I’ll tell you about one of my more interesting finds.
I was in a little store – the kind that looks like a dirty old pawn shop from the outside, but once you get in, there’s that sweet-rot smell and the heavy, wet air almost chokes you, and the man at the register won’t tell you where he got any of it, just smiles like it’s some sort of inside joke that you’re asking. Which it sort of is, once you’ve gotten to know these places.
Anyway, I was in one of these stores, delighted I found it, sometimes it seems like they open up and close down again overnight, you can never find the same one twice unless you’re lucky.
I’m not lucky.
That was probably why, I guess, in retrospect, I was drawn to this one object. It was a doll, one of those big baby dolls, the size of a real infant. It was wearing footie pajamas. Modern ones, too, and there were tiny white gloves on the hands – they must have been made just for the doll, the footies could have come from any Babies R Us but I’ve never seen gloves like that for a baby. They might have been leather; at least, they looked like leather.
And the mask, too. That was definitely specially made. Hand-painted. A jester’s mask, with the coy little smile and the geometric blocks of garish color, like something beautiful and untouchable that just happens to look human. The eyes of the mask had gold coins glued over them.
“It brings luck.” The man from the cash register was suddenly behind me, apparently having noticed my interest in the doll.
“Even if you come by it…dishonestly?” I asked. You know, to many of these objects, that sort of thing matters. It’s hard to find ones that still work as intended in these sorts of stores.
“Especially if you come by it dishonestly,” he informed me with a grin.
A lot of teeth, he had.
Like I said, I’m not lucky. So I bought it. It was too fragile for my inexperienced hands to touch, apparently; he put it in a display box for me, softwood, with silk. To keep it happy, he said.
The last thing he told me was, “give it a good home.”
And then, “don’t look behind the mask.”
Until he said that, it hadn’t really occurred to me that there might be anything behind the mask to look at. If he hadn’t said it, I might never have wondered.
I left the idea alone at first, of course. He had said don’t look behind the mask; so I wouldn’t. Proper care is very important for items like this. I left it offerings, as well; he hadn’t said to do this, but if he thought the silk would please it, I assumed giving it more things couldn’t hurt.
A bad assumption, of course. I’ve learned since then that leaving offerings for something you know little about can hurt you very much. But that’s a different story entirely.
My luck did turn; I was making more money, finding more curiosities, especially ones that worked. Selling more, too, although sales are one of the things I never had to worry about. Building a good reputation is one way to deal with bad luck.
But the idea began to eat at me. What was behind the mask?
I tried to ignore it. I even started adding it to my list of reminders, that I usually only use for objects I’m not familiar with yet.
one drop of pig’s blood daily for bone wolf
do not look directly in fetish eyes
do not look behind the mask
That’s just an example. With the luck I was having at the time, my list was often much longer than that. But the admonishment to myself about the mask became a permanent fixture on it. I needed the reminding; I’ve always been a curious person, I think it’s how one gets into this kind of work.
I can’t say the reminder stopped working. It’s not like I woke up one day and was so overcome by curiosity that I looked without even thinking about it. I don’t think the thing was drawing me to look. I just made the conscious decision to investigate; hard deal having something in your house and not knowing what, exactly, it is.
So I decided to look behind the mask. Set the box down on my table – the big black oak one I use when I’m not sure what will happen – and put on some latex gloves (you can never be too careful with things like this). And I lifted up the mask.
The face underneath was withered, cracked, mummified by dusty, dry storage. The drying skin had pulled the lips up into a little smile, mimicking the mask. It looked eerie. Babies that age can’t smile.
The eyes must have been glass. They looked wet, though. Real. Like they were looking at me. Laughing at me, with that little smile.
I guess it should have occurred to me sooner that there’s a really high price to pay for good luck. For somebody to pay, anyways. I wasn’t the one who paid it.
That’s why I sold the thing, eventually. I enjoyed being lucky, but it didn’t sit easy with me, buying stolen luck. A stolen life, really. That baby couldn’t have died naturally. Otherwise it wouldn’t have any luck to give, would it?