Day 7 of My 13 Horrifically Silly Days of Halloween – RJ DownesRegan Macaulay
Another worthy repeat guest for this creepy-ass Halloween season – RJ Downes!
Duck, Duck, Goose, Carl
by RJ Downes
Carl Bantam stood staring into the display window of Cooper’s Party Supplies. His suited, bespectacled, reflection stared back at him as he took in the motley collection of rubber Hallowe’en masks on display. From left to right, propped up on featureless mannequin heads were a gleeful zombie, a giant mutant baby, a green square headed creature from a video game whose name he couldn’t remember, a super realistic cat, complete with faux fur, a screaming demon and a shimmering black and white feathered Canada Goose mask.
Carl stood fixated in front of the display. Each mask had its own personality, its own aura and he was enthralled by all of them, but mostly it was the Canada goose mask that got his attention. The detail was incredible, its beak carved out of rubber with real feathers attached all around in such a way that it looked majestic, regal even.
A line of a song from his grade school musical came into his head.
The Canada Goose, the Canada Goose, touch his feathers and you won’t come loose!
As a boy, Carl had been cast in the play, not as the titular goose but rather as his mortal enemy, The Wizard of Woe. As the name suggested, his character was magical at creating misery all around him. As far as Carl was concerned, he was typecast as a boy and not much had changed in the intervening forty years.
Around him, the fall evening was moving in fast. The sun was dropping behind the buildings on the downtown strip. The crisp air had the smell of coming snow. Soon enough the dry crackling leaves would be replaced by blankets of white. But it wasn’t winter yet. Hallowe’en was still two weeks away.
He could see the inside store lights on behind the black backdropped window. No one in the shop but a teenaged clerk behind the counter surrounded by masks, costumes and accessories as far as the walls would carry them. The clerk sat on a stool looking down at the glow of cell phone screen.
Carl wondered how shops like this stayed in business. He was the only one walking the main street this Thursday evening. Cars shuttled past on the road behind him but didn’t stop or even slow down to peer at anything the downtown had to offer.
When he was younger, this downtown had been thriving, full of life. Now, it was becoming a ghost town, one empty storefront at a time. There were barely twenty stores still open in the whole of the main strip and most of those were closed on Sundays. Stores like this one had to be hanging on by a thread. Sadly, that thread would have to break at some point.
Carl personally enjoyed the quiet streets. He’d taken up walking to and from work ever since the car had died and the costs to fix it were beyond what he could manage. He was alone out here, away from the pressures of work and life and everything that made up being member of society. The older he got, the less he enjoyed society in general.
Carl Bantam, on this particular Thursday, was no longer interested in being human at all or at least, no longer being himself. An important presentation at work had gone terribly, and the fallout was severe, although perhaps not unexpected. What followed found his boss spending the better part of an hour telling him exactly when, why and how he failed, as though Carl himself had not been an unhappy participant of the event in question. Carl was told, then and there, that he’d been given too many chances to shape up and fly right, and that with this final write up he had reached the end. He was told not to show up for work tomorrow. His final pay cheque would be mailed to him. He left the office that day with nothing but his suit and his phone. He’d left behind the mug his wife had given him when he started the job.
You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps.
He hated that mug.
The funny thing was, Carl hadn’t really liked his job all that much anyway. He wouldn’t miss it. He’d gone to school for political science hoping to change the world and ended up crunching numbers in a cubical making little to no difference at all. Nothing about the life he was living was the one he’d imagined for himself. And he was tired, so tired. Even his bones felt hollow.
This defeat in his mind and soul were weighing heavily on Carl as he walked home that evening. Normally one for back streets and residential areas, he chose to walk through the downtown as more of a distraction. The empty defeated storefronts seemed to echo back his feelings, to commiserate with him and share his woe. It was on the second block, surrounded by dark, empty storefronts that he saw the glow of lights coming from a single window. From a distance, even in the darkness, Carl was sure of what he was seeing: it was a collection of heads. It was only as he got closer that he could make out the details and realized they were Hallowe’en masks.
When he was a boy, Carl had only dreamed of wearing the hard-formed plastic masks and cheap polyester costumes of Superman or Batman. What he would have done to wear any of the other standard, popular possibilities that stores at the time sold on their racks. His entire life, Carl had wanted nothing more in the world than to wear a store-bought Hallowe’en costume like every other kid in town. His mother never bought him one. She always handmade his costumes.
All of them. For the entirety of his childhood.
This probably wouldn’t have been so bad if she had asked him what he wanted to be or involved him in the process in any way. Instead, she went with whatever creative notion she had at the time. This meant he went as a jug-headed alien one year, a paper plate scaled dragon the next, a World War One flying-ace with a felt helmet, snow goggles and a lady’s leather jacket the year after that. On it went.
In trying to be both creative and thrifty, Carl’s mother had left her son coveting the sweet comfort of conformity. Even on a day when children were allowed to hide themselves behind costumes, he felt strangely on display, out of step and out of touch with everyone around him. And now, as an adult, Hallowe’en hadn’t changed much for Carl. He still found himself at the whims of a woman’s creative abandon.
Each year at the Henson’s costume party down the block from his house, he found himself garbed in whatever ‘couple’s costume’ his wife created that year. While Becky had a much keener imagination than his mother ever did, he still found himself head to toe in ridiculous hand-made things while those around him were dressed in the regular store-bought costumes. The normal sorts of things that normal people wore. He could never tell her, but the costumes she made for them to wear always made him feel like that young boy, the odd one out, the outsider. Every year, he was triggered and every year he said nothing. Becky seemed on a mission to find the most insanely ridiculous costume ideas she could and create something the two of them would be remembered for whether he enjoyed it or not.
The first year they’d been invited to the party, they’d gone as ‘Chess Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. Covered in chess pieces and t-shirts with “I love Chess!” written on them, she’d finished off their matching outfits with cardboard flames and cotton stuffing for smoke around their lower legs. Last year, they’d gone as ‘Bunny and Clyde’, Becky in a full-on hand-crafted bunny suit and him in a thrifted forties gangster outfit (even though he’d told her more than once that the famous gangsters had died in the thirties). This year, Becky had planned out another doozy.
She’d had made him a brightly coloured cowgirl outfit, topped off with large fake breasts and a huge blonde wig. She herself would be dressed in a particularly garish outfit of her own, with a long pencil thin moustache and a black-haired wig. She would carry an artist’s palette in hand. She’d been sewing the costumes for weeks. They were going as Salvador Dali Parton.
Carl could feel himself sweat as he thought about it. Him, sitting alone in his Dolly Parton outfit, as she laughed and socialized with their neighbours, dressed once again like a lunatic. He knew the things they’d say about them behind their backs. He’d heard it more than once.
Did you see what the Bantam’s are wearing? They always come in such odd homemade costumes. Are they doing it ironically? Someone should say something.
While a big part of Carl just wanted to be “normal” and, blend in, another part of him wanted to show those neighbours just how weird he could be. Even as he stood now, taking in all the possibilities the window had to offer, he couldn’t help but feel a gleeful forbidden excitement at the idea of purchasing the Canada goose mask and wearing it to that damned party.
It was especially tempting since he knew he shouldn’t spend the money. He had none to spend. They were broke to begin with and now, he’d lost his job. He knew he needed to figure things out, focus on getting a new job and to quietly don the costume she’d made for him on Hallowe’en and say nothing. He was not allowed to be the “Wizard of Woe” in their house.
But something in his soul was drawn to the Canada goose mask. Maybe it was the state he was in, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had to buy that mask. Without thinking things any further, Carl pulled open the door to the store. A little bell on the door rang as he opened it. The young clerk looked up from his phone as Carl entered but didn’t change his expression or offer a greeting.
The store wasn’t that big on the inside, but it was certainly crammed full of Hallowe’en attire. Ghosts and goblins, witches and black cats glared back at him as he scanned the store for what he was looking for. Several carbon copies of the Canada goose mask were hanging from a rack near the cash. Carl made a beeline for them, actually feeling his heart racing as he got nearer. The real feathers on it made it as soft as he had imagined them to be. The shimmering black and white feathers almost glowed in the fluorescent store lighting and he had never felt something so soft, so wonderful.
The Canada Goose, The Canada Goose touch his feathers and you won’t come loose! The song came into his head again.
I need to own this. I don’t know exactly why, but I need it.
He ran his fingers over the mask, cradling the goose head. It was everything he wasn’t. It was beautiful, sleek and above all, free from the humanity that dragged Carl down to its level. One moment he stood there in a daze and the next, he found himself standing at the store counter, bird mask in hand. The clerk stared at Carl holding the Canada goose in front of him like it was a treasured heirloom. The young man was about to speak, when the phone in Carl’s pocket rang.
Gesturing to give him a moment, Carl set the mask carefully on the counter and took out his phone. It was his mother calling. He knew he should answer. The times he didn’t always ended with her sending panicked texts even though she didn’t fully understand how to text properly. She seemed to think that a missed phone call meant he was dead in a ditch somewhere.
I should answer it, he thought.
Instead, his finger, as if moving of its own accord, pressed the ignore button.
He put the phone back into his pocket and had to suppress an honest to goodness smile. He’d just hung up on his mother. Even though he knew there would be repercussions later, for this moment, he felt elated. He looked back up to see the young man staring at him. It was then Carl saw the tag on his shirt with the word Manager on it.
“Ninety eight, forty-two.” the Manager said.
“For a mask?”
The Manager shrugged. “You want it or not?”
Carl found himself reaching into his pocket for his wallet. Removing a credit card, he held it out to the machine on the counter. He tapped down on the screen. A negative sounding beep rang out and for a split second, Carl thought his card was declined. Had his wife cancelled it? Had his mother? Did they know somehow? Were they expecting him to do this? Was he that predictable even when he thought he was doing something spontaneous?
“Try it again. The machine is…temperamental.
This time the machine beeped happily.
The Manager put the mask in a bag and handed it to him.
“Happy Hallowe’en,” the young man said as though it pained him to continue talking.
“You too.,” said Carl. He headed for the door, stopped a moment and looked back. The Manager had sat back down behind the counter again. He looked smaller than he had when Carl had first walked in. Same bored, sleepy expression, hunched back over, scrolling through his phone.
Carl left the store and continued to walk along the almost silent main street, every so often glancing down at the bag he carried and the top of the black feathered head. He felt a glee he hadn’t felt in a long time. Excited, and also a little worried about how he would explain himself when he got home, he wondered if there was any way to hide his purchase from his wife. Eventually she would see the charge on the credit card statement but if he could keep it hidden, it would buy him a month at the very least.
The problem was, he wanted to wear it.
He wanted to go out on Hallowe’en wearing the mask. He wanted to walk the streets in full Canada goose attire, even though he hadn’t thought about what he could wear beyond the mask. One place he knew he didn’t want to go was the Henson’s Hallowe’en party. His wife could go on her own. She wouldn’t though, she would stay at home and sulk and blame him for not taking them to the party when he knew she wanted to go. And she worked so hard on the costumes.
He stopped where he was on the street and thought about Becky. She hadn’t been able to find work since the paper mill closed in the spring. She brooded through most of the summer and only really perked up when the nights had gotten shorter and she knew the season of her bizarre costumes was almost upon them. The costumes really were the only thing she was looking forward to right now. He felt a great pang of guilt.
He looked down at the bag he carried, at the black feathers. Why had he been so quick to buy it? What possessed him in such a strong manner to do that? His stomach flipped. He had spent money they didn’t have. He had bought something for himself that was both ridiculous and pointless.
He could return it. Take it back and say he made a mistake.
He turned back in the direction he came and realized he had already walked three blocks. He was about to head back when his phone rang once more. It was his mother, again. He watched it ring, watched her name float at the top of the screen for a moment before putting it back in his pocket.
A little voice, the voice of a young boy in his head said simply, Why can’t we own a real mask? It’s not like we bought a whole costume. It was one little mask. We’ve never owned a mask.
The next voice in his head, was his adult voice. I am allowed to own this mask. I am allowed to do this for myself. I’m allowed to be happy. And I’m allowed to not want to go the Henson’s party. Right? Aren’t I?
His phone rang again. Irritated, he snatched his phone out of his pocket. This time it was his wife. This time he answered.
“Hello.” He listened to her voice on the line.
“Working a little longer,” he said, in answer to her question, then “I’ll be home a bit late.”
A car passed him with a rough sounding muffler. He hoped she didn’t hear it.
“Yeah, the presentation went okay,” he lied.
“I’ll finish up shortly…and get milk on the way home.” He paused and she finished her end of the conversation.
“Becky?” He started to ask a question, but she had already rung off.
Would it be okay if we didn’t go to the Henson’s party this year? He thought the question he didn’t get to ask. He imagined asking her again but in a more direct way.
I can’t go to that party this year. I just can’t take it. Are you okay going alone?
His mind flashed to the party last year. Sitting alone on the couch, drink warming on his knee, wishing the hands on the wall clock would move faster. He would wish it was later so he could go and find his wife, who was surely holding court in in the kitchen or garden or somewhere that wasn’t next to him and tell her it was time to go. She always made couples costumes but then left him on his own to try to explain what he was to the confused faces he walked past.
In those moments, he was the young boy again, being judged by everyone around him for his made with love but thoroughly loathed home-made costume. Another memory from childhood struck him as he stood there. A memory of playing Duck, Duck, Goose. The absolute anxiety of watching another child walking slowly around the circle.
Duck, duck, duck…
The icy fear that he would be picked, that he would have to run after the other child who had a huge head start, that he would be next to circle with everyone watching him.
Duck, duck, duck…
The terror in picking someone who just might beat him back to the spot and he’d have to be it again.
Duck, duck, duck…
Everything welled up in him at that moment. His childhood, his adolescence. His young adulthood. His adulthood. All his hopes and dreams that didn’t come to pass.
He wasn’t cut out for this life. He wanted a redo, a do over. Whatever you called it, he wanted one. What was wrong with him? He screwed up his job today, then he screwed up his home life with one simple purchase of a stupid mask. Why had he wanted it so much?
He took the Canada Goose head out of the bag and held it up in the evening light.
It didn’t look quite so shimmery out here on the street, not the way it had in the store, but it did look real though. It still called to him.
Looking up and down the street to see if anyone was around, Carl saw no one. There were not even any cars now. He reached up, removed his glasses and pulled the mask over his head. It was a bit of a tight fit, but he managed to pull it all the way on and line up the eye holes so he could see. It smelled like rubber and glue, but it was not unpleasant he decided.
His vision was narrowed by the edges of the eye holes and his ability to look down was obscured, mostly due to the beak protruding out in front of him. He turned to look at his reflection in an empty storefront window, face-to-face now with a birdman, staring nearsighted back at him. He cocked his head to one side. He liked it. He felt right somehow, for the first time in a long time. The small voice in the back of his mind was cheering.
A car sped loudly by behind him. Music blared and without looking Carl knew that driver’s window was down. A loud shrill whistle sounded from the car followed by a single word.
“Goose!!” the driver shouted at full volume before the car carried him away down the street. While it may have been meant in an insulting way, Carl took the notice in stride. In fact, he smiled under the feather covered, broad beaked mask.
Goose. He replayed the word over and over in his head. He liked the sound of it now. Keeping the mask on, he folded his glasses, put them in his suit jacket pocket and kept walking. He enjoyed the warmth the mask brought to his face. He hadn’t realized how cold it had gotten out.
At the end of the downtown strip was the Fairlane Mall, and once upon-a-time it had been ‘the’ place to go for everything. When it was built, it had originally given the downtown businesses a run for their money, but back then everyone had survived. Now, the mall was almost as dead as the storefronts on the street. Every time he went inside, another shop had closed. The only thing that kept the mall going at all was the movie theatre and the zombie-like seniors that walked its halls for something to do in their long pointless days. Most of the place was empty now, the few remaining stores holed up together in one end of it, trying their best to hang in there against the forward flow of e-commerce and online shopping.
Carl, still wearing the mask, began the hike around the large building. If anyone passing in their cars noticed his head gear, no one communicated it. He was still heading in the direction of home, the apartment he and Becky lived in was on a street a few blocks beyond the giant structure.
Reaching the far side of the mall, turning the corner to cut through the vast empty parking lot, Carl saw a collection of Canada geese, ducks and a few seagulls gathered together in a far corner of the open space. No mall patrons used this part of the parking lot, it was on the now empty side of the mall. As he got closer, he realized there must be over a thousand birds gathered there communing. Feeling strangely confident, Carl walked a straight line towards the crowd of birds. As he neared, a couple of pigeons on the outer edge fluttered out of his way. A number of the ducks and geese turned their heads to regard the approaching bird man.
Cresting the edge of the sea of birds, he paused. He wouldn’t usually have tried anything like this, but the mask was giving him confidence he’d never had before. Pushing into a crowd, even a crowd of birds, was generally outside his comfort zone.
He took a step into the fray. The birds gave way to him with little complaint. They moved just enough to allow him room to stand among them, to join their collective, as if unaware that he was a man in a mask. They were all birds being birds, size did not matter, species did not matter. Carl continued to put one foot in front of another. He turned back to look where he’d come from to see that the birds had filled in the gap behind him. He was now in the eye of the crowd, no indication that he had ever not been in center of the bird gathering. And none of the birds were going to tell anyone any different.
Carl felt a strange joy overtake him, different than the one he’d felt in the store, and somehow this felt right. He was comfortable here, in his mask surrounded by birds. He stood silently there amidst the cooing and slight flutters of wings and closed his eyes. He had never felt so at peace.
He opened his eyes again and found he was facing a rather large, rather real, Canada goose. It looked at him sideways and then honked once before stepping a little way away and settling down on the rough pavement. It seemed to have accepted him as one of its own. Smiling under his mask, Carl let out a huge breath he hadn’t realized he was holding in.
He was among his people. Well, his birds anyway.
Carl thought and wondered what he knew about birds. He realized then that honestly, he’d never really thought about them in much detail before. When did they fly south for winter? It had to be soon. He remembered seeing Canada geese fly overhead countless times in his life, but he wasn’t sure what the timing was. Is that where they would be heading now? Did they fly there at night? He had so many questions and the only answers he got were the honks and squawks of the others.
He could look it up on his phone if he wanted to. Tap back into the human world he’d been so happy to avoid. No, he didn’t want to. His phone stayed in his pocket. For so many years he‘d tried to fit in, to be a part of the world he lived in, to no avail. Tonight, in the dark, wearing a goose mask and surrounded by birds, he felt as if he belonged here in this parking lot, standing among the geese, more than he did in his own life. It was as if he was meant to be here. Among the birds.
For once he felt calm, truly calm. No anxiety. No depression. Feeling the chill of the evening setting in, he put his hands in the pockets of his pants. There, his hand found the little bottle of medication he’d accidentally pocketed this morning while he was racing out the door, late again. Pills, given to him by his doctor when he, reluctant but ordered to by his wife, complained a few years back about the overwhelming pointlessness he felt for life.
The doctor had told him his depression was due to his anxiety and thus he’s been on the medication ever since. Carl wondered what the pills really did since all they seemed to do was make him sleepy. Becky insisted he take them. She didn’t like him when he was in one of his “depression spirals” as she called them, so he took the pills and shoved his feelings down. Better to be silent than be faced with suggestions the dose needs to be stronger to stop the spreading of woe he was so adept and practiced at.
He opened the lid of the plastic vial and raising it near his head, looked down at the few remaining white pills. Little non-descript tablets that really could have been anything. He only had his pharmacist’s word that these were what the bottle stated they were. He tilted the bottle slowly over and poured the pills out on the ground and crushing them with his foot so the nearby ducks wouldn’t eat them. He wondered how the medication would affect birds. Did birds get depression?
For a moment his fearful instinct to go home kicked in. He felt the pull of his house, his responsibilities, his life. What would Becky do if he didn’t go home? What would he do? Stand in this parking lot all night? He needed to go home to be who he was supposed to be, someone who certainly wasn’t standing in the middle of a dark parking lot surrounded by fowl and wearing a $98 dollar plastic goose mask.
The moment was broken by the sound of honking, and Carl stopped, took in a deep breath through the mask meshed air hole and refocused himself. He knew he was where he was supposed to be. Whatever that meant. He reached up and pulled the tie from his shirt collar, resting it loose in his hand for a moment before letting it slide to the ground.
A few of the birds near him stirred, cooed or burbled as if asking him what he was doing. He tried a cautious burble sound of his own. A few of the birds nearest him responded in kind. Carl felt joy wash over him once again. He belonged somewhere, even if it was here in a parking lot with geese, ducks and pigeons, even if just for this moment.
His phone rang in his pocket.
He pulled it out and found he had to angle both his arm and his head to see it properly. It was his mother calling again.
He held the phone away from himself, bent down and placed the phone on the ground. It rang some more, buzzing loudly on the paved surface. The setting sun glinted off the phone casing.
A pigeon near him took flight. The rustle of its wings made him look up. A couple of ducks took flight now. Taking to the sky, flying first towards the setting sun, then arcing left, heading south.
They weren’t flying south yet, were they?
No, he decided. They probably flew somewhere better to sleep than an empty parking lot, maybe somewhere with something to eat.
What did birds eat? Bugs? Grass? Did they sleep standing up? He realized how little he knew about birds at all.
More and more birds on the edge of the flock started to take flight. What was he going to do? They were leaving. He couldn’t go back to the life he had lived up to this point, but he couldn’t fly away. A thought occurred to him, then and there in the parking lot. What if he could join them?
It was crazy. How could he do that? He couldn’t fly. Could he? The mask had changed his perspective. It had given him hope. Could it somehow give him the ability to be with the birds for real? Now he was truly thinking insane thoughts, and he knew it. But still. Could it hurt to try? A few more birds took off leaving a sort of a path near him. Without thinking it through, he started to run.
Other birds around him scattered and took flight. He leapt in the air, but quickly came back down. He kept running. Out of the mask eye holes he saw other birds take off. He watched how they raised their wings, got air under them, and lifted their bodies off the ground. He tried to flap the body of his suit jacket and his arms at the same time. He knew how he must look to anyone passing by, but he couldn’t stop himself, any thoughts of others were slowly being pushed away. Some primal instinct had taken over. Some force beyond his own understanding willed him to keep trying to fly even though the only part of him that was remotely avian was the mask.
More birds took flight including some of the Canada geese. One very near him launched its large body into the air. He tried to reach out towards it.
“Touch his feathers and you won’t come loose!” he cried out, but the bird left the ground without him.
He kept running. He leapt again, but this time came down hard on his knee. He felt his trousers rip. The skin on his knee stung and he knew without looking that the cut on it was bleeding. He righted himself and kept running although he found it harder to move his leg properly. His knee stung with every step.
The geese around him continued to take flight. More ducks joined in now. In the autumn night there was a flourish of wings and squawks.
He ran next to another goose who had started to move itself faster and faster. It lifted off and Carl jumped to go with it, to match its semi-graceful take off. Again, Carl crashed to the earth, this time touching down on his knees and elbows in a puddle. Bleeding and wet he stood and for a second watched more birds take off.
He was running out of time.
The sheer volume of birds gathered in one place was the only reason he still had company in that parking lot. Some birds still milled around but the number was getting lower by the minute. He fought to take off his suit jacket, hurling it on the ground. He heard his glasses smack down to the pavement.
He no longer cared.
He flashed back to his childhood, to all the costumes he had to wear, to all the school costume parades he marched through in outfits he didn’t like or want to be in. He flashed back to himself at the Henson’s Hallowe’en party, sitting alone waiting for it to be over. He thought about the big Duck, Duck, Goose game that was his life and he didn’t want to play anymore.
In spite of the cold, he dropped his trousers too. He heard the keys in his pocket, the keys to his house, keys to the car that no longer worked, clatter as they hit the ground. He saw the mud and blood on his knees. They looked knobby and white. He’d never really looked too closely at his knees before.
He tried running again, running slower this time, gaining momentum if not speed. He felt the wind carry through his arm hair, his exposed leg hair, it even blasted through his underwear leaving him feeling chilled to the bone.
Still, nothing happened. He didn’t leave the ground. He didn’t find the rhythm to make himself fly. He couldn’t do it. He felt the want in his heart, but he just couldn’t do it.
He watched a few more birds take flight. What was he doing wrong? What was he missing? He knew how stupid those questions were as soon as he asked himself, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that this was what he was supposed to do. He put his hands to his face, feeling the feathers stuck to the mask. Glued on. They may have been real feathers, but they weren’t attached to a real bird. They were fake. The mask was ,of course. fake too.
He thought about masks then.
Hallowe’en masks he’d coveted as a child, the mask of excitement he’d put on when his mother presented him with her latest costume creation. The mask of happiness he wore through job after job and event after event over the years when he really didn’t feel any of it. He was done.
He didn’t want to wear masks anymore.
He reached up and peeled the bird mask off his face. The air felt painfully cold on his cheeks because of the sweatiness from inside the mask. He held the mask in his hands. It had brought him here. Its purpose had been fulfilled. He gently set the mask on the ground. He ran again. An insane man in his dress shirt and underwear running through a parking lot on a cold October evening expecting to take flight.
Again, nothing happened.
Tears filled his eyes both from the cold and from the emotions he was feeling. A lifetime of settling for where he was and what he had overwhelmed him. There was more. There had to be more. The last of the birds were taking flight. Soon he would be alone. He pictured himself walking home, putting the key in his apartment door and melting. This was it. It was all or nothing. He had nothing left to go back to.
Becky would be fine without him. She always was.
Pushing himself one last time, he ran again. This time for all he was worth. The tears in his eyes blurred his vision but the parking lot was straight and empty. He ran, throwing off the shackles of a life he didn’t want anymore. He ran, fully committing himself to whatever happened next. He knew logically it made no sense, but he prayed to whatever force there was in the universe to give him this. This one thing. Let him fly.
His face started to itch as he ran. He brought his moving hand up to his cheek to roughly scratch. He found a feather there. At first, he thought it was a remnant of the mask but then he felt another and another. Almost unnoticeably at first, the wind around him seemed to change. He stopped feeling cold, he stopped feeling his body hair react to the wind. He also realized, he no longer felt any pain in his knees and hands.
A weird fluttering buzz filled his arms. He looked down at himself and, through the tears, saw soft downy feathers on his chest where his shirt had been. Still running, he turned his head and saw that his arms had become great collections of larger feathers. Those arms pulled at his body, begging him to lift off.
The last of the birds around him were taking flight.
An urge, a push, not to be left behind, filtered through his body. More instinct than thought. His arms, now fully wings swung forward and in one great burst, he lifted off the ground. His heart raced at the sensation of leaving the earth.
His mind flashed to his wife, alone at the Hallowe’en party, explaining his absence to the neighbours. What would she tell them? The police would have searched for him and come up with nothing but his ID, clothes and a large plastic goose mask found in a parking lot by the mall near the house. He pictured his wife dressed as Salvador Dali, carrying an inflatable doll dressed as Dolly Parton, not willing to be defeated on Halloween after all the months of work and planning. She would be there, amidst a sea of plastic masks and elaborate outfits, telling the story of how Carl just ‘vanished and never came home’ and wondering why he bought that ugly mask in the first place.
You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps.
He was no longer crazy. He wished he had taken that mug so he could smash it in to a million tiny pieces. Realizing he didn’t have hands now, Carl let it go. He looked down at the parking lot growing smaller and smaller behind him.
On the ground, a little way from his heaps of discarded clothing, lay the Canada goose mask glinting in the last remaining light of day.
I wonder what they will think of that scene, he thought, the wonder turning in to a passing thought, then it was gone. Dusk was changing to dark now and soon the mask would just be another piece of garbage on a manmade surface. He no longer cared about anything like that. He was a bird.
Where are we going? he suddenly wondered, joining a v-formation of other geese in the air, angling to match their flight pattern.
Would he know what to do when they landed? He’d have to figure it all out when they stopped for the night. Or was it in the morning? He’d watch the other birds. Do what they did. He was one of them now.
Two ducks joined just below the goose formation, riding the air wave created by the other birds. Below him were ducks, to his right were the other geese holding their v pattern tightly as they flew.
Duck, duck, goose, Carl, he thought and laughed to himself. Or did he laugh? Do birds laugh? It was the last human thought he had. Carl the Canada goose opened his beak and honked loudly. The other birds around him responded in kind.