The Mask

The Mask

CN cosmic horror, racism, the shoa, WW2, murder.

The mask was lying, facedown, before me on my desk. Its inside was a fish-belly white. Through the eye slits, the dark wood of the desktop stared at me, made from a tree my father had felled on our property himself. Outside, behind the thick curtains, night must have fallen by now. Rain drove against the windowpanes in sheets. I stirred when a knock came from the door.

Harold stuck his head in. „Your visitor, Ma’am.“

„Yes, yes. Do let him in, please.“

I kept my seat. The gentleman entering the library looked exactly like in the photos I had googled after he had contacted me, with only his skin a little paler and his hair a little yellower in the flesh. It looked like the fuzz attached to the forehead of the mask.

„Please.“ I gestured toward the chair opposite of me.

„Very well.“ He folded into the chair so quietly that I could still hear the logs in the fire burn. He cocked his head until the red sheen turned his white skin rosy. „Right down to business, then.“ He spoke English with the casualty of the international traveller, though his German accent was thick. He could afford not to care.

„The price is non-negotiable.“ I was pleased to hear that I sounded firm. He was not the type to hear bitchiness when a woman sounded firm. Whatever he was, he was not a sexist.

„Ah.“ He nodded. „This is of course not about the money at all. Although in this day and age, withholding a stolen artifact from the Black Forest region of Germany to a representative of said region might be constructed as colonial arrogance or even…“ He smirked. „…cultural appropriation, in your family’s case.“

„Spare me“, I said. „We both know that you reprensent no state or region.“

„No state or region indeed.“ He kept showing me his pearly white teeth.

„Also, my father and others like him freed your country from fascism. As I am sure we both know, colonialism is an entireley different matter.“

He sucked bis teeth, a gesture out of character for a creature like him. „Let’s not get into the details of that particular question. Your father saw what he thought of as a charming carnival mask during a thinley veiled pagan ceremony in a small village, took it for himself and brought it with him to this land of unlimited possibilities, where even the likes of him and his offspring can come to…“ He made a gesture to include the library, the mansion, our property. „…something like this.“ He sucked bis teeth again, and noticed me looking. „Didn’t one of your founding fathers also wear a set of artificial teeth? Made of wood, I believe? Ah, no. Of real human teeth. Of course.“ He pursed his lips, as if to finalize the rearrangement of the inside of his face. „That mask your father stole. The hair and teeth are supposed to also be real human material. Oh, I know what people think when they hear of hair and teeth and my home country. It is nothing of that sort. That mask is much older. Did you ever…“

„Wear it?“ I was almost sure now, when I lifted the mask from the table, held it in front of my face and peered through the eye-slits. „I never did. I saw what it did to my father.“

He chuckled and looked into my eyes behind the mask. With the mask a few cautious inches away from my skin, I saw him clearly now. It wasn’t just his teeth. He too was wearing one of their masks, ill fitting and in constant need of readjustment, no matter for how long it had been gnawing away at the face of flesh and skin beneath. His eyes were the only original part still visible. „Well, but I can see that you know about its powers. I had no intention to hide for very much longer, anyway. Now that you see me, let me repeat that this is not about money. I would like to offer you a membership in our little…congregration. This can’t be the only piece in your collection. With a group of like-minded enthusiasts at your side, there would be no end to the faces you could wear. Just like…“

„Your master?“

„Go on. Say it. We do not adhere to that preposterous cult of avoiding certain words lest we conjure up that what was named.“

„Nyarlathothep, then.“
The embers hissed and the rain drove harder against the panes.

„The master of a thousand faces“, he nodded. „A servant to the dumb and blind gods, who only care to see about him what they want to see. He has long dismantled the very house that they still fancy themselves masters of. We style ourselves in his image. You could join us.“

„I see.“ Somehow they always gave me some version or other of that exact same speech. Not quite myriad their possibilities of masking themselves, then. Harold and I killed him and disposed of him the way we had disposed of all the others. Nameless, faceless, he slid into the pit back in the woods, where my father had once picked the tree for his desk. His mask entered my collection to better lure the others to my witch house like oh so many pieces of tasty gingerbread. My father had hoped to become one of them, to finally lose the self that he longed to mask all his life. I would not let them do the same to me — or people like me.

Later that night I watched TV. The stars had realigned themselves for another holiday season. I watched the white girl leave Kansas and remembered how they tortured her with pills, with diets and corsets to fit the part. I saw the small people dance and rejoice. I heard the green-faced priestess cackle as the winged monkeys flew. As always since first I watched that tale of monsters and cyborgs dancing the jitterbug, I let the pictures wash over me, penetrate me and nourish the true face I had to build, slowly, from the outside in and back again.

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