Sad mask (Part 1)

Photo by Brian Fegter on Unsplash

From the beach he stared out over the ocean. An orange glow highlighted the water as darkness pushed the sun over the horizon and the last wave of the day rippled across his feet. He felt the sand make one last pull, like a grainy mat being tugged out from beneath his feet. The ocean became still, and the constant sound of the tide was now quiet. Whales, dolphins, and other creatures of the sea screeched in agony. It was as if they knew something that Sam did not. He continued to get into his boat and started paddling deep into the silent waters. He knew if he went out just far enough, he might find a wave. Before he left, he promised his family just that. He would be the first to find a wave at nighttime. The air was becoming as stale as the water and the moonlight was shattered. The moon was broken. While a sizable chunk of the moon remained, the rest of it faded into a tail that stretched across the night sky. 

The further he rowed, the darker it got. The shoreline was no longer visible. He rowed for what seemed like hours. He rowed and rowed, until an island came into view. As he approached, he saw dark figures appearing in the tree line, walking to the shore to meet him. Simply seeing other people was a reason for celebration. The figures waited for him, following him with their eyes as he approached.

“Who are you out there?” a voice yelled.

“Sam,” he said.

“And what are you doing out here, Sam?” the voice asked.

“Looking for a wave,” Sam said.

“A wave?” The voice laughed.

Sam’s felt a thump as his boat connected with the rocky beach. Two of the figures came out, pulling his boat ashore.

“He’s looking for a wave,” the tallest figure turned and yelled to the others.

There was a low rumble of laughs. In the spotty moonlight, Sam’s eyes adjusted as he made out the painted features of the ghostly white masks that every person wore. There was just enough light to make out their features. Tear drops, frown lines, angry faces. Every mask had unique features. 

The people behind the masks spoke exactly as the emotion of their masks conveyed. Some were sad, some angry, some whiney and others happy.

“Why is this boy here?” the man in the sad mask cried.

“It’s God’s will. He has come to us to help with the sacrifice. Maybe, just maybe, God will bless us with waves again,” the leader in the angry mask said.

“God’s will? Help with the sacrifice?” Sam asked. “I’m sure science can explain what is going on with the waves.”

“Science?” the lead mask with angry features laughed. “There is no such thing as science. Science told us that gravity would cause waves. The pull between the earth and the moon. The moon is there, the waves gone. What does your science tell you about that?”

“Well, there has to be an explanation. That is why I am looking for waves. I promised my family, if they were out there, I would find them.”

The sad face helped Sam off the boat and escorted him to a small village in the center of the island. There were children lined up, all wearing masks.  Sam felt like he was part of a parade welcoming home a champion.

“Do you think he can fix it?” a child in an angry mask asked.

“Of course,” the lead angry man said.

The lead angry man grabbed Sam and took him to a small hut. It looked like a box with bars all around it. It would securely hold whatever they decided to place inside. This time it was Sam. They opened the door of the hut, pushed Sam inside, and locked the door behind him. The villagers got into a line and formed a circle around the hut. Every single person in the village got into a line and spiraled around the hut.  At the same time, they sat down with a grunt. Surrounding him on all sides, they stared right through him. One tall man in a happy mask dripped liquid in a circle around the hut. The smell of gasoline along with the sturdy bars separated Sam from the watchers. 

“Under his watch!” they all screamed in unity. 

Each person came up to spit at Sam through the bars, carefully stepping over the line of gasoline in their path. Only a few people hit him with their spit. Most were not very accurate. Being target practice made him even more uncomfortable than being their prisoner. It felt like an extreme hatred, a game of dehumanization of sorts. 

The lead angry man was the last to take a turn to spit toward Sam, hitting him on his shoe.

“This is when you need to ask the gods, and the supreme god, for forgiveness. To bless our land is to give us waves again. We will starve if we don’t get them. No waves mean no fish. The water will become stagnant, and all will die. Meditate, think about it. The silence comes at night. It’s time for you to get some clarity. Forgive yourself for everything you have done that is bad.  You will be sacrificed at dawn. It will be a glorious ceremony,” the lead man said.

“Me? Sacrifice?”

“Hush! You may not speak. I have spoken, and it’s time for the silence.”

Sam got quiet. He felt a shiver, but it was not from the cold. He knew if he couldn’t escape before morning, they would kill him — for waves.

“The waves come during the day!” Sam yelled.

“But they are not here at night! Now shut up!” the man in the angry mask screamed. 

The silence began. Sam waited a few hours. The lights of the camp slowly burned out, one by one. He could only see the white paint on their masks as they tilted to their sides. Even as they slept, he listened to them snoring, watching different expressions staring back at him. There was no way to tell if they were asleep or awake. There were at least fifty of them. The number changed every time he counted. His mind was playing tricks on him. If he tried to break out, they would hear him, so he didn’t try.

“Hey,” a voice whispered.

Sam had already given up when he saw a little boy about two years younger than he was.

“My name is Freddy.”

“Nice to meet you Freddy,” Sam said, kicking some dirt around.

“Shhh,” Freddy said, placing his finger over his mouth. “My parents weren’t always this way, I promise. They were professors until they found the ancient book.”

“The ancient book?” Sam asked.

“Yes, follow me. I unlocked the back of the cage. We are going to get out of here together, tonight.”

Freddy started moving slowly and quietly out the back of the cage. Sam followed. They walked quietly through people sleeping and snoring, scattered all over the ground. They tiptoed through at least twenty of them, stepping over heads, legs, and arms. Freddy constantly turned back to place his finger over his mouth as a reminder to stay quiet.

“What are you–,” a voice said as a hand grabbed Freddy’s leg.

“It’s just me Freddy,” he said as the person seemed content with the answer and rolled over to go back to sleep.

They continued to move through the crowd like it was a pond full of sleeping alligators, ready to snap.

Then Freddy began to run. Sam followed Freddy’s and they ran hard through trees, brush, and sticks. There was a crackling underneath their weight with every step as they made their way to Sam’s boat. It was right where it had been pulled to shore. Freddy dragged it into the water and got it.  He didn’t even wait for Sam.  He shoved off into the ocean. Sam watched from the rocky beach. He froze as Freddy pushed his way out to sea. The sound of animals grew louder. Men, women, and children imitating the sounds of the forest, and they were approaching fast. 

Freddy signaled with his hands toward Sam. Frozen, Sam stood there, staring blankly at Freddy. Finally, he looked up at the broken moon shining in the sky and sprinted toward the boat. As he stepped into the water, the boat got further from the beach. He jumped in far enough that he could swim to the boat. His entire body was in the water now. He felt a hand grab him firmly by the hair and it shook him a bit.

“Where do you think you are going?” the voice screamed.

He snapped his elbow back into the man’s head, knocking off the man’s mask. The man’s eyes were cloudy, but not so much that he couldn’t see. He left blood dripping down the man’s face into his eyes. As he broke loose from the man, he swam harder to the boat. 

After a few strokes more, he felt rocks and debris coming down on top of him. He could hear Freddy’s voice calling out. A few rocks hit him in the head, forcing him under the water. He even gasped for air a few times. Every time he tried to breathe, he could feel the water trying to fill his lungs. Coughing uncontrollably, he kept trying to move until he felt a hand come down into the water and grab him by his shirt. 

“I got you. Come on, you got it,” Freddy said as Sam slipped into the boat.

Sam continued to cough and gasp. They looked back at the torchlight from the beach and could hear the splashing of rocks not far behind the boat. Freddy had already picked up the oar and rowed, alternating sides to get as far from the island as possible. Soon the torch lights disappeared in the distance, leaving just the moonlight and all the stars. Surrounded by blackness, Freddy and Sam could only see each other in the weak light from the night sky. The darkness would guide them wherever it wanted to. It would surely be a surprise where they would wash up. There was nothing to do but row with no help from the waves and no sleep.

Copyright © 2021 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker

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