Paper Masks

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Dancers twirled under the chandelier high above, moving their furry feet to the sounds of the orchestra. Each covered their face with a paper mask displaying every species except their own.

Groups mingled on the outskirts of the ballroom and watched in amusement, their posture straight and their bodies clothed in refined silks and cotton. One stood out in an exquisite doublet and intricate wolf mask.

“We chimps have come a long way since the days of our ancestors,” he said in a low, throaty voice. “Are we not the superior species? We can read, write, and argue on matters of importance. No longer are we impulsive, wild creatures.”

Lead chimp in costume wearing wolf mask

The chimps surrounding him were among the most important in the room. They held positions of power and prestige, yet they listened to the larger chimp with respect. A small waitress wearing a giraffe mask gracefully approached the group and offered a tray of wine.

A primate to the right of the wolf-mask wearer took two in his large hands, curling thick black fingers around the glasses’ thin stems. He offered one to the speaker with a low bow. “Those are true words, my lord. There are none wiser and more just than you. You brought us closer to perfection in these past decades than anyone else before you. We simple chimps could never hope to aspire to such heights.”

This pleased the larger chimp, and he took the glass held out to him. “Yes, I am truly magnificent. Was it not I who discovered the mathematical formulas that mapped the universe? Was it not I who created a justice system that is absolute and fair in its judgement? Was it-”

A crash split the air. Masked faces of zebras, lions, elephants, and sea creatures turned to the food table by the wall. The orchestra continued its sweeping, elegant music, but the dancers had stopped to watch the scene.

Atop the long table, a crouching chimp dug his hands into a bowl of fresh figs. He wore an oversized grey coat with loose threads at the hem. Tearing a fig open in one hand, he shoved it into his unmasked face.

The atmosphere strained to breaking point, and no one dared breathe. Spectators turned to the wolf-mask wearer but, upon seeing his shuddering body, backed into a corner of the room.

“How dare you behave in such a way!” The large chimp yelled, snapping the stem of his glass with a fist. The glass fell and shattered, spilling red wine on the polished marble floor.

The orchestra halted sharply, and everything was silent except for the unmasked chimp. He tipped over bowls of soup and plates of seeds and honey in search of more figs.

Full of rage, the large chimpanzee strode to the food table, his shoes shining in the sparkling light of the hanging crystals. “I am disgusted by you. Do you see anyone else being so vulgar? You’re acting like an animal!”

The unmasked chimp halted and turned his small head slowly. His eyes fell on the powerful chimp towering over him, but he was not afraid.

“That’s because I am an animal.”

The large chimp’s dark hairs bristled. “You are the representation of everything that the modern chimp despises. You have no regard for our values or laws.” He pivoted and addressed the ballroom, his long arms stretched wide. “Fellow chimpanzees, have we not created a perfect world? We are civil and lawful. Will you allow our society to spoil from the inside out because of this one chimp? If he continues like this, our youth will follow, and our way of life will collapse. We will surely regress to the dark times!”

Bodies shifted and leaned closer. Some clenched their huge hands into fists. Snarls and cries came from all areas of the room.

The wolf-mask wearer turned back to the small chimp and bent low, his voice a whisper. “You will conform, and you will do what I tell you. I will not tolerate divergent behaviour.”

The small chimp reeled back from the foul stench of the other chimp’s breath. Once he’d recovered, he noticed how flimsy the mask was; The edge was thin and had torn in one corner. The young chimp leaned closer with intelligent eyes.

“You might wear a mask, but you will never cover what you really are.” His nimble hands wrenched the paper mask free and threw it to the ground.

There was a gasp nearby from one dancer, and a growl from another. The small chimp looked into the unmasked face before him and trembled from fear.

The large chimpanzee’s eyes were round and dark, but they contained an unrestrained fury. He bared his teeth and growled, looking every part a wild animal.

“Kill him,” the lord called.

There was a moment of stillness before masks tumbled to the floor. Chimps fell onto all fours and screamed, their mouths open and eyes wild.

They were on the small chimp in an instant, tearing and biting his body. The large chimp looked on passively and bent down to retrieve his mask. He dusted it off with annoyance as the small chimp’s cries were cut short.

Replacing the mask, the chimp straightened and clapped his hands together. “I hope you will forgive the interruption. Please carry on dancing.”

The chimps standing over the limp body stared at their lord vacantly. Their mouths dripped with gore, and blood splashed their fine clothing. But they blinked and came back to themselves, replacing their masks and rejoining the group.

The lord returned to the important chimps, who shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot. He slapped one on the back and barked a laugh. “That is what it takes to protect our values, my friends. Am I not just and fair?”

As two chimpanzees dragged the body off the table and out of the ballroom, the music began anew, and the dancers once again filled the centre. They pranced and leapt, and each movement was precise, elegant, and perfect.

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- Total nr. of readings: 2,914 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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