He found the mask stuffed away in a corner of the attic of the new house. “New” was a generous way to describe the old, creepy dust trap. The place was a moldy hunk of junk rotting from the inside out, like bad fruit. It was in the middle of nowhere, thirty minutes outside of town. Everything about it screamed “not interested” in Logan’s brain, but Candice was in love with it, convinced she could work her magic on it and turn it into a piece of art, and Logan was in love with Candice and if living inside an old, disgusting house while she remodeled it made Candice happy, then Logan was happy. Besides, Logan had seen examples of houses that Candice had redesigned before, and if she could make this house look like any of those earlier ones, they’d be living in a house most couples would kill for in a year.
He had been busy sweeping up all the cobwebs and dust bunnies when he made his discovery. Candice’s plans for the empty attic were to transform it into a comfy home office for Logan, which he was particularly excited about. After sweeping up a particularly extraordinary amount of dust, creating a whirlwind that sent him into a coughing fit, he saw the mask looking up at him with its empty eye holes.
It was a rubber mask, the kind that wrapped all the way around the head, giving the wearer an absolutely new one. The face looked like an old Howdy Doody doll with freckled cheeks, buck teeth, and perfectly coiffed brown hair. A hole in the mouth allowed breath in and out. Logan wasn’t sure what possessed him to throw on the mask without hesitation, but it was probably a mixture of boredom and procrastination. The eye holes were small, so small that he could only just barely see out of them. The whole mask reeked of glue or paint or some rancid mixture of the two. He wouldn’t keep it on long. He just wanted to show it to Candice first, maybe get a laugh out of her.
He slowly made his way down the rickety ladder for the attic, down the hall, down the stairs, and into the kitchen, where Candice was busy unboxing all of their silverware. He snuck up behind her and exclaimed in a high pitched, sing-songy voice:
“Hyuck-hyuck-hyuck! Hi there, little girl, what’s your name?”
Candice turned around with a curious, slightly annoyed look on her face, but once she saw Logan staring back at her through the eyeholes of that ridiculous looking mask, her face turned red and she burst into laughter, doubling over, and guffawing.
“Oh my GOD! Logan, what on earth is that thing?!”
“Beats me, I just found it upstairs in the attic,” he said as he yanked the rubber monstrosity off his head, and his thankful lungs breathed in fresh, non-rubbery air.
“Wow. Why anyone would want to own something like that outside of Halloween is beyond me. Are you done with cleaning the attic?”
“Yeah.” He was cradling the mask in his hands like a deflated baby, studying it, fascinated by it.
“Cool. Wanna get rid of that…thing and help me with the dishes?”
He nodded and headed outside to throw out the mask. At the front door, he hesitated. He’d always had a hard time getting rid of things, and packrat tendencies ran deep in his family’s history. He decided he’d never know when he needed the mask again and held onto it, shelving it in the bedroom desk.
That night, even though they’d unpacked all the dishes, they ate cheap pizza off paper plates and drank wine out of paper cups.
Logan found many more reasons to bring the mask back out than he thought he would initially. Almost every other day, the mask would leave its shelved location so that Logan could make Candice laugh again. Logan worked in an office downtown full-time and the new commute from the house added an extra couple of hours to his trip. Because of this, he and Candice’s time together suffered quite a bit. Finding time together was difficult for them. Weekends were nice, but they were usually too tired to do anything other than lay around in bed all day. Logan couldn’t complain about that, but he did miss the days before they were married, when they were lively and adventurous, venturing into the city, looking for something new and exciting to do.
Without realizing it, Logan used the mask as a bizarre way to apologize to Candice for the distance between the two of them. The apology was strained, possibly not as sincere as it could have been, but he was never good with words to begin with, and the immediate satisfaction that he got from Candice’s cheeks quickly ballooning and deflating as she tried to stop a guffaw from spilling out of her mouth, and the way she threw her hand up to her lips in a last-ditch effort to catch that escaped laugh was better than any drug he could have taken. He started calling the mask Zippy. Candice never asked why. He became addicted to the mask, and before long, without realizing it, Candice became addicted to it too.
Eventually, Logan could not find time to take the mask off. When Candice woke up in the morning, she turned over and was greeted by the plastic, buck-toothed smile of Zippy, her husband staring at her through the eyeholes. He would let out a hiccuping laugh and greet her with a corny joke, the kind that would even make most fathers of young children cringe.
“Hiya Candice! What did one hat say to the other?”
He would give a bit of a pause here for dramatic effect, then give her the answer:
“You stay here! I’ll go on ahead!”
Candice would always take a moment to process the joke, even though she always got it right away. She was trying to figure out whether the joke deserved a laugh or not. But every single time, even despite her better judgment, more or less, she always ended up laughing. And Logan would be beaming behind the plastic smile of Mr. Zippy.
In the first weeks of the Zippy mask, after the morning joke, he took the mask off and went to work, never putting it back on until he returned home, snuck upstairs to the bedroom and returned it to his face, before finding Candice to tell another silly knock knock joke or two. But one morning, after many mornings in the old house, he forgot to take it off and drove all the way to the office with the rubber monstrosity still wrapped around his head. By the time he parked in the building’s garage and noticed that it was still on him, there wasn’t much he could do. But instead of just hiding the mask in his briefcase, he decided to wear it inside. To his surprise, he was not given any odd looks or questionable expressions from his co-workers. They addressed him the way they always did and laughed at all his silly jokes. He thought their behavior was odd, but the euphoria of attention quickly made him dismiss the strangeness and act as though nothing was going on at all.
A year went by. The house had been turned into a completely new structure by Candice. At first glance, without knowing any better, most passersby would assume that it was brand new, having only gone up in the last few months. Logan had adopted the face of Mr. Zippy more and more and there was hardly a moment during the day in which he took the mask off at all. He went to dinner with Candice and her parents in the mask. He accepted a job promotion wearing the mask. He even went to Candice’s grandmother’s funeral wearing the mask, reaching up inside of it with a handkerchief to dab at wet cheeks, which surprisingly inspired chuckles from various mourners standing nearby.
Zippy had become Logan’s entire personality. Before the mask, he had never considered himself a very funny person. Now he woke up with three or four cheesy jokes floating around in his head, and he could usually think of a dozen more while he was showering (still with the mask on, of course).
Then another year went by, and like most fads, Logan began to grow tired of Zippy and his cringe-worthy jokes that always got more adoration than he felt were worthy of acceptance. Over the last two years, he had forgotten the foul smell of the rubber mask and had learned to breathe its air without any trouble at all. But recently, he found the smell returning to his nostrils, causing him to gag. Sometimes he went into the bathroom at work and ripped it off of his head and suck in large gulps of air that didn’t smell like glue, where no one could see him taking off the mask, and could see his obvious discomfort with it.
Finally one night, it became too much for him to bear. After dinner, he went to the bedroom, tore the mask off of his face, and put it back into the desk shelf, its home it had not been placed in in so many months. He went to the bathroom and ran cold water on his face. His mind began to clear and he felt like he could breathe for the first time in forever. He stared at himself in the mirror, glad to finally see his own smile once again, and not the smile of Mr. Zippy, forever frozen comically in place.
He went downstairs where Candice was in the living room, reading a book. She looked up at him. He smiled at her. She did not return that smile. Instead, her reaction was of disgusted confusion. She jumped from her chair, the tea perched precariously on its arm, wobbled and fell to the floor, spilling everywhere, as she protectively backed herself up into a corner.
“Who the hell are you?” He had no idea how to answer that question.
“What’re you doing in my house?! Get out!” He reached out his arms, trying to get close enough to comfort her, but the way she shrank away from him hurt too much, so he backed away and gave her space.
“I’m…I’m your husband. It’s Logan.”
She paused. Her expression softened a bit. Her brow furrowed as she studied his face. There was no recognition. He was completely alien to her. She cocked her head to the side, still searching for Logan somewhere in that face that (to him, at least) was so obviously his.
“I…I guess it’s you…but…what happened? You look different.”
Logan couldn’t think of one thing that would have changed recently about his appearance that could make his wife act so repulsed by him, and then, something dawned on him. Defeated, he went back upstairs, pulled the mask from its drawer and pulled it over his head. When he returned to the living room, Candice was calm and greeted him with excitement and joy, as if the awkward interaction from a few minutes before had never happened. That night, before he went to bed, he went to the bathroom and locked the door. He took off the mask and studied his face. Nothing had changed at all, at least as far as he could tell.
He tried to continue life with the mask on, but it only lasted a week before he felt claustrophobic inside the head of Mr. Zippy again. One morning, after driving into work, he pulled the mask off and stuffed it ungraciously into the glove compartment. He walked into the building and briskly passed the security guard, Mel, waving hello. Mel called out as Logan passed him.
“Hey hey hey, slow down, buddy. You got a pass card?”
Logan did have a pass card. Of course he had a pass card, but he hardly ever took it out anymore. Mel knew him by heart. He’d worked there for four years. He didn’t need to prove he worked there anymore, at least that was what he thought. He laughed, expecting Mel to join in. He didn’t.
“I’m gonna need to see a pass card, buddy.” Logan’s smile faded away.
“Are you joking right now?” he asked. He didn’t mean to sound so rude, but seriously, why would Mel be such a stick in the mud today of all days? Logan had a sneaking suspicion poking the back of his brain but he ignored it because it was just too ridiculous.
“Does it look like I’m joking?” asked Mel calmly. Mel was a big, intimidating guy, and he was absolutely, clearly, not joking. Logan scowled in response.
“Is this some new policy bullshit or something?”
“Nope. I can’t let any goofball who struts into the building walk by me, and if you think that’s the case then you’re in for a rude awakening, now I’m only asking one more time. Lemme see your pass card.” Logan’s most ridiculous suspicion was confirmed.
“It’s because I’m not wearing the mask, isn’t it?” Mel didn’t even blink.
“Buddy, I wish I knew what you were talking about. Pass card. Now.”
Logan’s eyes stung and his face turned red as he realized his shoulders were shaking, defeating the imposing figure he was trying to strike.
“I’ll be right back.”
He hurried away, hearing Mel call out behind him “See ya in a bit, and you better have that pass card with you!” When he got back to his car, he opened up the glove compartment and pulled out the rubber mask. He cradled it in his lap and stared down at its lifeless, empty eye sockets. Mr. Zippy stared back up at him and didn’t say a word. Logan considered putting the mask back on and going back to the front desk, just to see what would happen, but the thought of breathing in that rubber mask smell made his head swim with nausea. He pulled out his phone and called his boss.
“Hey Logan, what’s up?”
“Hey, listen, I’m going to be late today. Embarrassing story, but, I gotta go all the way back home to get my pass card. Mel’s not letting me-”
“Who’s this? Where’d you find this phone”
The words were stolen right out of Logan’s mouth. There was no possible response.
“Hello? Hey, I don’t know who you are, but if you’re looking for the owner of the phone you’re calling from I can give you his home number.”
Weak with anger, still shaking, Logan amused his boss.
“That’d be great. What’s the number?” Logan went silent and listened as his boss unwittingly repeated back his own home phone number to him.
Logan drove aimlessly until he was outside the city, past the turn that would take him back home. What was the point? Candice wouldn’t recognize him. After a while, he realized he was headed in the direction of his parents’ home. After he pulled off the highway, the low gas light came on, so he pulled into the nearest station and parked next to a pump as the sun’s light faded in the distance. Before getting out, he stared at himself in his side view mirror. He studied the face, he touched it, made faces at himself. Nothing about him had changed. He was the same old Logan he had always been. Why could no one see him?
“You know why,” said a voice in his head that sounded way too much like the voice he had created for Mr. Zippy, instead of his own. He pushed the thought out of his head and got out of the car. When he inserted his credit card into the payment machine, he was greeted with the rude realization that his pin number no longer worked. He tried punching in the number as many times as he could before the machine blocked him. Each time, he carefully and deliberately made sure he was typing in the correct number. He was positive it was right, but each time he entered it, the reply from the machine was an angry buzz, claiming it was incorrect. He got back inside the car and slammed the door, peeling out of the station. He had enough gas to make it to his parents’ house, just barely enough.
He pulled into the driveway of his parents’ quaint little one-story brick house and parked his car. He waited a while, just staring at the welcoming house and its brightly lit windows. The sight of the house reminded him of his childhood, made him think of comfort, belonging. Even if everything else in his life had been upset by something as ridiculous as a Halloween mask, he knew he would be welcomed here, that he would find acceptance. His parents had only seen him in the mask once and that was before he was wearing it every day. Everyone else might have fallen in love with a stranger, but Bill and Margie Wilson still knew his face. He got out of the car and headed for the door.
After knocking a couple of times, Logan heard the light footsteps of his mother, Margie, hurrying to the door. She opened the door and for a brief moment, he saw the loving, kind face of the woman who had raised him, but it was gone in a flash, replaced by an expression of concerned confusion.
“Oh, yes, can I help you?”
Logan could actually feel his heart physically break. He stuttered, his brain searching for some kind of response, anything to say, but he gave up. There was nothing to say at all.
“No. I have the wrong house. I’m sorry.” Without waiting for a reply, Logan turned on his heel and walked away from his family home. Margie Wilson’s face relaxed. She felt bad for whoever that stranger was. He seemed like a nice fellow. She hoped everything worked out alright for him.
Logan sat on the curb, staring at the lights in the windows of all the other houses nearby. The mask was still held tightly in his hands. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it without devolving into a blubbering mess. How the hell had any of this happened? He just wanted his own regular life back, but he had no idea how to make that happen.
“Well, there is one way,” said a chuckling voice in the back of his head. He tried to ignore it. He tried to ignore the fact that the voice was not his own, but the goofy voice of Mister Zippy. He racked his brain for any other solution at all. There had to be something he could do that brought him back home and allowed him to keep his own dignity. Nothing came to him. He stood up and kicked the curb. “Fuck it,” he thought. He was tired. He just wanted to see a face that was happy to see him again. He took one last breath of clean air and shoved the mask over his head. The rubber smell assaulted his nostrils for a moment but then disappeared. He breathed in fresh air through the tiny nose holes. Normally he had difficulty seeing out of the mask, but tonight, he saw everything clearly. Maybe he was home. The revelation excited him. Logan stood up and walked back up to his parents’ doorstep, laughing all the way.