Monday, November 17, 2014

“Outsiders” (Part One)

        Past the wrought iron fence, covered in the dead and dried vines of autumn, stood the towering brick house. Coupled with its four story stature, the numerous marble balconies on the two uppermost levels adorned it with an extra dose of eminence. Like the gate, the red brick of the house was covered in prolific vines, making the entire building look like it was either emerging from the ground or about to be pulled back under. 
        The poshness of the premises seemed to attract a number of hapless souls, since a large amount of them converged on the fence, rattling and slamming the barrier with bloodied hands and faces riddled with spittle. They hurled pleas for someone to let them in, only to be left perpetually dejected by the persistent absence of help.
        I came to a spot of the fence where no one stood and peered through the metal pickets. The house glowed in the twilight, and through the windows the plethora of the house’s occupants could be seen strolling around. The music was loud, the laughter was inviting and the smell of fried chicken and beer perforated through the crisp autumn air. 
        Seeing the house’s glory for myself, a deep desire sprang up within me. I wanted in, so I reached out to test the fence’s strength. Yet as I reached for the nearest picket, part of the fence panel disappeared and an open gate stood in its place. I paused, blinked a few times and even put my arm through the opening to verify what I beheld. I looked around at the people, puzzled why no one came to use the entrance. A rather wild individual to my left happened to find a sledge hammer and was using it to beat on the fence.
        I waved at him. “There’s a gate here, man,” I said.
        “Yah!” He swung his implement and broke its handle on the fence. 
        “There’s an opening!” I yelled this time.
        He ran away, probably in search for another hammer.
        Shaking my head, I readdressed the house. The front door of the house stood ahead of me at the end of a cobblestone sidewalk. It was held open to me, revealing the tantalization inside. I cautiously walked through the gate and ventured across the cobblestones. I turned around to see only the fence--the gate was gone. 
        “Friend!” A man’s voice shouted from the house. 
        I pivoted and saw a slender man standing on the porch between two enormous marble pillars. He stood with arms out in a welcoming gesture.
        “Join us and warm your spirit from the bitter cold outside” he said.
        I slowly stepped towards him.
        “It’s all right,” he said. “You belong here.”
        As I drew closer to him, I noticed some activity on the left side of the house, up on one of the third floor balconies. A few individuals were throwing objects down to the yard, yelling obscenities and insults. At first, I thought they were playing a game, but then I noticed that they were targeting a group of people huddled around a campfire in the darkest region of the yard. These outsiders didn’t seem to mind this assailment; they kept warming themselves and talking quietly. Ignoring this drama, I continued down the sidewalk to the house.
        When I reached the top of the steps, I smiled and nodded at the slender man. His face was perfect, and I looked hard at it to try and see what made it so flawless. There was a type of gloss on his skin, and it gave him an angelic aura. My expression must have revealed my curiosity, since he promptly addressed what intrigued me. 
        “It’s a cosmetic mask.” He rubbed his cheek. “You’ll love it. But definitely grab some food first,” he looked and nodded towards the kitchen to my right, “and whatever else that tickles your desire.”
        “Thank you.”
        “Thank the Man.”
        “The Man, he invited you.”
        “I didn’t get an invite. I just happened to stop by and see--” 
        “Then he invited you! Now go, dig in!” 
        I wanted to ask him about the mysterious fence and disappearing gate, but he turned away and whispered something to an aid. Pushing away my own confusion, I stepped through the door. I was immediately bumped by a suggestively adorned girl, then by the man who was advancing on her. He turned to me with eyes glazed in euphoria. “Sorry, dude,” he said, before chasing his companion upstairs. 
        Everyone looked perfect, like the man at the door. They almost resembled mannequins, but ones whose faces can move. Every face I saw reminded me how out of place I was. I felt like I was missing something. I thought about leaving, but I was hungry and couldn’t pass up free food, so I made the decision to just eat and go. 
        Getting to the food proved treacherous in its own way. A mosh pit of the mannequins were pulsating on the floor in front of the amps and speakers, and I needed to shrug through them to get to the table of food. After giving the subwoofer permission to violate my eardrums, I came out on the other side of the mosh pit and eyed the food, which had been ravaged already. I was grateful, though, to find a few pieces of fried chicken hidden under the edge of the plate that held it. 
        I grabbed a plate and put them on it and moved along the buffet, constructing my meal. I managed to pilfer some mashed potatoes away from the flock of house flies that permeated the bowl. The coleslaw was warm and the cranberry sauce was mixed with the unintentional spills of other foods, but I still took some of each. I grabbed a few black olives and a slice of what looked like homemade bread to finish my plate. There was mostly alcohol to drink, but I chose lemonade; I wanted to keep a level head that night, but in the end, it didn’t matter anyway.
        “Lemonade?” Some guy asked incredulously. He nearly had to yell due to the music.
        “Yup.” I finished pouring my drink before looking over at him. 
        He was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. His left hand held the cigarette and the right was tucked into the pocket of his leather jacket. Jeans from Buckle and spotless black loafers adorned his lower half. His hair was messed up, but I think he wanted it to look that way because that was the style back then. His face also looked like a mannequin, of course.
        His eyes traced over me carefully. “You look like an outsider.”       
        “Yeah, I just came in.”
        “No, I mean you look like those drabs outside. See ‘em?”
        “Around the fire? Yeah.” I threw a olive into my mouth. “Why they out there?”
        He looked hard at me. “Do you know anything about this place?”
        “No, and I’m still puzzled about how I got past the fence. A gate appeared out of no where and--”
        “The Man must want you here, then.”
        “Yeah, the guy at the door said that.” I scooped some coleslaw and half of it fell off the fork, but I shoved in my mouth anyway. “Who is he?”
        “No one knows--at least his name. He’s upstairs now, I think with a bunch o’ choice cuts.” 
        “Oh.” I looked at the homemade bread and saw a patch of green fuzz, so I nudged it away from the rest of my food. “Well, what about ‘the Man’? What makes him a big deal?”
        “Wow, you are clueless.” He drew a draught of smoke, held it with his eyes squinting at me, then blew it at me. “He’s the Man! What else is there to say? He sets the unspeakable rules. We’ve had a fair share of his like before. The last Man fell off a balcony and broke a bunch o’ bones. He was good in his own way, but dumb, a loose cannon. He’s gone now, Heaven knows where. Now the new Man, he’s chill, but that don’t mean he takes crap from anyone.”
        “Good to know.” 
        He looked at my face, but it felt like he was looking through me. “Name’s Stan,” he said. He didn’t offer me his hand. 
        “Drew.” I didn’t offer my hand either.  
        He twitched his head in a crisp nod. I’m assuming he was trying to say, ‘Nice to meet you,’ but then, I don’t know.
        “Let me show you something.” He pushed his back off the wall and turned towards the back of the house. 
        I didn’t want to follow him, but this guy made me curious. I left my lemonade on the table and trailed him into the kitchen. We went through a horde of more mannequins, both men and women. Their demeanors indicated desperation and anticipation. They were all testing each other, trying to determine how much of themselves they were willing to give away that night. I can still smell their hormones.
        Stan glanced back to see if I was still following, then pushed free from the bodies. He came to a closed door near the back door. “This is the heart of this place.” He opened it with a smile. “This is why those drabs are outside, you’ll see.”
        An odor of sweat and must wafted past me when the door swung open. It mixed with the smell of my food in the worst way, and I nearly left my plate upstairs. 
        “Ignore the smell, you adjust.” He began descending the steps. “You actually come to enjoy it.”
        The door revealed a descending flight of stairs that lead to the basement. Light from the main floor was swallowed in the shadows below, and I couldn’t see past a few steps. I kept my right hand on the railing as I continued stepping down. Segments of the railing made me cringe because my hand brushed over something gritty and pulpy; I still don’t know what it was. The steps creaked and murmured and the smell grew in potency. My appetite was now gone. 
        Another closed door stood at the bottom, and Stan, well ahead of me, opened it, unleashing a reddish light into the stairway. I could now see better, but the red light made me anxious; it seemed cultish. Stan went through the door, and when I could see past him, what I saw certainly looked like a cult. A dozen cloaked mannequins surrounded a woman, who was stretched out on a table in the middle of the room. Her eyes were rolled back in a trance and four of the mannequins held her in place while a fifth one braced her head in a vice. 
        Then, a man with a mask marked with various symbols stepped up to her with a scalpel in hand. A light turned on above the table, and the “doctor” proceeded. I’ll not divulge the details because I don’t want to describe how her face got peeled off. Yes, her face was removed--at least the skin on her face. She convulsed throughout the procedure, obviously, and the four figures pressed down on their allotted limbs to keep her still. She moaned and cried, but the creepy man slid his blade along.
        Stan stared at me the whole time, puffing smoke in my face; he probably thought I liked it with how much he did it.
        “Does she feel it?” I asked, still watching.
        “Duh.” He looked at her. “Well, she’s doped out too. That helps the pain.”
        “What is this?”
        “Our beginning,” Stan said, looking at me again. 
        The woman moaned from the pain, but Stan kept looking at me. 
        “This...” My voice cracked. “This is why those people are outside?”
        “You’re catching on!” He threw some more smoke at me. “Yeah, they refused to do the procedure. Fools.”
        “What’s wrong with them refusing?”
        Stan looked at me with his face lowered, as if to lament my apparent stupidity. “They came into the house only to reject us and our offer to be one with us. The Man let them inside, but they want nothing to do with us. They belong on the other side of the fence, with the mob, but they're stuck here now."
        The woman wailed as “Doc” pressed a mask against her skinless face while an aid stood beside him with some strange glue in their hand.  
        “It fits.” Doc said. His voice was pure in tone but toxic in feel. He removed the mask, grabbed the glue and squeezed a bunch on the inside. He gave the glue back to his helper and placed the mask to face of the woman. He pushed down and held it firmly, ushering the worst scream yet from his patient.
        “Easy,” he said softly. 
        The mask that had been placed on her resembled the masks on Stan and the slender man at the door. “You had this done too?” I asked Stan.
        “Uh, yeah.” He twitched his head with preppy sass. “We all did.”
        Doc spoke before I could answer Stan. “Remove her from the vice in ten minutes,” he said to the fifth mannequin, then walked away. 
        The lights went out again, and the red glow resumed.
        “Ready?” Stan said.
        He nodded.
        “Why? I’m not doing this.”
        He sighed. “You seriously gonna reject us? Reject the Man who called you into our midst?”
        “He doesn’t need to know. What’s the big deal? I’ll just leave. Kick me out if it’s--”
         Stan threw his cigarette down and grabbed me by the back of my the neck. “It’s not that easy.” 
        The four mannequins that held the woman joined Stan in manhandling me. I dropped my plate of food in the commotion, leaving it shattered and splattered on the cement floor.        
        Stan's face was now close to mine and I could smell his smoked breath. “Got him?” Stan asked the four mannequins. 
        They nodded. I glanced at them and noticed that their masks had a crease etched on their cheeks, resembling a permanent smile.
        “Come on!” I yelled. I tried kicking but the two figures grabbing my legs clenched them tighter.
        They hauled me up the stairs into the noise and hormones. Stan yelled for the mass of bodies in the kitchen to clear out, and many of them turned to eye me with smug smiles. We went through the entryway and ascended the stairs to the second level. We slalomed through more crowds, whose members continued to smile and laugh at my pitiful state.
        Past more hormones and perfume, we came to the third floor. Stan asked a girl where the Man was. She pointed up to the ceiling, to the fourth floor, so up we went. Nobody was in sight, and the quietness was welcoming, but it only reminded me that bad things happen when no one’s around.
        “Please, guys.” I said. “Just let me leave.”
        “Shut it,” Stan said. “Outsider, just like I said.” 
        “If I’m an outsider, let me go!”
        He grabbed my jaw and pinched it, hushing me. 
        We soon came to a door at the end of a hallway and stopped.
        “We can let him down. He’s not going anywhere now,” Stan said in a quiet voice. They placed me back on my feet but held me with their hands on my shoulders and waist.

        Stan took a breath and knocked a few times. While he waited, he looked at one of my captors with wide eyes. He looked scared, and if he was, I only dreaded what was in store for me. 

------------------> Read Part 2 Here <-------------------

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