The Face Behind the Mask

By Katharine Swan

“Great party, Leee-sah,” a voice drawled. Lisa Howell stumbled as a body sagged against her shoulder.
“Ugh! Get off!” Lisa shoved the boy until he stumbled away from her again. The crowd behind him parted just in time for him to hit the floor.

Sighing in frustration, Lisa, readjusted her cat mask and ears. “Who was that?” she hissed at her best friend, Bonnie Sommers, who hovered a half-step behind her.

“I don’t know, he had a mask on. It’s a costume party,” Bonnie said.

“I know that!” Lisa whispered furiously. “I just thought – oh, never mind!”

Lisa scanned the crowd with a small smile on her face. The Null house had turned out to be a perfect place for their party. The entire house looked like something straight out of Hollywood; there was even a pool in the sprawling yard. Lisa had had no idea that the new girl at school was from such a wealthy family. For a moment, Lisa almost felt bad for conning Emily Null into throwing a Halloween party while her parents were away. Almost.

As the music started again, a mask on the other side of the room caught Lisa’s eye. Reaching back, she caught hold of Bonnie’s upper arm and hauled her forward a step. “Who is that?” Lisa asked, her mouth directly to Bonnie’s ear so she could be heard over the music.

“Who? Oh, that’s Emily. You know, our hostess.” Bonnie winked.

Lisa glared back. “She’s wearing the same costume as I am!” she said, tightening her grip on Bonnie’s arm.

“Ow!” Bonnie exclaimed, wrenching her arm free and massaging it protectively with her other hand.

With an exasperated sound, Lisa began to push through the crowd, leaving Bonnie staring after her. The crowd tightened and surged, until Lisa had lost her bearings. She turned around and around, but a sea of unfamiliar masks leered back at her.

“Hi, Lisa!” yelled a voice behind her.

Lisa turned, her mouth open as she prepared to tell the intruder to get lost. She found herself blinking at…herself.

As Lisa stared, dumbfounded, the girl behind the other cat mask giggled. “It’s Emily, Lisa! How funny that we picked the same costume.”

“Hysterical,” Lisa said through gritted teeth. Louder, she asked, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Yeah, sure,” Emily said. “Let me grab a couple of drinks, and we can go up to my room.”

Sipping on a cup of something that tasted more like liquor than punch, Lisa let Emily lead the way to her room. Emily shut the door behind them, which reduced the loud music to a steady throb.

“About the party,” Lisa began.

“Oh, yeah. What a great idea, Lisa. I’m sure this will help introduce me to everyone. I might even become as popular as you.” Emily’s eyes twinkled.

“Well…” Lisa hedged. She took another gulp of her drink.

“Everyone’s having a great time, don’t you think?” Emily bubbled. “It was so lucky that we thought of this.”

“We?” Lisa repeated. Her head swam; she knew she was blabbing, but she didn’t care. “We didn’t do anything. It was my idea. You were just the unfortunate new girl who happened to have a house available at the right time.”

Emily stared and remained silent. Was that a smirk on her face, or was it the alcohol going to Lisa’s head? Lisa clutched both hands to her temples, dropping her empty cup. It seemed to fall in slow motion. Blackness crept along the edges of Lisa’s vision, and she sat on Emily’s bed and waited for it to clear.

Emily’s voice came to her as if from far away. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you?” she said. Her voice sounded different – colder, somehow. I drank too much, Lisa thought desperately, her head still in her hands. She stared at the delicately embroidered pink and yellow flowers on Emily’s bedspread.

“Why do you think I let it get out that my parents would be gone?” Emily continued. “No, you’re the one who’s been had this time, Lees,” she said mockingly. “Or should I say Emily?”

Lisa shook her head, confused, as Emily went on. “You see, I needed you here so that I could slip this” – she fingered a small vial of powder – “into your drink. I can’t evict a person from their body without it, you see. But with it… Well, I’m sure you of all people know how easy it is to lose control when you’ve been drinking and taking drugs. Don’tcha, Emily?”

Lisa looked up at her, bleary-eyed. “What are you saying?” she whispered. “My name’s not Emily.”

The other girl’s smile never faltered. “Sure it is,” she said brightly. “Go look in the mirror.”

Lisa stumbled across the room and stared dumbly at the cat mask that gazed back at her. After a moment’s confusion, she ripped off the mask.

Emily. Emily’s face in the mirror. Hair the same color, but the eyes… The crooked nose, the high cheekbones… They all belonged to Emily, not her! She opened her mouth – Emily’s mouth – and the screams poured out of her in Emily’s voice.

She heard footsteps cross the room behind her, and the bedroom door was thrown open. “Someone come help!” her voice called, but it wasn’t she who said the words. “Emily’s lost it! I think she drank too much!” There was shouting, and the music stopped. Footsteps pounded on the stairs.

She swung around and stared. Her own face smirked back at her, and she didn’t need a mirror to see it. “You little witch!” she screamed, and ran at her with her arms outstretched.

“Help me!” the other girl cried with her voice. Several boys tackled her and pinned her down as she struggled violently against them. “Calm down, Emily,” they said, over and over.

“That’s not my name!” she screamed.

“Call 911!” someone said.

By the time the ambulance came, she was exhausted from struggling. The paramedics loaded her onto a stretcher and tied her down. The other girl, in her body, walked beside the stretcher as they carried it downstairs.

“The funny thing about Emily,” the other girl whispered in her ear, “is that she’s recently been diagnosed with some mental disorders – since about when she met me, I guess. This…incident…will simply be icing on the cake. You’ll be committed, I have no doubt of that. So I guess this is goodbye…Emily Null.”

The other girl stepped back as the paramedics loaded their patient into the ambulance. They climbed inside and shut the doors; the ambulance pulled away from the curb, sirens screaming.

“Lisa?” a nervous voice called as its owner pushed through the crowd. “Lisa, what happened?”

“Oh…Bonnie, right?” Lisa said. Bonnie nodded, looking confused for a moment, but Lisa put her arm around her shoulders and turned her back toward the house. “Let’s go inside, shall we? I need a drink.”