The Faceless One

© by Gary Morton (4400 words) 
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Rusty pictured death as a typhoon. It was a great power that could wipe out every trace of his miserable existence. When he was a child and a good life was as certain as his dreams, death was an enemy. Now death appeared as a friend, but an illusive friend constantly escaping him. On every street and alley, he could see the Reaper ahead, his cloak of bones and decay fluttering as he fled around a distant corner.

Glancing around the cluttered shack he called home, he figured he could just as well be looking at the mess in his own head. Rusty knew he was disturbed, a misfit - he had that power of reflection. His self-image wasn't distorted; it was like truth he couldn't escape. A shambling loner, wherever he worked he would eventually be fired. People just didn't like him and it just wasn't fair. With women the hitch was that he was a total fickle, and few women cared for him, especially not after they learned of his bizarre sexual preferences. His gay lovers quickly learned to hate him even more. He wasn't really dangerous, and although he preferred dirtier words, weirdo was the term most often used when it came to him. So what could he do? The things that got him off weren't things he'd wished for; he was just sort of stuck with them.

A brief and twisted idea emerged and then suddenly vanished as Rusty realized that today was money day. His employment insurance payment was already on the wire, popping directly into his account. He booted a pizza box aside and for some strange reason he saw the bank computer staring at him with beady eyes. Nasty thoughts possessed him and he felt his blood boil as he walked to the back door. Swinging it open, he clenched his fist and shook it, thinking that this time he wouldn't fail - by God! He'd have just enough money to kill himself.

When the brightness of the sun cleared, he saw through blood haze and realized he was shaking his fist at a little girl skipping on the beaten earth of his back yard. He shook his knuckles with even more fury, “Get out of here you little brat! I'm the bad man!” A grimace bit his face as she thumbed her nose at him and ran away. Funny, the way her eyes are so tiny and beady, he thought as he watched her bolt through a space in the fence.

Out on the street he walked to the bank with some plans hatching in his head. It was a beautiful summer day, but his mind was like a bloodshot eye that hurt in the light. Rollerblades in the window of the Fabulous Sports Shop were the first thing he really noticed. It would be nice to roll over to one of those steep hills in Rosedale and then speed skate down to the highway. By the time the traffic finished with him he'd look like a carcass thrown from a meat wagon. It was a nice thought but the chances of survival were too good, and he didn't want to end up in one of those new wheelchairs that wipe your drool and spoon-feed you as you roll along.

He envisioned a Smith and Wesson revolver, and then got angry with himself. He'd tried to buy a gun but couldn't meet the license requirements. “Damn new laws, they're screwing us all!” he said to a telephone pole as a misfit-hating businessman tiptoed across the road to avoid him. He'd also tried to buy a hot piece, only some slick black dudes up on Jane Street had sold him a replica. To make matters worse, some other guys had surprised him while he was in an alley trying to figure out why the replica didn't work. He'd hoped they'd cut his throat and leave him to die like a dog. Instead, a gang leader with a lower lip as big as a trout had nailed him in the balls. Rusty wished his wallet had been a replica.

Drowning, now drowning was something else. He stopped in his tracks. It hadn't worked before because he always went down to the river and hopped off the bridge. Then a panic response would cause him to swim to shore. What if he rented a boat and motored out a ways? Naw, he thought with a shake of his head. Too much room for failure there, and if it was possible to fail, he would do so. He didn't like the idea of his life flashing before him either - he was trying escape it not relive it.

Beady eyes again, staring down from a maple tree. He halted; they made him think of little black pills. Cutting through the park, he thought of drugs he could overdose on. The little black pills he'd taken last time were out, since all they'd done was turn him into a zombie for three days - and give him pneumonia. He winced as he recalled the jabbing pains in his chest. Drugs were only an option if he was sure they'd kill him fast and clean, and with his high tolerance - rat poison only gave him diarrhea - to everything, they weren't the best option.

Gas was out. He'd already turned a pal's house into a pile of splinters with gas. Who would expect the mailman to come and press the doorbell while the place was filling up with gas? Rusty had been returning from the ZIPSHOP with matches when he saw the roof blow and come in for a landing on the house next door. What really changed his mind concerning gas was the sight of the mailman's head bouncing up the sidewalk. Gas was too messy. It was for slobs and litterbugs, and there were a lot of slobs - guys who made sure they left their brains dripping from the walls. There was even the jerk that jumped from a skyscraper and went through the glass roof of a shopping mall. There are ways of saying good-bye, and coming through a high roof as a rain of blood, glass, sausage bits, giblets, chickens quarters and cubed beef tongue isn't one of those ways.

Inspiration was drying up, but he could see the bank machine and he was sure a handful of bills would also be a handful of ideas. The machine looked lonely and abandoned, attached to the side of a gas station like a growth of plastic junk. A robot corpse and he wished it was a spitting maw of doom instead of a money dispenser. Sinister, that's what it is, he thought, trying to imagine something sinister about it as he stepped lightly across the street. At least it's as sinister as a JANE CA$H machine can be.

The tinted window was down and he saw his own desperate face staring back at him as he took out his card. Stepping sideways, he checked his profile as he slipped the card in the slot. He always looked so much better in profile; if only he could stand sideways when he talked to people, he'd feel cool instead of lousy.

The plastic window slid up and he found his profile replaced by two beady eyes. He jumped back as if from a rattler, then he cautiously stepped back up. Disbelief made him light-headed. Instead of the usual instructions, two eyes were in the slot. They were textured like black marbles and had an intense shine.

He stuck a finger in to poke an eye.

“Don't touch,” said an intelligent and very human voice.

“Who are you?”

“I'm the devil.”

Rusty's eyes were rather flat to begin with and now they went as dull as fried eggs. His face soured like he'd seen a roach skitter across his plate. “This is a trick. I know the devil isn't a machine. You better choke out some money or else.”

“Please pay up the interest on your credit card, sir, or I'll punch your teeth out.”

“So, the dirty, rotten bank is behind this.”

No sooner had Rusty spoken than fifty-dollar bills began to shower out of the slot. Moving swiftly he pocketed the wad, then he glanced around.

“See, I don't work for the bank. I'm a robber.”

“I thought you were the devil?”

“I don't want people to believe in me. Actually, I'm called the faceless one. You are destined to be the eyeless one. Today I'm wearing this bank machine for a face. I'd much appreciate it if you would help me get a new face?”

“I can't. I'll be killing myself today, and I really don't know how to help.”

“Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Help me and I'll help you die?”

“Okay, but how?”

“Take me out of the machine and put me in your pocket. We can talk more later.”

Rusty plucked the eyeballs from the slot. Now that he took a close look, he could see they were very old. Almost like real eyes that had blackened and petrified. He figured he'd struck a poisonous jackpot so he stuck them in his pocket as carefully as he would pearls.

Walking back across the street, he saw his pal Steve coming around the corner. Steve had a bounce to his step so that he seemed to be walking on air or climbing a ladder. His cheeks were sunken and he had a forehead full of moon craters. Rusty had chummed around with him in high school. He figured Steve to be the sort who wasn't bright enough to kill himself.

“Listen,” Steve threw an arm around him. “Ever thought of robbing a grocery store or maybe even a bank?”

“Nope, but I'm looking for a gun if you got one.”

“I have a replica, but forget that for now; let's talk hold-up. A supermarket heist would be easy, but I guess you've never had the guts to do business with real crime.”

“Don't bet on it. I'm gonna commit the big M today.”

“Who is this insect you're terminating?”


“You are uncool, very uncool.”

“Yeah, I'll show you something cool.”

“Okay, hit me with it.”

“It's not an it. It's a who.”

“All right. Who?”

“The faceless one, here he is,” Rusty said, pulling the eyes from his pocket. Than he blinked as no eyes were there. He was holding two black marbles.”

“The faceless one. Right. Listen, Rusty, kill yourself right away, just for me.”

As soon as Steve stepped away, the marbles became morbid eyes. “Gasoline,” said the faceless one. “You need a big can of gasoline. Now don't ask questions, just do it - believe me, you'll see death and love dying.”

As it happened, Rusty had a large gas can among the rubbish in his back yard. He judged it suitable and took it to the station. The faceless one is a genius, he thought on the way back. But if he thinks I'm gonna set myself on fire he's also crazy. Curiosity got the better of him and he took out the eyes. They were brighter now, with a shine almost like a bluebottle fly.

“I know all about fire,” Rusty said. “If I light myself up and live I could end up screaming in pain for weeks before I die.”

“What you do is set fire to some old carpets. The smoke will be lethal poison that'll kill you quick and painlessly.”

Rusty jammed the eyes back in his pocket. Ahead, through a hole in the fence, he saw the little blond girl playing among the rubbish in his back yard. Setting down the gas can, he picked up a stone and winged it off a rusty hubcap by her feet. She took off and ran behind a pile of old bricks and shingles. He didn't bother to pursue her, but instead cut through and opened the padlock. There was a bong as a stone struck the gas can. Turning, he saw the girl duck and run behind the fence.

Smartass kid, he thought as he went inside. An idea came to him and he went straight to the couch and sat down. Why not forget helping the faceless one and just asphyxiate myself and get it over with - yeah, why not? As he got up to pile some carpets in the center of the room, he noticed a leak in the gas can where the stone had struck. Checking the contents with a slosh, he found that a good bit of gas had already leaked out. Quickly, he carried it back out to the yard and plugged the hole with a piece of rag.

Back inside he decided to have a last cigarette. A Lucky Strike. But when he tried lighting the smoke, he wasn't lucky. The matches were damp. After three or four broke, one fizzed and went out. Frustrated he snapped one hard on the emery paper. It lit but the head flew off and landed in spilled gasoline. The gas ignited and flames poofed and followed a line across the room and out the door to the can. To his horror, he could see the little girl standing out there, preparing to toss a stone.

It was a stone that was never thrown. The gas can burst into a sheet of flame and engulfed her. Thinking to help her, he snatched up a blanket and ran through the flames. She was already a human torch, but when the blanket went around her, she became a fireball. He hadn't noticed that the blanket was gas soaked.

Staggering clear, Rusty beat out the fire on his clothes. It was too late to save the girl; she'd died before she could even scream. He grabbed a mat and went to work beating out the flames in the house. When he stepped back outside again her smoking corpse was crumpled beside his old rusted-out Ford.

Grabbing the feet, he dragged the body into the house, burning his hands on her melted shoes in the process. Since it was a flash fire, he figured no one had noticed, or if they had, thought it was a controlled bonfire. It dawned on him that he'd put the fire out when he could've inhaled the fumes. Goddamn, he muttered, wondering why he always did the wrong thing.

After locking the doors, he dragged the body into the bedroom and closed the curtains. The little girl hardly looked human at all. The burlap blanket was burned to her in such a way that she resembled a charred fire log. Only her head and feet protruded at the ends. Her face was hideous, the mouth forced open by a tongue like a big scraping from the bottom of someone's oven. Two holes running with thickening lava were her eyes, and she had only a blistered lump for a nose. Some of her hair hadn't burned, although now it was scorched and smoke colored.

This was big trouble; if the cops were to come, they'd call it murder. He'd be ruled insane and put in a place without even a belt to hang himself. He wept, feeling like he really had gone mad. The thought of people discovering that he'd fried a little kid was unbearable. His photo would probably appear next to the killer clown in the crime flashbacks. And what about the trial, all those shrinks and lawyers pretending to be on your side while they really felt you should be disemboweled. Questions, sweat and endless interviews; you had to be long-winded to answer to justice, and they would never let you die.

Hanging his head got tiring. Maybe the faceless one had an answer. A way to kill himself fast. He took out the eyes, and found their stare to be both morbid and fierce. “You tried to cheat me,” the faceless one said. “I'll make you pay.”

From a wicked stare to a hypnotic gleam, Rusty saw tiny windows grow in the pupils. A vision took him, thoughts of suicide vanished, drums pounded in a rain forest, a beat of the blood, hot as an eruption from a molten god. There were bubbles in a cauldron that resembled the faceless one's eyes, and silver began to flash and take form. Finally, he was looking down, watching himself take a knife out of the cutlery drawer in the kitchen.

His eyes belonged to the faceless one; they were evil and intense. Blood thick as strawberry syrup oozed as he cut the corpse's head off. His face became lined, his neck muscles corded as he strained on the blade. Once the head was free, he sat in an armchair, cradling it in his lap. Two burning eyes were all he seemed to be.

Soon he knew it was time and he got out a sharp fruit knife. With deep and precise cuts, he removed the scorched skin and scalp. The skull and the rest of the body he wrapped up for burning in an old carpet.

Taking a sturdy needle from a wooden box on his dresser, he prepared to sew the lips. Using pins, he held them everted while he sliced some leather fringes off an old coat. With fishing line for thread, he stitched the headskin up, and then he sewed the leather through the lips.

Now it was time to boil the headskin. Holding it over the pot, he muttered some verses of a heathen incantation. The water bubbled red when he plopped the skin in . . . some parsley and spice served for seasoning.

After an hour of cooking, he used tongs to remove the headskin and dried it with a towel. Taking out a jar of honey, he combed some through the sparse hair, and then he hung the headskin on a rusty nail on the door.

Out back, he built a small fire, making sure to place some large stones on the blaze. His eyes were arsonist wild. He watched until the fire smoldered out, then he took down the skin. Using a small spade, he carefully filled it with hot sand and stones. He set it upright on a plank and in time, it began to shrink. Stones and the sand were forced out at the neck. Rusty had taken care to arrange the remains of the hair so that it hardened neatly into gruesome place.

Darkness had fallen and now the moon looked on with the faceless one as Rusty built a bonfire and burned the carpet-wrapped body. Using a hook and chain, he hung the head over the fire to smoke it. At midnight, when only ashes remained, he took the shrunken head inside and placed the faceless one's eyes in the empty sockets. Then he touched it over and hardened it with resin. For a final touch, he polished it and sealed it in a large gleaming jar.

He was in his rocking chair when he came back to himself, and he stared in horror at the hideous creation in the jar on his lap. So the faceless one really was some kind of devil, and he'd arranged the girl's death in order to come back as a shrunken head. It caused his heart to sink; he didn't like the idea of devils being real. They would put him in torment when he succeeded at suicide, or at least they would if he was stupid enough to die with one in his lap. He decided that disposing of the faceless one would be a wise move.

Dirt was baked on his hands and his skin crawled with invisible maggots so he put the faceless one on the coffee table while he showered and shaved. It did no good, his stomach was sour and weak and a soup of sickness swam before his eyes. Bugs seemed to be eating at his back and he ground his teeth as he put on a red T-shirt and jeans. After scrubbing his hands raw and red he gave up, figuring his state of the creeps was an emanation from the faceless one.

Rusty's logic had never been good, but his thoughts were clear enough to tell him that an evil being like the faceless one would have plans that didn't include him as a long-term partner. He was just an instrument, some idle hands that had been used. His hair began to rise and he felt hackles lifting on the back of his neck. Insects crawling on him, his breath like garbage cans; the faceless one had to be turning him into a zombie slave. Zombies and shrunken heads go hand-in-hand he figured. That's what he must be up to.

He grabbed the jar. The eyes were glowing softly, like Mars, and the face was absurdly hideous. “Okay faceless one, you got even. So what's this you're doing now?”

The gruesome lips didn't move but the faceless one spoke. “You want to be dead so now you feel like a rotting corpse.”

“That's not dead. That's the living dead. Take the feeling away.”


“Okay, listen. I've decided to drown myself. Want to come down to the river with me? You can watch me jump.”

“Why jump. I can make you feel like a bloated corpse now.”

Rusty held up his hands, and though they looked normal, he could feel his fingers swelling and popping. His testicles blew up to balloons and split grossly. Gas began to hiss from holes all over his body. A monstrous slab of rotten meat was in his throat. Wet things were swinging from a gash in his belly. Even his eyes were swelling. The worst pain came from the worms he could feel chowing down on his back.

“I want to die, not feel like a corpse.”

“But what's death other than feeling like corruption forever?”

“I'll say a prayer before I die so I'll feel good.”

“Say any prayers around me and I'll make you feel like a bucket of maggots.”

“I don't know any prayers, so don’t worry.”

To be practical Rusty took a covering from an old birdcage and draped it over the faceless one before going out. Although he felt somewhat better, his feet still smacked the pavement like dead meat. The moon was full and the night had graveyard airs. No sooner had he got to the corner than a police cruiser appeared and began to crawl alongside him. Sweat appeared instantly and beaded his brow, then the cruiser's sparklers began to spit hellfire and it sped off.

“That was close,” he said, stopping and peaking at the faceless one.

“Fancy that. They think just like you.”

“How's that?”

“They were thinking of throwing you in the river.”

“Why are the good guys rotten?”

“Boy, are you stupid. Power leads to arrogance and corruption.”

Deciding it would be better to stay off the streets, Rusty cut through a long park that stretched over to the banks of the river. Usually there were more muggers than trees and he didn't want trouble. He took the cover off the faceless one so the sight would scare off any creeps.

Shambling along feeling like a swamp thing, he made his way over the rolling turf, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the dark arch of a bridge and a glittering ribbon of water. As he grew close to the rush of water and spray, willow trees overshadowed him, their dark shapes creating a tidal wave of death and dark night that was soothing. He never would've imagined that feeling like a corpse would give him insight. Yet he had an awareness of all men as corpses. Life was a flash of brilliance few people experienced. Even the faceless one, when he turned mortals into shrunken heads, was trying to be alive, to break out of the numb ritual of death and darkness and glimpse the flash.

Shades of anger began to lighten his step; the corpse cloak of the faceless one was melting in the moonlight. He found himself hating the dead, too much of the world was dead, and as he walked up the footbridge his eyes were alive with madness.

He set the jar on the wall. Directly below a fast piece of river spat foam. He watched it bubble, knowing why he'd chosen suicide. It wasn't that he was trying to find the darkness; he was trying to find the light. Except for a few happy days, he'd always been dead, and he wanted to escape. Suicide was the manifestation of an inner truth.

He looked to the faceless one. The eyes were bright, but this time with fear. “So you want to watch me die!” Rusty said, seizing his moment of revenge. “Then watch from the rocks!”

He swept the jar up and tossed it in one smooth motion. It tumbled toward the water, a bright soap bubble in the moonlight. Rusty never saw the splash; his eyes caught fire, shooting stars of pain, and he gouged the embers of it out. Then he was aware of floating darkness and death as he fell to the water.

A reflection of clouds and the summer day almost hid Rusty from view. But he was there, rocking in his chair with his hands in his lap. His face was to the window, but he wasn't aware of the world outside.

It was lunchtime on the grounds and one of the younger psychiatrists looked up, getting a clear view from his place at the picnic table. He turned to his mentor, a rather sophisticated older man with salt-and-pepper hair. “He believes he's a corpse, and though he put his eyes out he sees a hellish world he can describe in vivid detail.”

“Yes,” the older man said. “I studied his case, and the strangest part is what happened to the man that rescued him.”

“What was that?”

“After he pulled him ashore he lost his mind. He's in a padded cell. He screams a lot, mostly about a disembodied head he thinks is staring at him.” 

---The End---