October 11th, 2004

Mask

The Orphans

Corbett hated the orphans next-door, hated their dirt smeared faces, hated their layered clothing, hated their music and hated their laughter.
They had no reason for joy.
The orphans invited all manner of monsters to their houses, screaming, laughing and moaning as the devils ate their fill. Music beat the wall between them, constant noise, a slew of words that Corbett could not understand. Back on the island, children so loud would be taken to lonely hills and forced to hear the silence between the gusts of wind, learning to appreciate the air between words.
They were strange sickly creatures; pale with dark smears under their eyes, scars along their wrists and raised white circles in asymmetrical patters on their thighs. They appeared to always be one day away from starvation, yet they would have the most complex and expensive gadgets; games and entertainment systems.
Aurora wasn’t home enough to hate the orphans, and when she came home she would collapse into a deep blissful sleep, Savler was to calm to hate anything and Ivy actually seemed to like them, smiling at them when they walked past. Corbetts only sympathizer was an old women who lived on the floor below them, a lonely widow who spoke often, but slowly enough that Corbett could understand her. She would walk up the grated stairs and curse at the children from Corbetts floor. She wore a scarf around her head and another scarf around her shoulders. She had tiny feet and ankles but her body seemed to be a round ball under her long dress.
“Someone should do something.” She would say, looking at Corbett knowingly.
Her dead protector had allotted a certain amount of money so that she could eat and pay the paltry rent that Corbett always felt like his family was scraping for. She had little cash for anything else, and they both identified in their poverty, and their hatred of the laughing orphans.
Every rent day the orphans would spill into the complex and knock on doors, begging for money or selling their possessions to come up with enough cash to pay off the family that owned the building. They would knock on Corbetts door regardless of how he threatened them last time, and beg him for money or something to sell. They always seemed to just make it, carrying a bag of cash and goods to the gates of the big house, and leaving it in the snow with their door number, next to all the other bags from the other tenants.
Two nights after rent day Corbett heard the growling of the family dogs, terrible six-eyed creatures with black mouths so full of teeth that they could not be fully closed. The family dogs were only brought to remove and devour tenants who had not paid their rent. Corbett felt safe, knowing that he had put his payment directly into the hands of the family guard. Then as the growls and whistles came closer he wondered if the guard may not have kept the payment for himself, or if he wrote the correct number on his card. He sent Ivy to hide in the closet, and barred the door. The growls were outside now, and the wall shook. There was a pounding sound and Corbett began to pray. Then, through the thrumming electronic sounds of the loud music next-door Corbett heard the first scream. There was a wet slap and another terrible scream, and then there was a chorus, a thudding noise against the walls. Something electric was spinning and all Corbett could imagine was a giant meat grinder tearing the children to pieces, growling and moaning blending together under the umbrella of screams.
Corbett covered his ears and knelt on the floor.
An hour later, the music switched off and everything was silent.
“Isn’t it nice?” Said the widow the next day. “No more music.” She chuckled and handed Corbett a bag. “I took this on rent day.”
Corbett shook, holding the bag, the numbered tag of the room next door tapping on his hand.
“I thought your family should have it, you were the ones who suffered the most, with those nasty orphans.” Corbett felt his mouth go dry, like a wad of paper was stuffed inside. The widow sighed, smiling. “This quiet is so nice.”
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