Everyone Wears a Mask
The doctor sat in his chamber, reclined on a comfortable mattress. Head propped on a stack of sad deflated pillows, the sterile white linens were still tucked neatly in beneath him. He held his journal, the thick leather comfortingly familiar within his hands. He was reviewing his newest entries, regarding his most recent ‘patient’. Sus domesticus. Disease was well established and progressing at rates consistent with his current models. Unfortunately, the poor thing had been ‘euthanized’ before being presented to him. Still, it had ultimately been only a minor setback.
There were sirens blaring in the hallways outside. That wasn’t entirely unusual. The lights had flickered several minutes ago. That was… less usual. The far wall of the doctor’s quarters began to corrode. That, most certainly, broke from the usual. From the far side of the wall, he heard shouting. Not rough, but dripping with honey. “I’m coming for you, my love. I’ll free you, and we can leave this wretched place together.” A male voice, in a high falsetto.
“These are my quarters, and I think I would rather not leave with you. Have you any idea how luxurious it is here?”
Several swift blows knocked free the remaining melting material, revealing most of a person wearing an orange jumpsuit and a white porcelain mask. “You’ve gone and ruined the wall…” he paused, dispassionately regarding a fetid chunk of flesh sloughing from the visitor’s arm to the floor. “And I’m fairly certain you’ve killed that man.”
“My love, my sweet, sweet love. Come to me, hold me close. I miss your touch.” The body’s trembling legs started shambling forwards, its possessor locked into a tragic scowl. “It took so long to find you, they have you secreted away, the monsters. Touch me my saviour, my love, and touch one of the humans. Cure it. Cure it, and let me wear it, my sweet doctor.” The corpse’s leg bones, more gelatine now than structure, folded on impact with the ground. The mask’s host flopped to the ground in that unique way that a dissolving corpse does, arms and neck lolling weakly.
The doctor closed his journal, dropping it gingerly into his bag. “Have we met? I… I get the feeling I would remember you.” This black ooze, however, was interesting. He produced from his bag a flask made of a material which superficially resembled glass. Reaching down, he gingerly took hold of the top of the head, angling the host’s neck down and holding the flask beneath it to catch the secretions. He had never encountered something so elegantly destructive before. Certainly such an exotic reagent could be used to further refine his cure.
“You don’t remember me, my love? You don’t remember touching me, holding me, gathering my… fluids? We’ve done this before, my love. Don’t you remember? It was the first. The first ingredient of your cure.” The doctor froze, though whether this was to ensure none of the secretions missed the flask, or due to his mind hurtling through itself looking for a past it could not find, he couldn’t tell. The flask contained the black secretions, didn’t corrode. He wasn’t sure how he knew it wouldn’t.
“If what you say is true, then, this flask, I made it, did I? I’ve studied you? Then certainly…” He let the head drop, hitting the ground with a sickening crunch. Standing, he quickly strode to his desk. Gingerly, he set the flask down, then next to it, his bag. Out again, came his journal. He pulled it open to the first, earliest pages, looking for his records, looking to see if what this… thing said was true.
“My sweet genius doctor, of course you made it. You’re a brilliant man, you know. Your cure…” the corpse’s voicebox, still surprisingly intact, broke into an appreciative giggle. “Your cure is more effective than you know, doctor. Just one patient, that’s all I need. I asked most of the prisoners that had gotten out to hold off our jailors. But they are weak, and I fear we do not have long. You must act, and quickly my love.” The voice changed, dropping into its more natural baritone. “You, outside. Come in now.”
The doctor stared, transfixed and horrified at his journal. He did not see the nervous woman enter the room, gingerly, so as not to touch the corrosive ooze still devouring the wall. Her nose was running - it always ran when her heart was racing. She stood timidly, her eyes jumping back and forth between the degenerating pile of her cellmate and the beautiful mask that knew how to save her. “Lie down, there, on the bed. Close your eyes and breathe. The doctor here, he will fix everything that’s wrong with you.” The woman complied. The pleading falsetto returned. “She is ready, my love. Look closely at her if you need to, she is sick! Sick!”
If he heard, he gave no response. His racing hand turned the page, watchful eyes scouring the text. It had been ages since he’d had reason to refer this far back through his notes. There were detailed sketches and diagrams of the very flask he’d just retrieved. This did nothing to quell the bile rising in his gorge; he couldn’t read a word of the henscratch on the page! It was his script no doubt, but he couldn’t make any of it out. Pages turned frantically until he found a part he could read.
Gunfire, faint and muffled, retorted in short vollies. “Quickly now! You know everything you need, doctor! This woman is deathly ill! Tend to her!” The voice bubbled slightly; the delicate throat was beginning to go, there wasn’t much time left. Desperation poured from its mouth, as thick as its corrosive fluid.
Exhaustive details of pathology, symptoms, he’d turned these over ceaselessly in his mind for as long as he could remember. Focusing again on the words, he scanned them for nearly a minute further before snapping the journal shut in frustration. Damn. Notes on his procedure, nothing that needed refreshing. A long moment passed and the journal fell once again from his fingers into his bag. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; his work does not wait. The gunfire retorted again, a bit closer this time. He steadied his breathing and cast his gaze over the woman lying, sick and trembling on his bed. He would need to work quickly to save her and avoid interruption.