The Fourth Kiss

By John Tremblay

Had the snoring finally started? Lucy crept across her bedroom and placed her ear against the wall. Yup, it was time to go.

She tiptoed out the door and down the stairs, each step in tune to that wretched scraping. It was hard to imagine a sound so coarse could come from a creature so small; yet Lucy had learned not to underestimate her pixie housekeeper.

Now, if I can just get the door to open and close without sticking, Lucy mused as she pulled at it. It opened far quicker than she'd wanted.


Lucy held her breath as the snoring stopped. Miss Scuttlebottom coughed a few times and then started snoring again.

Taking a deep breath, Lucy spun around the door and pulled it shut. Though the noise was faint, she could still hear the snoring from outside.

She moved quietly away from the manor house, through her neglected gardens, past the outlaying brush, and down to the water's edge. Mason had warned her not to look around for him. "Blindfold yourself and swim out into the lake. I will meet you there," was what he had written.

Now that she was stripping down naked in the dark of night, Lucy was having second thoughts.

"Be brave," she whispered to herself as she tied the kerchief over her eyes and stepped into the brisk water.

The chill almost made her cry out in shock, but she contained herself and waited for the pain in her limbs to subside a little. Then, doing her best to combat her fear, Lucy marched into the water and swam away from the shore.

Her breath came in short bursts, her body still adjusting to the colder temperatures. When confident she had traveled far enough, she stopped swimming and lightly treaded water.

Everything was still.

And dark.

Ominously dark.

Lucy wanted to take off the blindfold. Surely it wasn't safe for her to be out here by herself. What if something got her? She turned left and saw darkness. She turned right and saw more of the same. It was as though she was in a coffin, laid deep in the ground, with dirt being shoveled over it. Lucy wanted to scream.

"Relax," she whispered, trying desperately to avoid a panic attack.

In the distance she heard something moving through the water.

"Mason?" she called out hesitantly. "Is that you?"

There was no answer, only the sound of rippling water.

Lucy considered her options. She could either stay and get devoured by the cold dark night, or she could flee to safety.

"Mason?" she called out a bit louder this time, deciding that if he didn't answer, she would tear off the blindfold and swim back to shore.

The rippling of the water grew louder. Lucy reached up for the blindfold.

"Boo!" a familiar voice said from somewhere beside her.

"Damn it, Mason," Lucy scolded as she tried to calm herself. "It's bad enough that I'm risking my virtue and my life swimming out here in the darkness; there's no need to make it worse."

He swam up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "I didn't mean to scare you, and I didn't mean to trouble you with this. I just don't have anyone else to turn to."

"What's happened to you?"

Mason paused for a moment, apparently collecting his thoughts. Lucy hadn't known him to be shy of words before.

"I've gotten myself into a bit of trouble," he confessed. "About a week ago, during one of my hunts by the Fearsome Forest, I heard what sounded like a woman crying. When I tracked down the source, I happened upon a vengeful sorceress. To make a long story short, she cursed me with a rather nasty spell that transformed part of my body. If anyone sees my new form, the rest of me gets changed as well."

Lucy's jaw trembled, if not because of the seriousness of Mason's voice than from the coldness of the water. If Lucy didn't help him, their wedding would have to be called off. Tradition dictated that as part of the wedding ceremony, the groom must strip down in front of all attendants, wade across the Crackrock River, and meet his bride on the opposing shore, where he would be given a robe. It symbolized man stripping away his past, cleansing away his sins, and meeting his bride with nothing to hide. Obviously, if there were any changes to his form, being naked in front of everyone would surely reveal them.

"So how is meeting me here going to help?" Lucy asked. "I know nothing about magic."

Mason moved closer towards her and whispered.

"In order to break the spell, I must kiss a single maiden once a day for four days in the presence of each of the four elements in turn: water, earth, fire, and wind. I figured that the likelihood of you seeing what's happened to me is pretty slim in the darkened waters of the lake, even if you had decided to remove the blindfold."

Lucy didn't have any problems kissing her beau, but she wasn't quite sure how she was going to manage to sneak out of the house for the next three nights. She explained about how her father had been called to do business in Dilbenshire a few days prior, and how he hired the pixie housekeeper to make sure Lucy stayed in the manor house while he was away.

"No more strolls through the forest. No more afternoons in the garden. No more herbal hunts. If I disobey, I'm to be locked in my room till my wedding day."

Mason took what she said in stride as he did everything else. "We'll figure out a way to get through this," he said reassuringly, touching her cheek.

Lucy knew that she couldn't resist him.

"I will do what you ask of me," she said solemnly. "Let our love stand against any obstacles that are hurled our way."

He kissed her then, fiercely and deeply, with a passion that took her breath away. For a moment it felt as though her skin was completely warm again and that bells were ringing in the distance. The salty scents of the sea filled her lungs, and visions of shimmering waterfalls filled her mind. Then as suddenly as he began, Mason pulled away from her.

"I will guide you back to the shore to make sure you get there safely. I've left towels and instructions for tomorrow by your clothes. Whatever you do, do not turn back this way after you take off the blindfold. Although I will remain hidden in the water until you leave, all of this will be for nothing if you see me."

Lucy did as requested, though she was tempted to do otherwise. What had happened to Mason that could be so terrible? Had he lost his sunblessed hair? His creamy skin? His azure eyes? Had he put too much weight on his lithe frame? Realizing that her imagination would probably come up with something far more gruesome than the reality of the situation, she focused on getting back into the house.

She eased the door closed behind her, listening for the snoring sounds of Miss Scuttlebottom. Good, she was still asleep. Lucy tiptoed up to her room. Strangely enough, her door was open. She was positive that she had closed it before leaving so that Miss Scuttlebottom would not suspect that she had gone out.
Lucy entered the room and looked around.

Pixie dust glittered on the floor, though that could have easily been from some other occasion when the housekeeper entered her room. There was no way to know if she had been discovered until morning.

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