By: Irene Stark
My name is Irene Stark, and I’ve been collecting stories about the town of Lenoresfield for a while now. This is one of those stories. Lenoresfield is a small rural town, and as such there are a lot of Mom and Pop stores. One of those was a mask shop before the owner died mysteriously and it shut down forever. This story was told to me by my former partner, Detective Truman. He had called me about it a week ago just after dinner. I remember I was watching some game show, which I turned down, so I could hear Truman better over the phone.
“Irene, you remember how I said that Lenoresfield was a soft place?” he asked, his voice slurred over the phone. He had probably been drinking.
“Yes, I do -- what about it?” I watched the excited contestant’s face as they spun a wheel to determine what their prize would be if they won.
“Well, there’s a reason I know this,” he said. He paused for a moment and I heard him pop the top off a can of something in the background. He took a long drink of it before continuing. “It’s at least a three beer, so I want you to meet me at Bachman’s Bar down on Sheldon and Derry. When are you free?”
“I have an interview with Doctor Phillips tomorrow, so how about the day after that?” I suggested.
“Sounds good to me Irene, I’ll see you there. 7 PM.”
He hung up and it left me wondering what it was about his story that required him to be drunk to tell it. I went through my interview with Doctor Phillips the next day, and got ready for the bar the next night. Bachman’s is a special place in Lenoresfield, as it was the only bar in town. It was the local watering hole for off-duty cops, so I was familiar with the stench of stale cigarette smoke and spilt beer that wafted through the doors that night. The bar’s regulars chatted over the clacking of billiard balls ricocheting off one another at the pool table.
I had little trouble picking out Truman’s slouching figure at the dimly lit counter. His shirt was off-white and looked like a crumpled napkin. He was nursing his first beer, though I could tell by the peeled label and the way he rolled the bottle in his hands that he was quite clearly agitated about something. I slid on to the barstool next to him and noticed for the first time just how old he looked. His storm-grey eyes had a certain weariness to them, and the face looked far older and leathery than I remembered. His beard was a wild grey bush on his chin and the battered black trilby that he always wore was on the counter next to him.
“Evening, Irene,” he said as he raised the bottle to his lips and drained it. He let out a satisfied sigh and set the bottle down with a clink on the laminated countertop. “I hope you don’t mind that I got started without you.”
“No not at all,” I said, “Working a hard case?”
“How could you tell?” He asked, before turning to the bartender. “Hey Bob, can you get me another beer and a screwdriver for the lady here? Put it on my tab. You still drink screwdrivers, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do, thanks. And , I can tell because you always look like dogshit when something’s eating at you,” I replied.
The bartender nodded and handed Truman another bottle of Raven’s Brew before setting off to make my screwdriver.
“Yeah -- that's true.” Truman laughed adding, “Thanks, Bob.” Bob merely nodded and attended another patron.
“Before we begin, do you mind if I record this?” I asked, pulling out the tape recorder from my purse.
“Go ahead, I don’t mind. Makes it easier to write later, right?”
“Yep,” I said as I turned the recorder on. “Alright, I’m ready.”
Truman asked, “You know the old mask shop down on Main? Right across from Madam Ess’s shop.”
I nodded. “Yeah, didn’t that burn down last Sunday?”
Truman popped the top off his bottle and let some of the head foam down his hand. He slurped it off his hand and said, “Yeah that’s the one.”
“What about it?”
Truman took a big swig of the beer. He looked at me solemnly. “They found the body of a woman inside.”
I paused, my glass halfway raised to my lips. “What?”
“Yeah -- that’s actually why I called you here today.”
“You aren’t supposed to talk about an ongoing investigation,” I reminded him as I set the glass down.
“I’m not here to talk about the investigation,” he replied. He began to peel the label off his bottle. “It’s related, but -- it isn’t the investigation. So, I think maybe it’s okay to talk about.”
I thought about this for a moment, but then figured why the hell not? “Alright, so what’s it about?”
“The mask shop -- Os Immortale, if you’ll recall -- is one of those places that have legends about it. Kinda like the Feind House. Before it burned it was a squat old wooden building with a weather-worn sign outside with two masks and ‘Os Immortale’ in gold leaf beneath them.” Truman sighed and slumped on his stool and stared into the depths of the bottle.
I nodded. “I think I’ve heard some of those legends – the man who ran it, what was his name? Kyle something. They said he was a Satanist, or something didn’t they?”
“Kyle Jacobi,” Truman explained, “And he wasn’t a Satanist, though it might’ve been better if he was.” He slammed the last bit of his beer before continuing with, “Os Immortale was his father’s shop before it was his, and his grandfather’s shop before that. Mask making was in his family’s blood, and it showed – Os Immortale’s masks were always a favourite for Halloween and masked balls. Many folks at that time referred to Os Immortale as Kyle’s second wife if they were being kind, and his mistress if they were being unkind.” He gestured to Bob to get his third beer. Bob nodded and handed him the next one, before going away to serve another person.
“Didn’t his wife pass away?” I asked. Truman nodded as he popped the cap off the beer.
“Yup. She got cancer and died in the spring of 1962. They didn’t call the shop his mistress after that.”
I swirled my glass around, the ice cubes clinking against each other before I asked, “So what makes this a three-beer?”
Truman smacked his lips together as he set the beer down hard on the counter. “I was a stupid kid once. Did stupid things. Kyle was a good man, but even before his wife died, Kyle threw himself into his work. He would often be seen up late in his work shop, painting and fitting masks.” Truman looked at me with a ghost of a smile before continuing with, “I remember sometimes stopping in and watching Kyle work. He always invited us to come watch him work. Kyle was sort of like Mister Rogers -- the kind of guy who believed in America’s youth and all that. Usually, whatever mask he was working on seemed to come to life beneath his fingers, almost as if Kyle was working with real flesh.” Truman toyed with his bottle, rolling it between his hands as he recalled this story. “The paint dripped from the end of his brush like honey from a beehive. While Kyle worked, he smiled and hummed a little ditty.” He rolled the nearly empty bottle in his hands and hummed a few bars of When Johnny Came Marching Home. “Just like that.
“Then his wife passed, and all I remember about him after that was he always had this haggard look on his face, as if he was tired all the time.” Truman downed another swig of his beer and looked over at the pool table. His eyes weren’t focused on the game though. Truman stopped fiddling with the bottle and looked down at it again. I drank from my quickly emptying screwdriver and waited for him to continue.
“About a month after it happened, Kyle shut his shop down for three whole weeks. This came as a surprise to most of us, and there doubts that he was ever going to reopen it. However, at the start of the next month, he did. Kyle’s face drooped lower than ever, and not even working at the bench could cheer him up. If anything, it seemed to sadden him even more. Slowly, the kids stopped coming to watch him work.” Truman finished off his third beer and looked at the empty bottle forlornly.
Bob passed by and asked, “Did you want another one Harry?”
Truman raised the bottle and nodded. “Please.”
“Another screwdriver for you Irene?” Bob asked as he turned to me.
“Oh, no, thank you. I need to drive home after this.” I smiled at Bob and slipped him a five-dollar bill. Bob passed Truman his fourth beer and held out his hand. Truman handed him his keys and Bob hung them up on a corkboard behind the bar on a nail with Truman’s name above it.
“Where was I?” Truman asked before continuing without prompting, “Oh, right! It didn’t help that Kyle started barring entrance to those who got too curious about his workshop and those three weeks that he had shut himself in.
“In the months that followed, instead of humming Kyle would mutter to himself. I remember one time I went to pick up a mask from him and he said the word ‘Aezir.’ Kyle didn’t know I was there and I was too young to recognize the name.” Truman stared into space before he popped the cap off his new bottle of beer and gave a hollow laugh. “It’s weird how that name keeps cropping up. That creepy statue in the forest. Even in the Madison Case.” He looked off into the distance eyes focused on something that no one else could quite see. I recognized that look. Among Truman’s many hobbies, he enjoyed exploring massive tangled webs of conspiracies.
I’ve seen his den -- it's a tangled web of red threads stretching from each wall, and at the center of it all is a scale model of the town and its surrounding forest. The red threads are tied to thumbtacks at each of the locations where strange, inexplicable things happened, each thread leading to either an article or a possible related incident. I saw it the day he explained to me that Lenoresfield was a soft place, back in 2005.
Truman shook his head and cleared his throat. “But you didn’t come here to discuss that kind of stuff, did you?” He picked up the bottle and looked at it before continuing, “I remember knocking on the doorframe, and Kyle spun around to me. His mouth was horribly twisted into a snarl. His usually kind eyes were beady and bloodshot, and I could see the first hints of a grey beard growing on his chin.” Truman slouched in his seat a little bit lower as he remembered the incident. “I just about pissed myself. When Kyle realized who I was, that look vanished from his face, and he just looked old and tired again. I did get a glimpse of what he was working on, it was a new mask. It looked like a woman with luscious red lips and thin, arching blonde eyebrows. And a cute button nose. I think it was modelled off his wife. I saw a picture of her once, and she looked much like that.”
I leaned forward as I listened.
“This is where the stupid kid part comes into play, you see, after Kyle gave me my mask, I went and blabbed about the mask of the woman to the other kids at school.” Truman picked his bottle up again and stared deep into the murky brown glass. “They wanted to play a prank on Kyle, using that mask. I was the only one brave enough to go into the shop anymore, and the only one who wasn’t outright banned from the workroom.” Truman took a deep swig, draining about half the bottle in a single gulp. “So, they convince me to go and steal the mask from him. Didn’t take a lot, I sold my innocence for a kiss from the prettiest girl in school. Kids put the strangest values on things.” He gave a short, curt laugh, and shook his head. “All I had to do to get that kiss was steal the mask from Os Immortale. Easy peasy, lemony squeezy.
“It was a Friday night in April when I made my move. I dressed in all the black I could find and snuck out of my house. There wasn’t as much traffic here back then, so I wasn’t too worried about being seen on my way there. I think it took me all of about half an hour to walk from my house to the mask shop. I could see the lights were off in the workroom. That was alright with me – it made my job that much easier. I tried the front door to see if maybe it was unlocked, and strangely enough it was.
“I snuck into the shop, where I could hear the faint sounds of chanting coming from the workshop in the back. I quietly tip-toed over to the door and peeked in. I saw a man -- Kyle -- in black robes kneeling at the far end of the workshop. Tied to the bench next to him was a lamb, and on the table the mask I had seen last time. The only source of light came from nine candles that encircled him. I remember that three of them were black, three of them were white, and three of them were purple. There were chalk lines connecting the candles. The lamb kept bleating. God did the lamb keep bleating.” A billiard ball behind us jumped off its table and the player swore as it bounced off the hard floor. Truman didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m not sure I’m liking where this is going,” I said.
Truman nodded. “Whatever you think it is, it’s way, way worse.” He flagged Bob down again. “Can you get me another?”
“No problem Harry.” Bob handed him another beer.
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Truman turned back to me as he popped the lid off his beer. “Kyle got up and I saw a wooden statuette in front of the spot he was kneeling at. I also could see that he had drawn a nine-pointed star. He headed over to the work table and picked up the mask. I got a better view of it this time. I could see that instead of regular eyeholes, the mask had two pairs of open mouths. He continued his chanting as he fit the mask over the lamb’s face.”
Truman paused for a moment and began to shake a little.
“Are you alright, Truman?” I asked gently putting a hand on his shoulder.
“The lamb, Irene. That poor, innocent lamb. Horrible things happened to it. You weren’t there, you don’t know. You can’t know.” Truman gripped his bottle of beer so hard his knuckles turned white. “As Kyle put the mask on the lamb, it began to scream louder, and as I watched, its face began to hiss and pop and bubble. A thick, viscous black liquid began to pour from the edges of the mask as the lamb’s face as the bones in the lamb’s face began to crack and snap, reshaping it into something more like a human. Soon, the normal mouth of the mask began to scream, and I couldn’t tell if it was in pain or ecstasy. Maybe a little bit of both.” Truman took a deep breath. “Soon the screaming was louder than Kyle’s chanting, and it was unnerving. Then the smaller mouths began to move, opening and closing individually.
“The mask melted into the little lamb’s face, Irene,” Truman said. “It became the little lamb’s face.” He covered his face and groaned. “But that wasn’t the worst of it. Oh god that wasn’t the worst of it. The lamb-thing stood on its hind legs and kissed Kyle on the forehead before speaking in what sounded like three women’s voices at once.
‘Thank you, Kyle Jacobi, for bringing us into your world,’ it said.
‘What about our deal?’ Kyle asked.
“That’s when the lamb began to convulse and cough, almost as though it was gagging on something. Then it opened its large mouth, wider than any mouth has any business being. As it continued to hack and shudder, I could see something coming out of it. The stench of rotting eggs filled the air as the thing came out of that’s mouth. Ten pale, mucus covered toes. Two slimy white feet. Two long, marble legs. It was then I realized it was vomiting up a woman. Next came perfectly manicured nails, with cherry red nail polish. It’s funny, the little details you remember. Her torso was next, and really that should’ve been the cue that something was wrong. The woman had no belly button. Then the shoulders, and finally the head. The head was featureless with long, curly brown hair.” Truman began to tremble. “There was no face, Irene.”
I looked on in horror as Truman began to sob. I’d seen this man respond to grisly accidents, and awful murder scenes like The Feind House, but I’d never seen him cry like that. I wasn’t sure what to do, except put a hand on his back.
“It’ll be okay, Truman,” I said. “You don’t have to finish.”
He shook his head and mumbled, “Give me a minute.”
So, I did. He sucked in a deep breath and then sighed.
“Kyle was mortified at what he saw,” Truman continued, “I could see it in his face. He didn’t want that. Didn’t expect it.
“‘Here is your wife,’ the thing said, ‘Do with her what you will.’ Then it got on all fours again and jumped out of the window. I was petrified, and I could only imagine how Kyle felt. He approached her and wrapped his arms around her. And then the whispering began, and I fled. I didn’t get my kiss, and I didn’t tell anybody about this until now.”
Truman went quiet for a moment. “But that wasn’t the last time I went into Os Immortale.” He peeled the label off his bottle again and cleared his throat. “I went back about a year later to pick up a Halloween mask for my sister. This was a few months before Jacobi hung himself. He was in the back, just putting the finishing touches on a mask. He sounded like he was talking to somebody, a woman by the sounds of it. I was terrified as all hell to go back there. But my sister had promised me five bucks to pick it up. So, I swallowed my fear and headed back there, telling myself maybe he had found somebody else. Kyle stopped me at the entrance to the workshop.
“’What do you need Harry?’ I remember him asking. His eyes looked bleary and bloodshot. I explained I was looking for my sister’s mask and he slapped his forehead. ‘Of course!’ He said, and he headed back inside the shop. I poked my head into the workshop while his back was turned to me, and I saw the woman he was talking to. She was propped up in a chair, wearing a simple black dress and a mask painted to look like Marilyn Monroe. Her stomach was distended, as though she were pregnant. Her arms were a sickly grey colour -- almost like a corpse. As I watched, she slowly turned her head to face me, and a maggot fell from behind her mask’s eye, almost like some sort of morbid tear. And then Kyle turned, and I moved back away from the door and he handed me the mask with a tired smile. I never went back after that.”
“So, what’s the body of the woman you found Sunday have to do with that?” I asked. Truman was staring at his bottle again, idly rolling it across his hand.
Truman looked up and said, “Two things. First, on the ground was a charred and partially melted Marilyn Monroe mask.” He drained his bottle dry before finishing. “Second, her skull was smooth as a billiard ball.”