Crow Mask by Virginia Burns

Everything seemed normal as I opened my eyes one Wednesday morning. I had an 8 o’clock class that day, one of my biggest regrets. Note to self, never sign up for an early morning class again.

I had to take the bus to class again– not enough money for gas for the second week in a row. People always said “Oh yeah, I loved college! Just wait ‘til you get there. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” Hate to break it to them, but that’s a big fat no. It’s worse than high school, honestly, because I don’t know anyone here. 

Regardless, I was stuck now. Something felt off about today, but I couldn’t place what it was. I rolled over, lazily stretching, and looked at my clock. 7:16. Time to get up. My friend Max was in a bed on the other side of the room, sleeping soundly. I decided not to wake her as I made my way to the bathroom to take a shower.

The dial squeaked as I turned it all the way to hot. Steam rose as it heated up, disagreeing with the cold temperatures that room always held. It was a cool day in autumn, and mornings were colder. I shivered as a breeze blew through, bringing in the crisp air from outside. I examined our bathroom window, which was uneven on the bottom and never closed all the way. 

“Shit!” I exclaimed, yanking my hand away when a large spider crawled through. He was coated in a coarse layer of hairs, and his eyes were an ugly black. I swear I could hear him chittering and scraping the windowsill with his legs as I stepped into the shower. The hot water felt nice as I ran my fingers through my hair. I hadn’t washed it in a few days. We were trying to save water.

I heard a noise in the pipes and the water ceased, making a quiet hissing noise as it struggled to flow. I shook my head bitterly, about to give up and leave, when there was a wet plop and the gush of water once again. A small ball (sack?) lay on the floor just beside the drain. I bent down to pick it up, curious as to what it could be. It looked gross, like a misshapen circle with a few loose strings on the sides.

I’d bet the whole street could hear my screams as it opened up, spewing small moving bodies. My roommate ran in, now very much awake.

“Hey! Are you okay? What happened?”

“SPIDERS!” I jumped out of the shower, not bothering to grab a towel as I stood in the cool bathroom. “A whole bunch of ‘em! They came out of the shower. Tiny and awful and everywhere. I hate that shower.”

“Oh. How fun. Think I’m gonna skip the shower this morning. I’d rather not deal with.. that.”

“Wish I had that knowledge earlier. Perfect start to my day, isn’t it?”

My outfit for the day was a plain sweatshirt sporting the school logo, and a pair of jeans that I had totally-not-worn the past two days. I pulled on my shoes and grabbed my bag, starting out the front door.

“Bye Max!” I yelled.

I reached down to pet the neighborhood stray cat before entering my car. He sat pitifully on the stairs, his fur covered in a thin layer of dirt and dust. His tail flicked rapidly, as if he were anticipating something.

Car now on the road and heading to campus, I relaxed a bit more. Spiders in the shower.. that was a new one. The day couldn’t get any worse right? There was almost no traffic on the street, which was odd at this hour. The car clock read 5:18, which was incorrect. It didn’t work right when I got the car two years prior, and I never bothered to get it fixed.

I heard a screech behind me, like a vehicle making a quick, sharp turn. Wondering what the issue was, I glanced up into my rear-view mirror.

There appeared to be a figure in the street. It looked to stand at around 6’, but I couldn’t make out any features. 

“We don’t need any more creepy hobos out on the streets,” I muttered to myself, dismissing any bad thoughts and focusing on my driving. Somewhere in the back of my mind, though, there was a deep sense of dread.

I pulled into the parking lot not too long after. There weren’t many people here, either, which confused me. Had something happened I didn’t know about? A dark crow flew over and landed on my roof. The way his eyes became glossed over as he blinked sent a shiver down my spine.

“Shoo. Go away,” I waved my arms at him. He made a small choking caw, and flapped his wings before promptly falling to the ground. He twitched in fast, snapping motions and finally stopped moving. I bent down to examine the darkly-colored bird. Another gust of wind blew a chill throughout my body and made my eyes water.

I felt dizzy as I stood up. Was something wrong with me? I stumbled over and leaned on my car for support. I had to suppress the nausea quickly overcoming me. What was happening?

I opened my eyes after what seemed like a few long minutes. I have to go to class. I’m probably late already. The world had stopped spinning, and it was quiet once again. My heartbeat could be heart thumping in my ears. I turned to the entrance of the building and froze.

The hooded figure stood at the door. It didn’t move, but faced towards me. It was closer and I had a clearer view now. It appeared to have a mask on.. the mask of a crow, similar to that of an old plague doctor. It wasn’t quite the time of year for Halloween pranks, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

It moved, which I hadn’t seen it do yet. Reaching a hand into its pocket, it pulled something out. Something shiny in some places, but red in others. I gulped.

“It’s too early for dumb Halloween pranks! I want to go to class.”

And then it took a step towards me, arm shaking as it held out the knife, and I jumped into my car and drove off.

The sky was dark, like it was going to rain. My knuckles were white as I gripped the steering wheel. I was scared. Scared of whatever that.. thing.. was. It didn’t feel like it was someone in a costume. It brought a sort of disturbance into the air. I cringed outwardly at nothing and continued down the road once more, back to the apartment.

I parked my car in the small driveway. Careful to lock the door, I turned to the front door and started walking. Max shouldn’t be home, she should’ve left by now.

A faint, sickly cry came from the bushes that made me stop dead in my tracks. I didn’t want to look. I knew something was wrong. It came again, hoarse and pained, and I peered over the side.

The cat I had stopped to pet every morning lay on the ground, bleeding. There was a hole leading to his stomach, and his insides lay partially on the ground. Spiders crawled in and out, in strange patterns, tauntingly. Spiders like I had seen this morning, like the ones that came out of the shower. If there had been anything in my stomach, it would’ve come out onto the ground beside me. But I hadn’t eaten since yesterday, and all I could do was gag and turn away. 

Light-headed and severely nauseous, I went over to the front door. I turned the knob without bothering to unlock it, not stopping to ask myself why it was unlocked in the first place.

“Max? Are you home? Something happened to the cat.” A loud crash sounded through the empty rooms. “Where are you?”

I rounded a corner into the small hallway where the bedrooms are. Fresh blood stained the floor and splattered the walls.

“Max?” I called out, the anxiety in my voice very present.

And Max lay on her bed as if she were sleeping. If she weren’t surrounded by red, blood, everywhere, I wouldn’t think anything out of the ordinary. It seemed to originate from her chest. Her soft pink shirt was forever stained. A sob escaped my mouth and tears ran down my face. The thing stood in the corner, shaking, snickering. The knife lay on the bed, and I picked it up. Max’s eyes snapped open, and her neck turned in an inhuman way, causing my stomach to lurch once again. I screamed.

“Why did you hurt me?” Blood ran from her eyes.

“I didn’t! I swear, it wasn’t-” I stopped, another sob escaping my throat. “It wasn’t me!”

Something fell to the ground, and I looked up into the corner. It had lost its mask, it was on the floor. I could see its face, now. Maggots crawled on rotted, decaying skin. There were no eyes, barely any features left, having been eaten away. I couldn’t move. It walked over to me, and the small larvae fell away to the ground, revealing even more cratered flesh underneath. 

“Why did you hurt me?” Her voice wasn’t hers anymore.

The creature let out a wretched laugh. I couldn’t breathe anymore. Was that piercing noise me, screaming again, unable to even hear myself? The scene disappeared from in front of me. Everything was dark.

“Your test is complete, you can go now.” I opened my eyes and stood up, shaking. 

“Thank you for participating.”

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