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Masks: a flash fiction

A boy paced back and forth in an attempt to calm his racing heart and find the courage to open the door. The door in question was one to a shop. The shop was beautifully built, especially considering the more rundown look its neighbors were sporting. Its most standout feature was the tall pane glass windows that lined the entire front of the shop. Windows that were polished to the point that they reflected better than most mirrors. The boy watched his reflection in the windows as he pulled open the shop’s door.

Startled by the door’s creak, the boy looked around in a panic, which was strange, given the fact that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. But still, the boy’s eyes showed his apprehension. Those fear-stained eyes eventually stopped darting around the shop when they met another pair. An old man sat behind the counter at the other end of the shop, wearing a sympathetic smile and kind eyes.

The boy attempted a greeting but couldn’t seem to get the words out of his throat, so the old man took the initiative. “Hello there, kiddo. Welcome to Brilliant Disguise.” The old man’s voice was soft and inviting. It seemed to lessen the boy’s trepidation, at least to the point he was able to speak.

“I’m… I’m… here to buy a mask.”

“Well, you’re in the right place.” The old shopkeeper gestured around the room.

Brilliant Disguise was a shop that exclusively sold masks. Not your typical Halloween masks, but those with a more practical, everyday sort of use. The showroom the two were standing in was filled with a baker’s dozen or so of vibrantly displayed masks made out of what appeared to be stained glass. Each mask had its own beautiful hue, but all were the same shape: the boy’s face.

The shopkeeper began taking the boy around the room, showing him the masks.

“Beautiful, aren’t they, kiddo? A whole lot of time and effort goes into crafting these pieces of art.” The smile remained on the old man’s face as he handed the boy a lovely azure-stained mask.

The boy, seemingly more comfortable now than when he first entered the shop,  began to examine the mask. “It is pretty, but it’s not what I thought it was going to be.”

“How do you mean?”

The boy paused to think before answering. “It’s just that I heard the masks from this shop change you without actually changing you.” He raised the mask he was holding. “But this seems like it would just make my face kind of blue.”

A small chuckle escaped from the old man’s smile. “My apologies, I should have explained the process to you first. I hope you’ll forgive an old man’s blunder.”

The shopkeeper grabbed a hand mirror that was sitting on one of the display shelves. “Hold the mask up to your face.” The boy did as he was told and placed the blue mask onto his face. The old man then proceeded to show the boy his reflection in the mirror. “What do you see?”

“My face—wait, there’s no blue. It’s just my face. I can’t even see the glass.” The boy took off and put on the mask several times, trying to figure out its secret.

The shopkeeper’s smile grew. “I’ll never get tired of that look of amazement.” He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and leaned forward to match the boy’s height. “You see the purpose of a mask is to hide what’s underneath, right? But you wouldn’t want people to know you’re wearing a mask. That kind of defeats their purpose. So, what our masks do is keep you physically looking the same while hiding the more troublesome things from the rest of the world. For example, perhaps you don’t want people seeing your nervousness or anxiety. The mask will conceal it.”

The boy took a hard swallow at the word “anxiety,” but for the most part, he understood the man’s explanation. “But why the different colors, then?”

“An excellent question, my young friend. In addition to concealing the bad things, the masks have a built-in aura or façade. The color of the mask represents its specific characteristics. How old are you?”

“I’m fourteen.”

“That blue mask in your hand is one of the most popular for kids your age. It uses a combination of arrogance, ignorance and indifference to produce a cool aura.”

The boy looked at the mask that was in his hand. “I don’t think I want to be cool.”

“Then what are you trying to be, kiddo?” The old man studied his timid customer, trying to figure out which mask would best suit him.

With a small, nearly inaudible voice, the boy spoke. “I just don’t really want to be me. Do you have a mask that can make me like everyone else? Something to make me go unnoticed?” The boy was unsuccessfully holding back tears.

The shopkeeper put a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry! I’ve got just the thing.” He grabbed a stepladder from behind the counter. Apparently, he was getting one of the masks at the top of the display shelf. “This mask is going to change your world.” He grabbed a brilliant, gilded mask from the very top shelf. “With this mask on, the world won’t even see yo—” Too focused on his sales pitch, the kind, old man missed a rung on the ladder and proceeded to fall face-first onto the floor.

The boy began to run to the old man’s side, but the shopkeeper’s cry stopped him in his tracks. Nothing but rage and pain emanated from the scream. “Of all the asinine things to do; I can’t even use a fucking ladder right.” The boy caught a look at the man’s face. Remarkably, there was no blood. Instead, the man’s face had a large crack starting from above his left eye, running diagonally to his chin. “Goddamnit!” The old man and the boy locked eyes once again, but this time, the old man’s eyes were filled with frustration and annoyance. The kindness was gone. “Give me a minute, kid.” The shopkeeper got up from the ground and walked into the back room, leaving the boy behind.

The boy picked up the gilded mask that had fallen to the floor with the old man. There wasn’t a scratch on it. He tried it on. Looked into the mirror. Again, all he could see was his face. “If you want to blend in with the crowd, then that’s the mask for you.” The old man reappeared from the backroom. A thin strip of masking tape now concealed the crack in his face. “Sorry about before. So, would you like to buy the mask?” The anger was gone from his voice, but the kindness hadn’t returned.

Having just seen firsthand how well the masks work, the boy knew that he needed it. “I’ll take it. What does it cost?”

The old man smiled. “That is the question, isn’t it?”

Jesse Isadore is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature with a minor in creative writing.   JI800190@wcupa.edu.

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