“It’s a death mask,” she said with a quizzical look, leaning slightly forward.
All I remembered was waking from a nightmare. The visions were surreal and the faces… the faces, I could see them as though my vision consisted of x-rays. Blue shadows on white relief, with intricate patterns beneath the flesh. And those eyes.
The eyes were what worried me from the outset. I was looking and remembering and then the eyes opened, suddenly and rapidly, not like the slow wakening from sleep. The eyes looked right at me. Right through me.
Suddenly, as though it were obvious, they expected me to understand. I stood, staring back at the abyss, and experienced a trance-like paralysis. I did not understand.
Then I woke and turned to her to ask what was going on, what were these x-ray faces that I was seeing.
“It’s a death mask,” she said, an air of expectation looming in her inflection. “It was part of the Project Death Mask experiment while you were under.”
It started to come back to me. The experiment. The volunteering, the risks. The reward.
I looked back at her, only to find her face fading to blue, her skeleton appearing, her eyes round and ghoulish in their sockets, intricate patterns that almost seemed like a lost language traced around the edges, her nose fading to holes and a shadow of cartilage.
The way she looked at me, I couldn’t tell if she knew. I got up and started to walk away, tearing my gaze from hers. I squeezed my eyes shut and looked around, shaking my head. Maybe I just needed some air.
I rushed down the hallway, colliding shoulders with a man in a lab coat. I turned to apologize, walking backwards for a few steps, and his hand reached out to me and began to fade to blue as his finger bones began to appear, began to reveal their secret language.
“I’m so—” I began, turned, and picked up the pace.
Everyone I approached became a skeleton and I couldn’t unsee the living x-ray images. I saw a bathroom up ahead and ducked in. The mirror was, I suspect, a normal mirror, but my face was hard like a porcelain doll’s. A mask. Death mask? What did they do to me?
The woman standing next to me, touching up her lipstick, was surreal – a hand rubbing a stick centimeters away from bone. I backed up and left as quickly as I had come.
I made my way to the stairs and down to the first floor, to a door leading outside. Pushing the door, the fresh wind swept my hair back and the sun blinded my eyes.
Then, a hand on my shoulder.
“Where are you going, little lady?” He said in a tone you’d use with a child. “Not yet; we aren’t quite done.” His smile was labored and his grip was insistent.
The anger and fear swelled inside of me and I found myself clenching my teeth and screaming, “NO!” As I yelled, a flash burst and the man fell backwards, wide-eyed and gasping for breath as he hit the wall and slid to the floor, his flesh revealing patterns within patterns, an archaic vocabulary imprinted on bone.
“Oh, god,” I muttered as I turned and left the building, only to find about twenty guards waiting for me. I looked back and there were people in the stairwell and a someone attending to the dead man.
I felt the fear and panic multiply inside of me. “No, no, what did you DO TO ME?!” I shouted. I could feel myself getting lighter and I could feel energy being sapped out of me as the guards closest to me began to put their arms up to shield their eyes, then step back.
One guard made a leap for me and fell into a pile of twisted bones before she got within three feet.
I could feel the energy swell again and my back began to arch. All the people were thoroughly see-through and hauntingly beautiful. I put my arms out as the glow began to obscure my body. I could feel my hair standing on end and waving softly in the energy emanating from me.
To my horror, my hand was now moving and pointing to the guards, one at a time. As I pointed, the guard fell. Next, next, next – death. I could feel a scream booming from my throat as I did this, and my feet rise from the ground.
I felt a piercing pain in my back and turned to see that a guard had taken a shot at me. The anger swelled into an eruption and all I could see was a blinding flash as I reached critical mass.