by Matthew Curtis
“What’s going on down there?” I said to myself.
I’m not sure how I got there. Did I walk? Did I drive?Or did I run? I must have driven. Earlier I was at least a day away from this place: Midvale, Utah. I don’t remember the drive. I was at my high school’s football stadium. Now this wasn’t the high school that I graduated from—a humble, distinct high school, one of the oldest in the state—it was the first one I went to. One seated in a richer part of the state that I never quite belonged to socioeconomically: trailers and mansions.
Why would I return? I wondered. But I did. I was there staring at a crowd of people jumping up and down on the bleachers and out onto the field. I wanted to join in, be a part of the magic. But I knew they would never like Myself. I didn’t even like myself.
Then a group of them, a small one on the outskirts, held up a white object. It was round with holes in it: a hockey mask.
“Man this mask is so cool!” one of them said.
“Why don’t you wear it then?” replied another.
“No way, only a king could wear that,” he said.
They laughed and left it there as they went to the field.
A king huh? Challenge accepted. I walked toward the mask while everyone shuffled onto the field. They started jumping to the song “Every Time We Touch” by Cascada. I looked at the mask and stared at myself in its unusually shiny reflection.
Pick up mask. Extend the band. Instant anonymity.
I walked down the stadium steps, every one clomping beneath my feet, making the noise waa-i. And all I could answer back was the blood rushing in my arms and legs, my sympathetic nervous system, water sounds of yaa-es.
I did a royal dance-skip-march to the middle of the crowd; I was a finessed boxer, but with my hands down to my sides. The smell of body odor almost stopped me, but that faint scent of perfume kept me there. I broke through the membrane of the crowd and people parted as I walked through. Girls with brown hair and thick bracelets made of off-white rope and white shirts bearing rock stars on them—Incubus possibly— and blond jocks with letter-man jackets, square jaws, and big enough arms to tear me in two—their muscles like pricks that stuck out of their jackets—all let me through. Even Cascada herself paused a moment without anyone touching the volume or power strip.
I absorbed their silence and caught their wonder and let their own eyes reflect back at them in the shine of my mask. I willed the beat from Cascada’s song to return lightly. I waved my hands like a worm, and then marched in place while moving my arms like a helicopter. The smiles on their faces grew wider until I made them ignite. When I jumped, they exploded. The music was full-blast again; everyone started jumping and spinning and shouting and grinning in awe.
“Ooo!” I would shout aloud, pointing in a random direction. They wouldn’t shout it back. I just heard them say things like, “Who is the guy in the hockey mask?” They would ask and keep jumping. Nobody knew who I was and I didn’t know any of them either. That’s the way we liked it.
When I got off the stadium floor, many of them followed. But something strange was happening. I couldn’t breathe anymore. Air wasn’t coming in. I knew I had to take off the mask. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t expose Myself. I looked around and saw two transparent tubes, filled to the top with face paint. I grabbed them, twisted off the caps, filled my hands with the stuff and shoved it on my face, plowing it into my skin. Make Something. Make Something now. After I had doused my face, I wiped the residue in my hair, pulling each strand.
I took off my mask and looked at myself in it. My face was a mess of dirt brown and a green that was one of the colors of this high school. I smelled of freshly cut grass. A girl with blonde hair that had a flowing unison about it—like one long pillar of blonde—came up to me. She put her hand on my shoulder and looked at me longingly.
“Hey, do you have a Band-Aid?” she asked.
“No I don’t, but I could check in my car—”
“Because I scraped my knee when I fell for you.” She walked around me, keeping her hand on my shoulder as she did.
“Ha ha good one,” I said, turning to face her. “I used to have a shirt that said th—”
“Do you have a sunburn?” I turned. There stood a brunette. She was wearing a large rope-like bracelet.
I was confused by her question. My face paint wasn’t red. Is she colorblind or something?
“Maybe on my arms, but this is face p—”
“Or are you always this hot?” she replied. She then occupied the shoulder that the blonde girl just rotated around.
One after the other, they kept coming at me, girls who wouldn’t have even said hi to me before. They were using cheesy pick up lines, vying for my attention. It was nice, but also odd.
“Do you have a map? Because I got lost in your eyes.”
“I want to live in your socks so I can be with you every step of the way.”
“If nothing lasts forever, will you be my nothing?”
It got overwhelming pretty quickly. None of them would let me get a word in. They didn’t want to get to know me at all. They just wanted to feed off me like parasites: eating my life. They wanted pleasure, attention, disconnection. Not affection.
The last girl then grabbed my hand, the same blonde girl as before. The brunette then tugged me violently in her direction, almost twisting my fingers out of my hand.
“Do you like playing tag?” she asked, biting her bottom lip.
I wasn’t sure how to answer this. From the way she was moving her mouth I was pretty sure she didn’t mean regular ol’ “you run I chase and touch you with my hand” kind of tag. But what would she do if I said no? What would all of them do? I would lose all I had gained.
“Umm,” I started.
“Because I’m ‘it’,” she said, leaning forward.
“Actually, I’m ‘it’,” the blonde girl said, pushing the brunette out of the way.
I just started running, which really helped me accomplish both of my goals: Play along like they want me to and don’t let them kiss me yet. I decided that by the time they got to me I would know whether I wanted them to kiss me or not. And if I didn’t, I would just keep dashing.
I kept running while they both chased me, not sure if I was having fun. Apparently, after their civil conversation of course, they had decided that they were both it (or maybe they had started ignoring each other). I ran down the stadium stairs. They followed. Somehow they just skipped over them as easily as if running on flat ground, their strides the same no matter which way they went. No fair. I still had the awkwardness of my feet to deal with.
I got to the “H”, a giant cement letter in the ground, and turned around to see that they were trampling on my shadow. I don’t think I want this. I covered my mouth. A fourth of a second later they were at my face and had marked the back of my hands with their kisses.
“Playing hard to get huh?” the brunette asked.
“I like that in a guy,” the blonde said.
They peeled away my hands with amazing strength and then both leaned in. I felt a knick of their lips when I heard a voice scream.
“Hey! Leave facepaint alone!” It was some blond jock in a letterman’s jacket,
“We have a new game for him.”
“Huh?” I replied, “I mean, yeah. What is it? I can handle it.”
“We call this one chug,” the jock held up a gallon of milk. Whole milk. Every natural gram of fat within. I hate that in a beverage.
“What do you say man? Are you up to it?” the jock asked. His smile sure it already had its answer.
“Sure. Bring it.” I said, faking my confidence.
I stood on top of the “H” while everyone started to clap.
“You can do it!”
I nodded my head, playing the perfect pretend hero.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. What would happen if I didn’t do this?
Nothing. Nothing, once again, would happen.
They will love me if I do this.
I started to chug it down.
“Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!”
They chanted. I got about halfway through the gallon when I started to lower the jug. But they wouldn’t let me. The jock lifted it back up and held my arm in place. The rest of the milk came out as forced by gravity, and I caught it in my mouth, well, all that I could catch that is.
When the drink was gone, the jock eased his grip. I broke out of it, knocking the milk jug across the field. I ran up the stairs to get to my car. But I couldn’t. My stomach emptied all of its contents onto the top stair: pure, white curdles.
I could see my reflection, or what I can only term as my reflection. It was looking at me strangely, asking, “Who are you? And how much further do you have to fall before your shadow loses track of where you’ve been?” I determined to get up. I moved my arms, but one of them slipped in the puddle. My whole face splashed and I fainted.
Next thing I knew, I was in a gold sedan, in the middle of the back seat with a brunette on my right and a blonde on my left. The blonde girl reached over to buckle me in. The new car smell air freshener promised something fake. I looked into the rear view mirror and could see the same jock who gave me the milk sitting behind the wheel. Being dragged into a game is one thing. Being dragged into a car is nothing like it.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked.
“To another party, just a couple hours away,” the jock replied.
“No I’ve got to get home!”
Here they are, feeding off of my energy again. I am something fresh, or something they haven’t had for a while.
“Oh you are coming man. We worship you. You have no choice.”
At this the girls smiled, and tightened their grip on my arms and hands. I learned how vain an intimacy can be as they sewed their digits into our now everlasting. I was so sick of this façade, of being popular, liked, of having the girls. I dug my fingers as hard as I could into my face and scratched for that icky mess to come off. It didn’t. Not a scratch at all.
“Let me go!” I yelled.
He cocked his head forward again, and glanced in the rear view mirror.
“Be fun. You are coming and you are going to be fun.”
I sat back defeated, realizing that I would never get to be myself again.
Fear woke me. I gasped for air. Dream gone. Masquerade over. Back in Spring, Texas.
I pressed my fingers into my cheeks to check for face paint. I walked into the living room and sat at my crowded desk dazed. I looked at myself in the glare of my glasses just to be sure.
Matthew Curtis is a creative writing student attending Salt Lake Community College. He dabbles in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and the spaces in between. He graduates this year and will transfer to Brigham Young University in the fall. He is continually inspired by what he does and does not know.