01 Feb The Boy in the Paper Bag Mask
When I was between the ages of five and eight, I lived with my aunt and her two kids, in a house in the middle of nowhere. My cousins, Vania and Flynn, were sixteen and eighteen, so they, of course, didn’t want a five-year-old hanging out with them. This meant that I was to find fun by myself while they hung out with their friends and my aunt worked.
It was an old farmhouse at the edge of the woods, so there was a lot for me to explore and entertain myself with. The nearest neighbors were at least fifteen minutes away, so it wasn’t terribly secluded, although, to a five-year-old, that seemed like a much larger distance.
I used to play a game that I called “tree kingdom”, which consisted of my putting on a flower crown that my aunt made for me, and running through the trees with a giant branch.
It was a fresh summer day, right after a rainy day, that I met Eden.
I spotted him as I climbed on top of a giant rock, a few feet away from the house. As I lept off, I noticed someone hiding behind one of the many trees. I could tell it was another child, but I still felt a little nervous. I had gotten the ‘stranger danger’ talk from my aunt a few times. Still, curiosity got the better of me and I slowly walked towards the tree.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Hi.” A small voice replied.
I stopped and leaned to the side, trying to get a better look, but he was hidden behind a low branch and all I could see was his bare feet, his overalls, and part of his flannel shirt.
“Are you lost?” I asked.
It was the first thing that came to mind; I had never seen another child in the woods before, and I knew that the neighbors were a bit too far away for their kids to come all the way out here.
“No.” he replied.
I looked behind me and I could still see the back door through the trees.
“Do you want to play with me?” I asked.
There was a rustle as he stepped out from behind his hiding spot and out into the open. As he pushed through the trees I gasped.
He was around my height, maybe an inch or two taller, and his hands looked like he had been digging in the mud. But that wasn’t the part that shocked me; he was also wearing a paper bag mask on his head.
It covered his entire face and neck and crinkled every time he moved his arms. There were two holes cut out for his eyes, but they were only big enough for him to see through; I couldn’t make out the details of his eyes at all.
“I’m Eden.” He said.
I simply stared at him, waiting for him to remove the bag from his head but he never did.
“Why do you have a bag on your head?” I asked at the same time that he asked: “What’s your name?”
He nodded and the bag crinkled.
“So why do you have a bag on your head?”
“I have to.”
“My mom and dad said so.”
We stood in silence for a few seconds.
“I like your crown.” He said finally, pointing to my head.
“Thank you. My aunt made it for me.”
I pointed behind me, towards the house.
“Yeah, I live with her. Right there.”
“You don’t live with your mom and dad?”
I shook my head.
“Why not?” He asked.
“So do you want to play?” I asked.
He nodded again and the bag moved back and forth slightly.
“Okay! Uhhh…” I looked around for a branch.
I spotted one and walked over and picked it up.
He walked over and took it from me. I spent the next hour or so, teaching him the rules to Tree Kindom; hiding from the flying insects, carefully avoiding the dry leaves on the ground, whistling back at the birds. After a while, I had almost forgotten all about the bag on his head.
“I have to go home now.” He said finally.
“Okay. Where do you live?”
He pointed into the woods.
“There’s a house back there?” I asked.
“Yeah, there are lots of houses.”
“My aunt says there are no houses near here.”
He shrugged as he began walking further into the woods.
“Bye Amanda.” He waved.
That evening at dinner, I told my aunt about Eden. I didn’t know this then, but she was obviously just humoring me, thinking that Eden was an imaginary friend, which is why it never occurred to her to tell me to be careful.
Eden didn’t show up again until a week later.
I was collecting dandelions when he came running through the trees.
“Do you want to play again?” He asked.
“Where were you?” I set the dandelions down on top of the pile that I already gathered.
“Home. I couldn’t come out to play.”
We spent the next few hours collection dandelions and making bouquets out of them before finally blowing on them and sending white tuffs into the air.
“Do you want to come over?” Eden asked.
I looked back at my aunt’s house. She was going to working late today, and Vania and Flynn were supposed to be babysitting me, but I knew they were too busy with their own stuff to even come out and check on me.
“Okay. But only for a few minutes. I’m not supposed to go anywhere without telling my aunt.”
I followed Eden through the trees and we walking past a clearing and a small pond that I had never seen before we finally stepped through some overgrown bushes and onto a stone path that led up to the back door of Eden’s house. I followed him through his backyard and into the kitchen.
“Mom?” Eden called.
“I’m in the living room!” A voice called from inside the house.
I followed him through his house. It was a newer house but it was pretty empty inside. The kitchen had an old wooden table in it, but no chairs or doors on the cabinets. There were no pictures or artwork on any of the walls, and the carpet in the rest of the house looked dirty and old.
We finally stepped into the kitchen, where Eden’s mom was wiping down the windows. As I looked towards her, I noticed that she too had a paper bag on her head. It crinkled every time she lifted and moved her arms around. The bag was larger than Edens, but as she turned around I realized it was still the same; only two small holes cut into the bag where her eyes were, but too small enough for me to actually see her eyes. Not only did Eden’s mom have a paper bag on her head, but she also had two smaller ones tied around her hands.
“Oh, my.” She said when she saw me.
“Hi.” I whispered.
“Eden…who is this?” She asked, laughing awkwardly.
“Amanda! She lives in the woods.”
“Amanda! In the woods…”
I felt shy and awkward suddenly.
“Does your mom know you’re here, Amanda?” Eden’s mom walked over to me but maintained a distance.
“I live with my aunt.” I replied.
“Well, does she know you’re here?”
I shook my head.
“Eden, maybe you should take Amanda back.”
I backed out of the living room and followed Eden back through his house and outside. As we walked through his backyard, I saw a few kids playing in the yards next door. They too, all had bags on their heads.
They stopped kicking the ball around when they saw me, staring as I walked with Eden.
“What’s wrong?” Eden asked, moving his head to face me.
“They’re staring at me.” I whispered.
“It’s because you’re not wearing a bag.”
We kept walking, pushing through the bushes and back into the woods.
We turned to see the kids coming through the trees. There were about five or six of them in total. Eden and I stopped walking.
“Who’s your friend?” One of the kids asked.
He was bigger than the rest and wearing an old soccer uniform.
“A-Amanda.” I replied.
“Where did you come from, A-Amanda?” He asked.
The other kids laughed.
“From the woods.” Eden replied.
“How is she here if she doesn’t have a bag?” Another kid asked.
This one a girl, wearing a torn-up dress and one dirty white sock.
“Yeah! Where’s her bag?” Another one yelled.
“Right here!” The first kid pulled out a paper bag from behind his back and ran towards Eden and I.
I ran through the trees, trying not to fall as I made my way back to my aunt’s house.
“Put a bag on her!”
“A-Amanda, we’re coming for you!”
I could barely see where I was going and looked up to see that the sky had gone dark. Not only that, but the moon was out. How long had I been running? It didn’t feel longer than a few minutes.
I could hear the kids yelling as they ran through the woods behind me, but I kept going. I could see my aunt’s house in the distance and ran faster. I finally made it to the backyard and pushed through the back door, falling into the kitchen.
“Amanda!” My aunt gasped.
I looked up to see my aunt in the kitchen, surrounded by police officers.
She reached down and picked me up in her arms and I realized I was crying.
“Where were you? Did you get lost?” She asked.
She pushed away a bit so she could see my face and I shook my head.
“No, I was at Eden’s house.”
“Who’s Eden?” She asked.
“My friend. He lives back there, in the woods. His friends wanted to put a bag on my head so I ran back here.” I sobbed.
I don’t remember much after that, mainly due to the fact that everyone refused to talk about it. From then on, anytime I played in the backyard, I was supervised by someone. I wasn’t allowed to venture out into the woods anymore, and no one would tell me what happened with Eden. And I never saw him again.
I’ve since moved away for college, and pretty much forgot about that summer, until a few days ago. My aunt died, and Vania, Flynn and I went back to clean out her house. As I packed up dishes in the kitchen, I looked out into the backyard and into the woods.
“Do we have any more boxes?” Flynn asked, coming into the kitchen.
“Right over there.” I pointed towards the door.
I watched as he picked up a box and began walking out of the kitchen.
“Hey, do you remember that summer that I got lost in the woods?”
Flynn stopped and turned around.
“Oh yeah, mom had to call the cops to look for you. She thought you had been kidnapped.”
“Right. Did they ever find out what happened with Eden?” I asked.
“Eden. The boy I followed. You know, with the bag on his head?”
“What are you talking about? There was no boy.”
“Yes, there was. I followed him to his house back there past the woods. It was super creepy.”
Flynn set the box down.
“Right! You told the cops about some kids you had seen back there, but there wasn’t even a house or anything. That’s how they found the ditch.”
“Yeah, mom told us not to tell you about it since you were so young, but they went into the woods to look for the kids. But all they found was a ditch with a bunch of paper bags buried in there. They looked through them and found a bunch of noses, ears, and faces in them. Apparently, each bag had the victim’s name on it, but they never found the rest of the bodies. It was a huge story. It was on the news for months.”