The ding of the bell that announced her arrival startled Chloe. It had a hollow, empty clang to it, nearly lifeless. Chloe shook herself a bit, forcing a small laugh. Bells don’t have souls.
She had never seen this shop before. She came down this street almost every week just to window shop, since the few spare quarters she had clinking in her pockets could hardly purchase anything more than a piece of candy. Strangely, Chloe couldn’t even recall what had previously occupied the shop’s spot between Marion’s Purse Parlor and Jenn’s Book Stop. The sign out front was simple: Masks. A few feathered creations decorated the two window displays.
“Well, hello, my dear! You’re the first person to stop by!” A crinkly old man unfolded himself from behind the desk. A smile was plastered on his face, almost as though it were painted on. A clown’s smile on an old man’s face. Chloe had to resist a shudder. She hated clowns. “Hello…” she responded timidly. Brightly colored feathers and beads pulled at her attention. She turned to a particularly bold mask, gently running her fingers through the feathers that stuck out at odd angles. “Looking for anything in particular?” the old man asked, almost anxious in his tone of voice. “There’s a costume party…and I was just looking around…” Chloe choked out, small pings of alarm spiking through her mind. But he was just an old man, and this was just a mask shop. What could go wrong?
“I think I have just what you need!” The shop owner exclaimed triumphantly after rummaging through a few racks of masks. The mask he held out was covered in pale blue sequin, with small, darker blue feathers around the top edge. Something like a diamond rested between the eyeholes. Couldn’t be a real diamond, but it was a really good fake. In fact, the mask matched the blue dress Chloe had picked out for the party perfectly. Strange. “I’m not sure that I could afford it,” she said reluctantly. She wanted it. No, she needed it, in a peculiar way… A wrong way. “Oh, don’t worry about paying for it. You’ll pay for it in time.” The words had an ominous ring, but Chloe ignored the tingling in her spine and accepted the mask from the old man’s hand.
“Have a nice day now, and a good time at that party!” The shopkeeper practically ushered Chloe from his shop, but not before she caught a glimpse of the glass cases in the back of the store. The masks there seemed oddly realistic, as though the faces of people were staring back at her. Eyeless, soulless.
The blue dress fit snugly around her, its old-fashioned feel taking her back a century. The band holding the mask to her face was hidden beneath auburn curls tumbling nearly to her waist. Chloe smiled, her blue eyes sparkling in the mirror. Even if the party turned out poorly, she still looked pretty. Since the party was only a few doors down, Chloe put on her high heels and walked out the door. The voice of the old man echoed in her head momentarily, saying “You’ll pay for it in time…” But she blocked out the voice, determined not to worry. The door to the party was wide open, with lights flashing and music pulsing. Chloe was soon caught up in the dancing, and the world spun until time had no meaning.
“Chloe? Chloe, are you alright?” There was no answer. Lauren tried to pull off Chloe’s mask in order to better help the girl collapsed on the floor. But it wouldn’t budge. Chloe’s eyes suddenly opened. Her huddled friends gasped in horror. Her eyes were empty. Soulless.
The old man cackled as he unlocked his glass case. A new mask was resting on the farthest right stand.