Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Walking through The City of Masks

Sunset over the City of Masks

We got the letter at Café Mineur, by ordering “the special”. A scattering of old couches and scuffed tables. Vaulted stone ceiling. Pillars. Ecological juices and veggie sandwiches on the menu.

Outside, a man stopped us. Pulled us aside, into a stone gate vault. He told us we had to make a choice. We could either go on the journey outlined in the letter, and in doing so, help the Masks, and see another reality than our own, or we could ignore it all and go home. “In that case it's only a matter of time before you're picked up and taken to an institution. They come down hard on those with ABCD.”

ABCD. As in Abnormal Behavior Control Disorder. Something that has been spreading, of late. We decided to help the Masks.

The first part of the journey took us to Hornstulls Strand. Down by the water, the Mask of the Elder hung from a pillar under a bridge. It spoke to us, of the woods that used to be here, of the roots that run below the city, of the cliffs down in the water.

Another Mask was waiting for us further along the water. The Elder spoke to us again as we walked there, speaking of the hidden pathways through the city, and the cottages that would be built on the mountain once civilization as we know it is gone. Once this reality has ended.

One of many tunnels we walked through

We walked past a number of piers and boats and sheds. Among them, dozens of people moved with purpose, raking leaves, moving dead branches, airing out their equipment sheds. It felt like we had walked into a fishing village, where the villagers were preparing their boats for the summer. The city felt very far away, and all we could see was water, boats and trees.

The Mask of Dreams was hanging from a gate into the mountain. It spoke of the tunnels the gate lead to, of the doorways to industrial complexes that used to be on the outskirts of Stockholm, of the secret harbors where ships and other vessels from other realities make port.

The gateway into the Underworld. The Mask of Dreams above it.

Directly across the pathway from the Mask of Dreams, was a pier, covered in debris, with an old fishing boat tied to it. The map in the letter had marked the pier as “Madame?”. We squeezed through the gate, which was permanently fixed in a half-open position. We saw Madame. She was brilliantly white and moved gracefully across the water. She didn't speak to us, but we could feel her approval of what we were doing.

We moved on, to a series of allotment gardens that climbed up the side of the hill. Pauline spoke to us as we walked up a series of winding stairs, and cautioned us. She told us of the wartime hospital underneath Södersjukhuset, where those wishing to control this reality bring those that have come in contact with the Masks, and those that exhibit symptoms of ABCD.

At the top of the hill, this sign awaited us.

At the crossroads Ringvägen/Götgatan, the Veiled Dancer spoke to us. She spoke to us of how the people around us can't express their emotions because the white noise anchors them too strongly in this rigid reality. As we walked futher down the road, a young girl seated by the side of the road gave us a small metal object wrapped in cloth. A part of the Machine underneath the city. Someone else sat singing, and a young man with a gas mask hanging from his belt swept the sidewalk in front of us. We had heard of him, in the words the Masks whispered to us.

The subway took us to the next stop on our journey, to the bridge above Katarinahissen, where the Mask of the Child was waiting for us. A poster from the Board For Social Control urged us to be on the lookout for a woman that might be suffering from psychic problems. She looked eerily similar to the girl on the street with the pieces of the Machine.

The poster from the Board of Social Control.

The Child urged us to find the child within ourselves, and wanted us to look at the city in new ways. Then we walked down an alley to Södermalmstorg, and sat there as the Mask of Fire spoke to us. It wanted to shine its light through the wall that separates our reality from that of the Masks. It told us we could become someone else than the one we are. That we could act outside the conventions of society, by channeling the characters of the Masks. “Do you want to change? Do you have a choice?”, it asked, and invited us to the Carnival that will change the city.

The Mask of Fire was waiting for us underneath a bridge. A Mask of hunger, of teeth, of primal urges. It guided us further on our walk through the city. Along the water again, towards the Mask of Flow. Up the side of another hill, a staircase, a winding path. Gardens, old houses of stone and wood. Pauline spoke to us again, and invited us into her garden. She had left the city, she said, but would return one day.

In the garden, others that wanted to help the Masks had gathered. Music played. A few people danced. Others sat, talking softly, eating. In a corner the man with the gas mask stood, leaning against a tree, quiet, apart from the others. I left quickly, certain that Kerberos guards would appear at any moment, and carry the revelers away.

I dreamed of the Masks the next night. A door opened in the depths of my being. Into darkness. Into light. Things will never be the same again...

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