There were these stone faces showing up everywhere. In trees, on mountainsides, buildings; on gas stations (especially gas stations); even in the clouds. Pretty damn big. Twenty, fifty feet high. Just hanging there.

Many of them were broken - had everything smashed out from the eyes up, or from the mouth down, or across the top of the nose. Some just had the top or bottom third completely cut off. Many more were just chipped, cracked or broken in a smaller place. They'd appeared like that; though some of them looked like they'd been sitting someplace else for a long, long time.

They were draining the life out of everything. We all knew this, and I guess everyone else did too, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. We decided the first step was to get out where there aren't so many of them. We had to go out to where there were no towns, and past there to where there were no paved roads. We passed some gas stations on the way, each hanging one of those stone masks on it, the hateful things.

I saw this all at once:

The meadow we stopped in was vast, with a mountain at its back. In front of us, at the other end of the long clearing, was a messy line of trees and undergrowth with another dirt road on the far side. Past there the fields of waving grass just went on forever. If I looked to the left I could see the last gas station we'd passed off in the distance, some more scattered patches of trees and maybe a fence.

In front of us, everything looked like the middle of New York state in the summer. Behind, the rising mountainside looked like a Chinese scroll painting, with rocky crags and twisted trees - complex, but blurry, and mostly covered with the leafy roof of the mountain's forest. There were clouds at the top of the mountain.

Of course, the faces were still there: One in the trees ahead, and another behind on the cliffs. Only two. Not everywhere you turned, like before. As I looked back at the one on the mountainside, I remembered an event from when we were in a town we'd recently left, a posh, opulent suburb where everything was a status symbol, full of people whose happiness or lack thereof could not be discerned.

I remembered:

A young girl had wanted her mother to get one of the stone faces in their garden. She thought it would impress her friends and their neighbors, and wanted to be the first one to have one of those things infest their home, instead of a public place. They had a back yard somewhat shaped like mine back at home, but rising at a steeper angle, and instead of naturally being taken up into the forested hillside, it was built to particularly look like a garden in a Chinese painting, looking similar to the mountain I later saw - less wild, but just as overgrown, and more natural than the type they build in botanical gardens for the public. The mother didn't want the stony visage at her home, though she didn't understand why it was a bad idea. But her daughter was persistant and implacable, and she gave in, so the ghastly thing looked down on them from that artificial hillock, gazing blankly and siphoning the vitality from all around their home.

My thoughts slowly drifted back to the present, and I was conscious of someone else beside me. She and I laid down in the soft grass, and looked up at the sky, and were happy.