Hugh J. O'Donnell


1st March 2018 · Fiction, Issue 1

Enlarge: A A A

The day after the election, he carved a mask.

The day after that, he carved another.

It had never been more than a hobby, a craft passed down to him by his grandfather, who carved and painted all the masks for the Mardi Gras parade back in the day. He had kept up with it in his spare time, never as much as he would like, and never equal to his grandfather’s work. But the little e-store he set up for himself was a nice second income, and it kept him distracted whenever he needed something to ground himself.

The day the riots began, he carved a mask.

On the day of the bombing, as they huddled in the basement and waited for news that took painfully long to arrive, he showed his daughter how to paint them, with deathly pale brows and rosy cheeks.

The day the president signed the “Restoring American Families Act,” legally dissolving his marriage, he carved a mask. He carved one every day that week, as his husband emptied and packed their joint savings into a knapsack for the trip north.

On the day his husband and daughter left with tears in their eyes, he carved a mask.

On the day martial law was declared, and the border closed, he carved a mask.

Two weeks later, he received a post card of a moose, unsigned, with just the words ‘we’re safe’ printed on the back. He hung it on the fridge under the rainbow narwhal magnet. Then he went down to his workshop and carved a mask.
Two years later, on what would have been Election Day, he carved a mask.

He often thought of his grandfather, an immigrant who came to the country after the war. His grandfather had been a strict teacher. He hated waste and was sparing with praise. It was months before his grandfather even allowed him to hold a paintbrush, much less the chisel. But his grandfather talked. Rarely about himself or about his past. But his grandfather told him old legends and fairy tales that he’d heard as a boy, and he would tell him about history, about great heroes. His grandfather gave him a lot of advice. His favorite saying was, “We’re here to do the work that is in front of us.”

His grandfather would tell him about the masks. He would say who they were for and what they represented. He said that masks weren’t made to hide the face, but to make that face recognizable, even if the person wearing it was a stranger.

He used to make art. Now he makes armor.

He takes care to never know too much. He finishes the masks and sends them where they need to go. He takes care to never know where they will end up or who will wear them. He watches the news, such as it is. And some days, when The Leader is speaking before State Television, or when a Senior Official is making a public appearance, he sees a mask.

Some days, the punch is thrown. Some days, they don’t make it. But for a brief moment, the official is brought low; the Leader is revealed to be nothing more than a man, and a weak one for all his propaganda.

He doesn’t know how to fight. He never learned to fire a gun or write a speech. But he sees the work in front of him. Every day, after the broadcast ends with its calls for vigilance and patriotic anthems, he turns the television off and goes downstairs to carve another mask.


3 Comments on "Masks"

Bravo! Fantastic!


Beautiful and haunting.

Leave a Reply

HTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

About the Author

Hugh J. O'Donnell

Hugh J. O’Donnell writes fiction, produces podcasts, and likes things. His writing has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways, The Method to the Madness, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and others. His greatest achievement thus far has been winning Carl Kasell’s voice on his answering machine. Hugh is the author of the recently released novelette The City: A Story in 140 Characters and the ongoing fantasy podcast and ebook project “The Freelance Hunters.” He lives in Western New York with his husband, cats, and video game consoles. Find more of his work online at or at

Visit Hugh J. O'Donnell's website »

Social Links