It was Carrie O’Riley’s dream to win the school costume contest. She knew that if she could just win, just this one time, that it would make her the envy of Slade Elementary School’s fifth grade class for an entire year. There was nothing better in the whole entire world, and this would be the very last year that she could possibly win. Next year she would be in sixth grade at Danver City Junior High, and kids there didn’t wear costumes anymore. When you went to junior high you had to grow up, everyone said so, which meant this was her very last chance.

She saw the mask in late September, in the window of the Five and Dime. The moment she laid eyes on it she knew she had to have it, but her mother refused to pay outrageous prices for a silly plastic mask. So Carrie had gotten to work, doing extra chores around the neighborhood and saving every last penny she could find. She even picked out the loose change between the sofa cushions, and out of the ash tray on the end table where her parents kept all the little odds and ends from their pockets.

Finally, by the second week of October, she had enough money to buy the mask. She practically bounced off the walls as the sales clerk came up to fetch it from the display for her, wrapping it up carefully in tissue paper. She immediately ran home to try it on, standing in front of the bathroom mirror as she reverently placed it up against her face.

It was made from molded plastic, a strange green face with a tiny little green nose. It had a wide, ghoulish grin, with rows of white teeth outlined in black so they really popped, a red tongue snaking out in the middle. Black framed glasses were painted around the eye holes, with ridges of black hair disappearing beneath a red fedora style cap. It was weird and wonderful, and Carrie never wanted to take it off!

So she didn’t. She wore it to dinner that night, and only removed it when her father finally yelled at her that she had to eat something or she’d be grounded. It went right back on after her bath though, and she would have slept in it but her mother was worried she’d suffocate, and if that happened she’d never make it to her big moment at the schools costume parade.

Carrie kept the mask on her dresser, propped up against empty perfume bottles and a stack of comic books. Her mother helped her assemble the rest of her costume that weekend, finding some really swell clothes in an old steamer trunk in the attic. The jacket was brown tweed and had belonged to her grandfather, and they paired it with a blue shirt and a pair of bibs. She just knew she was going to win, there was no way she could lose!

There was just something about that mask that made her feel…good. Like she could do anything, and nobody could stop her. It was the anonymity of it, the way that she could just pretend to be someone else for a little while and not boring, silly Carrie O’Riley. She didn’t have to be the girl who got picked on for being the shortest in the whole grade, or for not being able to read the best. She felt invincible, and it was amazing.

After supper, when she should have been doing her homework, she donned her mask and took herself a walk around the neighborhood instead. It was easy to do, her father was playing cards and her mother fussing over the dishes. With her sister studying in her own room, she was able to slip right out the front door.

Carrie made a circuit of the block, sneaking between rows of bushes and lurking around corners. She spooked a couple of little kids riding their bikes, and then she really scared the Hansen’s cat, Hank. He was a handsome creature, if you liked cats that is, tiger striped with big yellow eyes. When he saw her he puffed up and hissed, which made Carrie laugh. When he tried to scramble away she got him by the tail, which made him yowl and swat at her. His claws stung her hand, but she didn’t let go. She pulled him clear off the tree and spun him in a wide circle.

The yowling stopped when he collided with the tree trunk. Carrie just laughed again, and slunk away back home after depositing Hank near the trash cans. Her mask was propped back up on her dresser and her history book was open on her desk before her mother ever came up to check on her. It felt so good to be someone else, even for just a little while.

There were more nights like that in the lead up to Halloween, whenever Carrie could manage to sneak out. It was harder with her father home, he was always sitting in front of the television, but there were a few more trips around the neighborhood. She heard her mother make one offhand comment that evening about all the missing and dead cats turning up on their street, but nothing much else was said about it. Probably, her father had decided, someone was putting out rat poison and the cats were an unfortunate side effect.

The day of the costume contest finally came, and Carrie was up an hour earlier than usual from sheer excitement. After breakfast her mother helped her put everything together, and she put on all the clothes they’d assembled from the attic. She didn’t put the mask on until they arrived at school though, her and her sister, Katie, heading inside together. Katie had dressed as a princess, in a frilly pink dress and her hair all curled. As they walked towards their classrooms Katie taunted her, doing a little dance as she sang at Carrie.

“You’re gonna lose! You’re gonna lo-ose! Just wait, Carrie, you’re going to lose! Your costume is stupid, nobody even knows what it is!”

Carrie was angry, so much so that she couldn’t even think of anything to say in return. Instead she just made a rude noise and ducked into her room, hanging up her jacket in the coat room and taking her homework to her desk. As she sat down she sneaked loons at the other kids, surveying their costumes. There were several witches and devils, two different hobos, another princess, and a handful of kids who hadn’t bothered to dress up at all. It was all so standard, so boring, and she knew that Katie was wrong.

“I have the best costume,” she muttered to herself, passing her work forward once the teacher appeared. “Katie will see. I’m going to win.”

The costume parade wasn’t until that afternoon, so Carrie had to suffer through her morning classes, a spelling test, and lunch. Finally though it was time to line up in the gym if you were wearing a costume, and the staff and other kids would vote by applause as you walked by. She held her head high and walked confidently, but she only got a small smattering of applause for her fantastic, wonderful, amazing mask.

It was Katie that took home the prize, the pumpkin shaped first place ribbon fastened to her pink princess dress. She gloated about it all through the party, while they played games and ate cookies. Their parents congratulated her heartily once they were home, though they also agreed that Carrie’s costume was equally as fantastic. She thought so too, and it made her feel a bit better to hear it, even if it was probably a lie.

After supper, their father took them door to door for trick-or-treating, and Carrie really hammed it up. The neighbors seemed to love her slightly grotesque masks, and the more compliments she received, the more outlandish she got. She’d do funny little dances or jump around like a mad man, and they would laugh and clap and give her extra candy.

Once they were home, Carrie stayed in her costume to go through her candy haul. She could hear Katie from her room though, singing about how everyone loved a princess, and they were just being nice to Carrie because they felt bad for her spending so much hard earned money on such a crummy costume.

That was it. The very last straw. Carrie got up from her bed and went downstairs under the pretense of getting a drink of water. She didn’t go out the back door this time though, just quietly opened up one of the drawers. Her parents noticed nothing, too busy laughing over some dumb television program they liked to watch. Thinking about all those cats, about how easy and fun it had been, Carrie slipped back upstairs and into Katie’s room, and by the time Katie started to scream it was far too late.

Their parents found their oldest daughter laying on her bedroom floor, a pack of Necco wafers in her hand and her yellow night gown stained with blood. Carrie was sitting cross-legged on the bed, stuffing bubblegum into her mouth with the best costume ribbon pinned to her tweed jacket, mask on her face and parring knife in her free hand.

The following Halloween, their parents visited Carrie at Brookfield, where she had been locked away after killing her sister. Carrie sat all alone in the dining hall, coloring a picture of a cat in front of a fat full moon. She was still wearing the mask, a little worn now but still in one piece. Her mother was visibly upset by it, wringing her hands as she spoke to the nurse.

“Why can’t you make her take it off? She can’t keep wearing that…that horrible thing!”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. O’Riley,” the nurse apologized, patting her arm. “But she just screams and screams every time we try to take it away. It’s the only thing that keeps her quiet, so we allow it. She just really loves that mask.”

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