The scene shifted, paint on a canvas smearing, and Glen became a black satin stain beneath layers of paint, the crimson and commanding presence disappearing as the world rearranged itself.
The many Jacks faded into the background too, until he couldn't tell if they remained mirrors—(mirrors hidden within the many halls and rooms, built within the walls of his heart)—or if they were strangers and friends again; other people, not himself.
The pillars to the ballroom slowly dissolved, as if in water, changing into a courtyard green sprouting up all around.
The music had always been an unfamiliar tune he was expected to inherently know the moves to. And no matter how much he listened to it, it never became innate. Now, after all this time, it morphed into something familiar. But familiar did not mean un-painful or un-maddening.
The soft tune of a pocket watch tiptoed on his brain, each footfall a syringe in his thoughts, dripping cold beautiful insanity slowly into his soul, one drop at a time, infecting it until it blocked out every other melody, and his feet forgot the moves he had so ruthlessly sewn in.
When he turned, the source was behind him; a man standing in the courtyard. All black now; black hair, black cloak. No crimson. Like he never spilt her blood. Like she never existed in the first place. All black…except for the eyes. Gaze fluctuating between daggers…and some emotion he was struggling to keep from escaping; the leader, and the broken boy, crying on the ground. Soot with sparks buried within; glints of violet, glints of gold. Glitches of empathy in the perfect program. His eyes focused on the pocket watch—(a glint in the dark itself)—until they flicked to him, and Jack felt those eyes as a sword at his throat.
At the shift in his gaze, the scene itself turned over again, wind blowing by him, a single spark of violet glowing in the blurred tapestry, and ever, ever that melody, slowly corroding him.
Glen sat in the grass on a sunny day, those violet blades sheathed as he bathed in the afternoon sunlight.
The first respite from the dance in all these years. A rest in the measure.
Glen, sitting in the sunlight. Glen, playing the piano—always that single, haunting melody, laced with a name, filling up Jack's mind with the harmony until he was drowning in its sound, and could think no other word.
That melody, that word, and her voice—(A memory of her voice, soon given to him by a bloodstained black rabbit)—pulling him through the blurred universe to a balcony, drawn there like he was ink on a canvas, subject to the whims of the artist.
Brown hair, like hers.
Violet eyes, like his.
Her existence was not tied down. As if it was a part of the smear itself, and not the concrete picture beneath it. She was a part of all these mistakes the artist tried to smudge out.
Jack pulled a white rose from his pocket.
He offered her a red rose.
"Would you care to dance, Alice?"
A little girl held the keys to those chains—held them, held by them all the same; that is to say her world would fall into the dark too, if the bounds were to break. A little girl chose the music, the steps. A little girl ruled the world.
Is that why they call it insanity?
Gods may be fixed in the sky, watching all our misdeeds, and we believe in them, not they us, but children can be made to believe anything. Such as: men who come down the chimney do so to give them presents, that putting their teeth beneath pillows is anything more than gross. One can make them believe the world isn't made of malice. You can make them believe you haven't sewn your mask—and the things you stole to get those jewels, things like lives—into the skin. You can make them think you're a hero coming to save them, make them more than a blur, a mistake, a prisoner of their own creation, but a part of something real and concrete, when you're just using them, like everyone else will. Naiveté is powerful and dangerous in that way.
I heard her voice one day. Lacie's. Not just in my memories. This was real, one piece of her reaching out to me from the black.
She had this toy rabbit. A toy, yes, but to a god, a toy can be a thinking, living, breathing, thing, with nothing more than a thought to animate it. Dolls and figures can be princesses and princes, and their knights and soldiers. Children dream. And lonely children dream the most. And a lonely god is a dangerous thing indeed. Especially a child god, surrounded by lifeless toys. Dangerous, because of the stories they tell themselves in the silence can become real indeed.
It was this toy that brought her voice to me, like a gift, physical thing. Packaged up a memory and sent it off to me.
So it was back to the dance. But this time it was different. Because even if there were other melodies out there somewhere, other moves to know, my ears only heard one twinkling pocket watch, my feet would only obey one conductor.
And this melody was not bound by little girls, and lonely gods, and broken, blood struck leaders. This one I could make up my own moves to, intertwine them with the motions and melodies of the rest of the world, so no one would know I was dancing to my own song.
This rabbit, the one who brought her voice to me had a name. Oz—(like Oswald…but not like him at all)—was to be my chain. A chain different from the rest. A chain that was not friendship, or love, or hate, or malice. A chain that was not sanity or insanity. A chain that was not keeping the world upright. A chain to break all other chains. Bringing her to me. Tying me to her. My chain, to destroy all the chains keeping me from hearing her voice again, and her from the world she loved.
A god who creates something that can destroy their world is dangerous indeed.
Little girls and their dolls, toy rabbits and puppet kings, a tear or two, and some spilled blood couldn't stop me now.
The world blurred in black and white, gold and red, violet and green.
Which color was real?
Was it the black and white; just the game of chess?
Was it the endless violet in the king's eyes?
The gold of shimmering lights, and the eyes of scared little boys just trying to help?
Was it the green, the vibrant, envious green of his clothes, his eyes?
Or was it all the red they spilled?
And there was. So much red. One could have painted with it. He did. The floors. The walls. The roses he once promised she'd see. The world.
But even within those colors… nothing was quite solid, quite sure.
Because the gold didn't shimmer anymore. Those golden eyes were full of fear, determination. They didn't gleam with false riches, but with real poverty; a poverty that comes not from losing your money, but losing your friends, or your sanity.
Because that green wasn't the vibrant bloom of a garden. It was not envy or eternity or ephemerality and it—he—too was dyed with red.
Because when Oswald truly put a sword to Jack's throat his eyes held no sting. Those violet blades held nothing more than infinite sorrow. He called him his friend. But he saw him at the end of a sword, at the end of themselves, at the end of the world.
Or at least, that was Jack's goal.
But the king made sure the only world that ended was their own, cutting off the hand for the sake of the rest of the body. Gouging out the eye for the sake of the face.
And there was another Jack trapped within the reflection on the sword—(mask or real?)—looking like a broken thing determined to hold itself together. And when something gets to that point, is broken enough…it doesn't care. About much of anything. Not itself. Not the friend on the other end. Just whatever it is holding itself together.
The king's head is lying on the board.
Jack is calling his name, cradling his red-stained head in his hands, tears smearing the green of his eyes.
How did he die? Who killed him? How can he make them pay?
But his hands are covered in blood.
What's the mask? The blood? Or the tears?
And now everything, once too blurred, once just a smear on a canvas, a move in the midst of a dance, is too real, too concrete, too irreversible.
Checkmate. But he doesn't feel like he's won the game.
And as he cries, as he screams and demands why, the masks peer out of the corners of the board, stare his way, snickering at him from the hidden passageways deep inside him.
The closer he got to his goal, the more those chains fell apart, finally creating his own moves to the dance…the less he he noticed something wrapping around his arms, his legs.
He rushed to the tower where the god-girl will grant his wishes at last—the bottle for the genie—where he will be free.
And she would have granted him all, if only he would have freed her from her bottle.
She wouldn't have hesitated to destroy the world for him.
Were it not for her other half, the rabbit's tears, and a pair of scissors.
At last the machine remembers the wrench; the one that tried to change the patterns, the melody, long ago, all for a single distortion in the system that shouldn't have been there in the first place. The one whom its gears once kicked to the bottom, the one who clawed his way back up. And it knows kicking him back down there again won't be enough.
Fine. If he wanted to change the system, the dance, the melody, then the system would exclude him, treat him as an error. The dance will leave him with everything he wanted, everything he was, everything he created.
He opens his eyes.
There is no ballroom. No dance. No dancers. …Maybe there never was.
A cell. Or at least, he thinks it is, but he doesn't see any walls or floors, just navy darkness, and a crack in the dimension above, like a slit in the prison door, letting in the tiniest bit of light.
He takes a step.
There's a sloshing noise.
So there's water in the bottom of this cell. Is the prison's being flooded? He ought to tell the guards.
One more step.
Something cuts the air. A terrible sound; like somebody took a beautiful thing and melted it down, and melded it into something it was never meant to be.
Laughter. Twisted, reckless, mirthless, soulless laughter. As if he stepped on a malfunctioning Jack-in-the-box, with no need for the song.
There's no music anymore. And the the absence of it threatens to suffocate him.
Another step, another laugh, different, but no less jagged.
He doesn't want to look down. Doesn't want to see. To face it. He knows. He knows what he'll find there.
But he does it anyways.
Beside his foot is a mask. A fine porcelain one, like from a theater, that would cover the whole face. The slit-eyes are curved down, the mouth curved up, to signify happiness.
It's the ugliest thing he's ever seen.
But he knows, if he were to put it on, it would fit his handsome face perfectly.
He puts a hand over his mouth to barricade the sick, to cloister his silver tongue, and takes a step back.
But when he does, another warped sound wrenches open the air. This time it's crying.
He spins around. His heel is on another mask.
But, as he looks upon it, his eyes are pulled upward as if on strings. There is something far worse behind him. It's like a snowy mountain.
Masks, endless, empty, lifeless masks. This place is surely built upon them.
All the masks he ever wore.
Does he even have a face anymore?