demonMasks 

by Aeryn Rudel

He has worked for Finco Novelties for as long as anyone can remember, a gaunt man with a slack, forgettable face and mud-brown eyes. Most of his coworkers cannot recall his name. Every day he stands alone in the dusty room between the plant and the loading docks, his only company the soft mechanical hum of the conveyor belt. For two decades, he has inspected the crude rubber masks produced by his employer, ensuring the demons, werewolves, witches, and ghouls fall within their admittedly low standards. Finco is small enough he does not need an assistant, and the quality control he performs is only a token gesture. The dime stores and gas stations that buy Finco’s products care only that they can be bought cheaply. Missing paint, flaws in the rubber, and other trifling errors do not concern them. His work is the mumbo jumbo of a stage magician, a spell with no real magic.

Tonight will be different. He has watched the sky for an alignment of stars and planets that heralds a gathering of power. Tonight that power reaches a crescendo, and his work will have meaning, his words will not be lost in the dust. He will be heard.

He has been at his post for five minutes, and the conveyor belt before him is silent and empty. He holds a tattered notebook in his right hand. It is filled with his other work, the fruits of his laborious studies—fumbling and amateur at first, but over the years sharpening into an instrument of exacting malice.

The conveyor belt shudders to life with a wracking mechanical cough. His shift begins.

The first masks to appear are painted a garish red, with wide fiendish features, small white horns, and a black goatee. Finco’s Delightful Devil is one of their best sellers, and he is ready for them. He opens his notebook and reads an obscure passage from the Dictionnaire Infernal. His Latin is terrible, and the tortured, alien syllables of the words make it sound as if he is retching rather than reading. He feels energy gathering in the air, a smothering darkness that enfolds him, and when he says the demon’s name aloud—Adramelech—he knows he has chosen the correct night for his work. He sees the demon’s form outlined against the wall opposite the conveyor belt, a powerfully built man with a donkey’s head and a vast plume of black feathers spreading behind it. He wonders if it will take his bargain or simply consume his soul. The demon obliges his command, and its vapory essence flows over and into one of the Delightful Devils crawling past on the conveyor belt.

He smiles. Adramelech was well-chosen. The child who dons its mask will be consumed by the demon of carnage and bloodshed. It will wear the boy’s or girl’s skin like an ill-fitting suit, using the flesh to feed its appetites until the body can no longer sustain it. He can only imagine what the demon might accomplish, what horrors it will unleash with its stolen body. He quivers with excitement, but there is still work to do.

He stands silently, watching the line of crimson faces slowly move past. It is an hour before the men in the plant switch over to the next mask, and they come trundling down the conveyor belt. Finco’s Timid Tiger is a cartoonish representation of the great hunting cat with huge eyes, a silly smile, and oversized teeth.

He flips a page in his notebook to another passage. This one is written in Sanskrit, the words taken from a Vedic manuscript that took him a decade to find. Translating it cost him considerable money, time, and the pinky finger on his right hand. Learning to speak this ancient tongue had been more difficult than learning Latin, but he’d managed it, and as he grunted out the strange words, he knew it had been worth the effort.

The rakshasa was a different spirit than the infernal creature he had summoned for the Delightful Devil. Its malice was more subtle, its hungers more refined. He knows this shipment of Timid Tigers is bound for New Orleans, where they will be sold on Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras. The unsuspecting celebrant who dons this particular mask will find himself partaking in a party of a much different kind. The rakshasa will not likely kill its host, but the victim will be left with the memories of all the demon has done with its stolen body. Such memories are not the kind most men can live with.

The Timid Tigers soon finish, and the last of the night’s masks begin rolling through. Johan the Yeti is bright white with tufts of faux fur framing an open mouth filled with big square teeth. It is frightfully ugly and one of Finco’s worst sellers.

He flips to the last page in his notebook and begins reading. The words flow with a singsong rhythm that is beautiful yet ominous. He found Algonquin surprisingly easy to master, and as he finishes the rhythmic chant, the room grows cold and dark. The wendigo spirit hovers in the air above the masks, a terrible, emaciated specter of cannibalistic hunger. It flows into one of the Johan the Yeti masks as he commands, and he stops the conveyor belt.

He picks up the mask and slides it over his face. The wendigo surges into his soul, and he is filled with an all-consuming hunger. The demon leaves enough of his self intact that he will experience every bit of what is to come. This is what he wants, this is what he has worked for. He turns toward the factory interior, full of people who have ignored him for twenty years. Today they will learn his purpose. Today they will learn his power.

Today they will learn his name.

molotovcocktaillogo

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. He is a notorious dinosaur nerd, a rare polearms expert, a baseball connoisseur, and he has mastered the art of fighting with sword-shaped objects (but not actual swords). Aeryn’s first novel, Flashpoint, was recently published by Privateer Press, and he occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.
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