Mask – Free Sunday Fiction

The man had worn a mask for so long he forgot who he was. He had been wearing the same mask for years and his identity had become a mystery to everyone he met. He did not remember who he was without it; he had forgotten his true identity and existed in a void.
One day, an old man appeared before him and presented him with an opportunity: find out who he was beneath the mask. He could go on a journey of self-discovery, uncovering memories and experiences hidden away by the mask.

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Edmund de Wight

He had started wearing the mask during the pandemic; at least that’s what he thought.
The mask had been on his face for what felt like a lifetime. Did he start wearing it before it became mandatory? He couldn’t remember. He never removed the mask, even for sleep. It was comforting wearing it all the time. Even when eating, he only lifted the mask just enough to place food into his mouth and then he would lower it again.
The mask was nothing special, a black cloth shaped to fit the lower face from beneath the chin to the bridge of the nose. Silver thread on the seams was its only claim to being fancy.
One good side effect of his permanent masked state was that he had not had a cold or allergy in longer than he could remember.
Of course, remembering was the problem.
He was the man in the mask. He had been this anonymous figure for so long that he could not remember who he was. It wasn’t posturing, attempting to be mysterious – he honestly could not remember his name or, truth be told, what he really looked like without the mask.
The pandemic rules had run their course over a year ago but still, he wore the mask. People had become so used to seeing others masked that no one looked askance at him. He saw the occasional masked person on the street but he was pretty sure that they removed their masks in private and he doubted that they had lost their identity to the mask.
There were times that he wondered if something was wrong with not remembering who he was. He was happy enough in his life. He lived alone, and had a seemingly endless supply of money – not that he could remember how he obtained such wealth. He was quite content to just walk the streets of the small desert town where he lived ignoring everyone.
He was on just such a walk when the old man accosted him.
“You know, you’re more than a mask, right?”
The old man sat on one of the innumerable public benches that lined the streets and parks of the town. He wore dark gray slacks and a matching button-up shirt. Heavy brown workboots covered his feet but he was far too old for the laborer he appeared. He had long black hair and dark brown skin that was a twisting canvas of wrinkles. His skin was so pocked and wrinkled that his mouth almost disappeared into the plethora of lines. It was only the sudden appearance of brilliant white teeth that allowed him to locate the source of the voice in all the lines of that craggy face.
“Excuse me?”
“Why don’t you take off the mask?”
“I find it comfortable. It … completes me.”
“Your mask has stolen your identity.”
“What? How the hell could you know that?”
“No man should travel through life bereft of his name and history. I can help you retrieve what you have lost.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Choro and I am a shaman. My father was a shaman as was his father before him back to the beginning of time. I can feel your loss. I see the black emptiness that sits behind the cloth on your face. It would be a mistake to never find yourself again, a man cannot move to the next level of existence without knowing himself. If you are willing, I can help you.”
He had to admit, he was intrigued. How could the old man have known that he had lost his memory of himself? If it was a trick, it was a good one.
“OK, so what’s it going to cost me?”
“Nothing at all. I am compelled by greater powers than me to act—but I wouldn’t turn down a pack of cigarettes.”
“Say I want to do this, what does it entail?”
The old man rose from the bench with a symphony of creaks and pops as his ancient joints moved.
“Do you know the ruins of the old pueblo outside of town?”
The man nodded.
“Meet me there as the sun sets tonight and we will discover who you are. Be warned though, we will release your hidden memories and open the door to your soul. The truth is often painful to confront.”
Without another word, the old man hobbled away.
The man touched his mask. It could be nice to know who he was. Perhaps he had a family that missed him or a dear friend who pined over his loss. He had to admit, while content, his life was empty. Every day was the same as the one before. Perhaps if he knew who he was new vistas would open up to him.
Of course, the old man was probably a crackpot who would wave around some sage and chant and he would return to his masked existence with nothing gained.
What the hell? It could be interesting, he’d even get the old geezer that pack of cigarettes he wanted.
Sunset found the man in the mask approaching the partial walls and tumbled buildings of the old pueblo. Natives had last occupied it over a hundred years ago according to people in the town. There was a flicker of flame coming from one roofless building, it was probably the old shaman.
The old man had added a fringed jacket to his ensemble and red and yellow designs were painted on his face. The man didn’t know what the swirls and squiggles meant but it was clearly something meaningful to the old man who stood like a statue next to a roaring fire. His face was solemn and he held a large square shape covered in black cloth to his chest.
“Sit across the fire from me.”
The man was surprised by the lack of a preamble but did as he was instructed. No sooner had he settled than the old man reached into a pocket and threw a pouch into the fire. There was an explosion of sparks and brilliant reds, greens, blues, and purples raced through the flames. A gout of smoke rose from the colored flames filled with sparkling motes.
“Breathe in the smoke. Do it!”
The man in the mask leaned forward and sniffed through the cloth.
“Remove your mask. The smoke is for you, do not let the mask stop it as it has stopped you from remembering.”
The man touched the cord holding the mask to his face. He hesitated. He never removed the mask. It would be worse than being naked before the old man.
“Do it or live in darkness.”
The old man was so passionate in his demand. The shattered room filled with smoke and the old man was breathing it without obvious ill effect. He reached for the mask again and hesitated once more. The mask was more than a piece of cloth, it was his identity, his essence. But what if there was more?
He ripped the mask from his face and the old man removed the cloth from the object in his hand at the same time.
The now maskless man stared into a mirror. The face that greeted him was handsome with a sharp blade of a nose and a powerful jaw. It was a face that could inspire women to lust and men to envy.
The smoke was acrid but had a sweet scent just the same. It filled his lungs as he breathed without the protection of the mask. His eyes burned and the image in the mirror seemed to waver. The colors of the flame danced across the mirror changing his face from beautiful to demonic, and then from evil to angelic. It was disorienting. How was the old man doing this? Was it some sort of computer tablet?
The world spun around him as he stared, captivated by the changes overtaking his face. The mirror filled with smoke and he saw himself once more, not in reflection but as if he were watching himself on television.
He stood in a large room with dark wood and expensive furniture. Was that his house? He marched across the room to a row of chairs. Five chairs stood in a row and to each was bound a person. A man, a woman, and three young children, two boys, and a girl. They were bound to the chairs with parachute cord that was cinched so tightly it made it hard for the captives to breathe.
He knew the man holding the family captive. Kelly O’Rourke, a thief, a bookie, a thug—him.
But it couldn’t be him, he wasn’t a criminal, was he? How could he forget something like that?
He tried to rise, to move away from the visions before him but he was paralyzed, bound in place as firmly as the captives in the mirror.
The children and woman wept uncontrollably and the man, Kelly, saw his image punch the captive man in the face. He shouted at the man but no sound came from the mirror. In the back of his mind, he could hear echoes of the captives weeping and begging for their lives.
The captive shook his head and Kelly watched his doppelganger walk over to the woman. He beat her mercilessly, turning to shout at the man with each blow but still the captive shook his head in negation.
Mirror Kelly reached into his waistband and pull out a pistol.
One, two, three, without hesitation he shot each of the children in turn. Their tiny chests exploded in sprays of blood. The captive screamed, and Kelly screamed in horror where he sat, forced to watch the tableau.
Mirror Kelly shouted at his captive again. The captive hung his head and spoke. Mirror Kelly crossed the room and opened a panel in a wall. Within was an enormous safe, taller than he was. He spun the dial and then opened the door. Inside were stacks of money, there must be millions.
Was that where his wealth came from? Had he murdered to become rich?
Mirror Kelly crossed back to the captive and shot him in the head.
No. No, he didn’t want to watch this anymore. He was a monster and the vision wasn’t finished with him. Mirror Kelly stood over the weeping battered woman.
Please, at least let her live Kelly pleaded in his mind as he cringed in anticipation of some new horror.
Mirror Kelly untied the woman and then raped her next to the bodies of her dead family before shooting her.
The vision ended and the mirror once more showed Kelly’s tear-streaked face.
He wept uncontrollably. How could he have done these things? Why?
He knew who he was now. He was a thief and a killer. He was an evil man. He wished he had never agreed to remember who he was. He groped for his mask, maybe it could take away his memory again. His questing fingers found the cloth and brought it to his face but it was scorched by the flames, burned through, and useless.
“You have found yourself again, devil. There is no respite for such as you. I curse you to suffer the tortures you inflicted upon others for all time.”
Kelly looked up at the old man. He was still paralyzed and locked in place before the mirror. The old man faded away becoming a ghost and then swirling smoke. The mirror clouded over again, preparing to torture Kelly with his next series of crimes. Unable to move, he screamed in horror, alone in the ruins, with the shame of what he had done.


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