by Holly Woodward

Queen Ravanrola forbade her subjects to appear in her dreams on pain of death. Of course, her rebellious people ran riot in her head while she slept. After the first executions, the dead returned to haunt her nightmares. She ordered the condemned exhumed and stabbed again and again.

The bored and lonely queen put on masks and wandered through the realm. When the strangers she’d seen in the streets reappeared in dreams, she sentenced them to death. Soon, all who lived in Ravan took disguises, a new one each day, so they couldn’t be traced. Even the dying begged to be buried with their faces covered, to be safe.

But who was who? Was the doctor who knelt by one’s bedside the butcher, or the queen’s henchman? People never gave their real names.

In the dead of night, the queen screamed herself awake. In her dreams, every time she dug up her victims, they had different faces.

Then the Ravanians carved masks with Ravanrola’s likeness. After seeing only her own face on everyone for so long, the queen saw herself in a dream. The figure sat on her throne and raised a finger of condemnation toward the dreamer.

Ravanrola woke and silently slipped from her royal compound.

After she disappeared, the palace ruins burnt down. Ravanians slowly stripped their masks, tearing their skin. Children unearthed dead parents, broke the death masks, and for the first time looked on their true faces.

Meanwhile, the town madwoman crouched behind the tombstones, muttering through her mask, “Beware. She lies there,” at each open grave.

No one listened.

Holly Woodward is an artist and writer whose works have won over a hundred honors. She spent a year as a doctoral fellow at Moscow University; she also studied for two semesters at Saint Petersburg U. She served as writer in residence at Saint Albans, Washington National Cathedral. Holly was a fiction fellow at CUNY’s Writers Institute for the last four years.