Keep The Mask On :
My father was not a famous man, but he should’ve been. He was the first person to break ground on that archaeology dig in Egypt you didn’t hear about. I go to see him once a week now. I tell him how things at home are, and he just sits there and rocks back and forth in his beige sleeveless jacket. He hasn’t said anything since the first day he was here, before the doctors began pumping the drugs into him that make him drool on himself. I’ll not soon forget what he said.
He looked at me, straining against the straight jacket that he’d willingly stepped in to. He winced as they tightened it. He looked dead in to my eyes, and I returned the gaze. I didn’t know yet. I thought he’d acted the way he did unprovoked. I didn’t know why he’d practically destroyed our house in a sudden fit of rage, screaming “Where are you?!” at the top of his lungs. I didn’t know why he thrown my mother down a flight of stairs and paralyzed her from the neck down.
But I now sat next to a broken mess of a man. Dried tears dotted my cheeks, and I looked at the man I thought was a monster and asked him, “Why?” He glanced up to me with those sad, brown eyes and smiled. It took all I had not to punch him his already swollen face. He simply said “Top drawer, right side.” before he looked back to the floor and closed his eyes. That was the last time he spoke to me.
I immediately rushed home. I parked the car and ran in, up the stairs and down the hall to my father’s study. I tried the knob and, as usual, it was locked. I was so angry, before I knew it I had broken the door down in three kicks. I strode to his desk and opened the drawer he had identified. It was empty save for a large, manila folder. I ripped it open and poured the contents on the desk, which consisted of a folder full of ruffled pages and a small post-it note. I plucked up the post-it and read it aloud. “45-34-21.” I set it aside and picked up the folder. I immediately recognized my fathers handwriting. I opened the folder and laid the pages out on the table. They were wrinkled, smudged, and horribly frayed, but I sat down and began reading. From the best I could tell, he had began writing these the day after he got home from the dig. He began:
“Just got home today. I decided to start this journal after a recommendation from a friend. Not really sure how to go about this. I brought back a birthday present for my 16 year-old son. It’s a small copper plate about 3 inches square. Found it just outside the dig site. Has a small hole punched at the top. Maybe he could put it on a necklace. Lots of strange carvings on it. They don’t seem to be a language. Small picture of a human figure etched in as well. It seems to be wearing a mask or helmet. I hope he likes it.”
That was all that was on the first page. I almost smiled at my dad’s writing style. Choppy, brief, and informal, just like dad. But I paused for a moment. My birthday was still a few days away, and I had heard nothing about this “gift”. I skipped to the next entry, which was dated to be the following day.
“Long night. Couldn’t seem to get to sleep. I swear I heard a voice last night. Couldn’t make out what it said. Just a whispering from down the hall. Maybe Josh was up late. I’ll ask today”
That piqued my attention. I remember him asking me if I had been up late, but I know I had been asleep. Odd. I read on to the next day.
“I had to write this down. No one will believe me if I don’t. The whispering came back last night. This time I heard what it said. Give it back. That’s all it said. Over and over. I looked out the door to the hallway and I’d swear I saw someone there. A short figure, hunched over. Heard a raspy breathing. Kept saying give it back give it back.”
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Had my father gone crazy over night? I remember him behaving oddly the next morning, but I was in such a hurry for school, I thought nothing of it. I flipped to the next page, and immediately noticed a difference. The handwriting was smudged, scratchy, and uneven, almost like it had been written in a hurry. It said:
“Had my friend Buddy translate the words on the gift. He was confused by it. Said it was in Latin. Why did we find Latin lettering in an Egyptian dig? Buddy said it read ‘larva-umbra’ at the top, and ‘veniet’ everywhere else. When I asked him what it meant, he looked at me and said ‘Mask-Shadow. He will come.’ I asked him what that meant. He wouldn’t tell me. I’ll look it up tonight.”
I looked at the date. It was the day before he’d gone mad! Unfortunately, it was also the last entry. Exhausted from the long day, I sat down in my dad’s chair. I stacked the rest of the papers and began to slide them back in to the envelope when I noticed the sticky note I had set aside. I plucked it back up and read it again. “45-34-21.” I thought for a moment, then like a bolt of inspiration I remembered my dad always kept a combination-locked safe in the basement. I grabbed the sticky note and ran downstairs. I arrived at the small, stocky safe and quickly dialed in the three numbers. The door clicked, and I swung it open. There, in the middle of the safe, sitting upon a small handkerchief was what appeared to be a small piece of copper, about as big as a playing card.
I slowly reached in to pick it up. As my fingers brushed the bitingly cold copper, I felt a chill run up my fingers, up my arm, and down my spine. The room seemed to grow shockingly cold, and the lights flickered and glowed. The whole house seemed to be…whispering. Talking. A voice was resonating from the walls. A foul, wispy voice. An angry voice. At first I couldn’t quite make out what it was saying. But it steadily grew louder and louder, until I had to cover my ears in pain. “GIVE IT BACK”. The voice boomed so loud the windows rattled and the furniture seemed to be vibrating at the sound of it. Beneath the echoing din, I heard a light tapping. I forced myself to look up and at the end of the hall, I saw a dark figure. It was a short, hunched over figure, no taller than 5 feet high. It wore a dark hood and robe, so I could not see any distinguishable features, except for what was making the tapping sound. A long, thin arm was extended from the figure. The skin was a sickly greenish-grey, and appeared to be peeling back and falling off the bones. At the end of the gaunt arm was a horrifically large hand, with thin fingers and…claws? The booming voice stopped, but the horrible hand kept tapping the concrete wall. The lights flickered again, and I was plunged in to momentary darkness.
In the inky blackness, I heard what sounded like a shallow, raspy breathing, getting closer and closer. The lights flashed back on, and as my eyes adjusted, I saw the figure now loomed over me. The hand had seemingly disappeared back under the black robe. I tried to steady my breathing, and that’s when I noticed the smell. Like any boy, I had been around a few dead animals. Dead birds, rats, and even an opossum or two. But this smell was easily far worse than anything I had ever inhaled. It burnt my nostrils and made my eyes water. I hurriedly scooted away from the figure that stood over me. It made no move to stop me, but seemed to watch me scurry across the linoleum. With my back against the wall, I stood myself up. For what seemed like hours, we stared at each other. The figure would occasionally tilt its head in what seemed to be curiosity, but as I could not see its face, I couldn’t be sure. I heard a rustling sound coming from beneath he creatures cloak. As I watched, horrified, the ghastly arm emerged from the folds of his robe, this time accompanied by another. With slow, deliberate movements, the arms reached to where I assumed the creatures head was, and slowly pulled back the hood. The light fell upon the creatures brow, to reveal not a face, but a huge, clunky copper mask. The mask seemed to be bolted and spot-welded on to the figures head. There were no apparent orifices, except for two holes where the eyes would be. And there I saw, peering back at me, to dreadful eyes. They were completely white, with a sort of pus or dew at the edges. The eyes blinked, and more of the white pus oozed out of the corners. The horrible sight combined with the smell was enough to make me gag, and I retched upon the floor. The lights emitted a buzzing sound, and soon flashed off again. I sat in the dark for what seemed like several minutes, all the while hearing the raspy breathing grow louder and louder. The lights began to flicker violently, so I only caught occasional glimpses of the horrible sight before me. The figure had abandoned his dark robes, and risen to a massive height, uncoiling a horribly mangled body beneath his masked face. The skin was stretched tight upon a gaunt body, and was the same sickly green as the arms. The spine seemed to have a horrible twist in it, as the creature could not stand up straight. It now towered over me, and again the booming voice filled the room. I could not recognize what it said. It almost seemed to be in another language.
As I watched, the room around me seemed to burst in to flames. Smoke lunged upward from the now flaming furniture, and quickly filled the small concrete room. By pure instinct, I bolted toward the exit. I heard a laughing behind me, and no doubt that awful creature reclaimed what was his. Thank god I made it out in time. I have never encountered the creature, but I can’t help but wonder…now that it has what it came for, will it leave?