On the Dark Side of Dreams
It was the ultimate Black Friday deal. But it was the kind of thing you don't normally find in a store.
And yet, there it lay, prominently displayed in the store window like the crown jewels of a lost civilization. By all accounts, it was not supposed to exist; it was merely legend, or so it had been thought.
I stood transfixed, studying the details crafted by someone, or something, with spectacular talent. The shape was long and narrow – too narrow for a human face – and outlined with a substance that could only be compared to gold.
It was shining like the sun against its polished alabaster finish; and yet, it was translucent. The eyes, though empty, were almond shaped and outlined in deep jade stones. A fiery glow of polished opal radiated from its cheeks while a gap, barely visible, lay horizontal just beneath the eyes where a nose would be.
I followed the unique shape of this beautiful work of art to what I could only speculate as a mouth. The shape was that of wings spread in full flight with rich rubies encrusted around its edges, causing the gaping mouth to appear filled with blood.
The beauty of the mask was intoxicating. It seemed to beckon me into the out-of-the way boutique. I looked down the dark street in both directions. A few groups of people were making their way toward the larger grouping of stores, obviously having to park along the narrow back streets as had I.
I stepped in front of the well worn antique wooden door of the shop. A single light illuminated its brass knob. I took a hold of it, convinced that there was no way the shop was open at this hour of the morning.
To my disbelief, it turned easily in my hand, and the door opened without effort. A bell rang to announce my arrival – I froze.
I looked down the street again, the group of people who had been there just moments ago were nowhere in sight. I looked back into the dimly lit shop and stepped inside, not under my own power, but by what felt like a hand urging me from behind.
The moment I stepped inside the shop, the door slammed shut behind me, and a wiry little man appeared from behind a heavy crimson curtain.
“Good morning,” he greeted in a cheery, expectant voice.
The shopkeeper spoke with a slight accent; Middle Eastern or eastern European, I was unsure which.
As he sauntered into the room, he cleaned a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles with the corner of the apron he wore. Then, putting the glasses on, he looked up in surprise, as if he expected someone else.
“Hello,” I said haltingly, feeling odd and out of place. “I’m surprised you are open so early, but I was fascinated by an item in your window and just thought I would try the door.”
“Oh, I am always open for the customer who is interested in something fascinating ,” he answered with a twinkle in his eye and a chilling smile.
Goose bumps ran up my spine and I felt like running out of the shop, but my feet remained planted. My shoes seemed nailed to the faded, scuffed wooden floor. Everything was surreal; it was only then that I actually saw the objects that cluttered the emporium.
I felt as if I had stepped into a time and place not of this world. The items that adorned the shelves were crafted from substances I could only dream.
There were items that resembled pipes, twisted in various shapes with patterns engraved along their edges. Some were solid and shiny like brass; others were clear and smooth as glass.
On a table nearby, were round bulbs of different colors. The globes were similar to the gazing balls found in local gardens, only these were not solid. I sensed that my hand would go right through them, had I been inclined to touch one.
Bolts of cloth were stacked on another table. They shimmered even in the dim light; their colors were like the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis. I could see the consistency of each fabric, and without even touching them, I experienced their textures on my skin.
“Is there something in particular that fascinates you?’ asked the shopkeeper.
His question startled me back into reality.
“Y-y-yes,” I sputtered, “The mask in the window.”
“Ah, the mask,” he said with a knowing nod. “That is a one-of-a kind item.”
I followed him toward the display window like a zombie. As he lifted the mask from its case, my heart began to race and my fingers twitched in anticipation. Then, he handed it to me.
It felt as delicate as blown glass, as soft as pure silk, and as cold as ice; yet it was as supple as latex. It shimmered in my hands and the desire to put it on was overwhelming.
“Go ahead,” the shopkeeper encouraged, as if reading my thoughts.
I knew it was useless to try it on; the shape and size of the mask was nowhere near a match to my own full, round face, but I could not suppress the urge to see it from the inside. As I lifted it carefully toward me, a very strange thing began to happen.
The mask became warm in my hands; the supple substance began to expand and change. A buzzing sound emanated from the inside of the mask. The buzzing grew louder, and in an instant, the mask had sealed itself onto my face. The sound became more of a droning vibration throughout my head, causing my teeth to chatter in such a way that it sent sharp pains through my jaws. My ears were ringing so loud that I felt my head would explode at any moment. In an instant, everything was quiet.
A light shone in my eyes – a bright, intense light that was remarkably small and far away. It changed colors from white to green and finally a pale blue. As it neared, it grew larger and brighter. Gradually, the light became warm, golden and comforting, drawing me into its very core.
One moment I was standing in the little shop, and the next I stood in the midst of the universe. Planets danced an ethereal waltz around the glowing orb of the sun, while stars hovered throughout the black abyss. I stood on the ivory Milky Way in awe, watching auroral lights skip throughout the expanse.
And then, just as fast as this glorious vision began, it transformed into a horrible nightmare. The planets burst into flames, and the stars fell from the darkness into a molten sea that was once the sun. I could hear the screams of billions of people as each planet turned to cinder then drifted off into the darkness.
The screams faded into the insidious buzzing once again. I attempted to pull the mask from my face, but the suction was so tight it felt as if the mask had become my face. I jerked and tugged frantically until I was finally able to loosen a tiny sliver of the elastic material away from my right ear. Painfully, I pulled inch by excruciating inch to loosen the mask from my face. The pain was unbearable, and I knew that as I pulled the mask I was tearing flesh from my face, but I didn’t care. I wanted it off; I had to get it off! Finally the suction released and the mask came off with a whoosh.
As the mask released, I felt a mighty shove and opened my eyes. I was lying in my bed, my sister’s face just inches away from mine.
“Are you going with us?” She asked. “We’ve got to get going now, or we’ll never get a parking place.”
I sat up; my heart was racing and my body shaking all over. I wasn’t sure if I had been dreaming. The experience had been so intense and vivid.
“Are you alright, sis?” she asked with a look that equaled the concern in her voice. Then she gasped, “What happened to your face!?”
I stumbled to the bathroom on legs so weak I could barely stand, and turned on the light. Looking into the mirror, I saw scratches near my ear and splotches of raw flesh on my cheek. The room began spinning and my stomach churned. Then, behind the silhouette of my sister, I saw the warm, glowing light moving toward me once again.
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This short story won Third Place in the 2010 - 2011 Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs, State Writing Competetion.
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