It was the cat’s hissing that made him stop. Victor edged forward slowly toward the thick brush of leaves. Bending down to the wet dewy ground, Victor reached into the rickety old log that stretched before him. The dense branches of the trees overhead shielded the moon’s light. As the darkness of night overcame the area, Victor felt the chill of blindness creep up his body. He used his other senses – the smell of the cat’s thick fur, the feel of tiny footprints pressed into soil, and the patter from its running – to track down the animal. Finally, it was the cat’s hissing that told Victor he was close.
“Come on, sweetie,” Victor called out as calmingly as he could. His hand felt its way gingerly into the murky log. It landed on the shell of a twitching beetle, the soft flap of a mushroom, but nothing furry. No sign of kitty yet. “You have nothing to be afraid of,” Victor called out again, despite knowing that the animal couldn’t understand him.
Victor knew what he’d heard. It was the sound kitty made any time new visitors came by their house. But why was it hissing now? Victor knew he wasn’t the cat’s favorite, but it didn’t hate him. It even let him pet its belly every now and then. None of this mattered anyway. What mattered was that he’d promised his sister he would bring the cat back to her. Victor always kept his promises.
The cat had led him into this maze of rotting wood, sticky mud, and blistering leaves. He wasn’t leaving without it. Victor now called out with more frustration as he stretched his arm farther into the damp abyss where the hissing had come from. “You are making my sister worried! Now come back here, NOW!” With those last words, Victor saw the flickering of two beady yellow eyes. He also felt the pinching of tiny claws swiping at his hand.
“Damn it,” Victor cursed as he saw the beady eyes dashing away even deeper into the log and disappearing into the forest brush. He scrambled to his feet, losing balance for just a second as he tried to re-orientate himself. Victor felt dizzy as he turned in circles and looked into the thick darkness. The moonlight had slipped its way back into the area, but it didn’t help now. Victor could swear that the log had been in front of him. But then why was it to his right? He glanced to his other side. There it was again. And now, it was behind him as well. Everything to all of his sides looked exactly the same.
Victor heard the hissing again.
It was coming from all corners. The cat’s high-pitched screams and the coarse tickling of branches and leaves encircled his slender body.
Victor pushed back stoically and unafraid. He knocked down the wooden fingers that scraped against him and he charged forward into the shadows. He had promised to bring back the animal. He couldn’t let his sister down. He could feel the leaves tearing at his arm and his legs. Their edges pricked through his clothes and into his sore flesh. The soft fold of the leaves now felt like cold iron. As Victor swiped at the densely interwoven branches, he realized that the damp wood had also morphed. It was like he was pushing against thick metal doors.
He ran his fingers down the rusted divots of the plating that surrounded him. Tapping it, he heard a low ping rattle forth. The echo grew louder and louder until it was an avalanche of piercing noise. Victor brought his fingers up to cover his ears, and he realized then that he had been wearing a mask. It was his mime face that the cat must have been afraid of. He reached toward the bottom by his chin to pull it up, but it wouldn’t budge. In fact, he could not feel any space between it and his own flesh. Victor’s hands began to tremble as he searched the edges of himself, trying to find the separation between the smooth white plastic and his own skin. With each pull of his hands, it felt like his whole face would be ripped asunder.
Victor suddenly saw a sliver of bright light coming from his right. His fingers left the edges of his mask and he turned quickly in that direction, desperate for a reprieve from the shadows. He pushed all of his weight against the corner of the metal grate, until it finally popped open. Victor stumbled and fell to his knees, bursting into the glowing light. Looking down at his gloved hands, he realized now that he was on some type of stage.
There was that hissing again. This time it came from in front of him.
Victor stood up and walked forward. He was still blinded, but not from darkness, but rather from a scorching white spotlight that engulfed his entire form. He stretched his arm forward to shield his eyes, and he slowly took in the scene before him. He was on a stage in some type of auditorium. Drifting downward from the arched ceiling were some balloons and a wrinkled banner that read: Zaku’s Fun House. The banner settled down next to Victor’s feet.
“Over here, honey,” called a voice from up ahead. Victor kicked the banner angrily away from him and stepped to the very edge of the stage. He could finally make out the beings that filled the auditorium. There were roles and roles of seats, towering up multiple levels. Each one of these were filled by unmoving Kuljik mannequins. Victor could see their naked green plastic flesh and their twisted three arms connected by screwed divots. Their eyes just blinked repeatedly and mechanically, stuck into position looking straight at him.
“We are over here.” Victor finally spotted the source of the calling. There were two of them – two humans and kitty – sitting in the middle of the crowd of plastic aliens. The first seemed to be an adult woman. He could see her flowing hair, which seemed to glint between blonde and auburn. She was wearing a sparkling gem covered dress with peacock feathers sprouting from her back. She was just like the woman in that poster. The other human was a young girl. She had pale skin and curly black hair. In her arms was the now purring orange cat. Could it actually be them? Victor still couldn’t see either of their faces. He strained against the scorching lights.
“Mommy…sister…is that you?” Victor called out desperately and unsure.
“Yes, son, come home at last,” the voice called back to him. “We’ve been waiting so long for you.”
“I want to,” Victor cried out. However, no matter how much he willed it, his feet would no longer budge. “I told you I’d find kitty and bring it home. I did it mom.”
“You didn’t,” the woman echoed back to him. “You didn’t find it. You didn’t find us. It found us all by itself.”
“I did my best,” Victor said, trying to step forward and join his mother and sister. But it was to no avail. Move god damn it. “Please don’t leave,” Victor begged as he saw them stand up. A narrow jagged path formed through the mass of auditorium seats.
“Follow us,” his mother’s ghostly voice replied. The strobe-lights flickered and Victor could now see them more clearly. He realized why he couldn’t see their faces. They didn’t have faces. The woman and girl had mounds of beige flesh where their faces should have been. “Follow us,” said the eyeless, mouth-less woman again as her veil of flesh rippled like an ocean wave.
“I want to,” Victor said with dejection. “But…I…”
“Brother, why are you wearing that mask?” the young girl now called out with confusion, as she stood at the edge of the path. “Are you afraid of us?”
“No, I love you,” Victor said desperately. “I’m not afraid.”
“Then take off the mask,” the girl demanded. “If you love us, take off the mask.”
Victor tried to take off his mime mask, but it still wouldn’t budge. As he tugged against it’s edge, he could feel his flesh tearing. He could see a single drop of crimson splattering down from his chin to the panels by his feet. “I want to,” Victor said again. “But I can’t.”
“Brother, you can’t, because you don’t really love us.” The cat now hissed again, even more ferociously.
By Victor’s mud covered boots, he could see hands reaching up and out of the planked stage. The fingers were green and they led into a tiny wrist and long slender arms. Emerging from the ground and now crawling up his legs was a female Kuljik. She was wearing a skintight golden dress that glimmered like the sun. Her three eyes were lined with dark lashes, batting at him. Her lips puckered as she gripped against his flesh. She was climbing up his body, wrapped against him completely. Victor flinched away from her. He felt both embarrassed and excited by her touch. Victor didn’t want his family to see him like this with her. The shame of their past union now burned through him as he stood on the stage before his mother and sister.
“Hali?” Victor murmured. His body shuddered against her warm touch as she held him to the stage.
“You are ours now,” the alien cooed to him. Her golden painted nails dug a hole in his shirt and then into his chest. “You will never see them again.”