The dusty old moving van clattered down the bumpy hills surrounded by miles of fields, dotted with a few small rundown houses. Following close behind is a beat up beige minivan. A large balding man in a faded checkered shirt drives, a glint coming into his dull brown eyes and a smile spreading on his face as he sees the fields. George. A smooth even voice snaps him awake.
“Turn right here, dear,” says his wife, Mary. She has short sleek dark brown hair, and wears a neatly pressed white blouse. Her nails are polished an almost invisible pale pink. Her face gives away almost nothing, but you look closely, her eyes twitch ever so slightly upon seeing the sleepy agricultural area.
“I can’t believe,” sighs Sasha, “that we have to leave all our friends in the city and move here.” She gestures to the dilapidated houses spaced nearly miles apart, all seeming to her in a cloud of dirt.
“Smell that fresh air,” says George, rolling down a window.
Sasha wrinkles her nose in disgust. She sits as if tied down, clearly miserable and constantly squirming. Next to Sasha sits her younger brother Tommy. He stares contently out the window without saying a word. The car screeched to a halt in the dirty gravel driveway of the large wood house.
“We’re here,” said George with a practically musical air to his voice.
* * *
The sun poured down onto the fields, with white-hot heat and blinding light. The family working to turn the ground and plant the crops are outfitted in tattered clothes. They worked for hours, until Sasha’s shovel hit something hard in the ground. What now? she thought irritably, trying to smash the thing in the ground, by banging her shovel against it.
“Easy,” says George. “You want to loosen the soil, not kill it.”
Says you, thought Sasha but instead she said, “I think there’s a rock or something in the ground.” George began to work at the soil until he unearthed a wooden box. It looks like it had been buried for centuries. The clasp was rusted to the point of disintegration. George opened the box to reveal a lovely ornate mask, the masks serene porclian face intracatly painted with tons of twirling designs, highlighted with gold leaf.
* * *
Charles double-checked the address written on a slip of paper to make sure it matched the address of the house he was in front of. He parked his car and got out. Knocked on the door and the smoothed his hair.
“Hello,” said Mary opening the door. “Are you Charles Northup?” she asked.
“Yes indeed,” he said briskly, cheerfully extending a hand. “ I’m an expert on ancient artifacts from this area, and a connoisseur of the fine arts. I can trace the history of your mask and put a value on it.”
“Thanks for coming,” said Mary, leading him into the living room where George was seated with the mask. Charles began to examine the mask by looking it over, touching it, running certain small instruments over it. After a while he said, “I’m afraid I can’t put an exact time or value on it. This piece however is exquisite. Where did you find it?”
“It was buried in our field,” said George. At once Charles’ perky face turned dark. “It was buried in your field?” He repeated, gesturing out the window to the field. “Yes,” said Mary, “why are you asking?”
“Well,” Charles began. “Around this area there is an old folk legend that centuries ago something was buried in one of these plots of land that holds a curse.”
“Nice to know,” said George, “but we don’t believe in magic.” I do, thought Sasha who had been eavesdropping at the doorway.
* * *
Sasha was wary of everything in the house. From the first moment it had been dusty and old and repulsive, but now it could be possessed. She flipped inattentively through an old Glamour magazine when she heard a creak on the floorboards. She gripped the magazine’s pages frozen in horror when suddenly “Boo,” yelled a voice. Out of the corner of her eye she saw it. The mask. Sasha leapt up and screeched, but her fear quickly melted when she turned around and saw that it was only Tommy wearing the mask.
“I got you,” he said between laughs. The sight of the mask on his face made her flinch. “You’re so immature,” she said. “That mask isn’t for playing with and you know it. Go put it back.”
“Okay, fine, jeez it’s not like I’m going to destroy it,” said Tommy. It’s going to destroy us thought Sasha with a shudder.
* * *
That night Tommy lay in bed tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. He had a strange feeling that he should get up and go to the living rooom, and he had been ignoring it, but after hours he was wide awake and decided that it couldn’t hurt. He got out of bed and walked into the living room where he began to feel a strange force pulling him toward the corner to the little table next to the couch. It got stronger as he drew closer. He felt his hands reach out and his fingers close around something and he brought this item to his face (this force had completely taken control of his movements). It was the mask, he realized, as he slid it onto his face. A perfect fit. “Good,” said a small but deep voice.
* * *
(About a month later)
Sasha’s eyes flashed open, awakening her from her latest nightmare about the house. It was early morning but she felt wide-awake. She got up and walked out of her room letting her eyes adjust to the light. Something seemed awry… Sasha let out shriek. The dining room table was on its side, the table cloth shredded, knives and forks stuck in the walls and floors, the good china shattered and the chair legs snapped off, and the chandelier was on the ground and the carpet pad was pulled out from underneath the rug. The entire house had been ransacked, stuffing pulled out of chairs, lamps smashed, curtains torn, and things thrown to the ground, but Sasha didn’t dare move. She leaned on the hack marked doorway wondering who could have done this and why. What she didn’t notice, however, was the mask, in the corner of the living room, lying untouched.
* * *
Sasha heard a horrified bloodcurdling scream from outside in the fields. She raced outside, shouting “what was that?” Sasha stopped short when she saw all the crops had wilted. Her father was nowhere to be seen but in the middle of the field was a solitary figure. Hands raised to the sky the crops wilted around him. Sasha ran through the bowing stalks as curious as she was afraid. And then she saw him. It was Tommy. No, she did a double take. But he wasn’t wearing the mask; his face was the mask. The mask gave an evil grin and then suddenly Tommy fell to the ground. Only then mask broke from his face and rolled to her feet.
“Tommy,” she cried. She reached out to help him, but a powerful force snapped her arm back. Sasha picked up the mask, wanting to hurl it down to the ground and then step on it until it was smashed into a thousand little pieces. Instead, she was filled with a strange, overwhelming, unavoidable sensation that she should put the mask on.
Caroline Triolo, Age 13, Grade 8, NYC Lab MS for Collaborative Studies, Silver Key