Christa’s parents never returned home, and the police were never able to tell her, for certain, what had happened to them. They could only tell her three things: that it was her father’s blood, in the basement; that her mother had held the knife she had found on the kitchen floor; and that her parents had neither called for an ambulance nor shown up in the emergency room.

In Christa’s back yard, the police found one more thing, which confounded her and them alike: two hands and two feet, truncated at the wrists and ankles, though not as though they had been sliced away. They ended in smooth balls of flesh, like amputated limbs which had long since healed over, leaving no trace of scarring. They were not a DNA match for either of her parents, nor for anyone else the police had on record.

Nevertheless, Christa identified them as her mother’s. They had the same bone structure, the same delicate fingernails, and the same pattern of freckles on the left hand. There was no wedding ring. Her mother had stopped wearing her ring regularly several years back, claiming that it made her finger sore. She wore it only to events where she felt she was required to dress up. Empirically, they were not her mother’s hands, but Christa knew that they were.

The image of those hands haunted her. For months afterward, she would wake in the dead of night, certain that her mother’s disembodied hands clung to her wrists. The first night, she screamed, and her grandmother rushed into the room and held her until she stopped crying. The second night, she stifled her cry and wept silently to herself. The third night, and nights thereafter, she refused to cry at all.

Christa refused to miss her parents, because she felt that they would not have missed her, had she suddenly disappeared from their lives. She does, however, miss some aspects of the life she led with them. It was easier, having them alive. The police investigation was frustrating and painful, and their funeral, uncomfortable. Living with her grandparents granted her far less freedom that living with them, which chafed, though she was grateful, at least, to have a place to stay that was not the house in which she came to believe her parents had died.

During the first year, she wanted to believe that her parents had simply vanished, despite the fact that she had attended their funeral. During the second year, she accepted the fact that they were probably dead. Near the beginning of the third, however, she began to fear that something even more horrible and bizarre had occurred.

On the internet, it’s hard to separate truth from fiction. Some true things are too strange to seem anything but a falsification, while some fictional things are real enough to some that they accept the fake as reality. Christa, while browsing one of those internet junctions where fact and fiction mingle indiscriminately, stumbled across a description that tore a hole right through her chest.

According to the post she found, there were in her state of a figure which had been spotted just before or after people went missing. Twelve people had vanished over the past two years, across and the police hadn’t been able to locate any of them, alive or dead.

One person claimed to have encountered the force behind the disappearances up close and escaped to tell the tale. It was this person’s story which caught Christa’s attention, for part of it sounded impossibly familiar. They described an emaciated person, garbed in nothing but greyish flesh, who approached them carrying a mask in one hand. Their face was covered by a blank mask with no holes for eyes, nose, or mouth, though this lack of sensory input didn’t seem to hinder them in the slightest.

Christa, breathing as hard as though she had just run a marathon, delved through her phone until she found a picture of one of the masks her father had carved. She hadn’t looked at the photo since her parents had disappeared, but for some reason, she hadn’t been able to delete it. Or forget it.

She sent that picture to the person who claimed to have survived the attack, and suddenly, her story was all over the internet. He didn’t keep it between them. He posted her photo, with a caption proclaiming it as the mask his attacker had worn — though of course, it was not the same mask, but one her father had discarded as imperfect.

The part of the internet dedicated to conspiracies decided that it was her father causing people to vanish. Using her photo, and the way the man who had been attacked described his encounter, they decided that he was going around forcing people to wear masks that he had made, which somehow did something to their minds and drove them crazy, forcing them to abandon their lives. What happened to them thereafter, the internet didn’t know. Internet theories didn’t have to make complete sense in order to develop a following.

Christa couldn’t decide which was the worst part about this development: the fact that her father’s name was linked to these disappearances by a group of people who were determined to believe a certain truth; or that, somehow, she believed them. Their narrative made some sort of sense to her. It felt right, somehow. Her father had, in fact, been rather demented in his determination to perfect the mask. Her heart told her he had attacked her mother.

She became so absorbed in this internet truth that, on the night she awoke once again from a dream about her mother’s hands grasping her wrists to discover a dark, humanoid form standing above her, her refusal to cry out in the night remained strong. She knew that the thing, bony figure, standing over her bed, illuminated only by moonlight, was her father. She did not fear him.

When he held out a mask to her, she took it willingly in her hands. She didn’t wish to resist. Despite all her protests, and despite all the love she had lacked from them growing up, she missed her parents. She wanted to be with them. She wanted something like her old, simple life back. She knew she would never have it, and so she accepted that which this creature presented to her, whatever it might be.

The mask had no eyes, like that her father had carved. It was not quite so featureless as his. Formed of something charred and flaking, it ended just above where it would cover her mouth, should she done it. Two swirling horns extended from the temples. For a moment, she held it in her hands. The black material of it rubbed away, staining her flesh.

Without further thought, Christa lifted the mask, pressing it against her face. It burned, filling her ears with a sizzling, crackling fanfare. Her fingers, suddenly filled with a vigor born of the desire to survive, scratched at the ends of the mask, fighting to peel it back from her face. Yet it was already a part of her.

Pain and a hunger so powerful that it throbbed and pulsed rippled through her and consumed her, enveloping her so fully that Christa, as she had once known herself, ceased to exist.

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