Prologue: Of Masks and Men

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Prologue: Of Masks and Men

I've always been pretty normal. Just about average. We lived in the same house, as long as I could remember. The same school all through grade school. The same boring old family that perhaps I may at times take for-granted.
Seeing the moving truck parked in front of the house yesterday has unsettled something in me. Tonight at Derek's 18th birthday, celebrated at a folding card table since all our furniture and possessions were still in disarray, I felt the insidious nature of time for the first time.
My big brother was now an Adult. It was strange noting his large lumbering body awkwardly seated before the too small table. 18 candles in the chocolate cake flickering in the dull afternoon light.
Mama and Papa singing happy birthday, me watching silently taking it all in.
Tomorrow, the first day of high school, everything was changing.
I could even feel myself changing thought not always in expected ways.
Derek blew out the candles and I clapped my hands together. He looked over at me, and his expression of unusual kindness told me he could see the tears glistening in the corners of my eyes.
“Happy birthday Big Bear” I said, calling him by a childhood nickname I hadn't used in many years.
He nodded his head. “Thanks Mouse”.
Unlike my brother's nickname mine had stuck... was still sticking. Everyone at school, all my friend... both of them, and my family still used this nickname. Mama said I would grow out of it one day.
“So... where's my presents?” Derek asked half jokingly, half not.
Papa held up the ancient Polaroid camera and the flash went out. He took the photo shaking it back and forth in his hands, then set it face down on the table.

“It's outside” Mama said.
“Oh?” Derek asked. He had this look in his eyes. Pure excitement and anticipation. Mama led the way, and we followed outside to the driveway.
A car had appeared in the driveway. A older car, red with a bit of rust around the tires. It looked washed and polished.
“'You didn't” Derek asked.
I didn't understand the excitement in his voice. Maybe I was too young to be excited by the prospect of driving. I remember though how happy the road bike I got for my birthday last year made me thought.

“'''Congratulations” , standing on my tippy toes, patting him on the shoulder.
He picked me up a dazed look in his eyes. “'Do you see that Mouse? A car! My car! I have a god dam car!”''
“Okay I get it put me down you stupid bear...”
He dropped me, thankfully I landed on my feet.
Derek ran to the car, circling it, inspecting every inch. “Thanks mom, thanks dad!” He exclaimed.
Papa looked over at me. “Mouse I forgot the camera, go get it for me please Hon.”
I nodded my head.
Why did they have to get him a car? I felt uneasiness whenever it came to cars. They always seemed to unsettle my stomach.
I walked inside and grabbed the camera off the table. I stopped when I noticed the Polaroid.
I turned the photo over. We looked like such a misfit family. We all looked so different. Mama was sitting beside Derick in the photo. Her red hair and freckled skin looked out of place next to Derek with his black hair and darker skin. Dad only caught the back of my head in the photo. All I could see was the blond chin length hair, the pale white skin of my neck and on of my scrawny shoulders. I'm the smallest of the bunch. Dad is taller then Derek, but not near as broad. His hair is black like Derek's but falls in long curls.
I put the photo back down and went outside. Catching a candid photo of Papa giving Derek the keys before the noticed my return.

* * *

I slept on a mattress on the floor, or at least I tried to sleep. Mama kept coming in to ask if I was alright. I was glad that she was concerned for me, probably worried that I wasn't settling in to my new digs.
Everyone else was still up, but I was exhausted. My bed frame and box spring were leaning up against one wall. I could here them talking downstairs in the kitchen. Their jovial chatter lulling me to sleep.
I woke up with a start. Derek yelled something, I couldn't hear what, he sounded surprised.
Mama said “'You'll wake Mouse!”'
I could hear more talking... quieter. Papa was saying something in a comforting tone. My heavy eyes closed... opened, then closed again.

* * *

I woke to heavy foot steps coming up the stairs.
I struggled to pull myself awake. “What?” I meant to say. It sounded a lot more like “'Whamphh” however.
My door slowly opened and he stood his head in, looking around not seeing me in the pile of blankets on the floor until second glance.
“Sam is here for you” he said.
“I'm up” I said. He disappeared back out the door and I heard him thudding down the stairs. Then I heard talking trailing off as the screen door slammed shut.

* * *

Sam was looking the car over. Up and down. Derek got in a popped the hood.
“Hey Sam” I said.
“Check out your brothers sweet ride Mouse!” he said.
“I saw... I saw, it's great”' I said trying to sound enthustiastic.
I watched them for a little and sat down on the grass.
I hadn't seen Sam since the last day of school. He looked different. He was taller and broader in the shoulders.
I laid down on the grass and closed my eyes. I wondered if mike had changed? He was always really short. Like five feet tall. I wondered if when I saw him he would be a giant towering over me.
“''Hey Mouse, grab your bike. We're meeting Mike in town!”
“'Huh?” I said opening my eyes and trying to gain my bearings.
Sam straddled his oversized mountain bike. I went into our detached garage. I made sure when we unloaded the truck my bike would be by the door. It was a light road bike with thin tires. Still shiny and new looking thanks to the care I took with it. It was sort of like a utility bike. There was a platform on the back I guess for carrying cargo or something. An there had been a basket on the front but I took it off after getting fed up with Michael and Sam's teasing.

* * *

My bike only had 5 gears but I had no problem keeping up with Sam, especially when he tried to get his much heavier bike up a steep hill.
He was talking about the summer, how he'd gone to camp, and made out with a girl.
I half listened. When we arrived at the movie theatre I was a bit dismayed. It was too nice a day to spend inside a dark theatre, and I really wasn't a movie fan.
“You guys really want to watch a movie?” I asked.
“We have a surprise for you!” Michael said. He was still five foot nothing, but his voice had changed. It was deep and gravely. I laughed, I couldn't help it.
Sam and Michael exchanged a questioning look.

* * *

They had somehow gotten tickets to an R-rated horror movie.
“Common Mouse, It'll be awesome!” Sam told me.
We were walking down the dark hall towards our theatre 9.
“It's not really my thing” I said slowing down.
Sam linked arms with my right arm, and Michael did likewise with my left.
“Don't be such a baby” Sam said. “This is a once in a lifetime chance.”
“You can thank Derek for getting us the tickets” Michael said.
We entered our theatre and took our seats.
Our friendship had changed in our last year of grade school. It was almost like we no longer liked the same things, and they kept talking me into things that weren't exactly my cup of tea.
We sat near the back of the theatre in the middle. It was pretty deserted. The movie started and I noticed Sam and Michael kept glancing kept glancing over at me.
I quickly became absorbed in the movie though.
A family had just moved into a new house... well a very old, very creepy house. The premise was eerily
reminiscent of the last few days. Especially when the family celebrated the birthday of the youngest child. When the family was woken up with loud, banging noises from the basement I grabbed onto Michael who laughed.

“Hey man, I told you it would be hilarious to take Mouse to a horror flick.”
“We love ya Mouse but this is seriously funny shit.”
I pull myself away from Michael. Then a black shadow creeps up behind the father as he walks down the stairs to the basement to investigate. When he gets to the bottom of the stairs the single hanging light bulb begins to flicker. The lights go out, the screen is black. The entire audience of the theatre is basked in darkness.
Then the light bulb flickers back to life showing the face of a snarling old woman with sharp bloody teeth... I scream. Honest to goodness scream.
Then the lights go out again and we were again basked in darkness.
“I don't like this” I say.
No one answers me. I feel Sam tap my shoulder, and I turn to see Sam's dark figure. He looks a little strange. The lights on the movie screen flicker back on and I am staring into the old ladies face right in front of me. I am staring right into the mouth full of sharp teeth. I jumped over the armrest into Michael's lap screaming hysterically.
Sam pulls off the mask he is wearing and doubles over in laughter.
Michael is looking down at me with a grin on his face that suddenly turns into a frown. “Oh god he's peeing on me! Clench dam it! Clench!”
I clench and the stream stops, but I don't know for how long I can hold it.
A light shines on us from the aisle.
“You three, your done. Get out now” an angry girls voice says with authority.
“What do you mean?” Sam asks.
“Your ruining the movie for others, I'm kicking you three out now.”

The theatre employee marches us out of the theatre. I couldn't be happier.
Sam is still laughing his stupid jerk head off all the way out into the hall.
Michael gives me a dirty look.
“Your own dam fault” I snap.
“I guess” Micheal’s expression softens, then he breaks out laughing. “That was so worth getting kicked out.”
“And getting peed on?” Sam asks.
“It wasn't funny! I was really scared.”
As we're passing by the washroom I grab onto them. “Wait?”
“What?” Michael asks.
“I can't keep clenching!”
I looked down the dark hallway to the washroom. Then I look back at them.
“Mouse don't be such a chicken. Just go already” Sam says.
“Yeah, then we can go back to my place and watch the bootleg I have. Gah... I can't believe we got kicked out. The ending is killer.”
They keep walking leaving me behind.
“Excuse me?”
I turn to see the girl wearing the theatres uniform. A flashlight strapped to her belt. “Are you okay?”
she asks.
I look at her warily. “I don't want to cause any more trouble.”
“Your friends are jerks” she says. “I overheard. Are you okay getting the bathroom?”
“If... can you walk me to the door. I know it's stupid.”
“It's fine... I take my brother to the washroom all the time. I saw that trick with the mask they played. I would have wet myself then and there.”
“Oh, thanks for saving me back there” I say.
“No problem. Glad to help. I'm Trisha.”
She grabs my hand and leads me to the bathroom. I hurry to the first open stall and relieve myself. When I come out I see her fixing her hair in the mirror.
I look around.
“This is the girls bathroom?” I ask.
“Sure is hon. Oh I don't think anyone will care. I mean your like what nine?”
A handful of girls walk into the bathroom absorbed in conversation of the movie they just watched. They walk right past me and cue up at the stalls.
“And you kind of blend in you know.”
“I'm 13” I say washing my hands.
“You going to be okay?” she asks.
I nod.
“Good, I have to get back to work.”

When I step outside I realize it's getting dark fast.
Sam and Michael are waiting for me outside.
“There he is!” Sam says.
“Hurry your butt up.”
As we get on our bikes Michael says “Man... she was a real bitch.”
He looks over at me. “Wasn't she?”
I shrug peddling away. “I think she was pretty cool.”

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