Rubber Face

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The first time Brock wore a rubber mask for Halloween was when he was five-years-old. He didn’t want to take it off after trick-or-treating so his patient parents compromised and let him sleep in it.

That’s where it started.

After that he insisted on wanting to wear a rubber mask during the day. He couldn’t during school, but the minute the last bell rang he’d pull his rubber mask out of his backpack and put it on. Needless to say, this caught the attention of a lot of people. Children and adults alike.

It was a good thing Brock was a husky kid, because he constantly faced bullies who tried to take his mask away from him. One day two boys jumped him just outside the school grounds. In the tussle one of the boys peeled off the mask he just put on. He fought so furiously that they backed off and left his rubber mask on the ground.

In school, Brock was a shy guy. He always sat in the rear of the classroom. He knew a few of his fellow students by name, but had no friends. Over his school years he got use to eating alone in the school cafeteria. He was content reading the latest issue of MAD magazine at lunch.

His parents didn’t really know how to cope with his obsession. They sent him to a child psychologist numerous times before he entered high school. He always came across, in those sessions, as perfectly normal…with the exception of his unusual attachment to rubber masks. Various theories were discussed, but no one seemed able to break his odd habit.

When he entered high school he got a job at a local supermarket bagging groceries and helping customers take their purchases out to their vehicle. He used most of his paychecks buying new rubber masks. Scary ones, funny ones, and famous celebrities were his favorites. It was no surprise that most of the student body called him Rubber Face behind his back. Some people said it to his face.

In his mind, as he explained to more than one psych, rubber masks were the height of mask making. The ability to change his appearance was very satisfying. That’s the part no one seemed to understand.

He felt safe in a mask. That it attracted attention was not his purpose for wearing it. He understood, at one level, why people thought he was odd. Personally he didn’t think anyone was odd because they strived to look different. Tattoos, pierced body parts, ear plugs, scarifications. It was all good to Brock. He just wished people would be more tolerant of those who chose to step outside the norms in their appearance.

In his senior year Brock swallowed his shyness and went to a Halloween dance. He didn’t have a date. He hoped that there would be some girls there in the same situation. He never went to any of the other dances and proms, and felt extremely awkward. It was his last chance at going to some social activity before graduating. The senior prom was out of the question. He’d never get a date for that. The fact that he could wear a rubber mask to the Halloween dance tilted the scales in favor of going there.

He wore his favorite vampire mask and a rented tuxedo. The gym was already full of costumed students when he got there. The “Monster Mash” was blaring from two four-foot speakers on the stage.

“I was working in the lab, one night

when my eyes beheld an eerie sight

For my monster on the slab, began to rise

and suddenly to my surprise…he did the Monster Mash!

Brock was filling a plastic cup up with punch when a voice behind him said, “Would you get me a cup?” He turned and saw a female vampire waiting for an answer.

“Oh…yeah! I mean…sure,” he bumbled, and handed her his cup. She stood there silently until he filled another cup for himself.

“I like your costume,” she said in a husky voice.

“Yours too. I mean, I like yours a lot.”

In the background…

“Out from his coffin, Drac’s voice did ring

Seems he was troubled by just one thing

He opened the lid and shook his fist

And said, “Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?”

They sipped their drinks in an awkward silence before Brock spoke up, “Would you like to dance?” he asked.

“Yes. It would be my pleasure kind sir,” she chuckled playfully.

They stayed on the dance floor throughout the night. When it was time to go Brock asked his new-found vampire friend, if she needed a ride home? He could see her eyes twinkling in the mask’s eye holes.

“How kind of you to ask. I could use a short ride if you don’t mind.

“My pleasure,” he grinned happily under his mask. “Which way?”

He followed her directions to the opposite side of the city to an area he wasn’t familiar with. As he drove by an old cemetery she asked him to stop. Puzzled, he obeyed. She got out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side before he could react.

“This is far enough. I’ll walk from here. Thank you,” she said and leaned over and brought her mask up against his. “Maybe next time we’ll take our masks off. I have to go now. My name is Cecile,” she shared, and blew him a kiss before disappearing in the growing fog.

“”My name is Brock!” he yelled out the window.

“I know…” her husky voice replied. “Rubber face,” she said softly and out of his hearing.”

As he drove home he wondered what her real face looked like. How would she react when she saw his rough features? Would he ever see her again? She blew him a kiss! It took all of his concentration to get home safely that night. There were so many questions going through his head.

He was taking an evening stroll in his neighborhood a week later wearing his Sherlock Holmes mask when she appeared from behind a tree in his neighbor’s yard. She was still wearing her vampire costume and mask. He stopped and spoke in pleasant surprise, “Cecile, I presume!” he said, bowing grandly.

Indeed, sir. At your service,” she said happily.

“Shall we walk, and talk,” Brock asked while holding out his arm. She took it and they walked side-by-side down the tree-lined neighborhood with its antique-looking street lights. In the half moon’s glow they talked about things high and low. No subject was taboo.

In the early morning hours, just before the sun started its slow climb upwards, they took off their masks. He saw she was no classic beauty, but her simple plain features were attractive to him. She already knew what he looked like without a mask. She admired him for years. At a distance.

“I have to go now,” she said, sadness tinting her voice.”

“I’ll drive you!” he offered.

“Not fast enough,” she countered. “Remember what we talked about. Especially the supernatural part,” she urged.

Before he could protest she was gone. It was dawn. He went into the house and wondered what he’d say to his parents who were surely up by now eating breakfast and drinking coffee. They were both early risers.

A week went by. Brock was getting desperate to see Cecile so he drove back to the place where he dropped her off the night of the dance. There had to be some homes near the cemetery that he didn’t see that night. It was foggy and he was focused on her. But as he parked in roughly the same spot, he didn’t see anything but hills dotted with monuments and crosses.

The sun set – a fiery red ball in the west – as he pulled on his vampire mask and waited for darkness to settle over the land. He was prepared to tell her that he loved her. He didn’t have to wait long before she was standing by him in her mask.

“I miss you,” he admitted. “And, I love you.” 

“And I you, dear boy entering manhood,” she replied. “But we can’t pursue this love any more. It’s not fair.”

“It’s not fair to who?”

“You. By now you know what I am. You’ll grow old, but I’ll stay young. I’m already 300 years-old. We cannot take this budding romance any further. I admit to having been enchanted with you ever since you were a little boy wearing those masks. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” he said. “We can still be friends, can’t we?

“Yes!” she cried, and hugged him. Yes, we can Rubber Face,” she smiled under her mask.

As It Stands, a case of finding love in the wrong place, doesn’t always have to be a sad ending.

A Murder On Cloud Nine

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Looks like another sunny day on Cloud Nine folks!” the weatherman said while showing a hologram of the busy city at noon.

Since the gravity-defying technology of 2993, Earth’s cities were built high in the sky to avoid the widespread pollution on the planet’s surface. Only the poor, and cast-offs roamed earth’s filthy highways to nowhere.

The rest of the people lived in Clouded Communities that required vigorous vetting to join. Cloud Nine had the most exclusive lodging and the best food and drink in the United Association of Cloud Communities in America (UACCA). Only the super wealthy and well-connected could afford to live and do business there. There were no violent crimes or murders.

At last count, there were twenty-eight cloud communities in the northern hemisphere.

Cloud Twelve had white-collar workers who were employed by the city as computer techs, accountants, lawyers, and copyeditors at publishing firms. They exported their expertise to other UACCA communities in exchange for their goods.

With the New Science of the age people were able to breathe normally at 10,000 feet in the air. The protective shield around the city was a standard model used by nearly all of the other Clouded Communities.

Cloud Seven was known for being a haven for blue-collar workers who enjoyed assembling machines from Aero Cabs to elevators. The people worked hard on assembly lines during the day, and partied hearty at night watching air hockey games between the Clouded Communities pro teams. They enjoyed being a thriving export/import member of the UACCA.

Down on the ground.

Rogun resented being a cast-off. Going from the luxuries of Cloud Nine to the massively polluted world on the ground was hard. More worrisome however, was the fact that there were no laws on the ground. Roving bands of armed thugs fought one another in the crumbling cities.

Life was boiled down to its simplest element; survival in a hostile world.

He was here because he didn’t follow the rules on Cloud Nine. Now he lived where there were no rules. The irony wasn’t lost on Rogun who now lived for revenge. Physically, he was in the prime of his life at thirty-one years-old. He hoped it would be the difference in surviving while plotting his revenge.

He was sent to “the ground” without any weapons or clothing. It took a full day of patiently waiting in hiding before he was able to take care of his most immediate needs. He set up an ambush inside of an electric station building. It was still functional and there was a chance others knew this.

He found a three-foot long steel pipe to use as a weapon in a small storeroom. He heard voices before he saw the old aero car pull up outside by the charging tower. A man wearing black leather got out of the car when it stopped. He was about the same size as Rogun. Maybe a little heavier.

He watched the man hook up his vehicle and throw a switch. There was no charge for getting the charge. The station was still functioning after one-hundred years. An impressive achievement but not appreciated by Rogun who was circling around the building to get a good angle on the man.

He waited until the man walked a few steps away from his vehicle and was relieving himself, before he ran up behind him and hit him in the head with every ounce of his strength!

There was a sickening thud and the man fell face forward. Rogan watched his body twitch a couple of times before going limp. He quickly went about stripping the body and dressing himself. Feeling a little more confident he walked over to the vehicle. He checked the meter. It read FULL.

The aero car was so simple even a kid could drive one. Inside, Rogun found a laser rifle with a scope. He rustled around the back seat and found some food and water. Famished, he greedily stuffed down the stale bread and drank the cool water. Feeling refreshed, he pushed the start button and pointed the aero car north, the same direction it was heading before he hijacked it.

A day later.

When Rogun saw the city he grinned. It appeared to be thriving with numerous merchants selling goods on the streets. Most of the aero cars he saw were parked near a large casino with a flashing neon sign that proclaimed, “The Star Humper Casino.” He parked and watched people go in and out for a while.

One thing he noticed. Everyone was armed with rifles or hand guns. He checked his laser rifle out and decided to take the scope off. There would be no need of it up close. He rummaged around inside the car until he found a small bundle under the passenger’s side seat. It was the tender used by large organized gangs who took over cities.

He peeled off half of the little bundle and stuck the rest back under the seat. He pocketed the rest. It was time to meet and greet whoever was in charge of the street. He suspected he’d find who he was looking for in the penthouse suite of the casino.

No one seemed to notice him, with his rifle slung across his back, as he stepped into an elevator and hit TOP FLOOR. Surprisingly there were no guards there when the elevator opened and he stepped into the vast penthouse apartment.

He looked around and was surprised at how nice it was. It almost looked like something out of a Cloud Nine room. It even had its own bar. That’s where he saw a tall thin man wearing a golden jacket hold up a bottle in his direction.

“Irish whiskey? the stranger asked conversationally.

“Thank you, I will,” he answered.

“Straight up, or on the rocks?”

“Straight up.”

“And what shall we toast?”

“How about revenge?

“Ohhhh..” the stranger purred. “Tell me about it.

“I shouldn’t be down here. There’s a judge on Cloud Nine who was out to get me. I’d like to personally kill him with my bare hands.”

“But how will you get back on Cloud Nine to do it? You know that planes can’t get past that security shield without authorization.”

“There must be some way to get inside,” Rogan said.

“There might be. What would you say if I were able to get you inside to extract your vengeance?”

“I’d say, why would you help me? You’re a complete stranger, and I don’t see wings on your back.”

The stranger chuckled at the comment. “For good reason, sir,” he grinned.

I need a spy on Cloud Nine. Someone who will eventually help me, and my crew outside, gain access to that privileged community. You seem to fit the bill nicely.” 

“But how will you get me in?” Rogan wondered.

“There’s one product that those wealthy people still want from the ground. Bodies. Apparently they make some – forgive my pun – killer compost for their beloved flowers. We quit burying our dead decades ago because they just dug them up. Now we dump all the bodies at the end of town and they take them away and leave potable water in exchange.

“Are you suggesting I lay among those foul and stinking corpses?” he asked.

“Have you got a better idea?” the stranger challenged.

A day later.

“The two-man crew of the plane from Cloud Nine wore white biohazard suits as they tossed bodies into the rear cargo hold. One of them wheeled out a fifty-gallon plastic container with potable water. It was mind-numbing work, and the men went about their duties daydreaming they were somewhere else. Somehow, Rogun didn’t scream out in horror as the bodies were thrown onto him.

The plane had no trouble re-entering the safety shield. It landed on a runway next to a public warehouse where citizens could come by and get all the rotting flash they needed. When all the bodies were transferred to a waiting area, Rogan saw his chance to slip away when the crew left.

The assembly line was turned off. He cringed when he saw the meat grinders and the massive presses that pulped the bodies. When he left the warehouse, which was located on the east end of town, he walked into the city under cover of night. When he got to the center of town, where the hall of justice was located, he broke into a parked aero car and waited until sunlight.

Rogun woke up in the morning just as the streets were coming alive with traffic. He watched pedestrians walking into the Hall of Justice for a few minutes as he woke up. When he saw his target, Judge Lee, walking up the steps he got out of the car. The judge was getting into an elevator when he came into the large lobby. He watched the floors go by and the red light settle on the sixth floor.

Rogun pushed the DOWN button and waited.

He stepped out into a hallway and looked down the corridor at the signs above the doors. He opened the door that said Honorable Ralph H. Lee. The room had a receptionist’s desk and leather chairs lined up on one-side of the room.

There was no receptionist yet. Apparently it was too early. He opened the door behind the desk and stepped into the room. The judge was sitting behind his desk, reading some paperwork when Rogun entered. Their eyes met. Fear in one. Rage in the other. Then Rogun lunged across the desk and attacked the judge!

Afterwards, he drug the judge’s body into a closet and shut the door. He was looking out the window at the view when he heard a door open. A minute later the door to the judge’s office opened and the stranger with the gold jacket entered…smiling.

“Well, you did it,” he told Rogun. “Your murdering this man has opened the gates of hell to invade Cloud Nine!”

As It Stands, the devil always gets his due.

Dog Boy’s Dream Come True

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You can also listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Manuel “Dog boy” Gonzales came into the world on January 15th, 1928, in Alabaster, Georgia.

His parents both took hard drugs, resulting in a rare condition for their child. He had Acquired hypertrichosis. In layman’s terms, he was very hairy everywhere.

He became a ward of the state when his parents were busted with a large amount of heroin in the car, discovered under Michael’s baby blanket in the back seat. He wasn’t in a booster seat. He was in a box, and the dope was his mattress.

Manuel, renamed Manny by his custodians, was adopted by a couple when he was three years-old. They didn’t mind that he looked like a little werewolf. Both had worked hard to retire in their early 60s, and wanted a child to dote on. But they found that it wasn’t easy to adopt a child at their age.

They never gave up trying. When they saw Manny sitting on the floor playing with a rag doll, their generous hearts melted. The fact that the staff didn’t think he’d ever be adopted, made them want him even more.

Bill and Lucy were unable to have their own children. Manny was a God-send to their way of thinking. His uniqueness touched them and they wanted to protect him from the world. They were thrilled when their application was approved.

As the years went by Bill and Lucy were faced with some harsh realities. No school wanted Manny in its student body. He was too much of a distraction. They took him to parks so he could play with other children, but were dismayed by their treatment of him. The other kids called him Dog boy, and mocked him by barking at him.

Lucy took it upon herself to teach him how to read and write. Bill took Manny on outdoor adventures like fishing and hiking. They did everything they could to make his life as normal as possible.

Still, it was hard on Manny who dreamed of traveling and seeing the world that he only experienced through books thus far. He was an intelligent young man, who at 18-years-old deeply loved his adopted parents, but thirsted for adventure.

One of the many things he wanted to find out was if there were other people like himself. It would help him feel less alone in the world by just knowing that.

The only thing that held him back was his parents age. They were both frail and in their eighties. He could not leave them alone. They meant too much to him. Instead, he made the best of his time with them, helping them get through the rigors of old age.

One night, Manny was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of gunfire in the house! He sprang from the bed and ran out into the hall in time to see someone come out of his parent’s bedroom and dart into the living room.

For an instant he froze, deciding if he should go to his parent’s room or give chase to the invader. He went after the invader and managed to tackle him as he attempted to go out the wide open back door. Manny, who was strong for his small size, put a choke hold on the stranger, and squeezed with all of his strength!

Minutes sweated by as the life-and-death struggle continued. It finally came to an abrupt end and he released him, pushing his still-warm body away. His heart was still racing from the struggle when he got up and ran back to his parents room.

He saw Bill first. He was lying at the foot of the bed, still clutching half of his maple cane. A pool of blood was forming around his body as Manny looked on in horror. Tears were running down his hairy cheeks as he looked up at the bed. Lucy was propped up against the headboard of the bed staring blankly into space. Blood covered her torso.

He looked around the room and saw that Lucy’s jewelry box was lying on the floor. The closet door was open, and packages were strewn about like the invader was searching for something.

Manny was stunned. He simply didn’t know what to do. Hours passed as he sat on their bed and grieved. It was daylight before he stood up and went back out to the living room. The would-be thief was still lying by the open back door. A pillow case with his pilfered loot lay nearby. The gun flew out of his hand when Manny tackled him. It was resting on the wooden porch outside.

Two days later.

After hours of questioning the police decided Manny was within his rights to kill the intruder. The local newspaper had a field day with the double murder, and Manny killing the murderer. The photo that the newspaper ran wasn’t a very flattering shot of him, but sold newspapers like hotcakes.

He buried his parents in the same cemetery their parents were resting.

Manny could no longer stand living in the small community, and sold the house which his parents had bequeathed him in their will, and set out on the road. He bought a 1941 Ford, packed up his few belongings, and hit the road.

Months later, while he was in Florida, he came across his first Freak Show. As he paid admission the show’s owner came up to him.

“You wouldn’t be looking for a job would you sonny?” he asked, assuming Manny was just a boy because of his small stature.

“Well…” he stammered nervously, “I’m not sure.”

“What? You’re not sure? Then what are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Looking. I never been to no freak show,” he admitted.

“You paid your admission ticket…so enjoy. If you want to talk about getting a job afterwards, let me know.”

Manny went inside the tent and walked from attraction to attraction fascinated with what he saw. He wasn’t even aware at first that people were staring at him as much as the so-called freaks.

It was starting to get uncomfortable and he looked around for the exit when he noticed a group of people laughing at something. He warily made his way thought the group to see what they thought was so funny.

He got the biggest surprise of his life when he saw a bearded lady! She had a beautiful flowing beard that went down to her knees. She was telling bawdy jokes to the men gathered there. If she noticed Manny she didn’t acknowledge him and went on with her act until it was closing time.

He was ushered out of the tent with the rest of the crowd.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The bearded lady and Manny fell in love and got married in a raucous ceremony that featured all of the freaks in the troop. Manny did his part and joined the show where he was featured as the “Dog Boy.”

The irony of his stage name never escaped him.

As It Stands, I believe there’s someone for everyone, no matter how they look.