On an impulse, he put the red mask on. Immediately in front of him, from the barren earth sprang a mighty forest. Through the haze of red he could see the contours of the land. How thin the land looked at this part of the isthmus.
He turned to his companions, “How …” he boomed through the mask, coughed and tried again, “What is the land made of?” he whispered. The mask amplified his voice to that of a more moderate speaking level.
“Pumice Stone, mostly, Sir. Just a thin layer sitting on top of the ocean.” Ger was the only member of his team not backing away. Why were they doing that? It was just a mask.
He reached up and gave it a tug. Then a harder tug. “Get this thing off me” he yelled and his voice went rolling over the sea.
“Um, Sir” Ger offered, “It’s not just the mask. It’s you. You’ve gone all red. And you’ve grown.”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous.” He boomed, trying to look at himself. His arms and hands looked a bit red, but then so did the rest of his team, Ger and Trey and Tina and Matt. They had just backed up through a massive tree. He could see them in the trunk. He snickered, and they looked alarmed. As well they might – red people in a brown tree trunk.
Intriguing. Real things were red, Unreal things, things he knew weren’t there – looked real.
“Was there ever a forest here?” he whispered.
“Yes.” Ger replied. “Yes, probably. There certainly was up on the main island, and it was post-volcanic, so it was probably here as well. Why?”
“I can see it.”
“Never mind. Can you get this thing off me?”
Ger stepped forward and Trey came back. Together they tried pulling the
mask off. Trey felt all around for some fastenings but finding nothing, he stepped back, shaking his head.
“Don’t panic, don’t panic.” He thought desperately. He discovered his hands were clenched and consciously unclenched them. Felt like he should be shaking, but this new tall body had a mind of its own and didn’t seem to know how to tremble.
Tina’s radio crackled. “Sir”, she called, still keeping her distance, “The Freyn are here. We have to evacuate the area – now.”
Freyn? He saw the black-shirted soldiers in his mind’s eye, but the mask imposed another view, and he actually saw them landing on the west coast of the Isthmus.
“Back …” he boomed, dropped to a whisper and in a more normal voice continued, “to the chopper.” They didn’t need telling. Were, in fact, already moving.
Inside the chopper Trey took the controls, “Where?” he shouted.
“The Church” shouted Ger. The only structure on the isthmus was a large wooden temple of some sort. The entire population seemed to be there. It suddenly struck him where the trees had all gone. But there was no time for that sort of speculation now. By the time the chopper landed, the mask was showing him that the Freyn had finished landing and were regrouping.
He leapt out of the chopper, indicating the others should stay put, and strode towards one of the large doors in the structure. Inside people were singing.
Shocked silence greeted him as he stepped through.
“Where are your warriors?” he boomed.
“Now, wait a minute.” Expostulated the minister (or whatever he was called) coming down from the pulpit. “We are a peaceful, God-fearing people. There are no warriors.”
“Where are the people charged with keeping the people safe?”
There were whispers and covertly exchanged glances amongst the people, but no-one came forward.
The mask showed him a flash of blue standing near the minister. True colour showed a blue mask over a dumpy middle-aged woman’s face.
“Where is your mask?” he asked her.
“I have religion now.” She replied curtly. “I have no need of such superstitious nonsense, any longer. None of us do.” She and the minister joined hands and nodded at each other.
“The Fryanny are here.” He boomed. ‘Fryanny’? Where did that word come from? But it seemed right. The people knew it, and even the foreign minister seemed aghast.
“Come.” He boomed at the minister’s wife. “Bring your warriors.” He turned, and strode out. About ten people followed him. The highest point on the isthmus was just behind the church, and he led them there, and pointed to the west.
“Dear God.” Whispered the minister’s wife. The other nine just looked puzzled. He could see hundreds of the Freyn creeping up the cliffs through natural crevasses. He could see them through the bones of the earth. Even having spurned her blue mask, so could the minister’s wife.
She took his hand, “The Blue mask. It is the mask of peace.” She started chanting. He didn’t understand the words, but he got the gist of it. She was handing control of the people over to him. The others understood. They knelt down to him – self conscious and unsure – but they followed her lead and offered him their allegiance. “Hadn’t they given all this up?” they were asking themselves.
Tina’s voice crackled through the headset. He was still wearing it, under the mask. It felt incongruous. It was his turn to be self conscious.
“The people are all pouring out of the church, sir. They are all carrying something, even the little kids.”
That gave him an idea. “Split your people into groups and take them back to Town. Hurry.” Town was across the narrowest part of the Isthmus. It was where they had all come from.
The ten nodded and leapt up as one. Racing around the church, he could see them dividing the people in to five groups and heading back along the Isthmus – One leader/warrior at the head and tail of each group. From somewhere they had acquired makeshift clubs. From the shapes they looked as though they were meant to hit balls in some formalised game, not people. Especially people armed with distance weapons. But they obviously felt better for it.
“God help the innocents.” He thought watching them.
When all five groups had started off, he clambered back aboard the chopper.
“Fly over the narrow point of the isthmus.” He instructed Trey.
“Ger, how deep is the land at that point?”
“I can measure it when we get closer, Sir.”
“Do. Matt, set your laser to about 90% of that depth.” He instructed.
Puzzled, Matt and Ger started to confer.
Trey took off, and he swallowed. Vertigo had never bothered him before, but then he’d never travelled in a see-through helicopter over a see-through isthmus before. He clutched his seat belt and closed his eyes. It didn’t help, so he opened them again and got back onto the job at hand.
“Trey, see that series of ridges on the west side of the island?”
Good, he was getting the hang of ‘then’ and ‘now’. ‘Then’, they were much larger, but ‘now’ they still existed.
“The Freyn are coming up through there.”
His team looked at each other. He could see what they were thinking, but he didn’t care.
“Aim the laser just ahead of them. Cut through the stone, but not all the way. Let them know we are here, and delay them a little. OK?”
Matt nodded, conferred with Ger again, and sighted. Trey obligingly slowed down to give him a steady aim.
The first of the five groups were across the narrow point now. The second, going across. The last group seemed to be carrying people.
“Come on, come on.” He whispered.
“I can’t go any faster.” Matt protested.
“Not you. The people.” He pointed to the north.
“You want me to take out the narrow bit?”
“Yes, but not yet. Just keep delaying the Freyn till they are all over.”
“OK.” Matt checked his calibrations again and conferred with Ger again.
The Freyn spotted them and started firing. Trey took them higher.
“Hey” Matt protested.
“It’s OK. I’ll take you back down when we get further north.” Trey promised.
The third group were across. Some of the larger men from the other groups were coming back, causing the fourth group to move more slowly as they commenced crossing.
The Freyn had reached the church and were discovering it was empty. Not only empty – but stripped. They fired at the chopper again, but it was too high. They tried firing at the bushes, but quickly discovered their prey had long left and stopped. They swarmed up the hill and discovered the fifth group. Abandoning all subterfuge they raced after them.
The fourth group were across now, and the big men had reached the fifth group and taken over some of their burdens. The whole group broke into a run.
The Freyn were in sight now, but so was the crossing. Matt ran a warning laser beam across between the groups. They fired back and paused to fire at the fifth group.
The fifth group were on the crossing now. Trey flew low over the Southern end of the crossing, and Matt aimed the beam.
The Fifth group were across now, but some of the Freyn were on the crossing too.
“Northern end.” He ordered, “And cut all the way through. When Matt has done that, Trey, head straight up.”
“Yes, Sir”, they chorused. Trey obediently turned and Matt primed the laser. He seemed to be enjoying himself.
Trey turned for the final fly over.
“Go” he ordered them. He forgot to whisper so everyone below also heard and both groups backed away from the chopper’s flight path.
As Matt cut off the final centimetres, Trey was ready and they shot into the air. From this point they could see the whole island, including the isthmus.
And, yes, it was tilting! The Northern end lifted into the air while the southern end slid into the water. Then it righted itself again. The stress was cracking up the rest of the isthmus where Matt had been lasering also. The noise of groaning and cracking could be heard even where they were. On the ground, it must have been deafening.
The Northern end lifted again and broke off where Matt had lasered across the southern end of the crossing. The Freyn were in complete disarray. Some bolted back to the west, but for others they were already cut off and clinging to anything they could hold. Some managed to make it across the new gap and were taken prisoner by the people.
The pieces of the isthmus, with the church still intact, slowly floated further away. The Freyn troop carriers, which had been further out, started rounding up their survivors. The People with their captives headed further inland.
He could no longer see what was happening. The Chopper was no longer see through. He reached up and the mask just fell off into his hands.
“Let me see that.” Ger demanded, and he handed it over gladly. Ger tried it on, but it remained just a mask for him. Whatever had powered it was gone with the isthmus. It was just a quaint piece of native art work now.
Reluctantly he held his hand out and just as reluctantly Ger returned it. There was one last thing to do. He unclasped his seat belt and staggered to Matt’s window. Leaning out, he consigned the mask to the sea.
“Sir”, they protested, but he just looked at them. They knew that look, and fell silent. It would be found when it was needed again. He was sure of that.
“Take us back home, Trey” he requested wearily. Trey nodded and pressed the button.
On the ground, the Minister’s wife watched as the Chopper winked out of sight. It was Blue Mask’s turn again. Red Mask would return when it was needed again. It always had.
Now, now the hard work began. She had a shell-shocked husband and some very confused parishioners to deal with.
© LynC 2008
(Originally published on www.narratorium.com in 2012)