Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
I pulled the mask over my face and crept up the stairs, my excitement mounting with each creaky step. I felt the heat of my own breath, unable to fully escape through the mouth slit. When I got to the top, I cracked opened the basement door and peered into the living room through two round eyeholes. She wasn’t there, but I knew where she was. I could hear tap water running. She was in the kitchen.
I slipped off my shoes and walked slowly, carefully, across the hardwood floor. The rush of running water grew louder, and then I heard the sound of someone talking. Did she have visitors? I took a few more quiet steps. No. She was listening to a podcast over the speakers.
I stuck my head around the corner, and there she was at the sink, her back towards me, her long brunette hair pulled up into a bun. I took a deep breath. It was hot in there, under that heavy mask. But I couldn’t take it off. Not until it was done.
It was time. I moved quickly until I was right behind her. I reached out and grabbed her shoulder. She snapped her head around and as she got a look at me, I smiled behind the mask to see her eyes go wide in fear. I was prepared to end it there, but she screamed, and brought a knee up… right into my balls. Oof.
As I was hunching over, she gave me a shove and I crashed into the island behind me. I slumped to the ground in agony, and looked in real fear as she twirled around, grabbed a knife from the sink, and raised it up.
“Hold on!” I groaned, pulling my mask off. “It’s me!”
When she saw me, she froze, the giant knife still there up in the air. I could tell that my wife was not very impressed. “What the fuck are you doing?!” she asked. “Where the fuck did you get that creepy mask?”
I coughed, still holding my hand up in the air in a plea for mercy. “Down in the basement. I think it was dad’s,” I said. “I was… just trying to give you a little scare. For fun.”
“Jesus Bill,” said Debbie. “I was ready to kill you. And honestly, I’m still not quite decided on that. There’s not a jury in America that would convict me… not after they saw that creepy-ass mask.”
“Put the knife down, honey,” I said.
She threw the knife back into the sink and bent down. I was still crumpled in pain on the floor. “Let me see that,” she said, picking up the mask and then examining it.
I guessed that it was made of stone. It was perfectly round, with two round eyeholes at levels just different enough to cause a sense of unease. There was, as mentioned, a slit for a mouth. A row of sharp teeth was etched above and below the mouth… and then another row on top of those.
“It’s heavy,” said Debbie. “And looks ancient. Do you think your father found this on one of his exhibitions?”
“Yeah,” I said, starting to recover a little. “It was in a stash box down in the basement, along with a knife that looks like it’s made of bone. I was gonna bring the knife up with me, but now I’m glad I didn’t.”
“We should get it assessed,” said Debbie, running her fingers over the mask. “Could be worth something.”
“I’m sure it is,” said, getting to my feet on wobbly legs. “But I was hoping we could keep it. At least for a while. As a memento of dad. I mean, if we ever need money, then yeah, we’ll look into selling it. But we don’t need money right now, not after the inheritance… and, well, I just still miss him, you know? Plus, it’s a cool mask, isn’t it? A good conversation starter.”
She handed the mask back. “It’s creepy. It scared the shit out of me.” She sighed. “If you want to hang it up somewhere, it’s got to go in your study. Someplace where I don’t have to look at it.”
* * * * * *
It was Roger Wentworth’s retirement party. Old Roger had been my father’s friend since they both started teaching at the college where I now taught. They spent many an evening sipping on scotch at my father’s house, where I now lived. So when he finally announced his retirement, it only felt right to host the party.
Derek Nielson was in attendance. He was about my age, and also taught at the college. It turned out that we actually grew up in that same town, a few years apart. While my life had been pretty much easy street since day one, born to a well-off professor, and following in his footsteps, Derek’s had been anything but. He came from a working-class family, and had lost his father at a young age. He never talked about it, but I knew that his childhood had been rough. Yet, he had clawed himself out of a life of misery to find success in the academic world. Most of the other professors at our college were the same as me: born and bred in a buttermilk world of soft pillows and fancy cars. Derek stood out to me, and we became fast friends.
On the evening of Roger’s party, as soon as I saw Derek walk in, I excused myself from the conversation that I was having. I went to the fridge, got two beers, and found Derek. “Come on,” I said. “I want to show you something. You’ll appreciate this.”
Derek took the beer and popped off the cap with a lighter. “Sure thing bud,” he said.
I led him to my study. “I found this mask in a box of the old man’s stuff. Check it out.” I pointed up to the mask hanging from the wall. The bone knife was mounted just below it.
Derek dropped his beer on the floor and went white. “Is this some kind of sick fucking joke?!” he demanded.
“What? What do you mean a joke?” The look of fear on Derek’s face made me start to feel scared. It can’t be the mask, can it? It’s unsettling, but it’s not terrifying like that.
“I… need to sit down,” said Derek.
“Sure, bud,” I said, wheeling my desk chair over to him. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just thought you’d get a kick out of it, that’s all.”
Derek looked at me with intensity. “Tell me right now if this is a joke. I never told you about this, but maybe you found out anyway.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
“I need a drink.”
“Sure, sure. Beer?”
“Something hard,” said Derek, now staring at the mask in bewilderment.
“I’ll be right back.” I stepped over the spilled beer and headed over to the liquor cabinet. Debbie was there, talking to somebody. I was starting to feel a little dizzy and things were blurring together.
“Where did you get off to?” asked Debbie.
“I showed Derek the mask,” I said. “It… uh… didn’t go well.” I poured out a tall scotch.
“We should really get rid of that thing. It’s creepy.”
I gave a vacant nod and went back to my study. Derek was still sitting there, transfixed by the mask. I handed him the scotch and he looked at me with a start. He downed it in one gulp and then began:
“Thirty-five years ago, my father committed suicide.”
“Oh,” I said, looking down at my shoes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I don’t tell people that. And I definitely don’t tell them what happened after that. Look. Can you just bring the bottle in?”
I was glad to get out of the room for a moment. Things had gotten intense in there. I needed to know why Derek was having such an extreme reaction to the mask, and he was my friend, so I wanted to support him… I just didn’t know if I was capable of hearing whatever he was going to say. I needed the bottle as much as him, or so I thought at the time. And I was right.
I grabbed the bottle from the liquor cabinet and went directly back to Derek. I handed it to him and he took a good swallow.
“The coroner ruled my father’s death a suicide. Open and shut, he said, no need to waste money on an autopsy. But my mother had different ideas. Do you know where my mother is now, Bill?”
“No,” I said.
“She’s in the place where they pad the rooms and scribble in coloring books all day.”
I took a drink and passed the bottle back. “Shit, Derek, I’m sorry.”
Derek laughed. It was a strange laugh, devoid of humor or any emotion at all. “She said that it was the masked man that did it. She said she came in to find the masked man holding the bone knife, watching my father bleed out in the bathtub. She passed out and he was gone when she woke up.”
I looked at Derek in shock. “What are you saying here?”
Derek took two swallows from the bottle. “I’m saying I’ve seen that mask before. My mother’s drawn it a thousand times. The round face, the round eyes, the double teeth. That knife, too. The bone knife.”
I heard the words that he was saying, but I couldn’t process them. “Now you’re the one fucking with me,” I said at last. “I gotta admit, for a minute there, you had me. Now come on and pass that bottle over.”
“I’m calling the police,” said Derek. Then he did.
* * * * * *
I remember when my parents had the basement redone. I was ten years old. It was an old house, so the foundation used to be set on boulders with a dirt floor. It started to fail, so they spent a lot of money to have it all reinforced with concrete. A thick slab was poured on the floor.
The bodies weren’t difficult to find. The initials had been etched into the wet concrete, and when the floor was broken apart under police orders, each victim was resting right under his or her initials. 11 bodies in all. And those were only the ones in the basement. It’s not clear how many there were, like Derek’s father, that never made it down there.
All of a sudden, my father’s late nights at the office when I was a kid started to make sense.
We’ve since moved out of the house, and it’s on the market. Nobody will buy it. I don’t blame them. Derek won’t return my calls. I don’t blame him. I never did anything wrong, but my father did things that were very wrong, and I am his son.
I wish I’d never found that mask.
Check out Nathaniel Lewis’ dark horror comedy, The Electric Boner, now available on Amazon.com.
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