Alison LR Davies hails from Nottingham in the UK. An acclaimed poet with four collections to her credit (including Whispers in the Garden of Dreams and Beyond the Fey), she has also seen her horror stories published widely in magazines and e-zines such as Terror Tales, DarkMoon, Redsine, Dark Horizons and Scribe. In addition her work is due to be included in several major publications in 2002 (chief amongst them being the hardback anthology Tourniquet Heart from Prime) and she is in the process of putting her first collection together. Paul Kane has described what she does as 'painting with words', and when you read the following tale you'll certainly understand why.
When he puts on the mask things change. When he ties it tight his stomach turns, squeezes hard and he can feel the swollen skin of his lip tremble. Eyes beyond eyes, his thoughts rattling against the metal bone cage and cold paper mache constraints. He painted it himself, a shower of silver lightening bolts, threads of colour to match his desire against the twitching flame. And ribbons, like loose veins dangling, it feels good to touch them, to secure them into place; being surgeon to himself.
And when he lets himself, when he feels he really deserves it, that's when he opens the door and there it hangs; a flaccid expression caked in dust and shadow. But waiting, ready to serve. He usually takes a moment to simply admire it, before wiping the contours, releasing the dust mites to another realm.
And sometimes they ask about it, those that dare to share their horror, their curiosity. And for their bravery, he allows them a little insight, a glimpse of his cherished world.
"I made it myself, modeled it on the face of another. One whom I admired." And they gaze, eyes dulled by fear, but still a splinter of wonder showing.
"When I wear it I become him, just for a moment. And that's really why I do it."
You see he doesn't like himself very much, doesn't think that other people do. They stare at him in ways that crush his soul, some smile and that unnerves him more. It's almost like they want to laugh but daren't so a smile is a sad attempt to quash the hilarity. He can always tell, as they side step, voice in whispers, all hand gestures and darting eyes.
She's waiting for him by the river; fingers storm cloud blue and bleeding where she's rubbed too hard. He can see her shiver when she spots the mask, knows what's coming and her eyes brush the ground.
'I'm not sure I want to do this,' she says, words upon words. But once he has the mask on he can't hear a thing. It's like his brain falls in on itself; squashed tissue upon reason.
'I need more time.'
She's rocking now, a lullaby of back and forth, back and forth.
'There isn't anymore time.' He says icy venom on his tongue. Makes up for all the other times, the daily ritual of humiliation forced upon him.
And she cradles her head, pushes her chin so hard into her chest that he thinks she may turn purple. And that reminds him, takes him to that other place he hates to go
Streamers and balloons swollen in flight, ripping through air, and the scent of fever, of heady excitement coming in rushes. Reds and Blues, and fresh dreamy purple and Strawberry pinks, clashing gaudily bright against swirls of iridescent light, and your head spinning so hard you think it'll whirl right off your shoulders and up into the night sky. But it doesn't, instead it allows you to rest for a moment and drink in the flavours, wants you to experience everything in a riot of images, store them up and re-play them later just like he always did. Only this time it was different. This time when he plays them back the only colour he can see is red, treacle thick and hanging from the crooked carriage. Red splattering the tents, marring the mud and grass and clinging to the Punch and Judy canvass. And nothing else but red, red in his mind and heart forever. And just like some doe-eyed puppet they put him back together. But it wasn't easy. That's what they kept saying like some good luck chant frozen in time, "You do understand, this won't be easy. You do understand...." But how could he? He was conned into agreeing because he knew that's what they wanted to hear, lets them off the hook that little bit. And anyway, he couldn't expect miracles, "this won't be easy", so no miracles allowed. And colours always do that to him. Take him back, reduce him to the frightened little boy of yesterday.
'We have to do this now.' He says, words urgent, thrusting against her conscience.
'I know you won't like it, but it will all be over soon.'
And she's crying now, crying at the futility at the sheer dread of what is to come. Her pale speckled features fluttering delicately like a caged bird.
'But I don't understand why.' She begs, hoping for another shot. But he's not going to let that happen, not now.
'You don't have to. I didn't all those years ago.' And that's all he can say, all he wants to say before grabbing her hands and forcing them into position.
'This won't hurt, not really.'
She'd been wearing orange the day they met. He remembers wincing at the Satsuma brightness, bursting with an overt promise of fervour. She would be fresh, he could tell that from her style, the way she walked. She wore an amber necklet, it jiggled suggestively on the curve of her breasts. He thought it was speaking to him, but that may have been wishful thinking on his behalf. Who can say what draws one person to another, but in this case it was definitely her crispness cloaked in the softness of purity. He'd followed her home that day, trailed behind like a stray cat, always two steps out of sight but never beyond reach. He thought she knew from the way she twisted nervously, flicking from road to alley in a twirl of suspicion. But then that didn't matter. He hoped he'd get the chance to introduce himself properly, maybe take her out for a date. And the first time they'd kissed he remembered the needy collision of lips and tongues and sticky sweetness, ripe in his mouth, the taste of her. And how her breathing fused with murmurs, delicious hints at her commitment to him. She would be the one. And yet always the fear she would run before he got the chance, steal herself away in the middle of night, skin damp from his affections. But she was always there, shining smile beneath sleep-coated eyes and wasn't that just the sweetest thing. And so he'd opened up to her, told her of the ugliness that lived inside. The years of torture since that day, of his patchwork face, made up of grafts, leftover skin flaps stretched to make him whole again. And how strange it felt like plastic film bubbling up, and moving when he moves his mouth and yet it isn't really his mouth.
'You cannot know how it feels to live an artificial existence.' And she simply stared, vacant paper doll expression.
'But you look fine, there's nothing wrong with you.' The words he hoped she'd never say, sore and bleeding.
He screamed for a long time, she thought he would never stop. It made her throw up the contents of her breakfast, and then heave some more until her raw stomach throbbed with emptiness. She could not see his eyes, small mercy. Could not see the firm gathering of his lips, but she imagined they were withered, blacks husks that would never say her name again. The blowtorch lay on the grass, cool blue cylinder extinguished and now embraced by dewy blades. What had she done? And yet there was no other way, he would not let her leave. She convulsed. The mask smoked, its charred effigy obscuring her vision. It was a part of him now; skin gave way to simulated flesh, a poor imitation of his wounds. She'd once asked him why he loved it so much, it was a hideous thing, a monstrous combination portraying ripped tissue and bone.
'But it's my face.' He said as if that said it all. 'This is how I really look.'
She traced the ashes of his smile with her finger.
'No my love, this is how you felt inside.'
There was a gentle hiss as bones tumbled into one another, a brittle landslide of his human remains. She dipped her hand into the greyness of the river and smoothed her face, oily stains dotted her cheeks like Indian war paint. Tomorrow she would leave town, get right on up and leave this place behind. Nobody would find her if she covered her trail. She glanced once more at his cooling body, now it was her turn to wear the mask. She would never be the same again.
(C) Alison LR Davies 2001
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.