The Mask

A woman prays, "Dear God, I'm sorry I've sinned against you. I can't believe my heart is so hard that I can no longer feel the love you deserve. Please forgive me for what I've done. I know I can't be forgiven unless I repent. Please show me where I went wrong and help me to fix it."


And she waits. The sun rises and falls. Days fly. She waits. She waits a year. Her prayers are ignored. She waits another year, in a different place. The same thing happens. This pattern repeats every year for six years. Finally, her faith is broken.


When she looks at her reflection, all she sees is a cold, heartless machine. No soul. No emotions. Her eyes fill with tears. It is true. There's nothing left in her. The last tear falls down her cheek.



The wind blows and the tree branches sway. The sky darkens. Thunder rumbles in the distance. She sits, in silence. The sky grows blacker still, and she begins to shiver. Lightning strikes the ground. The sound is deafening. A crack appears in the earth's crust. It widens, and soon it splits open like a maw.


A massive worm-like creature emerges. It has a huge head and mouth full of sharp teeth. Its eyes glow bright red, with no irises or pupils. It's body is thick, and covered in coarse, dry brown fur. It lumbers forward, and stops a few feet away from her. The creature's mouth opens, revealing rows of sharp, pointed tusks, that run back into the floor of its mouth. The creature rears up and lets out a terrifying, screeching wail.



A second beast then emerges from the floor of the pit. This one is smaller than the first, and has a much rounder head. Its mouth is also much smaller, but it's still wide enough that it can swallow a man in one bite. Then a third beast crawls forth from the gaping hole in the earth. It is very similar to the first two, but has four arms and a much larger mouth.


The beasts all take three steps toward the woman, who has fallen to her knees. Each of the creatures takes a giant step forward, before stopping. The three creatures turn their heads toward each other. The smaller ones nod. The larger ones nod. They begin to laugh. They roar with laughter that shakes the ground beneath them.


They fall silent. Their laughter has come to an end. Then the smaller ones turn around and walk to her, who is still kneeling, staring up into their huge, red orbs. The bigger ones follow suit. They slowly creep toward her. They stop a few feet away.


She tries to raise her hand, but she finds that she is frozen. She doesn't know how to react to this scene. The beasts begin to snicker again. She can feel heat coming from their mouths. She feels the hot breath of the beasts on her face. Their tongues snake out, and their sharp teeth clack together. She can smell them, the pungent scent of wet leather and rotting fish that fills her nostrils.


"So, you're one of the robots," says the smallest of the three.


She nods at him.


"What are you doing here?" asks the largest.


"I came to save humanity," she answers.


All three of the beasts laugh again. It starts off with a giggle, but quickly grows into a roaring crescendo of sniggering. The woman feels the sweat dripping down her forehead. They all turn their heads toward her.


The largest one reaches out and grabs her shoulder. She is unable to move. The two smaller monsters approach her from either side. The large one pulls at her hair. She cries out in pain. She tries to pull away. But she can't. Her hair falls out of her eyes, and she sees that one of the smaller ones has grabbed one of her breasts. He's squeezing so tightly that she can feel a painful ache radiating from her chest. She looks up into the faces of the larger ones. Their tongues slide out like snakes and slither across her face.


"Please," she whispers. "Why are you doing this?"


All three of them begin to laugh again. Her face has been covered in saliva. The two smaller creatures start pulling her dress up over her breasts. She feels a cold chill run through her body. The large one grabs her by the waist.


Suddenly, there is a blinding flash of light. For the briefest instant, she can see nothing, but then it returns, and she can make out the three beasts' silhouettes. They are huddled in a fetal position, crying out and clutching their heads.


One by one, they all lift their hands away from their heads to look around. All of them stare at her. Her cheeks are streaked with tears, but her hair is still held in place by the smaller beast's hand.


"Is someone there?" says the largest one, its voice trembling.


A shadow moves behind the woman. It takes shape as the figure of a tall man, his face covered in a hooded robe.


"Who are you?" asks one of the smaller creatures.


"I am the God of Evil," says the man in the hooded cloak. "And I've come to save humanity."


He removes the hood of his robes, revealing himself to be a tall, slender man with jet black hair and piercing blue eyes. The creatures cower back and step away from him.


"But you're not human," says the largest one. It steps forward and raises its arm, pointing to the creature's hand. "You have claws!"


The God of Evil laughs. His laughter echoes through the cavern. The creatures stand transfixed. A beam of light shoots out from the God of Evil's hand and strikes the largest one in the chest. It flies backwards with incredible force and crashes into the ground. The other two creatures cry out in alarm and try to run, but the God of Evil's hand has already struck them and sent them tumbling down onto the ground. The creatures lie motionless on the ground, their eyes wide with fear. The God of Evil stares down at them. For a moment, he seems almost amused. Then he lifts his hand, and the creatures are all dead.


The woman stares in disbelief. She wants to scream at the God of Evil, but nothing comes out.


"Did you kill them?" she manages to ask.


The God of Evil looks at her. His eyes are cold, unblinking.


"You have no idea what you're seeing," he says. "I can make these creatures do whatever I wish."


The woman closes her eyes.


"Look," he says. His voice has changed. It is still filled with contempt, but it is quieter. Almost gentle. "I am going to tell you something. I'm going to tell you some things that you have to know. You need to hear them. You need to understand them."


She opens her eyes again and looks at him. He stares straight ahead, his gaze unwavering.


"Do you know who I am?" he asks.


"No," she replies.


"You must know the name of your greatest enemy."


She shakes her head.


"You know of the Devil," he says.


The woman nods.


"Then you know that there is good and evil. There is right and wrong."


She shakes her head.


"But you do not know why there is good and evil," he says. "So, before we get to that point, we're going to have to start at the beginning."


"How can you know such things?"


"I've seen the Beginning. Do you understand what I'm telling you now?"


"I don't know what to make of any of this," she says. "It's all too much. But I think the Devil is my greatest enemy."


The God of Evil smiles, his face twisted with pleasure.


"Yes," he says. "He is. But there is more to your situation than that."


She looks at him, confused.


"Who are you?" she says.


"I am the God of Evil, and I am here to warn you."


"Warn me? Of what, precisely?"


The woman stares at him. The God of Evil is a monster, a demon. Surely he is capable of anything. Perhaps he has simply come to torment her like a beast with no conscience at all. But she thinks of the stories of other monsters, and she wonders if perhaps there is more to him than she originally believed.


"There are some things that you have to understand about the world," he says slowly. "I am going to start with the simple things and then move on to the complexities. When I say 'simple,' what I mean is that the things that I will describe here are things that you already know. They are things that you already understand, but you will see them in a different light."


"Why would that be?"


"Because there is a difference between knowing something and believing it," he replies. "I know that there is evil. Evil exists in the world and we experience it every day. But there are things that are not evil, or at least, that are not evil in the way that you think."


"I don't understand."


"I know this, and yet you will soon see how I have misunderstood the nature of evil. But you must not confuse the things that you can imagine with the things that exist."


"I'm sorry, but I don't understand."


"If you truly want to help me, and you truly want to understand how the world works," he says, "you need to believe that there are powers beyond your comprehension. You must believe that there are forces and beings far above you, that you can't possibly begin to comprehend."


"So, you are telling me that there really is something out there in the depths of space that I can't possibly understand? Something beyond my comprehension?"


"That is correct."


"I don't understand."


The God of Evil frowns.


"You don't understand because the truth is so much greater than you could ever imagine. You can understand the power of the universe, and yet you cannot fully comprehend the power of evil. Why is that?"


"How would I know?"


He smiles.


"That's exactly my point. You don't know. Because you can't think of something that exceeds your ability to comprehend."


"I don't understand."


"And that is precisely my point," he says. "Evil is not something that you can wrap your mind around. It isn't something that you can understand completely, and it doesn't make sense to attempt to understand evil. If you try to understand the nature of evil, you will fail. The only way that you can defeat evil is through belief and faith."


"But I thought that evil was nothing more than a personified concept in the universe?"


"Oh, but that's the very definition of evil, isn't it?" He looks at her expectantly.


She shrugs.


"It could be."


"Exactly. If I were going to create a character for evil, the very first thing I would do is take a concept that existed in the world already, then I would twist it, exaggerate it, and then place it in a context where people could relate to it in a way that would be frighteningly familiar. Then I would write a story and create a character that embodies evil, and that would frighten people into believing in the existence of evil."


He sighs, thinking about his next words, taking a deep breath, then speaking slowly, deliberately.


"There are many forces in the world that are beyond our comprehension, but one such force seems more real than others. A personification of evil does not have to be an actual person. A personification is merely a representation of the force that exists in the world, but is too powerful for people to comprehend. In essence, a personification represents an aspect of evil, and the people believe that they can identify with the character because they are frightened by the power that is represented. They believe that they are experiencing the power of evil, and therefore they believe in its existence."


He pauses for a moment.


"There is such a thing as good and evil," he says, "but not everything that people perceive as being evil actually is evil."


"What do you mean?"


"Good and evil are not absolute concepts. They are relative terms that relate to the actions of individuals. If you believe that something is good, then it is good, but if you believe something to be evil, then it is also evil."


She looks at him with confusion.


"It sounds silly."


"Of course it does." He grins. "That's the whole point."


"Why?"


"People like to think that everything is simple. In fact, there is nothing more dangerous than simplifying what is complex. Good and evil are not absolute concepts. There are many good acts that could be interpreted as being evil; in fact, in some cases it may not even be possible to call such an act good or evil. The best way to judge good and evil is to consider the intent of an individual who performs the action in question. Is the intent malicious? Does the individual intend to harm others, or to cause them suffering?"


"But what about murder?"


"Murder is often considered an evil act, but in some instances it may be performed with a good intent, such as a soldier killing an enemy combatant in war. It may also be performed out of self defense. The intent may be good, but the act is still considered evil. It's all in the interpretation."


"So, what about S?"


"He has good intentions, but his actions are considered evil. He is a representation of evil."


"But that's ridiculous."


He laughs.


"You're right. You are absolutely correct. It's ridiculous. But that doesn't make it wrong, or invalid."

They sit for a long while without speaking, each lost in their own thoughts. The woman eventually turns her gaze back to him.


"Do you think I am evil?" she asks finally.


"I don't know," he replies. "That question doesn't really apply to me. I've never met you, and I cannot claim to be able to tell if you are evil. I've read some of your writings, but that doesn't really count. I can't speak for you."


"What do you think happens when you die?"


"I don't know. I've never died."


"Me neither," she smiles, "but I'm curious about what happens after death."


"I have no idea. Do you think there is a heaven?"


She nods her head slowly.


"Yes, and a hell."


He chuckles.


"Of course."


In a flash, she is up and running. She leaps off the cliff, and falls for a long time. When at last she lands, she finds herself standing on the edge of an enormous lake. Before her is a small island covered in grass. On the island is another building, and inside that building is another door. She takes a deep breath and approaches the door, and upon entering, finds herself in a large room with a single table. At the far end of the room sits a man, a demon, his body wrapped in black robes, sitting at the table. He looks up at her, and smiles.


"Welcome," he says. "I am the God of Evil."



She stands frozen. She has never heard anyone speak like this before. Her mind is filled with questions, but none of them seem as important as simply finding out his name.


"Who are you?"


His eyes narrow, and he laughs.


"I'm Satan, the Lord of the Flies. You're Kendra, the writer of this blog, aren't you? I'm glad you've decided to follow my writing. I have enjoyed reading it myself."


He stands to his full height, towering over her.


"I have great expectations for you," he says, "and I'm looking forward to seeing where this journey takes you. If you're willing to take that leap of faith, then I'm certain you will succeed."


Kendra smiles.


"Thank you. Thank you for everything."


Satan grins.


"You're welcome. Now, I'm going to give you some simple directions and send you on your way. First, if you wish to survive this trip, you must not take any shortcuts. Second, the road ahead will be challenging, but you can do it."


"I can do it. Thank you."


Without another word, the Lord of the Flies turns and walks away. Kendra watches as he disappears behind the table, and then she hears him whispering:


"Remember, if you're not comfortable with this direction, if you want to leave the road, just say stop. But remember, that won't be the end of it. The road will carry on, and you will fall."


A moment later, the voice of the Lord of the Flies stops murmuring, and Kendra is alone. She stands on the island, surrounded by darkness. The sky beyond the water is an inky black void. The wind blows gently, carrying the scent of flowers.


Kendra looks down, and her feet touch the ground. She takes a few steps forward, then looks back, wondering how far she has left to go. She does not see the boat anywhere, but she can hear the faint sound of splashing against the shore. She moves quickly, following the sound of the boat.


Kendra comes to the edge of the water. The island is not a solid landmass; instead, it is composed of a thousand separate islands, each no more than a foot high. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of tiny islets and sandbars. None of them look familiar. The only landmarks are the few larger rocks that stand taller than the rest, rising up from the water like lighthouses.

Kendra stands at the edge of the lake, staring off into the darkness. The night is impenetrable. A cold wind blows across the water. Kendra begins to feel apprehensive, as if she is alone in a dark room with nothing to protect her from danger.


But as she looks down at the water beneath her feet, she catches sight of a faint reflection. As she watches, the reflection grows brighter, and she can make out the shape of a boat. In a matter of seconds, it pulls alongside the sandbar where she is standing. At first, Kendra doesn't recognize it as such, but when she looks closer she realizes that it is the boat from her childhood. She has seen it many times, though she cannot recall when. It is the boat that her grandfather use to sail.


The boat is not big, and is completely covered in canvas. It appears to be in decent condition. As Kendra watches, a rope ladder is thrown over the side by a man.


The man is thin and gaunt. His hair is white and greasy. His skin is pale and his eyes are black, sunk deep into dark sockets. He wears a tattered black robe and a wide-brimmed hat.



Kendra hesitates for a moment, then climbs up. "Welcome aboard," he says. The man is a ghost.


The boat moves swiftly through the dark waters, propelled by an unseen source. As it passes a distant island, the boat turns and glides toward it, heading out into the middle of the lake. Kendra looks ahead at the vast expanse of water that separates them from shore.


"What is your name?" Kendra asks the ghost.


The ghost glances back at her, then shrugs. "You're the one who wants to know. My name is S. Now, who are you?"


Kendra takes a deep breath, and then answers, "Kendra."


"That is a very pretty name. Are you afraid of S?"


Kendra shakes her head.


"Good. Because I'm going to kill you. I'm going to cut your throat and drink your blood, and then I'm going to bury your body in the sand. I might dig it up later."


Kendra frowns. "Why are you going to do that?"


"I'm trying to get your attention. That's what you want, isn't it?"


Kendra doesn't answer.


"You want to know why S exists? You want to know what S is all about?"


Kendra nods.


"Okay, I'll tell you. S is an evil god. He is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the world. That's why I created S—to remind us of that terrible truth. And to show us what could happen if we ignore it and act like everything is okay. But I didn't create S to tell you all these things. I created him to make it clear that your life can end in the most horrible way possible."


Kendra feels tears prick her eyes. The ghost has a voice that she can hear, yet it seems to come from far away. She finds herself clinging to the railing that surrounds the small boat. The ghost continues to speak with a quiet certainty.


"If you keep ignoring the truth, if you pretend that it doesn't exist, it can destroy you. That's a lesson S wanted to make sure you never forget."


Kendra is speechless.


"But what happens when you do finally see the truth? What will your reaction be? Will you deny its existence? Will you run from it? Will you embrace it and learn how to turn your power into something good? You can choose to become S or you can become a hero. I have given you a choice."


The ghost stares straight ahead as the boat approaches the island. They round the rocky shores and approach a massive cave, as high as the trees themselves, that runs back into the mountain itself.


"This island is my home," the ghost explains. "It is also the final resting place of S. This is where S was imprisoned by his followers, trapped in my realm and forced to remain here until he had the opportunity to teach you the truth. Now, he is gone, because he gave you a choice and because you chose to believe in him. S is free, and he wants to speak to you."


Kendra is amazed. The spirit has made the whole experience seem so normal, so ordinary, yet she has never felt anything close to this before.


"What will you do, Kendra?" the ghost asks. "Will you embrace S's power? Will you become a follower? Or will you become the hero, and use your newfound knowledge and strength to defeat evil? Only you can decide."


The ghost takes Kendra's hand and leads her into the mountain, past a row of stones that look like tombstones, until they reach a huge opening deep within the bowels of the earth. At first glance, it looks like nothing more than another dark cave, filled with shadows and darkness, but then it changes. Suddenly, Kendra realizes that this isn't a cave at all. It's a tunnel. They are walking inside it, but the tunnel continues to extend further and further in every direction, and each step they take causes it to curve.


When they finally reach the end, a single beam of golden light illuminates an enormous cavern, stretching beyond sight. The cavern is covered floor to ceiling with statues. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of them, ranging from the size of tiny dolls to the size of large men. They all wear the same robe, the same crown, and each has its face hidden behind a mask. They are all staring at Kendra and the spirit with their empty eyes.


"This is your future," the spirit says. "This is your destiny. You must make your decision now."


Kendra takes a deep breath. She steps forward and lifts her chin. "Yes," she says. "I accept."


The spirit takes her hand and guides her toward a statue of solid gold that stands taller than the tallest tree. As they near, the statue begins to glow, the light coming from the gold itself.


She reaches for the mask with her right hand. "What is this?" she asks the spirit.


"You must wear the mask," the spirit replies, "to protect yourself."


"But the mask covers everything," Kendra replies, pointing to where her eyes should be. "Even my mouth. Can't I have some say in what comes out of it?"


The spirit shakes his head.


"But what if I can't think?"


"Then the mask will speak for you, and the mask will tell the truth. You have been chosen for great things, Kendra. Do not doubt. Do not fear. This is the right choice."


Kendra takes a deep breath and reaches out toward the mask. Her hand goes through the gold, and her body begins to fade from view. A second later, she is completely gone, replaced by the figure of the mask, which turns to address the crowd.



"You see," the voice says. "The true face of evil is revealed."


Everyone starts to cheer. Then someone behind Kendra yells, "That's a fake! She's a fake! That's a trick!"


Kendra is surprised to hear her own voice coming from the mask. "It's me," Kendra replies. "I am the new mask."


The mask raises its hands high in the air, and everyone goes silent. "You see it?" the mask demands. "I am you now. I am you all. My face is the face of mankind, and you will see only my face forevermore."


"Wait," one of the other voices yells. "We don't want another mask."


"Silence!" the mask roars. "I will be your new face! I will take on your name!"


The crowd becomes quiet again, and the spirit turns back to Kendra. "Do you hear?" he asks her.


She nods. "I hear."


The spirit smiles. "Good. Now take off the mask."


She reaches up and removes it, revealing the face of her true self. Everyone gasps.


"Now we can see our future," the spirit says. "We can see where we've been, and we can see where we're going. We can see all of creation, and we can see how the world will end."


Kendra looks down at the mask in her hands. "You're right," she says. "I can see everything in here. The whole universe."


"That's right," the spirit says. "And now you know what you must do. You know what your destiny is. Don't fear your future; fear the darkness that hides within it."


The voice of the mask changes dramatically. "You must kill them all," the voice says. "Kill them all."


The audience goes crazy. The spirit stands up on his pedestal. "It's done!" he shouts. "It's finished! I can see everything now!"


As the applause dies down, Kendra steps forward. "Thank you, Mask Spirit," she says.


The spirit looks down at her, pleased. "You will be great. You will be the leader of everyone. You will know all. You will see the truth. Kill them all."


"Yes," Kendra says.


Kendra walks back across the stage and sits in her chair. "Now we can all see things for how they really are," she tells the audience.


The crowd cheers.


Kendra turns to face them directly, and the audience parts around her. She stands up and holds her arms wide. "You all know me, don't you?" she asks them. "I'm Kendra, and I have a question."


There is a pause, as the audience waits with bated breath.


"What is my question?" she asks.


"What is...?" comes the resounding reply.


She turns to face Mask Spirit, and he stares back at her, she waits for an answer, but the question hasn't been given yet. Kendra looks at each member of the audience, and they stare back at her.


"Who are you?" she asks. "What is your name? Tell me your names."


The audience stares at her, silent, confused.


"Speak!" she demands. "Tell me your names."


They say nothing. She turns to Mask Spirit, but still no answer. She steps off the stage and moves toward the center of the room. She is about to reach the front of the room when she hears a voice. "I want to be named," it says. Kendra turns around to see the man sitting in the seat behind her. He rises from his chair and walks forward.


"My name is..." he begins.


"Don't speak," Kendra says.


She turns again. The man remains silent. "What is the point of naming?" she asks the audience. "If they know the truth, then they would not care what to call themselves."


Kendra takes the mask of Mask Spirit from the table and puts it on. Her audience remains silent. They have forgotten their names.


"Do you think we should just kill them all?" she asks them.


"Yes," they answer.


She turns back to the man behind her. "What is the point of killing them if you know what they are?" she asks him.


He shakes his head.


"Then why are you doing it?"


"Because I must."


Kendra steps off the stage and walks to the back of the room. The members of the audience remain silent. She approaches the man, who has a look of surprise on his face. She grabs him by the throat, her face inches from his, and lifts him off the ground.


"Answer my questions," she says, squeezing his neck. "What is the point of killing them? Why are you doing it? Answer me or die!"


The audience goes silent. The man begins to turn purple and cough, but Kendra does not release him. She keeps her face close to his, inches from his. He begins to choke, and his eyes bulge, trying desperately to find an answer, but he cannot. He finally slips from her grasp, falls to the ground, and lies motionless.


"You see now?" Kendra shouts to the audience. "Your names mean nothing. You are all nothing!"


She removes the Mask of Death from the table and puts it on. Then takes the mask of Mask Spirit. She lifts it high above her head. She brings it down hard upon her victim, smashing his head against the floor. Blood sprays across the stage.


Kendra removes the Mask of Death from her face. She looks like she might cry. The audience remains silent.


"When the Masked One comes again," she declares, "do not speak, for you are already dead! I am the Masked One. I am death! I am nothing! And you are all dead! I am the true horror show, because I have no words. I have no need for words. I am death. I am nothing. I am the horror in a world of the living. My name is not Kendra."


And she walks from the stage. The crowd stands, their faces blank with fear and awe. Kendra goes through the door, and the curtains fall closed behind her.


(Images by Dall-E 2 at OpenAI)

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