Author: Don Boles
Genre: Paranormal Thriller
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
"The sins of the father will be visited upon you…"
Mask is a deeply emotional story about the spiritually destructive paths we take in life and the collateral damage those paths may cause. Wil Paulsen is a popular professor, loving father, and tragic alcoholic. His marriage is on the verge of collapse and only through facing the horrific manifestation of past sins can Wil redeem himself.
Thirty minutes later, we found the place. It was on the outskirts of downtown, which was nice because I could slant park and not have to worry about a meter. The storefront looked bright and clean, but did not fully convey the cramped space inside. Opening the door brought both a ring from the bell overhead and a greeting from the young Rastafarian behind the counter.
"'Ey, mon! Welcome to de Mystic Rhythms!"
I tried to hide the skeptic look on my face as I nodded my own greeting. The accent seemed a little too thick and forced to be authentic, but I felt I could play along. Sam made a beeline to a back corner where there were some interesting African tribal masks along with drums and a didgeridoo. It was the only time I was ever thankful that the pre-school we enrolled him in had an emphasis on cultural diversity. I thought maybe we could take him to an opera, but Ellie didn't think I could sit still long enough.
"This is pretty cool," he said as he came upon the artifacts. I made my way behind him and had to admit, I was quite taken aback as well.
I surveyed the store and was impressed at how many different cultures were represented in such a small space. There was not only a ceremonial samurai head dress on the wall, but also some theatrical Kabuki theater masks. There was also some Latin American pottery under the glass countertop.
"You guys have quite the selection here," I said to the man behind the counter, who was leaning across the top of the glass.
"We get tings, from all over de worl', mon!"
"Right," I said with a slight chuckle. I noticed a gaudy, silver ring on his finger. "Where is that ring from?" I pointed subtly to his hand.
"Ah, this," he laughed, briefly before speaking again, in a much more local dialect, "This is a ring I got playing football in the great state of Mississippi."
"I see," I leaned in to get a closer look. I was much more interested in the story of how he got to Orlando from Mississippi than I was with his reggae reject shtick, "So you didn't get that playing in Jamaica?"
When he smiled, he gave away the youth in his face. "Nah, man. This is my weekend job to pay for my books."
"Where do you go to school?"
"UCF," he said sheepishly.
"Very good. What's your major?" I asked. I naturally fell into my role advising students.
"You don't say!" A Mississippi football transplant going to school in Orlando, while pretending to be Jamaican at his weekend job was by far the most interesting person I had met so far.
"Do you find that people go for the Jamaican thing?" I asked, more curious than mocking.
He leaned back self-assuredly, "Man, I will talk like the Queen of England if it will get you to buy something, you know?"
The immediate image and sound that conjured was too much for me to hold in a chortle. "What's your name?" I asked. I liked this kid. Gave me hope that there would continue to be interesting people in the world.
He reached out and we shook hands before I even noticed we were doing so.
"Well, Jeris, if you ever find yourself up in Oregon, swing by Western Willamette University. We have a good school of engineering that offers a pretty good master's and PhD program."
"Will do, Doc," he said with a smirk.
"Hey, Sam?" I asked as I turned around.
Sam was standing with his back to me and his hands still at his side. I took several steps toward him, "You ready to go?"
His gaze was transfixed on a peculiar mask that was hanging on the back wall. It appeared to be made of leather with creases and cracks along the face. In place of a nose was a massive, curved beak that pointed directly at me, as if accusing some great calamity. The beak was thick enough to have a mouth drawn across it. Two massive eyeholes stared out at us. There was a slight rosy tint to the eyes and upon closer inspection I noticed that there were colored lenses in the raised sockets. It had an overall appearance of a gas mask designed to fit some giant, mutant bird. The mask looked at least a hundred years old and I was taken aback at how unblemished the lenses were. They couldn't be part of the original mask.
"What kind of mask is this?" Sam asked in an almost trance-like state. I could not blame him; it was one of the most bizarre looking things I had ever seen.
"Oh, that," Jeris replied as he walked over to us, "Dat my boy is a Venetian Carnivale Mask of The Dead," he winked at me as he spoke with his exaggerated accent once more.
Sam nodded his head dreamily. "Can we get it, Dad?"
"What? Really?" I looked at the mask again and felt a slight shudder as if something was looking back at me from behind the vacant, cherry colored eyes. "No. That thing is creepy as hell," I said and placed a decisive, but gentle hand on his shoulder.
"But it's cool! It would be a great Halloween mask," Sam pleaded, looking me square in the face. His mouth was stretched into a grin that was cute and psychotic all at the same time. "I won't complain about doing my homework all year," he said softly as he tugged on my wrist.
I contemplated his request with a narrowed look. "How much for the mask, Jeris?"
He reached up and pulled the mask off the wall and looked in the back, "Ten bucks."
"Where did you get the mask?" I asked.
"Hell if I know. It was just sitting in a box one day and the manager told me to find a place for it on the wall."
I exhaled heavily and dug my wallet out of my back pocket. "Don't wear that thing outside of the house," I instructed Sam, who hopped back and forth from one leg to the other in the rapturous joy that ten-year olds have in the most bizarre of things, or when they have to pee.
Jeris rung up the purchase at the counter and Sam held the mask gingerly in his hands. He turned it over and ran his fingers along the back. So much for me thinking that it would be kept in his bedroom closet as a memento from his trip to Florida with his parents.
Sam raised the mask and I looked in the back. I wanted to make sure there was indeed nothing behind those eyes. Don't be a pussy, Paulsen. I did not see anything alive behind the mask and I had a sudden rush of embarrassment that I even quivered in the first place. The only thing I noticed, apart from the fact that the beak nose was big enough to fit over the wearer's nose and mouth, were the stains on the inside of the mask. They were black and splotchy. Not many, but enough to look dirty. The largest was a stain coming out of the beak/mouth cavity and spreading up the forehead of the mask. In the lower right corner was some kind of faint marking, possibly another language, but I did not recognize any letters. I would have to make sure Sam cleaned out the mask before he ever put it on.
Up close I could see the viscosity of the leather. There were thick straps that ran along the top and side of the head of whoever had this apparatus on. A small metal buckle existed on the back of the straps with several holes to tighten the mask around the face. This was not a decorative mask. It seemed as if it was designed to seal the face to keep something from getting in. I could only imagine what would cause someone to strap this thing to their head; unless of course this thing was forcefully strapped on.
Sam put the mask in his backpack and we left. We were not greeted by the fading light of the sun, but the dark, balmy arms of the night.