A Man among the Masks

Fire-dancer silhouette

(James H. [CC / Flickr])

The man rolled out of the puddle and on to his hands and knees. A knee cracked against his temple as of legs danced past his head. He pushed himself up to his knees. A foot ended a leap on his calf, making him yelp.

The man lurched to his feet.

Figures capered past him, the flickering flame of the torches flattening them to the silhouettes of the edges of their masks atop prancing human figures. Their ululating cries filled the air as he bounced from one to another, leaving him unsure whether it was a hand that caught him across the face or the cry itself taking a physical form.

An eagle mask was in his face screaming, “ul-al-ahh,” as two arms whirled him around with strength that nearly lifted the man off his feet.

“What have we here?” asked the eagle in the voice of a woman. “What does an unmasked man do here?”

“Some drunken lout in a hyena mask knocked me down,” said the man.

“Not a mask. Not a man,” said the eagle. “It was a hyena, doing what hyenas do when you are alone and vulnerable in the night.”

She threw back her head and wailed, “aaa-aayy-eee-aaah.”

“I just want to go home,” said the man.

The eagle’s head rocked back and forth as she laughed. The man had to tip his head aside to avoid her beak hitting him in the face.

“Then you should have been there before the sun set.” The eagle pulled him close and rocked back, lifting him off his feet.

The man smelled wine on the breath from beneath her mask.

She put him down and pressed herself close. “Yet here you are, sober an unmasked. You should know better than that.”

“I know your voice,” said the man. “You are-”

The eagle tipped her mask far enough to silence him with a kiss, not far enough to reveal the face beneath.

She pulled back and said, “I am an eagle. Who I was before the sun set is who I will be again when it rises, but now…aay-lee-ahh. And you are still who you are when the sun went down, which means you need wine and a mask.”

The eagle took his hand and led him toward where the torches burned brightest.

A bat slapped the back of his head.

A cat ran a hand, or perhaps a paw, down the length of his body.

They reached a place where they were surrounded by torches that threw their shimmering light long the eagle’s bare human limbs.

The man didn’t see where the flask she handed him came from but he drank deep. When he took it from his lips, she was holding a lion mask out to him.

The man took it with both hands, aware that his smile was baring his teeth to match the long fangs of the lion’s snarl. Lions took no nonsense from hyenas.

He slipped the mask over his head and kissed the eagle’s beak through the snarl.

The eagle capered away from him. and he danced after her joining the prancing silhouettes of animal faces on human forms.

“Bacchanalia!” He threw back his head and cried, “Bachaa-aan-aayy-lee-aah!”

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

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