The Mask becomes You
There’s a blunt, unrelenting throbbing inside my head. It beats with my slow heart, each thump a pulse of discomfort and nausea. My eyes are shut, and I can’t bare the thought of opening them right now. My head hurts, my mouth is dry, and I ache all over. It feels like such a long arduous process to slip into consciousness. I immediately regret doing such a foolish thing, and beg myself to pass out again. No such luck. I’m awake, and I feel just awful.
The worse thing about it is that I don’t know why. My memory is so fragmented and fuzzy, accessing it feels like trying to turn the pages of a book that’s been submerged in treacle. I was at a party. That I know. Everything else will hopefully come back with time. As for right now... I have no idea where I am, and I have no intention of opening my eyes anytime soon. I know I’m lying on a bed, and that I’m in nothing but a pair of panties. The muggy air feels like sulfur in my lungs, and I wish that I could stop breathing. To stop feeling this terrible, that would almost be worth it. Light stabbing pains plague my stomach, and I feel so dizzy, so horribly dizzy.
A soft whimper escapes my lips. What is happening? Why do I feel like this? Then suddenly, voices.
“I think’s she’s waking up!” this voice sounds male, though meek and afraid.
“Don’t crowd her!” A sterner voice, female, relatively high pitched, but tempered with authority.
“Let me through. Seriously, Grace, back off!” A familiar voice now. Fierce. Protective. Something about it makes me feel slightly safer, though not enough to quell the deep rooted fear clamped around my chest.
“Stacy...?” I croak through my barren throat.
“I’m here, Tara, I’m here.” the voice says softly now, and I feel a soft hand gently clasp my own. It is Stacy, I’m sure of it. A small spark of hope ignites within me. It’s been days since I’ve spoken to her.
I try to speak, but my voice can’t manage anything else.
“Ssshhhh, it’s okay.” Stacy says gently, stroking my hair with her other hand. “Don’t try to talk. I have water here for you if you can manage it. Otherwise, just rest, Tara.”
The words echo though my head. “Rest Tara... Just rest...”
I whimper once more, but I’m soon back asleep.
The next time I stir, everything has dulled. The throbbing is still there, but less unbearable than before. Everything still hurts, and I feel simultaneously starving, dehydrated, and nauseous, but at levels where I at least think I can manage to open my eyes. A hand still holds mine, and it squeezes ever so gently when I start to show signs of consciousness.
“Hey, trooper.” a familiar voice says. Stacy. Stacy is here with me. And the party, she was there too! Scattered pieces of memory sprinkle into my mind, like I have half the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and I still need to put it all together.
“Hey...” I croak through the driest throat I have ever experienced. “Water.”
Stacy helps me sit up in the bed and places a glass in my hand. I take a tentative sip, wait a few moments, and then take another. Still feeling awfully sluggish and slow, I’m grateful that Stacy waits in a patient vigil next to me as I try to piece myself back together. I squint carefully, opening my eyelids at a glacial pace, lest the sudden influx of light be too much for me. It takes a while, several minutes at least before I can make the outline of Stacy sitting on a chair next to my bed. The room is otherwise empty, and no doubt thanks to Katie’s efforts, completely immaculate.
I’m in my bed, in my cramped, closet like room. Good, I’m safe here. At least, I feel safe enough. I keep working on the water and focus starts returning more quickly to me. Stacy is still dressed in her drop dead gorgeous outfit from the night before, I definitely remember how she looked the night before. She also looks tired. She hasn’t slept? Becoming overly aware of my own nudity now, I clench my bed sheets anxiously ensuring my chest is covered as I sit up slightly.
“What happened?” I finally find my voice. “How did I get here?”
“Well... first, how much do you remember about last night?”
I strain as I try to recall the details. “Not much.” I admit after a minute. “I remember hanging out with you vaguely, and getting there with Felicity.”
I quickly sit more upright in my bed, my whole body tensing. “Felicity! Where is she? Is she okay?”
Stacy looks to the side, unsure of what to say. Eventually, her eyes return to me and she states calmly. “You better let me fill you in as best I can.”
My heart leaps in sudden terror. That’s not the kind of thing someone says if everything is alright. Something bad happened. Really bad. And I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember!?
I shouldn’t worry though, right? With the mask, I can get myself out of any tricky situation.
“Where is it!” I suddenly jerk and start clawing at everything I can around me. I send the water flying from my hand as I tear apart my bedside table trying to find the mask. My vision goes blurry once more, this time from sheer dread overwhelming me. My stomach twists as the truth sinks in. Hands clamp on my shoulders as Stacy shakes me vigorously. She’s saying something. I eventually tune in to her and words she speaks feel like a dagger plunging into my terrified soul.
“—hear me! C’mon, Tara! Stop! It’s not here! Aileen has it!”
I stop my frantic searching, and my focus slowly returns, letting me see Stacy’s face, full of pain and fatigue.
“Say that again…” I say numbly. I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it if she says it a thousand times.
“Aileen drugged you and took the mask from you.” Stacy says, her eyes puffy.
“I… I…” the words fail me as I start to sob quietly. Stacy wraps her arms around me and I cry into her shoulder for what feels like an hour. Eventually, I gently unravel myself from Stacy’s embrace and with one last sniffle, say “Tell me everything you can. Start from the beginning, see if it helps me remember.”
I sit and listen as Stacy recounts everything from the previous evening. About how Felicity and I bumped into her, about how I followed her to the kitchen, and then how we disappeared upstairs so we could talk. As she describes them the scattered fragments of each memory are pieced back together in my mind. Not with complete clarity, but enough for me to follow along the timeline of events. When she gets to the part where I took out the mask, her entire energy changes, and she tenses in her chair.
“And yeah, you had the mask in your hand and were about to put it on your face...” Stacy says, her beautiful jade eyes wide as she speaks. “It was trying to control you, to make you control me... You never actually said that’s what happened, but I could tell. But you resisted it, and you won.” Stacy says with a grateful smile.
I simply stare in awe, speechless. The numbness I had been feeling is swept away as the memory of my struggle with the mask returns to me. Once more it had tried to wrest control, and once more I had managed to hold onto my mind and even wrest a bit of control back from the mask.
I’m even more blown away when she then recounts what happened with Angela and Tyler. I start to remember somehow using the mask to implant suggestions into them without Stacy even noticing, but I refrain from mentioning that. Instead, I voice my surprise at Stacy taking part in controlling the troubled couple.
“And you were cool with that?” I ask in disbelief. “I mean, you controlled them, but helped them, right?”
“I hope I helped them...” Stacy sighs. “But anyway, I left you three there to look for my date.”
This gives me the biggest shock of all. My heart leaps in my chest and I feel a sudden rush of emotion. Anger? No... Jealously...? Maybe. I’ve been feeling confused about Stacy, and I remember now that last night had been no different. What it all means is irrelevant, though. Stacy is straight, she always has been. For me to fantasize otherwise is a waste of my time, and clearly disrespectful to our friendship. I push my emotions down hard, swallowing them with a strained smile.
“A date, huh? How did that go?” I ask in as upbeat a voice as I can manage. This thought of Stacy with someone else is enough to distract me from the mask, if only for a moment.
“Um… It was okay, I guess.” Stacy says, glancing off to the side and staring intently at my wardrobe for a moment. When she looks back to me, her face if full of anxiety.
“But it was just after I spent some time with him that I came looking for you…” she says gravely.
“And that’s when it happened…” I finish for her.
“Yes.” She then recounts seeing Felicity passed out and how I was looking ready to do the same. Panic had overcome me, and I went to put on the mask myself, clearly a defensive instinct. But I had been too far gone to use it, and all I achieved was to bring it to Aileen’s attention.
“She looked at it for a moment, then put it on.” Stacy says, “But you were so out of it by then I don’t think you could have gone under her power…”
“So… She took the mask…” I sigh heavily, “And wore the mask…”
“So how did you get out of there? How did you get me out?”
“Well.” Stacy took a deep breath. “It was due to something you told in that bedroom an hour before… It was when you put the mask on for Tyler and Angela. You told me to avoid looking into your eyes.” She stares into my eyes as she says this. Her green irises shimmer, either a result of how close to tears she is herself, or simply due to her fatigue.
“So when Aileen wore the mask, I did just that, I avoided her eyes, I stared at you the entire time I made my way over to you. Once I reached you I got you to stand and you took most of your own weight, you didn’t properly pass out until I got you in a cab.” Stacy recounts this with a harrowed expression. “It was so weird though, because I could feel the pull, I really, really wanted to look, just for a tiny moment. It was so intense, so powerful… I felt such an urge to look.”
“But you didn’t” I whisper reverently.
“Honestly, Tara, it was the hardest thing I ever did, but I… I, um…”
“What?” I say, concern sweeping over my features. “What is it?” Stacy blushes, but I’m determined. I place my hand gently on hers. “Please?”
She stares at the floor. “I think I was able to do it because I was staring at you…” Her eyes then look up to meet my own.
My heart is racing now. When did that happen? And Stacy… That look in her eye.
My head is pounding still. The nausea, like an annoying relative, seems to be intent on staying past its welcome. I feel so weak and fragile and vulnerable. Now is definitely not the time to tell Stacy how I’ve been feeling.
“Stacy… I…” I start. Fuck it. Let’s just throw it out there that I’ve started to like her as more than a friend. I might be Aileen’s sex slave by nightfall anyway, what’s the harm?
Before I can say another word, there’s a loud crash from my lounge that shakes both Stacy and I out of our trance-like gaze into each other’s eyes.
“Oh… Yeah.” Stacy mumbles awkwardly. “You… Erm, you better get out there as soon as you can, Tara… It’s a bit of a mess.”
Confused by this, I quickly put on the first clothes I come across in my dresser and follow Stacy through to the other room. I don’t feel entirely steady on my feet, but I push through as best I can.
I’m not prepared for quite how busy it is. At first glance, it looks like all my slaves are there. Grace, Bruce, Derek, and Katie are clustered around someone in a chair in the middle of the lounge. I can’t see who as they’re all in the way, but they seem to be struggling. Sandra, Julia, Paul, and Alicia are hanging around the kitchen watching everyone else. As soon as I enter the room, all eyes dart to me amid a mixture of expressions. Worry, relief, concern. Clearly none of them are feeling particularly good about this latest development.
When the group around the chair turn around to react to my entrance, I can see the occupant. Tied to the chair with a lot of rope, and with duct tape over her mouth, sits Mary. Her hair is a complete mess and her face is grubby with sweat and stains. Her eyes stare at me with an intensity of simultaneous desperation and loathing that make me almost flinch. Katie, Grace, and Derek rush over to me, each of them simultaneously asking if I’m okay and what happened and what should they do and-
“Alright! Alright!” I snap, throwing my hands up to push them all back. “Everyone just calm down and speak in soft voices, alright?”
There’s a murmur of agreement while I take everything in. The lounge is spotless, first and foremost. Despite the latest crisis, my slaves know how to keep a place neat. They all look tired, like they’ve been up all night as well. I ask someone to explain what happened when I got back with Stacy.
“Stacy phoned me on your phone.” Katie recalls. “She had gotten you into a cab and said you were in bad shape. You could still walk assisted and such but were barely responding otherwise. We were all still hanging out here, so we came to help you both in from the road and we got you to bed.”
“I’m so sorry, Go- I’m sorry, Tara.” Grace quickly corrected herself, glancing nervously at Stacy. “I didn’t know what to do. Some of us wanted to take you to hospital but that would like have meant getting the police involved and could have led them to the party...”
“That would have been bad...” I agree. I think about it quickly. Either they bust the place and the mask gets lost in the choas, or Aileen would have ended up with several police officers under her control. I shudder to think of that, and instead nod my head at Grace. “You all did the right thing... I feel like shit, but I’ll be ok.”
“I’ve made you some hangover juice, Tara.“Julia says shyly, walking up to me with a glass held out in her hand. “It’s worked for me in the past, I hope it gives you a boost.”
“Thanks Julia.” I take a sip. It’s sweet, and doesn’t immediately make me want to puke. Score. I do however still feel wobbly on my feet, so I shuffle over and sink onto the sofa, opposite an intense looking Mary.
“So... Umm... Why is Mary tied up and gagged?” I ask, glancing around at all of my slaves. They look sheepish. Stacy stays by the door to my bedroom, looking at Mary with concern on her face.
“Well, Tara,” Alicia said sternly, “Her 24 hours of instructions from you expired last night. She arrived a little while after you left for the party, ready to drop to her knees and beg you to change her...”
Oh. That would have been fairly early on in the evening. Mary’s puffy red eyes stare at me, equally furious and exhausted, so desperate and defeated. She look likes she’s been through hell and is still living there. I try to contain the growing guilt within me as Alicia continues.
“Well, once we explained you were away to the party and wouldn’t be back for a while, she got increasingly distressed, but decided to stay here waiting for your return. When she found out you were incapacitated and that you didn’t have the mask anymore, she sort of broke down and became hysterical. We all subdued her and then Grace tied her up after she rampaged around for a bit. She’s been in that chair all night and morning now. We didn’t know what else to do with her. We had to gag her to stop her from waking up the whole block.” Alicia then stares at me with cold eyes. “But great news, Tara, I think she’s learned her lesson.” Her sarcasm stings my already short patience.
Anger flares within me for a moment and I feel like I’m moments away from lashing out. Thankfully for Alicia, Derek speaks before I snap back at her.
“So what do we do now? The mask is with Aileen, right? At that house where the party is, yeah? Do we call her? Try and negotiate it back?”
“Negotiate what?” Julia asks in exasperation, running stressed hands through her hair. “She has the mask, so she has the power! She even has Felicity! What do we have to negotiate with?”
Everyone starts chipping in with ideas and suggestions now, everyone talking over each other loudly. I can’t make it all out, it’s all so manged together, but I do hear someone suggest we hide and try to ambush Aileen when she comes to find us, and someone else proposing that we all troop over to the mansion, close our eyes, and storm the place. I bury my head in my hands. What am I going to do? I’ve lost the mask, and I’ve left Mary a complete wreck. I need the mask to fix her, otherwise she’s in serious trouble. My conditioning is still in her, all I ordered her to do after 24 hours was to seek me out to beg me to either wipe her memories or make her my slave. Regardless of what she chooses, I need the mask to do it. If I can’t... Well, one day of my harsh punishment seems to have brought her to breaking point. I try not to imagine what more of it will do. I look hopefully to Stacy, but she’s just looking around the room as my slaves debate themselves in circles. With her free will, she doesn’t have to be here, while my slaves have a sense of programmed obligation to come to me when I’m in such a crisis. I know that Rebecca, David, and David’s flatmate, whatshisname... Graham? They would all be here to were it not for their standing orders to keep up the pretense for Stacy that I don’t control them mind, body and soul.
I’m a terrible person. The absence of the mask and seeing what I’ve done to the relative strangers filling my lounge makes the stark reality unavoidable for me. I was barely more than acquaintances with any of these people, and Grace I had never even met. And even though Katie was my flatmate, we never got close... That is, until I changed her, until I made her my slave... We got much closer then.
As the arguments rage on around me, I feel like I’m crumbling apart. I chuckle lightly at myself. The thing is, I don’t care that I’m a bad person for controlling everyone the way I do. I really don’t. I care that I’ve lost the power, sure, but when I have it, I simply relish it. I miss the mask right now. I want to hold it in my hands and stroke it’s smooth surface. Then I want to place it on my face and enslave a fresh mind to my will. I can’t actually imagine my life now where I don’t take over people’s minds and make them my helpless toys and obedient playthings. It’s funny. Terrifying, yes, but also funny. Was I always like this? Before I wore the mask did I harbor these secret passions of domination and control? Or has the mask simply poisoned my mind so completely that it just feels like my nature to enslave all those around me?
Almost all those around me, I think, looking at Stacy once more. Her eyes flit over to meet mine and I quickly look away, burning shame igniting within me. She hasn’t been brainwashed by my thoughts and words, which means her free mind must be judging me down to every layer of hell and back. How she can stand to be around me I have no idea. I deserve to lose my power. I deserve to lose everything, even Stacy...
But I’m a bad person. And bad people don’t let their guilt get in the way. I know what I want. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m not just going to sit here and wallow and give up. I finish the drink Julia made for me and put the glass down, before balling my hands into fists so tight that my knuckles go white and my vision fills with sparks. My thumping head, queasy stomach, and tired legs don’t get any better, but I feel more determined to not let that stop me.
“I am not weak...” I murmur under my breath, too quiet for anyone to hear or notice. My attention turns back to the discussion in the room. It seems one voice has command of the floor now. Alicia... I quickly tune in.
“—riously, why don’t we stop and think for a moment!” she casts her gaze around everyone in the room, and I notice that it lingers on Stacy, and then on me. “Tara doesn’t have the mask anymore. Don’t you think that might change things? Don’t you think we should see if we can... if we can... leave?”
I get to my feet, staring down Alicia with furious eyes. “Speak freely, Alicia. It doesn’t matter that Stacy’s here, you can stop biting your tongue. Tell us what you really think.”
“Really, Goddess?” Alicia stares back at me with equal parts defiance and surprise. “You REALLY want to know what I REALLY think?” her raised voice hits me like a hammer, amplifying the pounding in my head that had been dying down.
“Alicia...” Grace growls in warning.
“No, no.” I say, waving away Grace. “Everyone be quiet, let Alicia have her say.”
“You’re a monster, Tara.” Alicia says, her voice dripping with venom. “I’ve been your... your... your slave now for less than 48 hours and it’s the most abhorrent experience I’ve ever had. The fact that I love it and hate it at the same time is tearing me up inside, and now that you’ve gone and lost the mask, the only thing that gave you any power over any of us... I have to say what everyone else is thinking... Are we still your slaves? Do you still actually have ANY power over us? Can we walk out now? Or do we have to wait for Aileen to make you into her little slave bitch first? Will you give her your collection of helpless victims or will we have a chance to escape her control?” She pants heavily as she delivers her words, flushed red with anger and fear and doubt.
Fury boils within my veins, and I contemplate every horrible thing I could do to her in that moment, and every horrendous act I could make her do to herself. I shock myself with how dark my thoughts go so quickly that it seems to make the anger dissipate. Instead of saying anything, I step towards Alicia.
“I hate you! I hate you!” she screams at me, but I just stretch out my arms towards her, getting closer.
She tries to push me away but I wrap her in my embrace. Eventually, she stops fighting, and sinks into me, sobbing profusely. I close my eyes and hold her close. I can’t believe I was going to have her stick her head in the toilet for speaking to me like that, but thankfully the truth had dawned on me. She’s just scared.
“Hey.” I say softly. “Relax, it’ll be okay.”
I can feel the tension ebb away from Alicia as she sinks deeper into my hug. Her crying slows, and a deep sigh escapes her lips.
“I’m sorry... I’m so sorry...” she looks up longingly to my eyes and says to me with a whisper. “I love being your slave, Goddess... I do... I know I give you a hard time, but I do, I love it... I don’t want it to stop...”
“It won’t...” I say. I coax Katie over and have her replace me in hugging Alicia. I then turn to the room with a determined look on my face, even as my legs feel like jelly beneath me.
“I’m going over there and getting my mask back.” I state firmly. “And I’m going alone.”
The room erupts into protest, but I silence then with a wave of my hand. One voice remains.
“Tara, you are Not going over there by yourself!” Stacy states tenaciously. “I’m coming too!”
“No!” I shake my head rigorously. “I’m not risking you Stacy, no way, no how.”
“Oh?” she steps forward into the middle of the room now, bristling from head to toe. “You think you can stop me? Lucky for me, Tara, I’m not a slave to your every command!”
I step forward myself, pushing my shoulders back and puffing myself up as best I can. I’m not weak. I’m strong. I will take back what is mine... And I won’t let Stacy come to harm in the process. “Take a look at Mary...” I say, smirking slightly. Once Stacy has glanced at the chair bound girl and back, I say “I count eight, as you say, slaves, each ready to obey my every command... You think I couldn’t have them restrain you?”
The energy in the room changes as Stacy looks around at all my slaves. Each of them has focused on her, and each has shifted their footing slightly, and are now poised, waiting for my command. Grim faces all around her bombard Stacy with warnings. Alicia and Katie have split from their comforting embrace and stand either side of me now, ready to spring towards my headstrong friend. Stacy’s look of determination seems winded by the quick calculations she does in her head. I’m sure she could push past two, maybe even three of my slaves and get out of the dorm, but eight?
“Tara, please.” she says, still determined, but scared now as well. “If I can help you, I will. But if it goes badly... I don’t want you to be alone... I want to be there with you...”
“Stacy, I can’t risk you. I never want anything bad to happen to you.” I sigh. “You can’t change my mind.”
“Oh yeah?” she says, a growing smile on the side of her mouth now. “Were our positions reversed, would you let me go alone?”
I think for a moment.
In the cab, Stacy and I sit mostly in silence, while the afro sporting driver sings along to Taylor Swift on the blaring radio. My head is gradually getting better, and I sip on a bottle of Julia’s magic hangover juice every few seconds. I glance over at Stacy often, and sometimes catch her looking at me. The tension is suffocating, but I can’t focus on my feelings for her right now, I’m too distracted by what lies ahead.
Aileen had the mask. Whether she still has, I don’t know. Anything could have happened between her taking it from me and now. It’s early afternoon as the cab approaches the street where the party was held. Will Aileen even still be there? She might have gone home already, and I have no idea where that is... I might find some answers or a trail to follow, but the mask might be well and truly out of my reach by now.
I have to try, that’s what I know. I miss the mask, I long to feel it’s power course through me once more. I was just starting to get the hang of it as well, it would be such a shame for this to be the end of my story... I shake my head lightly. No. This is no time for doubt. I am strong, I am a Goddess. I will take back what is mine and make Aileen my slave as I always planned to. I will reclaim Felicity, and enslave anyone else who witnessed what happened. I am strong, and the mask won’t overwhelm me like it did the last time I unleashed its power without restraint. I can do this, I will take back what I lost.
“When we get inside... Be ready to close your eyes the moment I say so.” I murmur to Stacy.
She nods, and then stares out the window. “It’s a beautiful day...” she remarks idly.
“Stacy...” I say, my voice filling with anxiety. She turns to me, her face nonplussed. “Everything Alicia said back there... And what I said... I can understand if you’re judging me for how I’ve used the mask.”
Stacy mulls my words over, before shrugging slightly. “Maybe I am a little...” she admits. “It’s really hard not to. But I’m trying not to, and I’m trying to just accept it.”
“Accept what? I- I’m not sure I understand.”
“That having the mask means you take control of people.” Stacy sighs heavily. “It’s what it does to you, and it’s not your fault, Tara. I wore the mask too, for a moment, remember?”
“Yeah...” I say. That seems so long ago now, but it’s true. I was the very first person I know of to be controlled by the mask. Maybe that’s why I sought it out so determinedly afterwards. “What did it feel like to you?”
Stacy’s mesmerizing jade eyes pierce deeply into my own now. “Like nothing I could say or do would be wrong. Like I didn’t need to have cares or worries.” she speaks with reverence in her voice, but her expression is troubled. “When you walked away from me that day to go... to go kiss David, that was enough to shake me out of it, and I took the mask off... If that hadn’t happened, I think I would have lost myself to it by now.”
She shifted uncomfortably, looked away, and then looked back, admiration her her gaze now. “I’m amazed you haven’t lost yourself to it, Tara. I know it’s making you do things, and you give in to temptations, but you’re still you, I can see that.” She fixes a strand of loose hair, and looks nervous now. “And that you resisted it when it tried to make you control me... That means you must want me to stay as I am.”
My heart flutters upon hearing this. Yes. I don’t want Stacy any different. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I try to speak, but I can’t even begin to think of the words I want to say.
“That means a lot to me, Tara.” Stacy smiles demurely. “It’s why I’m here, why I want to help you. I trust you, and I know how much the mask means to you.”
I can feel tears about to burst fourth from my eyes. Seeing this, Stacy pulls me into a deep hug, squeezing me tight. I close my eyes and breathe out all my uncertainty. I am strong, yes... But Stacy is even stronger. With her, I’m invincible.
“We’re here!” Stacy declares, and we pull away from each other, our gazes lingering.
We have the driver drop us at the bottom of the drive to the imposing looking mansion. We can’t see any signs of activity from outside, but there are still a ton of cars from last night parked in the driveway. That’s promising and problematic at the same time...
The cab drives off and we make our way slowly towards the main doors, glancing at the many windows for any signs we’re being watched. Nothing.
We both stop at the front door. I extend my hand tentatively to the handle and gently turn it. The large door shifts, and then swings outward ominously.
“Alright...” I say with a deep breath.
“Yup.” Stacy nods. Gingerly, her hand brushes my own, her pinkie reaching out slightly. I clamp my hand around hers, and with my free hand gently pull the door open.