John Cree JOSHUA HOWE
The Masks I Keep AIKO M.
Excavating Fate SAMMI COX
Peaceful Mornings ALISA VELAJ
The Ball KYLE CLIMANS
That Painful Edge of Light ALISA VELAJ
Mictecacihuatl ASHLEY NEWTON
Behind the Mask SAMMI COX
Hiding Behind the Mask AIKO M.
Together with the Sun ALISA VELAJ
The Quiet Forest KYLE CLIMANS
FREE LIT MAGAZINE Editor-in-Chief Ashley Newton firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle Climans, Ashley Newton
Sammi Cox, Joshua Howe, Ramolen Laruan, Aiko M., Kelly Polsin, Chelsea Saunders, Alisa Velaj
Colophon Free Lit Magazine is a nonprofit literary magazine committed to the accessibility of digital literature for all readers. Our mission is to form an online creative community by encouraging writers, artists, and photographers to practice their passion in a medium that anyone can access and appreciate.
Whether youâ€™re aware of it or not, we all wear masks. There are things about us that we may not necessarily want everyone to know. Sometimes we wear masks to hide behind uncomfortable truths, and to shield ourselves from the masks of others. Just like people, every mask is different in their own intricate details. Some are aged, and some are new. The reasons behind the masks themselves will inevitably vary from person to person, the severity of the reason itself ranging among levels of intensity. The masks we wear quickly become part of our identity when we try too hard to force away our personal truths, experiences, and identities. Perhaps we only wear masks at certain times, or around certain people. The danger in masks is that once they consume us, we donâ€™t know how to live without them. Know when to take the mask off and just be yourself. Ashley Newton Editor-in-Chief
Next Issue The Heroes Issue May 2016
JOSHUA HOWE My name is John Cree and this is my game: To bear this blasted face as daylight glows ‘Til nighttime inks and I can shed my shame. This witching night I look down empty rows Of bleak houses ‘til there I spot my quean, Catch her eye, smell the gin, lead her from foes. Ne’er have I seen a white body’s sheen Glisten so bright and beg me to enter; She asks but knows: “What is it that you mean?” She stirs only when I reach the center, Knife’s ivory handle now red as flame, Entrails laid out beside the inventor. As she shrieks in delight the one lord’s name I replace my face; pity, we all scream the same.
The Masks I Keep AIKO M.
My face has many masks. Sometimes I show my happy mask, when I am filled with joy. Sometimes my sad mask appears, because a sudden break of friendship occurs. Sometimes my angry mask stays on for days, because all I feel is anger inside because there is no way to let all my emotions out. For years, I have been wondering if my masks would just dry up and wither away. It hasn’t happened yet, because I have yet to give up the façade I have on. If I show too many emotions, or show how I really feel, I feel like I will be the loneliest person on the planet. I feel no person could ever understand the everlasting pain I feel deep inside. No explanation from me can be given either, because I could tell the same story countless times, but the experience can never be forgotten. Maybe I am selfish, the mask of 7 deadly sins that I can’t bear to throw away. Lust, the lust of power that I keep hidden, but appears when someone tries to take over me. Gluttony, I like food, but eating the same food over and over, makes me look like I will never share what I like to eat. Greed, I don’t like to lose friends, so I might get overly possessive on the ones I hold closest. Sloth, I have a tendency to do anything slower than any other person on Earth, so I like to take my time with it even though it’s a quick and easy task. Envy, I am always envying good friends. They have the perfect relationships and their lives look completely fine while I am just cruising along with my life, still searching for the one that will be with me as a partner. Pride, we all have pride, but sometimes our ego can be a little too big, and there is where I fit in. I have a lot of pride in myself, that is how I can appear strong and look intimidating, when I am actually weak inside. Wrath, this deadly sin is completely me, no question about it. This is definitely the strongest mask I have on that can’t be taken off. Revenge, being evil, you name it, and I might likely be exactly as you describe. Eventually when I am satisfied with life, all my masks will disappear, and then I can live carefree. For now though, I am satisfied, so these are the masks I keep.
Excavating Fate SAMMI COX
The mask looked so fragile, so brittle. I feared it would crumble away to dust in my hands. I could have left it in its box on the worktop, but I didn’t. I wanted to hold it. No, that wasn’t it. I didn’t want to touch it, but I felt compelled to anyway. Since it had been uncovered in the cave two weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was so old. Over seven thousand years old, they had estimated. I had been on the team that was excavating that particular cave. No one was expecting us to find anything as old or as interesting; that was why we had been sent there. “An old bone or two, a chipped pottery sherd if you’re lucky,” the man in charge of organizing the teams had said. There had been no paintings on the walls of this cave. Only a blackened patch of floor that suggested a fire had been repeatedly lit in it at some point over its thousands of years of existence. The other caves had a few drawings; one had symbols carved into its floor. That was where the exciting finds were supposed to be found. Only that wasn’t the case. Around the camp, debate raged as to the purpose of the mask. Many theories were raised. One evening I decided to listen to the discussion. I was just as curious as everyone else, but more than that, I felt connected to the artefact somehow.
“A prop for a primitive form of theatre?”
“For assuming the identity of a god or spirit, perhaps?”
“A burial mask?”
I knew it was none of those things. How, I couldn’t be sure. The man next to me turned and asked me my thoughts.
“We will only know the mask’s true intended purpose by putting it on,” I said quietly.
The man looked at me, a smile playing on his lips. Then he burst out laughing. Quickly word spread and more people were looking in my direction, amused by what I had said. “Surely he doesn’t believe that? No one can be that stupid,” someone said, laughing so hard they were struggling to breathe. 6
“Sometimes I wonder why we allow people like that on these trips,’” someone else said. “Can we really trust the safety of such valuable artefacts to them? They don’t know what they’re doing.” I slipped away quietly. I didn’t need to hear any more. They thought I was an idiot. I thought I was too, but not because of what I said. No, my belief in that was firm and unwavering. But I was an idiot for sharing it with the others. They didn’t understand. A pop-up lab had been set up in a small log cabin on the edge of the campsite. When no one was watching, I sneaked past the man on guard outside (something I had done a few times since the mask’s discovery) and crept into the building. The light of the full moon streamed in through one of the windows, giving off enough brightness to ensure that I needed no torch or lamp. The mask was lying in its cushioned box. Minutes passed and I did nothing but stare at it like I had never seen it before. Only I knew it better than most. I had uncovered it. Me. It had sat in that cave for thousands of years, hidden from all eyes but mine. It was as if it had been waiting for me all this time. I ran my fingers over the smooth ceramic skin of the face. Traces of ash and ochre could still be found decorating the mask with symbols whose meaning was lost to history. What looked to me like a large bump in its centre was in fact a simple protrusion for a nose. My eye was then drawn to the three gaping holes that broke up the solid clay. Two round orbs like dark empty pools of nothingness for the eyes. One large oval for the mouth; it was neither smiling nor frowning, but the lack of one or the other made it seem darker somehow. It was expressionless and so could be gentle or stern, a face to comfort or to terrify. Slowly I reached into the box, and with the same amount of care I had used when I first lifted it from the cave floor. After carefully brushing away the thousands of years of detritus that had covered it and kept it safe, I raised it from the cushion. Inch by inch I drew it towards me, until I had it no more than half a foot from my face so I could look directly into its empty eyes. I don’t know what I expected to see or feel. I’m not sure what drove me to do it. But as I stared into the mask I got the distinct feeling that someone was staring back. Shocked and unnerved by this, I hurriedly returned it to its box, glad to put the artefact down. And that was when I heard it. One long, low sigh. I turned around, scanning the room for the source of the sound, half expecting to see one of my colleagues standing in the doorway. For one long minute I waited for the shout, for someone to tell me to get away from the mask, that I wasn’t supposed to be in there, but it never came. I was still alone. 7
It was in that moment I knew the sound had come from the expressionless clay face whose eyes were no doubt watching me still. I stepped away but an unknown force pushed me back towards the workbench, gently at first, but as I struggled its strength seemed to increase. In horror I looked on as my arms reached towards the mask and there was nothing I could do. My body was beyond my control. I sought to call out, but my voice was silent, a hoarse whisper the only sound to escape my lips. Then the mask was in my hands once more, only this time they were turning it around. It got closer and closer until I was the face inside the mask. I was wearing it. What little I could see of the room faded to nothing as blackness enveloped all. My heart beat furiously in my chest. I tried not to panic, but the beating got louder and louder. Only then did I realize that what I heard was not my heart but the sound of drums. I latched on to the sound, straining to hear, when voices - chanting words I did not recognize - rose and fell in time with the drum. The blackness before me gradually gave way to something; something familiar, although I could not place it at once. It wasnâ€™t the cabin, or anywhere else at the campsite. A fire was burning in the space in front of me, low at first but quickly gaining in intensity. As the light filled the space, I finally understood. I was back in the cave. Shadows danced on the wall. The drumming and chanting continued. I was no longer alone. I was sitting in a circle around the fire, though I could not see the others clearly. All I saw were strange, grotesque outlines of animal heads and bones. I looked down at my hands; they, too, were striking on the taught skin of a drum. The longer I stayed, the clearer my vision became. I was not the only one to be wearing one of these bizarre masks; they all were. I wondered what was going on. Why was I here? Was I really here? Was this body mine or was I witnessing this ritual, for that was what this was, through the eyes of another; someone who had lived thousands of years ago? Then I recalled what I had said to my coworker that very evening: We will only know the maskâ€™s true intended purpose by putting it on. Suddenly all sound in the cave ceased. In silence a bowl was passed around the circle, and each of those present sipped from it. I did not want to drink from the bowl, but I did so anyway. The liquid burned, spreading an intense heat throughout my body which quickly subsided, leaving a warm, fuzzy feeling in its place. How much time had passed, I knew not, but the next thing I realized was everyone was swaying. Soon someone was on their feet and dancing around the circle, their arms extended upwards into the air. Round and round they went, until they stopped without warning, falling down on to the floor, hard. All I could register was the broken pieces of their 8
mask, scattered across the ground. Wailing filled the cave. The prostrate figure did not move. Were they dead? I could not tell for sure, but they seemed to be. Still the shadows danced on the wall. A catastrophe was playing out in the cave, but the shadows did not care. They swayed this way and that, sometimes moving slowly, sometimes fast, all to the chorus of the wailing. Was I wailing too? I didn’t think so. My mind was now completely focused on the shadow dance. I no longer noticed the agitated movements within the cave. I no longer heard the crying and shouting and screaming. I didn’t even notice the numbness that slowly made its way through my extremities and into my core. Not until it was too late. Air moved passed my face. I was falling. I tried to take deeper and deeper lungfuls of air, but it remained elusive. With a strange detachment I felt the mask fall from my own face. It crashed on to the floor, crumbling to dust.
And slowly the darkness returned.
When I next opened my eyes I was still in the cave. There was no fire, no others present. Nothing but the smell of damp stone and stale air. I pulled myself up into a sitting position. The mask was on the floor beside me. Not broken. I breathed a sigh of relief. I needed to return it to the lab before anyone saw it was missing. But as I stood up I realized something wasn’t right. I still couldn’t breathe properly. Panic surged in the pit of my stomach. My hand clutched at my chest. What was happening? I glanced down at the clay mask and heard the same faint sigh I had heard in the cabin, only its eyes were no longer empty, dark pools. They moved and focused on something to the right of me. Struggling for air, I turned to see what they were staring at. That was when I saw the bowl. Realization dawned and I knew this was the end. I fell to my knees, then the cave floor, landing on the mask with all my weight. I could feel it break beneath me. My last thoughts as my throat tightened, closing off my airways completely, were of triumph. I had been right. It was only by donning the artefact that its true intended purpose could be revealed. And yet, by unearthing the mask, I had set in motion all that would lead me back to this cave, and my final moments.
My triumph would be short-lived. 9
Peaceful Mornings ALISA VELAJ
Nothing could save you Even love failed To show you the path To Tramuntana Your freedom kept wandering in other spaces And thus could never encounter anyone on horizons (Even eagles saw it nowhere) Nothing could save you Even love failed To tell you why Tramuntana winds blew You saw only breathless birds on shoulders of storms And thus you avoided meeting seagulls In crystal clear skies Nothing could save you Even love failed To teach you The secret of blinking beams You would always abandon peaceful morningsâ€Ś
“Just put it on!”
Ellen looked nervously at her older sister, “I don’t think I want to do this.”
Kitty stared at Ellen, a look of incredulity plastered on her beautiful face, “Ellie! You cannot mean to stay at home! This will be the social event of the decade!” Yes, it was truly to be a celebrated thing. Ellen felt her stomach turn at the mere thought of how much would be at stake for her. All the young sons and daughters of the peerage would be dancing tonight. And as the young daughter of the Duke of Poole, Ellen stood to gain a considerable future, or lose it to some other girl who looked prettier or danced better or simply managed to curtsy without falling over from nervousness. Poor Ellen felt fear crawling within her stomach as though she’d swallowed a dozen large beetles whole. Katherine, whom Ellen still called Kitty, was in no mood for her younger sister’s timidity, “You’re going to the ball and you’re going to dance, sister. There is no other option.” “Please don’t make me go, I feel ill!” Ellen protested. “The greatest men of our time will be at that ball! The Prince of Wales himself will be in attendance. And the rumours say he’ll be disguised, wearing a mask! Oh can you imagine if we were to dance with his Highness!” Kitty squealed at the mere thought. Sighing, Ellen resumed putting on her rather elaborate dress. It contained a long skirt which went to the floor. Despite her fears, Ellen was assured of her dancing skills. The longer skirt would be an indication of such when she went to the ball. After a while, the sisters were ready, and they flounced their way downstairs. Kitty wore a heavy and structured dress, while Ellen’s was softer and flowed much more easily. Their mother, the Duchess of Poole, was waiting for them. Though her hair was grey and her faces was beginning to line, there was no doubting the beauty of the Duchess. She had turned heads when she was the girls’ age, and dressed as though she were still intending to do so. The flitting thought of being judged inferior to her own mother filled Ellen with dread. “Come along, girls! We’ve given it enough time. By my estimate we shall be quite within the fashionable hour of arrival.” 12
She turned to one of the servants, “Silas, we are ready for the carriage.”
Silas bowed, “Yes, m’Lady.” He turned and went outside.
Ellen felt a pulse of sickness hit her once again. She wondered if it would stop once she actually arrived at the ball. It continued all the way to the ball. It seemed like a blur to Ellen; one minute she was being carefully assisted into the carriage, the next minute she was brought up to the expansive home of Prince Alfred, the Earl of Kent. Carriages were lined up alongside the stoop, even as the elite of English society got out and walked into the ball. As they dismounted, Kitty leaned ever so slightly in Ellen’s direction and whispered, “Gladstone!” Ellen turned and looked, and sure enough the elderly former Prime Minister limp along with a cane, hurriedly putting on a mask before going inside. “Lord Alfred Douglas!” The Duchess declared with surprise as a breathtakingly handsome young man approached her followed by an older couple. Ellen noted that the young lord was dressed in the most immaculate of fashion. “My Lady, it is good to see you tonight at the ball,” Douglas declared in a honeyed tone as he stooped to kiss the Duchess’s hand. After he had straightened, he beckoned his companions over, “May I present the esteemed writer, Oscar Wilde, and his wife, Constance?” Ellen stared as the famous man, dressed in a ridiculous suit of startling colour, smiled and kissed the Duchess’s hand, ignoring the look on the Duchess’s face. “I hope I am half as delighted to see you as you must be to see me! Though I must say I am given the prettier sight.” Wilde declared gaily. Ellen caught the frozen look on her mother’s face and bit back laughter. “Really, Oscar…” Constance whispered to her husband, but Wilde merely put on his mask. The three of them all went inside as well. The Duchess turned to her daughters, “Let us go in, girls. And stay away from that horrid man, Wilde!” As they walked toward the doors, the women delicately put their masks over their faces. They had all gone for a modest white mask which left a blank expression, and holes for their eyes and slits for their mouths. Ellen felt relieved as she realized that nobody would be able to see how truly scared she felt. There seemed to be hundreds of lords and ladies present. All of them were wearing masks of various size, shape, colour, and material, though the plain white mask seemed very prevalent amongst the women. 13
The men wore all kinds of masks, including Prince Albert himself, recognized by the clothes he wore on his person, which Ellen guessed must have cost more to make than the combined cost of the three dresses that she, Kitty, and her mother were wearing. She was still thinking this when she noticed a man watching her. He was hidden behind a black mask with white lines around the eyes and mouth. Gold streaks formed a crude impression of a beard and moustache. As was custom, a young man must wait until he is acknowledged before he may ask a lady to dance. When she made eye contact with him, the young man stepped forward and smartly bowed, “Would you honour me with a dance, my Lady?” Automatically, Ellen turned to her mother, who gave a subtle nod. She had already appraised his clothes and manners and deemed them acceptable. Ellen, knowing her duty, turned and stretched out her hand to the young man for him to take. He led her to the dance floor, held her appropriately, and the two of them began to waltz. Staring up at this tall man’s bright eyes, Ellen wondered whether one should speak or not. Was it rude to be silent or ruder to speak over the music? She couldn’t remember anymore, and she felt panic rise into her throat.
“You are afraid of me.”
The man’s simple statement startled Ellen that she almost stopped dancing.
“That is very inappropriate, my Lord,” She whispered, afraid that others had heard him. But if they had, they ignored them both. The young man’s face was hidden, but judging by his eyes, Ellen could have sworn he was smiling behind his mask. “Forgive me, but I wished to set your mind at rest. You seemed ready to flee before I approached you. No mask could conceal that.”
Ellen felt mortified at being read so thoroughly.
“Well who are you to embarrass me like this?” Ellen whispered, holding back a sob.
The man gave the briefest shake of his head, “That is against the rules, my Lady.”
“It is also against the rules to offend a woman when dancing with her,” Ellen pointed
The man paused, then his invisible smile seemed to broaden, “You are a clever lady. Too clever to be taken in by this nonsense.”
“Nonsense?” Ellen asked.
“This ball is playing a farce on every one of us. It is showing what we truly are, we nobles and heirs and peers and ladies. We are all wearing masks.”
“Was that not part of this ball?”
The man shook his head ever so slightly, “My dear, we always wear masks. Every day we step out into the world is only done after we have put on our masks. That is why I laugh at such a ball as this. Look to your right.”
Ellen glanced. She could see Oscar Wilde dancing with his wife.
“Mr. Wilde? What of it?”
“He dances so beautifully with his wife. One would never suspect the rumours that he very much prefers to take Lord Alfred Douglas to his bed.” Ellen really did stop in her spot, but only for the briefest moment. She resumed dancing, grateful that she had been able to keep from gasping aloud. Mr. Wilde and Lord Douglas? The man was not finished, “Gladstone is with us, too. He wears a mask of an angel’s face, forever kissed by youth. Yet I have heard that he is so ill sometimes that he must be reminded where he is. They say the Prince of Wales is here, fools that they are. No doubt every lady here would wish to dance with him. He did not attend, doubtless because his mistress keeps him indisposed.” To hear such scandalous talk made Ellen’s head spin. It couldn’t be true, all these ghastly things the man was saying. “I tell you all this, my lady, because I wish to show you the foolishness with which we play our silly games. That’s all this ball is, in the end. Part of a game of mask-wearing and feeling important. So you need not worry too much. You are surrounded by far worse people than yourself.” Ellen was suddenly inspired by something in herself to speak, “And what are you guilty of, my Lord?” The man chuckled then, but softly so that only she heard it, “I’m afraid this comes to the final part of my lesson. The game is a farce, and those who realize it may laugh, but we are still slaves within its rules.” 15
The song ended. The man stepped back and bowed low to Ellen, who barely remembered to curtsy. When he straightened up again, he met her gaze and whispered, “Remember to laugh sometimes, my Lady. I greatly enjoyed our dance.” The man turned and went to leave the ball. Ellen watched him go, but only for as long as she could do so without being caught.
She walked back to her table and sat down next to a jubilant Kitty.
“You danced with someone! Wonderful! Did he say his name?”
Ellen shook her head. Kitty thought little of it and went gleefully away with the son of some Duke or Earl. Ellen did not pay attention to any of it. All she could think of was that she would live to be a hundred years and still wonder who that remarkable man had been.
No doubt he would be pleased to know that, she thought, and for the first time since her arrival, a smile crept onto her face.
And thanks to her mask, nobody knew it except herself.
That Painful Edge of Light ALISA VELAJ
(An imaginary dialogue with Garcia Lorca) He had told me Granada Hills Differ not a lot From the hills of my birthplace He had also told me Winds have no homelands ‘Perfumes – flowers – knives’ You once wrote And I knew not that such a melody Sprinkles guitar sounds at evenings Even light has no homeland I had told you Dawn is dawn on all shores And none has ever angered At flowers Perfumes and serenades and oranges Your endless Andalusia, my darling So I know not which orange Shelters that painful edge of light Or you might have picked it up And now you dislike telling me the truth. KELLY POLSIN
Mictecacihuatl ASHLEY NEWTON
The gritty pieces of copper and clay would not separate from the hot flesh of his skin. Two panicked hands reached up to grab the outermost edges and pull them forward, but even the weight of the large, red hued mask would not budge. Declan tugged on it harder this time, feeling particles of his skin tearing beneath his forceful attempts to remove it. Droplets of blood began to run down his cheeks and seep down his neck, the trails visible as thin lines escaping from the mask that concealed him. The ugly lime coloured bedroom carpet at his feet was slowly staining and transforming into an abhorrent Christmas canvas. Declan rushed to the bathroom, where he threw hot water against the surface of the mask, hoping it would soften as much skin beneath it as possible. Still, the mask would not peel away. The tiny slits for eyes were all he had to reference his progress in trying to break the textiles. In his bathroom mirror, Declan could make out his tiny, horrified almond eyes. His hands were beginning to tremble whilst his mind raced with a reasonable solution to his predicament.
“What’s taking so long?” a deep and sultry female voice called from his bedroom.
Declan raised his head and looked upward. He had almost completely forgotten about his romantic conquest of the evening that was surely growing restless in his bed.
“Um, be right there, Kaija,” his shaky voice replied.
“That’s Mictecacihuatl to you,” the voice responded.
Time was passing at an alarmingly slow rate. The night had seemed to have come and gone in a flash; the mask party Declan organized for his classmates was a distant memory, a hazy dream that could have ceased to exist. *** The onset of spring was just cause for Declan to host a mask party in the house he shared with his four roommates. Ian, a roommate and student in historical studies, agreed to let the houseguests take their pick at a variety of Aztec masks and artifacts for the sake of the party. It was their era of post-secondary education and everything was doomed to be low budget, save for the alcohol, of course. “No one will notice if these are gone from the collections over the weekend,” Ian assured Declan just a few hours before the party. The assortment of masks was vast: the glow18
-ing variability of copper, wood, and clay was striking. “These will be perfect,” Declan had exclaimed. “You think Kaija would like this one?” he held up a long, oval-shaped mask stained with hues of brown. “No, this one would suit you better,” Ian handed Declan a much heavier mask by comparison, but it was beautifully crafted with flecks of red paint. “I didn’t know Aztec masks had red paint on them,” he said, holding it up to his own face.
“I didn’t know that, either,” Ian shrugged. “So, you like it?”
“It’s cool. I’ll wear this one. How do we attach them?”
“I’ve got some liquid latex in my office. Sometimes we let kids come into the collections room on school tours and let them handle the fake masks by putting them on their faces with it. That might work.” “I just want to let loose tonight,” Declan continued. “I need to unwind, have some drinks.”
“Maybe get lucky,” Ian added.
“Well, that wouldn’t be so bad either,” he chuckled, and clapped Ian on the back. “Let’s get these out of here before someone notices.” The two boys spent the next several minutes gathering the remaining masks, stacking them into Ian’s large duffle bag for transportation. *** Nearly every surface of Declan’s shared home was covered in plastic red cups, clear liquids dropping in and out of them faster than he could blink. Loud house music blared in his ears, the beats of the rhythm pumping in his chest that much stronger with each drink. He wandered around in search of Kaija, grazing the shoulders of other girls who shoved him in disgust and formed a tighter circle with their friends. Declan caught up with another roommate, Jimmy, whose arms were draped around two girls. He could tell it was him by the state of his dirty t-shirt of the Flash; the bright red colour of it had since faded to a dull maroon beneath the golden logo. “Hey, have you seen Kaija around?” he bellowed over the loud music. The girls at Jimmy’s side failed to make way for him, so instead he pushed past them. 19
“No, what’s she wearing?” Jimmy asked. One of the girls poured a shot of tequila in his mouth; rather, the small slit Ian’s mask allowed. More than half the shot spilled on the mask.
“Well, I don’t know. She’ll be wearing a mask, just like everyone else.”
Declan rushed around the house in search of Kaija, continuously taking sips of his drink to help ease his nervousness. He sat down on the overcrowded couch and squeezed himself between one girl sawing logs and another girl who was texting on her phone, her narrow eyes squinting beneath the mask. Her long red nails repeatedly clicked against the screen in an awful tone. “Can’t see through this fucking thing,” she murmured, partially to Declan and herself. She stood up and walked away, her hand lifting to try and take the mask off. Declan looked away. Kaija had to be somewhere. Declan stood up to refill his drink. He hadn’t even seen Ian all night; he failed to remember what kind of mask he was wearing. The room was blurring around him and he felt an urge to lie down. He stumbled up the stairs, arms outstretched for the beige threshold to his bedroom. He slammed the door shut to drown out some of the music. His body collapsed on the bed and he sighed. Somehow, the weight of the bed felt off. It was as if his body weight had done little to alter how far it sunk down. That was when Declan looked to his left, and noticed a masked girl beside him. Her mask was laden with gold flecks and stars in circular patterns around the eyes and chin. She had her hands in the pockets of her jeans, her white blouse partially see-through. Her cell phone buzzed with the gentle hum of ambient music. “Hey,” she whispered. The deep, ribbon-coated texture of her voice was a relief to him.
“Kaija. You made it,” he said.
“I’m not Kaija. At least not tonight,” she replied.
“Oh really? Then who are you?”
“Perhaps an Aztec goddess,” she answered. She rolled her body weight over top of him, looking directly down. Her hands intertwined with Declan’s, her breathing light and calm. “But I suppose I can be whoever I want to be, or whoever you want me to be.”
“Is that so?” Declan said. “Well, you could be a sexy Aztec goddess.”
“And you’d be my god.”
Declan lifted his chin up to kiss her. The loud clank of the masks colliding reminded him that it would be an issue to continue wearing them. Kaija giggled and rolled off him. “Stupid things,” Declan shook his head and stood up. He pulled against the mask to take it off, but it would not budge. A couple more tugs proved unsuccessful. The blood began to seep down his face from tugging too hard. He would have to look in the mirror in his bathroom to see what he was doing.
“What’s taking so long?”
“Um, be right there, Kaija.”
“That’s Mictecacihuatl to you.”
A loud and piercing scream could be heard from Declan’s bathroom. It sounded like it was coming from the main floor. He rushed to the landing and looked down at the crowd that had gathered near the front door. One of the girls attending the party lay face down into the hardwood floor, kicking and screaming. A few of the guests around her laughed, snapping pictures and videos on their cell phones.
“I can’t take it off!” she bellowed.
Declan began to run down the stairs, but a group of people pushed back up against the stairs as a pathway was formed for someone to reach the distressed girl. In the chaos of the crowds, the music still blared on, making the smaller conversations impossible to hear. Some people failed to even care at all, still dancing in their corners while Cake by the Ocean blared.
“Someone shut this bitch up and get the mask off!” a voice hollered.
“I’ll fucking take care of it!” another young man shouted. He came running down the hallway from the side door, which, as Declan knew, had led to the garage. He sped past the crowd of people keeping Declan from reaching the main floor. His hand raised and even more people screamed when they saw him brandishing a hammer. The horrible sound of bones being crushed echoed even louder over the music, though it was almost drowned out. This time, even more people screamed as they pushed and shoved each other to run out the front door. The hammer’s victim remained motionless on the floor while people ran over her for their escape. The culprit was also gone somewhere in the fray. Declan ran down the stairs as they finally cleared. Everyone had filtered out of the house in only a moment’s notice, the sound of sirens growing loud before he even reached 21
the girl’s body. She was lying on her back, the surface of her mask cracked and bloody, but still not removed from her face. Declan couldn’t even pull it off. He looked down and saw her red nails clutching her cell phone. It was hard to make out the room around him with his limited peripheral vision. He looked at the hammer and considered smashing his own mask for a moment, but hesitated and ran out of the house just as quickly as the others had done. He ran far away from the house, the image of the girl’s face being smashed haunting him with each step. His breaths heaved, and he eventually identified other partygoers who were still wearing their masks. He joined a group of them and watched everyone try to rip them off. No one could seem to take his or hers off. In that moment, Declan had the sudden realization he was forgetting something, but he could not put his finger on it.
“Has anyone seen Kaija?” someone near him asked.
“Oh, shit,” Declan muttered.
He ran back to the house, hoping the police had not arrived yet, and that Kaija was still safe somewhere in his bedroom. Perhaps she would have hidden upon hearing the screaming below. Declan bolted up the stairs, taking them at least three at a time, feeling the perspiration building on his face beneath the mask. He charged through his bedroom door and nearly wretched. Whoever was in his bed, it most certainly was not Kaija. The face bore no mask, but it was a face even Declan did not recognize. There was a skeleton in his bed, half de-fleshed and half waiting for something. The jaw was pried open as if waiting to indulge in something sweet. Declan knelt beside the bed, his fingers clutching the sheets. He screamed, but the mask muted his voice. It soon began to grow tighter against his face, the sweat of his pores doing little to soothe the pain. The popped blood vessels on his cheeks burst open and throbbed against the textiles. He grabbed his head and tried to pull the mask off once more. The eye and nose slits and mouth hole closed up, holding him hostage until he could no longer breathe. He slapped the mask with his blood-stained hands, coming to the horrible realization that his mask’s hues of red were not part of an ancient history, but of a modern reminder of those who had perished while wearing it. Declan lost his breath shortly thereafter. His head spun before he fell to the floor, the blurry images fading together in hues of red, and it was the last colour he saw before his eyes closed. At once, the mask overtook him, and Declan was gone. 22
Behind the Mask SAMMI COX
I was safe For no one saw me I was hidden Obscured By their own vision Of who I was And that was fine I never wanted To be seen I was invisible Playing a role An actor in My own life Always present But never Really there A ghost A shade A faded spark Existing But not A spectator Always watching But never seen
Hiding Behind the Mask AIKO M.
To my dearly beloved one, countless times we said “I love you” to each other, countless times I thought you meant it, but who would have thought you would walk out one day, and never look back? I never realized that you were hiding behind a mask, or hiding your real self from me. The constant questions that arise now that we are done, or more like you are done with me, has caused such anguish and pain that I constantly search in a frenzy every day, trying to make myself believe that this isn’t happening to me. I always thought we would be together forever, because just like you said, “You are the perfect girl for me, there is no one else I want, and there is no one else I need. You are mine, mine forever, and always, even if death does us apart.” I believed in that statement, and got burned by that statement 5 months later. In those 6 months of dating, I realized that it was a fairytale, a rarity to occur in relationships that seemed too unreal. You were unreal. Although this could happen to anyone, I wish I could take off that fakery of yours. If I had noticed this earlier, I would have wiped off that supposedly happy face you had on, and made it into a frown, or a look of fury. Now I know, but it’s too late, there is nothing I can do to change it. Now, I only look for the opportunity to demand answers, and hopefully expose what you are hiding. To the guy that I thought was super cool, but is a horrible douche bag of a friend, I really dislike you. I first met you at a convention, and decided to help you when you asked for directions on how to get to the destination. I thought, “Oh, he looks really nice, maybe we will become friends?” but that was soon to be highly unlikely. Countless times you used your supposedly smooth language to pick up girls, and also tried it on me, but failed because I figured out what you wanted. Those girls on the other hand succumbed to your tricks. I managed to break your mask by exposing the person you truly are. You are like the poisonous snake who tricked Eve to eat the apple, as you only cared about your wants and needs, but no one else’s. Your ego was shattered as I rejected you countless times, because you wouldn’t be someone I want to associate with. Your playful demeanor, your “charming” looks, your bashful ways, and most of all, your smirk, will never have me. You should realize by now, my body isn’t me. I am glad that I managed to unmask you, and now hopefully people can see your true self. To the girl friend that I am still having problems with, I wish you would wake up, and breathe in some fresh air. I think the saddest moment in the friendship is when I unmasked your boyfriend, you still went out and defended him. You knew how rotten to the core he was, you knew how much he hurt you, and you rather push your friend out when the advice I was giving you was golden. Unmasking your boyfriend should have unmasked you too, but you kept holding onto the fairytale story that you created in your mind about your “perfect” relationship. I am glad to say, though, that once he broke up with you, your dream just broke, but in place came out your true one. Congratulations for being unable to accept that you are bad with accepting truths. Congratulations to you for being unable to see the better people in life that could give you the happiness you deserve, but instead you had to choose the bad people that would cause your life to be upside down. Congratulations for 25
showing your real mask, and letting other people - like me - understand you better. I thank you. Last but not least, to all the other people I know hiding behind the masks you have all created: please just get rid of it, and show people who and how you really are. I’d rather not run in circles trying to please you when you are probably laughing behind your mask. Neither would I like to spend energy unmasking all of you as if it’s a child’s play. Masks are for people who are trying to hide their emotions based on the situation they are placed in. I can understand when you feel like hiding behind a mask to shield your emotions so that other people can’t see how fragile you are, but you can’t do it long term. That is when I could point out and say that you are just scared, and unable to face what is set in front of you, and have everyone come at me and try to point out that I am lying.
In the very end, we all hide behind our masks, and sometimes I wish we would stop.
Together with the Sun ALISA VELAJ
One day will come together with the sun To put an end to your migration through foreign lands With the help of seagulls And of fish that used to shine our nights We will find our words gone with winds So the first dawn, the second dawn And the third dawn will return again And our voices â€“ my light â€“ Will echo through the dawns of all the seas of the world Deep voices Once lonely Of which the only prelude Is a guitar chord.
The Quiet Forest KYLE CLIMANS
Alexy Pasternak was dying.
The old man had lived longer than anyone else in the village. The babies he had seen in their mothers’ arms had grown up and had babies of their own. Even Alexy was uncertain just how old he was. What difference did it make if he were ninety, ninety-seven, or even a full century old, as some people whispered? Alexy had come to the village more than thirty years ago. He had begun work as a labourer in the factory, alongside men who were less than half his age. He had always been the older man, but it hadn’t stopped him from being one of the hardest workers. Nobody knew precisely where he was from. Over the years, he had given various answers as to where he in Poland he was born. Some said he was going senile, and so they considered it rude to confront a good-hearted old man on his errors. Others hinted that he was hiding something. Ultimately, though, Alexy’s kindness and peaceful nature dispelled any lingering suspicions over the years. Now, the old Pasternak lay on his meagre bed in the small hospital. The local doctor who ran the hospital had given up petitioning the town assembly for more funds to the hospital. There were no extra funds to be found. And so the old patients like Pasternak were forced to accept the hardships of life even as life was slowly leaving their bodies. Dr. Starek sympathized with his patients, Alexy most of all. Alexy had once saved Dr. Starek’s father’s life when some machinery went awry and sent debris flying through the air. And so the doctor did his best to look after the ancient man, even as villagers pitched in to donate meagre offerings of food. Alexy himself was kept in a small room with three other seniors. Stanislav was dying of cancer which he’d obtained from years in the nearby mine. Kasia had broken her leg after slipping on a patch of ice. Miron, the youngest of the bunch at a modest fifty years of age, had been in a car accident which had left him almost bound to bed in his bandages. With the exception of Miron’s dark moods, all four of them got along amicably enough, even though Alexy was old enough to be Miron and Kasia’s father. One day, Stanislav and Kasia made use of a deck of cards that the good doctor Starek had left for them the day before. Miron had awarded first glance at the day’s newspaper. As he read, his eyes grew wider and wider, until he exclaimed in a wordless expression of shock. 28
Kasia and Stanislav turned around.
“What is it?” Kasia asked.
“Wałesa has been arrested! Along with the rest of Solidarity’s committee! Martial law has been declared!” In his fury, Miron spat on the page he read, ignoring Stanislav’s protest that they wanted to read it next. Lech Wałesa had been one of many labourers who took part in the strikes of the previous year. They demanded reform to the old Communist system, and miraculously, they had succeeded in bringing the government to the table. The Gdansk Agreement had given them a trade union independent from the Communists. Lech had become the chairman this union, known as Solidarity. Ten million people had joined the union, and maybe that was what had now caused General Jaruzelski to impose martial law onto Poland and declare Solidarity to disband. The card game forgotten, Stanislav and Kasia read the story. And even though the newspaper praised Jaruzelski for his heroic outlawing of a dangerous subversive organization, Kasia quietly cursed the man for crushing the first real bit of progress that Poland had seen in years.
Stanislav turned to Alexy, “What say you, comrade?”
Alexy had been lying on his bed, listening to everything that was said without contributing. He felt too short of breath to talk, so he shrugged his shoulders feebly. Stanislav grunted, and turned back to the others. “The border is closed, telephones have been cut to prevent conspiracy amongst our enemies, and schools have been suspended for the teachers to undergo verification of their status as loyal comrades.” Stanislav read, his voice growing grimmer with every word he uttered. “Jasna cholera!” Kasia swore, thinking of her schoolteacher son with his two children to feed. Miron glanced at her sharply, “Quiet, Kasia! You don’t want anyone to hear you talking like that!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Alexy had spoken up in his hoarse, wheezy voice. The others turned to him.
Alexy raised his hand ever so slightly towards the door, “Let them hear. This country is run by liars and deceivers, and we spent our lives lying in public with them. Why bother anymore?” 29
“And besides,” Kasia added, “who here will betray us? Dr. Sparek has no interest in sending pensioners to the SB.” She referred, of course, to the Służba Bezpieczeństwa, the Polish secret police. Even at the mention of that feared organization, Miron waved his arm at her and made “Shhh” noises. Kasia snorted with contempt in response.
Alexy suddenly gasped and gave a cry. A trembling hand went to his chest.
Stanislav, despite his seventy five years and his weakened state from the cancer, bounded to the door and yelled for the doctor. Upon closer inspection, Dr. Sparek determined that there was nothing to be done, except to allow Alexy to make his final preparations. The local priest was hastily summoned and brought to Alexy’s bed. Despite growing up here, many considered the young priest new to this village. His mother had married a Russian, and both had died of gas leak in their house. The infant Vladimir, or Volodya, as the villagers never ceased to call him, was taken in by his mother’s distant cousins, who had raised him Catholic. He took it upon himself to take the mantle of priest in the local church. Now, at 24 years of age, he hastened to give a man his last rites, ironically for the first time in his own life. Naturally, in such a small town, news travelled fast. A small crowd of villagers approached the hospital for word on Mr. Pasternak’s condition. Father Volodya leaned forward and blessed Alexy. Kasia, Miron, and Stanislav pretended to keep their distance to allow privacy, yet they couldn’t resist listening intently. Father Volodya leaned forward so that his youthful face was only centimetres away from Alexy’s ancient face, “Have you anything to confess, Mr. Pasternak?” Alexy seemed frozen, neither saying yes or no to the priest’s question. Then, slowly, he began to speak. “When I was a young man, I was newly married with two infant daughters, in a village called Sobibor.” Father Volodya froze. That name was familiar to him, but just as he was thinking of why the name meant something to him, Alexy continued. “The war began when my little girls were sixteen and fourteen. The Nazi tanks rolled down our only paved street. The officers began ordering us around. There was a camp to be built.” 30
“I worked hard, but there was never enough work. Then when the Germans invaded Poland, the officers demanded workers to build a railroad for Sobibor. I was hired immediately. I worked hard, harder than I’ve ever worked. My family needed food, and they paid us. I didn’t build the camp. They had… other workers for that….No, I shall say it. They forced Jews to build the camp, and rewarded them with death when it was completed.” Stanislav had turned pale. Miron was weeping openly. Kasia’s mouth moved in silent prayer. Father Volodya simply gazed down at Alexy, oblivious to everything. Alexy continued, “I watched them test the rail line. The one I helped to build. I was proud to see it work. Until I saw why they needed it. “They brought in Jews who lived in Poland, but they also brought in Dutch people. They travelled so far to die. I know that now. I don’t remember what I knew then. It doesn’t matter, really. I made sure that the trains would run smoothly. “A few years later, I heard word that they had risen up. Hundreds of them. Jews from Russia, the west, Poland, they had fought back. I couldn’t believe it. They faced certain death and stood up. It didn’t even matter that they failed and died. They were braver than I had ever been. “Shortly after that, the soldiers came in and demanded workers to help them dismantle and destroy the camp. The survivors were sent away like cattle to other camps even as we buried the memory of their suffering. The camp was erased. We planted trees amongst the remains of the dead, enough to make a new forest. The concrete was broken down, and what we couldn’t remove, we covered with asphalt to make it look like some forgotten road. “I fled after that. I couldn’t face that forest after that. Not even the food I bought for my family made my guilt go away. I fled with my family as far as I could from that cursed ground.” Tears had been flowing from Alexy’s face, though he didn’t seem to notice them. Father Volodya knew what he must do now, but he wanted to know more, “What happened to your family?” Alexy paused, and responded, “My wife died of some sickness while we fled from the Russians. We had heard what they would do to any women they found in Germany, and we doubted they would not spare the Poles. I spent my last savings on train tickets for my daughters to the south, to Czecheslovakia. I warned them to hide until it was safe to return. I never saw them again. Maybe it was just as well.” At this admission, Alexy began to sob. Father Volodya said nothing; he seemed rooted in horror at what he’d heard. 31
After what seemed like an age of silence but for Alexy’s weeping, Miron shouted aloud in a voice choked with emotion.
“For pity’s sake, Volodya! Say something!”
Kasia turned away from Alexy’s bed. Her face had turned cold, and her withered hands were curled into claws. Stanislav merely looked at the ceiling, daring not to breathe so that he might find out what the priest would say to this good-hearted man who had helped hide a massacre. Before Father Volodya could speak, however, Alexy lay back, and gave a long, ragged sigh which seemed to rattle inside his throat. Father Volodya reached out and held Alexy’s wrist. It was as still as that quiet forest of the dead, whose ghosts still reeled from the agony that they had endured in this life.
OUR CONTRIBUTORS... Without the submissions from writers, artists, and photographers, Free Lit Magazine would not be possible! Please take the time to visit other websites linked to projects our contributors have been involved in, as well as the websites/social media platforms run by some of this issueâ€™s contributors: SAMMI COX - Sammi Cox on WordPress JOSHUA HOWE - View Imagination and WordPress RAMOLEN LARUAN - Editorial Board, The Undergraduate Review ASHLEY NEWTON - WordPress, Instagram, and Facebook KELLY POLSIN - Nailed It ALISA VELAJ - Selections from Knot Magazine
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