This story is one of the March Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Lucid sunlight shone through gauzy curtains, illuminating my small room. Squinting my eyes at the sudden brightness, I suddenly remembered: Saturday. I threw the covers against the wall and scrambled down the stairs. My beloved mother smiled at me as I rushed towards the door. She lightly touched my arm, “Have fun today. Enjoy it to the fullest.” I smiled back. Don’t I always?
My friends met me along the street, and we sprinted across steaming asphalt towards the woods. A perfect copse of trees stood quiet and still, awaiting our weekend project. We got to work, hoisting wood into the thickest tree. After a few hours, my hands burned from the rope, and I loped along the drying creek bed looking for water. Muffled voices, shouts, and lively music drifted up the stream. I scampered across the rocks toward the sounds.
A carnival was spread across a large field, and vendors called to pedestrians. Strains from a brass band lilted over the colorful tents and trailers. A shiny silver tent—different from the others—caught my eye. I walked toward the shimmering tent, mesmerized. A stout man stood outside. Like the tent, he seemed to be shining. He caught my enraptured gaze and called to me.
“Look here, son.” The man waved a sheath of silver before my eyes. It glinted in the sunlight. “A world of pleasure at your fingertips—don’t waste a single moment!” What does it do? I asked. It looks like just a mask to me. “What does it do!” the man sounded amused. “Why, this is a sensation! Ask it a question and it will show you the answer. Ask to see the world and it will show you everything! Take the mask. Enjoy all it has to offer. Tell your friends too!” he said, gathering my hard-earned coins. Eagerly I took the mask from his hands. It felt light and cool on my skin; the world glittered through the eyepiece as I held it to my face.
I began to walk back to the woods. The grass looked emerald green and lush through the mask; I couldn’t help but run and dance. I saw a fluttering bird and chased it in boyish wonder. Catch me! it seemed to say. Its fluttering feathers were so close, and suddenly I saw the writhing bird in my fingers…but felt nothing. Bewildered, I let go, and continued back towards the trees, yelling to my friends. Hurry, the vendor on the street! He’s selling wonders! They were frightened by the mask. But hearing the excitement in my voice, they scampered away toward the street. I ran until I reached the street again, the treehouse forgotten.
The mask contained endless wonders. On a cloudy night, I could see the stars clearly. When I asked to see places from afar, it became a moving picture show I could walk right into. I imagined feeling Antarctica’s icy snow, but the mask’s warmth protected my skin. Even as I walked amidst the crowds of New York, no one ever stepped on my feet. So wonderful was the mask’s reality, I never wanted to take it off. The more it showed me, the more I wanted. Soon, I slept with it every night, falling asleep to reflections of the aurora borealis.
One morning I awoke to the same gentle light streaming from my window. Another Saturday! This time as I clomped down the stairs, my mother did not await me. Perplexed, I stepped out to the street. Quiet. Show me my mother. The eyepiece winked, and soon I saw her in the woods sitting by a half-finished treehouse. I ran to her. Why are you here? Why weren’t you home with me? She backed away. “You belong to the Metalheads now. They’ve overtaken you. The mask owns you.” Scared, I tried to pull off the mask, but it stuck around my neck, metal biting flesh. Alarmed, I chased after the rogue in white, the ghost of my mother I’d forgotten about. I was so fixated on the mask she’d become a mere memory.
The adamant metal seemed melted to my face; the harder I pulled, the stickier it became. The pure light around my eyes flickered, and, scared I’d be left in darkness, I tore the cover from my face. The mask in my hands no longer held the same magic it once had. The silver glow became tarnished and gray, the eyepiece dark with ashes and smudged with use. A beguiling wonder now an ugly beast. Disgusted, I turned away, but now a withering world surrounded me: storm clouds and shadows, brown grass and concrete. People in masks bumping into each other, blind to reality by an illusory world. What do I do now?
The copse of trees stood quiet and still.