I never felt like I belonged. Like everyone else around me, I looked as though I was the same. We all wore the same mask, voted for the same political party, went to work, came home to our families. But that’s all they were, masks covering their honeyed words on venomous tongues.
Life is about fear and “man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” Tonight we were given that opportunity.
“Did you hear, there’s like a new millionaire who moved into town?” gossiped Olivia
“Millionaire? I heard he was like a billionaire,” returned Lily Anne.
“Whatever, same difference,” said Olivia, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, ok, you’re right, he’s gonna totally be my husband,” laughed Lily Anne.
“Nuh-uh, he’s mine!” Olivia argued.
“What? You were invited too?!” asked Lily Anne.
“Of course!” returned Olivia.
“I’m pretty sure he invited the whole town,” said Logan passing by.
“Shut up!” exclaimed the girls hotly.
Logan chuckled and walked away.
“Is that true?” asked Lily Anne biting her lip, “Did he really invite the whole town?”
“I don’t know,” replied Olivia worriedly, “I mean our town is only 250 people, but that’s a lot of people to be in one house at one time. Like the only time that ever happens is at weddings.”
“He must be really rich then,” said Lily Anne.
“Yeah, I know what we can do! You know how we were saying we were like bored? Well we can go around and ask to see how many people are going to this and try to convince them not to go! That way we like increase our chances that we’ll be the one he marries!” suggested Olivia.
“OMG! That is like a totally great idea!” squealed Lily Anne.
“Is there a point to go to tonight’s party?” asked my mother quietly.
“Jeannie, we hardly ever get out anymore. It will be a good experience for Sophia,” said my father.
“That’s true…but I would much rather Sophia get her experience from being in the city rather than living her life entirely in a small town being a wife to a farmer or blacksmith. I want her to have aspirations beyond this town,” sighed Jeannie.
“I know, sweetie, but we have to let Sophia do what she wants. She’s 18 and her life is no longer in our hands,” said Nathan.
“Alright…I suppose that’s true,” relented Jeannie.
“Sophia, come here please, your mother and I would like to discuss something with you,” called Nathan.
“What is it dad?” I asked.
“Are you going to the party hosted by Dæmon Austen?” asked Jeannie.
“I was planning to,” I said, “Did you guys have other plans?”
“No,” said Nathan quickly, “Not at all, just wondering is all. Do you have everything you need for the party? Should we make a quick trip into the city to buy anything?”
“Well I have that dress grandma bought for me last year that I could wear. And I think I still have the mask that we bought in Venice three years ago, but I’m not sure that the mask and dress match…” I asnswered
“That dress grandma bought for you is a little…dated. I would prefer you bought something newer, nicer to match the mask, what colour was that again?” asked Jeannie.
“Blue,” I answered.
“That seems a bit juvenile,” commented Jeannie, “Let me lend you my black and gold mask.”
“What will you wear then mom?” I asked.
“I don’t plan on going,” said Jeannie plainly.
“But for a dress to match that…” I said trailing off.
“I’m sure we have enough to buy you one,” said Nathan firmly.
“Alright,” I said frowning.
It was the day of the masquerade ball. My mother had spent two hours helping me dress and another three and a half hours doing my hair and makeup before I could be considered presentable.
“How do I look?” I asked.
“Like a Victorian,” admitted Jeannie.
“Was that you intention?” I asked.
“That’s the only way you should look wearing a mask like that,” returned Jeannie, “Other girls tonight will dress…less than conservatively…he will not notice them.”
“How can you possibly know that mom?” I asked.
“I’ve been to my fair share of parties and girls never change. They will be conservative in one sense and only one and that is in the amount of clothes they wear,” said Jeannie, sounding almost bitter.
I snickered, “How can you possibly know that I want him to notice me?”
“Isn’t that why girls go to parties in the first place?” asked Jeannie frowning.
I blushed, “Well usually it is, but I don’t even know Dæmon yet, so I can’t say that I want him to notice me…I mean if I don’t like him, I don’t want the attention…”
Jeannie nodded, “That’s true. Either way, let’s make you presentable just in case.”
I laughed, “I wasn’t presentable before?”
Jeannie laughed, “Well…you need some work is all.”
“Fine, fine,” I said, “Is it almost time to go?”
“What’s the rush?” teased Nathan, “He’s just next door.”
I rolled my eyes, “I don’t like to be ‘fashionably late.’ You know I hate being late for anything”
“Alright, done,” said Jeannie, putting the last gem into my hair.
“Thanks mum! I’ll be home by midnight!” I exclaimed heading for the door.
“Don’t come home that early!” urged Nathan, “Maybe 2?”
Jeannie punched him, “She can come home when she wants.”
I smiled, “I’ll try not be a klutz when I get home tonight.”
Nathan chuckled, “Don’t worry about it, your mom and I will probably be out late too. We’re going into the city for dinner and a show.”
“Alright, drive safely. Call me if anything happens,” I said waving goodbye.
I was early, as usual, but the whole town was curious about Dæmon Austen and had showed up hours early. When I arrived, people were already inside mingling with one another. The older ladies wore full ball gowns and all the gentlemen wore suits, but the girls my age wore dresses short enough to qualify as a shirt.
“Welcome, do you have your invitation?” asked the doorman.
I handed it to him, looking around to see if there was anyone I knew that I could hang out with for the evening.
“Miss Sophia?” asked the doorman.
“Yes, that’s correct,” I returned.
“And your parents?” inquired the doorman.
“Unfortunately they had other plans for this evening and are regrettably unable to attend,” I answered.
“That is quite unfortunate indeed. However, we are very happy that you are able to attend,” welcomed the doorman, “Please come in, a formal dinner will be served shortly.”
I headed in looking for someone I might know under the vertical and horizontal masks, but it was impossible. I suppose that was partially the point, but frankly I was a bit scared and overwhelmed by the number of people in attendance. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone. It was impossible to live in such a small town and not know everyone, but to have them all hidden behind masks was unnerving.
“Hi,” I said to a boy in a vertical skull mask.
He smiled at me, “Evening, how do you do?”
“I’m good, yourself?” I asked, while wondering who I was talking to.
“Well, thank you. I am Dæmon Austen, welcome to my home,” he smiled.
“Mr. Austen, what a pleasure,” I said returning his smile and reaching out to shake his hand.
He grasped it firmly, “Miss Sophia is it?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.
How did he know my name?
“It’s unfortunate that your parents could not attend. However, I believe we are neighbours and a dinner can be arranged,” commented Dæmon.
“Yes, that is so,” I nodded.
“I hope you are enjoying yourself. Dinner is about to be served, please head into the dining room and have a seat anywhere you’d like,” said Dæmon indicating to a door opposite us.
“Thank you, I hope we will have an opportunity to talk more later,” I said heading in that direction.
“As do I,” said Dæmon heading off in the opposite direction.
I entered the dining room to find it empty. I found that surprising as Dæmon stated that dinner would be starting soon. I made my way to one end of the table and took a seat. I contemplated removing my mask. It wouldn’t hinder my ability to eat; it just wasn’t the most comfortable thing to wear while eating though. I pondered it until the dining room filled up.
“Ladies and gentleman, a slight request,” started Dæmon, taking his place at the head of the table, “If you’d be so kind to remove your masks for dinner, it would be much appreciated.”
At the same time a hundred masks clattered against the dining room table. Dæmon smiled and took his seat. Dinner came out on a million silver platters and everyone was too preoccupied with dinner to notice he didn’t remove his mask. Dæmon shot me a look out of the corner of his eye and slipped me a note under the table.
I’d like to see you after dinner if it’s not too improper.
I looked at him inquisitively, trying to read him.
“Hey Sophia!” exclaimed Lily Anne next to me, taking my attention away from Dæmon.
I gave him one last lingering look and turned to Lily Anne.
“Hi, how are you?” I returned, giving her a fake smile.
Lily Anne and her friend Olivia were the town gossips. Everyone knew that they had no skills other than manipulation. They were very well suited for the media. All they needed was to open their mouth and have an outlet to publish it on. They didn’t need evidence. Sure, one could sue for libel or inaccuracy, but that didn’t matter, they would just apologize and do it again.
“I didn’t expect you to come,” sneered Lily Anne, “You always act like you’re above parties. Like you never come to ours.”
“Not attending the parties you and Olivia throw is not an accurate determinant of whether or not I show up to this one,” I returned.
“What?” asked Olivia and Lily Anne genuinely confused.
“What does that mean?” Olivia whispered to Lily Anne.
“I don’t know,” returned Lily Anne frowning, “But obviously it was an insult, so we gotta defend ourselves. I mean our future husband hear that we gotta make him think we can fight for ourselves against that stupid bookworm.”
“For your information our parties are totally awesome!” exclaimed Olivia hotly.
“Uh…” I said unsure how to respond, “Ok…”
“Nice job!” exclaimed Lily Anne under her breath, “You made her speechless, that’s like a good thing right?”
“Yeah, totally,” agreed Olivia.
I turned to someone else and started a conversation with them instead. I had no idea what to say to the two of them anymore. It was clear they were to dim-witted to appropriately respond or insult me back.
Dinner lasted for about three hours and afterwards the guests returned to the ballroom to dance and continue mingling. No one noticed that Dæmon or myself did not return.
“Miss Sophia, though we have not spoken much, I feel as though you and I could get along very well. I hope that we can be friends and get to know each other better,” began Dæmon.
“This is an odd way to express it,” I said.
“How do most people do it?” asked Dæmon innocently.
“They don’t ask to be friends, they just hang out with one another until a relationship develops,” I explained.
“Really?” frowned Dæmon.
I nodded, “Is this how you’ve made friends your whole life?”
“I’ve never had any friends,” admitted Dæmon.
“Well this may come across as rude, but I don’t mean it to be. I’m not surprised. If you’ve been trying to make friends in this way, no one would automatically gravitate towards being friends with you,” I said.
Dæmon laughed, “No one’s ever had the nerve to tell me otherwise, so thank you. I hope that I will be able to make friends in the future based on your advice.”
I smiled, “I’m sorry, I would stay longer, but it’s getting late and I ought to be home.”
“We’ve barely talked, will you come tomorrow for dinner with your parents? I would very much like to meet them,” said Dæmon.
“I will talk to them. Shall I call you with my answer?” I asked.
“No need. We are neighbours after all. You may leave a message with my doorman,” said Dæmon, “It was good to meet you Miss Sophia. Good night.”
Many years had passed since I had met Dæmon. From the time of our awkward confrontation until now, he had made many friends. He always had had the manners and suave to sweet talk people, but with a less direct approach he was able to maintain his friendships.
He must have been raised under different circumstances than everyone else because it was a shock for him to be asked out by girls. But the girls in our town went a step further than that. Girls like Olivia and Lily Anne had no problem proposing to him and did so on every available occasion.
Like the gentleman he was, he always politely refused.
“Soph,” called Dæmon as I was heading out one day.
“What is it?” I returned, stopping before my car.
“Are you busy tonight?” he called.
“No, did you have something in mind?” I asked.
“Dinner?” he called back.
“Sure,” I shrugged, “What time?”
“The usual,” was his reply.
“Your place or mine?” I asked.
“Neither, can you be home a half hour before?” he said.
“Sure, we’re going out? What’s the occasion?” I asked.
It was the first time we had had dinner together alone. Usually it was with my parents or one of his relatives, but today, it was just the two of us.
“Soph, I know you’ve never considered me as marriage material,” started Dæmon.
“Says who?” I interrupted.
“I—um, I just assumed since we never formally declared our relationship past friends,” said Dæmon embarrassed.
“Do you remember what I told you when we first met?” I demanded.
Dæmon laughed, “Of course, we don’t need to declare…oh…I see what you’re saying.”
“I’ve always considered you more than a friend,” I said tenderly.
“As have I,” returned Dæmon, “So I hope that this proposal does not come as a shock.”
“Can I pretend to be shocked?” I teased.
“There’s no reason you can’t be,” smiled Dæmon, opening up a ring box.
Nestled in the plush red velvet was a platinum ring set with a solitary black diamond.
I smirked, “I should have expected something as unconventional as this from you.”
“Do you dislike it?” asked Dæmon, a hint of concern crept into his voice.
I pretended to think, making him suffer a while longer.
“Soph, you’re killing me,” said Dæmon, bordering on whiny.
“Dæmon, I though you said you were in another relationship,” I said, remembering a girl he had brought to dinner once.
“Well…I am…sorta,” admitted Dæmon, “But it’s complicated.”
“I have all night,” I said, getting comfortable.
“I’m sure you’ve heard all these stories about how so and so met Death on the road and stuff,” started Dæmon.
“Oh brother,” I sighed.
“No, Soph, listen. They’re true. It was all me,” said Dæmon in a hushed whisper.
“What?!” I exclaimed, nearly knocking over my water.
“Shh, not so loud,” said Dæmon looking around to make sure no one had heard my outburst.
“How can you be Death? Wouldn’t I be dead by now?” I whispered back.
“I don’t kill everything I touched,” retorted Dæmon.
“Sorry, I just assumed…” I said embarrassed.
“I want to marry you Soph,” said Dæmon
“How many others have you said that to?” I asked, a hint of jealousy beginning to dominate.
“About six,” admitted Dæmon.
“Did they all say yes?” I asked astonished.
“Yes,” said Dæmon.
“Am I just going to be another wife in your collection?” I said, almost accusingly.
“You are not going to be just another part of my collection and neither are they. You’ve met them, you’ve seen their devotion,” said Dæmon almost begging me.
“I’ve…met them?” I asked surprised yet again.
“My ‘sisters’ and ‘cousins,’” nodded Dæmon.
“How was I so dumb not to notice?” I groaned.
“I kept a very good blindfold on you,” said Dæmon.
“Dæmon…I…need some time to think about this. I grew up in a world that doesn’t condone polygamy…I don’t know if I can accept this living arrangement, I don’t know if I can share,” I said finally.
“Soph, I’m asking you tonight because tomorrow you die. I can see your lifespan. Tonight is your last night,” said Dæmon.
“What?! How?!” I blurted out.
Dæmon shrugged, “Do you want to wait and find out? Could be painful.”
I winced, he knew how pain affected me.
“You could spend the rest of forever with me, not to be clichéd or anything,” said Dæmon.
“What have my parents said to this?” I asked, “Have you asked them?”
Dæmon nodded, “Of course. They provided their blessing and consent on the condition that you consented.”
I nodded, “I…love you. There’s no question about that. But sharing you? I don’t know still.”
“Come with me, let me introduce you to my wives. You’ll like them. They’re not so different from you,” said Dæmon taking my hand and leading me from the restaurant.
I was never one for showy, but it was my wedding day and Dæmon spared no expense. The entire town and then some were invited. And of course his six wives. He had been right; I bonded with them immediately. It didn’t seem odd to share, at least not with them.
I got to relish the annoyance of Olivia and Lily Anne, but it didn’t matter anymore. I was dead. I had been dead for over three weeks. I was just a living corpse barely animated by electrical impulses and chemical reactions to go through a ceremony for the sake of my parents. Dæmon had told my parents we would be moving to the big city soon after, so my parents wanted to have a wedding as a sort of goodbye party as well.
“Congratulations,” said Olivia without any sincerity.
“I’m surprised you came,” I returned snarkily.
“Wouldn’t miss the chance to object,” sneered Olivia.
“Too bad you can’t,” I laughed walking away to join Dæmon’s other wives.
“Sophia, you look gorgeous,” said Abigail, his first wife.
I gave her a small smile, “All of you look gorgeous all the time.”
“It comes with time,” reassured Charlotte, his most recent wife.
“I hope so,” I laughed nervously.
A year had passed and not much had changed. I had learned to live peacefully with Dæmon’s other wives and kids. He was right; it wasn’t any different than being married to one man. Dæmon was always fair, splitting his time between each of us and made the most of our time together. I never thought I could be happy, but I was. He was just as affectionate to me as he was to Abigail and Charlotte, Violetta and Arianna, and Michaela and Elizabeth.
“Beth, Abby, do you mind staying with Sophia? She’s gone into labour and I’ve got to get everything ready for when she does give birth. Just calm her down, she’s not good with pain and there’s a lot of pain coming,” called Dæmon running by.
Both women nodded and flew up to my room.
“Sophia, you have to relax. This is no like anything you’ve ever experienced. The child is not human and possesses superhuman strength. You need to relax otherwise you’ll be in more pain than you need to be,” said Abigail kneeling at my side.
“I’m trying,” I said, trying to regulate my breathing.
“I know it’s hard,” reassured Elizabeth, “Just follow my lead. I’ll set out a beat for you follow. I found that it helps when you’re panicking.”
I nodded and tried to follow her lead, but when the contractions began I completely forgot myself and everything Elizabeth had told me.
“Sophia! Calm down!” said Abigail firmly.
“Mmm,” I said hyperventilating.
“How is she doing?” asked Charlotte, peeking in.
“Not good, get Dæmon,” ordered Abigail.
Charlotte nodded and dashed off to find him.
“Charlotte?” asked Dæmon looking up confused.
“Sophia’s already panicking and they’re just contractions…nothing’s actually happening yet,” explained Charlotte.
“Get the others, I’ll be there as soon as preparations are complete,” ordered Dæmon.
Charlotte nodded and ran out grabbing the other women before returning to my room.
“How is she?” asked Charlotte sinking down next to me.
“Not good, her heart rate is unbelievably high,” said Elizabeth.
“Will she make it?” asked Violetta.
Abigail shook her head, “It’s hard to tell right now. Only Dæmon knows. Where is he?”
“He’s finishing up with the preparations. He said he’ll be here once he’s finished,” repeated Charlotte.
“What’s going on?” asked Dæmon flying into the room.
“Sophia doesn’t look like she’ll last,” said Abigail dryly.
Charlotte, Abigail and Elizabeth moved to make room for Dæmon who sank down next to me.
“Soph, you need to calm down…I’m here, everything’s going to be okay,” said Dæmon quietly.
“Dæmon?” I whispered.
He grasped my hand firmly, “Breathe.”
He squeezed my hand creating a beat like Elizabeth had done for me earlier. I concentrated on it trying to regulate my breathing again. It turned out that Dæmon squeezed harder and caused more pain than the contractions and in that way it helped me through it.
“Well done,” smiled Dæmon, picking up the child.
“A boy,” whispered his wives in hushed tones.
I smiled weakly and collapsed on the bed.