The Black Mask - Part I
The Black Mask
Itís June 21, the kids are out of school. Weíre packing for our yearly trip to the Mountains for the summer. Itís hard to pack for the mountains - s
sometimes itís like winter up there, other times it can reach over 100 degrees. The van is fully loaded - bikes, toys, playpens, practically our whole wardrobe!
Weíll be leaving as soon as eighteen-month old Christopher eats his cereal. The ride up to the lake takes about 7 hours so we hope heíll take a good long nap! His big sister, Erin, is 11 and his brother Brendan is 8. They are such big helpers - we never thought we would have a third child, I always said - we canít have a third - then thereís more of them than us! It turned out to be the best thing that happened to the whole family, heís a happy little guy!
Well were on our way - big Chris is starting out the trip - Iíll finish the last 3 hours or so. I can smell the campfire right now! "Hey mom did you hear Brendan is going to be an astronaut? Yeah, heís always in space anyway!" "Shut up Erin go braless!" "Erin, Brendan stop that fighting - youíll wake the baby - then Iíll be mad as a wet hen". Iím not too sure what that means but my mother used to always say that to us. She was born and raised in Ireland and she lived on a farm. I imagine when the hens were wet they could get pretty mad!!!!!! Weíve got 5 more hours to go and I would like him to sleep at least another hour. "But he started it, Mom - his foot touched mine" - Brendan said "I couldnít help it mom - this van is so packed thereís no where to move - and my foot feels numb!" "When daddy pulls over - you can sit in the front, Erin". We have airbags in the car - so Brendan isnít big enough - but Erin is as tall as me - so I think sheís safe.
Two hours later the baby wakes up screaming - itís time to pull over anyway - thereís no McDonaldís in site up here - so we settle on pulling over to a little pond and set up a picnic. The kids are running around playing ball. This is really nice. Every since Chris quit his job and started his own consulting business, life has been good. Being home with the kids all day is stressful - now thereís two of us to deal with the carpooling, soccer practice, dance, piano, etc. Chasing Christopher around is a full time job itself! This is the second year weíve been able to spend the whole summer up in the mountains. The house itself must be over 100 years old. The family before us left all their jewelry, clothes, furniture, even medicine and stuff in the refrigerator. Chrisí parents own it now and have updated and added rooms - making it really enjoyable for everyone. Chris just leaves for a two-week stretch to attend meetings back home.
Time to go. The baby is screaming he doesnít want to be back in his car seat. I shove a lollipop at him and heís happy - (so is his dentist) I swear Erin never saw a lollipop until she was 6 years old - and off we go.
Itís my turn to drive - I daydream when I drive - which I know is dangerous - but thereís really not many other cars on the road. Several years ago, I had a panic attack crossing the Tapenzee Bridge in New York. My hands just literally froze - I just stared the whole way over the bridge I donít know how I made it - it hasnít happened since thank God.
Here we are - I pull in the two-mile driveway of dust. The kids are so anxious to jump in the lake Itís just starting to get dark out - but that wonít stop them. Frankly, I get nervous up here especially when Iím alone. Last year a huge black bear walked by the house at about 6:30 in the morning - luckily I didnít see it - but Chris and his parents did. I donít know what I would do if I was approached by one - they say not to look them in the eye and to back up. Some people say they wave their hands and scream - I hope I never have to worry about that. I canít even stand a spider - never mind a 400 pound bear!
The two worst days of the summer are the day we arrive and the day we leave. We have to unload the whole van, chase the baby, unpack everything, put everything away, chase the baby, put the sheets on the bed - chase the baby, put away the food we brought with us, chase the baby!
When we first walk in the smell of must is really strong - Chrisí parents leave charcoal in pans all around the house to help. We open all the windows and smell that fresh pine air! Erin and Brendan are already on the dock! The ducks are happy weíre here - theyíre quacking away out there. I donít want them feeding those ducks - last year there was an article in the paper about duck itch - where the ducks would be fed - do their business in the lake and you would get an itchy rash when you went swimming. The baby doesnít need any more rashes - heís already been to the hospital for croup. Brendan has been to the hospital twice already for staples in his head - Boys are so much different than girls - Erin is 11 an has never even had Novocain. Weíre so much more careful and fearful I guess than boys - The first time I got stitches I was 26!!!
What a day - the lake is simply gorgeous - the house is all shaped up - the sheets are on and the baby is sleeping. Now, itís really summer! Now, I can relax! OOOUUUUCH I hear Erin screaming! Mom I cut my foot (what was I just saying-never mind!!!) I canít walk - I think I stepped on wood or something - Sit down be calm - I tell myself - but I hear myself actually saying "What the hell did you do - where are you shoes - weíre here not even one day and this is what happens!" " Iím sorry Mom" more crying - more guilt - "Okay - let daddy look at it - Heís the doctor around here" - I feel sick to my stomach when the kids get hurt - I actually feel pain - I canít bear the site - I see all the blood and Iím ready to pass out. I donít see any wood in it though - what could she have stepped on - glass? It was probably those workers -they must have used glass soda bottles or something - we all know better - we only use plastic.
Chris says - "looks like we have to get her stitched up". Up here thereís not many places to go - thereís is a doctor 20 minutes away - so Chris wraps her foot in a towel - why he chose white is beyond me -and heads out the door. Brendan wants to go too - he likes guts and goo!
I sweep the front porch -whatís that moving around under there - I think Iíll go in and clean out the refrigerator. Hopefully nothing is lurking under there. Although last year I was down on the ground playing with the baby near the refrigerator and I looked over and there was a dead mouse - ugh, his mouth was all bloody Ė I think he electrocuted himself by biting into the plug. Thatís one way to lose your appetite!
Itís too quiet without a television or radio. Maybe Chrisí parents will bring them up.
There goes the baby. Iím kind of glad - itís too quiet. I go up to check on him and heís sound asleep! Itís creepy being here alone. Every noise I hear I panic. Thereís that crying again - but itís not coming from upstairs. I wonít dare go outside itís pitch black outside. I tell myself itís the raccoons. Yes, thatís it - sometimes they sound like pigs when they eat - they actually grunt! Theyíre pretty scary too! Was that scratching on the window? - Eventually I snooze offÖÖ..
Bang!!! Clamp! Oh my God what is it - I waken with a startle. "Honey, weíre home" - "Thank Goodness - how are you Erin" - "Mom, I got 12 stitches - it hurts so much". "Oh honey, Iím so sorry - Iím sorry I yelled at you! I love you!" "Me too mom" - Poor Erin is hobbling around on crutches. Iím so ashamed at myself for yelling.
"Brendan, what are you wearing" He is wearing this really ugly black animal mask. "I found it on the front porch". I just swept the front porch - I didnít see anything like that there. I guess he found it under the deck.
Itís after midnight - Erin and Brendan go upstairs to fight over which bed they get to sleep in. Oh no, thereís the baby - Iíll kill them!!!! I go upstairs to get Christopher - but he is sound asleep.
Chris and I make a small fire. I donít mind going outside in the dark when heís here. The lake is so pretty with the moon shining on it. Sometimes, it is nice with no television or radio. I set up the scrabble board.
Chris loves it up here - we bought a used boat last year. We had a lot of fun tubing. He used to live for golf, golf, golf, now he lives for the lake and the boat which is nice because the whole family is involved. Golf is a selfish sport if you ask me! Okay, donít ask!
Chrisí parents, Mary and Joe will be coming in a couple of weeks - they usually come up when he goes away for those two weeks - which I am so thankful for!
Tomorrow, weíll get the boat out of storage and go grocery shopping! Itís something about the lake air that makes you hungry all the time! You crave cheeseburgers, potato chips, and hot dogs!!!! Itís true -figure on gaining 5 pounds a week - like I need anymore. At home I try to walk a lot - but here I wouldnít walk anywhere by myself - Iím too afraid. Erin doesnít like walking -maybe Iíll swim - then Iíll get the duck itch!
"By the way, Chris what did the doctor say Erin stepped on? "He didnít see any wood in the foot and it wasnít glass - he could tell by the angle of the cut. It was a smooth cut like a stone or a claw. Heís seen similar claw injuries from bears." "He said sometimes macho people get brave and approach a baby bear - when momma bear is always right behind and they get swung at". "Ugh - was that a bearís claw she stepped on" - "Maeve, donít worry yourself - it was probably a rock".
The kids will want to make Smores, Chris. "Yeah right Maeve they only like making them - but no one seems to like eating them. All those marsh mellows, chocolate bars and graham crackers go to waste." We talk and play a game of scrabble and a few games of pitch for a few more hours, put the fire out and go to bed at 3:00 a.m.
WAH WAH, WAH - itís 6:00 a.m. our day begins - three hours is enough sleep, right? We try to bring Christopher in bed with us - but he just wants to get up and eat and play. Heís looking around the room - knowing heís in a strange place. So I bring him down and get him a bowl of cereal - heís eating by himself now - what a joy - food is all over the place - that is not good up here - those bears will smell it miles away. I wonder if they have a bear repellent.
Thereís the crying noise again - but Christopher is smiling right in front of me - I thought raccoons only came out at night - arenít they nocturnal - or is it skunks - I canít remember - thereís too many damn animals! I yell for Chris - he said he didnít hear anything - itís my imagination - he runs out to the lake and jumps in - in his underwear!!!!!!! Enjoy that Duck Itch! Good thing thereís no next door neighbors. He comes back in and screams "Everyone GET UP - were gonna go put that boat in the water - I want to ski."
I myself never tried skiing - I could have on our honeymoon in Jamaica - but I was too nervous - someone told me there were sea urchins in the water there - so I stayed in the pool!!!!
Erin comes down hobbling on her crutches, rubbing her eyes - saying itís too early - are you crazy? "Howís your foot honey" - "itís OK but itís throbbing" - "Eat some breakfast and you can have some Tylenol and your antibiotic".
"You can relax on the boat" - "Yeah right dad - all the bumping up and down - my vacation is ruined!!!!!!!!!!!" This starts a fifteen minute cryfest - I think itís her hormones not her foot - she cries a lot lately.
Brendan comes running down the stairs - wearing that black animal mask again. This time I get a good look at it - I thought it was a Halloween mask - but itís not - itís creepy - it actually feels like an animal - think of when you pet an animal at the zoo - itís thin -almost translucent, black, and slippery, last night it actually looked like there were drops of water coming from it - but this morning it feels really dry. Now Iím getting panicked - Chris take a look at this - So he does and says - "if Brendan likes it let him play with it - maybe it washed ashore from a camp across the lake." Thatís true I think - there are quite a few camps across the lake from ours" - they probably had nothing better to do than make a scary animal mask!
Off we go on our daily adventure - first to put the boat in the water (sounds easier than it is - believe me) But now that Brendan is getting older, he is a big help. Since he turned 8 he has really shot up and is very strong. I think itís all the sports heís involved in - soccer, baseball, basketball, bike riding, hockey. He really is a sports nut. So they get the boat in the water and of course Chris wants to go skiing right away. So off we go on our first boat ride of the year. The water is ice cold. It doesnít bother Chris at all - Erin said she would play with Christopher while I drive the boat for daddy. I start up the boat and Chris is waiting on the dock to ski. He yells out "Erin, whatís the matter with the baby?" Nothing, dad - heís playing with a ball in here"! Oh, I thought I heard him cry - "Nope - have fun" "Thanks" - "Chris, Whatís the matter" I ask - "Nothing - letís go!"
Brendan is the spotter today - heís tried to ski - but was frustrated when he couldnít get up. I will try it this year- thatís my goal - but the water is toooo cold - so Iíll wait until July or August?? Or next year!!!!!!!!!!
I canít believe he wants to go faster - heí s crazy heís pushing forty and he thinks heís 18 - He works out every week at the health club so he is in good shape. I should start going again - but I live for when the baby naps so I can do housework. I donít like Erin and Brendan to have to watch him too much either - Maybe Iíll start when the baby is 2 or 3 or 10!
Finally, he wants to be pulled in. " Put the buoys out Brendan - pull him in." Iím heading toward shore- was that a shadow? Why is Erin on the dock - she normally wouldnít bring the baby outside. Sheís sitting down in the chair crutches by her side (I wonít even ask how she managed the baby and her crutches). Sheís holding the baby and shaking - I ask her whatís the matter but sheís just staring and shaking. Now Iím petrified the bear claw or stone she stepped on was diseased and sheís been poisoned.
Brendan ties the boat up and I grab the baby. "Erin, honey are you all right?" With a quivering voice - she asks - "mom, are their any other people up here?" "No, honey the only other houses are across the lake." "Well, I thought I saw I man and I heard a baby cry!" OH NO - that shadow - "CHRIS Come HERE "- "Whatís the matter "- "tell him Erin." I run for cover - I run for the house! "Brendan, Erin lets go!"
"Calm down, Maeve - give me a break - youíre jumping to conclusions - you know we have to share the mountains with lots of animals up here." "An animal probably had a baby in the woods and left it". "Okay then what was the shadow?" Iíll be right back - sure enough - he found a baby bird - it was probably a couple days old - one of his wings was chewed off and he was crying just like Christopher. Chris picked it up but he died right in his hand. "Poor little fellow - Letís Bury him dad!" "Never mind that - what about the shadow"! - "Follow me - was this what you were talking about"? - One of our plastic grocery bags had gotten caught in a branch of a tree - it truly looked like a man!
What a relief - now I can enjoy the summer, now I can relax - Hold that thought - I forgot we have to go grocery shopping! The whole family goes - because I will not leave Erin alone up here - at home I do - she sometimes watches the kids for me when I run to do errands - sheís very responsible and dependable. I donít pay her and she doesnít ask - she knows we pay for her clothes, food, shoes, and her movie tickets when she goes out with her friends. But up here is a different life - if god forbid something happened - thereís no neighbor to run to - thereís no 911 to call. So here we go - all five of us - lots of lollipops in my pocket for Christopher!!!
The next couple of weeks went smoothly. I tried skiing for the first and last time of my life. I couldnít get up on the damn things and my legs went in three different directions. What a sight for sore eyes! Chris goes away tomorrow - but his parents will be here Thursday. That leaves me alone for 3 days and nights. I try not to look worried - cause then Erin will. She picks up on all my emotions - so I put on a happy face - itís been really peaceful anyway- no bears- just a couple of pesky raccoons and geese. Erinís foot is almost better now - she got the stitches out the other day and is walking by herself (in her shoes).
"Goodbye, Chris" - kids do you want anything from home. "Yes, I want my CD Player and Playstation", said Erin. "Thereís no TV you dingbat" - "Bud out you brat Grandma Mary said she was bringing one!" "Can you bring lots of Gatorade Dad," Brendan pleaded, "they donít have the cherry blast that I like." Sure, Iíll call you when I get home. It should be around dinner time.
Oh, dinner - I forgot - Chris does all the cooking around here - what will we have tonight? No take out Chinese up here - "Chris, bring some Chinese Food!" Erin does a lot of the cooking now - maybe weíll have cheeseburgers on the grill. - No, maybe not - the bears will smell it - Iíll make tuna casserole inside the house - then weíll have leftovers for tomorrow. We have lots of coldcuts for sandwiches - then Chrisís parents will be here - they like to cook. I just put Christopher down - he canít be crying - can he? "Brendan - go peek in on Christopher" - "heís fine mom - heís sound asleep." Good - he must have had a nightmare.
My parents are so weird - I must have been adopted or something - I am so bored up in these mountains. Erin is lying on the couch feeling sorry for herself. After the first week I was ready to come home. Rochelle said I could stay with her for the summer - but no, my parents would have none of that! They treat me like such a little baby sometimes. Brendan gets on my nerves. He never showers and he smells like dog doo. He always teases the baby and makes him cry - that makes mom upset so I end up yelling at him. Sure, they make me watch the baby, but they never let me do anything that I want. I need a cigarette! I tried smoking last month - I donít really like it but my friends do and I think it looks so cool - I feel like a grownup. Some lady came to our school and told us how bad it is and everything - but I think she was just acting. I wouldnít get addicted to it - Iím going to sneak out back.
Erin goes out to the back porch. She hears the crying - Is the baby out here? Would mom let him out? Underneath the porch is a shadow lurking back and forth - she doesnít realize itís there - but he knows she is there. Erin starts smoking and coughing. She lets out a huge Gasp - in the distance she sees "A BEAR!!!!!" She screams and spits out the cigarette - A four hundred pound black bear is walking by the house - more like trotting. She closes the door and locks it and yells "MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The shadow comes out, too.
"What honey!" "Do I smell smoke?" "Mom, Mom, "Erin, I asked you- were you smoking - if you were Iím going to kill you myself!" "No, mom - Mom listen to me"! "Well, what was the smell then?" "I lit a candle, mom - please listen to me" - "thereí, there, thereís a bear - quick look around at the side of the house" - "Oh My God a Bear - where are the boys??????!!!!!!!" "Chris is sleeping - Brendan is in the garage" - "OH No - go tell him to stay put" - "It wouldnít hurt if the bear ate him, mom" - then thereís more food for us!!" "ERIN quick!" - Erin looks out back - Brendan is in the garage looking through all the junk - he always has to keep busy - she yells out "stay where you are - thereís a bear"! - Brendan drops what heís holding - he sees the bear! He quickly closes the door. "Whereís the bear now mom?" - sheís holding binoculars in one hand and a knife in the other. "Yeah right, mom - a steak knife - what do you think youíre gonna do with that- heís about 400 pounds." "I would knife him in the eye or something." "Heís running through the woods - I have my eyes on him run and tell Brendan to come in"! "Are you kidding - Iím not going out there to save him- she may have a boyfriend bear or something." "Okay, you hold these and watch it - Iíll go get him - if it turns around scream or something so Iíll know." "There goes the baby - Iíll be right back."
Maeve runs upstairs - but the baby is still sleeping. She runs out back to the garage and gets Brendan - she hears Christopher crying loudly - so they run as fast as they can. What was that rustling in the woods - thereís a shadow - maybe itís another plastic bag or something? They make it back to the house. Maeve sees the mask. "Brendan - please put that mask somewhere where I canít see it". "Mom, that one isnít mine - I have mine in my closet." "Maybe Erin took it out of your closet. - Anyway just get rid of it - itís disgusting - now itís all wet again - hang it in the shower or something."
Brendan hangs it in the shower and goes into his room - the mask is hanging in his closet and Christopher is softly snoring.
"Whereís the bear now - I donít see it any more, mom." "Hopefully, it will find food across the lake." "It just figures - your dad leaves not even an hour and something like this happens." "Thank God we didnít cook on the grill - if we did - we would have had company!" "Letís eat." "After dinner we can all read our books" "Oh Goodie - what else is new" - "Well, you want to go exploring in the woods tonight, Erin?" "You can hang out with the bear!!!!" "Your just as big and ugly as it - ha ha" "Shut up you little pest." She hits Brendan and he hits her back and Maeve jokingly swings at both of them.
That was the best night sleep Iíve had since Iíve been here. I usually hear crying - I know I imagine it but I didnít hear it at all last night.
"Iím so glad I got out of work early this week - it is so busy, Joe." "Put on that nice Irish CD - I donít want to hear any news or any commercials". "Iím on vacation." "I hope we wonít scare Maeve and the kids by coming too early." "Donít worry, Mary, when we pull up to the house Iíll beep loudly." "I canít wait to sit in a recliner and plop myself on that dock and read a good book." "Yeah right, Mary - weíll be chasing little Christopher all over the place - I bet he jumped in the lake already! Ha Ha" "Well, there will be plenty of us to watch him - Erinís foot is better." "Maybe we can all take a drive tomorrow and go out to dinner." "I bet the kids are getting cabin fever - the weather has been a little chilly." Irish music is on in the background "OH, Danny, Boy".
"Wake up, Mary" "Weíre here". Joe drives down the path to the lake. "Wake up" - "what - Oh good - I canít wait to see Maeve and the kids." "Joe, whatís that in the road?" "I donít know". "Well slow down." "Put your window down, Mary - I hear crying" - "Joe, do you think itís the baby"? "I doubt it, Mary - Maeve wouldnít let him out by himself." Joe stops the car and says "Let me go out and look" - the crying gets really loud Joe follows the cries Ė then Joe letís out a loud moan and a scream. "Joe, Joe, whatís the matter? Mary follows too - then she sees the mask - she screams too, but the cries stop.
Brendan is on the dock fishing. He gets bored because he hasnít caught a single fish. He walks over by the side of the house to find some bugs to put on his pole. He smells a rancid odor. He walks over and sees bits and pieces of the 400 pound bear - heís not sure at first but finds a bearís claw - then he hears the moans down the road. It was probably Erin - sheís always moaning lately - she thinks sheís his mother. I can never have any fun playing with Christopher - he likes it heís always laughing.
Brendan comes running into the house "Mom, Mom , Mom!" Christopher is in her lap eating cheerios listening to Cat in the Hat. "You know Brendan, itís been so quiet around here- now what is it?" "Christopher get down - donít climb on that table!" "Erin take him down from there!!" "Mom - look what I found - did you hear any moaning?" "No, I didnít - what are you holding now?" "Itís a bear claw, mom - I think itís the one that visited us." "Oh my GOD!"
Back to reality - I miss the lake already, Chris is at home. He puts on his shorts, grabs a beer and thinks about blasting the stereo. Itís peaceful at the lake - but itís peaceful here without any kids running around. I havenít seen the news in a while it will be good to see whatís going on in the real world. The news reporter comes on gives the news and weather. Then a special report caption "Unexplained killings in the North American Mountains, more details to follow". Chrisí heart skipped a beat - a commercial comes on. Shit, why do they do this to us - What the hell is going on - he switches channels but no other channel talks about it. Finally, the news reporter is on - He is standing in a spot where Chris recognizes up in the mountains. The news reporter goes on to say . A second body was found mangled to death by some type of animal. 14 bears were also killed in the same manner. Members of the victims family say that leading up to the deaths they heard cries - like a babyís cry and they found Black animal-type thin masks. Chrisís face is ashen he flashes back to Brendan wearing a mask and all the crying they heard, and Erinís foot - what did she step on!
This just in : The reporter goes on to say thereís an animal bearing a resemblance to the gorilla family although his head is more like a cat. It cries until he eats- right before he sees his target he loses a black translucent mask and attacks. The mask is like a thin layer of skin. After they lose it - when their skin comes in contact with the air - they grow a new layer.
The reporter went on to say that a recluse living in the mountains somehow mated a gorilla and a black panther. Apparently, he got a hold of a sperm from each of these animals (itís amazing what you can buy on the internet these days). The result was twin fetuses - a boy and a girl. Investigators now believe there are at least 10 of these Pantherillas. Relatives of the recluse confirmed he was trying to mate these animals, his was one of the bodies found.
MY FAMILY - OH MY GOD!!!!! He gets on the phone to call the police - all lines are busy - Iíll grab the cell phone - oh no, why didnít I leave this with Maeve - I thought I did. The gun - I have to get the gun - where did Maeve hide it. I know she canít stand it - but I bought it years ago - long before we even thought weíd have kids. With all the killings in the schools sheís been begging me to get rid of it, but maybe it will come in handy tonight. Ah, here it is -up in the attic. He grabs the bullets and leaves the house with the TV, lights still on.
"Brendan, go get the cell phone - Iím calling daddy and the police - Iíve got to get us out of here!" "Mom, itís not here!" "It has to be here somewhere daddy promised heíd leave it with me." "Look up stairs - look everywhere"! The two are frantically searching the house for the phone. "Just wait til I see daddy - heís in big trouble!" Meanwhile Erin is playing with Christopher - heís a pointing to the door to go outside - "Mom can I bring Chris outside - he wants to go play"? "Erin , no"! "Why not mom"? She shows her the bear claw.
"Mom I want to go home now - youíre freaking me out!" "Shut up, Christopher Iím not bringing you out! - Iím never going out there again!!!! "Do something mom - I want Daddy!!!!" "Shut up you big baby Erin - it was probably a vulture." "Yuck - a vulture - theyíre gross mom - was it a vulture?" "Heís probably right Erin - they know where to find food."
After calming Erin down, Maeveís mind is racing, then she looks out the window and sees the boat in the water.
"Kids, I have an idea - letís all get in the boat and drive across the lake - maybe someone over there can help us." "Come on kids we have to hurry"! Maeve picks up the baby and starts to run out the door when she sees 3 more masks on the doorsteps and then she hears the cries. She immediately grabs Brendan - who was just in front of her - but he is being pulled away - Brendan is screaming "help mom - my leg"- "Erin take the baby!" - Maeve pulls - "Erin, help theyíre pulling frantically" - after a long struggle he was finally free. They close the door! all breathing and sweating heavily. "Good idea mom" - "Quit the wisecracks Erin!" Mom - my leg is all scratched up - look - Brendanís leg - is oozing yellow stuff and there are huge bloody wounds. "What is it mom"! I donít know, but I know we have to get out of here"!