The first was an oddly shaped bottle of miniature dimensions, made, I believe, of some kind of admixture of ground quartz and red-colored clay. It was clearly ancient and bore a distribution of incisions or symbols that formed a script I did not recognize. After several visits to the university library, and consulting with several volumes of Anderson’s Lost Scribes of the Proto-Cultures, I determined that the script had no obvious basis in the Indo-European languages, nor did it possess any resemblance to the Afro-Asiatic or Turkic families with which I have a more than passing familiarity.
Stranger still, the bottle had been manufactured so that it was sealed indefinitely in the sense that it had no entry point at its top – no stopper, cork or similar removable device – but was closed completely by the admixture of which it consisted overall. Yet it was certainly hollow, and if I held it to my ear and shook it lightly, I detected the sound of a liquid moving within its interior, and perhaps another sound that, surely, I imagined – a faint whining that reminded me of a beached whale.
The second object of interest from among my uncle’s personal effects was of a perplexing appearance and which I retrieved from a cloth bag tied with a leather binding. At first I thought it was some kind of rotting parchment made of snake or lizard skin rather than the papyrus used for scrolls or folios of yore. Upon hoisting it up with my thumb and forefinger it flapped open into a wider circumference that began to acquire a more familiar shape; and spreading it over a table top, I perceived that it was a mask fashioned in the manner of a human physiognomy.
There were apertures cut for the mouth and eyes, though it was bereft of any means of attaching itself to the face I supposed it was intended to cover. And this indeed led me to consider that it was not so much a mask as an effigy of some religious or ritualistic significance, perhaps designed to meet the perfunctory likeness of a forgotten deity or a primal totem. It was clearly ancient, like the bottle, and there was something absurdly realistic about its look that stirred in me vague recollections of something I could not, in fact, remember. More striking, however, was the sense of attraction it generated in me in terms of invoking a pertinent urge to lay it across my own face and let it sink into my features with its outlandish veneer. And, in fact, one evening after a particularly fervent day of research in the library, I succumbed to its allure and lay it over my face with more care and deliberation than I was aware of giving. I duly found myself infused with a condition of some considerable excitement of a kind I would rather not describe in any detail. Suffice to say that, in the aftermath of this episode, I felt thoroughly ashamed.
The idea of consulting Beckman had already taken root in my mind prior to commencing my research, the fruitless conclusion of which settled the matter once and for all. I would seek his counsel on several counts – namely, in analyzing the archaic cipher of the bottle; in considering the means by which we might extrapolate and investigate its contents; in identifying the material with which the mask was made; and, finally, in identifying its purpose, as well as its strange effect upon my character.
Round Three of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” can be found here.
This portion of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” (c) 2014 Alistair Rennie