Sunday, July 9, 2017
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Yeung Rev 1
Name: Adelle Yeung
Genre: YA historical urban fantasy
Title: The House with Two Faces
Polino specialized in bringing his headless dove back to life.
In the center of Union Square, the teenage magician raised his innocent bird’s head for all to see. The small crowd gasped and cracked uncertain smiles. Some even huddled to shield each other from the chill of the fog, or perhaps to offer comfort after witnessing needless slaughter. Polino’s grin meant to assure them that he had everything under control. Anyone could harm a helpless animal, but only a magnificent magician could reverse the damage.
Polino waved a red silk handkerchief over Merlin’s head and the wooden box containing the rest of the ring-necked dove. With one last dramatic flourish, Polino swept the handkerchief away and revealed the unharmed Merlin, his gray wings spread as if to say, “Ta-dah!”
The onlookers erupted into applause. Women in cloche hats sighed with relief and delight. Men in fedoras and bowlers nodded at Polino as they dropped spare change in the magician’s newsboy cap. Polino beamed and bowed at the passersby, noticing again that the only one who didn’t clap or tip was the pretty woman in the periwinkle coat.
Every day for the past week, she had watched Polino from beginning to end, wearing a perpetually pleasant smile. It wasn’t a condescending one, nor was it overly amused. It was knowing.
After all, she was the only one in the audience who knew Polino’s greatest illusion: he was actually a girl.
Even when Polino performed as plain Paula Mendez, the woman had distracted male audience members with her heart-shaped alabaster face, rose-kissed cheeks, and striking blue eyes that matched her coat. Unlike many modern ladies, who wore their hair short and stuffed into berets or cloches, this woman’s sleek black hair flowed freely down her back. The last few times they spoke, Paula had noticed something uncanny about the way her head moved, as if her shoulders had a mind of their own.
As the crowd trickled away, the woman approached. Paula clenched her teeth to suppress a groan, knowing what the woman would say before parting her luscious lips.
“Master Mortison is holding auditions right now. You can still make it on time.” Her voice was melodic and syrupy sweet, and it would have worked magic on the men who stared at her, but Paula did not share their desires.
Maintaining her boyish tone, but straining politeness, Paula said, “Thank you for the reminder.”
She would have liked to say, “Beat it!” but Paula didn’t want to shoot her career in the foot. Infamy spread through the streets like San Francisco fog.
Paula secured Merlin into his brass traveling cage, packed her props, and stuffed the coins from her hat into her jacket pockets. She wiggled the newsboy cap over her dark hair and said, “Best of luck on your own auditions, Miss.” She clasped her trunk shut. Its wheels crunched against damp gravel as she left her post at the Dewey Monument.
“It is wasted potential, girlie.”
Paula forced a smile and dropped her masculine voice. Polino had left his stage, so Paula needn’t prolong the act. “I appreciate your advice. I do. But I will not settle for a lesser position simply so I can perform in a ritzy theater.”
“Under Master Mortison’s employment, you won’t have to worry about scrounging enough coins to pay next month’s rent.”
“Go razz some other gal, why don’t you?” Shaking her head, Paula started down Geary Street.
For the past few days, the woman had notified Paula of Master Mortison’s open casting call for a new lovely assistant. Two blocks south of Union Square, on Ellis Street, the glamorous, glittering lights of the Cort Theater illuminated the weekly show posters of the handsome magician.
Paula refused to audition as Master Mortison’s next nameless assistant. She had more pride than to stand on stage as living furniture.
Paula’s pockets jingled as she rolled her trunk down Geary. The weight of the coins stretched her jacket. It was more than she earned when she performed as a girl, and Paula knew she could pay December’s rent on time.
Nearing her apartment on the corner of Geary and Leavenworth, Paula’s shoulders sagged. She could already hear the croak of Mister O’Brien, her landlord. The old grump didn’t have the heart to evict her, despite his nagging to pay rent on time. Paula usually ignored him until she could slip him enough loose change.
“Miss Mendez!” his voice graveled from beyond the shadows of the front desk. “Hard at work, I hear.” He meant the clinking of her pockets.
“I already paid you off last Tuesday,” Paula said.
“Well, good afternoon to you too.”
With Merlin’s cage underarm, Paula clunked her trunk up the dark staircase, recalling the prior. She had dressed as a girl that day, to celebrate the first time women all over the country could vote, even though Paula was three years from the age of majority.
Still, on her eighteenth birthday, Paula had filed for emancipation from her foster mother, Margaret Sullivan. Paula bore no resentment for the woman who had raised her since she was four, but Mama Sully struggled with Paula’s nine foster siblings, and Paula figured that making any money at all—no matter how much she struggled—meant she could sign her own lease.
Paula didn’t consider the tiny, dim apartment a real home, but it was somewhere she could sleep and eat, and Merlin didn’t complain about the tight quarters or the lingering odor of laundry that had never dried properly. Paula released Merlin from his traveling cage and spread seed for him over the kitchen’s folding table. She emptied her pockets into a ceramic container with the rest of her money and grinned at the small heap of tarnished, linty coins.
She started undressing on the way to her wardrobe, longing for the release of an unbound chest. The long strip of tight cloth unraveled from her flattened breasts, and Paula slouched forth with a sigh as the last inch curled into a roll.
As she hung up her clothes, Paula considered her closing act. Reattaching Merlin’s head was becoming her signature illusion, but Polino wasn’t a one-trick pony.
Paula’s best acts featured Merlin the dove as her assistant. Whenever he was visible, Paula ensured he had a task, like pulling a handkerchief from her pocket or choosing a member from the crowd. He had no reason to complain he was a mere prop. He also couldn’t talk.
Before she managed to pull a nightgown over her head, Paula jumped at the sound of her front door opening and stumbled against her wardrobe. She hastened to cover herself properly and twirled to face the door. Merlin flew to her head. Paula grabbed the nearest weapon—a black umbrella—and thrust it forth like a rapier.
Beneath dusty incandescent light, the woman in the periwinkle coat stood in the doorway. Although she whimpered, her porcelain face stared at Paula, with that eerie, pleasant smile. She scrawled on a note against the door, and Paula then realized her head was twisted backwards.
Paula shrieked and stumbled, crashing onto the floor. She harpooned the umbrella, but it fell flat, and she frantically kicked herself toward her bed. The head of the black-haired woman slipped away from the rest of her body.
She had two faces.