Four

Jill felt an arm around her waist and she came out from the blackness. She was standing on the edge of the lake, still, and Jack had his arm hooked around her.

“You almost fell in the lake,” he reproved anxiously, removing the arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

For a moment Jill was inclined to agree. Then she recalled the eyes in millions of faces in the lake, staring up at her hungrily. She remembered briefly the words in the eyes of the face she had studied, and everything made sense, from the expectant air of the new house to the greyness of this place.

“No!” she yelled, her voice echoing around the valley.

Jack, startled, spun around.

Jill hastened to explain. “The faces are souls of the prisoners of the master. The master keeps them here; I don’t know why. Can’t you see? We have to rescue them. And the only way to do that is to kill the master!”

Jack hesitated. “Why?”

“Who else will free the souls? Don’t you feel sorry for them?” Jill asked incredulously.

“Yes, but…how do we kill this master?” Jack had given up debating with his sister, as he frequently was forced to do.

“Bleach.”

It did not take as long on the way back to the house to battle the woods, and in under two hours the pair were back at the lakeside with a packet of biscuits, for though they were ravenously hungry they did not intend to pause their quest and eat dinner at home for petty comforts.

“Now for the master’s lair,” said Jill.

“But we don’t know if he has one,” objected Jack, “or if he’s home or wants a cup of bleached tea.”

Jill argued for a second, until she realised that he was right. They didn’t know much beyond the lake and its souls.

“Do you think it would work if we poured the bleach on the lake? It would poison his spell, if you’re right and there is magic,” Jack suggested slowly.

“Of course there is,” Jill retorted briskly. “It can’t poison the souls because they’re already under the spell, which is quite poisonous without our bleach. Our bleach poison will counteract the master’s magic poison.”

“If you’re sure…” Jack began.

To prove herself, Jill snatched the can from her brother and tipped a waterfall of bleach into the deep lake. The water fizzed slightly, then everything was still.

Jill felt disappointed. She was on the verge of defeat when a sudden sharp noise attracted her attention, accompanied by a burst of song.

The grey lake evaporated in sprays of rainbow light and the faces of souls, large and small, fair and dark, rose into the air as swiftly as pigeons, each soul masked by a white veil glittering with a thousand diamonds, and vanished into clouds turned fluffy white. The curtain of mist blocking the mountains lifted, leaving no trace of its presence.

Jill’s delight at this picture was transformed to consternation as she viewed a grey puddle that was all that remained of the great lake. Supposing a soul was still trapped?

She approached it with caution unusual for impulsive Jill, and peered into the small puddle. As soon as she saw the face that greeted her Jill recoiled. Bloodshot eyes bulged like sacks, delirious, and thinning colourless hair bordered a large red face. The remaining soul gnashed his teeth. Jill knew without doubt that it was the master, whose own dark magic had backfired on himself.

The End

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