I don’t know where I am. A forest? A wood? There are dead trees everywhere, thin and brittle they stand like matchsticks stuck into the soft soil. Thin but plenty, they’re surrounding me.
I don’t know what I’m running from, just that I can’t stop. I don’t know what will happen if I stop, I don’t know what it will do to me if it catches me. All I know is that I must get away, I must keep running. Whatever is chasing me, I’m terrified of it.
There’s a mask on my face, it feels like wood. I can’t determine what shape it is but it keeps slipping. Oh God don’t let it slip, don’t let it fall off. Let me keep the mask on. It distorts my vision, it feels heavy, it may even be slowing me down. Sometimes I have to adjust it, slowing down so I don’t trip over the fallen branches. Slipping. It’s slipping. Don’t let it slip. For the love of God let me keep the mask on.
I hear it behind me, it’s getting closer. I need to go faster.
A light, there. Right there. Was it a light? It was in my peripheral vision, just to the left, a light? It looked like one, maybe more. A row of lights?
I’m getting distracted. What was that on my back? It’s catching up, the mask is slipping, the mask is slipping. Adjust the mask. Put it back on. It’s getting closer.
More lights. Large and rectangular. Figures behind them. Windows? A house? No. Not out here. Another. I see it! They are houses. Slim dark figures with glowing eyes stare at me from brightly lit rooms coated in a blinding yellow. Artificial light. Windows of thick glass set into long, wooden structures. Log cabins, wooden like my mask. The windows separate them from the danger, my danger. They watch, fascinated, intrigued by my turmoil, or are they…? They are. My mask! They’re looking at my mask. I feel them watching me, following me with their gaze but… no. They’re looking at – or maybe for – my eyes, the part of me the mask doesn’t hide. Go away! It’s my mask! Stop looking at me!
I pass another house, I turn my head to look but the mask does not follow, it shakes and begins to fall again.
No, please no.
I adjust it frantically. Keep it on, keep the mask on.
I keep running. A branch whips me hard. I can’t slow down. It stings. I can’t slow down.
It’s getting closer. I think it’s getting closer. it’s there! Behind me, I feel it. No!
Another house, more dark figures, two smaller ones watch with the tallest. A family? The mask slips. The forest never seems to end, all the houses look the same. But I can’t stop, the mask will slip, I’ll be caught, captured and…
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think this thing wants to kill me, I just know it will do something, something bad, something I won’t like, something I don’t want.
I stumble over a bramble, I feel it at my back, it claws at me, scraping my shirt. It touches me, my heart races. Its touch burns without even reaching my skin. The hand that touches feels human. It reaches with a second arm, grazing the back of my neck, the skin is cold but it burns where it touches. I’m still running, I get away from it. I yelp when it touches me a third time, my back again, the noise is muffled by the mask, the wood covering my sound of… not pain. Not fear either. It’s nervousness, an overwhelming knowledge that I am around something I cannot control, that my environment is not that of my own design. Intimidation, but to an extreme extent that forces my heart to race ever faster. I feel my body shaking even as I run.
Another house, another light, I manage to look back. I see nothing behind me but I know I’m still being chased. A window at the side, a light less blinding than the others, a figure, human, watches me, beckons me, but I can’t turn back. I see nothing chasing me, the mask slips but only slightly, I keep it on. I have no choice. I run back, potentially into what’s chasing me but there is nothing there, instead I feel it behind me again. Did it turn with me? Does it not want me to see it? It touches me again, the top of my head, it has me in its grasp but it lets me go. The hand is large but definitely human. A whisper. Words? A syllable. My name? I think so. I assume so. All I know is the mask. It sounds loving, tender, but the danger is there, my heart races. I run to the house. I go inside, the door is open and I shut it after me.
A man is there, he looks normal, he looks like he cares, he says something but I don’t understand him. The words are a language I know but somehow the sentence he utters makes no sense. He moves towards me.
I back away, he wants the mask. I know it. But it’s mine. I will not let him take it from me.
I back towards the door but I hear its whisper again, saying my name. The danger is there. Just outside the door.
The man kneels before me and reaches carefully to my face. I wince, I back into the wall. He seems to care, he moves and speaks as though he is worried for my safety, although I still don’t know what he’s saying. I can hear my heart beat against my chest, the mask muffles some of the sound of my panting but it doesn’t hide my terror.
It hides what it needs to hide.
He moves closer, I trust him but I will not give it to him.
Don’t make me take off the mask.
Don’t make me take off the mask.