Amber was the last to arrive. Her three friends were already seated around the campfire. The
sound of laughter drifted out into the dark. She took a deep breath then slipped through the
wedged open gate and headed towards the fire.
Beer bottles, joints, and candy wrappers already littered the ground. Amber wrinkled her nose
and made a mental note to ask everyone to clean up before they left, knowing that it would earn
eyerolls and shrugs. Her friends saw the Redcliffe estate as a fun place to hang out, maybe
haunted in a touristy way. They didn’t give two shits about its history. Amber used to think Joe
did but that was before.
Amber entered the circle of friends and sat on a log at the edge of the firelight.
“You’re late,” Jordan said, not looking up. She stirred the burning pit with a thin branch, coaxing
sparks into the air.
“Forgot my mask,” Amber replied. “Had to drive back.”
“We ready?” Luther interrupted.
Joe looked all around but his gaze averted Amber. “We’re ready.”
They’d found the game online buried in a list of more familiar options like a gold tooth in a
common smile. Between links for Ouija, custom tarot decks, and urban legends was the Mask
The rules were simple:
On Halloween night gather in a group somewhere close to the dead. Redcliffe had its own
graveyard on the grounds. The estate was sprawling, containing acres of woods, a three-story
house and smaller outbuildings, all preserved by the local historic society. A split rail fence made
from rough wood enclosed the main property. Best of all for the game, Redcliffe was isolated
and off-limits to visitors at night.
The rules stipulated a fire to be built in a certain way and required everyone to bring a new mask,
to dress all in black, and to get entirely, breathtakingly drunk. If all went well and the spirits
found the players engaging as they played their game, then some spirits would join them,
mimicking the living. At game’s end there would be a vote to decide who was real and who was
visiting from the other side.
Amber and her friends sat drinking, sharing candy, and feeding the fire for another hour. Eyes
tight, head swimming, Amber felt surface-calm but concerned. She kept toying with the plastic
mask in her purse. Something about the October air felt thin, fragile.
“Maybe we shouldn’t play,” Amber said.
Luther giggled and rolled his eyes. “Told you alllll. Am-ba the Party Damp-na rides again.”
“Take it easy on her,” Joe said, but Amber could see the hint of his smile in the flickering fire.
Jordan stretched out his long legs, clad in black denim. Amber noticed that Jordan’s bare feet
came to rest on the edge of Joe’s log. Possessive.
“Have another drink or three,” Jordan suggested. “Then we’ll get started.”
Amber hesitated. The campfire was painting purple-black shadows across her friends’ faces. All
such pretty people, trim and young, carefree or at least careless. Right then she resented them,
how little they seemed to respect Redcliffe or the game, but she listened to Jordan. Another half-
hour passed and the fire began to burn low. The four were the special kind of drunk that only
comes with Halloween. Jordan had moved over to share Joe’s seat.
“Let’s get started, then,” Joe said.
Jordan stood up slowly. “Remember, no cheating, no peeking. Walk until the fire and everyone
else is out of sight. Put on your mask and make your way back from a different direction. If
we’re lucky, a few new friends might join us. Oh, and no flashlights or phones. Gotta keep
They each went their own way. Amber stumbled over the uneven ground nearly running into a
tree at the edge of the lawn. She turned and could still see the campfire so she pushed into the
forest. The night was getting colder and Amber shivered, wishing she’d worn something thicker
than a hoodie. Above her, blue autumn stars dusted the sky. Amber thought she heard movement
ahead of her in the woods, then laughter. She slipped on her mask, a white cat, and quickly
When Amber drew close to the campfire she froze. Her friends were back and already seated.
There were four people on the logs and stumps that ringed the fire.
“Oh shit,” one of them said, their voice an unrecognizable buzz.
The speaker was wearing a jester mask. Amber also saw a grey wolf, a robot, and a skull. All
four were facing her.
“Who are you?” Robot asked and again she couldn’t recognize the voice.
Wolf shook their head. “No, you’re not supposed to tell us yet. Sit down.”
“This is fucking wild,” Skull giggled. “Seriously, what are you all trying to pull?”
Amber sat down as far away from the others as she could. “What’s going on?”
She was startled to realize she didn’t recognize her own voice. It sounded far away and flat.
Jester tossed another branch into the fire. “It seems like one of two things. Someone here is
fucking with us and snuck another friend in or,” Jester looked from mask to mask, “the game
worked and one of you doesn’t belong.”
“Or maybe you’re the pretender,” Wolf suggested.
“How can we tell?” Amber asked.
No one spoke. The only sound was the occasional pop of the fire. It was burning well but the
light was weak and the warmth was all but gone. Amber winced as a breeze with a winter bite
blew through the yard. The temperature was dropping rapidly and Amber’s breath rolled out like
Robot cleared their throat. “What if we-“
Without warning, the flame went down to embers and there was no light at all. Amber heard
cursing, bodies moving, thumping together. As suddenly as it went out, the fire roared back.
“Oh God,” someone whispered. “What the fuck?”
There were dozens of masked figures around the fire now. Some were seated until the logs were
filled, the rest standing in a circle. Amber saw animal masks and monsters, plague doctors and
masquerades. Everyone wore black and she couldn’t recognize anyone.
“This is fucked up,” a voice came from the crowd.
“THIS IS FUCKED UP.” Several voices replied in echo.
Every word one person spoke the crowd repeated.
“WHAT’S GOING ON? STOP. JOE? PLEASE STOP. JORDAN? WHERE IS EVERYONE?
PLEASE STOP PLEASE STOP PLEASE.”
The crowd was becoming agitated. Bodies pressed in around Amber, squeezing to sit next to her,
looming at her sides. Light from the fire dipped again then flared to reveal even more masked
figures in the yard, hundreds. When the fire settled low and without warmth, Amber could see
eyes glowing behind masks in the dark like wild animals waiting with predator patience.
“Help,” Amber screamed. “I don’t want to be here. Please…someone…please…”
She began to sob. The crowd all turned to watch her.
“Is that Amber?” came a voice from out in the night. “Is she crying?”
“Crying again, crying again.” A chorus of familiar voices. They sounded like Amber’s friends
but coming from every direction.
“Stop it,” Amber whispered. “I want to go home.”
“Told you she wouldn’t want to play,” a dozen voices together, all sounding like Luther. “Found
another party to dampen.”
“Not her fault,” Joe’s voice echoed over and over. “Always been a scaredy cat. Always running.”
“Poor little Amber,” the crowd said, mimicking Jordan. “If you weren’t so fragile, maybe Joe
would have liked you better.”
Amber put her head down. “Stop. Shut up.”
It was so cold that Amber couldn’t stop shaking. The grass under her feet was brittle, brushed
with frost. She tore at her mask, electric panic scorches nerves. Even with her fingernails digging
into her skin hard enough to draw blood, the cheap plastic was stuck.
“The game’s not over yet,” voices called out one after another. “Masks stay on.”
Amber heard other voices woven in, familiar voices, but they were drowned out by the chorus.
Under the words she heard other sounds, animal noises, weeping, laughter and growling. The fire
faded and all Amber could see were shadows.
“Guess! Guess!” excited voices cried out. “Someone needs to guess. Who is real and who is
“Let Amber do it.” That sounded like Joe.
“Amber, Amber, Amber, Amber, Amber.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Don’t make me.”
You have to pick, said a single voice, clear and cold in her head. Who is real? Who is pretend?
Who should go?
“Everyone,” Amber whispered. “None of you are real. None of you…none of you care.” She
thought of the way Luther always rolled his eyes when she had something to say, of Jordan’s
grin and her leg resting near Joe, how Joe…
“You’re all fake and you can all go to Hell for all I care,” Amber said, shutting her eyes.
Okay, the voice agreed.
When Amber looked up she was alone. The area around the Redcliffe house was empty. There
was only her and a fire. She ripped her mask off and threw it into the flames. It burned brightly.
Amber sat staring at the fire, trying to keep her hands from shaking. Once she was nearly steady,
she brought up the flashlight on her phone and swept it across the yard.
The bottles and litter she noticed before were still scattered over the lawn but there were no other
signs of her friends. None of them answered when she called them. She almost left Joe a
voicemail but couldn’t think of anything to say.
“It wasn’t real,” Amber said out loud as she got up to leave. “All a trick, pretend. A game.”
As she headed towards the gate, Amber promised herself that she’d return in the morning to look
for Luther and Jordan and Joe. At the very least she’d clean up the mess they left.