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.
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