Long live the Empire

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A Moment with the Brilliant "Heathen"

The white, featureless mask of the strange man in front of me gives no impression of his base intent. He is quiet. He is reserved. His fingers are interlaced with each other on his lap. His legs are crossed and his feet are in polished spats. His wardrobe, besides that mask, includes black slacks and a green lounge coat. Everything about him is calm and serene, but what he surrounds himself is the most obtuse collection I have seen.

It isn't just masks from movies or comic books. That would result in an air of normalcy. No, instead it extends beyond that. Some are simply masks of other people, scores... maybe hundreds of them. The walls of this singular room enclose a space measuring about twenty feet cubed. Every eight inches occupies a specialized hook, and upon it rests yet another mask. The hooks are all "rounded" at the end, to fill out the would-be skullcap of an invisible head. These "decorations" therefore stare down at us with an intent to watch, and to listen. Some seem to be custom-made. I would move my limbs but they are numbed. Everything is numb.

He observes me looking around at his collection. Rather than anything in his voice to convey emotion, even his words are cold and basic. The rhythm is monotonous, like he isn't even cognizant of how to speak normally. It is like he is reading his lines from some distant teleprompt system.

"Do you like them?" he asks, tapping his forefingers together to the beat of his mental drum.

"How long have you been collecting them?" I ask.

"A while," the reply is quick, but altogether distant and foreign.

I don't move. I know he has eyes, and he's probably staring at me right now. He doesn't want me to touch anything. The fireplace to my right illuminates the left side of his face. I call it his face... because it simply is. He hasn't shown me any shred of evidence to the contrary. There are no personal photos, no pictographs or portraits, no family heirlooms depicting even an inkling of genealogical guesswork into what he could look like. It's impossible to tell. He just stares at me from behind the blank slate. His canvas tilts slightly. He's more curious about this interview now. He knows I'm uneasy about it all.

"So when are you going to ask your questions?"

"Soon, I'm a bit... overwhelmed right now,"

"Are you afraid? I know some people have a phobia of masks,"

"It's not that,"

"How about I introduce you to a few?" he ignores my anxiety and stood up, going to the walls and picking out a few seemingly at random. But once he reaches three, he sets them lovingly down on his previous seating arrangement. Something about the latex slowly deflating across the felt armchair is familiar.

"This is the infamous Abominable Snowman... the Yeti!" he holds up a large mask with snarling and vicious apeish features. The fur is actual artificial hair and dominates the neck, skull, and crown while the greyish-blue skin hugs enlarged yellow canines and piercing blue eyes. It hasn't been fed for a while.

"A classic," Heathen continues. It just occurs to me that I haven't been thinking of him as Heathen this entire time. He just seems to fit the profile only now, with the sudden burst in eccentricity. But that might just be a ploy or one of his personalities taking over. I watch him closely as he puts away the Yeti and comes back with a woman's face cast in latex. It's of a redheaded spy-like character, with an eyepatch and crimson lipstick. "Anna," Heathen strokes her hair, but that's more to have me get a clear view of her face. The skin seems simultaneously lifeless but colored with actual blood beneath the surface. It is lukewarm.

"She is a favorite of mine. A sentimental piece, if anything. One of my first masks," Heathen sighs and puts her away to what sounds like mild protest from someone else in the room. I don't think much of it.

Heathen is silent for the next one. He quietly slips it over his head and starts to laugh. "And this is a good one as well. Mr. Thomas Caine..."

With a sharp turn, he locks eyes with me. Good God, he actually looks at me with the mask's very eyes. They wobble and shake, staring at me from all angles. His smile is a rictus grin. I cannot avert my gaze. The pale-white skin, the green hair, and the unevenly-painted red lips all lead into what might as well be a parody of a human face. The clownish glare conveys ultimate madness and paranoia, all directed into the very depths of what I can call my very being. But as soon as he becomes Thomas Caine, he removes the mask and again reverts to the blank canvas.

He puts back the masks he took, but there is a spot left bare. I cannot bring myself to call it to attention but I also cannot help but my uneasiness piques Heathen's piercing and featureless inquisition.

"Oh? You've noticed it haven't you?"

He walks over to me, and holds me by either side of my face. He... lifts me up. No. No no no, a thousand times no...

"You've forgotten. In those brief few moments you've forgotten who you were,"

He slips me over his head. My latex skin stretches slightly, encompassing his skull. I can feel his head shape change and his body morph into what I recognize as my own. I... yes, this is right. I can feel my flesh again. My fingers... I can feel my fingers. I make a fist.

"Everyone was getting worried. Welcome back to the collection, Howard Murphey."

"I don't like being seen. I'd much rather be someone else."