“There is a hunger within this room,” said my uncle. “Can you feel it?” He stood behind a penumbra of smoke, two fingers closed around his cigar. In my youth, though we never met, I remember seeing a picture of him once, and he had looked much like this: a man with a robust beard, broad face, wide shoulders, silhouetted in darkness. He reached slowly forward, and it was as if the darkness unfolded—it seemed he intended to touch my face, but in truth he touched the mask.
“Your eyes,” he said. “You cannot see, for you are blinded.” He stepped towards Beckman, and began to inspect the remains. The clothes he removed roughly, to be tossed into a pile in the corner, but the remains he treated delicately. The knife was lifted and set aside.
“He is hollow,” said my uncle. “You see?”
Beckman’s innards had been removed. What remained could not be called a man at all, merely his shell. His clothes, the desk, and even the knife were without blood. There were not even any bones.
“When I cut my lip,” I said, “I saw what happened. The blood fell towards the bottle; it was consumed.”
My uncle did not reply, but began to tear off pieces of Beckman’s skin; and eat them. For many minutes, we did not speak. I thought that something must be wrong—no man could do such a thing, or so I’d thought. That is why I remained silent, for I could not believe my eyes.
“This is the hunger within the mask,” he said, at last. It did not take long, only a few minutes more, until soon there was nothing to set aside. “I have worn it. I have read the ancient languages.” He stepped forward, and raised his arms. “Can you hear? Within the bottle there is a darkness, and that darkness itself is alive. It is vaster than all men, and we must submit to it.”
His features took on a peculiar character, seen in that light. It was my uncle’s face as I remembered it, yes; but at the same time, somewhere within, I saw the hint of another face. And that face did not belong to a man, or anything like a man. I should mention that time has distorted my memory of that day (in my mind I now see my uncle’s picture, rather than the man himself; I see darkness outside the windows, though in truth it was hardly past noon), but the impression was clear: of another, second visage, subtly distorting the first. Of the many horrors I witnessed (or thought I witnessed, even as I wonder, on occasion, if it was not some terrible vision brought on by the mask), this more than any has stayed with me—and indeed, there are nights I cannot sleep, for I often wonder if eventually I shall look into the mirror and see that second face, somewhere beneath my own.
The sixth and final round of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” can be found here.
This portion of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” (c) 2014 Kyle Muntz