In the seventh and final installment of the Masks series, nothing comes easy to sixteen-year-old Eric Plath -- and the Shadow Puppet. On one hand, Eric suffers through the tedium of more homework, more groundings from irate parents, and sudden and inexplicable attention from mutated killer mannequins from the Shadow Puppet’s cabal. On the other hand, those evolving mannequins appear to have rattled a supervillain’s schemes of terrorizing Vintage City, and no one -- not even the superheroes and the Sentries -- can figure out what’s happening.
In the middle of this spiraling supervillain craziness are the growing numbers of disappearing teenagers, including Deena Alvarez, Eric’s good friend who’s in the process of transitioning behind the backs of her disapproving parents and grandparents. And the only clue dropped into Eric’s lap makes him an even bigger target to a supervillain who desperately needs it back.
Hungry tummy demon. Now I’ve heard everything.
Defeated by my private social circle, I sighed. “Yeah, sure. Why not?” I went for some fried rice. Seeing as how I was pretty much screwed in this lifetime, I might as well go all the way and saturate my veins with fat.
“Were you able to get your laundry pile together? Last time I checked, your hamper looked like it was about to hold a conversation with me,” Mom said after a moment’s mopey silence from me.
I didn’t answer right away. In fact, I took care to take my damned sweet time gnawing my food while staring balefully at her. My jaw and mouth worked the way cows ate grass—like lots of movement side by side and in circles. Hard to describe, but that was pretty much how I ate when I was sulking. Then I finally swallowed.
“Nope,” I said, taking a gulp of water. “I was too busy trying not to get killed.”
Mom just rolled her eyes and turned to Scanlon, smiling. “Now make sure you don’t go anywhere near this plate, all right? The peppers in this dish will burn your nasal passages till you’ve got nothing more than a gaping mass in the middle of your face.”
Scanlon was all grateful for the warning and stuff, gurgling on and on about his food sensitivities and what kinds of things hot peppers do to his system. It was at that point when I completely shut myself down and played back smutty daydream after smutty daydream about Peter. They all might be reruns, but, hell, I’d rather have those any time over Scanlon’s toothy, rambly accounts of his toilet adventures, thanks to spicy food.
For a while I was pretty happy, lost in my smutty visions. In fact, I was so into things that I’d even begun to feel Peter on me. Like, doing what he normally did when we were together, and he was starting to feel all frisky and stuff. I felt his hand on my lower leg, his fingers moving smoothly upward till they crawled over my knee and then tickle their way to my thigh.
I jerked out of my daydream, making a face. “Ow, Peter,” I muttered. “I’m not into pinching. That’s getting way too kinky. Ow! Ow! What the hell ...”
“Anything wrong, tiger?” Scanlon asked.
From the kitchen floor, Grimm growled and then hissed. Then my tongue fused itself to the roof of my mouth. I wasn’t daydreaming anymore, but those kinky fingers kept going up my leg.
I quickly pushed my chair back and looked down.
That freaky-ass mannequin arm was trying to crawl up my lap, maybe aiming for my balls or my neck, who knew? With a shrill cry, I jumped up, knocking my chair over, my hands working like crazy, tearing that arm off me. It tried to grip my jeans at first, but I made the mistake of grabbing hold of its wrist, which turned its attention away from my leg to my hand. With a crazy twist of its entire arm, it’d moved from my jeans and wrapped its fingers around my wrist. The wooden fingers felt like they’d solidified around me, their grip tightening till it was beyond snug, like the hand was trying to cut off my circulation. I clawed away at its fingers but couldn’t get them to move at all. Oh, hell, if that thing stayed that way long enough, my hand would fall off, all white and bloodless because nothing was making it through the pressure of its hold.
“Oh, my God! Get this thing off me! Help! Peter!”
That was how I’d like to remember the words that poured out of my mouth in a loud, unending, hysterical stream. What I really said was definitely twenty times dirtier, and if that’d been a normal situation, I’d have been grounded for a whole month and my tongue surgically removed for the sake of the world.
As it were, everyone kind of joined in the panic -- voices yelling or screaming, arms flailing, eyes popping out of their sockets, and lots of “OMGWTF is that?” Dishes flew, glass broke, silverware bungee jumped to the farthest corners of the globe. Even patches of cat fur exploded.
One of the last things I saw was my dad coming after me with the crowbar, raising it above his head and yelling, “Stand still, Eric, I got this!”
I’d have seen more if I didn’t pass out from sheer terror, and it had absolutely nothing to do with that thing gripping my wrist. Thanks, Dad.