By Jacob Pilkington


Sirens ululated in the distance. He could feel the air cling to him. All the drops of him leaked out on the ground in a puddle of horror-movie red. He knew he’d caught a bullet to the head, and this was how he was going to check out.

Then the tumbling of footsteps. Questions hoarsely asked and grumpily filled in. The whine of the neon lights in the air. Policemen calling as if down the corridor to the afterlife. The sounds of shutters being opened, and neighbours calling out the standards of truth. The city police that seemed to cluster about both entry points to the alleyway. He knew they wouldn’t find him. His hiding spot was genius.

The blood trickled from the hole in his head and drummed into a puddle by his shoulder. On his hand gleamed a gold watch that flecked the light from a neon sign. The light shone out to him like a song through the ages of dreariness and depression.

If he could work his brain. If he could only connect it to some childhood anecdote, the dominos might start to tumble, and he would remember.

The neon lights blinked, and the footsteps traced away. A drum beat clanking noises. The scurry of rats racing to what was tossed out the window.

A neighbour yells out, ‘Do you mind turning off your hot water? I am trying to take a shower here!’

Just these last few shards, a minute, a year, dreams of another dimension. He was an idiot who no longer understood why there was reality.

The shores of dreams were fading … Before he knew it, he’d dropped back into reality, a message in a bottle carried over an abyss. As if he’d washed up on an imaginary beach.

He had woken up blank.

The first thing he noticed was the radio playing some annoying song from the seventies. Something families could sing together, hold hands and count what a brilliant life they had. Something that made him ill.

A ray of light that shone from the gold watch on his arm created nervous pulsations in his head. He noticed that he wasn’t actually on the bed anymore. There was a breaker of tangled sheets partly pulled over his naked body, as if the grip of a sweaty fever had tussled him all night before finally ejecting him from the mattress. The Oldtown … it was the Oldtown Hotel. He could remember the burnt cheesy carpets. The way the light undulated upon the glossy walls.

As he separated his face from the drool on the awful carpet, raised the archaic machinery that was his body, first to a crouch and then lifting his lithe tummy up, the pistons in his arms and legs snapped into place. As he raised himself to a heady stance, he looked up at the clock, where the scattered aspirin punctuated the nightstand, and it said seven o clock. But it was dark outside, so he couldn’t tell whether it was morning or evening, and then he realised he didn’t know what day of the week it was. He couldn’t remember his own name!

There were some pants and briefs bent in a heap at the end of the bed that fit loosely as he slipped them on. Then he had to go to the bathroom because of the thumping of the dripping faucet over the music pounded like a tropical headache. He realised two things as he looked into the bathroom mirror: one, the tattoos covering his naked chest were swirling and groping their moving tentacles around what looked like the marrying of a squid and man as it moved its lips as if to talk to him; two, his face was covered with a white skeleton mask that seemed buried into the flesh of his cheeks, something that had marked him like that of Cain, or the whim of some Caribbean voodoo god. The squid-man on his chest began chanting hoopla and then descended into the strange proclamation.

‘You will kill Dennis Macfarland!’

Who is Dennis Macfarland? His mind spun out of whack like a runaway helicopter blade. He could not remember anything more than: blank. In the back of his mind was an image of a man handing him a book, but the title was fuzzy. Then a man walking aft (not him), but with someone … something. She was the cause! She had given him the book with the mask!

A beating reverberated through the doors.

‘Dennis Macfarland, this is the police. Open up!’

‘I am Dennis Macfarland.’ He tried it on. That didn’t feel right.

He was running out of the bathroom and then rounded the corner of the room when, on the side table mirror, he caught a swath of pink flesh. In a fury-sponsored delirium, he rounded the bed to see a naked fat man, his hollowed-out mouth a gaping hole that offended all life and natural law. The man’s throat was slashed, and he had bled onto the carpet. The man in the mask looked at his shirt and coat and wondered if that would fit too.

‘Dennis Macfarland, we have a warrant to search the premises. If you don’t open up, you will force us to come in.’

It clicked, probably later than it should have.  He, found at the scene with a dead body, in the clothes of a dead man. Him, placed at the scene would constitute grounds for a murder.

He slid his arm through the coat and made for the window. Shit, no fire escape.

‘Okay, Mr Macfarland. Back away from the door. We’re about to enter!’

He tried to open the window, but the latch was caught. It budged but caught every time like some stubborn steed, and all he could think about was the police running through that door and the dead body on the floor. So, he grabbed the alarm clock from the bedside table and tossed it at the window. There was a shattering and a guilty feeling in his gut, but the broken glass clutched out like a draconian claw. Inspiration clenched his fists, and he tried to knock away the jagged glass, but he only made his hand bloody.

He pressed lithely through the broken pane, the blood on his hands weeping through the wounds. He cut his torso and a knee on the outcropping glass. But soon, he was out on the ledge. From the seventh floor up, he watched the rain fall through degrees of humidity onto the sweaty streets and the staccato pedestrians in the streetlights.

The SWAT team ramming rod circumvented the cheap hotel lock, and the first wave entered. They were greeted by a naked fat man with his throat cut and a shifting of wind from the curtains.

‘See if he’s out there Sargent,’ the Inspector said routinely. ‘It’s not likely he’ll get away.’

‘I see him, sir,’ said the Sargent. ‘He’s crawling up the side onto the roof.’

‘Then shag it people,’ roared Inspector Provost. ‘And leave someone here to guard the body.’

The man in the mask had never been good at pull-ups and was really struggling with his weight, pushing closely against the building. The dormant muscles in his arms barely contracted. It was agony, but less so than falling to death, a bloody stamp on those sweaty streets and pedestrians scattered around trying to get their fix of death. There came a whisky warmth from the mask, and he felt a surge in his arms and shoulders. His arms responded like levies. Up the ornate carvings and onto the Industrial awnings, he curled his torso around the outcropping roof and watched the spurned city through the O of the Oldtown Hotel sign. The city below contracted like the organs of some great bilious stomach.

Memories flooded through: a man sharpening blades with a stone wheel; the thin man covering the expanse of the night; that fat man from the room putting the kitchen knife to the blood-soaked pig. They were not his memories. His memories were of his mother, of best friends; none of which he could remember. Once again, he grabbed at the eye grooves of the mask, trying to tear it away.

He heard the feet of the troopers rising up the level of stairs. The night sky was filled with yellow mustard-coloured gas, a peaked gloom that clutched itself over the city.

As the door flew open, he clenched his fists and jumped.

He had never been good at jumping, either.

‘Fucking kamikaze!’ said one of the SWAT.

They watched the lashing man miss the roof and plummet into a lit window on the building across from them.

‘Just our fucking luck!’ he said.

He was heady, swimming, dizzy, drunk. He raised himself like King Kong over the constellations of broken glass. A scantily clad man inched towards him, arms out. The man’s hands twisted to his neck and began to squeeze in desperation.

The masked man dropped to his knees, a ticking pendulum behind his eyes. Grasping onto a glass shard, the masked man edged the jagged glass into the other man’s neck, a flowing of blood like an exotic bird’s tail flourishing out.

‘Shit. You’re not Dennis Macfarland, are you?’ said the masked man.

Darker, deeper he plunged into the humid atmosphere of the street. The city breathed the thick and stagnant air. Minions of modernity trudged through the slime. The evil eye watching him from the head of the great beast. The world was sick and choking on itself. He noticed police everywhere. His fingers teased the buttons of the overcoat he borrowed from the dead man’s apartment. He skimmed the rim of the dead man’s hat.

In the yellow soup haze of the streetlights and the warm rain, he felt much like a fixture of the shadows. He couldn’t care about the doll-like pedestrians playing out into the street, fleshy in their damp clothes. Their bodies moved like puppets of the great beast that knew every intention, every burst of hate. The policemen seemed to form around them. He watched the interplay between man and police, and realised it was some sort of street parade. He was the sandman, the unknown zeitgeist of the poison they all lived through.

He skipped down the stoop diving into the crowd. From the shadowed nooks, he felt the eyes upon him. He kept his hand on the hat rim as if to shield his face, and the other held the coat together. He parted through the sweaty crowds, inhaling the stink of their bodies and the graciousness of life.


There came a shout behind him.

‘Sir, wait!’

This was it!

He began to run, and the crowds scattered to the sides of the street. He felt the gunshots insular against him. One passed the inside of his right leg. He dove into a nearby alleyway on his right. The bullets cut through the air. Just as he turned and knew he would be safe, he felt a bullet enter the back of his skull. The hat flew away, and the crying crowds blurred and slowed to a stop.

He was racing through the alley, through an escarpment of newspaper, bottles and falling trash like the rain in this melting pot. He pushed through the trash bins, the overhanging staircases, and past the graffiti proclamations. At the end, the road turned left. But he was faltering, falling to his knees. He saw an open space behind the dumpster, a gap in the brick, and he crawled in there, crawled in to die. He heard the patter of rain, and the sounds of puddles broken by heavy, police-issue shoes. He closed his eyes and focused on the blood trickling down the back of his head.

But the spindly claws worked their way around his cracked cranium. While lost cats mewed and neighbours tossed rubbish out of windows, the mask grew through him, around his skull, filling his lack of humanity with its own syntax. Time was liquid; reality was blocks. The mask embraced his mind. His concept of persons and people transmuted into a mystical material.

The mask lived inside him, gleaning over spots he thought had gone forever. There inside that hole, in a shadow nobody could see, he embraced the sounds of vehicles and car horns and swearing, calling and crying people, as part as some interplanetary Google, some idea made by a purely foreign mind.

His strength crept back. The impetus of the monster he felt in his limbs. The mask was telling him it was time to go. Time to venture through the clouds of consciousness, to find himself, to guide him by the collar. Time to find the answers, and just who was Dennis Macfarland!

The mask spread its wispy touch into his bones, then his veins and into his arteries. It reached into his nerves. He rose from the ground like an operated crane. His body was strong again, and there was no more blood trickling down the wound on his head. As he scanned the gloaming alleyway, the lights from the windows seemed to float, and he felt divorced from reality. Indeed, he felt negligent to it.

One foot placed before the other. He thought to double back, but this wasn’t the way. The architecture looked Doric, and gargoyles fluttered their wings, flicking away the sweaty humidity, minions of the great beast. Either way was different from where he came in, and he repeatedly swore and followed back the other way.

This way, gothic architecture leered out from the brick. Great churches rose before him as he traipsed ahead. Borromini fruit, arms and wings were carved along the sides of apertures. Something was pushing at him, drawing him further. He had stopped to consider who he was, what had happened, and who was Dennis Macfarland. But the seeping grasp of the mask in his arms and legs forced him to leave the alley and pay no attention to the bats, the eyes in the buildings’ shadows, or anything that bespoke of the living end.

When he rounded back into the sweaty street, the waves of crowds told of an open street bazaar. He parted through and into a sea-like quality of the crowd. As the waves flowed, he was pushed along like a piece of driftwood. Gloomy lights hung on strings from post to post. Hunching sellers sat behind their tables of vain jewellery, talismans and arcane literature.

The crowds and the tables thinned out. He had no want for reality anyway. What had it ever given him? The street became darker, and cutthroats looked out of their hiding places—they loomed like eyes cut from the beast’s face—and drunk men Z lined over the street, welcome targets. The gaps between the buildings also grew, and soon the masked man was aware that they were propped up on stilts or had sprawling balconies that looked out to the main street. Streetlights were apparent in the gloom, one every hundred metres, but soon finding one was often hard, excruciating and even hopelessly daunting. The last house at the end of the journey was ‘PJ’s Law Firm, Bail bondsmen.’

At the streetlight, a spindly monster that sat on a lit bench rolled out a yoyo. As the man in the mask approached, he got up, looked at his watch.

‘Ah, just in time,’ he said.

In the distance, the drums beat. He felt them pulsing through him. That fire inside. He was at a cemetery gate. Beyond it was a high hill and a plume of orange flame at its peak.

‘Take the weapon,’ a voice said to him.

With preternatural strength, he tore a spire away from the fence. He tarried at the gap in the fence but was caught in what felt like a spider’s web. He fidgeted and extricated himself. The fence opened and let him in.

The drums crescendoed, his pulse pumped. He ran like a man possessed up the hill, scrambling up the rocks, tearing them away. A stitch caught him in his stomach, but he would not be cheated of this! He felt lean and fit as he propelled his way up the hill and, at its paramount, fell to his knees before the fire.

From the fire, the great beast turned to face him. Its leathery, bug-eaten wings rose from their place around the torso, raised once more above its shoulders. Its face could be likened to an insect, a vertebrated and rimy skull. Its grey eyes moved within the hollow sockets. It stretched its four arms out. In all its magnificence, the great beast drank in the fire.

It was the eternal fight. He was the demon slayer. Who cared about who he was before or how he had ended up here. The mask was eternally waged against the creatures of the pit. The mask was ageless, an agent more of time than Heaven or Earth. The war against the three-headed demon had been waged since the initial fall. The mask, too, had plunged the depths and acted like an undercover agent, an investigator of hell. In the reaches of the shadows, it killed every demon it came across, small or, like this one, overgrown.

As the great beast raised its wings and clenched its talons, the man in the mask thrust the metal spire, impaling the offensive demon just as it vomited its evil swan song. The fulfilment of Heaven was in his actions. He felt the guiding Holy Light. At once, he was a zealot-believer, and his reward from God was faith. He felt the Holy Light rush in and raised his head towards the pregnant heavens.

In its dying throws, the creature lashed out, throwing its four arms about. As the Brobdingnagian grazed the heavenly messenger, one claw took hold of the man’s mask. Its claws dug deeper. It started to chisel through bone, and light seemed to flood in. The creature tore free and was guided through memories of the cosmos and becoming alive there it came to an end.

The mask was off!

‘Yes, my name was Phillip!’

Phillip looked around. A spotlight shone through the warehouse windows, moving against giant placards of shadow. A helicopter gazed in. In the shifting light, he saw the police team had surrounded him, guns were drawn, and all stood ready. As to where he was, he could not remember; but eventually, he knew he would.

‘Don’t you fucking move!’ said a lady officer, stepping forward from the others.

‘He’s done it,’ said a policeman, cushioned in shadow. ‘He’s killed him.’

Phillip turned. The corpse looked small. He was just a regular guy in black pants and an office shirt. On his lapel, a badge read: ‘Dennis.’ He had been impaled through his chest by a metal bar and lay supinely, the bar pointed up. In his outstretched hand, he held a peculiar mask.

It was the man from his vision. The one who had passed him the mask. Memories piled like leaning towers in his mind. The man had taken his wife and given him the mask as consolation. But the mask wouldn’t be cheated. It had found its way back to him.

‘Dennis Macfarland,’ said Phillip. He looked up at the police officers, their weapons drawn, all hungry for murder.

He felt a wedge in his back. Of course, Dennis’ gun. He had taken it from him when he lured him into the warehouse. Phillip had two choices, none of them appealing: raise the gun, or surrender.

Lights played through the windows. The police froze. Sweat trickled down Phillip’s forehead, where the mask had been. Sweaty fingers tensed around the trigger.

He raised his weapon and fired.



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