The Masked Man
Ever since this coronavirus pandemic began, everyone’s been forced to wear these obnoxiously stuffy masks. I never bothered to stock up on them, being the introvert I am, but now that school’s starting, I guess I should. It’s slightly better than dying.
I set out with the last mask I have, and a light jumper to keep out the cold. As I step out the door a blast of cold wind hits me. How did the days go by so fast? It seems like only a couple days before the summer sun had been warming the streets. I hurry to the nearby corner shop, trying to avoid the crowds. I enter the shop and am greeted by an eerie silence. The shop is usually empty but never this quiet.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” I yell into the quiet.
“Over here! Welcome to my humble shop! Are you new here?” a strange man asks.
“I’m good, but who are you? I come here often and I don’t recognize you,” I reply in confusion.
“Oh, this shop is my uncle’s. I’m just watching it for today,” he replies in a muffled voice.
I notice he’s wearing some sort of a bandana as a mask, which reminds me of why I’m here.
“Do you happen to have any masks in stock?” you ask.
“It’s your lucky day! We have one box left!” he replies in what I assume is a cheerful voice.
It’s really hard to tell what people are feeling with these masks covering everyone’s faces. I walk over to the counter and pay for the box of masks.
“Those are some really nice masks by the way. They really stay snug on your face. Great for keeping the germs out!” the cashier states.
“That’s good to hear,” I reply as I take the box of masks and look up at him.
Now that I’m closer, I notice that the skin around his bandana looks red and puffy. Must be from the chaffing of these annoying masks. Why did this pandemic thing have to happen anyways?
“Well, I should get going now. I have some chores to do,” I say as I turn to leave the shop.
As I walk towards the door I hear the man clear his throat.
“It gets a little lonely around here, running the shop on my own. Would you mind… Oh what am I saying, of course you wouldn’t. We have nothing in common anyways.”
As much as I want to ignore him and walk away, I feel bad for the man.
Turning around I reply, “No no, go on.”
“It’s just… Would you be willing to spend some time with me sometime? You know, go for a walk? Or just talk… ”
“Sure. Maybe after I’m done my chores I can come back and we could chat for a little,” I reply hesitantly. It won’t be that bad right? I mean, it’ll only be for a little while. Until the owner’s back.
“Thanks! I appreciate it! See you soon!” he exclaims excitedly.
Poor man I think to myself as I wave goodbye. He must be really lonely in here. I sure would be.
It’s a few days later when I need to wear a mask outside. My parents keep pestering me about being locked up in the house so I decide to go out for a walk. I put on the mask and immediately love how snug it feels on my face. I test it out by faking a yawn and shaking my head, but it’s not going anywhere. The only thing that I find annoying is how trapped I feel with it on.
I hurry outside, looking forward to coming home and taking off the mask as soon as possible. A couple minutes into the walk I feel the mask getting tighter around my face so I adjust it. There’s barely any room between the mask and my face, but I manage to loosen it enough to let some air in.
Soon, it begins to rain and the park begins to empty out. I take it as a sign to start heading home, so I turn around. As I begin the short walk home I feel the mask tightening around my face again. I raise my hand to loosen it but I can’t seem to find the space between the mask and my face. I trace the edge of the mask looking for a small space to pull it away from my skin but still can’t find a gap.
I start to breathe faster as the mask continues to tighten around my nose and mouth, cutting the air out. I can barely move my mouth as I struggle to yell out for help. My vision begins to darken as I fall to the ground, clawing at my throat. As I begin to lose consciousness I see the man from the shop walking towards me. Weakly, I raise my arms towards him, begging him to help as the mask grows tighter.
I NEED AIR!
As I last ditch attempt I reach out for anything around me. Anything to get this demon of a mask off me! My fingers curl around a cold glass bottle. Struggling to keep my hold on it, I raise my hand and smash the bottle into the floor. I feel the sting of broken glass cutting into my hand as I raise the bottle to my face and cut into my flesh. I cut the mask off my face, sawing it off with the broken bottle edge. Crying out in pain I tear apart my tender face. The bloodstained mask falls to the floor as I suck in air. My vision returns, and I look down to see the mask, the skin still stuck to the cloth. The rain washes the blood off my face and I watch it swirl down the sidewalk.
Once I catch my breath, I look up to find the man still standing in front of me.
“Why didn’t you help me?” I ask faintly, grimacing at the pain this causes.
He continues to stare down at me in silence. It’s raining harder now and the sound is deafeningly loud.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP ME?!” I ask, anger replacing the pain.
He simply reaches up and removes the bandana covering his face. I watch as he slowly reveals what’s been hidden for so long. The fabric slides off, uncovering an impossibly wide smile, splitting his face in half, glistening red flesh framing it. I watch in horror as he lets the fabric fall to the ground beside mine, and crouches lower, pushing his face in front of mine. The skin around his mouth peeled back to reveal needle sharp teeth, glinting with blood.
This feeling is worse than the suffocation of the mask.
This feeling woke up something carnal in me.
So this is what true fear feels like.
I look into his deep, hypnotic black eyes and see my reflection. I fall back, shocked by what I see. For I look exactly like the monster in front of me.
It steps closer, and opens its mouth, emitting an animalistic growl before beginning to speak.
“Still willing to be friends? We have something in common now.”