Mask Of The Reddeath
Al Bruno III
Just an old man, dying and alone in a mansion that had once been so alive with voices and activity. Rob Raymond was content with that. After all he had lived an amazing life, full of adventure and excitement. He had always thought he would die young and in a blaze of glory like so many of his contemporaries, but he had outlived them all.
He spent most of his time in his study reading, listening to music and occasionally sleeping in his favorite chair. When he was hungry- and that was a rare thing now- he would shuffle down to the kitchen and open a can of anything and eat it uncooked. Once there had been servants to wait on him hand and foot but Rob had sent them away with generous severance packages and glowing recommendations.
On the last night of his life he wandered through the darkened study wearing his silk pajamas and thick purple bathrobe. He would pause before each of his mementoes to smile or frown in remembrance;
…a black gauntlet festooned with wires and missing a finger.
…a framed newspaper page, the headline CRIME SPREE ENDS IN DEATH hovers above a grainy black and white photograph of two dark figures lurching off of a rooftop.
…the bronzed skull of a gorilla.
…a wall of medals.
…a green scarf with a drop of blood.
…a framed photograph, old friends around a round table, all but one of them is looking at the camera.
Rob paused at that photograph until finally he took it down and stared long and hard at the time lost faces. His friends, like his adversaries, were all gone now. His wife had passed away years ago and his son hadn't spoken to him in years. Rob’s adopted daughter tried to keep in touch but she was always traveling, always busy.
And that was just as well wasn’t it? Would he really have wanted to have them fussing over him at this stage and trying to make amends for long forgotten disagreements.
A loud crash from downstairs and the sounds of shuffling footsteps shook him from his thoughts. The manor’s intercom system crackled to life, “You could not wait for death but I found you, oh I found you.”
Goosebumps ran over Rob’s skin at the sound of that voice.
There was no time to get to any of the still functioning keepsakes from his old life but he always kept one thing he still kept close at hand. He pulled the cowl from the pocket of his bathrobe.
It was silken and black and conformed perfectly to cover his face, when he wore it he could see in the dark and breathe in conditions that would kill a normal man. He still didn’t know where the fabric had come from or how it had been created.
With his features hidden he felt the old confidence return and the mundane agonies he had become so familiar with over the last six months seemed to fade away.
He was ShadoMask again.
“Are you hiding?” The voice said, “Be honest now. You were always a little scared of me weren’t you?”
The door of the room splintered and fell open and figures shambled in. ShadoMask charged not even paying attention to anything more than the position of his attackers. They were just shapes to him, obstacles. Weakened as he was every swing of his arm or sweep of the leg was pushed him closer to nausea and exhaustion. The room seemed to tilt sideways around him.
Chuckling echoed through the manor, “Do you like them? They’re hand picked. I went to so much trouble.”
ShadoMask began to realize that not matter how much force he put behind his punches and kicks his adversaries stayed silent, impossibly silent.
They weren’t even breathing.
Then he began to recognize them.
...there was the American – fourteen years dead from a car crash but still dressed in red, white and blue.
...the crime lord Dragonfist was an arm's length away, he had died in the electric chair almost a generation ago but here he was blind and stumbling.
...Merlin Man was waiting just outside the doorway, his gadget laden top hat was gone and his costume was in tatters. He reek of the grave, the all did.
“What have you done?” ShadoMask’s voice was a whisper, then a shout, “Reddeath! What have you done?”
His old adversary purred at the sound of his name being spoken, “The black scrolls of Nephren-Ka old friend. I finally managed to liberate them, finally managed to have some real time alone with then. Oh such wonders, such wonders…”
The Reddeath had always been obsessed with the black scrolls of Nephren-Ka, he had committed atrocities in his pursuit of them and ShadoMask had stopped him every time.
But he was supposed to be dead. ShadoMask had seen the crimson cloaked menace fall from the gondola of an invisible zeppelin decades ago.
“Do you think this is what it’s like to have your life pass before your eyes?”
With a cry of rage ShadoMask pushed through the doorway into the hall to find it crowded with long lost friends and enemies. They closed in but he fought back sending them tumbling down the stairs in groups of three and four.
“I’m right on doorstep old friend,” the Reddeath said, “Can you reach me? Do you want to reach me?”
ShadoMask had to laugh, “Oh I’ll reach you all right.”
But there were so many shapes bearing down on him;
…the Silver Claw, his head drooping at an obscene angle his pirate suit hanging off his tattered frame. His own henchmen had turned on him after growing tired of his increasingly elaborate nautical themed crimes.
…the Brat, with his faux schoolboy outfit and his wizened expression. He had retired after a long prison sentence, even written a self-published memoir about his life of crime only to shoot himself when the scheme left him bankrupt.
…the teen wonder Arachni-kid, his features forever young, the track marks on his arms hidden by his gaudy costume. He had showed so much promise.
…Mr. Nice Guy’s smiley face costume was even more ludicrous in death, he had been a failure at fighting crime but a his child safety videos were still shown in schools all across the globe. A heart attack had claimed him as he answered fan mail, the rumor he had been found with a beatific grin.
… ShadoFace’s mask was made from a flawed facsimile of the fabric ShadoMask’s cowl had been made from. A chemical instability in had left his face burned and twisted. He had eventually died in a madhouse.
…Julie was last, still dressed in her funeral finery. The sight of her caused her husband to falter and she managed to claw his cowl from his face.
Rob was weeping as he knocked the walking corpse down the stairs, he could hear her bones shatter as they hit the landing. Reddeath was leaning in the doorway. Even in his blood-colored robes and skull mask he seemed sickly.
“Oh,” he said. “Just like the old times, the best times.”
Unlike the horror movie cliché none of the bodies Rob had fought his way past stirred, that part of the game was over. He charged his old adversary, his bathrobe fluttering around him.
Then the pain flared up, not the constant mundane ache of the cancer, but a bolt of cold fire that bloomed out of his chest and rand down one of his arms leaving it numb and useless. He cursed, vowing that it would not end like this.
He forced himself to keep moving towards his enemy.
His legs failed him and he collapsed at the Reddeath’s feet. Rob couldn’t catch his breath and his vision was darkening. The Reddeath loomed over him and Rob managed to speak one last time and those final words surprised them both.