Hazel and Holly — Masked Revelry, Part One
Previous: An Unwelcome Visit, Part Two
Hazel tapped her foot as she waited in the main room of the cottage, tightening her clasped hands. “Are you ready yet?” she called to Holly. “Or am I to stand here the entire year and we’ll go to next year’s party instead?”
Holly’s door opened, and she emerged in a flurry of rustling taffeta and streaming ribbons. Her golden hair had been piled atop her head, out of which emerged three long peacock feathers. Holly must have used every scrap of fabric she had—the dress seemed on the verge of swallowing her, as if it were some great blue-black beast, armored with gleaming scales of mismatched beads and crystals.
Hazel took a step back. “Good grief, Holly. What’s happened to you?”
Holly beamed, her powdered cheeks redder than usual. “Do you like it?” She twirled around, the ribbons on the dress streaming behind her.
Hazel frowned. She most decidedly did not like it. Holly looked like a swollen bruise, one that had apparently been adorned with every button and bauble in existence. Hazel was about to tell her as much, but when she saw the hopeful, eager gleam in Holly’s eyes, she cleared her throat instead. “It is… unique.”
“Do you mean it? You don’t think anyone will have a similar dress, do you? I want to stand out.”
“You will most definitely stand out.”
Holly giggled and clapped her hands. “Oh, Hazel, tonight is going to be so magical. I just know it.”
“It will certainly be something.”
“You don’t think we’re late, do you?” Holly said as they approached the tall wrought-iron fence surrounding Hawthorn and Hemlock’s estate.
“Of course I think we’re late,” Hazel said. “You took half the night putting on that dress of yours. I’ll not be blamed if they turn us away.”
They walked up to the gate, which was flanked by two guards dressed in black and purple livery.
Holly smiled, produced the rumpled invitation from her pocket and handed it to one of the guards. “We’re the Witch Holly sisters. Invited. Says so right there.” She pointed at the paper.
“Actually, it’s the Witch Hazel sisters,” Hazel said.
Holly glared at her. “Is not,” she said under her breath.
“Don’t be difficult. You’re just going to confuse the poor man.”
Holly opened her mouth, but then the guard said, “Lollygaggers,” and handed the invitation back to Holly. “Best be on your way.”
“What?” Holly said.
“Did I stutter? Lolly. Gaggers. That’s you. And this is you getting turned at the gate. Says so right there.” He tapped the invitation in Holly’s hand.
“We’re not late!”
“It’s half-past eight. So, yes, actually, you are.” He swept his arms away from the gate and towards the road. “Go on. Off with you, now.”
Holly straightened her back and pressed her lips into a fine line. “Listen, you. Do you know how much time I’ve spent on this dress? You need to let us in.”
The guard looked her up and down. “Yes, I imagine you’ve put eternity into that dress, along with everything else. Doesn’t make any difference, though.”
The other guard snickered.
Holly’s face reddened.
“There’s always next year, Holly,” Hazel said.
“No,” Holly said, “there’s this year. We’re getting in.”
“No,” the guard said, “you’re not.”
Holly glared at him, then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a pinecone the size of a robin’s egg.
Hazel took a step back.
“Come on, miss,” the guard said. “Run along home.”
Holly flicked the cone and pelted him in the forehead.
“Ow!” the guard said as he put a hand to his head and bent over.
The other guard let out a short laugh before he remembered himself and put on a sober face. “You shouldn’t have done that. Now we’ll have to take you in. Let the Brothers deal with you.”
Holly flicked another cone and got him in an eye. The guard cried out and reeled back as he put his hands to his face. She walked up to the first guard, who still stood doubled over while cradling his head in his hands.
“That pain you’re feeling,” Holly said, bending down next to him, “is from a tree getting ready to sprout from your head. Give me the keys to the gate and I’ll stop it from happening.”
“What?” the guard said.
Holly made a disgusted sound and then padded his pockets until she found a ring of keys. She walked to the gate, tested the keys until she found the one that fit and unlocked the gate and pushed it open. She grinned. “Come on, Hazel!”
Hazel glanced at the guards and said, “You can’t leave them like this, you know.”
Holly rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine. Come through the gate first, though.”
Once Hazel had followed Holly through the gate, Holly closed and locked it. Then, to the guards, she said, “You’ll be fine. A tree isn’t really going to sprout from your head.” She paused. “Well, it probably won’t, anyway. Human heads don’t make good growing grounds. But,” she grinned, “you never know.”
“Holly…” Hazel said, her voice stern.
Holly’s smile faded and she let out another sigh. “Just rub some salt or ash on your head and that should get rid of the pain.” She started to walk away but turned back around and added, “You’re welcome.”
They followed the road through Hawthorn and Hemlock’s estate, past manicured lawns and trimmed hedges shaped into the likeness of woodland animals. They came to a great manor house, adorned with curtains of ivy that trailed up the dark stone walls. Holly bounced up the steps, took hold of the knocker at the door, and gave it three quick raps. A butler in a stiffly starched suit opened the door.
As Holly opened her mouth, Hazel stepped forward and said, “We are the Witch Hazel sisters, here by invitation.”
Holly slumped, her face crestfallen.
The butler sighed and said, “Follow me.” He then turned and retreated back into the house. Hazel and Holly trailed after him.
They walked down a long wood-paneled hallway lined with painted portraits of frowning men. Some had dogs down by their feet, some held books. Others were cut off at the shoulders and were nothing more than disembodied heads of bushy-eyebrowed disapproval. Holly’s mouth hung open as she gazed up at them. Hazel wore a frown of her own, keeping her gaze fixed on the butler’s back. She felt like the paintings watched her as she moved, and she did not much care for being watched by the dead.
The butler came to a door, but instead of opening it, he turned towards the sisters. “We see the Mistresses’ faces are exposed. Perhaps they would care for a covering provided by the house?” He waved towards an alcove, within which scores of masks hung upon the walls.
Holly squealed and ran over to peruse the selection. Hazel folded her arms. “I don’t think so.”
“We would insist,” the butler said.
Hazel narrowed her eyes. “Who’s this ‘we’ we’re talking about? And why should they insist upon it?”
The butler drew himself up. “We are everyone, for whom few are trusted to speak.”
Hazel opened her mouth, but Holly came over and thrust a mask into her hands. It was shaped in the likeness of a dragon, adorned with glittering crystals and sequins for scales.
Holly giggled. “That one’s perfect for you.” She tied a mask around her own head, taking on the appearance of a cat with whiskers made of threads of finely spun glass.
The butler continued to look down his nose at Hazel while Holly bounced up and down.
“Come on, Hazel… We’ll never get in, otherwise.”
Hazel frowned and let out a breath. “Fine,” she said, and tied the mask around her head.
The butler opened the door and, with a sweeping motion of his arm, he ushered them inside.
Next: Masked Revelry, Part Two