Masked – The Rendezvous, continued (11)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Amica sat down next to him on the bed. “Think you’re coming down with something? Or maybe something you ate just didn’t sit right?”

“Probably something I ate,” he mumbled.

She considered this. “Do you want some company in here? I was just about done on the computer anyway. It’s getting late.”

“Company would be nice.”

“Let me just go save the file, I’ll be back.” She left the room, quickly returned, then lay down next to him and began to rub his closer shoulder with her fingertips.

His chest tightened. He searched for something to say. “So… how did your day go?”

“Classes went well. My conversation with Mom, not so well. She’s not happy that we can’t make rent on our own.” She paused. “Didn’t we talk about this before dinner?”

“Guess I forgot.” He began to steel himself for what he suspected would be the most awkward conversation he could have in his lifetime.

“Sounds suspicious,” she teased him. “Do I need to ask you for the password?”

He froze. “Password?”

“So you can prove you’re not a clone sent from the future?” she continued to tease.

From bad to worse. Did Amica and Sean have a running gag about a password, or had Amica just made a one-time joke? John decided to test the second possibility. “There’s a password now?”

She looked at him, mildly curious. “Silly man. There’s been a password for months. Don’t play dumb with me, I know you’re smarter than anyone thinks you are.”

He winced internally, having indeed come to the conclusion from his brief interactions with Sean that the lad might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Maybe he could change the subject and skate by this dilemma. “I didn’t think anyone would catch onto that. Thanks for noticing.”

“You’re welcome sweetheart.”  Amica’s tone started to become strident. “Now give me the password before I turn you in to the Clone Police.”

He thought on his feet. “I actually vote that we change the password tonight, to stay one step ahead of the clones. What about we change it to…” He pulled a word from the poster he had seen above the television. “‘Floyd’?”

Amica sniggered. “I knew ‘electro-compimpity’ wouldn’t last long. Too hard to remember. ‘Floyd’ it is.” He thought she sounded mollified. “So I went over to Fortress today after class, like you asked.”

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John finds out what Amica really thinks of him.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Rendezvous, continued (10)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

He slowly reached up and touched his customer’s face. He saw Sean’s hand in the mirror, touching his face. His face.

The only explanation John could think of? The beetle had somehow transformed him into Sean. But what had happened to the real Sean? John had no idea. He felt nauseous, but still had to urinate. As he unzipped his jeans – Sean’s jeans – he remembered what Bloodwater had said when John had protested about coercing Amica. “I offer you a way to be together, for a little while, without losing face. She will feel no shame, and you will have a memory of perfect bliss to comfort you in your solitude.” John didn’t know what he had expected would happen, but he knew he hadn’t expected this. As he flushed the toilet, the retching started, and he quickly knelt to vomit. Pizza and beer mixed with stomach acid burned at the back of his throat. Sean’s throat. His throat.

Amica’s concerned voice assailed him from the other side of the bathroom door. “Sweetie? You okay in there?”

“I think I need to lie down,” he replied, quickly washing his hands and then cupping water from the faucet to rinse his mouth. Sean’s voice sounded strange coming from his mouth. He made sure he hadn’t made a mess around the toilet, flushed again, and turned to open the door. Amica stood in front of him, holding her earbuds in one hand. She looked duly worried like a good little Snow White. No clue that John looked out at her behind the mask of Sean’s flesh. He rushed past her to first sit, and then lie down on the unmade queen-sized bed. Never mind how the beetle had done this. Never mind what had happened to the mind of the real Sean. How exactly did Bloodwater expect him to pull this off? John had done his fair share of role-playing over the course of his life, but all of those roles had been imaginary. He had no gift for acting. How could he pretend to be Sean?

Clearly, he could not tell Amica the truth. Out of the question. He didn’t even have the beetle as proof. The truth would only confuse and frighten her. Alienate her from Sean. Bloodwater had said they would only be together for a little while. The transformation had to be temporary. The real Sean would return, and if John told Amica the truth, she would expect answers from Sean that he would have no way to give. Somehow, John had to pretend. And if Bloodwater really could see the future, and his offer held true, somehow, John would succeed at pretending.

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John has the most awkward conversation that he will ever have.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

 

Masked – The Rendezvous (9)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

Now lying on his back on a sofa in a cramped living room, his feet propped up next to a pizza box on a coffee table, John immediately noticed that the skin of his shirtless torso looked icy pink, rather than slightly golden as it had always looked before. The second thing that he noticed: this torso had a much flatter abdomen. Also, he felt no pain where he had made the gash with his box cutter. Gingerly, he touched his side with fingers that somehow felt smaller than those he knew from within. No cut on his rib cage.

He looked around. Not much space between the coffee table and a battered television stand. He didn’t recognize the characters on the TV screen but did recognize contemporary haircuts. An old prog rock poster hung on the wall above the TV, and as he scanned to his right, he saw a pair of sliding glass doors leading onto a wooden balcony. He scanned farther. An easel with a large sketchpad – the paper blank. A rack of art supplies. Other racks holding console video games.

When he sat up and turned around, his heart knocked wildly at his sternum: Amica sat at a desktop computer, next to the video game racks, wearing earbuds. She paid him no attention. He could see over her shoulder that she had a vector program open in order to manipulate interlocking triangles.

Cautiously, he continued to take in the room clockwise. To Amica’s right stood a small open coat closet. The door on the far side of the room from him had a chain lock and had to be the entrance to this apartment. To the right of that, a kitchenette even smaller than that of his own apartment winged off next to a doorway that logically led to a bedroom. Next to the bedroom door, a small dining table and four chairs nestled against the back of the sofa. At that point he had taken in the entire unfamiliar room, which smelled strongly of pizza and faintly of weed.

John suddenly felt the need to urinate, and he wondered where he could find a toilet. When he stood, the objects in the room seemed consistently taller than usual, leading John to wonder if he had somehow shrunk. He also felt lighter on his feet than he remembered, and he could see as well without wearing any glasses as he usually saw with them on. Perplexed, he reached up to rub his head and discovered gel – which he never wore – had hardened in his hair.  He did his best not to stumble in disorientation as he made his way into the apartment’s bedroom, looking for a toilet. Amica, completely absorbed in the graphic on the computer screen, paid him no mind, a cause for relief.

He recognized the darkened bedroom as the one he had seen in Bloodwater’s cavern vision. He crossed it to the open bathroom door, groped for the light switch, turned on the light, and shut the door behind him to look in the mirror. Could it be…?

Sean’s pink, handsome, blue-eyed face looked back at him.

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John pretends from behind his mask.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Scarab, continued (8)

The story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.

 

The beetle held preternaturally still. It did not even wave its antennae. John fancied that it had paused to weigh an arcane internal calculation, but the pause grew to an awkward length. When the bleeding stopped, the beetle crawled across the slope of John’s belly to wait expectantly on his bed.

“What do you want?” John snapped. “I’m not cutting myself any deeper than this!” Annoyed, he left his room to clean off his side in the bathroom and rub something antibacterial into the cut, which he could not bandage effectively. He grunted, returned to his bedroom, and put on a T-shirt.

The beetle had climbed off his bed onto his computer desk, and had started to meander around the base of his mouse cage. As before, the panicked mice huddled as far from the beetle as possible. John remembered how the beetle had circled them earlier. Might they know something he didn’t?

Another thought occurred to him. He liked it even less than he had liked the idea of cutting himself. Sacrifice. A lot of ancient cultures had incorporated animal sacrifice into their rituals. Pain. He had always taken better care of his pets than himself. He opened the cage and reached for the mouse pile. He needed to resolve which of the mice would be enough for the awful beetle, or whether it would demand all three of them. Steeling himself, he reached for Ruby. If he were to offer the beetle his best first, perhaps he would be allowed to keep the other two.

Ruby’s fear of the beetle had paralyzed her. She did not run from John’s hand. He picked up the best combination of ‘heavy’ and ‘precise’ that he could find easily, which happened to be a padlock he had recently purchased, and held Ruby down. The first blow dazed her. The second didn’t make any visible difference, so he attacked her again, and then a fourth time. The strikes continued to appear ineffective, so he pressed down as hard as he could with the lock and heard her skull splinter. For the second time that night, he cried.

The beetle crossed John’s computer desk to find Ruby’s warm corpse.

“This had better be good enough for you,” John hissed. “This is the best that I have.”

It crawled onto Ruby and then held still again, like it had on John’s wound. This time, John saw a light warming inside the transparent beetle’s innards. It reminded him of the pale stalactites in Bloodwater’s cavern, except the beetle’s light glowed red. The light fluctuated in time with John’s pulse, which he could feel at the back of his throat. John had just enough time to wonder whether there was a special place in hell for pet owners like him before the beetle’s power activated.

 

Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John discovers how Bloodwater intends for him to rendezvous with Amica.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.