Elegant, hand-painted flowers adorned the glossy white surface of the mask in my hands. The more I looked, the more of its intricate detail jumped out at me. Every delicate line, every brush stroke—it all seemed perfectly in place.
“Found something you like, did you?”
I looked up, surprised to see the shopkeeper right across the counter in front of me. I hadn’t even heard their footsteps.
Their androgynous voice seemed somehow unmuffled by the piece of their own work they wore: a mask bearing a wide, toothy grin drawn in simple linework.
I cast my eyes over the rest of the shop one last time to be sure.
The walls were lined with a hundred masks, no two alike, each strikingly different from any others.
The mannequins standing by the windows and dotting the floor wore additional display models.
One at the front window had drawn me in, bearing an elegant black mask with gold painted cracks that turned out to be “not for sale,” as the signs inside clarified.
I was disappointed at first, but after perusing the collection, I found this one. It called to me even more strongly than the first one had.
Having scanned the store again, I felt quite sure about it.
“Yeah. This is the one.”
“Try it on. You must! To be sure.”
The grinning mask tilted from one side to the other with excited, jerking movements, its painted eyes locked to mine. Only then did it occur to me that it was odd they could see me at all, given how the mask conspicuously lacked eye holes.
Mine—somehow I was already thinking of it as belonging to me—similarly did. They all did. I was unsure how I might evaluate what it looked like on me if I couldn’t see out from it, but I felt such eagerness welling inside me.
Without hesitation, I pressed the mask to my face.
The cool touch of ceramic on skin quieted my doubts, my worries, my concerns…all of it.
At peace. That was how I felt.
The background noise faded to silence.
I floated in darkness.
Everything felt like it was in its proper place. My mind was Still.
“Wake up. If you would like to.”
The familiar voice of the shopkeeper slid across the surface of my empty mind like a gentle caress.
I opened my eyes. My true eyes. Those belonging to my new face.
Time had passed without my noticing. The sun slept. The store was locked up.
I had been moved to a cozy corner.
The shopkeeper—out from behind their counter—dangled in front of me on the strings I somehow had not noticed before that moment.
A wooden hand identical to those of the mannequins stroked my face with loving gentleness.
I idly wondered if the other mannequins were watching as the shopkeeper’s hands explored my body and stripped me bare.
Its mask tapped against mine again and again, offering sweet masked kisses unlike any I knew before.
I was as motionless as any other mannequin in the store while this puppet-like creature used my body.
Perhaps it read my desires in the lines of the mask that called to me. Perhaps knowing my face so intimately, even before I knew it, gave the shopkeeper knowledge of me.
It knew where to touch me. It knew how to hold me. It knew how to give me everything I wanted.
I never imagined asking it to stop.
Even when it tied me up. Every limb delicately held in place. Even my head securely restrained.
Even as its touch painfully lignified my body.
The next morning the restraints helped me up. The strings that redundantly held me still the night before now tugged me into motion and helped me dress my new, wooden body.
Strings pulled me into carrying the one who sold me my mask the day before, setting it up on display.
That day someone asked me if she could buy the grinning mask on that mannequin.
“That one’s display only,” I let her know, pointing to the sign. “Sorry to disappoint. Do let me know if you see one on the walls that calls to you, though!”