Time, everything was taking too much time. Cassius crushed the elevator button into the wall, continuing to press it repeatedly. His eyes stayed glued to the numbers above the doors. Despite the abuse he inflicted to the button, the numbers lit up at a snail’s pace from each number to the next. He chewed the inside of his cheek, not noticing the metallic taste that hit his tongue as he continued to stare at the numbers. The only noise that could be heard in the lobby was the occasional sound of page-flipping from behind the nearby desk from the security guard drifting in and out of sleep, periodically glancing over at Cassius’ pacing.
“Come on, hurry the hell up!” He hissed, cursing under his breath when the number for floor eleven lingered for a little too long than needed. The next number lit up, and it stayed there for several seconds too long for him, bringing him to his breaking point. “Fuck it!” He growled through clenched teeth, turning towards the door to the stairwell. He pushed the door open with more force than he realized, sending it swinging open, then he started jogging up the first flight of stairs. He felt his phone buzz in the pocket of his overcoat, but it went unheard as he reached the next flight of stairs.
“Do you really want this thing to go for her next?” His friend, Sampson’s words, found their way into the forefront of his mind from earlier that morning. It sent him back to the secluded booth in the cafeteria, his voice barely audible over the tides of conversation that filled the packed area. “Heaven forbid it uses you to do it…” He was back on the staircase again, skipping over every other step, using the railing to pull himself forward to the next flight. A burning sensation spread throughout the muscles in his legs with each collision of the bottom of his damp leaf speckled boots against the hard concrete followed by the stinging pain in the center of his lungs, yet it didn’t cause him to falter in his stride. He thanked the adrenaline pumping through his body for its numbing effects. In the surface pockets of his mind, bits and pieces of the conversation replayed in his head with each set of steps he raced up.
“We don’t even know what the hell this thing is, let alone why it targets the people it does…” His own words from the past conversation rebounding in his head. Although he’d entered the cafeteria hungry that early foggy morning, the steaming breakfast on his plate had gone untouched. The pang of guilt and dread had filled his stomach plenty. It had repelled the savory aroma of the food from enticing his mouth to salivate as he reached over to grab one of the opened books left scattered on the cluttered table then searched for the answer to no avail. “…for all we know, it’s already targeting-” That was around the time he’d hurried out of the cafeteria without saying another word to Sampson. She had to be alright, right? She was in one of her classes when he’d gone to find any credible explanation for what he and his friend had been experiencing recently, so she hadn’t been alone. It wouldn’t have been able to harm her if she wasn’t alone. At least that’s what Sampson assured. He was the first to be stalked by this beast after all, so why wouldn’t Cassius take his word. But it wasn’t her classroom that made him worried. Didn’t her classes sometimes end earlier on Thursdays? She would’ve usually sent him a text telling him that she was on her way back home, but today had been the exception—memories of the argument he and his girlfriend Ezra had before she’d left their apartment room plagued his conscience. The memories grew louder, violently invading his head with words stuck in limbo until he was being chased up the steps by the ghosts of the haunting chatter.
“I can’t help you figure out who you are…” As the shaky voice of Ezra echoed in his head, the cool steel of the door handle brought Cassius back to the stairwell once it made contact with his fervent skin. His chest heaved, and he could feel his heart pulse through his veins. He swallowed as much air and courage as he possibly could into his aching lungs while he frantically fumbled with his keys to open the staircase’s door. Once he entered the hallway to his floor, he jogged to his door, unlocked it, and entered the room. He followed the muffled sound of a conversation coming from their living room, his heartbeat in sync with his hasty footsteps. He let go of the breath he was holding when he saw her sitting on the couch watching one of the corny sitcoms she loved putting on as background noise while she studied. She sat casually facing away from him on the large sofa, flipping through the pages of a thick textbook and writing notes. Although she didn’t acknowledge him at all, his vision had become blurry as he walked over to her. He wrapped his arms around her soft waist from behind and pulled her close to his body. Despite how hot he was from running up the stairs, the warmth of her body felt welcoming against his.
“I love you so much.” He mumbled into her fuzzy blue sweater. He meant every word he’d said. The way she always texted him motivating remarks, how her chubby cheeks made her eyes look like they were closed anytime she smiled, even the way she kept a reassuring expression on her face while still fighting the urge to cry like she had done after their argument that morning. He nuzzled his face against her’s, savoring her familiar smell of vanilla and sage as he hugged her a little tighter. Usually, the prickly stubble that peppered his jaw would make her giggle and cringe away, but she didn’t react at all. Her indifference made him feel a lump form in his throat. Cassius swallowed it down before planning out what he was about to say next. “And… I’m really sorry. I was stupid, real stupid for the shit I said. I was afraid that you weren’t putting your all into pursuing your dream and that you were going to just let it go.” Cassius explained. He felt his phone buzz in his front pocket twice, but he didn’t care to look. “I guess it was because I-… I failed at following mine. I didn’t want that for you.” He sighed, closing his eyes as the truth settled in for him. He’d let his jealousy get the better of him. He even allowed it to risk him losing the one person that didn’t make him feel like his mistakes were failures but lessons for the future. She had made him consider his own future. Ezra let out a small sigh of her own before closing her textbook then setting it on the table.
“I had thought that was the case. After my class ended early, I figured it out when I visited my dad. It still didn’t stop what you said from hurting any less.” She admitted softly. He frowned, hearing the last thing she said. Cassius’s grip loosened until he felt her place her hand on his arm, then trace soothing circles with her thumb over his skin. “But I forgive you. We just both need to work on communicating better.” She replied, leaning further into his arms. Relief washed over him, and he planted a loving kiss on the back of her head. He nodded without saying a word, just enjoying being with her alone. He felt his phone buzz again, tickling his side from the vibrations. This time he finally picked it up to see who had texted him.
His smile from before dropped once he realized that all of the messages he received were from his friend.
Sampson: “Once you meet up with her maybe you should tell her what’s going on.”
Sampson: “Let’s meet up at the library again. I think I found a book that says what it is.”
Sampson: “This book is everything we were looking for. It’ll be easier to explain it face to face than through text. Did you pick your gf up yet?”
Sampson: “Cassius? Are you with her?”
Sampson: “It is really her right?”
Sampson: “The eyes. Check her eyes.”
The last text message delivered sent a chill up his spine, but he didn’t know why. He was with Ezra right now, and he was sure of it. She had sounded like her, felt like her, even smelled like her. All of this should’ve made him feel certain in his belief, yet his gaze hesitated as he struggled to look at her. She stood facing the tv screen now, slowly twirling the pencil she used to write her notes between her fingers. Her eyes were glued to the television that continued to play whatever episode she was watching as she ever so gently placed the pencil on the table beside her books. Did the audience’s generic laughter in the show seem more distorted than usual? As though it had been replayed on a voice recorder that was meeting its end.
“Who’s that Cass?” She asked curiously, tilting her head towards his way. He stared at the back of her head, his heart leaping into his throat. After however long he stared, suddenly she let out a small giggle. “So you’re not going to answer?” She asked in a playful tone that laced her voice. “We just agreed on communicating more, and now you’re keeping secrets.” She teased, tilting her head a little more so that the white of her eyes were almost visible.
“Ezra, turn around.” He’d found his voice within the depths of his constricting throat only to muster the weak demand. He didn’t know what he was expecting, maybe resistance or maybe even for her to ask him why he was acting crazy. That would’ve been more comforting than what he had gotten instead. Her shoulders shook from the low giggle that erupted from the center of her chest as she finally turned around to face him.
Along with the mischievous smile that painted her face, her empty dead eyes stared into his. Her pupils’ size was ten times their average size, leaving only slim slivers of the white of her eyes visible. Cassius was sure that his heart had stopped, the blood from the organ draining from his face and filling his stomach. That’s where the need to throw up must’ve been coming from.
“What’s wrong?” She asked him, mimicking a look of concern on her face as she walked towards him. The flooring began to ripple like water in a disturbed pond with each step. It caused him to stagger backward, almost falling from the mixture of disbelief and the motion of the foundation under his feet moving under the soles of his shoes. Clusters of bulging eyes began to open within the jagged cracks spreading along the walls, floors, and even the ceiling above him. He grabbed hold of the corner of the sofa to maintain his balance, barely able to fathom what he was witnessing in front of him as he looked at the frantically moving eyes survey the room. His lips parted slightly as his mind fished for something to say or do, his eyes filled with a look of betrayal.
“Why-…why’d you take her?” Cassius managed to croak, hearing nothing but his heart pounding in his ears. He glared at the monster that used Ezra’s face, her smile only growing wider. He wanted to lunge at the beast, kill it, and hopefully rip his girlfriend out of its cold grasp from wherever it may have hidden her. Yet he could do nothing except bury his nails into the soft fabric of the furniture, and that had just made him angrier. “You could’ve had me! You were after me first! Why the fuck did you take her!” He shouted, his eyes wild like a feral animal’s. She only laughed at him as his entire body trembled. The more she seemed to laugh, the more voices joined in, surrounding him in the cheerful torture. Her body began to shift next.
A faint splintering sound emitted from her bones as they stretched beyond the average human’s height. Her once springy hickory brown hair turned an oily ink black that reached past its feet covered by the charcoal gray cloak it wore. What appeared on the creature’s face looked like a white theatrical mask with a permanent smile on its face, a small white gleam illuminating when the thing’s eyes would be. Before Cassius stood the being in its true form, towering over him as it studied him with curious movements. “Bring her back! You can just have me. I’ll-…I’ll even give you someone else. I-“
“Can’t do that. She’s already gone. Well, technically, I can, but it won’t be her.” It and the other voices interrupted with an unbothered shrug. His legs gave out, and he collapsed hard onto his knees as he stared. The pain that shot up his legs was nothing compared to the weight of hopelessness that punctured deep into his very bones. “You aren’t the first to offer me others. Just didn’t take you for one to throw others under the bus, at least from what I got from her.” The thing explained, pointing to its temple. “Her memories tell me she thought very highly of you. Even after you showed your true colors.”
Cassius couldn’t hear a word of what it was saying after it confirmed the reality that he didn’t want to hear. She was gone. That’s all that remained in his mind while all he could do was stare at the monster standing in the place where his lover had once been. The chaos became more absolute. His black curls slowly turned silvery-white, and his eyes held a distant expression.
“…she gave me a future.” He muttered, a lone tear rolling down his cheek, then another and another. Soon a weak chuckle escaped his mouth, turning into a full-blown fit of laughter, the tears falling nonstop all the while. The laughing fit soon turned into a mixture of maniacal laughter and guttural sobs. Each wave of emotion racked his entire body as he succumbed to madness.
“Such a peculiar species.” The creature commented, watching the pitiful display, unable to contain its laughter. Its chest began to open like a rosebud preparing to bloom under a fresh spring’s sun. The endless black space growing in its chest revealed the sounds of tortuous ear-splitting screams. An all too familiar high-pitched woman’s scream caught the attention of Cassius, causing him to gaze into the expanding crater. A mistake that he’d soon regret. As its chest opened wider, it unveiled a scene that, even in his shattered mental state, he couldn’t handle. His breathing became ragged as one of the entwined decayed arms reached out to him from the void, and his eyes became pinpricks as he let out a deafening scream.
Sampson looked around the gradually emptying library, tapping his foot against the marble floor before rechecking the wall clock. He again checked his phone to make sure Cassius hadn’t changed plans last minute without calling him to let him know. He started to dread the worst. Right as Sampson was about to call him, he spotted Cassius enter the library and glance around to find him. His body relaxed, and he approached his friend before leading him to one of the nearby tables.
“Where’s Ezra?” He asked, noticing there was no one beside him. He recalled that he’d said that he had met up with her but never updated him on whether she was coming or not. Cassius shook his head, causing Sampson to frown.
“She’s been at the hospital with her dad for most of the day. I told her the whole situation. I even told her about the nonstop night terrors, the fear, the creature, everything!” He cringed when he heard the hiss of multiple people shushing him before quietly continuing. “I don’t think she understands, but she’s safe. That’s all that matters to me.” He explained with a small huff as he leaned back against the plastic chair. Sampson nodded understandingly. He leaned back in his chair as well, wondering how they could persuade her that it all was real. It would’ve been helpful to have another person along with them. But it’s not like they had any concrete evidence of its existence besides his witness account until now.“So, you said you found out what this thing was?” Cassius asked, drumming his fingernails against the round table where they sat. He nodded, then took out a dark leather-bound book from his bag then placed it onto the table between them. He flipped through the aged yellow pages, passed the many ominous images of things like faceless forest creatures and devilish imaginary friends with big smiles before stopping at a particular page.
“It’s called Personatus Mimus or the Masked Mimic. It’s been here since 1690, maybe even long before that.” He explained, rereading the passage. He shuddered as he looked at the book’s image seeing the old sketch beside the text. “It says that it stalks its prey for a while before finally taking them, doing who the hell knows what to them. They just know that they never came back.” He added, not noticing that Cassius had stopped tapping his nails against the table or the warped clicking of the wall clock. “ It always disguises itself as someone that the person’s close to like a lover, or family member, or a friend, even an animal like a pet or something.” He explained, recalling the day he’d first encountered the monster.
“When it took my mother’s form, I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t quite figure out why at first, but it must’ve known that I knew something. That’s what saved my life that day, I’m sure of it, and now this book explains exactly what it was. It was her-” Sampson had given Cassius a quick glance to see if he was following along. That small glance alone had been enough to make the words that were on the tip of his tongue retreat back into the bottom of his throat. He gingerly looked back up at him again, the black hairs on his arms standing as if to warn him of the threat that sat before him.
Cassius smirked as he watched Sampson scramble out of his seat and stumble away from him.
“Why’d you stop? I wanted you to tell me the rest.” He stated, slowly standing up from his seat. His face paled as he watched the Masked Mimic as it revealed its proper form. “You’re quite an inquisitive one when your life’s on the line. Didn’t take you for the studious type, especially from what your mother’s memories show.” It commented, amusement trickling through its teeth. Sampson made a run for the door when he felt something grip his leg. Mid yelp, his chin crashed against the hardwood of a nearby table and sent his teeth into his lower lip, puncturing through the thick flesh. The pain was blinding, the metallic taste of the blood that trickled down his lip and into his mouth. The throbbing pain spread throughout his jaw as he groggily spat out the blood that seeped into his tongue. He turned to see what grabbed his leg, his eyes widening at what he saw. Firmly digging their sharp nails into his shin and upper thigh were six long white arms that came up from the polished floor.
“Y-you-…-you can’t do this! I hardly even know Cassius! He’s not my family or-” He stopped shouting when he realized his mistake. His breathing grew quicker until he was hyperventilating. The trickster snickered. “No! No, he wasn’t my friend you can’t-!”
“We both know lying isn’t going to save you. But I’ll admit you had me impressed with how you caught me.” The Masked Mimic said as its chest began to open. Sampson desperately clawed at the floor, trying to drag himself forward out of the crushing hold that grew tighter with every movement he made.
“ I-I’m in a public place! Everyone will see you! They’ll figure out how to stop you!” He yelled frantically out of sheer pain and desperation. He started looking around the library to see if anyone else could see what was happening. He expected at least someone to scream or cause some uproar, but the people in the library only stared at him. They shared the same menacing smile that stretched ear to ear across every single one of their distant faces.
The snap of the Mimic’s hands rang through the library. The very walls, ceiling, and silhouettes of people melted into a bubbling mush. It oozed to the floor until it exposed a dark room covered in prying eyes and gaping mouths that lapped at anything they could reach. Sampson shook his head in disbelief as the fiend chuckled. Before long, he heard a sickening crunch that sent a surge of excruciating pain through his entire right side that caused him to scream at the top of his lungs. The muscle in his thigh bulged over the fractured bone that protruded upwards, slowly splitting through the skin. His thoughts were scattered, memories replayed in his head with each booming heartbeat that drummed against his skull.
His hands shook as he proceeded to claw at the fleshy floor in a final attempt to getaway. He was careful not to touch any of the moving eyes or mouths while he tried to pull himself out of the hell that surrounded him. Sampson clenched his teeth together to stop himself from screaming from the torture of the broken bone in his thigh separating more. His gums started to bleed from the pressure against them, and he forcibly gulped back the rising bitter bile on the back of his tongue. Even as his fingernails begun to peel back, he continued to pull himself free.
“I’m a little reluctant to cut our little game short.” The Masked Mimic huffed as if it were pouting behind its fixed grin. The screams from its chest were thunderous as it approached Sampson. He weakly scraped his fingertips against the floor while it curiously watched. “But where there‘s one, there‘s plenty more.”
Credit : B. Perkins
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