My best FRIEND wears a face MASK

Adan Men
23 min readMay 19, 2024

When I was in junior high a transfer student arrived in the middle of the semester; a kid that was different from everyone else. Right away he had caught my eye, in fact he caught everyone's attention because he had a very unique disability; he couldn’t speak. I guess you could say he was deaf, though it was clear to me after getting to know him that he could in fact hear; every word spoken to him was understood with simple nods or gestures; facial expressions contorting into understood language; so I guess he was mute; yeah, that would describe him best. He was an oddity to most but to me he was a unicorn, something that sparkled in our dim monotonous lives and it wasn’t until he revealed who he was did I become terrified of him and his shine.

I was in 7th grade maneuvering my way through the jungle of middle school, avoiding trouble and premature violence. I was an undersized boy for my age, no more than 5ft tall; puberty had yet to visit me leaving me left out of the herd; the other students or the ‘sheep’ as I called them that infested my school. They were all the same, kids that were driven by hormones constantly talking about boys or girls, their deep voices riding on the coattails of the wind that breezed in and out of our hallways. I was a mere shadow, always walking a few paces behind the others not wanting to be seen or acknowledged; I saw what others that looked like me went through, they were tortured and abused for simply existing.

Once Bryce Ellis and his friends stuck Timmy Easton’s face in the shitter for over 10 flushes, I was in a stall over, hiding and waiting for the torment to be over. I slithered my feet up on to the stall caressing them to my chest as I sat in a fetal position horrified of how one human could treat another. Eventually the bullies had gotten bored, their short attention span driven minds directed them to another endeavor leaving Timmy to fester in his tears and possible filth. He sobbed for minutes that felt like hours as I remained silent in the stall over, I placed my hand cautiously on the barrier wall trying to absorb a bit of his pain, my heart ached for him in that moment and I wanted to lend him a compassionate hand if only I had the courage to do so. So yeah, I did my best to stay hidden, unseen to all the dwellers that mindlessly walked in and out of our school on a daily basis, the boys that believed themselves to be men or the girls that pontificated to anyone that listened. I was lost into an enteral sea of vindictive young adults that searched for any reason to lash out at anyone that stood in their way.

So when ‘Tape boy’ — as they would eventually call him — came to my little middle school that stood still in the secluded hills of our small town I was enthralled almost immediately with his existence. He was introduced to my home room class, I sat in the back burying my head into my arms, occasionally lifting my head to listen on the days lecture. My day dreams entertaining me as the clock slowly ticked away at our lives and it wasn’t until my teacher promptly stopped talking did it trigger a primal emotion in me to sit up and pay attention. I postured myself up straight, pausing the internal movie that played in my mind to see what the interruption was about. There he was, a new boy that no one had ever seen before, by middle school everyone knew each other; we had went to the same elementary school, the same holiday events and grocery stores. So getting a new student was like getting a new flavor at Baskin Robbins; a mystery taste simmering on the tip of your tongue as you digested every drop, his presence was intriguing. He wasn’t small like me, I would say average height for a 12 year old; about 5'4, slender body with unkempt dark black hair. He looked timid, his head tilted towards the ground not wanting to accidentally lock eyes with any of us as the teacher introduced him, my mind wandering with such intrigue because to all of our astonishment he was wearing a surgical face mask — mind you this was in the 90’s; eons before the Covid pandemic breached the windows of our thoughts. Right away I could hear the murmurs, the questions erupting throughout the classroom as everyone pondered of why this boy sheltered his face. I stared on for what must of been minutes as the shy boy kept his gaze down, I could see him slightly squeezing the arm straps to his backpack nervously the longer he stood there on full display for all.

I had my fill and I relaxed my postured sinking back into my chair directing my stare out the window but then Billy Sherman asked the question we all had on our minds,

“Uhm, why is he wearing that mask?”.

Our teacher explained to us that it was because of some weaken immune system, something about how his ticker didn’t click like the rest of ours, she then also told us about him being mute. This drew my eyes right back to him, I think it did for all of us and for a moment the quiet kid raised his head and locked eyes with me. His dark black eyes glistened with despair, the deep purple bags that sagged under his eyes were more indicative of someone that hadn’t slept in days. I felt something for him in that moment, our third eye conversing in some cosmic dialogue and as quickly as he rose his head did it drop once again towards the ground. I could still hear all the the other kids snickering, questioning and some even giggling; it made me sick, if I was a braver boy I would of stood on top of my desk and verbally lashed out to all the sheep, instead I rose my hand asking something Mrs. Willis never said, what was the timid boys name?

“Oh I’m sorry, how rude of me, this is Gabriel”.

She sat Gabriel upfront next to her desk, wanting him close in case he needed to write or sign something to her and just like that everyone went back to their simple lives; including myself.

The next few weeks I saw little of Gabriel other than the back of his head during class, once the bell rang everyone that my eyes glimpsed at for the day disappeared or just maybe it was me who dissolved into the ambience of our school. Either way I saw little of the boy who wore a mask, the one that sheltered his true identity and my curiosity with the new flavor of the week gradually faded into the abyss of non-existence; well, that was until the day I saw the mask slip.

It was end of the day, I spent most of the time turning corners anytime Bryce Ellis approached; evading the wrath of him and his band of merry men who were the pinnacle of human torture; finding any opportunity to demean those who crossed their path. I remember leaving Chemistry class, my mind all to occupied with leaving the hell hole of every kids dread and that’s when I saw Gabriel walking down the hall towards the cafeteria; his head still tilted down; his gaze tracking every step he took; face mask still tightly fitted around his face. This time I saw someone was following him, it was Tom Ingram one of Bryce’s guys, a kid that tried to be the “alpha male” of the group numerous times, doing his best to dethrone the reign of Bryce. He was a big boy for his age, probably about 5'9 and easily weighed 200 pounds, he was a wild card alright; he got caught pouring sugar down Mr. Whitakers old Pontiac gas tank for giving him a poor grade. So when I saw him berating poor Gabriel; taunting him as grotesque laughter followed every insult, I felt like I had to do something and my consistent stealth veneer of camouflage morphed into into a full on sprint towards the two. I saw Tom was closing in on him, other kids looking on with bewilderment on their faces — not knowing if they should laugh out of fear or grimace from disgust. For the first time in a long while did a burning sensation of courage ignite in my soul, I was tired of seeing monsters preying on the sheep and I was going to stop it somehow.

Finally Gabriel had stopped walking and stood still, his head hanging even lower than before, the strands of his long hair covered the remainder of his face. Tom began slapping the top side of the poor kids head, yelling out obscenities, angered that he didn’t stop sooner. I was close, I was gonna stop this since all anyone else could do is cower in fear while looking on and then it happened causing me to stop dead in my tracks, my eyes widening with befuddlement. Tom had torn away the mask from Gabriel's face, awes with groans came from everyone then silence blanketed the entire school and for those few seconds our existence had been swallowed up by the earth itself.

“What the hell” Tom yelped out breaking the still but heavy disquietude.

I wanted to say something, but no words could be manifested only gurgles as I choked on my own disbelief. The timid boy under the mask of intrigue had a strip of black duct tape covering his mouth, it stretching from the side of his face to the other almost resembling what would be some hideous smile. The timid boy then collapsed his hands over his face as faint muffles of sobbing protruded from him, he ran into the nearest restroom only for Tom to pursue. Finally my thoughts had been gathered while my body came back to life, I brushed off the bizarre occurrence of that grizzly smile and I reminded myself of what was about to happen. Tom was going to punish Gabriel for simply existing as he and his gang have been doing for years and like some old factory machine the cogs of my body set into motion as I ran towards the restroom. Before I could open the door the most horrid scream exploded outwards into the hallway, the sound sending a cold shiver down my spine and Tom came running out of the restroom gripping at his face crying. He was hysterical running and bumping into the walls until finally crumbling onto the floor only to continue sobbing. My mind was clouded with a whirl wind of confusion, I no longer knew what to do, I mean I was going to run in there and stop the assault but now the assaulter was on the floor destroyed. Then Gabriel calmly came out of the restroom, his mask firmly back on and he turned to look at me, his dark eyes burning an image of anguish into my mind. I asked if he was okay of course he said nothing though, he didn’t need to I could just sense his response and it was one of gratitude. I almost could see him smiling at me from underneath the mask and I reminded myself of what was under it; that abysmal duct tape that looked like a sinister grin.

From that day on most of the kids were afraid of Gabriel, I could see the look of terror in their eyes anytime he passed by them even though his headed was still shifted downwards but that’s the day whenever someone mentioned him they referred to him as “Tape boy”. I had heard through the whispers of our school that Tom had suffered some mental breakdown, that the doctors couldn’t find anything psychically wrong with him, it was as if his mind had shattered. He remained in some mental hospital, memories of him gradually fading and the sheep went on with living their mundane lives. Bryce even slowed his bullying, I think he knew that their were now more eyes watching everyone after the altercation and he didn’t want to get caught in some bad situation, though I could see he was itching to get at Gabriel. I went back to being a shadow, avoiding all the others still not too confident that the days of torture were over.

Even though Gabriel was regarded as some magical or perhaps malevolent being by most; not sure which one; he still appeared to be sad; lonely, his head always dragging with despondency. I made an effort in getting to know him, I wasn’t afraid like the rest of them something about the day we locked eyes gave me the resolve to understand he wouldn’t hurt me. I approached him during lunch break, he was outside sitting underneath a tree, the shade showering him a gloom of haze. I think I surprised him or maybe it was just my stealth nature but I saw him jump when I sat next to him. I began talking about the origins of Darth Vader, of how he was originally a hero using his force power for good only to eventually turn to the dark side. Gabriel just looked at me confounded of why I was even talking to him, his stare looking on with indifference. I told him that he was like a super hero, doing whatever he did to Tom was just like a super power, that I was thankful. His gazed then returned back to the floor almost out of shame, I guess whatever he did that day he didn’t see it as something special, or something to praise. I then told him that I still envied his ability to defend himself, that having such an ability was better than winning the school lottery — which was a week supply of free cafeteria food. I kept blabbering on for the remainder of the break while he still postured his stare towards the floor until the bell had finally rung. Before getting up I told him that if I could have a super power mine would be invisibility that’s when he turned to me pulling out a small spiral from his back pack writing something down, he then showed me.

“Why?” it read.

I told him that I didn’t like being seen, that if I could I would melt away into the noise, then life would be better he just stared at me with what I could assume was disbelief. He didn’t write anything back, he just remain seated while I stood to my feet. I asked if he was coming back to class but he ignored me and just stared out into space presumably lost in his own thoughts.

For the next several months I would catch Gabriel in the hallways, talk to him about the latest edition of whatever comic I was reading, Superman being my favorite and I would go on and on about how his true super power wasn’t strength but hope. I think he became more comfortable with me, pulling out his spiral notebook to write down his thoughts; his questions and answers — a new gateway of communication had formed between us. Most times I could tell what he was going to write by looking at his eyes, those dark haunting eyes, he was a mysterious book slowly being revealed to me and I was completely beguiled by his friendship. Bryce and his little posse slowly went back to bullying the sheep, though they kept their distance from Gabriel and me. I guess I had a new protector one that wouldn’t be crossed and something about that protection left me feeling proud. I knew in my heart that the timid kid that now went by “Tape boy” wouldn’t hurt a fly that maybe the day of Tom going crazy was all by chance, perhaps his rage snapped his mind. I tried asking him about that day numerous times but he never explained what happened he would redirect the conversation back to super hero’s. I would walk home with him on certain days, well, more like he would walk me home I never got to see where he lived, he was too reserved to give up that kind of information but the days we would walk together was always fun. I finally felt like I belonged, the longing emotion of needing acceptance was found by his friendship.

One day when I was walking home by myself I decided to stop in at the gas station to pick up a drink and scour the latest edition of comic books in the small rack of magazines. Before entering the store I could hear arguing voices engaging in combative dialogue and it became vividly clear that it was more of a yelling match than conversation. It was coming from the side of the building, most times I would just ignore it but one of the voices sounded all too familiar and I crept slowly to the edge of the building poking my head out to get a glimpse of the disturbance. It was Bryce, his back was up against the wall while someone who I presumed was his father berated him with such a vicious snarl on his face. The angry man kept slapping Bryce across the face anytime he tried to say something and soon tears began drizzling off the face of the mighty bully only for the man to laugh.

I didn’t know why the older man was treating Bryce the way he was, information cut out of my understanding, for all I know it could of been because of something the bully did at school. I found it to be poetic justice that the boy that caused so much heart ache suffered the same amount only at home. It felt like a cliche, the angry kid was angry because of the angry father; a cruel loop of never ending proportions. Eventually the man or father walked away getting back into his car leaving the bully to brush away the tears from his face. I cautiously retreated my head away deciding to ditch the store completely when that same broken voice only minutes ago shouted out to me with a hefty dominance.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Bryce howled out.

I didn’t bother turning around, I just ran home, dodging into alley ways trying my best to not been seen. It didn’t appear as if he was following, but seeing him in such a vulnerable state was bemusing. We were a small town how could I not know who the man was, we all knew each other since we were small and then it hit me; Bryce’s dad had left when he was little. This man must of been his step dad or perhaps mom’s boyfriend, it didn’t matter I was going to mind my own business, I was going to slither back into the shadows; but my attempts would only fall on defeated shoulders.

I didn’t want to tell anyone of what I saw, I hoped that keeping my mouth shut would of been enough for the bully to leave me be. Unfortunately there is no reasoning when it comes to human beings, we base our actions on emotions, our anger and Bryce confronted me the next morning in front of Gabriel.

“Hey fairy, did you enjoy the show?” the angry kid spouted out at me.

I tried explaining to him that I wasn’t trying to intrude, that the arguing concerned me, that I didn’t like seeing him being mistreated and then he punched me right in the gut. I fell to the floor gripping at my stomach, the pain slicing through every fiber of my body. I tried catching my breath but inhaling was too painful and I sheltered my face expecting another punch but the bully walked off leaving me to sweat. Gabriel kneel down to me taking out his spiral notebook writing the obvious question, I gestured to him to give me a moment and I honestly felt like crying. I had spent years doing my best to blend into the background, the invisibility power I was so desperate to have amongst the sheep was now gone; I was on Bryce’s radar.

For the remainder of the school year I tried avoiding the bullies, the monsters that preyed on the sheep but their leader would actively search for me, he was no longer intimidated by Gabriel; his once menacing allure had dwindled and now we both were sitting ducks. Luckily there was only a few weeks left until summer break and I only had hoped that the time off would be enough for the monster of monsters to cool off.

Entering summer was a relief much needed for my sanity, I took a few thrashings but it was over, me and Gabriel had big plans on spending time together. He wasn’t an out door kind of kid, he usually would just come over my place and we would read my comic books. He quickly grew enchanted with the idea of super hero's, their powers restoring balance to the nature of our world. I enjoyed every minute of it, my parents on the other hand looked less jovial to our friendship, they didn’t like the mask; it worried them. They thought that whatever illness he had could be passed on to me, but they didn’t do anything to stop us from seeing each other, they only silently protested. So after awhile we decided to meet somewhere outdoors, away from my parents judgmental stares, there was a creek close to my house, the trees giving us enough shade to stay cool on those long summer days. The small stream that flowed through the trenches of the creek enriched our view as we would find the perfect rock to perch on while reading our comics. We didn’t see much of any of the other classmates that summer, the sheep kept their distance or maybe it was just us, but the days seem to pass quickly and before we knew it summer was coming to an end. I couldn’t remember how many volumes we must of read but Gabriel was now a fan of almost every super hero. He tend to raise out his arms while walking, mimicking the premise of flying like Superman; his ponderous eyes cutting through the brush as we escaped our secluded summer spot.

It was on the final day of our summer break did I pressure the shy timid boy to explain to me what had happen that day, the day Tom lost his marbles, I needed to know. Gabriel as always tried redirecting the conversation, holding up a comic of Batman, pointing at some dialogue. I got upset, I raised my voice telling him that if we were friends then he should tell me, that there wasn’t secrets between us. His heavy eyes collapsing to the ground, shifting his posture on the rock that we both sat on.

“Look, I just need to know, you’re my best friend” I told him with genuine longing.

The school year was about to start up again and I could already envision a future of slithering through the hallways how I have always done, but with Gabriel maybe that could change. I needed to know and I was done guessing, fantasizing that he was some super hero or at least my hero; my protector. I stood up off the rock walking over to the stream, the sound of water colliding unto the small stones that infested the trench triggered something awful in my gut. I took a deep breath and made my final stand with my best friend.

“If you don’t want to tell me then I’m going home, see ya” I said with impatience dripping off of my words.

Gabriel ignored my warning and continued pointing at the comic book, that’s when I noticed what he was pointing at, it wasn’t dialogue it was one of Batman's villains — he was pointing at Clayface. This made me stop, my minding halting after speeding at 100 miles per hour; it crashing my thoughts.

“Yeah, what about Clayface?” I curiously asked with a withered and tired voice.

That’s when his pointer finger was no longer on the page but rather it was pointed towards his mouth; the mouth that was hidden behind his mask. He could see my face drop with sadness, whatever disfigurement he had underneath that horrid black duct tape must of been something like the villain from the comic and my heart broke for him. Gabriel’s eyes gleaming with absolute sorrow, the boy that only wanted to be left alone, the person all the others feared just wanted solitude and here I was badgering him to no end about something so insignificant. We stared at each other for several seconds, our eyes meeting in some altered state and I reached my hand up to his face tenderly taking off his mask. There it was, the black duct tape that resembled a grin, a nightmarish one that could only been seen in some horror movie. I then placed my fingers on the edge of the tape, my cold grip causing him to shiver and I slowly began to remove it.

“What the hell are you fairy’s doing?” a voice called out from the brush, one that sank my heart into my stomach.

I turned trying to locate the voice and sure enough there he was, the bully that had tortured so many for so many years — it was Bryce. His body slowly revealing itself from the brush like some despicable ooze frothing from the depths of hell. Though, something about him was different, his cold stare no longer fictitious but more intimidating and as his body fully emerged did I see the blood trickling down his soaked stain shirt. He was covered in the crimson fluid, there was even some on his cheeks almost as he had some open wound and smeared the remnants of it on his face. The devilish grin that bestowed his bruised and beaten face quickly led me to a conclusion; one that I wish I didn’t conclude. A purplish black infested the out layer of his left eye, it practically closed shut and his nose had been bent to a unsightly angle. I started to whimper as my lips trembled from fright because this Bryce was not the same one that had given us wedgies or swirlies this one was a true monster, a beast that devoured souls. His gaze was enough to display a vacancy of any humanity and my eyes crawled down his arm into his hand to see the black pistol that he firmly gripped.

“Uh, Bryce what happened? Are you okay?” I groaned out while sniffling.

He didn’t answer, he just kept grinning at me, the ghastly smile that stretched ear from ear plagued my vision and I knew that he had done it, that he had hurt someone badly. I was terrified and in the moment I had completely forgotten about Gabriel, my tunnel vision only focused on that firearm.

“Where the hell did the other one go?” the monster asked, I turned and realized Gabriel in fact had run away leaving me behind.

I wanted to run, I wanted to flee while screaming but horror kept me in place and I felt like some dear trapped in headlights contemplating my entire life in mere seconds.

“Everyone always messes with me!” Bryce yelled out with such ferociousness.

There was no talking my way out of this one, no pleading, I knew in that moment he was going to kill me; his rage over flowing to the point of lunacy. He quickly pounced dropping me to the floor, screaming with madness and he repeatedly hit me over the head with the but of the gun causing me to see stars. His words became incoherent sounding like muffled tones that slushed it’s way into my hearing, I shook my head trying to collect myself, just maybe I could figure a way out of this but as soon as my vision corrected itself Bryce would strike me another time causing it to blur once again. I fell into a darkness, my world collapsing into an eternal void of loneliness as my body began to float effortlessly but as soon as I thought this was my final moments flashes of Gabriel flooded into my mind awakening me out of whatever slumber I found myself in. That’s when I realized Bryce was no longer hitting me, instead he was talking to someone and as I grabbed at my head trying to steady my balance I saw it was Gabriel standing still head as always tilted downwards.

Bryce confronted him pointing his 9mm directly at his head yelling, screaming at the top of his lungs but my best friend remained unmoved, just quiet and then he slowly removed his mask. This caused Bryce to pause, his tone weaken and I think for the first time he digested if he should proceed doing what he was doing.

“What are you doing freak?” the bully yelped out.

Gabriel remained quiet, eyes still directed towards the floor, his breathing escalating; I could see his chest pump more vigorously with each passing second. With the mask off me and Bryce could see the bewildering black duct tape strapped to his face, Gabriel’s face began to tremble violently as if he was trying to yell through the bondage. He then finally began to peel of the thick layer of black duct tape and it came off with a wicked screech as I could see my friends eyes squint with pain.

Bryce was no longer pointing the gun at Gabriel, no longer was he even saying a word his arm lowered to his side and both him and I stared on with amazement. What was under the tape was layers of skin, twisting and binding to each other like some thriving organism living it’s own life on Gabriel's face. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t say anything I was in shock and my head still throb from pain. Then Gabriel's mouth — if you want to call it that — began to stretch open, he tilted his head backwards while the mountain of dead flesh started to drip down his face allowing some endless void to open up inside of him. I could hear the cracking of bones breaking, his jaw shifting to accommodate the massive hole that was now his mouth and then horrid dwindling fingers began to protrude from the darkness. My mouth gaped open with trepidation and if I had the ability to adjust my head I would think Bryce had the same facial expression. Then a grotesque head forced it’s way out of my friends mouth revealing a face that could only exist in the realms of the dead, this new creature having two large almond shape eyes; eyes that looked very similar to the ones that were attached to my friend. This ‘thing’ then stared at Bryce, that’s all it did, no words were spoken no violence was created it just stared at him and soon the bully grasped at his face and began to yell. He ran frantically in different directions, his gun firing out into the tree line, I jumped for cover; falling to the floor sheltering my head with my arms. Bryce’s terrified screams caused my stomach to turn and soon those dire cries stopped along with the gunshots.

I must of stayed on the floor for what felt like hours, too scared to rise to my feet and through my peripheral did I see the sun begin to set plunging the small creak into darkness. I eventually mustered up enough courage to get up and I looked around, Bryce was mere feet away from me, he lay still on the floor blood spewing out of his head; it appeared as if had shot himself. I walked over to his body befuddled of what to do I then remembered Gabriel, I turned to look for him but he was gone it was only me and Bryce's dead corpse. I ran home telling my parents about everything, of the encounter I experienced, at first it seemed as if they didn’t believe me but they still phoned for the police. I led them to the creek to the bullies dead body, I initially thought perhaps they would blame me, connect me to his death but the police believed me; well the believed me about Bryce but not about Gabriel. They told me that Bryce had killed his step father, apparently they had gotten into some altercation and afterwards he went into his mothers bedroom and shot her to death. They told me that the once bully was a disturbed individual, suffering abuse for many years; that I was lucky to escape from his wrath. I told them that they needed to find my friend I wanted to know if he was okay, but all the officers could do was pat my back with sympathy trying to relax me.

It has almost been 30 years since the event, I still have nightmares of what had happened, I see the dead stare Bryce had while pointing his pistol at me, I see him repeatedly hitting me over the head again and again. Though, what still haunts me more is Gabriel's mouth contorting into that horrid shape revealing the creature that lived inside of him. He was never found, I’m pretty sure he moved on to another city, another place where bullies like Bryce tormented their schools and I could only imagine Gabriel was there to balance the wrongs of the world. I am scared of my best friend, but I know at the same time he is my protector; my super hero, he is out there doing good, I can feel it and I hope he can sense my love for him. Maybe we will never meet again, perhaps it’s not written in the stars for us to reunite but one thing is for sure, I get comic books mailed to me randomly every month; most are of Superman and I know exactly who they are from.

Thanks for reading! :)

Copyright Adan Mendez (all rights reserved)

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Adan Men

If horror is your jam then my stories will have you on the edge of your seat, get ready to be enthralled into the world of the unexpected and unusual.