The Masked Face: A Celestial Romance

Some time ago, I was traveling in a remote part of the country. I was there on an excursion to collect certain exotic seeds that one of my clients had requested. As a gardener, I am frequently solicited to gather various types of uncommon and rare plants for my patrons.

I had already collected the seeds, of a certain extremely sporadic variety of golden cycads when I encountered an antiquated-looking aged man. I was eager to speak with him due to the fact that he was carrying a cone of an unknown species of gymnosperm. I approached him to inquire about the magnificent cone, but something in his gaze filled me with disquietude. His eyes were of rare loveliness, almost angelic in their mien, but the way he peered into space was altogether other-worldly. Ere long I found out that some great misfortune had deprived the august old man of his sight. His sublime eyes were in fact blind.

Unsettled by his blindness, I tried to commiserate with him. But he would have none of my sympathies. Instead, he proceeded to narrate the tale of his loss with unfazed composure. As I listened in bewilderment to his recital, the tragedy that struck this man, left me numb with grief.

The Blind Man’s Tale

“In those days, I lived in the old metropolis famed for its grand buildings and majestic boulevards. I was a scholar at the university, studying the myriad mysteries of classical antiquity. One of my cherished activities was to wander among the splendid monuments of the city. It was at the Reliquary of Primordial Religions that I met the woman who would alter the course of my life forever.

“She stood beside the obsidian obelisk, as imposing and stately as the giant pillar itself. I was instantly drawn to her by the fact that she was able to read the archaic script etched on the pillar. I approached her and standing beside, intonated with her, as she read aloud in her dulcet voice,

Here all pilgrims shall pass
Beside this Cimmerian stone
Before departing into the night.

“We swiftly fell into conversation and forged a delightful friendship. We talked in great length about the obelisk and the significance of the passage inscribed. She was extraordinarily erudite, and though I was a scholar of antiquity, I had much to learn from her. Her knowledge of the ancient world was profound, and her understanding of mystical phenomena was of a depth I had seen not even in the most eminent professors of the time. I was soon enamored of her, and from her demeanor, felt she shared similar affections for me. As we spoke to each other, I suddenly realized that my gaze was fixed on her radiant face, and gradually it dawned on me that it was a camouflage, that her real face was hidden behind the limpid, glassy mask that she donned.

“By now, it was late in the evening, and the sun had already set in the western sky. It was time to part ways, but we could not come to it. It was as though the preposterous theories of primitive religion which I studied at school, only to debunk, were being proved true. Antediluvian societies would view such instantaneous entrancement between two people as an affirmation of the existence of soul-mates. Indeed, our affection for each other had become so vigorous that it was hard to discard the old conjecture as wild speculation of drug-laced shamans and a willing naive audience.

“We decided to spend the night together. But a growing distraction had crept into my soul, ever since I realized she was wearing a mask. By now our fondness was so deep that I could ask her anything in the world. When I mentioned the mask to her, she momentarily fell into silence. Quite soon she revealed that for certain reasons she cannot divulge to anyone, she was forbidden to remove her vizard. I immediately accepted this answer, as my adoration for her was immense.

“That night as she slept, a lingering desire to see my beloved’s face crept into my soul. And in the moonlight that beamed through the window, I ventured to commit the greatest sin of my life. As she peacefully slumbered, driven by uttermost curiosity, I lifted her veil to peer into her face. The next moment I was struck by the most brilliant light I have ever seen, and stunned by the tremendous radiance, my eyes were blinded. In a rash moment of haste, I had lost my sight for all eternity. Moreover, before the last light from my eyes was extinguished, I had discerned an explosion of the most magnificent and superlative blaze that I had ever witnessed in the days of my life. Shortly it was darkness again, and as I struggled to regain my bearings and find my beloved, gradually it dawned on me that she was not there, that she had utterly vanished.

“Dazed and stupefied, I grappled to make sense of the events that had transpired. Shrouded in abysmal sorrow at the incomprehensible disappearance of my beloved and aghast at my ignorant act that had brought about the inexplicable change, and crippled by my blindness, I left the university with my studies unfinished and retired to the seclusion of the remote countryside.

“It was a few years later that I was able to overcome the gloom and desolation that had befallen me after the unearthly events of that night. Gradually I was able to learn to read manuscripts written for the blind, and slowly I began to explore again the ancient subjects that were of such great interest to me in my youth. Soon I began frequenting one of the greatest libraries of the world which contained an immense number of manuscripts that the sightless could also read. It was in one of these ancient tomes that I finally found the answer to my beloved’s sudden and mysterious vanishing.

“In the Book of Cryptic Creatures, I found a passage that eased my pain of not knowing. It spoke of maidens that came from the stars and dwelt on earth in human bodies. To protect others from the refulgent beauty of their face, they always wore masks. They were prohibited from removing their masks, for otherwise, the viewer would go blind from the fierce illumination of their faces. These maidens, also known as star children, were creatures that had escaped dying stars and wandered throughout the universe in search of a home to dwell in. The book also mentioned that if the masks of these star maidens were ever removed, they would explode in coruscations of flame and fire, emulating the death of their native stars and cease to exist. Before the flames were put out, a fragment of their phosphorescent loveliness would pass into the eyes of the spectator and be perpetually imprinted on them.

“Comforted by the answer, but overwhelmed with remorse and guilt for what I had done, I discontinued my studies and retreated to a life of solitary meditation and penitence. Every now and then as darkness falls, I walk these woods and my soul, submerged in the silence of this star-studded landscape, feels at one with my beloved who is no more.”

***

At the conclusion of his story, he fell silent. I parted company with him, my heart filled with a nameless melancholy. From that day onwards, whenever I see the night sky full of glittering stars, my eyes are overcome with tears at the poignant tale of the blind man and his beloved from the stars.

***

Beryl Zephyr

An occasional writer but a regular thinker, Beryl sometimes fiddles in speculative fiction. He sees both humour and tragedy in everyday events and is extremely concerned with the fate of other creatures trapped in the monstrous march of 21st-century human civilization.

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