Underneath the Mask

📅 Published on April 23, 2021

“Underneath the Mask”

Written by J.C. Barnard
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 23 minutes

Rating: 8.50/10. From 4 votes.
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There are sounds in the haze; you just have to be more alert to their subtleties to hear them.  The sounds travel between the thin line that divides the conscious from the unconscious, and when she woke up on the cold, hard ground, she could only remember those minute sounds she heard in the haze.  She came to only when a brick fell from the rotted ceiling, although it was too dark for her to tell if it was a brick, or where it fell from.  The sound was like a gunshot, and she thrashed from the haze like a swimmer trying to stay afloat in the thralls of an undertow.  The crack of the brick was what she heard, the concrete ground was what she felt, and she could see nothing.  Those diminishing sounds from the haze (were they voices or radio static?) were now an afterthought, because fear had settled in over her shivering body.

Where am I?

A valid question, surely.  If a person is lucky enough they will only experience a heavy dose of the haze twice in their lives: once when they are very young, when the sponginess of their brains is malleable enough to hold memories and they begin their conscious lives; and the second time is that curtain between life and death, where no one alive can tell how deep and how far that haze goes.  So when she had swum through the haze, the second time of what was now at least to be three times in her life, her discombobulated mind had dumped her in this strange room with no rhyme or reason, no answers, and no light to see.  Asking the empty air where she was – that was a good place to start.  But a better question would have been the one she asked next.

Who am I?

There were no memories that trickled through the haze with her to this dark, depressive room.  She could not remember how she got here, what her life was like, her family, friends; there was no one home, and the lights were off, so to speak.  She couldn’t even remember her own name; that was a blank slate.  Everything in her mind had been wiped clean into a sea of darkness, akin to the sea of darkness that surrounded her.  Hardly any light penetrated through her looking glasses, even when her eyes tried to adjust to the inky blackness.  She was alone and afraid in a strange, disturbing world.

The girl attempted to get up but was pushed back down with a nasty migraine.  Migraine was the closest she could describe it, since it didn’t feel like the pain was localized inside her head; rather, it felt like a chisel being hammered into the soft spot between her eyes.  It didn’t last long, and as the ache drifted away like leaves down a river, she thought she heard a voice, as distant as a lost radio frequency.  It was soft enough to be nearly indistinguishable at first, but it became more defined, as if the knob was turned just a smidge and the voice was coming in loud and clear.  It sounded feminine, and she was able to glean the last few words before it faded to obscurity.

“…it wasn’t your fault.”

And that was it, before the knob turned away and she was left with the ghost of a deep impression on her forehead.  She felt around for the telltale signs of injury, but there was no ripped skin, no open gash, no wet tacticity of blood left on her fingers.  The migraine had simply vanished, back into the haze as far as she knew.  She patted all over her body, taking in her simple inventory of a loose shirt, pants with tiny pockets, and worn shoes.  A bulge stuck out from one of her pockets.  She wrestled it out and felt along its oblong shape.  It felt smooth and metallic, with two loose protrusions on either side of a thin bar.  A long slit was cut into the side next to the protrusions.  It was far too dark to see anything meaningful, so she put it back.

She got up and reached out with her hands and feet, feeling for a wall.  She knew the air was too stale and too quiet to be outside, so she could figure out that she was in a shadowy dark room.  Her hands reached solid brick, and feeling around, noticed that the wall was thin before splitting off away from her on both sides.  She realized it was a column, sprouting out from the floor and reaching up to heights unseen.  What lay beyond her sight where the sturdy brick column met the tall looming ceiling she could only imagine in her mind’s eye, and what her mind’s eye showed her were glittering irises and drooling maws.  If such a room needed columns for support, then it was an incredibly wide room.  Wide enough to hide creatures of the dark, crouched into corners and hidden between cracks in the concrete.  She kept moving, undeterred by the fear her own mind conjures for her.

Eventually, she found a wall made of peeling paper and splintered wood.  She followed it until she tripped over something big and heavy.  A pile of bricks lay against the wall.  They were unorganized, as if dumped from a great height.  The girl thought these could come in handy and grabbed a few in her hands.  She realized she didn’t have a better way to carry more than a few, so she took one in each hand and kept following the wall.  Up ahead, there was a faint dim outline, the first hint of light she had seen yet.  She shambled to her salvation, taking care of the cracks and jutting outcroppings in the cement.  She reached the light and saw that it was leaking underneath a door frame.  With the small amount of light allowed to her, she recognized that the door looked dense, made of solid metal.  She placed her bricks down nearby and pushed hard on the door.  It wouldn’t budge.  She grasped the latch and pulled it back, where it moved slowly and then opened enough for her to slip through.  She picked up her bricks and stepped into the glorious light.

It was a long hallway, littered with doors on either side.  Lights hung from the low ceiling, showing the disarray.  Holes punctured the walls like mortar fire.  There were wooden planks and cross-beams poking through the ceiling.  Moss and vegetation stuck through cracks in the ground.  Blue illegible writing stood out from the sterile white walls, and when she stood too close to a graffiti patch, her nose twitched from a distinct smell that reminded her of bleach.  A small shriek of metal screamed behind her, and she turned and saw the door closing.  Guided by a deeply-welled habit, she stopped the door with her foot and planted one of her precious bricks as a door stopper.

“Just in case I need to backtrack,” she told herself.  The sound of her own voice frightened her.

The only things that looked to be undefiled in the hallway are the doors, which were all spotless and shined like polished steel.  The girl went from door to door, trying each handle.  None of them turn all the way; the lock caught for each one.  There were no keyholes on the outside, or if there were any, they all faded along with the hallway.  On each door there was a number, crafted in bronze plating with a meticulous hand.  She noticed with each passing door that the number descended, with odd numbers on the right and even numbers on the left.

She counted each number, 692, 691, 690, 689…while she tried the handle, finding no luck.  She didn’t realize she reached the end of the hallway until she tried the handle to door 600 and looked up to see a blank wall.  There was nothing left in the hallway, and she’d tried every door with nothing to show for it.  She sighed, knowing that she must backtrack to the dark room and try to find another exit in complete blindness.  If only she had a flashlight or a box of matches, that would help her immensely.  The thought of a box of matches made her throat run dry, and she licked her cracked lips.

She became so lost in thought that she nearly missed the mahogany door that wasn’t there before.  She stopped and had to turn around to see if she was mistaken.  There was a door in the middle of the hallway that wasn’t there when she went down the first time.  It sat between 668 and 664, and it was made of deep, nearly red-tinged mahogany wood.  A brass knob protruded from the smooth wood, and she tested it.  The knob turned with ease.  It opened inward, and she gingerly stepped through.

She was about to put her second brick down in the door and retrieve her other one when the agony in her head erupted.  That same head-splitting pain morphed between her eyes.  It was more agitated this time; she could taste the coppery tinge of torment.  She collapsed, her brick discarded to the side, and curled up on the ground.  Through the insistent and annoying ringing, she heard another voice.  It was deep and more defined, the baritone of a grown man whispering from somewhere she couldn’t see and didn’t have the strength to open her eyes.

“…owe her at least this…”

It faded in and out before she could figure out more of what he had said.  The agony subsided, and a part of her was disappointed.  The door had closed behind her, and she was shaken to see that there was no knob or handle on her side.  There was hardly an outcropping in the wall to suggest that a door had been there, the mahogany camouflaged expertly with the rest of the finely crafted wooden wall.  She would not be able to retrieve her brick, and so with her last remaining in her hand, she faced the room she entered.

It wasn’t a room.  A dimly lit hallway met her gaze.  It was not as decrepit as the last, but neglect and abandonment were painted on the walls and floors.  No doors were in sight, but flickering candles for light sat on flimsy stools and chairs.  How long had these been set out, and by whom?  She inspected one closely.  It burned brightly, but it did not eat away at the wick, and there was no puddle of wax dripping over the edges.  When she looked away, an impression of the candle had branded itself in her vision, sending her stars and nebulae of dancing light.  In the distance was a T-section where the hallway split.  She started walking toward it.  A stench mingled around her nose as she got closer, reminding her of those blue writings in the other hallway, but it was sharper and left a sour taste on her tongue.

She reached the intersection and found the source of the smell.  It was a body.  It was slumped against the far wall; its head hung low where a deep gash was inscribed into its neck.  Dried blood dribbled onto its white shirt and around the floor.  Its fingers were dipped in a dark crimson.  The girl never knew how dark blood could be when there was a lot of it.  The corpse held a small ripped sheet of paper in one stiff hand.  It piqued the girl’s curiosity, but her fear kept her away.  She imagined the body springing to life and tackling her when she got close.  She grabbed a nearby stool, being careful to take the candle off and place it to the side.  She softly approached the body, holding the stool out like a lion tamer in the circus.  She prodded the dead body.  Nothing happened.  She poked it harder, hard enough for it to lean over and for the hair to part away from its eyes.  The lids were closed, where more congealed blood had gathered underneath its crusty eyelashes.  Truly, this poor soul was dead.  And the girl vowed not to end up like it while she was still kicking and screaming.

She pried the paper from the pale figure and unfolded it.  The paper was grimy and tinged with deep red, but the blue ink was bold enough to be legible and easy to read.  It had two arrows pointing in opposite directions, one indicating the path on the right and the other for the path on the left.  Underneath the left arrow was a message: “To Truth and Everlasting Pain.”  The other message underneath the right arrow read “To Eternal Darkness and Insanity.”

Truth or darkness.  Pain or insanity.  Pan’s Labyrinth certainly wasn’t giving her any agreeable options.  She stood in the middle of the intersection, the burden of indecisiveness planting her feet to the ground.  It took her a long time to get moving, and when she finally compelled her body to go, she chose the path on the right.  Whether it was because of innate curiosity to explore the territory before making her decision, or if she was answering the call of the void, can be never known for sure.  What is known is that the hallway curved to the right as she walked, passing by more candles, until she came across a set of elevator doors.  They were rusted, decorated with what once was ornate patterns and gold finishings.  Blue writing was scrawled along the exterior.

take the plunge

She dragged the doors open and was met with an empty elevator shaft.  Long pipes and steel beams fell down into the dark abyss.  She didn’t see how far down the shaft went; the dim light from the candles couldn’t satisfy her eyes.  She picked up a nearby candle and dropped it base-first into the shaft, where the light fell away quickly and was swallowed by the darkness.  She listened for the sound of impact, but it never came rolling up from the depths.  Next, she dropped a small wooden chair the candle had been sitting on, and it too fell far and fast without giving away any noise.  The void was bottomless, and she had no intention of climbing down such a perilous place.

She looked up and noticed that there was more blue writing along the shaft walls.  It said:

don’t turn back

Was that a threat or a plea?  She felt whispers of wind crawling along her back, and she imagined the corpse ambling up behind her, arms outstretched, ready to push her off the cusp of oblivion.  She turned around and saw nothing.  The hallway disappeared back to the left, just as she had left it.  This was a dead end.

She backtracked through the hallway, and when she passed the T-section, she was pleased to see that both dead bodies were exactly where she had left them.  The one in the white shirt was still slumped against the far wall and the one in the blue shirt lay motionless along the closer wall.

No.

Wait.

Why were there two? she thought.

She snapped back around.  Her eyes did not deceive her; there were two carcasses in the hallway.  The newer one, the one in the blue shirt, looked just like the other.  It had similar hair, a similar body structure, a similar cut along its slender white neck.  The only marked difference was a different colored shirt.  It didn’t move, but the girl was too wary of its presence to turn her back on it.  Either someone moved it into place, or it moved itself.  She didn’t plan on staying around to find out either way.  As the curve of the hallway leaned into her path, she kept her eyes on the seemingly lifeless body until it vanished from her sight.  Then she walked forward, eyes straight, only turning back to see if something was following her.  Was that a hint of blue around the corner, or was it a trick of the dying candlelight?  She walked the path of truth and pain.

Time passed gradually, so slowly it infected her mind. This path was longer than the other; she could feel it in the worn grooves of her shoes.  Eventually the curve of the hallway evened out enough so that she could see a door at the end.  It was made of rich mahogany, like the door in the other hallway.  There were markings crudely scratched on the tough exterior, and the girl squinted her eyes enough to read:

there is no escape

She twisted the brass knob and entered the room.  It was considerably darker here than in the hallway.  No lights were strung from the ceiling, nor were there candles to guide her.  She propped the door open with her last brick and saw that it was a hospital room.  An IV was set by a gurney with grimy sheets and dark stains.  A table sat on the other side, holding scattered pills of many sizes and colors.  A shredded curtain was pulled back along the bedside.  The walls were a spotless sterile gray and there were no other doors.  There was a window on the far wall, and the girl felt a rush of exalted relief to see moonlight pierce through the tinted glass.  She ran forward and found that the window was built high above the ground, preventing her from seeing anything but the glittering light from the moon behind thin clouds.  She needed something she could stand on.

Then there was a scrape, like that of a stone being dragged along rough concrete.  She turned and what she saw sent electric shivers down her spine.  The corpse with the blue shirt was leaning against the open door.  It had pushed the brick out of the way, and the only thing keeping the heavy door open was itself.  It raised its head to look at the girl.  The girl was horrified to see that its eyelids had parted, but there were no glassy eyes underneath.  Just two dark red pits of open sinew and bone.  It raised a scabby finger over its lips.  No sound escaped its mouth or exposed neck.  It started pulling the door closed.

“No!” she screamed.  The thing had the door halfway closed when she bolted forward, but by then, her action was too late.  It shut the door completely.  The girl grasped the knob and turned it back and forth.  It was locked from the outside.  She saw the shadow of the corpse underneath the door frame as it staggered away to join its compatriot and those burning candles.

A heavy crash compelled her to take her hands off the knob.  The room had been thrown into chaos.  The bed had been upturned, its frame scattered in pieces, and the bumpy mattress slumped against the wall like a dead animal on the side of the road.  The IV bag had been knocked down, water seeped out of the pouch and mixed with the pills.  The curtain was fluttering in the air before settling in the far corner.  The walls had been defiled with deep scratches and splotches of blue.  A shadow was blocking the moonlight, and the girl noticed that something was drawn on the window.  A clown’s face.  Its soulless eyes were sunk back into the abyss of its sockets, and its mouth contorted into a wicked grin, a smile that could never be anatomically possible.  Its lips reached the tips of its ears, and it flashed a set of gnarled, sharp teeth.  The image stood as a dark omen in the room, painting the once-blissful moonlight into a curse.

The girl no longer thought of the reanimated corpse.  She didn’t wonder what had thrashed the room so quickly and violently.  She didn’t want to know who painted the clown face on the window.  All she thought about was that she was trapped in this room.  There was no way out.

Not quite, her intuition told her.

Indeed, there had to be something that the frayed ends of her senses had picked up that she was not wholly aware of at first.  And there it was, on the floor where the bed used to stand.  A prominent outline in the shape of a square, where the color was mismatched with the rest of the ground.  She walked over to it and saw that a small rope handle hung loosely from one of the ends.  She pulled on it, and the whole frame lifted up to show a small crawl space.  She peeked in, hanging her head upside down from the ground above.  The crawl space looked big enough to support her size if she squeezed in, and it went off in one direction.  She looked up to the window one last time, seeing the clown’s face in all its sinister glory.  She crouched low into the space and started crawling forward.  It was dark, and she felt the walls on all sides so close together.  It was the same oppressive darkness as the first room, but she was forced into a vulnerable position where everything felt claustrophobic.

She ventured on carefully, feeling out the space in front of her.  It didn’t help much since she didn’t feel the pit until her arm reached out to find empty space, and her body followed.  For one sickening moment, there was that nausea of weightlessness pitted in her stomach.  Before she could register the fright, her back bumped lightly against a slick vertical wall, and she flew down a chute. She was unprepared for the sharp twists and turns, bumps and drops, zig-zags and straightaways.  She couldn’t see where she was going, nor had any sense of how far the thing went down.

Her vision blurred as another headache sprouted from her forehead.  She could feel herself going cross-eyed from the agony.  It was hard to focus, hard to think, hard to feel the wind whip through her clothes and hair as she fell further into darkness.  There was only the pain and a small voice ringing above the howling wind.

“…beyond help.”

The girl passed out soon after.

* * * * * *

She crawled her way out of the fog and found herself lying on a mattress.  It wasn’t the haze she saw; the mist in her mind was too light, carrying her like a buoyant raft on the open ocean.  She had been dumped into another hallway, with warm lamps strung from the ceiling.  There were many doors spaced out on either side, which she assumed were all locked.  A large square hole, two feet off the ground, seemed out of place behind her along the wall.  That was the end of the chute, evidently.  She got up, dusted herself off, and followed the hallway.  She ignored all the lightly-colored wooden doors, instead focusing on the set of double doors at the end of the hallway.  She noticed that they had two opaque windows on either side, and as she got closer, saw that they were swinging doors.  She heard a soft dripping sound the more she followed the hallway.  It was coming from the inside of the mysterious room, and as she pushed the swinging doors open, she understood why.

Hundreds of chains hung from a tall ceiling.  Connected to these chains were messy straitjackets.  They were filled with bodies, strung upside down like red bats.  An orchestra of soft dripping, like a warehouse of leaky faucets, came from these suspended carcass cocoons.  Pools of blood lay on the tiled floor.  Wooden tables scattered around the room, covered with exposed corpses that looked like botched autopsies.  There were butcher tables, cutting boards, saw boards, racks, and other tables the girl couldn’t find the words to describe.  A collection of assorted knives, blades, swords, axes, hammers, surgical tools, drills, and saws were displayed along the walls.  Flies buzzed around the fresh meat.  This was a mausoleum of manslaughter.

A single wooden door sat on the other far side of the room.  The girl drifted dreamily past the tables and cadavers.  Her fragile mind could not digest the inhumanity of this place, and so she wandered like a headless chicken.  She only wanted one thing: to go through the door.  All she knew were doors, and they always brought fresh nightmares, but that’s how she journeyed through this god-forsaken hellscape.

She was in the middle of the room, caught halfway between the entry and her escape, when she heard a long low creak to her left.  A large panel of the wall had come loose, pushed by a beefy arm and covered with a thick black glove.  A gargantuan thing stepped out.  Its leather boots were soaked in blood and gore.  Its jeans were dirty with grime, and it wore large denim overalls over a black padded jacket that looked burnt instead of washed.  It held a massive sledgehammer in one of its paws, and its face was not a face.

It wore a mask.

A clown mask.

It wore those familiar soulless eyes, wicked smile, and impossibly sharp teeth.

It noticed the girl standing in the middle of the room, and they both experienced a shared stalemate.  In truth, it appeared she had initially scared it more than it scared her, if just for a moment.  A bad first impression, perhaps.  They observed each other, like nature in the wild; neither of them moved, as if one secretly dared the other to make the first move.  The hulking beast was the first to oblige.

“Fresh meat!” it said, then charged.

The thing stampeded through tables, toppling them aside as if they weighed nothing.  Bodies dropped to the dirty floor with sickening plops.  Red puddles splashed around it as the beast plowed forward with inhuman speed.  The girl sprang into action, flying away as if guided by animalistic instincts.  She bobbed around, vaulted over, and weaved through the tables.  They were getting more and more clustered as the door came closer, while the thing behind her was undeterred by these obstacles.  It seemed to enjoy the high of the chase.

“You’ll make a fine addition!” it bellowed.

She was close to the door; she could see the glitter of its brass knob.  Several tables were bunched together in a knot, becoming a barrier in her way.  The clown beast was too close to catching her, and she couldn’t afford to slow down.  She dropped down and slid under the tables, aided by the streams of blood that helped keep her momentum.  She slammed into the door.  The thing yelled behind her as she popped back up and put her hand on the knob.

“Clever girl!” it said.

She twisted the knob.

“But you won’t escape me that easily.”

It didn’t move.

“No one has.”

She turned it the other way.

“And no one will,” the thing mocked.

The door was locked shut.  She was trapped.

She turned around to see the clown beast meticulously stepping around those last few tables, as if it wanted to savor its victory.  The thing was so close that she could read a name tag pinned to its disgusting overalls.

Ezra

Her mind screamed for a way out.  She was surrounded on all sides by heavy-looking tables and hooks.  If she made a move to flank the beast, it would charge again and she would be done for.  No, she bided her time, looking for an opening.  There was only one single table between her and the thing.  It passed the sledgehammer from hand to hand lightly, ready to strike at any moment.  She could feel its vile smile behind the mask; the sick monster was enjoying this.  The beast brought the hammer high over its head and swung it down on the table, splintering it into a pile of woodchips and fire tinder.

Now! her mind commanded.

She pushed off the door and slid around the hammer, propelling herself between the beast’s wide legs.  She ducked underneath the last few tables, and started to run.  The clown beast was caught off-guard, and it took its time to recover.  She traced the alley that the clown had made when it split the room of tables like the red sea.  It had made a clear path back to the open panel in the wall from where it had come, and the girl followed it quickly.  By the time the beast had figured out what had happened, she had reached the open hole and was closing the flap behind her.

“Stop!” the thing yelled.  “You cannot escape!  No one can escape–” and its voice was cut off by the clunk of the panel door as it slid into place.  She had gotten away from the clown.

But this was no time to rest.  The thing would be pursuing its prey with vigor and determination.  Who knew how many secret paths were carved into this tumbledown building?  The whole place was the home of that beast, as far as she was concerned.

The girl was in a small room that looked more like a mad butcher’s shop.  Dark blood splattered along the counters, sinks, tables, and cabinets, while squishy bags filled with organs were haphazardly tucked in corners and inside of an open fridge.  A long gray intestine was strung up by a hook, its sloppy end falling down into the gaping hole of a dead man’s torso.  The girl clutched her stomach and looked away.  There was a door on the other side of the tiny workplace; a way out.  As she passed the table with the dissected body, she spotted a long butcher’s knife on a cutting block.  She took it and held it close as she got to the door.  With a shaking hand, she lightly tried the knob.  It twisted easily enough, and she walked out into another hallway.

To her right, the hallway disappeared into darkness, as deep and as black as the elevator shaft.  To her left, the hallway stretched into light, where bright lamps burned and a single door was placed invitingly at the end.  The door behind her shut.

She heard a crash to the right, deafening and destructive.  The clown beast had come barreling through the wall, far back into the darkness.  She could see the glint of the mask, and it looked up to discover its prey lying in wait.

“Found you, little pig!”

The girl sprinted toward the light and the door.  The beast gave chase and was soon nipping at her heels.  She could feel its hot, rancid breath on the nape of her neck.  A glowing red lamp sat poised above the door, where it shone on a single number etched into the magnificent wood.

0

The thing was too close.  She wouldn’t have time to try the handle.  She lowered her shoulder and charged through the door, and it mercifully gave way.

Pain exploded from her arm as she rolled into the final room.  The walls were filled with mirrors.  A never-ending expanse filled her sight, and the girl was granted with the first glimpse of herself in those bouncing reflections.  She saw hundreds of herself, an army of ragged soldiers with long jet-black hair, sunken brown eyes, and a prominently crooked nose.  They wore dark green shirts with faded blue jeans and tattered black shoes; all of their uniforms were dirty and splotched with crimson blood.

A single plain door disrupted the otherwise all-mirrored wall.  A bright green “exit” sign hung above the frame.  Was escape this close, or was it another ruse from the clown?  The massive beast was squeezing through the busted door behind her, and she grabbed for the knob.

It didn’t budge.  She was almost unsurprised.

A whistle.  Like the low humming of a car passing by.  She ducked out of the way as the beast swung its sledgehammer into a nearby mirror.  Shards of tinkering glass flew everywhere.  Bits of the moon sprinkled onto her body. The clown faced her and snarled, angry that it missed so inelegantly.  She brandished her butcher’s knife.  The beast was unfazed.

“Who are you?” the girl demanded.  In response, the thing swung its hammer vertically.  She sidestepped it, and the concrete cracked underneath the blow.  Its moves were getting sluggish and labored.  She held the knife out with both hands.

“What do you want?”

The clown turned its tree-trunk neck.  “I want my prize.”

He struck again.  She wasn’t fast enough, and the handle glanced off her bum shoulder.  Her sore arm screamed at her, but the adrenaline kept most of the pain at bay.  She slashed with her knife, slicing a thin line in the beast’s arm.  The beast hissed, then it roared with rage.

The next attack was sporadic, fueled by rampage than method.  It missed widely, and she took the opportunity to get in close and thrust the knife in its chest.  The blade stuck into the padded jacket, but it never tasted flesh.  The thing smacked the knife away and threw the girl across the room.  Her back struck the far wall, and she fell.  Her muscles were liquid, and they wouldn’t respond.  The beast trod forward, fixing its wild ogling eyes underneath the mask on its prize while the girl lay unmoving on her side.

She felt an awkward bulge on her hip, and when her arm decided to start moving again, she felt something in her pocket.  The beast came closer.  She wrestled it out and felt along a familiar oblong shape.  It was a switchblade.

“Nice try, little pig,” the thing growled.  “But it ends here.”

It swung the hammer sideways, and the impact would’ve done enough damage to shatter her pelvis had the beast not slipped on a shard of glass.  It stumbled, and the hammer kicked off her right shoe.  She felt a small bone crack in her foot, but she was up before she felt the pain spread.  She flicked the blade out from its cover and raised it up to the thing’s head.  It tried to lean back, but it was too late.  The girl carved a deep, wide grin into the beast’s neck, and the blade sliced it like hot butter.  The thing screamed and dropped its precious hammer.  It held its large gloved paws to its neck, trying desperately to stop the bleeding.  Dark blood spurted between its fingers like a water pump, and soon it collapsed to the ground.  Its head hit heavily on the concrete, and the clown mask dislodged from its head, where the girl recognized its lumpy face.  Staring back at her with unfocused dead eyes was a face she knew too well because it was one of the only faces she saw in this hideous place.

It was her face.

There was the unmistakable long jet-black hair, sunken brown eyes, and crooked nose.  There was no trick of the light, no illusion that she noticed, no seam along the open neckline; she had killed what uncannily looked like herself.

That was when the torrential headache struck down on her.  She crumpled into a pile of mushy flesh and aching bones, hardly able to keep her eyes open.  The pain had devolved little by little with each iteration, and this one was a doozy.  Her forehead was being split open by burning claws, and magma poured into the gash.  A single voice echoed through her head as she lay next to her doppelganger.

“…she’ll die…”

The pain wasn’t subsiding.  It persisted, like a jackhammer right outside the window early in the morning.  She forced her eyes to open.  In the mirror she saw a steady stream of blood run down from the middle of her forehead.  It was in the spot where the agony was located.

Beyond her blurry stare, past her reflection, she saw an impossible sight.  The clown beast had gotten up, and its face floated toward her.  No, it wasn’t the monster who approached.  It was the mask itself.  It had become untethered from its host and floated freely off the ground.  The woman rotated and held her hands up in front of her face, anticipating an attack.  But she noticed that the mask was still on the ground where it had fallen off the beast.  She looked in the mirror again.  The mask had floated up next to her and stared back.  Its repulsive lips and hideous smile contorted into movement, and it started to speak.

“You wretched thing,” it said in a raspy voice.  “I pity you.”

The woman could not conjure any words in response.  Her tongue had been struck dumb; it rolled lazily in her slack-jawed mouth.

“You have traveled through this hell,” the mask said matter-of-factly.  “You’ve faced endless nightmares in search of the truth, have you not?  Haven’t you chosen the path of truth and everlasting pain?”

“I…I didn’t want any of this,” the woman had found her tongue working again.

“Seldom do,” the mask said, “and yet you were able to take matters into your own hands and, by opposing means, end them.”  It gestured to the fallen body.  “Why kill this poor creature?”

“I did what I could…to survive,” she said.

“Yes, of course.  But why fight so hard?  What is the point of survival?”

The woman swallowed hard.  “I wanted to get out of this place.”

The mask tsked.  “Not quite, not quite.  You may think you wanted to escape, but you really wanted to know the truth.  Why you’re here.  Who you are.  What is your purpose.”

The woman crawled closer to the mirror, like a beggar at the altar.  “Yes.  Yes!  That’s what I want, more than anything.  Can you tell me where I am?  Can you tell me my name?”

The mask shook its face slowly, a bobbing fishhook in the deep blue waters.  “Even I don’t know that.  But I know that this place was created by my beneficiary, and he’s given me full reign to do what I want.”

The woman tensed.  Tendrils of adrenaline had leaked away, and her body shivered with exhaustion and ache.  She also shivered with newfound anger and anticipation. The mask went on: “He’s given me playthings who wander down my halls.  Some get lost.  Some go mad.   Some are massacred indiscriminately.  Some kill for sport.  And some kill the big bad wolf at the end, and they slowly become what they once hated.”

The mask tilted its head and glowered at her.  “You’ll make a fine vessel.”

The woman looked with horror as her face in the mirror began to change.  Her skin dripped off, and underneath her face was starchy white paint.  Her features twisted into soulless painted eyes, a red nose, and a wide toothy grin.  The woman shrieked.

“What is this?!  What are you doing to me?!”

“I will make you magnificent,” said the mask.  Her vision became red.  She frantically looked around, and her gaze fell on the sledgehammer.  The original clown mask lay discarded nearby, and a wild idea sprouted in her feverish mind.

She picked up the hammer easily in one hand, guided by strength she didn’t know she possessed.  She swung it heavily, and it bashed the clown’s mask on the floor.  It cracked, but it did not completely yield.  Several mirrors cracked along with the mask.  The room and the mask were connected.  Pain flared from her forehead, but she ignored it.  Her rage fueled her more.

“What are you doing?” the mask sounded alarmed.  She swung again, and the mask gave in more.  The mirrors looked like they were on the verge of disintegration.  With one gentle touch, they could all shatter into stars.  The woman felt like she was about to shatter as well.

“Stop this!” the mask was hysterical.  “You cannot change the convergence.  It has already been decided!”

The woman brought the sledgehammer up one more time.  A new figure in the mirror caught her eye.  It was the reanimated corpse of the blue-shirted body.  It stood in the mirror, clothes hanging off withered skin and bone.  Its wide gash in the neck smiled warmly at her, and it brought a finger to its lips.  It was sending her off with a goodbye.  She brought the hammer down for the killing blow.

The mask crumpled and broke.

All the mirrors blew outward.  Bits of glass became fairies, and their wings glittered in the dying light.  The floating mask disappeared with the shattered mirrors, its screams cut off like a line being snapped.  Everything was broken; the doors, the lights, the ground, even the entire facility was crumbling down, down into darkness.  She felt like her head was broken too.

A gentle voice breezed along her ears, leaving her with one last soft apology.

“I’m sorry,” it said.

She drifted into that haze for the third and final time.  And this time, she welcomed it like an old friend.

Rating: 8.50/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by J.C. Barnard
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: J.C. Barnard


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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