Henrietta’s teacher looked down at the floor and shook his head before granting her permission to leave the class and locate her misplaced homework. Rummaging through her well-worn school bag and mumbling phrases only audible to herself, Henrietta felt the girl in the mask’s presence behind her and ceased her search. Keeping one hand in her schoolbag, Henrietta raised her head slightly and kept her eyes focused on an otherwise innocuous pencil mark on the wall in the front her.
Henrietta allowed the girl in the mask to speak first. “I know what you’re doing.” There was an unexpected authority in the girl in the mask’s voice and a moment of panic where Henrietta thought she might be lost for words. The delay was only fleeting, however, as Henrietta drew on her years of experience in finding her feet in uncomfortable situations.
“No… You don’t,” she responded in her own authoritarian tone while fighting the urge to turn around.
Henrietta used the silence that followed to slow her breathing and push her nerves to one side. There was no room for feelings in a game of chess.
“Polly told me about you,” the girl in the mask said, shattering the silence. Henrietta’s heart raced, spreading the anger further around her body with each jarring thud. She kept the energy wanting to escape from her voice at bay. “Don’t flatter yourself. Whatever Polly told you, it was only to protect me.” Henrietta scoured her thoughts in search of the girl in the mask’s motives. “Polly can’t be taken away from me, regardless.”
“I don’t see why not, since Polly mentioned that you wanted to take something away from me.” Henrietta clenched her jaws and closed her eyes, feeling robbed of any power she’d had at the beginning of their interaction. The sound of the girl in the mask’s footstep moving closer towards her prompted her to open her eyes, and she now struggled to focus on any single point in front of her.
“I’m going to make you a deal.” The girl in the mask said. “I’m going to give you my mask so that you can see what I see.” Henrietta heard the elastic run over the girl in the mask’s hair. “Twenty-five seconds. That all you get. I cannot be without my mask for any longer than that.” Henrietta heard two more footsteps walking towards her before she saw the girl in the mask’s hands lifting the mask over her face.
Henrietta’s thoughts drifted to a world where she felt loved and accepted. A world without angst or worry and, above all else, a world without a trace of fear. Peace ruled here, and there was no question that it had earned its rightful place at the throne. Although Henrietta knew she was lost in this world, she had no memory of urgency or panic to draw on to help her find her way back home. The moment where Henrietta completely accepted this experience as her new reality was the moment the mask was removed.
Henrietta shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair. She could hear the girl in the mask breathing in short, sharp breaths behind her.
“That’s terrifying,” Henrietta stated. “You want to live in your little make-believe world then be my guest. As for me, I’m going to live here. Where friends aren’t always friendly, where love doesn’t rule unconditionally and where people are afraid of that which they do not understand.”
Henrietta heard the sound of footsteps disappearing behind her and turned around to see the door of the adjacent classroom swing shut. She chuckled to herself before reaching into her bag and finding her homework with ease. She chuckled and allowed herself to breathe before tapping her homework book on her hand twice and rejoining her class.
My name is Gregg Savage and, every night when the house is quiet, I write and publish a free children’s story at dailytales.com.au for you to share and enjoy.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.