“Are you sure it’s okay to let her bring that cat along?” Asked Sam, staring down at his younger sister Cecily. She trudged along between her father and brother clutching a darkly coloured and leopard-spotted cat in her arms. The little creature’s fur and skin bunched up in the child’s arms and around its neck while its free legs splayed out defiant of the girl’s grasp.
“It’ll be fine,” said the dad, “We’re not going far from home and Felix knows the area, he’ll find his way back if Ce-Ce looses him.”
“I can’t believe you let her name him Felix,” said Sam with disdain.
“What’s wrong with Felix?” Asked Cecily.
“You named him after his food, moron.”
“Don’t speak to your sister like that,” the dad clipped him round the ear.
“I like the name Felix,” said Cecily quietly into Felix’s ear. The cat gave no indication of its approval or disapproval.
They hadn’t walked far down the tarmac road before they caught the edges of the carnival. They’d been able to hear the music and sounds of the parades and parties from their home. Now they saw the bright and colourful costumes and banners of the participants. The bright, Spring sun had attracted a large crowd milling about the street vendors and sideshows.
Through the eyes of Cecily the place was awash with colour and excitement, exotic scents from the various grills and huge woks filled the air. Pink clouds clung to sticks clutched in children’s hands and the melodic notes of merry-go-round rides chimed in her ears.
Entertainers dressed in large, frilled and bold outfits loomed near them, laughing and cavorting, some dancing in the street. Cecily was fascinated by their the masks that hid their faces. Only the eyes and nose were covered, with little eye holes cut in them behind which pupils and iris’s peered. They were in numerous different colours, some sparkled with glitter others with sequins, some had feathers and some had fur, some strapped to the face others were held on sticks. One of the entertainers came close to the three as they walked the carnival.
“Isn’t she absolutely adorable!” Said one, a man speaking in a high-pitched, overly dramatic voice. He was dressed in loud, frilled clothing and his mask had a long pointed nose that hovered close to Cecily’s face. At the beginning of the nose the rest of the mask was made of splayed feathers in a rainbow of colour.
“I couldn’t agree more Charles,” said a woman joining him, “though I can’t say the same about the cat,” she sneered.
“Oh, Victoria what an attitude you have, be nice to the little princess here.” Victoria wore a red dress with a black bodice squeezing in her waste, her mask was green with some glitter that created a shimmering effect and the eye slits ran vertical.
“Oh of course, where are my manners,” Victoria leaned in close to Cecily, “You look very pretty deary, what do think of me? Do you like my dress?” Cecily nodded, she didn’t really know if she liked the dress, but she didn’t think she should offend the woman. “That’s the right answer,” Victoria said. She pinched Cecily’s cheek, “So cute.”
The dad ushered Cecily away from the entertainers whilst Sam muttered about ‘loonies’. The people notwithstanding Cecily had found the masks beautiful and she dearly wanted one of her own.
Her chance came soon enough as they walked past a selection of sideshows Cecily saw a mask hanging on one of the walls. It was a black mask with a velvety sheen and a gold, embroidered border.
“I want that one,” said Cecily releasing one hand from Felix and pointing at the mask. Her dad turned to look where she pointed.
“We can’t buy that one I’m afraid, it’s one of the prizes.” He said.
“Do I have an interested customer?” Said a female voice. She came into view rapidly, sweeping her long skirt in the process. She lowered her own mask, one silver-edged with white fur-like fluff, and smiled at Cecily. “Do you like my mask? Perhaps your father would like to try winning a similar one for you?”
“Daddy?” Said Cecily, nudging her father.
“Oh alright then, but no promises.” He fished into his pockets and handed the lady some of his change, she smiled at him as he did so.
“Oh good, here you go,” said the proprietress handing him three hoops. “I’m sure you know how to play but just to be sure, you get to keep any prizes on the table you can land a hoop on. The better prizes are on the wall, including the mask the lovely young lady wants, for those you need to get the hoop on the hook below the prize.”
“Got it,” said the dad. He held a hoop close to his chest ready to fling it like a frisbee. His tongue stuck out to the side and with a few practice motions he finally flung the hoop. The throw was too forceful however and the hoop clattered against the red wall at the back of the stall before clattering onto the bare ground. The proprietress collected the hoop quickly saying, “That’s one down, perhaps a bit more gently next time.”
His second attempt failed also, this time too lightly thrown. The hoop fell to the table landing square between the assortment of toys, teddies and other table prizes. Sam sniggered.
“Alright, I’ve got it this time,” said the dad. He took aim with the last hoop, motioned the throw a few times then released it. It flew over the short distance, past the table and to the wall heading straight for the hook below the mask. The hoop fell slightly short however, catching its inner edge on the tip of the hook it hung precariously for a split second before slipping off and falling to the floor.
“Oh never mind dear, your dad tried his best,” said the lady looking at Cecily’s downcast face. Cecily hugged Felix tighter. “That’s a handsome cat you’ve got there, what’s his name? Or her name?” The lady said after some thought.
“Felix,” said Cecily quietly.
“Felix, a fitting name. He’s very cute.” Felix squirmed in Cecily’s arms but she held her grip.
“That was utter rubbish Dad,” mocked Sam.
“You think you could do better?” Challenged the dad.
“Yeah I do, how hard could it be.”
“Go on then,” the dad handed him some coins.
“Oh we have another taker do we?” said the lady smiling, “Is this your brother dear?” Cecily nodded. “I have a good feeling he’ll win it for you.” She took the money and gave Sam the three hoops.
Sam took aim and with one swift motion threw the first hoop. It soared gracefully across the stall and landed, neatly, on the hook. The lady applauded, “Well done, well done.”
“See,” said Sam turned and looking smugly at his father. The dad punched him on the shoulder.
“Don’t get too cocky.”
“You’ve got two more throws still,” said the lady as she retrieved the black mask. Sam quickly threw the last two hoops at the table prizes, missing once and landing on a small sheep keyring with the other.
While he was doing so the lady bent low towards Cecily to hand her the mask. She held it over Felix’s head, first saying, “I think this mask’ll suit Felix you know, but it’s yours for now.” She pulled the elastic strap of the mask over Cecily’s head, tucking it underneath her ponytail. “Beautiful, enjoy the rest of the day now.”
The lady waved them goodbye as they made their way through the crowd. The dad led them to the large open green, where a lot of performance artists had set up shop and many people had been picnicking. All the way Cecily wore her mask, peering out from behind the eye slots.
They stopped at a large tree, Cecily sat at the base and released Felix who immediately set about cleaning himself.
“I’ll go get us something to eat,” said the dad, “we passed by a few pancake stalls, is that alright with everyone?” Cecily nodded.
“Yeah whatever,” said Sam with typical disinterest as he leant against the tree trunk.
“Look after your sister while I’m gone,” the dad ordered as he walked away over the green.
Cecily began playing with Felix, teasing the cat with a long blade of grass, the feline swatted at it with its paws. She felt the mask pull off her head and looked up to see what was happening. A large face, covered by the mask loamed over her.
“BOO!” It shouted and Cecily shrieked and scrambled away. Sam laughed raucously and dropped the mask on the ground where Felix began pawing and sniffing at it.
Cecily, realising it was her cruel brother, put her little hands on her hips and announced, “That was mean!”
“But it was fun and that makes it alright,” dismissed Sam. His phone rang at that point and he pulled the small, black device from his pocket and answered it. “Hi mate. Nah I can’t, I’m stuck with the brat. Yeah babysitting. Ha ha yeah I should.” Sam moved around the trunk of the tree, out of sight, to have his conversation.
Cecily returned to her sitting spot and watched Felix, ignoring her brother. She picked up the mask and held it in front of Felix, the cat watched her back through the eyeholes.
“I think that lady was right, you would look pretty with this mask.”
Suddenly Felix snatched the mask from Cecily’s hand, gripping the edge of it in his mouth, little white fangs digging into the material. Like black lightning the cat dashed off, a blur pelting across the grass.
“Felix wait!” Shouted Cecily clambering to her feet and chasing after the cat. Her floral dressed slowed her down though and she was only just able to keep an eye on Felix as he darted into the nearby crowds.
Cecily dived in after him, rushing through the throng of legs and shoes, darting around them as she would when running past trees in a forest. She caught sight of Felix at the edge of a tent, he turned to her then scrambled underneath the purple sheet wall. Cecily followed, crawling on her hands and knees.
She emerged inside to a strong and intoxicating smoky smell, like burning wood and snuffed out candles. It was dark inside the tent, there was a table with a see-through ball on it and seated behind it, hunched over, was a robust, elderly woman wearing a collection of faded purple and green clothes. The woman turned to look as Cecily, peering out from the hood of her robes with a broad, wrinkled face.
“Who are you?” The old woman’s raspy voice croaked out the words.
At that moment Cecily caught sight of two luminous orbs in the dark, Felix’s eyes. The cat turned and disappeared under the far tent wall. Cecily ran after him. The woman called after her, stumbling to her feet, but before she could do anything Cecily had disappeared out of the tent.
And emerged into a wild forest. Cecily looked all around her at the wildflowers sprouting from the long, bladed grassy terrain and the tall silver birch trees all around her. Felix was nowhere to be seen and with no cat to follow Cecily realised she had run off from her brother and neither would her father know where to look for her.
She turned around to go back to the tent with the old lady but it had gone. Instead there was a faint shimmer in the air behind her. Before she had time to wonder about it though a large shape leapt out of the shimmer, like stepping out through a curtain. It bellowed a deep, loud, rumbling roar and Cecily, frightened, turned and ran from it.
The creature bounded after her, it’s large rotund form surprisingly agile. A pair of bulging, yellow eyes that span wildly sprouted on either side of its broad head. Like a frog it had a huge, wide mouth and an expanding neck, its legs were short and stumpy but carried it well enough and its green skin was thick with slime that it glistened in the summer sun.
Past trees and flowers, over fallen trunks and twigs Cecily ran. The creature followed eratically, bounding left and right through the forest struggling to crawl past the close-knit trees.
Eventually Cecily came to a halt, out of breath and struggling to fill her lungs. She’d put some space between her and the creature but it could still be heard roaring and bellowing as it chased after her.
“Psst. Quick, hide in there.” Called a soft voice. Cecily looked around in a rush. She failed to see the source of the voice but did notice a hollow in the base of a nearby tree. The earth had collapsed away under the roots and left a small burrow. She scrambled inside and tried her best to cover up the sound of her breathing.
The creature neared. She could hear its belly sliding across the undergrowth. Its green skin loomed into view beyond the web of tree roots, purple spots scattered over its back. The large wide mouth opened and shut as it breathed a horrible, sulphurous smell over the area. It looked around, staring with its bulbous eyes, then crawled slowly away.
When the creature was out of sight Cecily crawled out of her hidey-hole and brushed the dirt from her dress.
“That was a close one wasn’t it,” said the same soft and silky voice. She looked again for the voice, calmer now, but still could not see it.
“Up here my lady.” She looked up to see a figure seated on a branch overhead. It pushed off from the branch and landed gracefully on the ground in front of Cecily before giving a low bow. The voice was a man, a little one who rose up to half the height of Cecily. He wore smart suit with a leopard spot waistcoat tucked in behind his sharp jacket. Covering the dark skin of his face was the black mask Cecily’s brother had won. He looked up at her smiling and revealing impossibly white teeth.
“Who are you?”
“Why my name is Felix,” he practically purred. “But you know that of course.”
“O-of course,” repeated Cecily, “Felix…”
“Might I suggest we get away from here, in case that creature comes back?” Said Felix speaking in exceedingly polite tones.
“Right, that way then,” said Felix pointing into the distance. Cecily followed his finger but when she turned back he had disappeared.
“Come along now, don’t dawdle.” Felix called, now standing in the distance. He slipped behind a tree trunk and disappeared once more. With little else better to do Cecily traipsed after him.
She walked a long way but nothing about the scenery changed, as far as she had run and as far as she walked now everywhere continued to look the same. It was a very pretty forest, with the early spring flowers and the green budding leaves and she would have loved to play there, but it wasn’t home and it wasn’t with her family. Before she could think too much on her loneliness, and just as she was wondering if Felix would appear again a different voice spoke to her.
“My aren’t you the little treasure,” hissed a voice belonging to a grass snake. It slithered up alongside Cecily, then in front of her cutting off her progress. “Do you have a name girl?” It asked.
“It’s Cecily.” She said nervously.
“Such a pretty name for such a pretty girl,” the snake whispered, its head rose off the floor. “And what a pretty dress you have,” it said as it slipped its green, scaled head under Cecily’s arm. “And such long, beautiful hair,” the snake passed around her back and slithered over her shoulder.
“Get off me,” shrieked Cecily as the snake circled her.
“What’s the matter dear,” the head loomed closer to her the snake’s grip on her body tightened, “I only want a hug.” Skin flaps just beneath the snake’s head widened and revealed large black and red circular patterns that drew in Cecily’s eyes. She stared at them gradually focusing in and forgetting everything else around her. “Oh yes, my master would love a little treasure like you,” hissed the snake.
“Relinquish her foul vermin!” Shouted Felix.
“What!?” Said the snake surprised. A shadow fell upon the snakes head, knocking it down to the ground, the coils of its body releasing Cecily.
“Felix! Thank you,” said Cecily, shaking the grogginess that had affected her mind.
“My pleasure milady.” The suited man bowed. He stood up again as the snake round on him and brandished a small silver sword.
“You think you can stop me with that toothpick,” said the snake.
“Why don’t we find out? En garde,” called Felix. He stepped forward and thrust at the snake who recoiled back, it then lunged, flipping two deadly fangs out from within its mouth. The two fought quickly and skillfully a lunge and thrust, back and forth with neither landing a hit. Back anf forth the short but furious duel went until Felix suddenly spun to the side, narrowly dodging a fanged lunge that stuck the snake to the ground. He then thrust piercing the snake’s side. The snake screamed and slithered away from Felix.
“Are you having trouble my dear?” A flap of wings accompanied this statement as a bird with vibrant and colourful plumage landed on a nearby branch. It turned a long, sharply pointed beak towards the group.
“How long have you been watching and not helping!” Shrieked the snake.
“Calm down, I only just arrived don’t you know. So how can I help?” With Felix and Cecily distracted by the new arrival the snake swung with its tail knocking Felix over.
“Quick grab him and take him to the master.” Ordered the snake.
“As you wish,” the large bird spread its wings wide in a dazzling array of azure, vermillion and ochre. It leapt from the branch and swooped down like spilt paint, clasping Felix in its talons. “You and I are going on a little trip,” it said to Felix.
“Unhand me at once,” protested Felix as the two disappeared into the distance.
“Now then girly,” the snake sniggered, “If you want to see your friend again you’d best follow me to the master.” It slithered away after the bird and Felix, slow enough to allow Cecily to keep up with it. Quietly and trembling from the shock of it, she followed.
The snake led Cecily to a large clearing, the first change in the forest scenery she had seen so far. The grass grew long and wild here and the flowers halted at the edge of the open space. A man stood here with a large sweeping cape covering his body, with a blue lining inside and a black mask, Felix’s mask, on his face. He had a gloved hand held out on which the rich plumage of the bird rested. In his other hand he held Felix, maskless, his thumb and forefinger clasped around the little man’s chest, holding his arms up over his head as he kicked his legs in a futile attempt to free himself.
“Let him go!” Shouted Cecily.
“Hmmm,” the man looked up at her. “If you wish,” he said and carelessly tossed Felix to the side.
The cat, turned man, landed with an “Oof”, and rolled over the ground. Knocked unconscious he did not get up.
“Leave us,” the man commanded. With a flutter of feathers and a slither of scales the bird and snake disappeared into the wider forest.
“What do you want with me?” Asked Cecily querulously. The man resembling a magician approached and she could see where the mask did not cover his face he had blue, frost-like tattoos.
“I want to return the world to winter. I want to bring back the coldness of the snow, the strength of the ice. I want to foster a new frozen world filled with the delicacy and beauty of ice. And I need you to do that Cecily.” A faint, distant roar accompanied his words.
The man chuckled, “well not quite you”. He placed a hand on her head, she could feel the coldness of his body even through his glove. He lowered his head and whispered in her ear, “I need your fear.”
A chill wind blew into the clearing and the sun disappeared behind a sheet of clouds. A grey pall spread thickly over the scene. Cecily shivered, not from the cold, but from fear. A bellowing roar echoed through the forest.
“The coldness of your fear empowers me, helps my powers to grow stronger.” The man continued, grasping Cecily’s arm and pulling her around. “Look! Here comes the snow now.” Descending from the clouds thick clumps of snow drifted down. Aimless at first the snow lazily floated to the ground, but it soon grew fiercer, beating down on Cecily and blanketing the earth, hiding all trace of plant life and replacing it with a pristine white carpet.
“No!” Cecily screamed and snatched at the man. In her wild flailing she caught his mask, the elastic snapping and dropping it to the floor.
“You brat!” the man shouted and made to lunge at her. At that moment the giant toad-like creature that had chased her lunged into the clearing. It collided with the dark magician and the pair tumbled to the side, the creature pinning the man down as it struggled to right itself.
Cecily began to cry, unable to keep it in anymore. Her tears freezing on her cheeks. A light appeared in front of her. A woman encased in a beautiful silver shine gazed at her, a warm smile on her face beneath a silver mask with white woolen edging.
“Don’t worry little one, everything will be alright. Look around you.” The woman said. Cecily wiped her eyes and watched. The clouds parted and the spring sunlight flooded into the forest once more. The snow stopped and as the last flakes dropped they sank into the deep snow before sprouting green shoots. The flakes unfolded and grew into white flowers all around. Soon the snow melted away and the forest could be seen clearly again, now dotted with beautiful scatterings of snowdrop flowers.
“There she is! Ce-ce, I was so worried about you!” Cecily’s dad ran into the clearing and grabbed her in one swift motion, hugging her as tightly as the snake had but now the hold was welcome. Behind him traipsed two of the carnival entertainers, one with a rainbow feather mask and pointed nose, the other with a shimmering green mask.
“Poor thing must’ve been frightened to death. It’s a good thing we found her.” They said.
“She’s alright now,” said the lady who ran the hoop game stall, stroking Cecily’s hair with her free hand, the other clutching her white mask.
“I’m so sorry young man, I didn’t see you there,” said the old fortune teller as she clambered off Sam. “Yeah, yeah, just get off me already,” her brother said. Behind the pair Felix the cat cautiously crawled forward. When he saw Cecily he scampered on his paws up to her and rubbed against her leg.
“Oh Felix, you’re alright too,” said Cecily.
“I think we should go home now, don’t you,” said her dad, he picked a nearby snowdrop and poked the white flower into her hair before picking her up and carrying her away.