Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mask Game

by John Shirley





   "Neva has a new Halloween game she wants us to play at the party," said Donny.
   Juno looked across the room at her younger brother. "Say what, scrubster?" 
   Donny was barely thirteen. He surprised everyone in the family room by chiming in about the Halloween party, because he didn't seem to be paying attention to them at all; he was staring so fixedly into the Sega Dreamcast game he seemed in another room, another world; his fingers clicked the controller; his hands jabbed it in the air, his shoulder wrenched this way and that, as if these contortions could help his Killflyer safely pass the ice-spikes hurtled by the enraged Living Mountains. 
   Juno, Donny's older sister, sat with the others at the breakfast table on the tile floor beyond the stained carpet of the Dreamcast-dominated family room. On wicker chairs around the kitchen table were Donny's wearily obese Mom; Juno and her best friend Linda; and Linda's always-smiling Dad, Mr. Carpenter...Mr. Carpenter was "a heavily medicated soccer Dad," according to Linda. 
   Juno looked at her brother, saw him flying, in his mind and on-screen, into the box of the videogame....
   One of those weird feelings of unwanted scale came into Juno's mind again: she seemed to see Donny in the box of the TV screen, and the box was like a little puppet theater in which he zipped around in a toy space-ship, shooting things; and that box was inside the box of the Family room, next to the box of the kitchen, both in the box of the split-level house, which was in a grid of such house-boxes, in the Southerton suburb of Sacramento, in the middle of California, on the coast of North America—in her mind, she could see it all from space, the planet a ball in space: the boxes stuck to the big ball, the big ball itself hanging, in her imagination, in some vast transparent box that astronomers had failed to discover because they weren't supposed to, because....
   Stop. 
   Dizzy, Juno pulled her mind back, and focused on the kitchen table; the crumbs of breakfast, the bowl of chips, the homely, comfortingly ordinary faces of her family and friend Linda. 
   Donny was muttering something, again about masks for the Halloween party. Focus on that. 
   "So you're, like, in on this Halloween party committee all of a sudden, scrubster?" Juno asked, fishing in the bowl for a taco chip that hadn't gotten limp by sitting out all night. "Ugh. Mom these chips are, like, blue food." 
   "Then throw them in the trash and put out some fresh, Juno," Mom said, distractedly looking at Donny. 
   He was still staring into the screen, jerking his body around in a burlesque of the trajectory of his Killflyer. He made it past the beetling visages of the Living Mountains, muttering, "Aw riiiiight," and flew on into the Jurassic Swamplands, where he began to systematically strafe the Village of the Swamp People. 
   "You have to kill people in some village, in that game?" Mom asked, frowning. "They look like, you know, innocent bystanders...." 
   Juno thought: Like you'd do anything about it even if he had to torture them to death for points....
   "You get more points," Donny said, "if the people in the village have weapons. But yeah you kill everybody, if you want enough points to get the Annihilator.... You can't really win unless you get the Annihilator.... Yeah uh Neva, anyway, said...shit...flew too low...." 
   "Neva said 'shit'?" Juno asked, pretending innocence. Linda giggled. 
   "You two watch your language," Mom said. Grunting, she heaved herself up, out of her chair: a big woman, she'd lost enough weight so that she didn't have to use a cane anymore, but she still breathed through her mouth when she moved. She looked at her watch—a tiny silver strip of watch on a big pink slab of arm—and decided it was close enough to lunchtime; she got her Slimfast from the fridge and drank it down hungrily. 
   "Neva said that uh, she...shit! Every time I come to this swamp part, their stupid trained dino-gator's vomiting those acid bombs...He always—whoa, gottim!... Neva said she had a game she wanted to play with the kids at the party and she...she had prepared for it, for, like, months, and made special masks for everyone. Everyone's got their own mask. Kinda weird but that's what she said.... That little kid keeps escaping into the woods.... Now I've gotta use my nuker on the woods to kill him...." 
   "She made the masks by hand?" Mr. Carpenter asked. He snapped his fingers in admiration. "Gee, that's great, I'd love to see them." He was a chiropractor, who'd retired after losing a lawsuit with a patient. Something about spinal adjustments and strokes. Mr. Carpenter's receding blond hair was going grey, but he still had a little ponytail, tied in the back; a head that seemed slightly too long and narrow for his wide shoulders. 
   "She worked on it for months?" Juno asked. "The girl's, like, obsessed!" 
   "Rully," Linda said, "That's like so...." Her voice trailed off. 
   Linda was stocky like her dad, with that same long chin. Not as pretty as Juno; not as brave about expressing herself. 
   "Oh I think spending that long perfecting a craft to get it right, that's marvelous," said Linda's dad, as both Juno and Linda had known he would. "The masks must be great." 
   "That's right," Mom said. "I don't know how we all lost touch with craftsmanship and caring about doing things right. I'm not saying I'm much better. In the 70s, I guess, we were having too much fun to think about getting some skills that mattered. Me, I mean—not you, Frank."
   Mr. Carpenter nodded pleasantly. 
   Juno thought: Mom's always saying things are screwed up, and then saying she's no better. But she starts out judging everything anywaythen she judges herself
   Breathing through her mouth, Mom labored around the kitchen, dumping out the old chips, putting new chips in the big earthenware bowl. "Mo-om," said Juno, as soon as she was sure her Mom had already done it. "I would've got those. I was going to." 
   Donny went on, barely audible: "Yuh, Neva said...said she wanted us to wear those special masks...and...she...." He broke off, for a long moment, staring at the screen, as it loaded another level. "...wants to show us how to play the game...tonight.... Oh, sweet: Next level is Kill-frenzy.... Yeah she's coming tonight to...to...." 
   "Uh, riiiiiight, Donny," Juno said. She and Linda exchanged looks. It was like Donny was a Mynah bird, just repeating something. 
   Mom made one of her frustrated noises, a kind of low growling, and went to the videogame—and surprised Juno by shutting it off. Donny looked at her in outraged shock. "I hadn't saved yet!" 
   "Tough," Mom said, "I'm sick of you doing all that video-killing and not participating in...in...family stuff." 
   "What—stuff like Halloween? Where we can, like, pretend to be Jason or Freddie and carry toy knives with fake blood on em and stuff? That's not violence? Shit I was just about to—" 
   "Watch your language, buddy-boy! Now tell me what your cousin Neva was going to do with the masks. We're trying to plan the evening. We want to do something together as a family this year." 
   "Neva?" Donny brushed some lank brown hair out of his eyes and blinked at her. "Neva was going to do what?" 
   "You were just saying you'd talked to Neva?" 
   "Like, a month ago—she didn't say anything about masks. You could've warned me before you switched off the game so I coulda saved. Now I have to replay that level." 
   "That's, like, such a tragedy, losing your saved videogame," Juno said, dripping sarcasm. "It's tragic if you're a retard, I mean." She stared. "God, Donny you haven't even got any pants on—running around in a shirt and underwear...." 
   "That's just disrespectful," Linda said. "I have to say. None of my business but...I mean.... Excuse me? It's like he's all...." 
   "Why're you looking at my ass, Linda?" Donny jeered, unfolding his long, bare legs to get up. He stalked angrily out, going down to his room; to his computer. He liked to walk out on things, on people, to make a point. The picture of Eminem on the back of his T-shirt glared a reproach at them, as if 'getting Donny's back', all the way down the stairs. Slim Shady's printed-on face receded into the shadows of the downstairs hall. 
   "Donny's being such a butt-head," Juno said. "Like, he'll just not tell us now about Neva because he's mad." 
   "Boys are confused, at his age, pretty easily," said Mr. Carpenter, always the conciliator. "He'll be fine." 
   Juno wondered what Mr. Carpenter would say, instead, if he hadn't been taking his Paxil. 
   They heard the faraway sound of the Internet connecting in Donny's room and almost immediately the muted chiming of Instant Messages, one after another, as the Buddy List told his friends he was once more in their shared digital world. 


⛧ 


   Wearing only a bra and panties and feeling a little sick from the cooking smells of instant dinners coming up through the grate in the floor, Juno was standing in her bedroom-closet door with Linda, trying to decide what to put on. She was supposed to wear some artsy-craftsy mask that her weird cousin Neva had made, tonight—made for them without even asking them all first—and since she didn't know what mask she would have she didn't know what costume to put together to go with the mask. 
   "Some, like, tights—black tights and a leotard, that'd go with any mask. You look cute in tights anyway," Linda was saying. Linda took a fashion-design course and was good with design software. She was into pictures, into color and texture, like her Mom had been. 
   "I'm putting on weight, I can't wear tights," Juno said. 
   "You are not putting on weight." 
   Juno whispered: "I'm scared I'll end up like...." She glanced at the door. 
   "You have more your dad's metabolism, from what your doctor said that time," Linda said, abstractedly, riffling the outfits hanging in the closet. "How about this?" 
   Then the doorbell rang, and the tightness started in her stomach: it was her dad. 
   "JU-noooo!" her mom called, from downstairs. "Your dad's here!" 
   Dad was bringing her half-brother, six-year-old Little Mick, over for the party, probably because Dad was going to some office Halloween thing with his wife. He worked for UniNet, where they were supposed to be "just like family" and their CEO was heavy into having "family holidays" and it was so weird how that was like her Mom lately, too. Mom was on a 'family togetherness' kick. Like that would make up for Dad being married to some skinny lawyer bitch. 
   "Yeah, I'll put on my Danskins for now, I guess," Juno said. She took the tights off the shelf inside the closet, next to the hanging clothes, and drew them on, then shrugged and wriggled into a matching scoop-necked leotard; black Danskins. If Russell came over, it'd be worthwhile to wear clinging things. 
   She contemplated herself in the mirror, smoothing out wrinkles in the stretchy fabric; Linda pulled up on the elastic for her, from behind. 
   "Yow, easy, I might want to have babies some day." 
   Linda giggled and the two looked critically at Juno: her long, wavy brown hair; her tortoise-shell berette flipping it just a little to one side; her pert, angular face; the deep-set green eyes she got from her dad; nails painted glossy-black. The nails were already good for Halloween, no reason to change that. But the almost painted-on Danskins—you could see her nipples...oh so what. Mom couldn't object to something she wore for dancing being too sexy. Mostly her objections were just noise anyway. 
   "DON-neeee! JU-noooo!"
   Juno exchanged a sigh with Linda and they went downstairs. 


⛧ 


   Mick was orbiting his dad, trailing one hand on his dad's legs as he circled him, making an RRRRR sound. Dad, still wearing his tieless suit, was tall, gangly, with a wide, easily-smiling mouth and lots of flashing white teeth; glinting green eyes. 
   Mick stopped dead-still, his small round face beaming up at Donny when he came slouching into the front hall. "Donny!" Mick shrilled. "Can we play Killforces?" 
   "Yuh, sure—split screen, dude. Hi Dad." 
   "Hi Donny," Dad said. "So, are thirteen year old guys allowed to have any fun on Halloween?" 
   "Yuh sure, whatever. We're, like, having a party or something." Donny trailed Mick into the family room. 
   "You give Mick a chance to win!" Dad yelled after them, smiling. He pretended to gawk up at Juno as she descended the stairs. "Who's this terribly skinny vision in black?" 
   "Oh right like I'm so skinny." She made herself go to him for The Hug. 
   It was hard to be mad at him, after six years, especially with him trying so hard when he came over. But it was hard to hug him too. She wanted to hug himand she wanted to push him away; and the tug-of-war made that tight, sick feeling in her guts when he came to visit. 
   He let her go. "So what's up tonight? Hi Linda!" He waved at Linda, who sat on a step halfway down. 
   "Hi Mr. Weiss." 
   "Um—we're not doing much," Juno said, relieved to be able to step back; to hug herself, instead. "Neva...cousin Neva...is coming over...bringing some masks...." 
   "Cousin Neva?" He shrugged. "I can't keep up. Time marches on. And so must I." He kissed her cheek. She let him. He grinned down at her—holding her shoulders cupped in his big hands for a moment, looking into her face. 
   Did he have to have that it's-all-good expression, when he didn't live with them? Like it was so good to be not married to her Mom. 
   He squeezed her shoulders gently, once, and turned to go—then turned back long enough to check: "Oh—I think your mom has Mick's costume. Should still fit, one more time. Donny and Linda's dad are taking him...?" 
   "Yep, that's the plan, Dad." 
   "That's a done deal, then. Okay kids—Happy Halloween." He blew Juno a kiss, waved to Linda and then he was gone, closing the door softly, swiftly, behind him.


⛧


   Russell, the jerk, didn't come. He would have some good excuse, he always did, and he'd been careful not to promise. They weren't really going steady, after all. One blowjob didn't make him her boyfriend. Don't try to date somebody that popular, Linda had warned her, and she'd been right, as much as Juno hated to admit it. 
   Her friend Marcy couldn't come—she was volunteering to help run some distance at her Catholic school. They were really lame, the dances at that school, they played, like, Katy Perry, not even Nicki Minaj, but it was a place to meet the boys from St. Anthony's. Dandridge couldn't come, he was doing some DJ thing somewhere. Atesha and Ahmed had made excuses so lame that Juno couldn't even remember what they were. They knew what Mrs. Weiss's Halloween parties were like. 
   So it was just Linda, and Mr. Carpenter—Linda's dad—after he got back with Donny and Little Mick, and Mom, and Mom's sister Laura—Laura was a nervously active, medium-sized woman with her rusty hair up in a bun and pants that were way too tight for her big derriere—and Juno. Later, Granddad Morrisey, Mom's father, was supposed to come over. Thrill. Granddad was deadly dull when he wasn't bitching. Some Halloween party. 
   It was after dark and they were in the living room, doing busywork to avoid the discomfort of having to wait for anything like a real party to start. Laura had set out punch and cookies and put on music: Classics from the Crypt. Mom had Linda and Juno putting up the Halloween decorations she'd bought at The Big Halloween Store, a discount place that rented a space at the mall for a month out of the year. Juno grimaced at the decorations: Cut-outs of clichéd witches, trite ghosts, hackneyed werewolves, stereotyped Frankenstein monsters; bright chirpy images printed on cereal-box cardboard. "What I hate," said Juno, "is how they make the 'monsters' in Halloween decorations all happy and jolly and grinning and...like they're trying to make you feel they couldn't really hurt you. Don't want to scare the kids on Hallo-ween...." 
   "Or piss off the Fundamentalists—the fascist scrubs—" said Linda, whose Mother, Lupe, had been rather a political activist with the Catholic Workers, before she'd died. Lupe had died of an embolism, six years before. "If you make Halloween stuff scary they think it's...it's...you know...." 
   Juno pushed a tack through a ghost's eye. "Like...demonic?" 
   The doorbell rang. Juno got the door, and there was Neva, and things were instantly more interesting. Neva had her jet-black hair in long, rank dreadlocks; she had some kind of white coloring on her lips, not lipstick, more like white paint, so that they were dead white, and the same on her eyelids; her nose was doubly pierced by little emerald and ruby studs, her ears quadrupally hooped. Her heart-shaped face was pretty but abjectly solemn; her black eyes were polished onyx. When she blinked, the bone-white to onyx flash was sometimes startling. 
   But her smile put Juno at ease. "Cousin Juno!" Neva said, reaching out to press Juno's hand; and Juno saw a flash of the shiny brass stud piercing Neva's tongue, in the dead center of that laughing, open-mouthed smile. "I haven't seen  you since you were so little...and now you're bigger than me!" 
   It was true: Neva was probably in her twenties, but she was a small woman, a well-turned but pixieish shape, no more than five-foot-one. She wore flat-white, a sleeveless, sash-belted shift like something the servant girl would wear in a movie about ancient Rome; the cloth was sewn, here and there, with runes. She wore an antique silver armlet of a snake biting its own tail, and a really old, worn-out pair of sandals. Neva hesitated in the doorway as Juno frankly stared at her, forgetting her peevishness about the mask game, beginning to appreciate Neva's style. 
   "Whoa, nice toe-nails," Juno said. Neva's toenails were alternately black and white. "Black and white and—" 
   "—and black and white and black and white!" Neva laughed. Her voice both soft and husky, and her laugh was infectious so that Juno found herself laughing too. "And you've got all black fingernails, Juno! If you do a hand-stand next to me, just right, some piano player may stroke his fingers on the ends of us. I know just which octave I am too...." 
   What a weird-ass little thing to say, Juno thought. 
   "Well do come in, for heaven's sake, Neva!" Mom called, from the sofa where she was watching Linda put up black and orange crepe paper. "Juno, you're making her stand out there!" 
   "Sorry...." Juno closed the door behind Neva who stood on the carpet, looking around, smiling like the Mona Lisa at their decorations. "Very...nice." She put down a large satiny black bag—the kind of material that was black and gold both, depending on how it shifted around in the light. The bag was full, its contents covered in a coarse white cloth. Neva gazed benignly at Mom. "Good to see you, Judith!" 
   Mom looked at Neva with slightly narrowed eyes, her head tilted. "Um.... You too, Neva." 
   "Are those the masks you made?" Juno asked, looking at the bag. She was embarrassed suddenly, by the party, and her family—Neva was so cool, so confident, and she found she wanted to know her better. 
   What did Neva do for a living? Juno couldn't remember. 
   She remembered something about Neva doing...what? Going off to school somewhere? Studying art in Europe or something? She must have: she was so effortlessly exotic. 
   "Yes, those are the masks," said Neva. "Oh! That music—'Night on Bald Mountain'. I like that composition." 
   "It's Classics from the Crypt," Laura said. She was stringing unnecessary crepe. 
   "Is that what it is? I'll bet it's much quieter in a crypt than that," said Neva. 
   Linda and Juno laughed. Laura turned and blinked at Neva in confusion, then managed a chuckle. 
   "Have some punch!" Mom said. "You can have the grown up punch with the white wine in it.... Laura would you get her some punch?" 
   Neva dutifully went to stand by the transparent plastic punchbowl, to wait for her drink. The bowls were on the folding table, covered with black construction paper, they'd set up against the wall. With exquisite care, Laura ladled out a wax paper cup of wine and Hawaiian Punch from the "grown up bowl." Juno got herself some punch from the other bowl—a mix of canned juices with some orange slices floating in it. 
   "Mmm, thanks." She sipped at the cup, her eyes darting from one person to the next, and around the room. "Delightful. Lovely." 
   Mr. Carpenter had taken Donny and Little Mick out trick-or-treating. Mick was Batman; Donny had decided he wanted to make his own Mask design with Halloween makeup—he'd ended up with scribbles on his face, and what looked like unreadable graffiti. 
   The doorbell rang; Laura let Granddad Morrisey in, on his aluminum cane that sprouted into four legs near the bottom; scowling, nodding, shuffling. "Thank you, Laura. Kids, how ya doing, there. Judith. Where's Little Mick?" 
   "Trick or treating, Dad. I've got your water heating...." Laura took his arm, and slowly escorted him into the kitchen for the instant coffee and Oreos he always had when he arrived. 
   The trick or treating commenced. Neva stood near the punch, watched Juno and Linda take turns answering the door, offering the bowl of miniature Snickers and Mars bars and Baby Ruths to kids wearing store-bought masks of Freddie and Pikachu; to kids in green monster makeup their parents had put on them by hand. Some kids had the wailing-ghost masks associated with the Scream movies; others the grinning Scream-parody mask from Scary Movie. Now and then groups of large black kids, most of them looking like they were at least fifteen, came to the door and mumbled, "Trickertreat;" they usually didn't bother with masks. Linda gave them candy. 
   Mom, in turn, watched Neva—Mom's gaze wandered from Neva's dreadlocks to her piercings, to the eyes that seemed so familiar and so unfamiliar...
   ...And watching Neva, Mom ruminatively ate mini-Mars Bars from a sack, one after another, forgetting her diet, accumulating a pile of discarded candy bar wrappers. 
   Neva drifted over to the lamp table, beside Mom, where the wrappers were piling up and ran her fingers through the crinkly pile. "Like a heap of autumn  leaves...."
   "You can sit on the couch, you know, or a chair, hon," Mom said.
   "I need to stand for awhile. But thank you." 
   She needs to stand? Juno thought. 
   Still gazing at Neva, Mom put a mini-Mars bar down half-eaten, and sat up a little straighter in excitement. "I remember.... Gosh—you've grown so much, Neva...." 
   "Oh I wish I'd grow some more! I'm so damnedly short. But you get used to it. It gives you a more realistic sense of scale." She looked at Juno.
   Mom cocked her head at this, considering it, frowning. Juno looked at Neva for a moment, some half-memory of what might've been a dream stirring in her...and then turned away and emptied another family-size bag of Halloween-candy into the trick-or-treat bowl. 
   Laura came in long enough to change the music to Disco Inferno; she did a few dance steps in place, at the stereo—it was disco music but she was doing an Irish folk dance, with her arms straight at her side. She'd taken lessons. She did all her dancing that way—she said Michael Flatley proved you could Irish-dance to anything. 
   Neva stared at Laura a moment, then drifted up beside Juno to watch as a disparate batch of masked kids came to the doors at once—two Wolverines from the X-Men movie, one Mystique from the same movie, one fourteen-year-old boy with The Crow makeup, one Fairy Princess—not long out of diapers—with sparkles on her cheeks, holding her dad's hand; one Scary Movie mask. 
   "Some masks speak so deeply, Juno—but some drip onto our faces from the glass screens...and some only mock us from dreams we forgot we had," Neva murmured. 
   Juno looked at her, thinking: What was that? Something from some lame community college drama class? "When are you going to show us the masks you brought, Neva?"
   "Soon as the trick-or-treating dies out," Neva said, going to stand by the punch table again. She'd stayed there most of the evening, so far, but hadn't drunk anything else. 
   "This one coming up the sidewalk'll be one of the last groups...around here they stop around ten...." 
   Neva was gazing out the open door, at the beacon of the moon in the black sky. As if drawn, she walked across the room to Juno again, her gaze seamlessly on the moon. "It's not quite full, tonight. It's waxing. Growing." 
   "Yeah. The moon's really pretty tonight. It's so bright." 
   "It's awesome," Linda said, coming to join them. "It's all...." Her voice trailed off, as usual; they gazed together into the night sky, each with the moon in her mind's eye. 
   Then another group of kid's came, yelling trick or treat in a listless, off-hand kind of way, accidentally knocking over potted plants as they came up the walk and not stopping to right them. 
   The doorbell stopped ringing about ten-thirty and, soon after, Neva closed the front door and said, "Time for the Mask Game." 


⛧


   Granddad Morrisey was in the barcalounger, Donny, his makeup smeared—scowling and put-upon—was seated on the floor between Granddad and Laura who sat stiffly on a kitchen chair she'd brought into the living room. Donny was eating Halloween candy from a plastic orange trick-or-treat bag he'd brought back with him. Juno and Linda sat on the two arms of the overstuffed chair across from the sofa, under the painting of a troubadour singing up to a Spanish girl on a balcony. Little Mick was playing Gameboy, half curled up on the chair between them; he had lost his beloved Batman mask somewhere in a park, occasioning a minor crisis; but he'd forgotten about it when Donny pressed the Gameboy on him to quiet him down. 
   Mr. Carpenter was leaning on the back of a turned-around kitchen chair, rocking its front legs off the floor, humming to himself while gazing vaguely at the plaster light-bulb-lit jack-o-lantern in the front window. Mom had wanted a family session to carve real jack-o-lanterns, this year, but the kids had all made excuses, and the pumpkins were rotting, unmarked, on the back porch. 
   "Could we put on some music?" Donny was saying. "And for once could we listen to something I like, something that's good for Halloween? There's that song 'Kim'—" 
   Juno groaned, "Not Eminem, please God."
   "Juno come on, it's Hallo-ween stuff—it's a scary story about this guy who kills this girl and tells his daughter it's all just a game but he's getting the kid to help dump her in the lake.... It's just like a horror movie...."
   "It's his sick fantasy about murdering his wifethat's not Halloween—"
   "Actually," Neva said, mildly, as she took the cloth covering off the masks in the sack. "I agree with Donny, I have heard that song and it is a Halloween story, very much. But music right now would be distracting...we have storytelling of our own to do with the help of the masks...." With a mask gazing empty-eyed from her hand, she straightened up and announced with just the right air of mystery: "For now commences our Halloween Mask Game!" 
   And she went counter-clockwise, passing out masks, one to each. 
   The masks were like glazed papier-mâché—but it wasn't paper, exactly. It was more like crushed straw, Juno thought, looking at the back: Some kind of fibrous plant. The front was beautifully painted, and shaped; they were human faces—familiar faces—not monsters. The workmanship was indeed of a quality beyond merely professional. It was "the art of the hands." 
   "Can I have that one...?" Juno asked, pointing at a mask of an old woman. 
   "No, I'm sorry, that one is mine," Neva said sweetly, huskily. "Each has his own mask. Try yours on—it should fit quite well to your features...."
   Juno took her own mask: it was a mask of her mom's face, not a mocking caricature, just Mom younger than now, more slender. Juno hesitated, not quite wanting to put it on. 
   With a deeply etched scowl, Granddad was staring at his own mask—which stared sightlessly back from his trembling, blue-veined hands. He grunted, and shook his head. The mask was a parody of his own face—much younger. "Me in Korea," he said. "About that time...stationed in Korea...the Forty-second...I was thirty-two." 
   Mom gazed at her own mask. "Why that's my mother, rest her soul.... They really are beautifully made. I...it gives me such a funny feeling.... You know, I should have done another art course.... People give up on them so easily, when they try to take classes, and...I guess I did too. I wish I'd done some more art classes...like Lupe—but she was so good at them...."
   At the mention of Lupe, Mr. Carpenter glanced at Mom, then looked quickly back at the mask in his hands. 
   "Oh yes," Laura said, "Lupe was very talented. You know, I'd have to be talented at something to really want to learn it—an art, I mean. I...I wanted to do more dancing but I didn't think I had...." She broke off, seeming embarrassed, as if she'd exposed herself. 
   "Mine's not like the others," Mick said, tossing his Gameboy aside to take his mask. "It doesn't have a face and it's madea something else." 
   "It is made of something different! You're a wise boy!" said Neva, all charming encouragement as she pulled his Batman shirt off over his head, so that he was bare chested. "It doesn't have much of a face yet, but just wait. We need at least one real honest monster on Halloween." She put the mask gently on his face and began to....
   What is she doing, Juno wondered. 
   The mask had started out without any real character to it; just a generic face. She was shaping the mask, under her fingers, as she spoke. "The other masks are made of something similar to paper, and they're fixed in one shape by a glaze. This one is of a kind of special, stiff cloth that's very adjustable.... It can be changed...." 
   As her fingers worked over the mask, it took shape, suggesting a werewolf. Not any particular werewolf; not Lon Chaney Jr, nor the Wolfen. Not Eddie Munster. But it was more or less, thought Juno, what Little Mick would look like if he turned into some kind of wolfboy. 
   "There—you're a wolfman!" Neva said, clapping her hands, just once. "You go on now, and be a werewolf, boy! Explore that! Go see in the mirror of the bathroom what it looks like!" 
   "Ow-WOOO!" Mick howled, to nervous laughter. His eyes sparkled at the attention; at everyone looking at him and laughing. Then he ran down the hall to the bathroom to look in the mirror. 
   The laughter died down as everyone looked at their masks. "After you've had a good look at them, put the mask on," Neva said. 
   Everyone obediently put their masks on, except Granddad Morrisey. 
   There was no string, no rubber band on the back of the mask—the top of the mask curved back into a kind of cap that held the mask on the head, and against the face. It clung to her face with such unnatural steadiness, she took it off and put it back on a couple of times, just to reassure herself that she could take it off. 
   Weird ideas get into your head at Halloween, she thought. 
   Every mask fit perfectly, so far as Juno could see. How had Neva done that, without measuring everyone? Juno found she was afraid to ask. 
   "Whoa-hey—like a glove!" Laura said, giggling faintly. Laura's own mask was an image of herself as a child of about twelve. 
   "No, it's some kind of mean joke," Granddad said, staring at his mask. Even as he said, "I won't put it on"...he put it on.
   "You just did put it on, Granddad," Donny said.
   "I won't put it on," Granddad said again, his voice muffled from behind his mask. 
   Juno started to laugh—then realized there was no humor in Granddad Morrisey's voice. He wasn't kidding. 
   Linda's mask was of her mother, Juno guessed—Lupe, a pretty woman, half-Latino. 
   Linda's dad, Mr. Carpenter asked, jovially, "How d'I look?" 
   "Like yourself, but younger," Mom said. 
   "What I want is the other way around—to be younger, but myself, Judith," he said, chuckling. 
   Donny's mask looked like his dad—but younger. "We're...we're all each other," he said, "or...the same but younger or...."
   "Not you, you're not someone here," said Juno. "And Mom is her mom—and you're Dad." For some reason, the remark seemed to hang in the air, as if it wasn't through releasing all its meaning. 
   "But who are you, Neva?" Laura asked, as Neva put on her own mask. 
   "I'm a grandmother crone," said Neva. "Any grandmother crone—one of this family's ancestors, perhaps, or someone alive, it doesn't matter." Her mask was a very old woman's face, but not a witch—more like a matriarch, smiling softly but also determined, firm in her convictions. 
   Looking at Neva in her mask, it was difficult to remember her original face. 
   Neva was switching off the lights, one by one, lastly the ones in the living room, making darkness fall across the room like an old-fashioned "wipe" in an old fashioned movie. No one objected—this was a Halloween party. 
   "Maybe we should have candles," Laura said tentatively. "I could get some. I think there's some in the garage...." Her masked face, in the shadows, seemed a frightened child—though the mask's expression hadn't seemed frightened before she'd put it on. 
   "We don't need candles, we have the moon herself," Neva said, and she pulled the bottom of the front window shade to make it snap up—so that suddenly moonlight flooded into the room. It only brought a little clarity, but it changed the character of the room. And Neva turned to them and intoned, with more simple declaration of conviction than drama: "The waxing moon—a moon pregnant with Harvest...." Even in this faint light the edge of the mask Neva wore could be seen—yet the features almost moved as she spoke. The visage of an elderly matriarch was so archetypally pure it made Juno shudder. "...Tonight there are solar flares, you know—" Neva went on. "—and so the moon is even brighter than normal, reflecting the petulant fury of the sun with its own lunar flares. We forget that moonlight is reflected sunlight—sunlight that has been stolen by the moon, and re-directed; this very light you see here—" She lifted her hand so that it was bathed in moonlight. "This light on my hand first struck the surface of the moon, before it struck my hand—it struck the filmy coating of moondust there, the cratered  hills of the moon—and it bounced off that moonscape, and came here, to us—to all of us in this room.... But it has in it still something of the dead dust of those bleak, shadow-etched craters...and something else—a power we can use...."
   "Gosh she's good at that, isn't she?" Mr. Carpenter chuckled. But there was a quaver, the faintest quaver, of uncertainty in his voice. 
   "I knew it," Juno whispered to Linda, "she's been taking drama or something." 
   Linda suppressed a snigger. But Juno was far from certain that Neva was dramatizing. Even when she said something poetic, she seemed so unaffected, so definite about it all, as if she were speaking of the weather, or the stock market. 
   "Now each of you knows who your mask is," Neva said, turning to them, silhouetted against the tarnished silver of the moonlit window. "To play the game, you need only listen to the mask and it will tell you what your part is, and how to play the role.... Now stand you up, all of you...you too, Donny.... Yes, and you too, Clarence...." Clarence was Granddad Morrisey's first name. "Good.... Now we stand here, facing one another...and we each take a step back, and as we do we step back from the people we pretended we were before, and into the masks...into the people who are these masks, the masks who are these people...."
   Playing along—or perhaps caught up in some kind of eternity-touched ritual of solemnity they couldn't articulate—they each took a step back...out of the pool of moonlight
   They stepped back all at once....
   Each masked face receding into the shadows so that only the faintest moonlit sketches of the masks remained, hanging unsupported, like bodiless spectres, in the dim reaches of the room....


⛧ 


   Little Mick kept going back to the mirror in the bathroom. The room was lit only by a night-light in the wallplug next to the mirror.
   He'd stand on the toilet lid and gaze into the dark glass. And every time he looked at the face he saw reflected there—the mask like an angry dog, to him who'd never seen a wolf—the face seemed a little more powerful, more independent. But he never felt scared of it—it was not like the face was some monster. 
   Every time he looked at the face, it seemed more like him—like Mick Weiss....
   After each mirror-look he would get down on the floor, and go prowling about the bathroom, growling, swaying his head from side to side; sometimes chuckling in wonder at the good feeling of the growling and skulking gave him. He snarled at some plastic family-size bottles of bubble bath and conditioner on the edge of the tub—and struck out at them with his clawed, furry hands—and knocked them into the tub, where the hollow ring of their bouncing sounded like frightened yelping. 
   He went to the mirror one more time—and then the mask was finished, somehow. It hadn't been finished till that moment. 
   He climbed down and began to prowl down the hall...and into the kitchen, then out the back door, into the cool night air. 


⛧


   "What...do we do now?" came Laura's voice, a little angry, from the darkness. 
   "Listen..." came Neva's voice urgently. "...just try not to think about anything, even if only for a second or two, and listen, and you'll hear what you should say...what the mask you're wearing wants to say."
   Then they heard Granddad Morrisey speak, and saw him step out of the shadows, into the moonlight, without his cane. He was still an old, bent figure, but he was moving easily now, and his voice seemed a little younger—though you could hear the age in it too. It was as if he were doing an uncanny mimicry of himself as a young man. 
   "Judith, get your heinie in here!" 
   Juno watched in fascination as her Mom stepped into the moonlight. A big shape—with that young, more slender woman's face: the mask of Judith's mother, Juno's deceased grandmother. 
   But Mom wasn't in character yet. "Dad...? Gosh you're so.... Are you all right? I'm not sure about this game...."
   "Listen to the mask, Judith," Neva prompted. "Even if it doesn't speak in words, it will guide you. Give it a chance and something miraculous may come!" There was something about Neva's voice that seemed to come from within each of them, in that moment. It seemed to say that something precious would be lost if they didn't play the game. So persuasive was Neva's own voice, in that moment, that all of them listened intently to the silence that preceded the murmur of their masks, and the drama began to unfold....
   "Yes, Daddy?" Judith's voice, younger—and then Juno realized it had come from her. She found herself stepping into the light—as her Mother stepped back into the shadows. She'd spoken in her Mother's voice, saying what her mask wanted her to say. 
   "You going to marry this fella, Judith?" Granddad Morrisey asked. 
   Juno...the mask of Judith...answered, hesitantly: "I expect so...But Daddy I...."
   "You're not sure? You're not sure you're pregnant? You're not sure he knocked you up?"
   Juno falling into it now...hearing the words even as she spoke them. "Daddy...." she found she was crying. 
   Juno wanted to shout for Neva to stop this. But she couldn't. Like the others, she was carried inexorably along—she was watching it all from some distant part of herself....
   Then Laura, the twelve-year-old Laura, stepped up; the mask spoke: "Daddy—stop it. She couldn't help it. He was too much for her. He sent her poetry every day. She had to." 
   "Had to!" He laughed sadly, contemptuously. "Laura—no I see you're in danger of becoming exactly what your sister is. You're in her shadow! I will not spawn a family of whores!" 
   "Clarence!" It was Juno's Mom—in her mother's mask. Her mother's voice. "I won't have you speaking to the girl like that." 
   "She has to learn what life is, it's time, goddammit!" His voice shook with emotion. "This world is pitiless! It is without pity, without mercy! I saw it! I saw them butcher women and children in Korea—refugees they were, who wanted only to escape from the Communists. But the South thought they might have infiltrators among them, and the order went out, and they were butchered like sheep! That's the kind of world this is—there is no pity in it. Women who lay themselves down to be used will be destroyed! People will see them as whores!" 
   "Clarence—this is a foul way to talk about Laura...."
   "Talk? I won't talk to her! I'll show her!" Still raging, he stepped over to Laura and slapped her, hard, across the face. The mask she wore didn't budge from its place. Laura staggered and covered her eyes, and went to her knees. "That's how the world treats whores—better get used to it!" 
   (Strange, Juno thought, how the moonlight seemed to spotlight one, then the other, as the drama unfolded....)
   Juno—as her Mom—pulled him away from Laura. "You're hurting her for what I did!" 
   "Really, Clarence!" His wife's outrage was palpable—but ineffectual. Juno's Mom as Grandma, Clarence's wife. 
   "You will marry that slick son of a bitch or you'll get twice that and more! And I'll see to it he marries you, you may depend on it!" 
   "DaddyI don't think he really loves me. It was like he was...he was practicing on me.... You said I could go to college. But I'd be a housewife if I...."
   "You should have thought of that before you opened your dirty little legs!" He backed away, shaking, into the shadows, the mask fading from sight. "...your dirty...little legs...before you opened...your dirty...little legs...." 
   The moonlight seemed to dim on Juno and Laura and Mom—and to increase near Neva, as she emerged from the shadows. "As time passes," intoned the old woman of Neva's mask, with simple conviction, "it pulls things this way and that—they move in one direction and they're pulled in another, and they resist and yet they submit, and in the struggle comes their shape; and so a tree becomes gnarled, a vine becomes tangled, a face becomes imprinted with selfishness, or kindness.... And time pulls, and tugs against us, and we're shaped by the struggle with time, and the world...."
   The moonlight shifted, like shafts of light underwater as clouds boil and the surface roils, and Juno seemed to see another room, in her mind's eye; another place: She saw Donny approaching her, wearing his father's face, speaking in a voice that was his own, but with an adult resonance—a voice that went with the mask he was wearing. His mask didn't move its lips, yet it seemed to take on shadings, emphasis in light and shadow that underscored the words of the drama; as all the masks did. 
   "...but, a chiropractor, Judith?" the mask of Dad said to Juno—who wore, who was, the mask of her Mom. Juno as Judith. 
   "He made me feel like something again...he called me every day...."
   "You weren't something already?" The voice, only a little too high, of a man, filtered through the mask of that man, coming from the body of a boy. (There was no way Donny could make this stuff up on his own, thought Juno, in some distant part of herself). "You were a wife, a mother. You've got Juno, and Donny now...."
   "He said.... I wanted to learn something, to be something.... I could be an acupuncturist maybe...."
   "What the hell is that?"
   "It's this new thing—it's not new, it's ancient but it's sort of new to us—from China—"
   "Forget it, I don't care, for God's sake. Good Lord above, couldn't he have paid for a motel room? The cheap prick." 
   Juno...Judith...was weeping. "I'm so sorry...sorry about you finding us like that.... We got carried away."
   "And you wanted to be 'something'—like Lupe? She had a gallery show. What good did it do her, he cheated on her anyway."
   "She's so caught up in her career.... She hasn't got much time for him...."
   "Oh yeah, I feel so fucking sorry for him. I feel sorry for our kids—that's who I feel sorry for."
   "Look, I've told him I won't see him again...."
   "Then you won't have either one of us."
   "What?"
   "You heard me. I've already packed. I'm gone. There's a lady who's interning for my attorney...you should see the way she smiles at me. If I were free...."
   "You've walked out on me before...."
   "And came back? Not this time."
   "But you enjoy it so much—walking out on people. You even walked out on your kids when they forgot Father's Day. When I reminded them, they wanted to take you out to dinner—but you used the excuse to play golf...."
   "You think I enjoy this break up? I won't enjoy being separated from my kids—or paying you child support, for Chris'sakes.... And the alimony.... Oh no. But I'll enjoy not having to wonder what I'll find in my bed when I come home...."
   He turned and walked out of the moonlight.... Donny as Dad walked out....
   Judith...Juno...tried to follow—and a door slammed in her face, though there was no door in that wall.
   Then Mom—as her own Mom, Grandmother Morrisey—stepped out of the shadows, and said, "Judith? Go after him. This isn't right." 
   "I deserve it, Mother," said Juno—said Juno as her Mom. "I deserve it."
   "This is hurting me, Judith. I don't want to go out this way...."
   "What are you talking about?"
   "I'm not sure—I'm getting a second opinion. You'd better take me to Kaiser to get the results.... Oh Judith I don't want to die with you kids breaking up like this...."
   "And that's my fault too, I guess...I don't know...I don't know...."


⛧


   Little Mick had pulled off his clothing, his shoes, and, taking a feral joy in the cool October air on his skin, crouched ankle deep in the Gunderson's koi pond, snarling, swiping at the blotchy black and gold goldfish. 
   The moonlight seemed to infuse the fish with a glowing energy.... Swipe, splash, he had one—but it slithered and flopped back into the pond before he could leap onto it. He could hear—and almost taste—the blood pumping through its frightened heart. He went all statue-still, to make them think he'd gone. The rippling water slowly quieted, and his face came into reflective focus in the pond at his feet—the triumphantly bestial, powerful face that he was now. 
   He lifted his head and he heard a muted yowl from the back porch. He moved slowly, carefully, on hind legs and all fours by turns, out of the pond and across the back yard toward the glass doors of the back porch.... The cat made a growl of warning—which only drew him more quickly toward it....
   He could see the ghostly-white outline of his cat against the glass—a white cat. His other self, unmasked, knew its name, and sometimes played with it. He couldn't remember its name, and he didn't care about playing. Mick was hungry, achingly hungry. He could smell the warm life of the cat from here. He set himself....

⛧


   The moonlight had tripped away and returned, time had passed, and now Frank Carpenter was emerging from the shadows, wearing his mask, putting his hand on Juno's arm. Only it was Juno's mom he was touching, in their drama—Judith Weiss, Juno's mask. 
   "If Lupe won't let go...we can't really fight that...." said Juno, through the mask of her Mom.
   "She's Catholic. She tries to be so modern, with her Catholic Worker crowd—but she's just another Catholic," Frank said. 
   "I just want to know—if she were out of the picture, if she were gone—"
   "She's fallen in love with someone, Frank? She wants to marry someone else?"
   "In any sense. If Lupe were gone—you'd marry me, Judith?"
   "I'd do anything for you, Frank. You're all I have."
   "That sounds like it's me by default, Judith. That's why you'd do anything for me? Because you couldn't be without...someone?"
   "No, no—I mean—you're everything to me. Of course I'd marry you if she...if she left or whatever." 
   The room darkened; the darkness lingered; there was muffled sobbing. Juno almost came back to control of herself. But then some unseeable hand dialed up the reflected glamor of the moon, and a lunatic spotlight caught Linda in the mask of her Mother, Lupe—and her Dad, Frank Carpenter, in the mask of himself, a little younger. Only the mask seemed to have aged a little. It was Frank Carpenter six or seven years ago. He was approaching Linda, who was curled up on the sofa, wearing the mask of her mother Lupe. "Frank?" asked Linda as Lupe, sleepily. "Is that you?" 
   "Lupe.... Did you think it over? You said you'd think it over...."
   She stretched, yawning, though her mouth couldn't be seen under the mask. "I prayed over it, anyhow. I spoke to Father Devsky. I just can't in good conscience say yes to a divorce. And what's come between us, I mean, really? Infidelity, Frank. If you're screwing someone else, how can you say you're working on your marriage? No, I can't do it. I can't live with a divorce. Look, I couldn't sleep last night and I finally managed to take a nap.... Let's talk later."
   "I'll let you sleep," came Mr. Carpenter's voice, from behind the mask. 
   As Juno breathlessly watched, from that dim place faraway behind her own mask, Mr. Carpenter seemed to struggle within himself—or with the mask. He reached up toward the mask, as if about to take it off. His hands froze. His shoulders trembled. Then his reach changed direction: he reached for the pillow behind Linda's head, pulled it out from under her head as she—as Lupe—shouted in protest, just once, before he pressed the pillow over her face, holding her down; she flailed; her feet kicked. 
   "I'll let you sleep," Mr. Carpenter said again hoarsely.
   Juno tried to drag leaden limbs across the room to stop him.... She managed a few steps....
   But then Little Mick burst the drama apart. He ran into the livingroom, naked and streaming blood....
   Vomiting blood as he came; then wailing....
   The electric lights coming back on. The room flooding with artificial light....
   The smeared mask falling away from him, falling into fibrous streamers, so that they could see the gobbets of red-sticky white fur rimming his mouth like a hideous parody of a beard; fur gore-pasted to his own baby teeth; blood-soaked fur vomiting up to splatter the very center of the caramel-colored carpet. 
   Mr. Carpenter stood up straight—freed now, to pull his mask away—and he threw it aside. 
   Linda sat up, unhurt, pulling her own mask away
   Mom lumbered toward Mick but she hadn't taken her mask off yet and he screamed and floundered back, falling, scrambling across the floor to get away from her; from the disorienting mock of Judith's face. 
   She flung the mask aside and went ponderously to her knees beside him, scooped him up though he were her own child. 
   "Oh Mick—what happened...?"
   "What happened to all of us?" Donny asked wonderingly, tossing his mask aside.
   Juno was looking for Neva.
   The front door was open. Neva was gone; her bag was gone too. 
   Juno went to the porch and shouted for her. She walked out to the sidewalk, and looked up and down the street, and saw no one but a carful of laughing, drunken teenagers weaving down the cross street, on their way to a newspaper article. 

⛧


   Juno was lying on her back in the bottom bunk, looking through the window at the gibbous moon; the moon shattering and reforming, breaking and becoming whole between the brown, shedding leaves as the big tree in the back yard surged in the night wind. Juno was hoping that alien sense of connectedness to cosmic scale would come back, if she looked at the moon—usually it scared her, but now it made her feel like she didn't have to be part of this family....
   Linda was sleeping in the top bunk that Mick slept in when he was visiting his half-siblings. Naturally Linda wouldn't stay at Mr. Carpenter's house anymore; wouldn't stay in a room with him, her own dad. Mick had gone back to his mom and dad, the next morning—washed and numb and quiet. 
   An insomniac old man had seen a small, masked boy running naked through the yards, Halloween night; the naked boy had snarled at some little girl, and chased her, and rooted through her dropped candy bag, finding nothing he wanted; then he'd leaped a fence and splashed through a goldfish pond; and he'd trapped and killed a cat with his hands and the sharp edge of a garden stone. No one knew who the boy was—except here. 
   Juno thought about the others. Granddad Morrisey had been hospitalized with a stroke the very next day, at five a.m.; he was lingering in critical care. He was not expected to linger long. Laura was selling all her things, and claimed she was moving to Ireland. She'd always wanted to live in Ireland, though she was not in the least Irish. 
   Juno sat up, thinking about checking the doors again. Make sure they were locked. 
   Mom had had the locks changed, because of Frank Carpenter. He had threatened her, when she'd gone to the police and said she wanted to testify. She signed a paper saying that Frank Carpenter had told her that he'd killed his wife, Lupe; that she'd been afraid to speak out till now. 
   Linda's dad had been arrested, put up the bond, and now as far as they knew he was alone in his own house, though Linda thought he might jump bail. 
   Now, Linda's voice floated out of the darkness. "Juno...?"
   "I thought you were asleep."
   "Sort of for a while. But sometimes when I start...you know...."
   "Drifting off?"
   "Yeah, I—feel the...the thing...."
   "The mask?"
   "Yeah. I can feel it on my face."
   "We burned the masks," Juno said, though she knew what Linda meant. 
   "It's just a feeling—it's sort of a dream. And then I feel I'm my mom...and my dad is...."
   Juno didn't finish that one for her. She could hear Linda's soft weeping. After a while, Juno said, "Linda...chill. Mom says you can always stay with us." 
   "I can't stay here all that long.... I don't want to. Your mom knew."
   "She didn't tell him to kill Lupe. She never, like, said to do it. She told me everything—she said she didn't know he was going to do that shit."
   "But she didn't turn him in when he told her."
   "She was afraid they'd take her kids away, because she was even half way mixed up in it.... I mean, serious, why do you think Mom got so fat? She didn't used to be like that. She was so neurotic about the whole thing, she was just freaked—but she couldn't talk about it. It was like she had to hide it under...just more body, or something. And—your dad just kept saying, 'I did it for you, I did it for you' and she couldn't tell him to go away, he was so...dependent on her somehow...but she stopped, you know.... She wouldn't...."
   "Don't say it. I don't want to think about my...about him and your mom...."
   "I know. Especially now."
   They were quiet for a few moments. The wind rattled the window; the moonlight falling on the floor shifted nervously.
   "Juno.... Did you guys ever find Neva?"
   "No. Linda—there's something I haven't told you. Mom didn't want me to talk about this...Linda...." It was hard to tell because it was hard to accept. It sounded like a lie. But it was true. "Linda...we don't have a cousin Neva. We never did. When we heard her name, we were all...it was like we sort of remembered her...we pictured her at the family things, you know, Thanksgiving or something...we, like, saw her in our memories? But it was all like...something was suggesting it to us...Linda—we never heard of Neva before Halloween. Neva is some kind of...Linda? Are you listening?"
   Silence.
   "Linda?"
   "She's asleep, Juno. She won't wake till morning, now."
   Oh no.
   The voice had come from the window. Neva was sitting on the dresser, her head haloed by the tossing gold of the moon, her legs primly crossed. Dressed exactly as she had been on Halloween. 
   "It wasn't a costume...." Juno murmured. 
   "No. Juno. I've come here to—"
   "What did you do to Mick?
   "Don't shout, Juno, you'll wake your mom. I only gave Mick the experience he wanted—and I showed him something special. He has seen the Beast that all men live with; the bestial god they share their bodies with; the one they must contend with if they are to climb the hidden staircase. But few choose to climb it. Mick, now, will climb it—because he has seen, he has known the Beast, and he cannot forget it.... You were afraid he was going to become some kind of...what? One of those who murders for pleasure?"
   "You made him a psychokiller...or...the beginning of one."
   "I have seen what will become of him; or more accurately what he will choose to become. He has seen his dark self, and this will give him awareness; and he will one day climb the staircase. He will be a leader, and lead people away from the thing he met that night...."
   "Neva... Are you...?"
   "Yes. I'm really here. You and I are here together. You called me, after all."
   "I did not."
   "You did. You called me, Juno. You have that power—you have that natural connectedness to the cosmic, to the real source of Life—you're like me...and you it was who really made the mask game possible. You knew somehow what Frank had done to Lupe. And to your Mother. You felt it. You knew about the sickness in your family, and the masks behind the masks behind the masks...."
   "Just, like—get away from my house."
   "Juno—You knew, and you called me. Now I'm calling you, Juno. You try to be one of these haunters of malls, these ghosts in chatrooms. But you don't belong there. You're more substantial than that. You were my best friend, and my lover, once, and you will be again, if you choose...it's all a matter of choice...Linda will be alright. Your mom will take care of her. All you have to do is listen to what the night has to say.... Just listen...to the silence between breath, between heartbeats...just listen, and know.... And ask yourself—'What do I really want?'"
   In the morning, Mom found Linda, deeply asleep, and smiling, dreaming sweetly. But they never did find Juno. She didn't even leave a note. 


⛧


   Two years, like twists on roots, shaped by impulse and resistance; by time and struggle. 
   It was Halloween, in Portland, Oregon, just after sunset. The smallest trick or treaters were already going from door to door, holding their mothers' hands. 
   Mr. Stroud was the only one carving the pumpkin on the porch with a kitchen knife. He couldn't get the kids interested. He was listening to the radio he'd set up in the window, the classic rock station's Jimi Hendrix marathon, and watching the sidewalk; expecting visitors. So he saw the two young women walking up toward him from half a block away. Yes, they were turning in at the walk to the front door, coming up between the juniper hedges. 
   So one of them—the darker one maybe in the slave girl costume—that must be cousin Neva, from the letter Angela had gotten. He should have looked for her picture in the photo album like he'd intended to. Never got around to it. Maybe she was one of his half-sister Doreen's kids. 
   I'm a voodoo child, voodoo child....
   And that other one was her friend, Juno. The two of them were supposed to teach the family a new Halloween game. 
   Well. What the hell. It would be good to do something different, this year. 











   



  



   

   
    

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and Authors

Phoenix's
AGAIN AND AGAIN

Phoenix has enjoyed writing since he
was a little kid. He finds much import-
ance and truth in creative expression.
Phoenix has written over sixty books,
and has published everything from
novels, to poetry and philosophy.
He hopes to inspire people with his
writing and to ask difficult questions
about our world and the universe.
Phoenix lives in Salt Lake City, Utah,
where he spends much of his time
reading books on science, philosophy,
and literature. He spends a good deal
of his free time writing and working
on new books. The Freezine of Fant-
asy and Science Fiction welcomes him
and his unique, intense vision.
Discover Phoenix's books at his author
page on Amazon. Also check out his blog.

Adam Bolivar's
SERVITORS OF THE
OUTER DARKNESS


Adam Bolivar's
THE DEVIL & SIR
FRANCIS DRAKE



Adam Bolivar's
THE TIME-EATER


Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
Dahlia. Adam wears round, antique glasses
and has a fondness for hats. His greatest
inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft,
Jack tales and coffee. He has been
a Romantic poet for as long as any-
one can remember, specializing in
the composition of spectral balladry,
utilizing to great effect a traditional
poetic form that taps into the haunted
undercurrents of folklore seldom found
in other forms of writing.
His poetry has appeared on the pages
of such publications as SPECTRAL
REALMS and BLACK WINGS OF
CTHULHU, and a poem of his,
"The Rime of the Eldritch Mariner,"
won the Rhysling Award for long-form
poetry. His collection of weird balladry
and Jack tales, THE LAY OF OLD HEX,
was published by Hippocampus Press in 2017.


David Agranoff's
A PLANET OF YOUR OWN


David Agranoff's
THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S
MANDATE


David Agranoff is the author of the
following books: Ring of Fire (Eraserhead
Press, 2018), Flesh Trade (co-written
w/Edward Morris; published by Create-
Space, 2017), Punk Rock Ghost Story
(Deadite Press, 2016), Amazing Punk
Stories (Eraserhead Press, 2016),
Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich (Eraserhead
Press, 2014), Hunting the Moon Tribe
(Eraserhead Press, 2011), The Vegan
Revolution...with Zombies (Eraserhead
Press, 2010), and Screams from a Dying
World (Afterbirth Books, 2009).
David is a hardcore vegan and tireless
environmentalist. His contributions to
the punk horror scene and the planet in
general have already established him
as a bright new writer and activist to
watch out for. The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
on several different novels or projects
at once. He is sure to leave his mark on
a world teetering over the edge of
ecological imbalance.


Sanford Meschkow's
INEVITABLE

Sanford Meschkow is a retired former
NYer who married a Philly suburban
Main Line girl. Sanford has been pub-
lished in a 1970s issue of AMAZING.
We welcome him here on the FREE-
ZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's
THE RECIDIVIST



Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's
THE MEMORY SECTOR

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking currently
resides in the high desert of Phoenix,
Arizona where he enjoys campy horror
movies within the comfort of an Insane
Asylum. Search for his science fiction
stories at The Intestinal Fortitude in
the Flesheater's World section.
The Memory Sector is his first
appearance in the Freezine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Owen R. Powell's
NOETIC VACATIONS

Little is known of the mysterious
Owen R. Powell (oftentimes referred
to as Orp online). That is because he
usually keeps moving. The story
Noetic Vacations marks his first
appearance in the Freezine.

Edward Morris's
MERCY STREET

Edward Morris is a 2011 nominee for
the Pushcart Prize in literature, has
also been nominated for the 2009
Rhysling Award and the 2005 British
Science Fiction Association Award.
His short stories have been published
over a hundred and twenty times in
four languages, most recently at
PerhihelionSF, the Red Penny Papers'
SUPERPOW! anthology, and The
Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. He lives
and works in Portland as a writer,
editor, spoken word MC and bouncer,
and is also a regular guest author at
the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

Gene Stewart
(writing as Art Wester)
GROUND PORK


Gene Stewart's
CRYPTID'S LAIR

Gene Stewart is a writer and artist.
He currently lives in the Midwest
American Wilderness where he is
researching tales of mystical realism,
writing ficta mystica, and exploring
the dark by casting a little light into
the shadows. Follow this link to his
website where there are many samples
of his writing and much else; come
explore.

Daniel José Older's
GRAVEYARD WALTZ


Daniel José Older's
THE COLLECTOR


Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
Audio Anthology, The Tide Pool, and
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.
When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found here.


Paul Stuart's
SEA?TV!


Paul Stuart is the author of numerous
biographical blurbs written in the third
person. His previously published fiction
appears in The Vault of Punk Horror and
His non-fiction financial pieces can be found
in a shiny, west-coast magazine that features
pictures of expensive homes, as well as images
of women in casual poses and their accessories.
Consider writing him at paul@twilightlane.com,
if you'd like some thing from his garage. In fall
2010, look for Grade 12 Trigonometry and
Pre-Calculus -With Zombies.


Rain Grave's
MAU BAST


Rain Graves is an award winning
author of horror, science fiction and
poetry. She is best known for the 2002
Poetry Collection, The Gossamer Eye
(along with Mark McLaughlin and
David Niall Wilson). Her most
recent book, Barfodder: Poetry
Written in Dark Bars and Questionable
Cafes, has been hailed by Publisher's
Weekly as "Bukowski meets Lovecraft..."
in January of 2009. She lives and
writes in San Francisco, performing
spoken word at events around the
country. 877-DRK-POEM -



Icy Sedgwick's
THE PORCELAIN WOMAN


Icy Sedgwick is part writer and part
trainee supervillain. She lives in the UK
but dreams of the Old West. Her current
works include a ghost story about a Cavalier
and a Western tale of retribution. Find her
ebooks, free weekly fiction and other
shenanigans at Icy’s Cabinet of Curiosities.


Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth
with LIPSTICK



BLAG DAHLIA is a Rock Legend.
Singer, Songwriter, producer &
founder of the notorious DWARVES.
He has written two novels, ‘NINA’ and
‘ARMED to the TEETH with LIPSTICK’.


G. Alden Davis's
THE FOLD


G. Alden Davis wrote his first short story
in high school, and received a creative
writing scholarship for the effort. Soon
afterward he discovered that words were
not enough, and left for art school. He was
awarded the Emeritus Fellowship along
with his BFA from Memphis College of Art
in '94, and entered the videogame industry
as a team leader and 3D artist. He has over
25 published games to his credit. Mr. Davis
is a Burningman participant of 14 years,
and he swings a mean sword in the SCA.


Shae Sveniker's
A NEW METAPHYSICAL STUDY
REGARDING THE BEHAVIOR
OF PLANT LIFE


Shae is a poet/artist/student and former
resident of the Salt Pit, UT, currently living
in Simi Valley, CA. His short stories are on
Blogger and his poetry is hosted on Livejournal.


Nigel Strange's
PLASTIC CHILDREN


Nigel Strange lives with his wife and
daughter, cats, and tiny dog-like thing
in their home in California where he
occasionally experiments recreationally
with lucidity. PLASTIC CHILDREN
is his first publication.


J.R. Torina's
THE HOUSE IN THE PORT


J.R. Torina was DJ for Sonic Slaughter-
house ('90-'97), runs Sutekh Productions
(an industrial-ambient music label) and
Slaughterhouse Records (metal record
label), and was proprietor of The Abyss
(a metal-gothic-industrial c.d. shop in
SLC, now closed). He is the dark force
behind Scapegoat (an ambient-tribal-
noise-experimental unit). THE HOUSE
IN THE PORT is his first publication.


K.B. Updike, Jr's
THE GOLDEN THIRD EYE


K.B. Updike, Jr. is a young virgin
Virginia writer. KB's life work,
published 100% for free:
(We are not certain if K.B. Updike, Jr.
has lost his Virginian virginity yet.)