I told Grandma Betty that them wooden masks talked to me last night, but she didn’t believe me.
“Why you tellin’ lies, boy?” she said, her face all pinched-up-like. “Ain’t no masks talkin’. You makin’ up stories.”
“No, Grandma Betty, I ain’t lyin’,” I said. “That there one, ‘specially.” I pointed to the mask on the wall next to the cabin door. It looks like an old man, smiling, but his face is all made of leaves and twigs and such like. His eyes are closed now, but they wasn’t while he was talking. That’s how I knew he was gonna say something; his eyes suddenly opened, and looked right at me.
“Boy, you know lyin’ is of the devil,” Grandma Betty said, and then she gave me a thrashing. It didn’t hurt because I’m fifteen and strong, and Grandma Betty is old and skinny, and when she hits me it don’t even leave any marks.
So I didn’t say nothing more about the masks talking that day, or tell her how one of the other ones, the one with a woman’s face but antlers sticking out of her forehead, told me that we wasn’t safe here. That one scared me plenty. I was so scared that that later when I woke up in the middle of the night, I peed out the window instead of walking outside to the outhouse.
The next morning, Grandma Betty went out to feed the chickens, and she left me doing my chores, like going down to the well and pumping up water to cook with and wash the dishes in. So I hauled buckets of water and filled the sink and the pitchers and the big cooking pot. I had to make a bunch of trips, and each time I went inside I tried not to look at the masks, one on each of the four walls, all facing into the middle of the room. But finally, I couldn’t help myself, and I looked up at the one over the sink, the one with a long beak, like a big old bird.
His eyes opened in his wooden face, and I saw they was gold, and for a moment he just blinked at me, and I just stared back. I dropped the bucket I was holding, and the water run all over my feet and the floor and down through the cracks in the floorboards, but I didn’t hardly notice that.
I was about to look away when he talked. His voice was hard, kinda like a hawk screaming, but with words in it.
“You ain’t left yet,” he said to me.
“No, we ain’t,” I said.
“You better git. Soon be too late for y’all. You been warned twice, and you ain’t listenin’.”
“I’m listenin’ just fine,” I said. “Grandma Betty’s the one ain’t listenin’. I tried tellin’ her, but she just gave me a thrashin’.”
“You gonna wish you was gettin’ a thrashin’ when what’s comin’ gets here,” the mask said. “You gonna wish you was gettin’ a hundred thrashin’s, ‘stead of what it’s got in mind.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Never you mind that. All you need to know is that it’s out there in the woods, waitin’ for the right time. Waitin’ and watchin’. So you just see that y’all git. Today, tomorrow the latest. Ain’t gonna be my fault, what happens if y’all still here after that.”
And the bird mask shut its eyes and stopped talking, and I picked up the bucket and went back outside to fill it again.
On the next trip to the well, I passed Grandma Betty, still feeding the chickens.
“Grandma Betty,” I said.
“Yeah?” she said.
“I’s just wonderin’ if maybe we could go visit Uncle Jake and Aunt Emma. We ain’t seen ‘em in a while.”
“Uncle Jake and Aunt Emma ain’t got room for us, now’s they got four children. Lucky they ain’t got one of ‘em sleepin’ in the hen house.”
“I’d sleep in the hen house,” I said.
“Don’t be talkin’ nonsense, boy,” she said.
“I just’d like to go visitin’,” I said. “It’s been a long time.”
Grandma Betty’s eyes squinched up, and her lips got all twisted. “What’s got into you, boy?” she said. “You actin’ funny lately.”
I thought about what the bird mask said to me, and I thought, Hell, all she can do is give me another thrashing, and I can take that. So I said, “One of them masks told me we should leave. The one looks like a bird, you know, by the sink.”
She set down the bucket of chicken feed, and come over to me, still scowling. “Boy, that’s devil’s talk you’re sayin’,” she said. “Devil talks to you, it’s lyin’ talk. You got to tell the devil, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ like it says in the Good Book.” She shook her head, disappointed-like, and says, “I knowed we should try to get over to church to hear Brother Amos preachin’. But God forgive me, it’s a long way, right acrost Cold Spring Glen. I tried to do the right thing, readin’ from the Scriptures on Sunday, but devil done got in anyhow.”
“You so scared of them masks, why you don’t take ‘em down?” I asked.
“I ain’t scared,” Grandma Betty said, her face all defiant-like. “Your grandpa said we had to keep them masks where they was, ‘cause they’d keep us safe. Didn’t keep him safe, the old fool.” She spat on the ground.
I almost asked her what happened to him, but every time Grandpa gets mentioned, Grandma Betty gets mad, so I just said, “You could still take ‘em down, couldn’t you, Grandma Betty? Them masks?”
And she said, real thoughtful, “Yeah. Mayhap I could.” Then she came up to me, and I thought she was gonna tell me to bend over so she could give me another thrashing, but she just clapped her hand on my shoulder and said, “Now pick up that chicken feed and put it away. We gonna go read from the Bible.”
So we spent the rest of that day reading from the Bible. And at night, I peed out the window again. After what that bird mask told me, no way was I going out in the dark, to where the outhouse stood underneath them dark trees, where anything could be hiding.
The next morning the sun was shining, and when I woke up I thought, Maybe them masks was wrong, here I still am and the sun is out and the birds are singin’ and nothin’ has come out of the woods for me or Grandma Betty. And Grandma Betty made us some oatmeal for breakfast, and she seemed like she was in a better mood than usual. I guessed that it was because we spent so long reading Scripture last night, she figured Satan wouldn’t dare come anywhere near us now.
After breakfast, she went outside to feed the chickens like usual, and she left me to wash up the bowls and then to sweep the floor. Then I had to chop some firewood, even though it was summer. She said, “World turns, boy, and winter follows summer. You’ll freeze if you wait till it’s cold to find wood.”
I spent all day chopping wood, and it was getting toward sunset. There was thunder in the distance, and I saw lightning flashes, but it wasn’t raining yet. Wind was kicking up, and Grandma Betty went down to get the cow into the barn so she wouldn’t spook and run away. I went inside, and was washing the sweat off, and there was a noise of a branch scraping on the roof. I looked up, not meaning to look that way, and suddenly there was the fourth mask, the one that was like a beautiful woman with hair made of snakes. That was the mask that I loved and hated most. I loved it because she had a beautiful face, and I saw her sometimes when I was dreaming, unrighteous dreams where she took me by the hand and led me off into the woods and we committed fornication together, all under the trees. And I hated it because the mask of her face scared me, all still and silent, her eyes closed, the wooden snakes twisted all around her. One snake had a chip of wood missing, so it only had one eye, and I always look at that one because I figure it’s mad because it’s hurt.
Then her eyes opened, like I knew they would, and the snakes started to move even though they was made of wood. I saw the snake that had only one eye staring at me, its tongue flicking in and out, and where the chunk of wood was missing there was some blood and the whiteness of bone underneath.
The woman’s eyes were bright blue, and they looked into my eyes, and then her mouth opened and she licked her lips and I remembered what we done in the forest in my dream, and I couldn’t say nothing, just stood there squirming, trying to look away, but I couldn’t. And then she said, “Y’all still here, I see.”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Ain’t got much time,” she said. “Y’all got to git. Now.”
“It’s comin’. Dark thing, Yog-Sothoth they calls it, ain’t its real name but it’ll do. Doorway openin’ tonight, y’all get eat up if you stay.”
“Grandma Betty says that’s devil’s talk, says we should read the Scripture and say ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’”
“Your Grandma Betty’s wrong. Yog-Sothoth ain’t get behind nobody, and don’t matter you quotin’ Scripture. Y’all got to git. Now. We four’ve protected y’all long as we can, sinc’t this cabin was built a hundred years ago, but even we ain’t able to stop it this time.”
“What if you’re the devil speakin’ to me?” I asked.
“I ain’t never done nothing but what you needed me to do. What you wanted me to do.” She smiled a little, and showed teeth, white under her wooden lips. “I’m tryin’ to help you still, but you got to listen. Y’all got to get out, clear out of here – out of this cabin, out of Cold Spring Glen. Only thing holdin’ it back now is us. After sun’s gone, we ain’t gonna be able to help you any longer.”
“I’ll do what I can,” I said.
“See that you do.”
There was a noise behind me, and Grandma Betty came stomping up behind me. “Who you talkin’ to?” she hissed, and her voice sounded like the snakes in the mask woman’s hair, only the mask was back to the way it had been, her eyes closed, the snakes back to being carved from wood, one with a chunk missing. She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, but she shook herself as hard trying to do it, and yelled into my face, “Who you talkin’ to, boy?”
“The mask!” I said. “The mask said it! We’s supposed to leave! It’s gonna come, and we gotta get out!”
Grandma Betty put her face right near mine, and said, “Devil’s talk! Stop it! Get thee behind me, Satan!”
“It told me Yog-Sothoth was waitin’, waitin’ to come in…”
And Grandma Betty slapped me across the face, and the slap came at the same time as a flash of lightning, and she shouted above the thunderclap that followed, “Don’t you say that name! Sayin’ that name is how your grandpa got eat up, he got eat up out there in the Glen by what he called down, and them lyin’ masks is tryin’ to get you to do what he did…” And she reached up and grabbed the mask of the woman with the snake hair, and she pulled, and there was a twang as the wire holding it to the wall broke. Grandma Betty took the mask by the edge, and hit it against the wall, over and over. At first, only the snakes broke off, and a piece flew up and hit my mouth, and I tasted blood. Then the mask cracked down the middle – but just before it broke, I saw the snake-woman’s eyes open, a bright blue flash like the lightning outside, before they closed forever as the mask split in two.
The wood of the wall behind the mask seemed to shift, and to melt, and I saw what looked like bubbles – like great, glowing soap bubbles, slipping through the wall where the mask was. I heard Grandma Betty scream, but God forgive me, I turned and ran. Lightning flashes were all around me. I reached the top of the hill just past the chicken coop, and that was when lightning struck the cabin – but it didn’t burn, it just turned liquid, like spruce tar running in a fire.
I been running for a couple hours now, and I’m almost out of Cold Spring Glen and up to the road. Ain’t too much further. Rain still ain’t let up, and the lightning’s still coming. I hear sounds behind me, crashing through the trees – I can hear it even over the wind and thunder, looking for me. I figure if I can make it to the top of the Glen, I’ll be safe, that’s what the snake-woman said. But I ain’t got her to lead me by the hand any more, so I guess I’m on my own.