Signs everywhere: rectangular slabs of mildly glowing metal that warned in red lettering: Demasking is a crime.
It was in the year _______ that a maskless society had ceased to exist. A decision was made by people who made decisions of that nature (yes, the masks, the decision-making, the proper authorities, all of this stuff was no longer part of delineated hierarchies—who did what and why—all had become a cryptic jumble wadded in bowels of electric red tape, society had become a covert subset of gumballs.)
If you took your mask off, your facial pores would release an acidic chemical issued from micro-pellets which had been implanted into your face (the implants were government regulated), and your face would burn. And keep burning. It would be excruciating, intolerable, and it wouldn’t be long before you put the mask back on, which would defuse the acid.
Everyone was issued a mask. All the masks were the same. A uniform anonymity, a sea of samefulness, or rather there was only one standard issue mask with six different colors. Red, green, blue, purple, gray, yellow. The colors you were assigned to wear was based on zoning. Your location dictated your color. When a child was born they had to be registered with the M.O.D. (Masking Ordinance Department) and the implants would be surgically implanted into the facial pores. If child wasn’t registered, and the proper authorities found out, the child would be seized and enrolled in what was known as the Nursery. No one knew the location of the Nursery, or much of what happened there, but basically: the Nursery children were wards of the government until they were old enough to be released back into society.
There were the fugitives. Those who refused the indoctrination of masking. Fugitives, unfortunately, didn’t have a very long shelf-life on the outside. The barefaced ones stuck out like sore thumbs and were easy to apprehend. Some did wear masks, of their own stylistic design and color. These masks might be modeled after indigenous masks from Africa, from the Lakota-Sioux, from Zuni, they might be modeled after Venetian or No masks, there was masks of colorful anarchy, masks with long Zucchini-hose noses, masks engraved with floral patterns and imprints, masks of sleepy revolt, attic masks, eyeless mouthless masks with swirling riots of cursive, masks abstracted into vowels, masks of warbling translucence, masks that radiated a funereal whiteness, masks of glaring hyperbole and exposed hypotheses, masks that had frozen the contorted muscles of screams into the mask’s texture, masks with quizzical half-smiles petrified into question marks.
There was an entire subculture of people who crafted and donned masks to assert their individualism, or to place a visual and symbolic wedge between themselves and the Anonymites (how they euphemistically referred to the uniformly masked members of society) and they flung themselves and their radical masks into the thick of it all, like bombs in a crowded marketplace, bombs with the kamikaze intent of exploding umbilicial strands of mucus and magma. Their time out in society usually didn’t last very long. Anonymites would turn against them, turn them in. Bad apples exhibited in a public cart was something that most people didn’t want to see, or to be made visually available to the world at large.
White vans would roll up and men dressed in white linen and white caps, looking very much like crosses between milkmen and painters, would seize the Radicals and wrangle them into the van and they would not be seen or heard from again. Rumors had it that they went to a place called the Repository, though, like the Nursery, not much save for the notion that it probably existed, was known about it. The men in the white linen outfits and white caps were referred to as the Dogcatchers. No one knew who first started calling them that, but it stuck and circulated, and as a result the Radicals then became known as Strays.
Dogcatchers, Strays, Anonymites. The world had become quartered into agitated simplicities.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.