The Mask Maker
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
Johnny was lead through a maze of dank alleys and dark corridors, slowly disappearing into the depths of the city. Sweat appeared on his forehead. He was used to being in control, being the bully, but none of that was possible at the moment.
“Where are you taking me?” he demanded of his guide, a figure as shady as the environment he moved in, a man without a name, nor a face to go with it.
The guide did not answer.
“Dude, all I need is a mask,” Johnny panted, struggling to keep up.
“And you will have it,” the guide whispered, distorting his voice. He disappeared into a large, smog-stained, brick building.
Surrounded by pressing blackness, all Johnny had for reference was the small flashlight carried by his guide. It would momentarily light up an unhinged door, a faded corporate poster or, one time, a family of rats. They turned and turned, first left, then twice right, then straight for a bit, then back. Finally, it was there. A real source of light at the end of a corridor.
“That’s it?” Johnny asked, but the guide had already gone, vanished in the shadows.
Johnny stepped into what looked like a workshop, lined with shelves, filled to the brim with masks of all shapes, all sizes, all appearances. Johnny saw trolls, dragons, famous faces, average faces, clowns and monstrosities bound to haunt his dreams. His eyes raced, taking everything in, when a croaky voice directed itself at him.
“What can I help you with?”
The mask maker was a man of middle age, rough around the etches and scarred, except for his hands, which were pristine, small and elegant, tools obviously made for an artisan. His demeanor was cold, yet his eyes were friendly. All Johnny saw in these eyes was weakness.
“I need a mask,” Johnny said, already making himself taller. “One that can’t be traced back to me. My buddy raided a bank, and they traced the mask right back to him.”
“You won’t have that problem here,” the artisan said. “But something like that is not cheap.”
“You better make it cheap.” Johnny towered over the man.
The friendliness on the masker’s face faded. His eyes became icy. “You will pay the price I set.”
Johnny seized the man by his throat and pushed him against the wall, rattling the shelves. “I will pay the price I feel is right. Got it?”
Gasping for breath, the masker nodded, and was let down. He motioned for Johnny to follow him to an old leather chair, and to have a seat.
“I’ll need to make a cast of your face to work with,” he said, rubbing his neck and taking a bowl with plaster in it. “Close your eyes.”
“That’s more like it,” Johnny murmured, satisfied with the way he had seized control.
The man set to work, gently placing plaster bandages on Johnny’s face, making sure he got every curve. “Now,” he said at one point. “We’re almost done.” Without warning, he snapped two pairs of handcuffs around the armrests and Johnny’s wrists.
Johnny wanted to protest, but all he could muster underneath the plaster was a “Mmmmhmmmm!”.
“Easy, easy now,” the masker said. “Just hold your breath for a little while.” He placed the last bit of plaster over Johnny’s nostrils. The man freaked out. He rocked like crazy in the heavy chair, but it would not budge, nor would the handcuffs that held him firmly in place.
“Not so dominant now, are we?” the mask maker said.
“That’s what I thought.” The man smiled. “Now, you are simply going to nod for me when I ask you something, alright?”
“Good. You will pay the price I require, will you not?”
“And you promise to keep your hands off me in the future? I may need to call my friend from the darkness if you try that again.”
Johnny nodded again. He was starting to feel faint.
“Good.” With a little knife, the masker pierced a few holes in the plaster.
Johnny thankfully inhaled. His heart skipped several beats. His handcuffs were released and the cast was taken from his face, hard enough to work with.
“Bastard,” he coughed.
The masker already sat at his desk, taking out his tools. “The same could be said of you,” he said, without looking up. “Now, we’re ready to start. What would you like me to create?”