Last night I dreamt that everyone in the world chose different faces. Each fabore with it an entirely new identity, and as each fleshly mask was applied to one in the now shuffling, blind, faceless, idiot throng, that individual began to assume the characteristics, and then even the life, represented by that face.
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I became an emperor. I was master of untold marching legions; I was a lord of great wealth, and had at his command bustling, untold numbers of servants and underlings willing to fulfill my every whim. My palace was an architectural wonder the likes of which has never been surpassed by any structure ever erected. The floors were adorned in sold gold, the walls carved delicately from ivory and encrusted with glittering jewels, and covered with tapestries of ancient delicate weave and extraordinary design.
These tapestries revealed the history of my noble lineage, and the endless wars and conquests which we could claim as our proud history. Each bloody step of our evolution as a dynasty was displayed, and the bitter vengeance of my antecedents must have made many a subject quiver in terror at the thought of arousing my implacable anger.
Of fleshly pleasures I can swear that there are none I didn’t indulge prodigiously; countless triumphal feasts were celebrated and my table was always heaped with the choicest delicacies and finest, most sumptuous dishes as could be imported from the four corners of my vast kingdom.
Fine wine flowed like rivers of blood down the gullets of my guests; I was a master of ceremonies unparalleled in any era of history. Many were the joys and drunken delights of my fellow feasters, as we made sport of royal clown or jester under the burning torches of my imperial banquet hall.
If a particular performer failed to entertain, he could be cast into the dungeon. If he gave offense of any sort, he could be crucified.
Of women I had hundreds, and, indeed, could have had any wench I fancied, as all women anywhere in my kingdom were mine to dispose with as I so desired. Dark, wanton pleasures of the flesh and sensual delights were my chief occupation, and lascivious practices of every stripe were celebrated as I lit the bonfires of brazen passion and made slaves of whatever object tickled my amorous attention. Mad orgies and profane debauches took place in the perfume and incense-wafted abodes and bedchambers of my sinister keep. And, if any wench resisted, or failed to properly satisfy the depraved lusts of my quivering form, she could be burnt alive, beheaded, pulled to pieces on the rack, or crucified.
My generals won many an awesome, bloody conflict under the banner of my merciless reign. My troops stormed into villages and cities, sacked towns, laid siege to castles of dripping stone, and spread like thunder across the face of the earth. Everywhere they spread the mighty fires of my wrath and vengeance, putting whole civilizations to the flame, pillaging and looting and enslaving until the very planet seemed to tremble under my sandaled foot. From these far-flung military adventures they brought back tribute, slaves, many fine and rare spices and treasures, and strange and terrible scrolls of arcane lore.
Of my family I can say but little. Any threat to my power as supreme lord was instantly and cruelly dealt with, whether by poison, or imprisonment, or by some ghastly bit of intrigue planned and plotted expertly and efficiently. I dealt with an insolent cousin by having his tongue removed; I poisoned my firstborn son.
I desired my brother’s wife, so had the spineless wretch stationed to a distant military outpost, where the captain of the guard had been well-paid to assure his untimely demise.
Servants I dealt with in a more playful, prankish manner. Once, I conspired to hide some cheap trinket amongst the possessions of a serving girl who had dared rebuff my amorous advances. I hastily called the guard, and upon searching the servant’s quarters, they found the object (which, on the whole was of little value).
Immediately she was cast into prison, and then sentenced to hundreds of lashes. She was burned, barely alive, at the stake.
Undoubtedly I was a god in the world of simpering, ordinary, cowardly men. I knew no fear and wanted for nothing. Filled to bursting with the glory of myself, I at last threw away the religion of my forbears and, seizing the temples, replaced the images of God therein with an image of myself.
At last, I sent out a decree among the peoples of my vast empire that they must now worship me, and that should they fail in doing so, it would mean death for them and their people.
Men reeled in horror at this profane, blasphemous suggestion, and many secret cabals began to mutter among themselves as the growing legions of mendicants strode in slow mobs of despair to the altar of my image.
Undoubtedly, it was one of the last strokes upon the back of the people that they were willing to bear.
Not many months later, a dire famine began to sweep the land, and a pestilence of unknown and horrific origin followed. Men grew hideous with bursting purple sores, and the howling and terror of the night gave way to bonfires of bodies, fed by the heaving wooden carts of corpse collectors who trundled through the village streets at dawn, exclaiming “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!” all the while ringing a ghastly bell.
The bodies were consigned to the flame, but where kindling was sparse, they were unceremoniously deposited in one of the many yawning pits, with hundreds of others; pits that now dotted the countryside like pocks on a fevered face.
Death by starvation, however, was just as frequent, and my nobles began to grumble that they were starting to fear their own subjects. I paid no mind to such paltry complaints; and indeed, when open rebellion broke out in certain remote provinces, I sent a garrison of troops to crush it beneath an iron heel. The leaders of such rebellions were, with much pomp and circumstance, brought back to the imperial city, paraded as captives through the streets, and left hanging at the gates of the city as a warning against further rebellions.
I pushed my tax collectors mercilessly, commanding them to exact a huge portion of the dwindling wealth of my overburdened, diseased, and now starving subjects. The more the people suffered, the harder I squeezed, until, finally, entire families were starving to death in their homes, and beggars in the street became as numerous as the swarms of flies that followed in their footsteps.
I rebuffed any murmurs of protest from my guards, who began to complain that their forces were stretched thin and that the populace was growing riotous and frenzied with anger. I let all protests against my conduct fall on deaf ears. I continued to enjoy my life of opulent and lavish splendor in the midst of the most dire poverty and want.
Finally, one bloody night, the people of my city, armed with sticks and stones and torches, began to storm the walls of my keep, pushing ladders upward to scale the walls and go over the top. These maniacal revolutionaries were beaten back, sliced to ribbons by soldiers stationed on the walls, or deluged by hot lead poured from boiling cauldrons. My troops sent down black volleys of arrows into the teeming throng, but still they surged forward in defiance. They were hungry for my blood (as well as for food) and more ladders went up, and arrows and stones were shot from the enraged crowd below.
I cowered in my throne room, bellowing, “Kill them! Kill them all! Burn them alive, the traitorous rabble! I’ll have every one of their heads hanging from a pike by dawn! Be merciless, and slay the women and children as well! Cut them down where they stand!”
My royal guard gathered around me, dark and troubling looks beetling their brows. My councilors had taken a place in the shadows of the room, and, as my guards circled me, I began to thank them foolishly, saying “Yes! Yes! My loyal troops! You have always served me well, and have I not always returned your loyalty in kind with great payment in riches? Come, let us fly from the mad scene that awaits us outside, through the ancient caverns beneath this castle, and secure me in a safe place of exile until we can regain control of the situation once again!”
The faces of my troops were set in hard shadows, and, as they circled I saw the glint of cold steel flash forth, and indescribable pain wracked my lungs.
I fell forward, spilling a pool of crimson beneath me, and the soldiers leapt upon me to complete the grim task of regicide. Finally, pierced through the body as if I had been shot with a volley of arrows, I faded into blackness as the shadow of death played upon me.
I was hefted up and out the door, mortally wounded, and hoisted by rope to the walls outside. There I regained consciousness for a flickering few moments, but it was long enough to see a hellish glimpse of the hate-maddened throng to which my carcass was being offered as penance.
Twisted, curled, blackened faces, deformed by plague, made hollow by hunger, scowled and grimaced and raged below, their black eyes burning pools of pure delirium; accursed filthy faces of a maddened mob whose great thirst for retribution could only be quenched by draining the last drop of blood from out my wounded form. I had never, in all my wildest fantasies of pain and horror, seen such a spectacle of ugliness as the vile, filthy sea of peasants which surged and undulated and swelled below me. I knew this was the end.
I could still move my arm a bit, and with the last bit of strength I possessed, I reached up to wipe the blood that was dripping from my brow and into my eyes.
Suddenly, and without the slightest warning, the mask–that horrible thing of soft, yielding, fleshly substance which had delivered me to this sorry fate–came away in my bloody palm, revealing for the first time in many years the true face of the man that had so long been possessed by its odious influence and its grim charade.
The false face fell away in my hand, floating feather-like into the swirling sea of shadow below, and I looked down with the original eyes of one who has awoke from a long and troubled dream.
As they cast me from the top of the wall, into the maelstrom below, and as filthy fingers ripped my flesh to pieces in an insane rampage of utter hate, I knew that I was not responsible for this sorry ending, nor was my punishment just.
For the mob sought to destroy the reign of an evil tyrant, but the tyrant was simply a role played by an idiot; a mere child. And, though they strike down the body, they would never, I knew, destroy that which they so hated. For the mask would find someone else to wear, and the face would change forms, and the mad theatre of horror and revolt would continue forevermore