In those days, she’d been afraid to even go outside. It still happened, sometimes. The fear. Fear of the wide sky, of the people she would inevitably encounter, of having to speak to one of them. Ever since the incident, she’d been fighting that fear and losing, and at ten o’clock this morning, she’d been fired from yet another job. Celeste hadn’t been surprised. She’d had so many absences even she couldn’t count them. She was so very tired of it all.
She had stared into that bathroom mirror until she couldn’t stand it anymore, and then she’d taken a deep breath and locked the apartment behind her. The keys were still in her pocket. She had felt the fool as she walked down the dim street, eyes darting this way and that, waiting for someone to jump out from behind a lamppost and grab her. She had found the door in the alley. She had pushed it open. And now this.
Celeste fidgeted with the keys. What am I doing? I don’t have any dreams.
Behind her, the metal door was still open. The alley was dark. Discarded candy wrappers and cigarette packets rattled on the ground as an easy wind blew by. No one had seen her open the door, and no one would see her leave. She could turn around and no one would know how much of a coward she had been. And what, exactly, would I go back for? Behind her was a whole lot of nothing. An empty apartment inhabited by an empty person. She laughed a little nervous laugh. And what waited down there? Everything. Anything. And if this is a joke and I die in that hole… well, what of it. I’ve got nothing to live for anyway. Celeste closed her eyes and thought about her calm place, her happy place, until nothing else existed but that.
“I’ll never be ready,” she finally said, and she leapt.