Unmasked: Flash Fiction

maskeffect

“She looks surprised,” the woman said.

The man standing next to her held his champagne glass in the air, where it swallowed light from the chandelier—light he then poured down his throat. He said, “Wouldn’t you be if you woke and found your head nailed to a wall?”

“I’ve woken to worse,” she replied. She pulled on her black fur shawl, newly purchased by her husband who thought buying things meant buying her love. “Why did you bring me here, anyway? You know I hate these gala events. Everyone’s so stuffy.”

He ignored her and opted instead to look at what the museum claimed was a mummified, shrunken head.

She stomped one foot, but with the overbearing sound of tribal music, played by an ill-at-ease foursome of men in tuxedos in the corner, her husband didn’t hear. He wandered off, as he frequently did, which left her alone, staring at the golden mask on the wall with its mouth open, performing a silent rendition of a scream.

“I like the earrings.”

She turned at the sound of an unfamiliar voice, reaching instinctively for her own jewelry.

“No,” the stranger said. “Hers.” He gestured to the mask.

“Oh.” She dropped her hands to her sides. “Yes.”

She glanced around for her husband and found him schmoozing some older woman in an emerald gown with massive, teardrop earrings to match.

The man next to her was nothing like her husband. Where her husband was soft in the middle, this man was slim. Where her husband was bald, this man had a head of curly, red hair. His eyes twinkled periwinkle blue. She’d spotted him at other charity events. He was hard to miss. He smiled more than other rich people, and he seemed to talk a lot—but she’d never found the daring to speak to him properly.

“What do you suppose they used masks for?” He leaned forward and read the plaque. “The Kayapo people of Brazil.”

She brushed a piece of hair behind her ear and stared into the mask’s dark eyes. “I think I remember hearing ancient tribes used masks as protection. To hide from evil spirits.”

“Do you think it worked?” he asked.

“They eventually had to take the mask off,” she said. “The spirits probably just waited around.”

“And gobbled them up?” He leaned closer.

“Maybe.” She smiled at his proximity. He smelled like autumn and spice.

“Why don’t you try it on?” He reached for the mask with a long, elegant hand. She noticed his silver cufflinks, the shapes of arrows.

She dashed his intentions with a hand on his arm. “You can’t—”

“Why not?” he cut her off. He pulled the mask from its single nail and held it in front of her face.

She looked around the crowded room to see if anyone came running. No one did. So she took the mask from his hand and held it up to her nose.

“Feel better?” he asked.

“Much.”

They left the gala together, ducking security guards as they escaped with what was surely a priceless artifact. Her husband didn’t see her go. Of course, he wouldn’t.

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