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The Porcelain Mask

The porcelain mask

Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

Marcel tightened the last cords on his hiking backpack. He stepped back admiring how neatly he packed the bag. Every year he and a group of friends went on three-day expeditions into the mountains, and this year he couldn’t wait. The fresh air, the peaceful sunrises, and the morning dew always evoked a sense of calm in Marcel; it was his temporary escape from reality, the never-ending lectures, and nerve-wracking exams.

“That’s it,” Marcel muttered after throwing the knapsack on his back.

Early the next morning, Marcel and the rest of the expedition met at the main train station in Prague.


“Máco, you still haven’t bought a new backpack? Your back will thank you,” Julie teased.

“Am I the last one?” Marcel ignored Julie’s question.

Julie, Chenda, Aneta, and Marcel had known each other since high school. All of them were now college students, but the tradition of the annual trip had endured. This year the group was heading to the Eagle Mountains. First by train, but from Vamperk only on foot.

“Next time you’ll be pulling the tarps,” Chenda grumbled gruffly when the group arrived at the shelter where they planned to spend the night.

Chenda doesn’t talk much, but when it comes to complaining, he never shuts up, as Julie would say. Sometimes Marcel wondered why he even went on the hikes with them every year and kept annoying the whole group with his sullen remarks.

They found themselves at a clapboard arrangement where travelers normally merely take a break and carry on with their march. The sun was slowly sinking behind the horizon. Aneta and Marcel were just setting up the tarps under the shelter when they heard Julie’s startled scream.


“What are you yelling about?” Chenda said.

Julie stood there, flabbergasted.

“We… I think I saw someone over there,” she stammered, raising her index finger toward the deep woods. Aneta rolled her eyes; she collapsed onto the tarp and looked at the screen of her cell phone.

“Maybe it was a leprechaun,” Chenda remarked, laughing at his joke.

“There’s no signal,” Aneta sighed, tucking her phone into her backpack and slipping into her sleeping bag.

“Come on, let’s go to sleep, Anet has already kicked the sack,” Marcel said. Julie was still staring between the spruces as if expecting something to emerge from the darkness at any moment.

Nightmares had been bothering Marcel for a long time, that’s why he never slept much. On top of that, it was chilly and the fog was spreading around the makeshift campsite.

He stretched and awkwardly dug himself out of his sleeping bag. Julie’s sleeping bag was empty and the rest of the expedition was still asleep. He pulled a bread roll out of the backpack, spread melted cheese on it, and sat down on a bench under the shelter. Chenda woke up a few minutes later and sat down next to Marcel.

“Where’s Julie?” Chenda asked absently.

“She must have gone to the bathroom, I don’t know,” Marcel threw up his hands. When Aneta got up, the group grew nervous.
“Hey come on, try to call her,” Chenda urged Aneta.

“How am I supposed to do that if there’s no signal, genius?” They waited another hour. Julie was still missing.

“Maybe we should go to the police,” Aneta finally suggested. Neither of the boys had a better idea, so they packed up the campsite and headed back toward town.

The omnipresent fog shrouded the landscape so that they could barely see a step. Everyone was silent. They pondered what could have happened to Julie, and scenarios of varying levels of believability formed in their heads.

“Shit…” Chenda broke the silence as he tripped over a wooden bench.

“I don’t believe it,” Aneta breathed. They found themselves at the wooden structure the group had used as a shelter from the elements last night.

“Jeez, we’re back where we came from!” Marcel said out loud what everyone had figured out by then.

“We’ll never get to the police station like this. Let’s make a line and search the woods around here,” Aneta decided. They took off their backpacks, kept only their flashlights, and set off into the depths of the forest a little after dark.

Julie woke up. Her head was pounding, she could see twinkles in front of her eyes and wanted to vomit. She found herself lying on the floor in a dim hall. Only a single torch was installed on the concrete wall giving Julie a sense of where she was. A cellar, the dampness, and rats in the corner of the room told her. Tears welled up in her eyes, she felt a need to scream, but the rag in her mouth prevented it. She tried standing up, but the ropes on her legs and arms wouldn’t let her.

This is just a nightmare, nothing more, Julie tried to convince herself. Panic clouded her thinking. Her heart was pumping fast and loud. Julie screamed through the gag, trying desperately to cry for help. But her howling was soon cut off by a voice. A voice barely audible, unnatural, whose almost childlike tone sent shivers down her spine.

“I’m going to make you beautiful.”

A figure appeared before Julie. It was of average height, with messy brown greasy hair, a grey hoodie, and jeans. A white porcelain mask adorned with pouty red lips and red-painted cheeks gave the man, or woman, a disturbing impression. The person’s eyes could not be seen; Julie tried in vain to make out the pupils, but all she saw was endless darkness.

It watched Julie, admiring her like a work of art, while the girl struggled desperately with the ropes. It took a pair of scissors from a small tool table, snipped idly in the air a couple of times, and began to cut Julie’s hair. The girl cried and screamed. She tried to resist, but soon her scalp was naked. It pulled a small tube out of their jeans pocket. It spattered lipstick inexpertly across Julie’s lips and cheeks so that the girl’s face resembled the porcelain mask the mysterious kidnapper wore.

Suddenly the creature turned sharply as if it had heard something. From its crouch, it stood on both feet and walked away.

Meanwhile, the trio has started falling into despair.

“There’s no point in this,” Chenda said resignedly. They had been combing the forest all night and still no sign of Julie.

“Is that… is that a church?” Aneta asked rhetorically when she saw the ruin of what had once been a place of worship.

“In the middle of the forest?” A white-plastered structure rose majestically through the trees, creating a sharp contrast with the ubiquitous timber encircling the building like a royal guard protects their monarch. Something felt off. Eerie. Aneta, Chenda, and Marcel silently approached the moldy wooden door.


“Let’s check it out, shall we?” Marcel didn’t even wait for an answer and walked right in.

Their flashlights revealed a crimson moth-eaten carpet, occasionally accompanied by amber pews alongside. A golden altar at the end of the rug dominated the room. A church like any other, they all thought, until they took a good look at the huge paintings that adorned the walls of the nave.

“I remember the paintings, my grandmother used to take me to church services,” Aneta explained. “But they certainly didn’t have these masks on them.”

As soon as Aneta finished speaking, both boys realized what was special about the paintings. All the saints had their faces covered with white porcelain masks.

Hearing human voices from afar, Julie screamed as loud as the gag in her mouth would allow. She let out a wild, guttural wail, hoping that her desperate cries for help would be heard by someone, anyone.

“Do you hear that?” Marcel asked the others, not expecting an answer. Immediately, he ran to the rusty metal hatch he noticed in the corner of the room. He opened it. Stone steps appeared before his eyes. He didn’t hesitate a second and climbed inside. Aneta looked at Chenda uncertainly. He merely shrugged his shoulders and so she followed Marcel.

Chenda had already stepped one foot inside when he noticed movement. He turned slowly and directly behind him there it was.

“I’ll make you beautiful.”

Marcel jumped off the last step and thoroughly scanned the dungeon with his flashlight. The room was empty, musty, and full of rodents running from the light. In the corner of the cellar, he discovered a kind of workbench, and next to it…

“Julie?” Marcel asked uncertainly.

The bald woman in ropes with the grotesque maquillage on her face only answered by shouting unintelligibly into the rag stuck in her mouth.

Marcel and Aneta slowly freed Julie from the ropes.

“We must get away before he… before it comes back!” Julie blurted out as soon as Marcel untied the piece of cloth.

“Where did Chenda go?” Aneta realized.

“Shit,” Marcel muttered and rushed up the stairs.

It was too late. Chenda’s dead body lay on the floor. His eyes stared absently at the ground, lying limp on the tiled floor, scissors embedded between his shoulder blades.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Marcel yelled. “It’s not fucking true!” Water welled up in his eyes, he wanted to scream, to curse.

The girls burst into tears, desperate tears in utter shock. They knew there was no escape. They would find nothing but damnation in this god-forsaken bizarre place. The trio sobbed over their deceased friend until Aneta noticed a figure standing at the entrance.


“I’ll make you all beautiful,” the masked stranger expelled in its disgusting, almost childlike tone of voice.

Aneta, Julie, and Marcel panicked, instinctively rushing to the windows on the other side of the church, terror in their eyes. Marcel jumped through the broken window, followed by Julie and…

“Son of a…” Aneta cursed after she vaulted over the window sill. She tried to stand up, but instead, she hissed like trapped prey. “I think I broke my leg,” Aneta sobbed.

The creature with the porcelain mask approached the window. Marcel and Julie looked at each other, they didn’t have to say a word, they both knew it was too late. They made their escape.

“Where the fuck are you going? Help me! Please! Please help me!” Aneta choked in her desperation. Marcel and Julie ignored the cries that echoed throughout the woods and kept running until the screaming abruptly ceased.

Marcel and Julie sprinted as fast as they could. They pushed their way through the never-ending thick fog occasionally interrupted by skinny trees.
They stopped at a clearing. The trees were no longer growing and instead, a wide plain spread out in front of the pair. Both Julie and Marcel stopped in disgusted amazement.

“This… this is hell,” Marcel whispered.

The clearing was filled with crosses as far as mortal eyes could see, large wooden crosses. And on them, bodies, each of them naked, hairless. Each lifeless crucified corpse had its face painted red across its lips and cheeks.

“What… why…” Marcel stammered without taking his eyes off the gruesome scene for a second. He was in such a trance that he didn’t even notice the white porcelain mask slowly stalking up on him from behind.

Led by pure instinct, Julie grabbed a large rock she found on the ground and threw it with all her strength. The creature slumped to the ground.

Cautiously, she approached the mysterious kidnapper. She examined him, the masked killer who had murdered two of her friends only moments before. He lay there motionless as if all the strength had drained from him.

Curiosity overcame Julie and she removed the outlandish mask. Beneath it, she found a reasonably average face. A man in his early thirties. She sensed an inviting warmth when she picked up the mask in her hand, arousing an uncanny desire.

She put on the mask. All of a sudden, Julie understood. All the pieces of the puzzle connected and she finally knew, it made sense to her. She realized what beauty is.

“What kind of pig can do something so horrible?” Marcel asked, still oblivious to his surroundings, shivering in raw horror.

Julie walked over to him, she stood by his side, silent for a moment.

“Can’t you see how beautiful they are? I’ll make you beautiful too.”

Credit: Matej Vlcek

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