Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shocktober Day 12 - A Flash of Horror - Masks

She was told Thursday night was always Mask Night, but that didn't make it any easier to accept the true creep factor of the tradition. It was a club she'd never been to in a part of town that made her uncomfortable with friends she had only meet a few weeks ago. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, she couldn't be too choosy since she had transferred to her new school months ago and just now, in a dumb stroke of luck, she had found a few people who fully embraced her quirky nature - or at least seemed to.

So after months of being homesick for her old university and not having any excuse to do anything fun, she was beyond excited for an opporunity to break out one of her dresses from an as-yet-unopened packing box and doll herself up for her first true night on the town with friends since the school year started.

Renee and Jenny were both nice to her from the day they met in one of the countless coffee shops littered around campus. Susan was worried as she sat alone in a booth that she looked completely helpless and lonely. When the two girls sat down opposite her at the table, they introduced themselves and broke into small talk like it was some kind of super power beyond Susan's understanding. Now, weeks later, she appreciated their friendship but still dwelled on the paranoia that she was still just as pathetic as she was then. Afterall, while the two of them seemed to make friends wherever they went, Susan was not so lucky and would still be lonely in her tiny efficiency apartment with nothing to do and nowhere to go on a Thursday night.

And here she was, outside a huge warehouse that appeared to vibrate through the sheer volume of the repetitive, ear-aching bass inside. As they waited, Renee and Jenny chatted it up with the boys in line in front of them. Susan was distracted by all the sights of the people around them. Many were just normal club-goers - those she might find back at her old school - but most were different in one specific way - they brought their own masks. The majority of these veterans were already wearing their masks, which filled her with a kind of dread she didn't understand. She looked back toward the front of the line and was startled. Renee and Jenny - along with the group of boys they were flirting with - had disappeared. Instead of friendly, smiling faces, she was surrounded by a huge variety of paralyzed, masked facades. Some were smiling while others were frozen in their rage, and still others seemed to mock and make her feel like she needed to run as far away as she could from the warehouse and the non-stop beating of the bass. There were no human faces left around her, and Susan began breathing quickly and feeling light-headed.

Finally Renee, standing right next to her, lifted her mask off her face and giggled at Susan in her panic. She had to sit down on the curb to catch her breath, and soon she was flanked on either side by Renee and Jenny - both holding their false faces in their hands. The line passed them by, and an hour later the three of them were alone on the street and in fact alone outside the warehouse all together with the exception of a large door man with an extremely-bored expression on his mask. She glanced over her shoulder at the door man, and realized with a drop in her stomach that it was too dark to see where his eyes were focusing. For all she knew the man had been staring at them for the last hour with nothing better to do. She kept this to herself since by this point, Renee and Jenny have already shifted back into party girl mode.

Since the line had evaporated while she was recovering, the two girls helped Susan to her feet and put their masks back on. It still frightened her a little, but she saw sitting next to the door a large box of simple masks. The door man handed her a plain, black domino mask from the box. A minute later they were inside and Susan was hit with flashbacks of good memories and nights spent out at the clubs with old friends at her old school. It made her happy and she had an urge to get a drink and get into the full spirit of the evening.

With the flashing lights and familiar smells and sounds, she felt brave enough to separate from her girls to walk up to the bar and get some cute guy to buy her a drink. She noticed several other domino-masked party goers and felt a little more comfortable approaching them since their masks, just like hers, could barely hide one's true expression. Susan made small talk and felt for the first time since moving that she was one of those people who could just strike up a conversation and make quick, disposable friends like it was nothing. She kept trying to find a domino'ed person who had been to the club previously to get a feel for the scene, but every person in the same mask as hers were also having the first night out in this bizzare - and increasingly discomforting - club. No one who could show their facial expression could tell her about the club and all seemed to be just as ignorant and fresh to the party as her.

She had a sudden urge to find Renee and Jenny, but had forgotten what their masks looked like, making it impossible to find them. She tore off her domino mask, hoping that her friends would find her and see her anxiety written all over her face. A few moments later, a woman in a particularly revealing dress and a mask which completely covered her face put a hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear that she shouldn't go around too long revealed or it would send out the wrong message. Confused, she thought to pull her small black mask back over her eyes, but another woman, similar in appearance to the one who had warned her, grabbed it out of her hand and slipped back into the masses. Why couldn't her friends find and rescue her?

She could feel anxiety rise from her toes to the top of her head, and it felt like every hair on her body stook up like she was a startled cat. She pushed through the thick crowd and sensed eyes hidden behind masks leer and judge her exposed face. Finally she got to the huge warehouse doors that would lead her out and away from all the false faces. Two girls flanked her and grabbed at her arms. She elbowed the one on her right instinctively before a familiar voice on her left urged her to stop. Jenny was pleading for her to slow down and take a breath while simultaneously berating her for not having her mask on. Renee was rubbing a tender spot on her stomach. They both tugged at her arms as she pulled away, trying to escape the warehouse. Susan thought she saw a look of pure terror in the eyes of both the other girls, although she didn't understand why.

She slid the door open just a foot or two and sneaked her slight frame out of the warehouse. She sucked in her breath in a quick gasp at what she found. The street was barren except for an unnatural semi-circle of masked individuals facing the warehouse door and in turn facing Susan. She was so distracted by the 20 extremely well-dressed and unreadable strangers facing her that she failed to notice the loud clank of the door closing behind her. It was an even mix of men dressed in tuxedos and women dressed in elaborate evening gowns. She heard a voice speak, a man's, but she couldn't tell which one of them it was. The words were almost a whisper but could somehow be heard over the club's obnoxious bass. It was as if someone were standing right next to her whispering in her ear.

"We weren't quite ready to commence this evening's activities. If you will kindly keep your whore's mouth shut while we finish our preparations, we promise not to disappoint." Susan couldn't find words to say, but the others, the gentlemen and ladies surrounding her, could read all her thoughts and feelings just by looking upon her face. The whispered voice spoke some words she couldn't understand which were echoed by 19 other whispering voices all sounding just as close to Susan's ear. They were so close she felt their breath blowing ever so gently on her neck. They all moved a few feet closer to her, closing the semi circle tighter. She heard more words she couldn't understand, and they moved a few feet closer to her. The ritual was conducted a third time. Susan was paralyzed with her back against the warehouse door, but she knew at least that they would soon be close enough for her to see their eyes behind the masks. She hoped to see in them that this was all a practical joke - all something cooked up somehow by Renee and Jenny to celebrate their first real night out together.

One last set of unknown words graced her ears, and they closed in on her. They smelled of perfume and cologne she had never experienced before. They got close, and she could see now that each mask in its own alien form, was twisted up in macabre and mocking smiles. She looked quickly from face to face trying hopelessly to connect with just one of them. Too late, she realized as each of the 20 masked individuals each pulled a small, well-forged dagger from hidden places. Where there should have been eyes, she saw behind each mask black, empty sockets. It was the last thing she would ever see.

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