A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Mask"
Originally featured on 12-01-2006
As part of our series "Fall Stories"

For five straight Halloweens I went dressed as Richard Nixon. Well, not really dressed as him, just wearing his mask—the one with the small ears and really big nose. It wasn’t that I liked Nixon; I was just lazy when it came to finding a costume and the mask was something I stumbled upon in the attic one day. It was easy: when it was time to trick-or-treat, I could just pop it on, grab a pillow case, and be on my way.

When the mask started getting a little tattered and ripped, I still wore it; I just became weed-whacker-accident Nixon. People seemed to enjoy that costume much more for some reason.

When the mask became even more torn, and you could see my face through the mouth hole, I tried going as a kid who was swallowed by Nixon. That one didn’t really go over too well even when I tried telling people that there was evidence that Nixon actually did eat children. At least that’s what my Mom told me.

With Halloween coming up, I thought maybe I could squeeze another year out of old Tricky Dick, so I tried gluing and taping up the mask. It didn’t look very good but I still thought it would get the job done.

As I was trying on the mask in front of the mirror in the living room, my Mom walked in.

“What is that?” she asked, looking at my creation.

“It’s my Halloween costume. Botched-face-lift Nixon,” I said, my words slightly muffled by the rubber mask.

“I thought I threw that thing out,” she replied.

“You did,” I said softly.

“Can’t you come up with something different this year, Brian? Why is it your sister plans her costume every year in June and all you do is throw on that old mask?”

“Mom, we both know Meg isn’t normal. Besides, I think it looks good.” I turned to admire myself in the mirror. “Plus, I’m getting a nice buzz from the glue fumes.”

The mask was quickly yanked off my head. “No more Nixon,” she said, tossing it onto the coffee table. “Here.” She picked up her purse and reached inside. After rummaging for a moment she took out some money and handed me a twenty. “Go down to that costume shop and find something else.”

“Well, okay” I said glancing down at Nixon’s crumpled head. “But I don’t know what I’ll be able to find for only twenty bucks.”

Mom looked at me for a second and then gave me another twenty. “Thanks, Mom,” I said and headed for the backdoor.

“Come up with something good this time,” she called after me. “And please, no more Republicans.” I smiled as I went out the door.

The costume shop was about a half-mile away and it only took me a few minutes to ride my bike there. I locked up the bike out front and gazed up at the old sign: Herman’s Tricks and Treats. I never understood how the place stayed in business. It was open all year round but who was buying chicken costumes or fake vomit in March? Maybe I didn’t want to know the answer to that.

The small bell over the door tinkled as I went in. The store was somewhat dark and fairly small. It had kind of a damp, musty smell. A few people were milling around the cluttered aisles.

I glanced around, a little unsure where to begin. Always being certain of my costume every year, I had only been in the store once before, last spring, and that was with a friend who was for some reason buying fake vomit for his brother’s birthday party. Oh wait, maybe I did know who was buying that stuff.

Assorted masks and costumes were crammed everywhere. I looked around, hoping something would strike my fancy, something that cost less than $40. I went down one aisle and found a large collection of realistic-looking plastic knives, axes, and other fun weapons of death. After swinging a blood-stained mace around for a moment, I continued on my quest.

I searched through an endless amount of costumes: cartoon characters, superheroes, ninjas, presidents (no Nixon I noticed, only Clinton and a goofy-looking Bush), and monsters; but nothing really impressed me.

When I turned down another aisle, I had to catch my breath. I was suddenly face to face with by far the scariest costume I had seen. I couldn’t exactly tell what it was at first, it was kind of a gorgon-like creature. It had a gruesome face with metal teeth and snake-like hair.


I jumped back. This she-beast costume could speak! And it knew my name!

“What are you doing here?”

I looked more closely. It wasn’t a hideous costume after all, just my younger sister, Megan.

“Oh, hey, Meg. I’m just looking for a new Halloween costume.”

She gave me a puzzled look. “Really?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“What happened to botched face-lift Nixon?”

“He got impeached by Mom. She gave me forty bucks for something new.”

“Forty bucks?” Meg scoffed. “So far my costume has cost well over a hundred.”

“Where’d you get a hundred bucks?” I asked skeptically.

“Babysitting mostly.” I looked at her suspiciously.

“So what is your costume anyway?” I asked.

She quickly put something she was holding behind her back. “I’m not telling you. You’re going to have to find out on Halloween just like everybody else.” I rolled my eyes. “And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more work to do.” She hurriedly walked past me.

Leave it to Meg to turn picking a Halloween costume into work, I thought and continued down the aisle. So far I hadn’t seen anything that really interested me. A freaky killer clown costume looked pretty good, but the mask alone cost 70 bucks.

I was about to give up when out of the corner of my eye something caught my attention. I turned that way and saw in a shadowy corner, a strange looking mask lying on a glass counter. From a distance it looked like a man’s ancient, withered face.

I walked towards it and as I got closer I could see that it was supposed to be some kind of mummy or corpse. The skin was very pale and there were deep lines cut into the rubber. Wispy, white hair covered the top of the head. There was even a little bald spot.

I had never seen anything like it before, it was so real-looking, so life-like. Plus, it looked a little like the Nixon mask. If I painted the hair black I could be zombie-Nixon and keep my streak alive!

I looked for a price but couldn’t see one. I picked it up and was surprised by the weight. I had expected a typical rubber mask but this was heavy. I thought maybe there was one of those little mannequin things inside to display it but couldn’t see that either.

Also, it was hard, not squishy like a normal mask. I wondered how long I could wear the thing before it started hurting and I’d have to take it off. Still searching for a price, I tried turning it over but for some reason it wouldn’t budge.

Just then Meg walked by carrying one of those big plastic machetes, a tutu and a cowboy hat. Man, I couldn’t wait to see that costume.

“Brian!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m trying to find a price on this mask.”

“What mask?”

“This mask!” I said getting agitated.

“Brian, that’s not a mask.”

“Of course it is, it’s just -“ I looked down at the mask. The previously-closed eyes were now open and staring up at me; they were dark and a little bloodshot. The grayish lips were now curled into a grin.

“That’s Herman.”

My heart stopped. I shrieked and dropped what I thought five seconds ago was a mask and what I now realized was a human head. It fell to the counter with a thud.

Herman sat up on a short stool and rubbed his head. “That’ll teach me to fall asleep out here,” he said with a yawn. “I never had a kid want to be me for Halloween before. I don’t know how I should take that.”

I slowly started backing away from the counter, my heart pounding and my forehead suddenly sweaty. “Uh, sorry, Herman,” I muttered.

“That’s okay, kid. I’d sell it to you but I think I might still need it for a while. Is there anything else I can help you find, my left leg for example?”

Meg chuckled. “Uh, no, no, I think I’m good” I said and quickly scurried down the nearest aisle.

“Do you know that guy, Megan?” I heard Herman ask.

“Unfortunately. He’s my brother. We know he’s not normal.” Herman laughed and Meg joined him.

After tripping over a long wooden sword and getting tangled in some plastic skeletons, I finally made it to the front of the store. I jerked the door open and the bell clanged loudly as I went out. A little out of breath, I leaned against the side of the building. After a moment, I smiled. I unlocked my bike and as I rode away, I started laughing.

When I got to the end of the block, I suddenly realized I hadn’t bought a new costume. For a second I thought about going back, but quickly changed my mind; I didn’t see myself being back in that store anytime soon.

I hope Mom hasn’t thrown out Nixon yet, I thought as I approached the house. And If I can just get Meg to let me borrow that tutu, I think I might be on to something.



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