By Nyx Knightley |

There wasn’t much to do in a small Connecticut town like Dixon, at least not until you were old enough to drive. Before that milestone, the only entertainment to be had after school was a stroll along the short and unexciting stretch of Main Street just half a mile south of the high school. Both the road and sidewalk were filled with bikes this time of day, as parents used the balmy spring weather as an excuse not to drive their kids to class.

The ice cream parlor was overflowing with young customers, as was the family-owned burger joint that was the closest Dixon had to fast food. Anything fancier required a ten-minute drive to nearby Plainfield, a tedious uphill trip by bike that just wasn’t worth the time and effort on such a warm day.

“Hey,” Ethan looked up from rummaging in his bag for money as Eric called out from a few yards ahead. “Check it out! Something opened up in the old Crawford building over the weekend!”

Ethan exchanged a curious look with Jason, and the two boys scurried after Eric. Sure enough, the old brick building that sat empty for the last five years had windows filled with colorful displays and a large GRAND OPENING sign.

“Tabby Cat Costumes,” Jason read the sign as Ethan studied an elaborate Victorian gown in the window. “It’s never too late to try someone new.”

It wasn’t the kind of shop one would expect to appear in Dixon. With barely more than 1,500 people, the town didn’t exactly have a thriving market for costumes until Halloween grew closer. Even the small business that were already here sometimes struggled to find enough customers.

“We can’t go in.” Eric pointed to a small sign on the door. “No Unaccompanied Minors. The place probably won’t last, I don’t think a lot of adults are chomping at the bit to buy costumes.

There was nothing overtly interesting about the shop, at least not from what could be seen in the windows. The biggest curiosity about it was how it opened over the weekend without anyone knowing a new shop was coming, though the lack of fanfare certainly explained the similar lack of customers coming and going.

But that sign, now that was interesting. Dressing up was generally a pastime for kids, what kind of stuff did this store carry?

“Don’t,” Jason saw him creep toward the door. “We’ll just get yelled at and kicked out.”

“Oh, come on,” Ethan wheedled. “Look how small the sign is, we can claim we didn’t see it! Besides, if we stay quiet and don’t make any trouble, maybe they’ll assume we’re eighteen.”

Before they could argue, Ethan braced himself and pushed open the door.

He was met with the dusty smell of old things and a surprisingly dark interior, barely lit by the dim fluorescents flickering overhead. The clerk, a balding man he didn’t recognize, spotted them immediately, but was busy with a customer and couldn’t rush to usher them out.

Ethan ignored the man when he pointed them back out the door, moving quickly down an aisle with Jason and Eric in tow. The place was bigger inside than it looked and was filled with tall racks of plastic-wrapped costumes, and the boys zig-zagged through the rows to try and evade capture. They came up short when they reached the far wall, but a metal door marked “Exchanges” provided an avenue for escape.

They hesitated for a moment, then slipped inside in the hope the clerk wouldn’t find them right away when he finished at the till.

The room was newer than the rest of the shop, with black walls and clear, bright lighting illuminating rows of masks on display. Not the simple rubber or plastic stuff usually filling the Halloween section at Walmart, either; the masks were detailed and lifelike, almost appearing as if the walls were lined with decapitated human heads.

“Well,” Jason reached out to poke a mask labeled ‘Vampire,’ quickly yanking his hand back at the unnerving texture. “This is disturbing.”

“These things must cost a fortune,” Ethan marveled, spinning the Vampire mask’s stand in search of a price tag. There was none to be found. “Do not break anything in here, I guarantee we can’t afford to buy it.”

Eric lurched away from them then, making a beeline for what must have been the most eerie mask in the room. A scarred face almost felt like it was staring at them through its empty eye holes, topped with a tousled mess of realistic black hair and sealed with a sinister grin.

“Serial Killer,” Eric read the label as he pulled the mask off its stand. “Try it on! I DARE you!”

Ethan barely caught the thrown mask, and almost threw it on the floor when he did. It felt weirdly warm, not like any kind of latex or rubber but like real skin.

Eric and Jason looked at him expectantly, and he licked his suddenly dry lips. It was just a mask, right? Creepy as hell and probably way more than his parents would ever spend on a costume, but just a mask.


It slipped on a little too easily, fully covering his head and neck. The eye holes lined up a little too well, and as the shape of it settled against his skin, he got the feeling the breathing holes let in air a little too well. It felt like nothing he ever wore before, like it was molded specifically to fit the curves of his face.

The expected jeers and comments from his friends didn’t come. Instead, Eric and Jason shifted uncomfortably, ill at ease with his appearance.

“Okay, enough of that,” Jason decided. “Take it off.”

Ethan agreed with the sentiment. He reached up to pull the mask away, but felt a sudden surge of fear when his fingers didn’t find the edges.

“A little help?” he begged. “I can’t get it off!”

Eric tried to help, but the desperate air in the room only grew thicker as he also failed to find the mask’s edge. Ethan felt his friend’s hands along his neck and jaw, down under his shirt, looking for seams that were no longer there.

Felt the touches, as if on his own skin.

“Guys, we need to go!” Jason hissed from where he was peering through the cracked door. “The clerk’s coming!”

“Go?” Eric asked in disbelief. “We need to get his help! Ethan’s stuck!”

“Fine, you two get in trouble for messing with something that probably costs over a grand,” Jason grunted. “I’m out.”

He bolted. Ethan’s panic surged and he acted on instinct, sprinting after Jason. The musty smell of the old shelves hit him as he passed, lunging through the front door and out into the sunlight. Eric was hot on his heels as he followed Jason down the road, past the end of Main Street and to the curve leading to the more spread residential areas of town.

“That was brilliant,” Jason panted, glaring at Eric and Ethan. “I can’t believe you stole that!”

“I told you, it’s stuck!” Ethan insisted, startling them all as his voice came out deep and rough, nothing like his own voice.

A moment of silence followed as they all froze, but Jason was the first to recover. He shot Ethan and Eric an icy glare and stormed back toward Main Street without waiting to catch his breath.

“This already went too far, and you’re going to keep screwing around?” Jason complained. “I’m going home.”

Ethan watched him go, a cold fear creeping down his spine as he realized he could feel the warmth of the sun on his face. He could breathe and speak as if nothing was covering his nose or mouth, and the breeze shifted the strange black hair to faintly tickle his forehead.

“What do we do now?”

His question, gravelly and deep in that unfamiliar voice, was aimed at Eric. But the other boy was staring at him, eyes wide with fear. Instead of answering, Eric abruptly turned and ran.

Ethan almost followed. But there was only one answer to his predicament, and that was to return to the costume store and speak to the clerk. Alone, so his friends didn’t get into trouble along with him.

Ethan plopped down in the grass and waited for about half an hour, until he was sure Eric and Jason would be gone and most of the other students would be following suit. Main Street was quite a bit quieter as he shuffled back the way he came, headed for the costume shop with a guilty slump to his step.

He reached the ice cream shop before he realized he’d somehow missed the bright colors of the GRAND OPENING banners in his distracted haze, only to turn and find they weren’t behind him either. The old Crawford building stood right where it always did, dull and lifeless, its empty windows milky with dust and age. There were no costumes, no signs, and no Tabby Cat Costumes.

Ethan rushed around to the back, to the broken old steel door he knew college kids used to let themselves in for the occasional illicit party. It swung open with ease, revealing nothing more than the empty, aging shell of the small department store the building was originally built for.

He wasn’t sure how long he was there, lumbering past piles of ancient, abandoned fixtures and nonsensical layers of graffiti. Something like shock settled over him, his brain stuck in a feedback loop as he tried to figure out what to do. He spoke out loud to himself, listening to that frightening older voice speak the words instead of his own.

Sometimes, it didn’t even speak the words he wanted. When he tried to go over the steps that led him here, tried to say the words “my friends and I rode our bikes to Main Street,” what came out instead was “Ethan and his friends rode their bikes.”

When he tried to follow up with the words “I am Ethan Porter,” the growling voice instead said “I am Gregory Nesbitt.”

Gregory Nesbitt. Was that who this face belonged to? As Ethan once again scrabbled to pull away the mask, only to feel as if he was trying to peel off his own skin, a terrible thought struck him: was he somehow becoming this Gregory Nesbitt?

Somewhere between the onset of panic and the numbness of fear, Ethan sat down to rest. He was unaware of falling asleep until he was ripped back into consciousness by flashing lights and shouts for him to put up his hands.

It was dark now, with no ambient sunlight filtering through the dirty windows to help him see the attackers he fought off, and even when he recognized the voices of Deputy Towsend and Sheriff Collins he couldn’t identify himself.

“It’s me, Ethan Porter,” would only come out as “It’s me, Gregory Nesbitt.”

He was Gregory Nesbitt as he was hauled into a cruiser and taken back to the station. He was Gregory Nesbitt as he was booked for trespassing after the ice cream parlor owner noticed the Crawford building’s back door was open while taking out his trash. He was Gregory Nesbitt as a flag came up in the police system, Gregory Nesbitt as he was thrown into a cell, and Gregory Nesbitt when he was informed he had a right to an attorney and the FBI was on their way.

No matter how strongly Ethan clung to his own name in his head, he was still Gregory Nesbitt when he woke up the next morning to find his body changing to fit the mask he wore. When he found old, faded tattoos on his arms and huge, gnarled knuckles on his previously slender hands. He was Gregory Nesbitt when he was extradited to Wisconsin and charged with a string of unsolved killings, and Gregory Nesbitt when the jury announced him guilty on fourteen counts of murder based on DNA taken from that course, unruly black hair.

But by far, the worst was leaving court, on his way to serve his life sentence in prison, when his mother leaned out from the bench she sat on next to his father. She looked at him with a tear-stained face, begging to know where her missing son was. Begging for closure, for information, for anything. Ethan tried desperately to convey to her he was here, that all of this was a horrible, terrible misunderstanding.

“It’s me, Gregory,” was all he could hear his mouth say.

Platte, South Dakota was a small town by most standards, but Tabby Cat Costumes picked and chose where it opened. Tomorrow it would be somewhere else, and the day after, somewhere else still. Whether it went where it sensed a need or simply chose at random he didn’t know, but it wasn’t his job to care. Regular customers always found it, and that was all that mattered.

“What about that one?”

The raspy-voiced woman had her face hidden in the shadows of a large cowl, but the clerk wasn’t in the habit of looking too close at his clients. He looked where she pointed with one claw-like finger, and clucked his tongue in disapproval.

“That one’s not available yet,” he said, annoyed as he lifted the mask labeled “Teen Boy” from its stand. “Some kid who got in here before I could stop him. There’s still an open missing child case, all kinds of trouble you only get when dealing with minors. I have to wait until all that dies down, and I’m out good money until it does.”

The woman gave a soft hiss and moved on, perusing the other available faces. The clerk put the mask back on its stand, tucking away the small tag listing the price and the name ETHAN PORTER.

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