IWSG & WEP Dec 2020 – Unmasked

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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This month, I’m going to combine my IWSG post with my WEP post. Usually, the blog hop WEP participants post their themed stories on the 3rd Wednesday of the month, but this December, the WEP admin team decided to forgo a formal challenge (because of all the political and social upheavals of this year and all the health issues so many of us battled) and just post our stories on the theme Unmasked. Sort-of an unstructured and undemanding challenge.

Like all my other WEP stories this year, this story is about the paper mage Monette and her magic agency, Small Magics, in Vancouver, Canada. Monette’s previous magic adventures are here:
Feb challenge – Café Terrace
Apr challenge – Antique Vase
Jun challenge – Urban Nightmare
Aug challenge – Long Shadow
Oct challenge – Grave Mistake
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Monette gazed at Zack, her new client. He asked her on the phone to come to his place. Now she knew why. He wore old jeans and a black sweatshirt, but his face was covered by a beautiful old mask. It left only his mouth, eyes, and nostrils bare. Feathers, crystal beads, and golden filigree intertwined in a gorgeous pattern all over his face, from his hairline to his chin, and the magical runes glittered malevolently between the innocent ornaments. Even from across the coffee table, she could feel the magical effluvia and the ill intent of the mask towards its wearer.

“What happened?” she asked quietly.

“It wouldn’t come off,” Zack said. “I found it last year on a trip to Europe. In an antique shop. I put it on for our office Christmas party yesterday, for a lark, and now the f#@$ing thing wouldn’t come off. I couldn’t sleep all night, and now my face is tingling, probably from some … f#@$ing glue.”

“No. From magic,” Monette said. “You did right to call in a magician. This mask is magical, and it means you harm.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It feels like a curse, but I doubt it was directed at you personally.”

He swore. “Could you get it off?” He sounded angry and helpless, which sat oddly with his broad shoulders, muscled forearms, and a general air of self-assurance surrounding him. This man wasn’t used to being helpless.

“I’ll try,” Monette said. Ideas swirled in her head. The magic of the mask felt very powerful, much stronger than hers. She wouldn’t be able to negate its hateful spell, but she might be able to trick it. “Do you have a good quality head shot? As recent as possible.”

“Yes, on my phone.”

“No.” Monette shook her head. “I need a paper copy. I’m a paper mage. Send me several of your best photos by email. I’ll make a paper copy and come back in a couple hours. I need some supplies to make it work.”

Zack nodded, his strong fingers already flying over his phone’s keypad. “I’m not going anywhere. Not in this f#@$ing abomination.”

Deep in thought, Monette left Zack’s luxurious apartment in one of the downtown high-rises and drove to her home in a much less affluent neighborhood. She didn’t pay attention to the city, decked out in all its holiday finery. She was contemplating the malicious spell attached to the mask and what she could do to erase it.

Spellingra, her talking grimoire, wasn’t sanguine either, when Monette outlined her problem, but the book obediently opened up at the section of removal spells. “Erasing that mask might not help,” Spellingra warned, its pages susurrating in distress. “He wears a mask on the inside. That’s why the feathered one stuck on the outside.”

“I know. I’ll have to tell him,” Monette said glumly. She wasn’t looking forward to that conversation. She rather liked the guy, mask and all.

At a neighborhood self-serve photo place, she made a large portrait of Zack on the most expensive glossy paper they had, collected her crayons and a copy of the erasure spell, and drove back to Zack’s three hours later.

“Before I try to remove the mask, I need to draw it on your portrait,” she explained. “Please, sit down, Zack.”

His lips twitched, but he didn’t contradict her. He sat in an easy chair, facing the wall of windows for the best light. Monette placed his portrait on a table in front of her. She used her colored crayons to draw the mask on the portrait in all its elaborate details. The crayons were a special variety, imported from Italy, and super expensive. She didn’t use them often, but she needed them now: they were erasable.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” he remarked.

“Magic is never one hundred percent certain,” Monette replied absently, trying to match the color nuances and lines of the mask exactly. “But so far, I haven’t failed a client.”

“Good to know.”

Monette, absorbed in her work, didn’t reply. Zack fell silent too. After she was done, she drew the erasure spell in black ink all around the mask. The spell’s diagram burst into a glow as soon as the last line connected, and Monette realized that the winter dusk already settled over the city. She had to turn on the lights for the next, the trickiest part of her manipulation.

“Tell me if it hurts,” she said. “I’ll try to be as careful as I can.”

“That’s not reassuring,” he said dryly but he didn’t move from his chair.

Monette picked up her eraser, poured her magic into it, and gently rubbed at the mask on her portrait, starting at Zack’s hairline.

He sucked in his breath. “It doesn’t hurt, but it is unpleasant,” he said.

“I know. Sorry.” She continued erasing, not looking at him at all, her full attention on her masterpiece. His forehead emerged first, as the eraser removed a portion of her drawing. His temples cleared up next. His cheeks and a strong line of his jaw. His nose. And finally, the sensitive area around his eyes. He was breathing deeply by now, but he didn’t complain.

“Done,” she said finally and blew the erased crumbs off the photo. She swiped her hand over the photograph to remove every tiny bit. When the last one fell off, her spell diagram winked out, even though the eraser didn’t touch it. The photo under her fingertips didn’t feel as smooth as before – the eraser had done its job – but it didn’t feel too bad. She lifted her eyes.

His face was puffy and pink, but even so, he looked gorgeous, better than on the photo.

“Sorry,” she said again and winced. “I couldn’t help it. You’ll need to apply some lotion for a day or two to deal with the irritation from my eraser.”

Without speaking, he jumped up and disappeared into his washroom. He came out a few moments later.

“Thank you,” he said. His smile blazed. “I never thought I would ever need a magician, thought they were all charlatans, but obviously not.”

Monette sighed. “A bit of a damper, Zack. This mask is an old and powerful spell. I removed its outer manifestation, but I can’t remove the spell itself. I doubt any magician can. It’s attached itself to you, put its hook into you, because you already wear a mask, pretend to be what you are not. I don’t know what you’re or what you do. It’s not my business, but I have to warn you: if you don’t stop wearing your inner mask, this outer one will come back. Not right away, maybe, but in a month, or a year. You have to … unmask yourself to be free of this spell.” She shrugged apologetically. “Sorry.”

He stared at her, his grin dimming. “F#@$,” he said.
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Could you speculate what kind of a mask Zack is wearing in real life? Is he a sensitive artist pretending to be a ruthless businessman? Is he a cold-blooded killer masquerading as a friendly neighbor? Is he an industrial spy? A robot? A magician denying his magic? Tell me in the comments.

This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, WEP, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to IWSG & WEP Dec 2020 – Unmasked

  1. Great story! I saw him as a guy, denying his femininity. In fact, it could be a woman impersonating a man. Or a man denying his sexual orientation. This could go many ways, but we all wear masks. I keep mine in place most days. When it falls, I struggle to put it back in place. I pray for the day I can remove it and truly be free.

  2. This is a wonderful story.
    I wear many masks. Masks to suit the occasion. I am not even certain now who the ‘real’ me is, let alone what she looks like.
    I saw Zac’s mask (the one which allowed the malevolent one to stick to him) as protective. There is something about him which he is afraid to reveal. A sensitivity which he fears will be exploited?

  3. Toi Thomas says:

    Another wonderful Monette story. I like Yolanda’s guess about Zack’s mask, but I was thinking he was simply in hiding, from what, not sure: mobsters, child support payments, someone out to hurt him just because. Great reading experience. Thanks, bunches!

  4. That was very clever. We all wear masks to a degree, so he could be hiding anything.

  5. Great story. It’s a very inventive magical system. And I agree with Alex on how we all wear masks to some degree. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. He’s secretly a Chippendale! LOL. Like the magical element.

  7. This was once again a masterpiece. I just love your Monette stories. I feel his mask is a job mask. He’s somehow a double agent, a spy … but in a good cause. Maybe the company he works for is wicked, and he’s on the brink of finding a big secret. He has to stop that job before he’s found out, demasked or maybe re-masked? Or will he sacrifice himself to save the world, and can Monette help him?

  8. soniadogra says:

    Well he could be hiding anything…All of us are wearing one mask or the other, aren’t we? Great story Olga. Love how it has something to state beyond the obvious.

  9. Nilanjana Bose says:

    All your Monette stories are marvellous, this one no exception. I have absolutely loved this whole series.

    I think he wears material success as a mask and needs to take it off to connect with the real thing.

    Best wishes always, Olga. Looking forward to read what you create next year.

  10. patgarcia says:

    Hi,
    Great story. I don’t know what he is hiding but I think he is insecure and tries to be something that he is not. Maybe, he’s seeking approval or maybe he is a narcissist.
    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a safe passage into 2021.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  11. Chrys Fey says:

    What a cool story. I wear masks. It’s hard not to. We all do to some degree. I enjoyed this story. The lingering questions are what make it so great.

  12. cleemckenzie says:

    It’s always fun to read your stories on WEP!

  13. emaginette says:

    I’m sorry to say, I have no idea who he is. Like so many people in the world that hide behind their outer shell, he’s a mystery to me.

    Good story though. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  14. Sylvia Ney says:

    Ooooooh! I really liked this story and wanted to read more. Very captivating. I hope you are able to enjoy the holidays, and some writing time. Merry Christmas!

  15. Loni Townsend says:

    Fun story. 🙂 Maybe he’s like me, pretending he’s got it all handled but is really freaking out on the inside.

  16. Jemi Fraser says:

    I really, really like this!!
    I trust Monette’s instincts, so I’d think he might be an undercover operator of some kind. A good guy underneath whatever mask he wears!

  17. Erika Beebe says:

    Lovely creative story Olga. I think it’s left to what mask the reader is familiar with. What the reader may have hidden from in his or her own past 🙂

  18. Denise Covey says:

    Hi Olga!
    Hope you’re feeling much better. So glad you took the opportunity to publish another episode of your Monette serial. This one doesn’t disappoint. I like the discussion about wearing masks. True, probably most of us wear different masks for different purposes. Like EC said, she’s not sure who she is unmasked any more.

    A great tale to end the WEP year. If you wish to visit mine, here is the link:

    https://dencovey.blogspot.com/2020/12/wep-december-challenge-pierrot-fool.html

  19. jlennidorner says:

    I love the way you wrote this! How the face we hide from the world could also get hidden by a non-metaphor. Great use of the prompt!

  20. hilarymb says:

    Hi Olga – I hope you’re feeling completely better … it’s good to see you and Monette back. Wonderful story … and he could be hiding from so many things … but whatever holds him happened a while ago … so lots of stories there too …. cruel fate to have the feathered one as well. I feel he’s redeemable, but when he was magicked originally he hadn’t been very kind. Fascinating – loved the story – take care – Hilary

  21. yvettecarol says:

    Wow, strong writing, Olga. I think that’s a fascinating take on life as we know it!

  22. I loved the story! What kind of mask is he wearing? Oh my, so many come to mind. Does he figure it out? What happens next? I’m guessing we don’t get to know for a bit. I’d definitely read on. He’s lying to himself is my guess. A deep-rooted lie. I’m Spellbound, Olga. I love Monette! Your writing is wonderful.

  23. Ha! I feel sorry for Zack. Great story.

  24. Diane Burton says:

    Great story, Olga. Hope you’re feeling better.

  25. Every time I go into Party City, I’m drawn to the fancy masks, especially the ones with bird feathers that evoke peacocks or owls. I just want to buy them all and decorate a wall with them. Maybe someday, I will!
    Enjoyed your story.

  26. Rebecca Douglass says:

    I do so love Monette and the paper magics! As for Zack’s mask… All that masculine confidence is hiding something. Could be as simple as Imposter Syndrome, but his reaction suggests something more—a true imposture. The obvious one is that he’s gay and trying to deny it. I like the idea, too, that he’s an artist trying to force himself to be a high-powered exec. Not a spy—this is more personal, and having to drop that mask would be a different kind of risk… I want dropping his mask to be truly liberating and make him happy in the long run, however painful in the short.`

  27. Donna Hanton says:

    I love these Monette stories. (Please say there’ll be more!) Her solutions to her client’s problems are truly inspired. As to what Zack is using his internal mask for… I’m not sure. He could be hiding something, though I think he’s more likely to be using it to protect himself. His self-confidence is bravado, deflecting hurts that he believes his true self cannot handle.

  28. I think Zack was faking his self-reliance and confidence.

  29. lgkeltner says:

    Oh, what is his inner mask hiding? I’m intrigued. I hope he’s able to unmask himself and be free of the curse once and for all. I love reading about Monette!

  30. wordweiver says:

    Spellbound.
    Zack can be an extraterrestrial disguising as a human being from the earth.

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