12 Oct “The Halloween Mask”
"The Halloween Mask"
Written by Blair Daniels, Craig Groshek
I jolted awake.
My phone lit up on the nightstand. It showed one new notification: Motion detected at your doorstep. 3:17 AM.
My heart pounded as my fingers slipped across the screen. I clicked on the security camera video feed.
A man stood on my doorstep.
He stayed so still, I would’ve thought it was a photograph, if not for the bugs fluttering by every few seconds. His body melted into the shadows around him, but his face shone brightly. Or—not his face. A white mask.
It was covered in blood.
He stared straight at the camera, completely still, mouth twisted in a grin.
* * * * * *
It all started when I ordered the Halloween mask.
Alicia and I decided to host the neighborhood Halloween party this year. I’d shelled out hundreds of dollars on plastic skulls, purple streamers, and even one of those candy bowls with the animatronic hand in the middle.
“We still need to decide what to dress up as,” my wife said, as she neatly stacked the boxes in the corner. “I was thinking maybe Morticia and Gomez—”
“No. That’s cliché.”
Alicia rolled her eyes. “So what if it’s cliché? It’s just a neighborhood party.”
“It has to be perfect.”
“Well, whatever it is, you better decide soon. The party’s next weekend.”
I scrolled through the costumes on HalloweenCostumes.com, looking for something terrifying. Something our neighbors would remember for years to come. Last year, the party was hosted by my rival neighbor, David Chandler. Ugh. Perfectly handsome, BMW-driving David. My very own Ned Flanders, one-upping me on everything from lawn care to job promotions.
Last year he threw an incredible party, dressed as the clown from It. He even jump-scared half the guests at various points throughout the evening. People were still talking about how awesome it was.
I had to do better.
“What about that?” Alicia asked, pointing to a plain white mask.
It looked similar to a Michael Myers mask. White plastic, forming the shape of a man’s face, with cut-outs for the eyes and the mouth. “You could make it your own. Add blood, or stitches, or something.”
“True.” I added it to my cart, and after scouring the web for some promo codes—I didn’t have much money left after all I’d spent on decorations—found a sketchy-looking website with what appeared to be a legitimate HalloweenCostumes.com promo URL displayed, with the offer code worked into it. It read: Halloweencostumes.com/promo/SelectYourScare20. Without thinking, I clicked it.
As soon as I did so, I was redirected somewhere that was definitely not HalloweenCostumes.com. Damn it, I thought, I should have copied and pasted the link instead of clicking it directly. As I pondered how many viruses I’d just been infected with, and before I could do anything else, a strange message popped up, taking up my entire screen.
CODE INPUT SUCCESSFULLY
SELECT YOUR SCARE
“What the hell is this?” I muttered. I tried to just click away from the dialog box, but it wouldn’t disappear. Finally, against my better judgment I clicked the first option, just to make it go away. I was happy to see I was back on the official HalloweenCostumes.com site, with my item still in my shopping cart, and the promo code successfully applied. I can’t believe it, I thought. It actually worked.
With that important Halloween-related task checked off my list, but many things left to take care of, I went on with my day, and quickly forgot all about the strange pop-up, and eagerly awaited my new mask.
* * * * * *
A few days later, I got an email telling me the package had arrived—October 29, two days before the party. But when I got home, I found an empty doorstep.
“You didn’t see a package?” I asked Alicia.
“Didn’t you get the notification?” she asked, pinning up purple and orange streamers. “We were the victim of a porch pirate.” She pulled out her phone and handed it to me. “Check it out.”
We have one of those security cameras by the door—mostly to avoid Bob, our resident traveling salesman, who seems to be selling something new every week. Whenever motion is detected, it pings our phones; today I’d been swamped at work, though, and hadn’t had a chance to look at it.
I pressed play.
I saw our doorstep—and the brown cardboard box sitting on the doorstep. Behind it, on the sidewalk, was a figure in black.
I watched as the man approached. He walked up my sidewalk with confidence, as if he lived here. As soon as he got close—close enough for me to see his face—he tilted his pale head down.
Then he stepped onto my porch, and, face still hidden, grabbed the package.
He walked back down the sidewalk and disappeared.
“Why would he steal a package of Halloween costumes?”
“Because your costume was just so amazing, he wanted it for himself,” Alicia joked, as she lined up bags of candy.
“It wasn’t amazing yet. It’s just the mask.” I walked over to the table and helped her set up the candy. “So we have two days, right? What else needs to be done?”
“Well, we need to get new costumes, and I was thinking—”
“Morticia and Gomez?” I sighed. “Fine. We’ll do it.”
I thought that would be the end of it—some guy stole the package, and that was it. We’d never see the mask again.
I was sorely mistaken.
As I sat at the table a few hours later, dumping candy into decorative bowls, a flash of motion caught my eye. I looked up—and saw someone walking in our backyard. At the edge of the woods.
They were dressed entirely in black, walking along the perimeter of the forest. In the dusk light, it was hard to pick out any details about them—like their gender, or their face. The only thing I could see was that they walked with slow, deliberate movements.
And it looked like they were wearing a white mask.
I heard Alicia’s footsteps behind me and motioned her over. “Alicia, look. There’s someone in our backyard.”
She joined me at the window. But by the time she did, the person had already disappeared into the forest.
“I’m going up to bed,” Alicia said. “We can finish this tomorrow.”
I followed her up. Minutes after my head hit the pillow, I fell into a deep sleep.
Until I woke up an hour later.
I looked at the clock. 1:34 AM. I pulled myself out of bed and trudged over to the bathroom, eyes blurred with sleep.
The moonlight shone in from the window. I walked over to it, as if drawn by the light, and peered into the backyard below.
At the edge of the backyard was a figure.
Dressed in all black. Wearing a white mask. Facing our house, standing still as a statue.
My heart pounded. I reached for my phone—then remembered it was still on the nightstand. I raced over and grabbed it, then looked back out the window.
He was gone.
* * * * * *
The next day, in the flurry of getting ready for the party, I forgot about what I’d seen the night before. Around 6 PM, I headed out to the party store to pick up some last-minute things.
There I received a text from Alicia.
That was odd, in of itself. I knew she had an important call with a client that evening. Confused, I opened the text.
What it said made no sense.
I’m glad you found your mask, but can you please stop? I’m on the phone with Evelyn.
I quickly texted back:
Stop tapping on the window! It’s super annoying.
I stared at my phone, panic seeping in. Then my fingers raced across the keyboard, as I typed:
I’m not at home. I’m at the party store.
She didn’t reply. I grabbed my stuff and ran out to the car, phone pressed against my ear.
I breathed a sigh of relief when she answered.
“Ben? I told you, I’m on the phone—”
“Alicia, I’m not home. Whoever you’re seeing out there isn’t me. You need to call the police, right now.” Memories of the figure I’d seen the night before rushed back to me, and I shuddered.
“Call the police!” I yelled.
When I arrived home, the police were already there. Red and blue lights, flashing in the darkness of our driveway. Alicia stood in the driveway, giving her statement, somewhat begrudgingly. “All I saw was someone in a black hoodie, black pants, and a white mask with fake blood all over it. They were over there, at the office window.”
“You didn’t recognize anything about them?” the tall, lanky officer asked.
“I thought it was my husband, but he was at the store, apparently. Look—I’m sure it’s just some teenager from the neighborhood playing a mischief night prank. And if it is,” she said, giving me a stern look as I walked over, “I don’t want to press charges. We were all young and dumb once.”
The officer laughed at that. An annoying, high-pitched laugh that grated my eardrums. “We’ll take a look around and follow up with you, Mrs. Breslaw,” he said.
Alicia turned to me—arms crossed, lips pressed into a line. “Great. You just wasted twenty minutes of my time. Evelyn is so pissed that I cut the call short.”
“There was some creep tapping on your window!” I shouted back. “What, you wanted to just ignore it?”
“Obviously just some teenager. I mean, come on, it’s mischief night. I’m just happy it was that and not getting TP’d. That takes forever to clean up.”
“Okay. Fine.” I hurried past her and set my supplies on the table. Then I set to work ripping open packs of plastic spiders and bats. They fell onto the table with loud, gross plops.
“I’m going upstairs,” Alicia said curtly, leaving me to prepare for the party on my own.
* * * * * *
Motion detected at your doorstep. 3:17 AM.
The notification came through on my phone, loud and clear. I tapped on the video feed, half-asleep.
A man stood on my doorstep.
He wore all black. Covering his face was the white mask I’d ordered, covered in something dark.
I jumped out of bed. “Alicia,” I whispered, shaking her awake. “Alicia. He’s back.”
“What?” she murmured.
“The man in the mask. He’s back. He’s standing on our porch right now and—”
“Is he TP’ing the trees?”
“Then let me sleep,” she groaned, rolling over and throwing the covers over her head.
I know lots of crazy things happen on mischief night. But this crossed a line. A big line. A man standing on my porch in the middle of the night, wearing the mask I’d ordered? Probably the same man who’d stolen the mask in the first place, right off my doorstep?
This was too far.
I crept out of the room and peered down into the foyer. Through the glass insert in our door, I saw him.
He stood under the porch light, blurred and distorted through the glass, but I could still make out the white mask. Stained red with blood.
Should I call the police?
Alicia would be mad at me. But screw it. This was too far.
My fingers slipped over the screen. “There’s a man standing on my porch, in a mask,” I said, my words coming out as a jumbled string of syllables.
As soon as the call ended, the figure shifted. Then it receded, until all that remained was the empty porch. I clicked back to the security camera feed; it, too, showed nothing but the empty porch and the shadows of the front yard.
A sharp knock on the door tore me from my thoughts. I looked down to see two figures distorted through the glass: two figures wearing blue uniforms.
I let the police in and explained everything. I even showed them the security footage. They scoured the backyard—but they didn’t find anyone.
When they finally left, I retreated back into the bedroom. Alicia, thankfully, somehow slept through it all.
I locked the door and dragged a dresser over it for good measure. Then I collapsed into the bed. I didn’t fall asleep until the sky brightened with dawn and the birds began to sing.
* * * * * *
“Aren’t you excited for the party?”
I stared out the window like a soulless zombie. I’d slept all of three hours, and the fatigue felt like a train driving over me, again and again.
But I couldn’t nap—there was so much to do. Spider cupcakes and monster fingers to bake. Decorations to hang. Candy bowls to put out.
“Will you hang these streamers in the office?” Alicia asked, handing me a tangled mess of black, orange, and purple.
“But no one will be going in there.”
She quirked an eyebrow at me. “You told me you wanted this to be the best party ever. That you wanted every single room decorated, just in case.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, forcing myself out of the chair. I took the streamers from her and entered the office.
There, on the desk, was the mask.
Mouth twisted into a smile. Gaping holes for eyes. Dark red splattered across the plastic.
“Alicia!” I shouted.
She rushed into the room. “Where… where’d you get this mask?” I stuttered, breathless.
“It was on our doorstep this morning.”
Relief flooded through me. He wasn’t in the house. It was just on the doorstep. My entire body shook as I fell into the chair.
“Why don’t you rest for a bit before the party starts?” Alicia said, laying a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll call you down when everyone’s here.”
Alicia thought I was overreacting. Maybe she was right; maybe I was letting a mischief night prank by some dumb teenager mess with my head. I lay down on the bed, ignoring the dings of my phone on the nightstand, and closed my eyes.
It seemed like only seconds passed before Alicia was back in the room, asking me to come downstairs. “Everyone’s here,” she said. “And they want to see you.” I followed her down the stairs.
Every single person in the room wore the mask.
Black clothes with that white mask over their faces, covered in splatters of blood. Gaping eye holes, a twisted mouth.
I felt dizzy. The room pitched before me, and I gripped the banister for balance.
“Ben? Are you okay?”
I swayed, trying to steady myself. “Why… why are they all wearing that?”
“They said you asked them to.”
“No,” I said, as the crowd blurred before me.
“They said you left the masks with a note, saying they should wear them to the party. A lot of people canceled because of it. Families with kids, mostly.” She turned to me. “You really didn’t do it?”
“Why would I?!”
Alicia shrugged. “I don’t know. You were obsessed with this party from the beginning. And the mask. I thought maybe…” She trailed off. “If you didn’t put the masks in their mailboxes, who did?”
Him. The man who had been tapping on the window. The man who had been standing on our porch last night.
The man who stole my mask.
As my mind swirled with questions—who he was, why he’d do this—a memory popped into my head. The promo code, and the “SELECT YOUR SCARE” message.
Had I somehow chosen this?
I stared into the crowd. Fifty masked faces stared back at me. All identical. Anyone could be him. Or no one.
Before I could think, a hand pulled me into the crowd.
“Ben, hey! How’s it going?” a familiar voice asked behind the mask. Eddie Huntley, the blond-haired man that lived three houses down the street.
“It’s good,” I said, faking a smile.
He continued to talk, but I only pretended I was listening. I looked across the crowd. All the masked faces were turned towards each other, bobbing and nodding in conversation.
Except for one.
Who was staring right at me.
I broke away from the conversation. “Hey—hey!” I shouted, pushing through the crowd. His gaping eyes stared back at mine. Soulless. Empty.
I grabbed the mask and ripped it off.
And stared into the face of Marie Chandler. The wife of my rich, luxury-loving neighbor. “Ben! Great party. Love the masks,” she said in her elegant, soft voice. “Really adds a creepy flavor to the whole thing.”
“Th-thanks,” I stuttered.
“Hey, have you seen David? It seems I’ve lost him.”
I shook my head.
She continued staring into the crowd.
Ding. My phone chimed. I slowly pulled it out of my pocket and looked at the screen. Motion detected at your doorstep. 8:32 PM.
I tapped on the camera feed.
There he stood.
Who else could it be? He was missing, and there was the masked man, standing on my porch. Heart pounding, I fought my way through the kitchen, through the family room, and over to the front door.
Now the porch was empty.
I opened the door and stared out into the night. But beyond the halo of light the porch created, everything was a murky mess of shadow. I shut the door.
The lights flickered.
And then they went out.
The room plunged into darkness. Shouts and murmurs sounded across the party. Masked faces whirled about in confusion. “Turn the lights back on!” a woman shouted angrily. Cell phone flashlights flicked on, twinkling among the crowd of shadows.
Motion detected at your backdoor. 8:35 PM.
I stared at my phone in horror as I heard the back door creak open. Followed by heavy footsteps. I ran through the family room, and into the kitchen.
The back door hung open, but he was gone.
Blended into the crowd.
Stay calm, I told myself. Get the power back on. Then you can deal with finding the culprit. My head pulsed with pain as I considered the two options. Either someone flipped the master breaker… or someone cut the power lines.
I decided to check the master breaker first.
“Alicia,” I said, fumbling my way in the darkness towards her. Thank goodness she wasn’t wearing a mask like the rest of them. “Keep everyone calm, okay? I’m going to check the breakers in the basement.”
“Okay,” she said, biting her lip. “You think maybe the fog machine was drawing too much power?”
No need to get her worried.
Using my cell phone as a flashlight, I stumbled to the basement door. I opened it. The stairs loomed before me, stretching into the pitch black below. A shudder ran through me. “Maybe it was just the fog machine,” I muttered to myself, descending the steps one-by-one. We had a menagerie of Halloween decorations out on the lawn, and it was possible that they blew a fuse.
Then why would the whole house be without power?
I forced the question out of my head and continued down the stairs. I made my way to the breaker box, my footsteps clicking against the cement.
The master breaker was flipped.
Someone intentionally walked into the basement and flipped the switch. My heart pounded in my chest; my hand shook as I reached out and flipped the switch back. The lights flickered to life, including the lightbulb above my head.
For a second, silence.
Then someone grabbed me roughly from behind.
I whipped around, thrashing against strong arms. A white mask stared back at me, smeared with blood. Gaping, empty eye sockets.
I tore away and jumped back. My body collided with my workbench. My eyes scanned it—there was my hammer, lying on the wood.
I grabbed it.
The figure jumped forward. Laughter echoed from beneath the mask, along with a voice. “I got you this ti—”
I lifted the hammer.
And smashed it into his skull.
The man immediately crumpled. He fell onto the floor, head smacking against the tile. I crouched over him. Then I reached over and pulled the mask off.
It was David.
Footsteps sounded behind me. Then shouts, then screams. “Call 911!” someone cried.
But David was perfectly still.
* * * * * *
The police carried him out in a body bag.
The guests were gone. The masks were strewn across the floor, the couch, every room of the house. A few were completely crushed, stepped on in the chaos. The back door still hung open, letting in gusts of cold October air.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. The image of David’s face burned into my mind. I’d heard his wife explain to the police, in broken sobs, that he’d been planning some sort of prank on me at the party. He hadn’t visited the house, or stalked Alicia; he’d only planned a scare at the party. She didn’t know what it was until the lights went out.
He was innocent.
I spent half the day sleeping, the other half drunk. When night rolled around, Alicia pulled me off the couch. “Sit out on the porch with me,” she said.
“It isn’t good for you to be inside all day, like this.”
I followed her out, beer in hand. We sat on the back porch, facing the forest. “Ben, you can’t… you didn’t mean to,” she forced out, glancing in my direction.
“No. I didn’t mean to.”
“The funeral’s in three days. Maybe we should go.” She reached out and squeezed my hand.
“I don’t know if I can face Marie,” I said, stumbling over my words. “Or any of them. I—”
My words caught in my throat.
There, on the edge of the treeline, stood a familiar figure. Dressed in all black. Wearing a white mask splattered with blood.
I stood up. Alicia grabbed my hand, but I yanked it away. “Get the hell off my property!” I screamed.
The figure didn’t budge.
Fueled by alcohol and anger, I leapt off the porch and strode across the backyard. “Ben—please don’t—” Alicia called after me.
“Take off your fucking mask!” I screamed, closing in on the figure. He still didn’t move. “A man is dead because of you and your fucking games!”
Alicia jogged after me, turning on her cell’s flashlight. “Ben, please, stop!”
But I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop until I was inches from his face, until I could smell his sordid breath in the air. “Take off your fucking mask,” I growled. “I want to see who you are, before I smash your stupid little head.”
He just stared at me with those gaping eye sockets, plastic mouth twisted into a smile.
“Oh, you don’t believe me? You should. I killed someone last night. Smashed his head right in. I’m a murderer now. You hear that?” I leaned in, my face inches from his. “I killed someone because of you! And I’ll kill you, too, if you don’t take that fucking mask off!”
He didn’t move.
“Fine!” I shouted, spittle flying from my mouth. “I’ll take it off myself, then.”
I reached up. Grabbed at his jawline. Pulled.
It didn’t come off.
I stumbled forward. Grabbed harder. Pulled harder. “No. No, no, no…” I took a step back, my heart pounding.
It wasn’t a mask.
I watched in horror as his mirthful grin contorted into an angry scowl. “Run!” I screamed, taking off across the grass. Alicia followed, screaming her lungs out. I whipped around to see the figure chasing us full speed across the lawn.
I ran as fast as I could. I didn’t stop until I was inside the house, closing the door.
That’s when I realized.
Alicia had stopped screaming. The backyard was empty—both of them were gone without a trace.
Except for Alicia’s phone in the grass. The flashlight shined up towards the sky, shimmering and sparkling in the shadows.
* * * * * *
I haven’t seen Alicia since that night.
It’s been a week. I didn’t attend David’s funeral, though I suppose I am now in the same boat as Marie Chandler. Her husband is gone; so is my wife.
The police suspect that I killed David on purpose. After all, our playful little rivalry was well-known among neighbors. They also believe I had something to do with Alicia’s disappearance, and to fill in a motive for me, rumors are flying that Alicia and David were having an affair.
I’ve been advised not to leave town. So, as much as I would love to leave this all behind, I’m stuck here. With my guilt. With the past.
I leave you with a warning. The masked man—whatever he is—is still out there. And so, I beg you: don’t trust anyone who wears a mask. Who hides their face behind a grotesque facade of plastic.
Because it might not be a mask, after all.