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The Masked

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Even after the game, lights tinted the painted grass and lonely field. Another useless Friday night game ending with the football players carrying out word of an after party. The grass was wet and bent over dripping over its own roots and a dark mist lingered in the air. I stood in the middle of the field taking in the quiet chirp of crickets and the map of constellations above me. The metal risers were dampened from late autumn down pour and tipped over, empty cans of Coca-Cola and Sprite littered them. I sighed, a heavy sigh blowing out into a bitter frosty cloud of air that I could see in the late days of fall when it already snowed a little bit and you could see your breath on some cold nights. I was usually alone on a Friday night when wherever my brother was; he’d be partying while consuming a six pack of soda and useless junk food. I never liked football; meanwhile he was quarter back and ruler of his senior year.

The lights finally flickered, and the open field went dark. I walked towards my parked car; the only one left in the parking lot. The atmosphere of the night had an ominous tone to it. It always did. Late nights, dark hallways, your bedroom at night. It always felt like if you didn’t get to the light quick enough something horrible might happen. To make it worse, was the seemingly endless distance you had to sprint before you finally got to your sanctuary, your safe haven. Mine was the car and as soon as I got there I felt safe and ridiculous all at the same time. I was turning eighteen in month, what was I worried about?

I turned my key in the ignition, checked the back seat, locked the doors and turned up the radio. Suddenly I looked up for a split second and the moment my eyes trained on the spotlight of my headlights, I saw something unusual; but glancing frantically back at the barricade of trees in front of me, I saw nothing. Paranoia might have been setting into my veins now, pulsing through my brain. I always had that paranoia creeping over my shoulder and I always had to check behind me. I even had the urge to get a quick glance even in the middle of class.

The rubber tires squeaked against the wet road and I finally pulled out of the mysterious school parking lot and on to the road where a torrent of rushing cars—some with their brighters on—passed on the road. Nothing unusual there. As I turned on to a certain road though, I felt as if I had made a wrong turn because alongside the streets was a neighborhood I had never seen before. Old, and mostly torn down and abandoned houses lined the road and no longer did I gain the comfort of cars alongside mine. I kept driving though, looking up at my rear view mirror often to see the roads behind me. As I drove alone, my music still blasting, the road seemed to become darker and darker and when I looked at my rear view mirror the fog consumed what road had been behind me. Eventually I saw something familiar, only this feeling of recognition was nothing short of paranoia and horror. I saw the same line of abandoned houses before. It was almost like I was driving in circles only I had been going straight the whole time.

I stopped the car for a moment, pulling out an old copy of a road map and looked over it. The road to which I was parked on was nowhere on the map and it only made me confused and the slightest bit crept out. Shrugging it off, I told myself it was because this map was too outdated, only these roads fitted the date and condition of it. I took a deep breath finally and vowed to not let paranoia get the better of me. It was almost eleven o’clock. It was late and I was tired. I needed to focus on getting home. I turned the key and sighed again. I looked up again, and saw a figure, but just like that it was gone again.

“Stop freaking yourself out.” I muttered under my grinding teeth. I began to drive again, the roads seemingly endless and darker than even before. The more I drove the more my desperation to get home grew. As my eyes followed the road my feet pressed heavier on the gas and I started to speed. No one was out here anyways. It looked as if no one ever had been and no one would for a long time. My desperation suddenly faded as the line of houses alongside the roads abruptly ended giving way to complete blank and dusty miles of desert to each side. I took extended breaths in and out until I calmed myself down. My heart pace was quickening and it took all my strength just to stop myself from having a panic attack.

As the desert grew more barren and the roads became darker the radio started to fade into static until all that could be heard was milliseconds of music being distorted by long periods of static. I finally just turned off the radio all together and focused my eyes on the road. My feelings of desperation and paranoia came back and they were much worse than before. After a while I realized that on all sides, even the road ahead of me, darkness was flooding in closer towards the car. After only about twenty minutes I could barely see the road anymore, just darkness. My cellphone had no signal and I hadn’t seen the familiar headlights of another car since I turned on this road.

Every once in a while I would see something on the road in front of me for a split second or beside my window just for a lingering moment until I frantically urged myself to look. Sometimes I would stop to take breaks where I’d curl up and try and settle myself down because I could not afford to lose it. If I lost it I would never be able to get back home, if that was even possible anymore. I lost track of time finally since my phone died and I couldn’t read the letters on the screen and sometimes I’d accidently doze off for a split second before coming to and realizing the car was swerving to either side. The closest thing I saw to any civilization was a little shack to which was abandoned and half of the boards where lying a short distance away in an ashen heap.

I finally gave up on the whole look out routine. What was the point of looking for something you’d never find anywhere out here. I didn’t even know if I was still in the same state anymore. Bitterness nipped at my conscience and my sanity was hanging by a very thin thread.

Suddenly instead of a split second image of a figure I got a full glance and I heard the deafening off-key screech of my tires as they desperately clung for traction. In front of me was a man in a black raincoat and black leathery pants wearing orange rain boots that did not fit his attire in the least bit. Covering his face was a gasmask that looked a little too small and made his hair protrude from every crevice that it could find. Stopping the car was a mistake. This man was not in the least bit normal and he was not alone. A crowd of other masked men surrounded my car and stared for a long time. My car wouldn’t start and I couldn’t do anything about these strange men.

For a moment I debated about asking who they were or talking to them, but I decided I shouldn’t. These men did not appear to be in the least bit friendly, let alone capable of speaking through their tight masks. It seemed like an hour, them just standing their staring at me. They examined me like a test subject of theirs. All the while I sat silent in my seat, almost breathless and completely still. The world seemed to stop for the long moments that they stood looking at my rusted, old hammy-down of a car and me.

Suddenly the first one who showed up walked forward stopping at the hood of my car. The other men walked straight forward as well, each closer to my car. Even though I couldn’t make out their eyes I felt their burning stares. I felt their wide eyes, motionless and unblinking. Then the banging started. They started to bang on my car with their gloved fists and it seemed pointless but it scared me to a point where I felt I might fall under cardiac arrest. My breathing was fast and my heart beat was on rapid fire. I desperately tried to turn the radio switching to each channel only to find the same static except for one channel to which was dominated by a horrific and harmonized chanting of many voices saying some kind of Latin ritual. I tried turning my cell phone on, but it only shut down just at the logo flashed across the small screen.

I began yelling questions like, “Who are you?” and, “What do you want?” The men never replied and their banging got worse until it evolved into them rocking the car back and forth. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like my life was at the point where it was just about to end. The guy in front of my car suddenly smashed an angry fist into my window and it cracked. If they got in the car who knew what they would do? Who were these people, and what did they want from me? I hugged my knees to my chest and covered my ears. Suddenly it all stopped. The horrible rocking and banging. Everything was silent, but I was afraid to open my tightly shut eyes. Suddenly a knock came from the window beside me. I jolted to my right, but then heard the muffled voice of someone outside my window. I slowly opened my eyes and looked to my left. My thudding heart and raging headache ended suddenly as I saw a teacher outside my window. I rolled down the window.

“Hey! It’s 12:30 AM kid! You should get home! You’re lucky I was working’ late or you would of woken up in the school parking lot in the morning!” The cheerful, but clearly exhausted chemistry teacher — Mr. Gray — said snickering a bit.

“Oh, r-right.” I gave a half-smirk and managed to murmur. He smiled and told me to have a good night. I wondered if it was all a dream. If everything I had just experienced was just the terrible subconscious nightmare of me falling asleep after the late Friday night game. Then I looked up.

The window was webbed with a new crack and there, sitting neatly in the passenger’s seat, was a gas mask.

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