Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Ballad of Maude Clare: Part Eight

THE HOUSE THAT WAS not supposed to be was silent, flickering like an old-fashioned film. She hugged herself and, glancing at the fire in the hearth, wondered why it was so cold, why the air smelled like mildew and rotting wood and broken ivy.
    Jack walked into the parlor with the pretty boy beside him twirling the hobbyhorse as if it were a baton. Dressed in a black Renaissance jacket with crimson stitching, scarlet dragons painted on his jeans, Jack didn't look at Maude as he whispered in the boy's ear. The boy's eyes briefly closed. Then he whirled and left the room.
    Jack, who held a glass of dark wine, looked at Maude, said, "You wouldn't come to me."
    "I'm sorry I freaked out." She felt a little afraid of him now. "What is this place?"
    "My home."
    She moved to a shelf, selected a book just to see if she could. She pretended not to know things and said, "Last time I saw it, it was falling down."
    "You must've mistaken my house for someone else's." Then, sharply, he said, "Why did you choose that one?"
    She held a book of poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley. She opened it, read, "'Nothing in the world is single. All things by a law divine. In one another's being mingle -- why not I with thine?'"
    He snatched the volume from her and set it back -- she wondered if he'd grown up in a cave. She tilted her head. "You don't like poetry?"
    He didn't look at her as he murmured, "Not anymore."
    Music swirled in from outside as he reached out and wound his fingers around hers.
    "I don't want to dance." She pulled away, tried not to think of dance recitals, her dad's face when she opened his gift of ballet slippers, her mom twirling her in the kitchen...
    She snatched the glass of wine from him and drank. It tasted like blackberries.
    "Maude. You shouldn't have done that."
    She tried to give the glass back. It slipped from her fingers, shattered on the floor.
    "I'm sorry." Her face burning, she crouched to gather up the pieces.
    "Never mind." He squatted down, reached for a curve of glass. He flinched back, stared at the drop of blood that had beaded on his thumb. He whispered, "That can't be..."
    He looked up at Maude, dark terror in his eyes.
    "Jack." The red-haired Cleopatra, stunning in a gown of orange silk, bracelets glinting on her arms, stood in the doorway. Tiny flames shimmered in her eyes. "Is she pure of heart?"
    Jack tucked the bleeding hand into the cuff of his shirt as he rose, "Maude Clare. Go home."
    "What is wrong with your hand, Jack?" The Cleopatra girl smiled.
    "Nothing, Ruby."
    Maude couldn't look away from Ruby Tiamat. Beyond the girl, she glimpsed the glittering lawn party and a boy who looked like Ethan Mongoose standing beside her bike.
    "Maude. Out. Now." Jack's voice frightened her. It drove her forward, past the girl scented with cinnamon and fire, down the hallway, into the humid night.
    She ran down the steps, looked back at the house which seemed to shimmer. She plunged through the guests, whose faces were like masks, the eyes burning behind them.
    It was Ethan standing near her bike, and she'd never been more relieved to see anyone in her life.
    As she strode toward him, the lawn, the space between her and Ethan, seemed endless. When she breathlessly reached him, he said, his voice low, "I told you..."
    "The worst time for you to come...midsummer." Silver bracelets clinked on his wrist as he grabbed her bike and steered it away. She followed him, not daring to look back at the party.
    Because, now, she couldn't hear anything, only crickets. There was no light or movement from behind her. If she looked back, she felt she would see the horrifying ruin of the house from the day before, the weed-snarled lawn and twisted trees. She would break, then, and this mysterious golden boy wouldn't be able to fix her.
    So she followed him, cold and feverish and feeling as if she'd just been saved from drowning.
    "Ethan. Tell me what they are."

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