22 Oct Masks
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Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Gordon Simmons slammed into his locker.
“Ow! What the hell?”, he struggled to shout with his face pressed against the cold blue metal.
“Man, Gordo! Your locker stinks worse than you do!”, chastised the bully.
Judging by the voice, Gordon could tell it was Jordan Merrick. Jordan was always a dick, but for some reason he seemed to target Gordon specifically this year. However, he did have a point about the smell emanating from the locker. The rancidness hung in the air and made him gag a little.
Jordon gave another shove before backing off. He crinkled his nose and looked Gordon up and down, then left while flicking him off on his way down the corridor.
Gordon composed himself, smoothed out his old oxford button-down shirt and tried, unsuccessfully, to flatten out his ratty brown curls. He tried to take a calming breath, but choked on the stench. After he finished sputtering, he covered his nose with the collar of his shirt while working the locker combination with his free hand. With a click the door swung open. He began examining the inside of his locker apprehensively. His math and history textbooks were on the top shelf where he left them. He looked in the larger bottom section, thinking that something from an old lunch had fallen out of his bag and gotten lost. He dug through old homework marked with average grades and gaming magazines, but nothing was to be found. The source of the smell had to be coming from the top shelf. Gordon pulled his history book down and immediately jumped back in alarm, almost bowling over Erica Burrows.
“Watch what you’re doing, you ass!”, Erica spat with venom. The normally bustling hallway became silent as students stopped and stared wide-eyed at Gordon in all of his awkwardness.
“S-sorry”, he stuttered while rubbing his neck, head hung with shame.
Erica made a sound of contempt, rolled her eyes and stormed off. He stood in the middle of the hall which was once again filled with the noise of busy teens. With chagrin, he moved towards his locker again. I can’t believe I almost knocked over Erica Burrows…, he thought. Gordon had a “thing” for Erica since middle school. It seemed like every year his popularity would regress and so would his chances at ever being with his dream girl. His dream girl with beautiful flowing blond hair, a stunning smile, great figure and great big perfect ti-
“Gordon!” He snapped out of his daydream. It was Ryan Turley, his best friend since second grade, and “World of Warcraft” companion since seventh. “Yo! Gordon! Come back to reality!”
Gordon shook his head, “Sorry. It’s been an interesting day.”
Ryan stepped between him and his locker, “What the hell was that?”, he furrowed his unibrow and sniffed, “And what the hell is that smell?”
Gordon looked over his friend’s head to the face staring out from the top shelf of the locker through empty eyes. Cringing, he motioned for Ryan to look.
“Woah! That’s pretty creepy.”, Ryan said stating the obvious, “Is that what smells?”
“Yeah. I think someone slipped that mask into my locker somehow and put something on it to make it stink.”
“They did a pretty good job. It smells like a dumpster full of 3 month old meat. How did they get it in there?”
Shrugging, Gordon reached over Ryan and pinched the tip of the mask between his thumb and forefinger, accidentally brushing against Ryan’s head.
“Hey, watch the hair!”
“Why? You got a date or something?”, Gordon chuckled as his friend ran his fingers through his red-haired bowl cut. Ryan twisted his freckled face into a sneer, making his buck teeth protrude more than usual. Patting his pal on the back, Gordon walked to the nearest waste bin and tossed the face inside.
Later that night while at home, Gordon sat in the blue La-Z-Boy recliner facing the TV. Around 10:00 pm not much was ever on except the local news. He sighed and watched as the anchor woman droned on about Halloween coming up and how to be safe while trick-or-treating.
A minute later, the reporter had caught his full attention with a missing persons report. “A local boy from East Mayfield High has been reported missing. Cameron Jenkins is a junior at the school. He is approximately five feet, seven inches, has short brown hair and usually wears glasses. If you have any knowledge of Cameron’s whereabouts, please contact the local police.”
Gordon recognized the name. He took algebra with the guy. They never really talked to each other, but it was a little disturbing to hear the news. He shook his head, putting the missing classmate out of his mind. Disappointed with the late night entertainment selection, he turned off the picture and went to bed.
The next day, there was hallway chatter of not only the missing student, but also a teacher who had peculiarly stopped showing up for school without notice about a week ago. Rumors flooded the classrooms about how the teacher might have abducted Cameron, but Gordon figured that was probably made up nonsense. However, his head churned with his own concoction of possible scenarios while he spaced out in front of his locker before lunch.
“Whats up!”, Gordon startled as Ryan greeted him cheerily.
“What’s got you so chipper?”, he asked Ryan only half curious.
“Nothing much. I had a good night last night.”
“Ah. The date went well then?,”Gordon chuckled.
“It did actually”, Ryan replied, “I think I’m going to go on another one.”
Gordon placed his books in his locker before heading towards the cafeteria, walking beside his friend and arguing that the school’s chicken salad was much worse than their lasagna.
Over the course of the week, the strange disappearances continued. Brad Tillman (a freshman member of the student government), Monica Gayle (one of the lunch-ladies), Robert Ortiz (backup quarterback for the varsity football team) – just some of the missing. By Friday, the entire school was in a state of quiet panic. Some parents were starting to keep their children home and talks began of shutting down the school. The campus was crawling with police looking for clues or anything suspicious.
During second period, Gordon and Ryan sat next to each other both looking equally jaded of their instructor’s tiresome voice and chalk tapping on the blackboard. Out of the corner of his eye, Gordon noticed Ryan’s red head perk up, peering outside. Intrigued, Gordon craned his neck to look through the window too. Ryan jumped up and leaned closer to the window.
“Mr. Turley, what do you think you’re doing?”, asked the obviously irritated history teacher.
“It’s Brad Tillman!”, Ryan exclaimed as he pointed outside.
Everyone rushed to the windows, pressing up against the glass to get a better view. Even “Mr. Monotone”, the instructor, jockeyed for position to see the unfolding event. Sure enough, it was Brad looking disheveled, but seemingly unharmed, walking out of the nearby woods to the West. One of the cops roaming outside finally noticed the once missing student and sprinted to him. He put an arm around Brad and helped him towards the school building with haste. After a few minutes of being unable to see more of what was happening, the lesson resumed, but no one concentrated on it.
Lunch time arrived as it did everyday. The path to the cafeteria always led by the school nurse. As Gordon and Ryan passed, they noticed the door partly open, the same cop stood inside with his back facing the entrance. He stepped to the side to speak with the nurse over some paperwork along with the school principal, Mr. Wilson. The two friends stopped in the middle of the hall and gazed inside at Cameron who was sitting atop the paper-covered examination bench. Suddenly, Brad jerked his head up and stared back at them. His eyes didn’t look those of a victim’s. They were piercing. It was enough to send chills up a polar bear’s spine. Gordon averted his eyes elsewhere. Brad probably wanted to be alone anyway, he thought. He and Ryan continued to lunch.
The day moved forward as more and more of the missing reappeared from the neighboring woods. The authorities began sending search teams into the tree line, coming out every so often with another missing person. While students and staff rejoiced over the returns, there was a large amount of confusion. Why were the students coming back now and all at the same time? Where were they to begin with? What happened to them while they were gone? Unfortunately, none of these questions could be answered. The returning students and staff told the police they couldn’t remember anything. The story was the same all around. They black out on the day they went missing and came to in the woods, finding their way back to civilization. Mystery hung thick in the air when classes ended for the weekend. After giving statements and receiving check-ups, the missing were allowed to go home with their families.
The weekend sped by. Gordon, bored at home, tried to get in contact with Ryan, but to no avail. When Sunday came along, he was getting irritated. Whoever this girl is, she better be worth it. He supposed he couldn’t blame him. Guys like them don’t often have a chance at romantic relationships. Once again, he resorted to watching TV and heard that people were still going missing even after the returns of the previous East Mayfield students and staff.
After a night of anxious tossing and turning, Gordon slunk out of bed and headed for another Monday at school. At his locker, he stood on edge, waiting for his friend. Five minutes before first period started, he was about to give up the wait and head to Literature, but noticed a flash of red hair in the crowd of last-minute students hurrying to class. Ryan broke free of the small mob and stood in front of Gordon, panting, pushing his glasses back to the ridge of his nose.
“What up?”, he huffed while smiling.
Not wanting to be late, they both speed walked towards their next classes. “Where were you?”, Gordon grilled his nerdy friend, “I’ve been trying to reach you all weekend!”
“Sorry. Still going on those dates.”, Ryan said with a half smile.
“Well there’s something different about you. This chick must be good. We’ll talk later.”
They split up to head to their different classrooms.
While sitting in his first period class, Gordon didn’t miss a beat with his daily routine. After preparing for class, he sat catty-cornered to Erica Burrows and admired her from afar. Every day he did this, but today was a bit different. As he gawked at the back of her head, she whipped her face around to look at him. Unprepared, he tried to play off the fact that he was ogling her, but noticed something off. Her eyes. They bore into him like Brad’s did on Friday. Disquieted by this, he faced forward and waited for class to start, trying to ignore the feeling of her stare on him. Oddly enough, he was a little happy when Jordan Merrick walked in. Every other day he shared this class with Jordan who would sit directly behind him and pester him in some way or another. Gordon hoped the encounter would take his mind off of Erica and bring a sense of normality to his day. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Jordan cruised past him and took his place behind. Slowly, Gordon turned his head and peeked at the bully. In return, he got the same stare that he got from Erica. Feeling like he was between two crushing forces, Gordon slid down in his seat, trying to avoid the two students’ attention.
The class felt as if it would never end, but finally it was over. Dismally, the next period was the same; it seemed like everyone was acting strange. Maybe he was nuts and he was the one acting strange. Gordon wanted to go home. He somehow made it to lunch without freaking out and scanned the crowd for Ryan. His friend’s geeky demeanor made his way toward him. Finally, a welcome site.
“Ready for some grub?”, asked Ryan.
“Yeah” Gordon nodded enthusiastically, “I’ve never wanted lunch more in my life.”
“Dude. You should start eating breakfast then.”
After getting their food, they sat down at their usual table. Gordon stared at his food, shifting bits of corn around on his tray.
“Hey. You ok?” Ryan questioned.
“What? Yeah, sorry.” Gordon snapped out of his stupor.
“Alright…” his cohort said incredulously. “Well here’s some good news for you. Erica was returned over the weekend. Bad news is so was Jordon Merrick.
“I didn’t even know they were missing in the first place.”
“Oh? Well now you know” Ryan chuckled.
Gordon cocked his head a bit. “Actually…” he began while rubbing the back of his neck. “Something has been bothering me.”
“The people who were returned have been acting really strange, including Erica and Jordan.”
Ryan swallowed the food in his mouth and put down his fork. “Oh? Strange as in how?”
“Just creepy. Like they aren’t themselves. Jordan didn’t say some asshole remark to me like he usually does and Erica… well Erica actually noticed me.”
Ryan nodded slowly. “That is kind of weird.”
“You don’t seem too bothered by all of this.”
“What? Why not?”
Ryan gave a wide grin.
“Hey, did you get your teeth fixed?” he asked, scrutinizing the absence of his friend’s buckteeth from across the table, “What’s so freakin’ funny?”
A shadow eclipsed the table in front of Gordon. Confused, he turned around. Erica stood behind him close enough that he could smell her perfume. He turned back to Ryan and asked, “What… what’s going on?”
Ryan gave a faint smile in return. “You’re the last piece of the collection, Gordon.”
“What are you talking about?” he replied, chuckling nervously. Jordan Merrick approached the table to his left. Suddenly, he became claustrophobic. He realized that more and more of his fellow students were surrounding the table. “Is this a joke? It’s not funny!” he said, raising his shaky voice.
Ryan sighed. “My friend. Well… actually you’re Ryan’s friend.” He gazed at Gordon’s frightened and confused face, coveting it. “My colleagues and I have been wanting to do this for a very long time. All of these wonderful faces… juicy personalities… you gotta love high school!” He cackled and moved both of his hands to the back of his head. The students and staff followed in suit.
To Gordon’s horror, when his should-be friend brought his hands back around, his face came along with it. “Welcome to the club, Gordon.” The words came from a head void of facial features other than scarred holes where the eyes, nose and mouth should be. Hands grabbed him by the shoulder as his faux classmates held him in his chair. The glint of a knife was the last thing he saw before it dug into his eye sockets as it removed each one and created a hollow place in his head like a Halloween mask.
Credit To – Josh “JaShinYa” Musser