The Rabbit Mask
Jamie Popowich published the short story collection, Chrome Kisses, this year. He is finishing a screwball comedy novel as well as completing his PhD at Hertfordshire University.
“I always believe in following the advice of the playwright, Sardou. He said, ‘Torture the women.’ The problem today is that we don’t torture women enough.”
I’m exhausted. This doesn’t stop me. I still pull the rabbit mask over my face. This isn’t one of those masks where the back is missing. This one, black, has a smooth back. Exactly what I need. I don’t want anyone pulling it off during a struggle. The ears are long, solid, rubber. The rest is cloth. The mask was my mother’s. Years before I was alive. Now two years since she’s gone.
In my own way, my way, I’m trying to connect. To tell people something. To leave clues for the police that says to them here’s another asshole to deal with. Not that they ever do. Not the newspapers either. Nobody has followed the pattern. Nobody has understood my meaning. I’m starting to think this is my fault. Like I haven’t been explaining myself properly.
When you stab a person, if you go with intent, no flinching, no hesitation of motion, an emphatic high-ya as you swing, the weapon will sink in easier. You’ll pierce the fragile outer layers of skin, the tendons underneath, maybe crack through the bone if you have enough force. Your weapon will go in smooth. Fits just right. Surprisingly smooth.
I’d been following Greg for a few weeks. From house parties. To this girl he was going with, her place. From school to grabbing a sub. From school to home. From the gym to his buddy’s place. I walked across the street, behind him, even beside him. He never saw me. Greg wasn’t a guy who thought twice about walking home alone by himself at night. He walked at Greg pace. Never running. Never walking in the middle of the road worrying someone might grab him. As far as he was concerned, no one could touch him. In class, his bored nod, the way he answered questions, knowing them but not caring. Sighing as he said them. All so easy for Greg.
He walked down the street like he walked down the halls at school. His solid shoulders swinging left, right, happy to bump a kid because he could. The guy didn’t think anything of anyone, but a lot of himself. Already past six feet. Brown hair perfectly tussled. Big hands to grab one of his dates around the throat just to show them he could. His fingers touching around the back of her neck. Or so I heard.
I jumped from behind a maple tree then off it for reinforcement.
I landed on his back. My left grabbed him round the neck. The right swung the screwdriver into his neck. Pulling the screwdriver out, while not impossible, might take time, so I’d brought another one. I stuck it into his leg. I let go of him.
Greg stumbled forward, one hand grabbing at his neck, the other grabbing at his leg. The neighbourhood was quiet. All the cars were parked in rows down the block in their driveways. Trees in front of every house, their branches hanging over the street, the streetlamps casting shadows on the sidewalk as you walked along, lost in your thoughts. During the day kids walked to school unguarded. Late afternoon mums and dads walked up the street to their homes. Everybody knew their roles. Enter Greg, lurching like Frankenstein’s Monster, with screwdriver lightning bolt attachment included.
I took off. No parting quip. No souvenir picture. That’s not who I am. That’s not why I’m doing this.
Leatherface. Jason Voorhees. Mike Myers. We know their stories. What about my mum’s story? The rabbit mask was hers. The dried black blood stained into the mask’s fabric, part of its being, suggests what about her? Is she the missing link to them? Was she the one doing the heavy thinking? Because she was smart. Walk the city with her, she’d have answers, stories. Local corruption. Storm removal techniques. Best quinoa recipes. She moved between ideas, slipping in jokes, honest as truth. She never got a chance to explain the rabbit mask. But the compulsion’s obvious. I got that from the moment I held the mask in my hands. The empty eyes looking back. Fill me in, Cameron, they told me.
And when I put the mask on I’m seeing through my eyes as much as hers. Only she and I filled this space.
But I wonder about Leatherface. About Voorhees. Myers. Their erratic styles. Their bloodlust. Leatherface trapped by the family business. Jason caught up in his camp forest loops. Myers’ obsession with teenage lust. None of them got long-term thinking. No sense of their vocation.
Three weeks later, followed into our math class by a detective who lead him gently by his neck brace, Greg made his crutch hobbling return. Heroic return is how Mr. Gibson put it. With us all ordered to stand up and applaud. Rebecca Bodie cried. Greg’s buddy, Harkness, yelled, “We’re proud of you, boy.”
The detective motioned for us all to sit down. “I’m Detective Oates, but you all can call me Stacey. Gregory here would like to say a few words then I’m going to rap with you all. Go ahead, Gregory.”
The teacher motioned for us to clap again.
Greg held out some cards for Detective Oates. “Hold these up for me,” he said. His voice pinched as he spoke. Like it only half worked. “My dad helped me write this. It was hard, you know, getting my heart out.” Greg cleared his throat. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering optional. And guys, I’m hurting. Hurting bad. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get here today. But you got to ask yourself, Gregor, are you going to make hurt your reality? Are you, son? Or can you stand it. Can you own the hurt? I’m going to try, guys. Big boys try. Big boys conquer. Right?”
“That’s right,” said Detective Oates. “You go have a seat, Gregory—”
“Can I stand? Hurts to sit?”
“Sure, sure. But stand off to the side. I don’t want you distracting people while I’m talking.” The Detective turned to us. “You guys have been through a lot these last few months. What happened to Gregory especially—that’s monstrous. That’s a vile sicko out there that’s targeted you boys. Made you victims. He wants to ruin your freedom. Remember when we all used to walk around any time of day without fear? Well, I’m here to tell you that you will again. We’re going to catch this creepoid and put our streets back right.
“For all you fellas in the room. You’re having a tough time. All these boys have been picked off. Some of them your friends. All like you’re getting duck hunted. And you don’t know if you’re safe anymore. Am I right?”
Harkness said, “Yes, sir.” The rest of the boys murmured agreement with him.
“You’ll be safe again. You’ll be free to chase the girls around. To be boys. I promise. I was born in this community. I raised hell in this community. Just like my dad before me. And your dads before you. And we’re going to make sure you get your chance to raise hell too.
“Now, all you ladies. We’re going to need your help. These guys are scared. It’s your job to bring their spirits up. To make them men again. Can you do that for us?”
The boys were looking around at us. Some of the girls nodded their heads. One of the boys whispered, “It’s so fucking tough.”
“I hope I see everyone at the Fight The Night event this Friday,” said Detective Oates. “We’re going to start here at the school and head over to where Gregory was attacked. We’re going to kick that night into submission. Right, everyone?” Everyone started clapping. Greg had a coughing fit. I joined them all but silently. Miming their actions.
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