Freedom’s Mask – Chapter 1, Part 1

Over the next few weeks we’ll be previewing the first chapter of Andrew’s new novel, Freedom’s Mask (© 2017, ISBN: 978-1-976-40079-7). The book will be available soon in both print and digital formats, but you can read it here first. We hope you like it!

 
Chapter One, Part One

I could feel the sun blazing down on my face, lighting up my eyelids and threatening to outdo the pain that was throbbing behind them, my right especially banging away. No, not my right eye, the place behind my right eye, just at the root of the socket, where all the gangly wires join the eyeball to the brain. I was keeping those lids firmly closed. More pain was not what I needed.

But the poking continued. And that voice. Was it a voice? It was something patterned, it had to be human. Repetitive. Was it English? No, something similar perhaps. A sing-song pattern, ups and downs, ups and downs. I thought that maybe if I rolled over my eye might hurt less, but it felt like I was lying on some wet and squishy ground so I decided that might not be such a good idea. No telling what I’d roll over onto. But I had to do something. Whoever it was out there – and by that point I knew it had to be a who and not a what – wouldn’t shut up. I moved my right arm to put a hand over that dancing ball planted in my face, to put some pressure on top that might help calm the fires beneath, and as I did so I felt my sleeve cling to me; it was soaking wet. How did that happen? One thing at a time. I squeezed both of my eyelids shut extra tightly to gird myself for the big move and then cracked open the left, blinking immediately and rapidly under that scorching inferno in the sky, letting the focus come slowly as a shape shifted above me.

It was human. He was human. And still poking away, muttering that same string of nonsense. I blinked a few more times and pressed down a little harder on my right eye; the thing would not let up. What was the guy wearing? Some kind of conical hat like the kind you saw fake Asians wearing in movies from the fifties. He didn’t look like a real Asian though, but then he didn’t look black or white either. I couldn’t place him racially speaking, not that it really mattered. He might have been all races at once for all I knew. He did have a thin beard, or maybe well-trimmed stubble; a style choice? His eyes looked kind enough; real concern hovered there amongst the soft browns. Thick black eyebrows, a tall straight nose. Why wouldn’t he stop poking me? I blinked again and tried to speak, my voice coming out like gravel, rocks being dragged on asphalt; speech was evidently a non-starter, all wrong, dead. I was in shocking pain, wet, and my throat was evidently damaged to boot. Giving up on chatter for the time being I cocked my left arm under me to prop myself up, keeping my right where it was to hold down that jack-in-the-box of agony. He, the guy, took a couple of steps back and stood up slightly, looking away and maybe calling to someone. He was dressed in a set of black pyjamas and rubber boots all speckled with what looked like dirt; and he was wearing one of those goofy Asian hats. I didn’t blame him for the apparel though, the sun was intense. Searing almost. And the humidity; was that why I was so wet?

I tried to look around a little; there were green shoots poking up all over the place. I was on the ground all right, stuck in the mud, and in more ways than one, I mused. I soon discovered too why my clothes felt so drenched. They were drenched. I was lying in a few centimeters of murky water, not more than five so there was no need to swim – of course – but the color of the water, and its warmth, with the little plants everywhere and the sun frying every molecule, instantly made me think the place must be swarming with bugs. I forced myself into a proper sitting position.

For the most part that was easier than I thought it was going to be. I wasn’t injured in any way that I could tell and aside from the ice pick jabbing away behind my eyeball I felt no pain whatsoever. I might have felt other pains had my headache not been drowning them out, but anyway nothing seemed broken, cut, scratched, or bruised. If I had fallen here then I did so somewhat remarkably, or maybe just luckily, because I didn’t seem to be any the worse for it. Still, I was the worse for not knowing where I was. And why couldn’t I understand the people around me? There were three of them now, with a fourth approaching, all wearing those same black pyjamas and rubber boots, faces shaded by their umbrella tops. I stared at them. They were staring at me so I couldn’t see the harm in it. Their facial features were mixed, quite varied within the group, and their skin tones were differing shades of a pleasant but mysterious not quite red or yellow, black or white, as that church song about Jesus loving the little children goes. It occurred to me that they really ought to retire that song; it’s racist. The two who were most animated were both men and one had a fantastic moustache of a dark brown, kind of reddish hue, while the third and – having just arrived – fourth were women who might have been quite striking had I been able to get a good look at them. For now they hung back and appeared worried.

I tried speaking again but it was still no dice. My throat was a rock tumbler. They, however, had no trouble speaking, and pointing. Calmly though; I had to give them that. I pushed a little harder against my eye and tried to remember what I had gotten up to the night before. It was easy enough to concentrate as I could tune out the sound of those people’s water-pouring-over-dishes-in-the-sink gibberish without any trouble at all. The trouble came when my memory attempted to stretch beyond about nine p.m. I finished work late-ish, not too bad given my average, and stopped off for a drink on my way home which turned into five. I probably should have eaten something. I vaguely recalled walking (stumbling) to the station, some issue with the stairs – slipping? not falling… – and looking through clouded eyes at blurry and dancing train times. The twenty-one eighteen, that was the one I wanted; did I make it through the gate? Did I collapse on the platform? Did I knock out on a bench? Did I fall onto the tracks? Did I really try walking through a Metro tunnel? It was impossible to tell. I was there then and not now. But where in the hell was I? And why in the hell couldn’t I understand anyone?

I sent my left eye roving upwards again and saw that one of the two women had now stepped forward and appeared to be taking charge, speaking quickly to the two men as she pointed first at me and then at one of them. She seemed to be motioning for the other man, Comrade Moustache, to run off in another direction, though towards where or for what purpose I had no idea. Of course I had no idea. I had no idea about anything. She then approached me directly, bending down to meet my gaze as I sat there like some dumbfounded cretin, and the look she gave me was one of such warmth and genuine concern that I nearly melted. I was putty. She reached out and gently, delicately, pulled my right hand away from the dancing taw in my face. She seemed satisfied by what she saw – and I was sure my eyeball looked fine because all the trauma was located behind it – and then held her hands up, palms outward and with earnestness etched onto her every detail, apparently signaling that she meant no harm by whatever it was that she was about to do or by what she had done. She could have skipped all that because I would have let her touch me all day long, she was gorgeous and there were no two ways about it. Her brown-black hair was pulled back into a bun that remained just within the shade of the cone cap they were all wearing, some loose bits at the front falling over a tanned forehead and accentuating almond-shaped eyes out of which two emerald jewels shone brightly. I let my gaze slide down between them to a little button nose that perfectly offset a full pair of soft and welcoming lips. I was transfixed. I stared at her with my mouth half open while she leaned forward and placed a hand under my hair to lift it out of the way, inspecting the place where my third eye would be if I were more enlightened. She then made the same non-threatening gesture and undid the top two buttons on my shirt, pulling back first the right side and then the left, checking the central areas on both sides of my chest. I thought it a pity that she didn’t take the whole thing off. And my pants. Redoing the buttons she nodded at me, allowed a slight smile across her lips and in her eyes, and then stood and turned to face her group. While she spoke to them in low tones I tried to imagine what kind of figure she had underneath her pyjamas; I could barely make out the set of her hips and the fullness of her derriere but it was a challenge I gladly rose to. It even made me forget about my pain for a few blissful seconds.

 
Part two next week!
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