This is the first draft of a story I wrote for my writer’s workshop. I will be posting this story to RoyalRoad.com as the first story in a larger collection.
I only forgot my mask once before, when I think I was 14 or 15. Mother and Father made such a fuss, that I tried very hard to remember it after that. Father’s wrath was terrible, but Mother’s anger hurt more because it was expressed as disappointment rather than as rage. I could hide from Father, but the guilt and shame at having disappointed her was inescapable. “Remember what happened to your brother, Ella.”
My brother Paul had forgotten his mask one day while he was away and had never returned. I still kept his last letter in a box under my bed along with a drawing I had made of him just before he left. He was very proud of that picture, and said it was a perfect likeness. I could see his love for me every time I looked at it, especially in the brown depths of his eyes.
“My Dear Ella,” He had written. “I will be home soon. Give Mom and Dad a hug for me. Tell them that they were right, the outside world is a scary place, but it also has its charms. I’ve met a wonderful girl, and I am looking forward to bringing her for a visit. I also found something I think you will really like and will bring it home for you when I return.”
That was the last we ever heard from him. After that, Paul became more of a cautionary tale than anything else. I’m sure my parents both grieved his loss in their own ways, but they never mentioned his name other than to remind me to make sure I wore my mask anytime I stepped outside the house.
The house was a two-story Victorian on Bank Street, in a neighborhood of otherwise unoccupied, rundown houses. Many of them had been vandalized, but that stopped afterwhile. Destruction loses its thrill when no one appears to care about what is being destroyed.
Our house was originally a painted lady, adorned in pastel shades of spring, but Father had covered it in a riot of vinyl and aluminum siding, whatever he was able to salvage in his travels through the city. He could only stay out an hour or two at a time, it was too dangerous, otherwise.
In the end, the house resembled a house designed by a cubist, its squares of contrasting color confusing the eye from realizing that it indeed was looking at someone’s home. This may have been the reason people were prone to keeping their distance.
The roof was much the same, with asphalt shingles of multiple shades. It might have looked odd to some, but we were dry, even in the strongest storm. The house was our nest, our castle, our shelter against the outside world.
The outside world was a scary place, Mother told us, full of dangers that we were ill-equipped to handle. Mother kept the curtains closed most of the time, in order to block the view. Paul and I both believed her, as we didn’t know any different.
She insisted on us homeschooling rather than letting us leave the house, not wanting to submit us to the risk that our masks would slip and expose us to danger. “Some parents aren’t afraid to let their kids be exposed to the poison outside, but I am unwilling.”, she told us. “You must stay here, inside, safe with your father and me. Even he only goes out when absolutely necessary.”
When we became teenagers, normal adolescent rebellion made us question this. Was it really that bad outside? We’re the dangers posed really so hazardous?
Paul resisted more than I did. His readings of the books in our library seemed to make him more curious about what lay beyond the confines of our home, which was not what was intended at all. He started sneaking out, waiting until Mother and Father had gone to bed and slipping out the back door to go exploring. He would return an hour or two later, telling secret tales of parties and gatherings which painted gossamer pictures in my imagination, and made me wish to escape as well.
It was three months later when he left and didn’t return. I hid in my room for the next few weeks, not wishing to face either Father’s anger, or Mother’s anxiety. I was worried too, but at the same time, I envied Paul for having the courage to escape.
We started to get letters. Paul had gone to the city, had found a job and started working. He seemed very excited by all of it. The final letter sounded so hopeful. Mother had largely stopped worrying.
Father had begun to even joke and laugh occasionally. Then we heard the news. Paul had forgotten his mask one day and would never return home again.
“I told him. I told him not to forget it, didn’t I tell him?” Mother sobbed as she collapsed on the floor. Father just shouted about Paul being a stupid fool, and that he had known this would happen.
My freedom was greatly restricted for the next month. It took me some time to persuade my parents that I was trustworthy, and had no desire to wander from the safe haven they had created. But I was lying to them and to myself. I still desired the world that Paul had told me about. I still felt the pull of the outside world, drawing me out of our cloistered existence.
I started sneaking out, much as Paul had, meeting people my own age and making friends. That’s how I met Eric.
Eric was a little older than I was. His hair was the most beautiful shade of red. He wasn’t a ginger, his hair was more auburn than the brilliant orange most gingers seem to have. His eyes were the same shade of brown as my brother’s, and as we came to know each other, they began to hold the same concern and caring that my brother’s had.
I remember one night, we managed to find one of the few movie houses still open, and watched a double feature of the 80s film “Cat People” followed by “An American Werewolf in London”. We laughed ourselves silly at how bad they both were, and I think I started to fall in love with him, just a little.
Other dates followed, and I started to imagine what a life with Eric would be like, even children. These were thoughts that were new, almost disturbing, in the narrow confines my parents had defined my life.
We were at another double feature, this time it was the “Mole Men from Venus” and “Invasion of the Ant People”.
Eric looked at me and said “Ella, I’ve been meaning to tell you something. We’ve been spending so much time together, and I have to admit I’m falling in love with you. But it wouldn’t be fair for us to go further without letting you know the real me.
“Eric, I’ve been feeling the same way.” I answered. “I have wanted to let you know my true self so badly.”
He kissed me then, and everything just felt right. As if my entire life had been leading up to this moment, where I could truly be myself, free from my parents’ fears and my own insecurities.
We took off our masks and revealed ourselves to each other there in the theater. That’s when the screaming started.