IN THIS TWILIGHT
The Mask Collector
Wednesday October 17th 2004
It was almost over now, his benefits were running out, the charities and doctors he’d groveled before had lost their patience with him. He had no money for food or drugs or batteries for his second hand Hello Kitty radio. The utilities had all unhooked him last month. Darren didn’t want to think what the winter would bring. The company that owned the Kerwin Landings Apartments had sent over a representative to let him know they would not be allowing him to renew his lease and he would have to vacate the premises by the last day of May. He never went down to the mailbox anymore, it was nothing but collection notices and form letters. It had taken him a few weeks to even realize his car had been repossessed.
Three hundred and forty-three pounds. Darren still couldn’t believe it. He stood at the balcony window and watched his puffy reflection cringe in disgust, I thought drug addicts were supposed to be skinny. How could I be a fatass and addicted to drugs?
He thought about killing himself a lot, especially in the middle of the night when the voices in the wall woke him and left him with nothing but the darkness and his regrets. But he held on, even though he knew he was on his own. He couldn’t talk to his family because letting them see how far he had fallen would just confirm that Reece had been the good son after all.
And Marnie? She might take me back someday, but not now, not as long…
Voices stirred him from his thoughts, Darren stared through his reflection to see a confident and svelte Chad heading out for his evening jog.
Is he really doing my ex? Is it really her voice I’m hearing in the hallway at night?
He watched Chad jogging away and found it hard to believe that just a summer ago it had been him doing the jogging and Chad had been the one holed up in an apartment that reeked of sweat and mildew.
Of all the things he had been pondering lately that was the thought that stayed with him. Somehow he had become Chad and Chad had become him.
It sounds so crazy.
Crazy wasn’t the half of it, it was the mother of all crazy notions but it rattled around in his head day and night. It wouldn’t let him think, it wouldn’t let him rest.
When Chad had jogged over the horizon Darren started moving, heading out of his apartment and moving as quickly and quietly as he could to apartment 1668.
What do I expect to find? A Voodoo doll? A Dracula cape? Marnie’s panties?
Darren had expected to have to force the door open but he found it unlocked. With one last furtive glimpse around the hallway he stepped into Chad’s apartment, and quickly shut the door behind him.
The boxes were gone and in their place there was tasteful furniture of cherry and brass, the air was heavy with the odor recently extinguished candles and incense. Shelves occupied every wall and they were crammed with thick books with Latin titles. Sweat dripped into Darren’s eyes as he made his way to the room that bordered his.
The truth was Darren didn’t believe in Voodoo, or magic or even God, but what he did believe is that some truly screwed up shit had gone on in this room and somehow it had affected him, cursed him.
He found the room empty, except for one mask. The sight of those practically bare walls caught him like a bolt of ice in his chest. Darren stepped inside.
His life’s work? His great collection? Where is it?
The only mask that remained was Chad’s pride and joy, his Vizard of the Hierophant. The mask seemed larger somehow. Darren told himself it was just a trick of the light.
Why does it look like it’s… breathing?
The cold in Darren’s chest gave away to a familiar pain, an agony that choked the breath from his lungs and bolted down his arm. He tried to stumble back out of the room to the kitchen phone but he found the door closed behind him. The knob refused to turn in his shaking hands.
“Why are you doing this?” Darren could do now was turn back to the mask, “What do you want from me?”
A cackling roar deafened him. A flash of red blinded him. Something fluttered before Darren’s field of vision. A curved shape. He tried to catch it and failed.
It was a mask falling towards the floor in impossibly slow motion.
No, not a mask! It’s me!
Darren tried to shout but his voice was a whisper and the words made no sense.
The pain in his chest doubled and in that moment he understood that an exchange had been made. A sacrifice to an entity whose desires were as vast and inscrutable as the cold depths of space itself.
And he knew his soul would suffer in emptiness forever.
Darren’s face struck the floor. There was a sound like shattering glass.