It only started a little while ago but I fear it’s getting much worse. My dad has started alternating between two faces that couldn’t be more different. The first one has brown eyes just like mine, glasses that are much bigger than mine, and a beard that I won’t be able to grow for at least five more years as he says.
When dad wears his bearded face we look a lot alike although he is convinced that I’m the spitting image of my mother. I’m not sure if that’s true, mum passed away when I was still in kindergarten and I avoid looking at old photos.
In them, there are none of her and dad’s second face and it reminds me of a time that I’m sure was much better than the one we have now.
The new face is harder to describe because a regular mind has difficulties interpreting it. It almost looks like a new layer of a grey texture with dark veins was vacuum sealed on a skull. It compares to the skin in some ways, it can sweat and it slightly trembles when he speaks. The sounds he makes are muffled and hard to understand because there is no hole cut in for his mouth. There’s none for his nose either but I can still hear him breathing underneath.
The only thing that is exposed is two holes cut into the upper half, functioning as eyes.
Luckily, I don’t see the second face very often, he can change back to the old one and does so most of the time but an image like that is hard to forget.
I know this sounds entirely absurd and terrifying but my dad is all I have and he’s not evil.
Bad people did this to him.
Dad used to gamble a lot, and owed some people money. It’s not something we talk about but I picked it up through little clues. After mum’s death, he went through a hard time but I swear that he always cared about me in the ways that he knew how to. We don’t have any other family, just each other.
The gambling ended very abruptly, I wish I could have been happy about it but what came after was much worse. That’s when the seed for the new face was put into the soil.
One evening my dad was pacing through our apartment, mumbling things to himself.
“Fuck. Shit. He’ll kill me, Soran will kill me.”
Then he looked at me, brown eyes wide open.
“Do you have a friend you can stay with tonight, buddy?”
I would have loved to do that but my friends and even their parents were probably all asleep.
“No, it’s too late for that,” he mumbled to himself again. “Go to your room, lock the door and go to bed. I – I have to go out and take care of something. You’re 12 now, you can do this, right?”
I nodded but before I could even move there was a knock on the door. From the look on dad’s face, I could tell these weren’t visitors he was happy about.
After that knock, a number of things happened. Dad rushed me to my room which I locked from the inside. He told me to go climb in my closet which I didn’t, I sat down right next to the door. A few seconds later our front door slammed open. I expected noise, shouting, crying maybe, but it was eerily silent. All I heard was the occasional whimper of my dad.
I felt so helpless.
A man spoke words in a language I didn’t understand. After that, there was only silence until finally, the front door opened and closed again.
For hours I was too afraid to leave my room but when I finally did, it was morning. I tiptoed towards the kitchen where dad was having cereal. He smiled when he saw me, wearing his regular face.
Everything seemed normal. It wasn’t visible at first but after that night my dad had changed.
At first, I only caught glimpses of it.
The first time I saw it for a second in the window at night and was sure I imagined it. But then I saw it in the bathroom mirror, in his dark teacup, and sometimes in my dreams.
The shape that trembles and breathes with no mouth. It was fine as long as it was only in the mirror but as time progressed it started growing outside the mirror. Now his face changes at least one night a week and it stays for hours.
I don’t know what happened that night, only that I now spend a lot of time locked up in my room.
The description of the second face, I realize, resembles a mask in many ways but it isn’t. And the reason I know that for sure is that one night when dad was sleeping or appeared to be sleeping, I tried to take it off. I was sick of it, hated the other face. I wanted to see my regular dad again.
But it was impossible.
It wouldn’t move but when he felt my hands on his new skin, his eyes opened wide and he gave me the sign.
We never discussed the sign, he never speaks of it when he wears his other face, it’s just something that I learned. When he pushes his fingernails into the palm of his hand, it means that I should run to my room and lock myself inside.
It’s the only way he is able to communicate freely when the other thing takes over. He tries to protect me, even in that unimaginable state. It usually only happens when we have odd guests in our home or before he leaves to take care of something and doesn’t come back before the sun. As it only comes out at night I can avoid it most of the time.
The few times that I have witnessed it, I’d rather try and forget.
He came into my room only one time. His hands were all bloody and he stained my white sheets. I kept my eyes closed and tried to ignore the muffled breath underneath his new layer of skin. I tried to hold my breath as long as I could so he wouldn’t notice how scared I was. After a few minutes, I finally heard the door close again.
One night, I thought he wasn’t even at home, I got up to go to the bathroom. I had to go so bad, I thought I’d wet myself. When I opened my door, he stood there right in front of it.
No mouth, no nose, only two small cuts for eyes.
He made noises as if he was trying to speak but no real words came out.
It was a terrifying sight but he never tried to attack me and I’d simply learned to lock my room every night and stopped drinking anything before going to bed.
In the morning he’d always have his other face back and be a pretty decent dad. He really was trying.
It took me a while to understand what happened, and why the dangerous people even did this to him. I thought they were trying to hurt him but now I know that they weren’t punishing him. They were using him as a vassal. A body to carry the face and act out on its behalf. To scare victims or do even worse things to them.
I know that now because he finally opened up to me.
We had dinner together, almost like a regular family sitting around our kitchen table. I can’t begin to describe how out of character this is for us. We hardly ever eat together and if we do it’s usually frozen pizza in front of the tv.
Last night however dad cooked.
He’d made baked potatoes, green beans, steak, and even some really nice pepper sauce for the meat. He poured himself a glass of wine and I had coke in a fancy glass that I didn’t even know we owned.
When I had difficulties cutting my steak properly, he helped me without a word. For a few minutes we sat there silently, I even tried to chew as slowly as possible so I wouldn’t be too loud. It felt as if I was having dinner with a stranger and I had to be on my best behavior.
It wasn’t really a stranger though, dad was wearing his regular face. He even smiled when he caught me staring at him.
“You like this better, don’t you?” He asked. When I didn’t respond he added. “This face.”
It felt odd because we never spoke about the obvious issue. I didn’t talk to anyone about this, kept it a secret because I was afraid that someone would take away the only parent I had left.
I nodded. Of course, I preferred his regular face.
Dad stuffed a big chunk of meat and potatoes in his mouth.
“So do I. This is quite the mess we found ourselves in, isn’t it, son?”
Again, I only nodded.
“Do you even understand it? You’re pretty young, right?”
“I’m not that young.”
He looked me up and down.
“Well, you are small.”
He was in a mood. Normally he was only like this after a night of losing. Agitated, slightly mean but not violent.
“I’m old enough to know that you’ve turned into a monster,” I hissed.
He dropped his fork and grinned, his teeth looked red from the bloody steak.
“I’m not a monster, son. I only work for one. Not voluntarily but if I stop he brings me incredible pain. He can rip my soul into pieces simply by stating my name. At least that’s what it feels like,” he sighed. “And imagine if he killed me, who’d take care of you?”
I shivered at the thought of my father being murdered, and especially at hearing him talk about that. As if it was the most normal thing in the world.
“You and I, we get along well, don’t we? I don’t mind you being here, I really don’t but sometimes I think it’d be best if you simply left. Ran away. Disappeared.“
I clenched my fists so that I wouldn’t start crying.
“Dad, what is going on?” I whispered.
He reached his left arm over the table and put his hand on top of mine.
“This thing inside of me, it’s fighting, it wants to take control. It really is a struggle, you see, both of us want to be in charge, and switching back and forth feels numbing. If I could get rid of him, I could do so much more.”
“Then why don’t you? Kill it, kill the thing. We can run away, I don’t care about this home. We can get help, we can go to the police!” I was practically shouting.
“I can’t kill him, he has a mind of his own. And I’m not sure what would happen to me if I did.”
His eyes appeared tired and sad for a moment but then he smiled again.
“I- I don’t get-,” I started speaking but dropped my knife on the ground before I could form a sentence.
When I reached under the table to pick it up, I saw that blood was dripping from my father’s hand.
I don’t know how long he’d been digging his nails into his palm.
This was the first time this happened while he was wearing his regular face which made me realize something. My dad has issues, I’m well aware of that, I’m not trying to defend him. He’s messed up often in the past but when it comes to me he always tries to be protective.
“You know if it weren’t for you, I would have gotten rid of him long ago. He keeps fighting for you. It’s really frustrating, you know, but I’m glad we finally got to talk. I’ve tried before but it’s not easy when I don’t have a mouth.”
He didn’t simply grow a new face, he became a new person