1185 words (4 minute read)

A Mask of Our Own

They say that a smile is the greatest mask of all.

We all wear one, and no one can see the tragedy behind it.

I could tell you that I never wanted it to end like this. Would you believe me?

Probably not.

I couldn’t keep my hands from shaking as I pushed through the darkness of the corridor. Every so often, a dust-covered window would shine light down on me, illuminating my shambling figure. I stared at those hands, stared at them as the sunlight shone on them. And every time, I hoped that the blood wouldn’t be there anymore.

It never left.

The corridor ended abruptly, a wooden door set into the stone that surrounded it.

I adjusted the wooden mask on my face, not really thinking about it. I’d wondered how the blood got there.

I never wanted it to end like this. But really, would you believe me?

I doubt it.

The Headmaster regarded me with a flat stare, nodded subtly to the center of the room. It was dimly lit; I could hardly see anything. But I saw enough to feel the anxiety rise within me higher and higher. My brethren lined the squat stone walls, circling the whole of the room. Above each of their heads a flickering torch, and at each of their feet, a book. I took my time getting to the center of the room.

My bare feet were numb and aching; honestly, I was thankful for it; the skin was missing from the bottom of my right foot, and the cold of the stone underneath me helped. I felt the eyes of the man we called the Headmaster on the back of my head; had I seen disappointment in his eyes? Probably. I wouldn’t blame him.

If I’d look at myself in that moment, I’d feel the same way.

I still feel the same way.

At the center of the circular chamber, was a small pedestal and table. The pedestal had a small board that ran parallel to the ground attached to it, where one could kneel. As I got closer, the details of what lay before me slowly became clear.

It didn’t matter; I already knew what was there. I’d known for years.

Every painful moment, every day of suffering, led to this. What had just occurred, led to this.

Suddenly I felt pain stab my heart once again. My knees buckled for a short moment, as I tried to catch my breath.

He deserved better than that, you shit, I’d thought.
My eyes stung from behind the mask.
We all wear them, masks. Some are just a little thicker than others.

I stopped in front of the pedestal, slowly wrapping my finger around the ratty leather strap that kept the old wooden acolyte mask on my face.

I pulled at the mask for the last time, dropping it onto the cobblestone beside me with a dull clatter.

On the table, sat an array of woodcarving tools; each of them had various defects, be it chips in the handles, or nicks on the flats of the blades. But while each tool bore the use of the countless acolytes that came before me, each of them bore a wicked edge, ready to flow through wood like a riverboat on the water.

On the pedestal before me lay a thick slice of white oak. The top had already been roughly carved into a face-like divot, with the rest of the wood settling on only three or four small legs stretching up from the pedestal.

I kneeled down, hands at my sides, hearing the Headmaster as began to intone a prayer in the rough, grating voice he possessed.

“Oh, Faceless One,” He muttered, the others bowing their heads to the books at their feet, “At the beginning of all, and the end of all, we are formless. Only in the memories and emotions of our own and others, do we become worthy to call ourselves your people.”
I heard the slow footsteps of the robed man as he began to move towards me. My heart began to beat faster, faster.
How did this all begin? Sometimes, I find it hard to remember.

“Look upon this servant, oh Formless, and grant him your guidance. He has kept to the old ways, and we now call upon him to join us.”
His hands were frigid, as he set them upon my shoulders. I wanted to shiver, but adrenaline kept me steady. The others had picked up the tomes, and began to venture forward as well.
“Through our memories and emotions, do we exist. Through the eyes of others, our masks are our being, and through the eyes of the others, our masks are judged.”
Suddenly, the Headmaster grabbed a handful of my hair, a violent and uncaring motion.
My heart raced. I wanted to shiver in the cold. I wanted to cry out against the pain of my head.

And the pain of my heart.

“But our true faces, only the Faceless One can judge.”

In one jerking motion, he pulled my head back, as the world began to roar around me, my ears filling with the sound of low chanting, and my own blood pumping.

What I hadn’t noticed, was the obsidian mirror on the ceiling. My heart skipped a beat; I couldn’t look away. He’d had a firm grip on my head, and no matter if I struggled, I knew this had been a long time coming.

As I looked into the obsidian, I realized why they used it; the surface was reflective, like a mirror, but I couldn’t see myself. A sick trick; a play on words. You looked at the mirror, and still you saw nothing.

Honestly? I didn’t know what to expect, looking into a mirror. I’d never done it before.

I have never seen my face. Not once in my twenty years alive.

I could tell you that I never wanted it to end like this. Would you believe me? I don’t think so.
But I pray to the Faceless One that after this, you will.

To this day, I swear on one thing.

In that mirror, I saw something staring back at me.