Flash Fiction Friday: The Dreaming Mask

Beauty itself.

Nothing else more aptly described the mask hanging on the wall in the Intergalactic Museum in the Ancient Arts section. Crafted by an ancient people indigenous to the Andromeda Galaxy and once held as one of their most sacred artifacts, it had finally come to rest here, vacuum-sealed behind thick unbreakable glass where nothing so unholy as dust or museum patrons could touch it.

Every hour, every day, hundreds of people of varying species milled through the museum, pausing for a moment to admire the breath-taking beauty of the mask. Deep blue-green, it shimmered with a different hue depending on what angle one viewed it from. Graceful feather-like decorations surrounded the eyes in a soft, purple halo, and purple and white gems sparkled on the forehead and cheeks. A mouth could not be found in the mask, however, for this species-the only telepathic race known in intergalactic history—did not have mouths. A placard explaining as much, as well as explaining how the race died out much like Ancient Earth’s Mayan people, hung next to the display.

A S’iovnen woman of the Triangulum Galaxy stood before the display, one hand on her chin, her three other arms folded across her chest. Something about the mask—labeled in Universal as “The Dreaming Mask”—held her so entranced she did not move on with the rest of her tour group. She had been staring at it for so long she did not even realize it until all six of her eyes stung from dryness. As she blinked and the mask flickered in and out of sight, the shimmering hues shifted in a full spectrum of color, ranging all the way from infrared to ultraviolet. Shocked, the woman squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. When she opened them again, the mask had returned its usual resplendent blue-green.

She shook her head, realizing that she needed to catch up to the rest of her group. She read Universal and spoke a little of it, but found it almost impossible to understand when others spoke it. Losing her group entirely would put her in an inconvenient predicament, to say the least. She hurried down the museum hall, finally catching up to the other S’iovnen tourists in the Milky Way portion of the ancient arts section.

As she tried to focus on the display which compared Alpha-Centauri arts to Terran arts, she found herself becoming drowsy. The world cycled through the spectrum of color in pulses like her heartbeat. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she tumbled over backwards, barely aware of the gasps and cries rising around her. A foreign voice danced through her mind in cadence with the shifting colors, musical and soothing. It blocked out all the other sounds flickering at the last surface of her consciousness.

Everything was color—beautiful, bright, pure color. The colors were musical notes. They were soft breaths of wind. They were the fresh earthy smell of the world before a rainstorm; they were raindrops against a windowsill. They splayed and danced and swirled, each one carrying meaning just beyond reach.

She felt. She saw. She existed in a way she had never existed before.

Slowly,the woman’s eyes rolled open again, rising to consciousness like a diver to the surface of a turbulent sea. She found herself surrounded by Terrans in medical dress. One of them said something in Universal, which she could not quite understand. The colors danced through her perception one last time like a lover’s farewell.

“Ma’am? Ma’am? Do you speak Universal?” one of the doctors asked.

“I saw,” she said, the words slipping from her tongue before she even realized it.

“What did you see?”

She closed her eyes and slipped back into her native tongue:

“Beauty itself.”

“The Dreaming Mask” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.

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Creative Commons image courtesy of Karen Arnold through PublicDomainPictures.net.

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