|The Taylight Zone - Anthology Five
03 - Strange - Amanda
Zac Hanson pulled the mask over his face, and looked in the mirror.
A pale, contorted face stared back at him. Scars marked his cheekbones, deep, rusty colored gashes, stitched over, a vain attempt to heal what he knew would never go away. A pair of small, close set brown eyes glinted in the meager light, reflecting off of the large mirror. His chin was pointy, his nose hawk-like and sloping. There was no line around his neck, no tell-tale ring to let on where Zac's skin ended and the mask began.
He felt strange. Anger welled inside of him, though he had no one ot be mad at. His mind filled with morbid thoughts; he thought about how nice that whiny girl next door would look with a crimson stain spreading from her throat, seeping into the collar of one of her little tank tops.
A small half-smile corrupted his lips. It would be so easy. She deserved it, after all. She was such a nuisance...
Zac heard footsteps pounding up the stairs, heading for the attic. "Zac!" someone yelled. It sounded like Avery, but he couldn't be sure. Whoever it was came up the last few stairs, their shoes clicking on the wooden floor.
The click-clack of the shoes snapped Zac out of his homicidal plotting, and he reached for the end of the mask. His fingers clawed his neck, looking for the edge of rubbery material; funny, it didn't look like there was one. He found it at last, standing slightly away from the back of his neck. He pulled it up, the warm mask peeling away from his skin. He freed his face, shaking his head.
He looked into the mirror, making sure he really had taken the mask off. "Man," he said, just as Avery peeked her head through the doorway, "that was too weird."
Avery looked puzzled, but didn't ask any questions. "Zac, Mom wants you to come help with the decorations," she told him.
Zac's eyes lit up, remembering what his mother had said about going all out for Halloween this year. "Yes!" He pushed past her, hurrying down the stairs.
"Boys," Avery said to the empty attic, rolling her eyes. She sighed, then started after him.
"Mo-om," Zac whined, looking through the bags of candy, "you didn't get Snickers!"
Diana Hanson finished emptying a bag of miniature Milky Way bars into a large bowl, and let the bag flutter into the trash can beside her. "Well I'm sorry, Zac," she said, "but it's not for you anyway."
Zac shot her a, "you've got to be kidding me," look. "Leftovers," he reminded her, crossing his arms.
Diana laughed, tossing a small bag of plastic spiders at him. "Go finish up the skeleton, okay?"
Zac considered this for a moment, then agreed. "Sure. But," he added, "I do get to keep the extra spiders, right?" His mind wandered to practical jokes; a discreetly placed spider or two in Taylor's bed, one dropped in his dad's morning coffee, three in Barbie's dreamhouse...he laughed evilly to himself.
"Fine," Diana said, "but I don't want to see any in tomorrow's dinner."
"You heard me. Now go." She pointed towards the door.
"Alright, alright," he grumbled, going outside to decorate the spider web covered skeleton on their front porch, "none in the dinner."
"Zac," Taylor said, coming into the room they shared, "it's time to go."
"You're coming?" Zac asked, surprised.
Taylor smiled. "Of course! You don't think I'd miss mischief night, do you?"
"Oh, I almost forgot," Zac said, sarcastically, "tonight you and you buddies are going to get drunk and toilet paper trees. Real bad, Tay."
"You're just jealous," Taylor scoffed, "and that tree was an accident. This time we're leaving Danny at home. He has bad aim."
"Whatever, Tay. Just don't come home plastered, okay? I don't want to have to cover for you with Mom again."
"You? You?! You, cover for me?!?"
"Yes, me. I'm the one who told Mom about how you got silly string in your eyes, so she wouldn't whip out that portable breathalyzer thing when she saw your eyes all bloodshot."
"She has one of those?"
"Yeah. She got it out of a machine in some restaurant bathroom."
"Weird," he said, "Now come on. That Carly girl from next door is waiting for you downstairs."
"You let her IN?!" Zac yelled.
"Well, yeah," Taylor answered, "she said you're expecting her."
"I am not!"
Taylor shrugged. "Just ditch her. What are you going as, anyway?"
Zac held up the mask.
"And that tells me...what?"
"I'm going as a serial killer, man. See the scars?"
"Right," He said, leaving the room, "whatever you say."
"I am!" Zac said, defending his mask.
"I'm coming," he muttered, pulling on the mask, "I'm coming."
He felt different with the mask on. More dangerous. More like a killer...
"Zac," Carly said, adjusting her tank top, "that mask makes you look ugly."
"Good," he snapped, walking a little faster, "it's supposed to."
"You don't have to be mean, you know," she told him.
"Look. I don't like you," he told her, "and I don't want to be here. So until I can learn to tolerate you, would you please just keep your mouth shut? I just want some goddamn candy."
Carly stuck out her bottom lip. "I don't like you, Zac Hanson."
Zac's eyes turn a dark, dark brown. "You don't...what?" he asked, his voice clipped.
"I don't like you. You're very mean, and I don't like you at all." She started to go across the street, but was stopped by Zac's hand on her shoulder.
"You're not leaving."
She looked at him, and a fearful look registered on her face. "Why not?"
Zac hesitated. He shouldn't be doing this. He wanted her to leave. Why couldn't he let her go? He reached up to his face, and fingered one of the scars, letting his fingers slip into the indentation. It felt so real...he could even feel the stitches of thread that ran across the top of it. He couldn't feel his own face underneath the mask, as he normally could with Halloween costumes.
He blinked, but he didn't feel his skin scrape against the inside of the mask. Instead, he felt the mask blink. It wasn't even the mask blinking, really, it was just him...it was like there wasn't any mask there. Like his own face was gone, replaced by the cut up, gnarled face of a serial killer.
"You're not leaving," he barked, pulling her back up on the sidewalk.
"Why?!" she screamed at him, wrenching her shoulder away from him.
He cocked an eyebrow, his expression that of a man with no doubts. "I have to show you something," he said. He grabbed her hand an led her away from the main road, away from the brightly lit houses.
When they reached a spot in the woods, clear in the middle and surrounded by trees, he dropped her hand. She sank to the ground, staring up at him, clearly annoyed. But she was also afraid. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, and her feet crossed and uncrossed nervously.
"What do you want?" she asked, her tone riddles with faux-harshness.
"It's simple," Zac said, not really understanding the words coming out of his mouth, "you don't deserve to live."
The color drained from Carly's face, and her eyes widened, turing a pale, watery blue. She gulped audibly. "W...what did you say?"
"You heard me," he told her impatiently, "don't play dumb."
"Oh, that's right, I'm sorry, you are dumb," Zac said, surprised by the malicious tone his voice had taken on. It didn't even sound like his voice anymore. It was deeper, and it had a caustic edge to it. His fingers twitched against the bark of a large tree that stood next to him, and he leaned against it for balance. He was very dizzy all of sudden...the massive web of leaves twirled above his head, and the ground began to shake. His face turned a pasty gray color, and he could feel his eyes start to burn.
"Zac?" Carly asked, afraid, but still a bit concerned by the way he was clutching the tree, his knees bent to keep himself steady. "Are you okay?"
"Yes! I'm fine, bitch," he said, his words cutting through the still air around them, "don't speak to me."
The world stopped turning, and he felt his stomach drop down from his throat. He looked towards where Carly had been sitting. She was inching her way towards the path that led back to the street, trying to escape quietly. "Hey!" Zac yelled, lunging forward. He landed face first on the ground, grabbing her ankle. He reached to his left, picking up a thick, dark brown branch. It's decaying bark flaked off, falling into his hands. He raised it above his head, ready to strike.
Not once did he stop to think about what he was doing. He didn't feel like himself. He felt vicious, malevolent...blood thirsty. He clamped his fingers more tightly around her ankle, and swung the branch. It landed hard on the back of her head, the dull thud of its impact punctuated by a desperate, strangled cry.
Zac got up, checking to be sure she was unconscious. He put a finger up to her neck; no pulse. "I can get her later," he muttered. No one had heard her, or if they did, they didn't care.
Just like the world today, he thought, such a tolerance for others' pain.
He snickered, cracking his neck. He started down the path, spitting on Carly before he went.
The road was bare, but he could see a small group of kids running around ahead of him. He didn't have a watch, but it looked about 9 o' clock. He approached a house to his right, with brightly lit jack o' lanterns lining the driveway. He climbed the stairs, stopping to scratch his itchy neck. He couldn't feel where the mask met his skin...he didn't dwell on this, though. He couldn't make sense of much; his mind was clouded with unfamiliar thoughts, almost like he was inside someone else's head.
Knocking on the wooden door, he tried to figure out why he didn't have his bag of candy. He reached into his pocket, and his hand smacked into the plastic bag.
He heard a small, higher pitched voice call out from somewhere in the back of his head, "What's wrong with me?" it asked, panicked. It sounded familiar, very familiar, but he couldn't place it.
The door swung open, and an old woman stood in front of him. Her curly gray hair hung over her eyes, and she squinted to see him. "Oh, my," she said softly, "that's quite a mask, young man."
"Zac looked at her, puzzled. "What mask?"
"Oh, dear..." the old woman stepped back slightly, and pushed the hair out of her eyes. "That...that is a mask, correct?"
Zac shook his head. He felt strange, angry. Almost...evil. Hungry for blood. "No," he said, fingering a scar on his cheekbone, feeling the tiny stitches, "no mask."