“You’ve got thirty seconds to explain to me what you’re doing here,” Rebecca Anniston said, staring in disbelief at the man in the sample lab. It was a secure area, no one should be here, let alone a scruffy, bearded man with a long multi-coloured scarf around his neck. “Or I’ll call security.” She pulled a paging device from her pocket.
“Now steady on, lass, steady on.” The man’s face lit up with a beam. “Maybe I’m here to help you.”
“What are you talking about.”
“Well, this masquerade ball tonight, you’d like to go, eh?”
Rebecca felt a stab of emotion. She wanted to go, but tickets were like gold-dust, she’d heard they were practically sold out already. Anyway, she had no one to go with and, well, she was only a lowly lab assistant, out of place with all the biochemists and other scientists. “Look, who are you?”
“Listen lass, maybe I’m your ‘hairy godfather,’ maybe I can get you into that ball!” The man did a little jig, twirling the ends of his brightly-coloured scarf around.
Rebecca smiled despite herself. “Oh, yeah, how could you do that?”
He became serious and took something out of a pocket of his long coat. Gingerly, he handed it to Rebecca.
She took it, feeling its weight and looking in awe at an amulet, for all the world made of solid silver, dulled by age and with hieroglyphics and strange symbols engraved on it.
“Put it on at eight o’clock tonight and say these words three times ….”
He made her repeat the phrase till he was sure she would remember it. “You can say the words, or wear the amulet, but only ever do both at the same time, at eight o’clock, understand?”
Rebecca nodded, then a phone rang. “Sorry, I have to take this.” She walked across the lab. “I’ll do what you say. But why do you want to help me?” She lifted the receiver, turning back to the sight of an empty room.
“For heaven’s sake, Rebecca, where’s the report on those blood samples? It’s urgent.” It was Millicent Leggatt-Jones, a woman whose post-nominal initials went across the best part of a page of A4.
Rebecca looked into Millicent’s cold green eyes, which were narrowing with every passing second. The woman was in her early forties, tall, slim, attractive to men in a way Rebecca couldn’t understand. They never seemed interested in her, though her grandmother had always told her how good-looking she was. Maybe it was a power thing?
“Rebecca, are you dumb? I asked you a question!”
“Oh, er, sorry, Millicent, yes, I’m collating them. Almost finished.” She crossed her fingers behind her back.
“Good, well hurry up.” Millicent relaxed a little. “Are you going to the ball tonight?”
Rebecca blushed. “No, I couldn’t get a ticket.”
Millicent nodded. “Yes, they didn’t allow for the demand. Too bad you can’t come, I’m looking forward to it tremendously.” She stifled a smile. “I’m going with Alan Gordon, you know, the VP.” With that she turned and her long slim legs propelled her out of the laboratory.
Eight o’clock came and Rebecca stood in the bedroom of her cramped apartment, turning the amulet over in her fingers nervously. It couldn’t be true. And just who was that guy anyway? But there was no denying the amulet was something very special. She slipped it over her slim wrist. Here goes! She closed her eyes and said the words three times as instructed, hardly daring to believe anything would happen.
Nothing, she felt exactly the same as before. She let out a sigh. Then a car hooted outside and she opened her eyes and looked out of the window to see a black limousine. Looking in the mirror, she was amazed to see herself in a magnificent ball gown of emerald green, her face made up with just the right amount of powder, lipstick and mascara, and her hair piled up in gorgeous curls. And on the table, a precious ticket. She felt dizzy with excitement.
The early morning sunlight penetrated the curtains and Rebecca slowly surfaced to consciousness. She’d had the most marvellous dream. She’d been spirited to the ball by a man in a black suit and sunglasses. The place had been packed and a band played wonderful Latin-style music. She found herself dancing with Vernon Covey, the CEO no less, whilst nearby, Millicent was wrapped around the VP. The chauffeur had said they must leave by midnight, or he would turn into a frog and the limousine into a horse and cart, so she’d said her goodbyes and left, feeling the CEO’s lingering kiss still on her lips.
She jerked fully awake. Hang on a minute, that was no dream! The silver amulet lay on the bedside table. Also lying there was Vernon’s card, with his private mobile number written on it in ink.
Some had worn extravagant masks with faces like birds, others had disguises with long pointed noses, but Rebecca’s and Millicent’s masks had been around the eyes only; it was clear who was who. As Rebecca got up to get ready for work, she smiled at the memory of Millicent’s thunderstruck face when she realised who was dancing with the rich and handsome CEO. Perhaps today’s routine of testing blood samples might be a little more interesting!
Featured in the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural
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