“The Mask” is copyright to Dark Horse Comics, Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, Mike Badger, John Arcudi, Doug Mahnke, and New Line Cinema. Log Creek, Cara Vernon, Vivia the Jade and other names or titles found in this work are owned by Mercury-Pentacle of deviantArt.
The Harlequin Index
A Tale of the She-Mask
Dusking the Bureau
By all accounts, autumn was arriving and it would remain that hotter days and closer nights were diminishing as summer faded. The bright warmth and color of the day burning away to a smoldering in a western sky, the clouds that gathered from the east seemed gently luminescent as a particular car rolled into the spread of a wide shouldered parking lot; the usually crowded field now mostly vacant, save for about a dozen odd vehicles. The newcomer creeping to a stop as the driver made to leave, a door was soon shut and the car locked as a young woman trotted towards the tall, chrome faced building that loomed beyond; her purpose professional as she rubbed and then slipped her glasses back on, a blue eyed glance to the world behind her noting that world about was just a bit scenic at the right hour. Shifting her load about her shoulders, she drew back sharply cut bangs and made her way past the double, broad faced doors; fingers fidgeting to attach her ID card before the world of Log Creek Central Library closed around her. Stepping into the reception proper, she passed across the foyer; a gentle wave to the few staff working the late shift before crossing the floor to another set of glass doors – these marked for staff and authorized personnel only as the card reader and electronic lock reaffirmed.
The doors closing behind and a narrower world stretching out beyond, the woman declined the nearby elevator – a glass tube purported to give a brief but compelling vista of the libraries first few open floors – and took the stairs instead; flat clad feet making the only report before she opened doors to the fifth floor. Proffering a smile and brisk greeting to the passing Mary Parks of the archive department as she made her way downstairs, the corridor was soon silent save for the jangling of keys before her office. The door closing on a familiar world, the woman made her way over to her desk before setting down her load: her bag and larger one bearing some papers. It was with this that she made to draw away her jacket and closed the blinds of the broad window behind her; Cara Vernon having arrived and quite set on her tasks.
The assistant manager of the development and resources department at the library and popular civic center, Cara was certainly not averse to these sometimes odd times and needs of her employment – occasionally even enjoying them – though it remained that tonight was new in the hours she intended to stay. Of course, she did not resent that at all and found the tall, though fairly new building quite novel in its transformation from usually busy locus to quiet, still maze. Certainly, as the legacy of events some two months before, Cara had begun to develop a more nuanced appreciation for odd, unexpected changes – a thought which prompted a half-hearted smirk as she effaced the odd, if scented, thought. Yes. It had only begun most recently, though she was gaining a cool appreciation in how the seemingly indivisible could be just the stark opposite, under the right conditions.
Slipping out her phone, she sat it down before allotting numerous papers and files across the spread of varnished wood; her work stilled briefly as she noted that spider plant – a wild, tall cresting green sentinel in the bend of her desk – had grown quite a bit since last; so much so it even surprised her; nudging thoughts as to if she had watered it too much recently. Turning back to her work, she was soon sat and working before the spread of a broad screen.
She had been working for sometime over an hour when the document was finished and, sitting back as she penned a document to her side, she resolved to get a small refreshment; a small kettle in the corner of her office soon growing warm as she made to prepare herself some tea. Noting a recent rumble outside, and the soft crackling over her veiled window, she knew that the clouds from earlier had borne a brief storm; a passing peek beyond the glass to see the world below dark and glistening as a particular tree wavered to catch her eye.
Returning to her papers, she made to note a point but found her pen running low on ink. Absently fishing a new one from her desk, she turned to write but soon found – to her sharp eyed curiosity – that what passed was not black, but green. Sitting up as she perked an eye, she mused on just how such an odd pen had found its way to her desk. Setting it aside – probably some aberrant number in a long forgotten multi-colour pack – she fished out a more fitting color and carried on. It would not be long before the kettle was ready and she drew out a pack of variety teas; a small indulgence on her part and certainly one that could punctuate a quiet moment; some her first encounters with more exotic teas coming from this somewhat squat, broad faced box now much used.
Turning to it, musing as to what she might find, she discovered that her new appetite had worked an inevitable attrition on the content; a single thick satchel remaining for her tentative, searching fingers. Not entirely disappointed, Cara drew it up to find out what she would be sipping tonight; blue eyes rising before tightening in a jab of scrutiny at what she found. The attached tag read that this particular kind was, in fact, green tea; a sharp, mint infused flavor that the curious woman had only been familiar with years ago.
Musing a moment, she did not want to waste it and she was soon brewing a cup of steaming, emerald faced tea. Setting the yawning cup down, she considered what she took up with a slight scrutiny; liquid reflecting all before it in a vibrant green, it occurred to the curious woman that – in a musing that bounced between firmer thoughts mischievously – that the sight was not that uncommon, really. It was not the first time that Cara had found herself with a green faced reflection, in a certain way. Rolling her eyes at the silly thought, she took a sip and found it very much palatable; the crisp flush bringing a smile as she turned to the faint idea of a snack – though it would be that she would deny this in favor of a diet.
It only occurred briefly as she worked away, but it was a peculiar little coincidence, though nothing to merit further thought; she had further demands on her attention beyond this and, more so, did not wish to give too much weight to thoughts with a green complexion. Those... those were for another time and place, and certainly not for this particular place either.
The crackle on her windows continuing, the final document was completed before Cara turned to the somewhat more pleasant task of her editorial intentions. Slipping out of her office, she unlocked a nearby staff room and quickly found her purpose; a small package of books newly dispatched for her attentions which she was soon planting down on her own desk. Brisk, veiled blue eyes finding all below accounted for in the accompanying papers, she was soon settling down after a final sip of tea.
Cara’s task followed in her interest in the Central Library’s magazine; a monthly publication that circulated fairly wide in Log Creek and was recognized beyond too, in some places. Cara herself had been afforded some editorial influence and was soon compiling minor reviews for a particular part of the magazine. On this occasion, there was a fairly eclectic range of new works for her to proffer some words for. All in all, she did consider this something of a privilege to work on the editorial team and had enthusiastically set out her words for three of the cache already. Reaching for a somewhat firm shouldered volume, she set it down to find the fifth edition of a certain Dr. Arthur Neumann’s The Masks We Wear; a weighty, though purportedly quite accessible text on the nature of identity – what is shown and not shown to the world – and all that proceeds from that.
Cara could not help but linger on the volume as she flipped through its pages; returning to the cover to find the sharp, shadowy relief of a mask. Tapping the cover as she loosened a sigh – a thought to quietly remark on the nature of masks unborn – before she set the book aside. It would do little but to distract her, of all people, to be musing too much on masks, these days; her own furtive researches being not unfruitful since her encounter with a certain mask which proved the acuity of some things and magical proof of others. Slipping her glasses off, she gave her features a brief rub – a little habit of the past few months whenever too vexed on that particular subject – she returned them and was soon reaching for her next review; eyeing the hour and noting not too let the ambiance of this night get to her, or its coincidences...
Her work carrying on, she had just finished a brisk review of a new edition of Shakespeare’s play "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" and found herself particularly liking this enhanced edition as her fingers danced on the keys; her taste for this particular work drawing from a rendition she had once seen in college some years previously and while her attitudes were hardening even back then, she did admit that the magical caper of manners, identity and weirdness had a certain draw for her. Putting the work aside as she nursed something of a creeping smile, her expression halted as she mused for a long moment – it being that maybe she shouldn't be reminiscing on certain things too much, per say: knowing from experience that it took incredulously little for dreams, to become days and then weird realities themselves. Indulging a little snicker as the book was put away, she decided on a short break before the final few works and then retiring for the night; having already heard the familiar sounds of one or two colleagues going home for the night further down the corridor outside.
Quickly onto the internet, she opened her account on a certain media site and took to a string of episodic comedies. The first few bringing a little chuckle as she tidied away a few things and arranged her schedule for the coming week. It was during this that she happened upon something... curious. Peering across the document, she couldn't deny that she felt uncanny; a ripple of déjà vu as if she had already done this particular task closely before. Musing on the thought as she rifled through other documents, she took it as a sign that she should probably call it a day soon and get on with things. Deciding to finish the last few clips, Cara had sat her hand bag on her lap to fish out a chap stick as a mandatory advertisement started to run; Cara offering a passing glance as she rummaged for the elusive object. At last catching it between searching fingers, she had looked up and found herself absently watching; opening the familiar object in her hands to skim her lips. It was here that she slowly stalled in her motions; eyes transfixed as the ad played out. It was a commercial for a new nutrient mask; a rich, green cream applied to the face and then peeled off as the actress showed to exaggerated effect...
Cara blinked, and then looked away. Sighing, she rolled her eyes sternly as she briskly skipped the commercial. It was here her eyes fell on what she held in pinched fingers. It was not what she expected. The chap stick actually a tube of luscious purple lipstick, the sight of which held her coldly before she gave a start and let it fall away; Cara thrusting up as she retreated to the window. Composing herself seconds later, she took a deep, bitter breath; pursing her lips as she flexed her hands and lent one hand on the nearby desk.
She was quiet and still for a time before she rubbed her eyes and slipped her glasses on again.
No... Simply, no... this... this was silly... but how?...
Not wishing to look down at the fallen lipstick, she mentally thundered at how such a thing was possible. Clutching her bag as the comedy on screen played out on screen, she found her pack of handkerchiefs after setting aside some eye drops. Briskly rubbing at her lip before throwing the tissue away, her hand faltered in its reach for the eye drops; the task of returning them to her bag halted as she peered at the small, plastic bottle. The logo of a green eye with the mantra “See the Greener Side of Life” left her blue eyes blinking. As with so much else, she did not remember buying that brand – or even hearing of it – and was not for even touching the bottle as she felt her heart rising in her chest. Trying to settle her mind, her ears and then eyes found the screen and another commercial as another clip loaded. Her consternation was sharp as she found an ad for a vacation – the vistas of vibrant club goers and loud partying narrated by a voice which urged viewers to “...escape themselves with Green Dreams tours!...”.
Striding for the door with a crumpled expression, Cara emerged into the corridor and resisted the urge to quietly swear. Blinking, she half expected to find something; not quite sure what, though the notion that someone was toying with her – even knowing her “secret” – was permissible in the face of seemingly going crazy. If she was going crazy... Lingering there for a few moments, she composed herself as the familiar sounds of nocturnal bureaucracy played out, unseen, nearby. Somewhere close, the sounds of a colleague on the phone while the muffled puttering of a coffee machine was known close by too.
She was sternly intending to march right up to and into her office – surely this nonsense explained by weariness and flights of fancy – before she heard a door opening nearby; the half flustered woman making to quickly walk with faux purpose down to the nearby staff room. A colleague passing with a brief exchange of pleasantries, Cara affected a smile as the other woman slipped in some ear phones; the dimly heard song one that prompted the other woman’s attentions as it speared her taunt thoughts with a honeyed rhythm. The elevator doors closing as Cara waved good night, the doors had just closed before she let herself break out into a hip rolling, hand twisting dance which crested in a little laugh.
This sudden and only just realized aberration froze her form and clamped a hand across her mouth; eyes suddenly large as to if anyone had heard, or worse, even seen this bizarre spectacle from the usually self-possessed official. Pressing quickly – resisting a jog – as she made into her office again, she pressed her back to the door with a heaving chest.
Standing stiffly there, she made to weld together her increasingly disparate, scared thoughts. She had to get home, and get home now; all of this was... was just... she was just tired. She was freaking herself out, and with such outrageous consequences. She should come back in the morning, and things would have righted themselves then. Maybe this was some kind of hallucinogenic episode – perhaps brought on by a poorly cooked dinner, maybe something in that tea, maybe...
She blinked and made around her desk. Turning off the computer, she opted to leave her notes before pulling on her jacket and grabbing her bag. Slipping out, she hastily locked the door before hurrying along the corridor; intent on the depth and privacy of the stairwell, she did not want to linger on what might happen if other people saw her or what she might suddenly do with such percolating, zapping urges. Resisting the urge to run for the much yearned door to the stairs, she was almost there when a door opened just a dozen paces behind; the flow of numerous voices and forms compelling her to duck into closest door; that being the door the women’s bathroom as the heavy door closed thankfully behind her.
With a grumble of anger, she retreated from the door – briskly checking to make sure that all the stalls were empty before pressing herself to the broad counter with stiff limbs. Listening intently and loathe to look on the glass, less she get another fright somehow, she wearied to hear the group outside lingering. Taking a few deep breaths, she made to turn on a tap – perhaps a splash of water restoring her more sharply cut thoughts – before she suddenly stiffened; a brief grimace pressing her features as she peered down with pursed lips. There had been a strange, aching sensation in her feet which demanded attention and it was with a pressing impulse that she turned and dashed into the nearest stall. Dropping her bag aside, she rolled her feet inside her flats in a last attempt to work the ache away. When this failed, there seemed to be a strange throb in those same shod shapes which moved her to shrug them off; Cara soon stepping back from her empty flats as the cool tiled floor met her below. Looking down, the pain may have vanished though her heart and thoughts clanged with shock at what she found.
Flexing and curling her toes, she had just set them down as to find her toe nails no longer the familiar shapes of the past. Now smoothly shaped and with a hard, lustrous face of vibrant purple. The color, the aesthetic was very, very familiar to her in a strange way... Thinking to grasp them first before clutching her head in disbelief, she could not understand how on earth this was happening.
Trying to fend of what felt like the overture to a panic attack, Cara was desperately vexed by this mind twisting string of events. And yet, beyond the clamor of fear and sheer incomprehension, a part of her labored in pursuit of why. Smacking her feet a few times on the cold floor did not shake the sight of her transformed toe nails and it occurred to her, feeling a oddly familiar tingling in her fingers, that she may be part of something she could not wholly control. And yet, as she clenched her hands as if to squeeze away the sensation, she simply couldn't fathom the reason. The mask, the ostensible relic of Loki, was back home in her Waterstone suburb; locked in her home, locked in her study, locked in a desk drawer and locked within an old keepsake box. How then could its influence be working its way here? Or was there something else, was there something more to owning the fabled green artifact that she had not divined when she first chose, that wet night by the bridge, to keep the thing.
Regardless, the reflection was increasingly beside the point as she flexed her fingers; twitching and flinching as, to her wide eyes, her formerly clipped nails blossomed into long, tapering tips of vibrant purple. At first random, should could only whine as the last nails sprouted; leaving Cara with twin sets of exotic purple nails she knew would be all the more apt on another. Her breath hard, she incredulously pressed them to her palms and then face to experience their reality; an act followed by a sudden rolling, sweetly effervescent shudder as it briefly rocked her shoulders and stifled her voice. Shaking her head, her creaking composure was further strained as she noticed something; singular and suddenly distracting as she looked down again at her suited form.
There was something strange, something... weird. She could feel something wasn't right... What was it? She could feel it... but what? Her features wavering as she clapped and kneaded her suit, there came again more evidence of the thing she could not bring to words – the latter as it would be all too outrageous to believe. Yet still, there was something there; it was close, firm and intimate... could it be?...
With a start, she tugged to loosen her waist band and fumble with her shirt buttons. When at last she could wait not longer, she clutched both sides and then pulled; the exertion rending her coat, shirt and pants open as the former coverings fanned out. What she found beneath brought a loud cry from a stretched face as her eyes swelled with shock. There, molded to her slight form and far less punctuated in figure, were the smooth contours and sensual features of that garment so often defined by its whack y, irresistible owner.
The cat suit of Vivia the Jade faintly lustrous beneath the bathroom lighting, Cara could do little but stare in breathless, set jaw shock at the revelation.
Unwilling to touch it, and yet unable to deny its tight, firm flattery of her modest figure, Cara let go of the fabric she had tightly held and shut her eyes; clamping her head as her thoughts began to spin. The latter description apt as Cara’s resolve in resisting those effervescent urges and crackling surges within was beginning to, at last, break. The final surrender came as she felt her features pulse and ripple; unseen forces kneading and gently tugging now oddly malleable contours into new shapes. As her scalp itched and longer hair coiled about her shoulders, Cara, hips twisting and shoulders swerving, conceded defeat with a cry. The enclosed world of the stall blending as she began to spin, the room shook as a crackling, flashing tornado roared in its confinement...
The door creaking open as wide, searching eyes scoured the scene, Mary Parks was silently flabbergasted at the inexplicably chaotic restroom. Amid the debris, another ceiling panel came free to crumple on the ground as the door of the only locked stall fell out with a hard crunch. From within, there stepped a sight she would never have expected to see, nor that she ever truly believed in. But there, with a casual ease of unshod feet, there came a very particular, green faced woman...
Mary silent as the other closed about the counter with a purr to consider her reflection, she stiffly drew a little closer. The green faced spectacle was clad in torn, burst and very much undersized clothing that seemed familiar; more so, these now ludicrous fashions sat atop the lascivious contours of a exotic cat suit of purple and green accented black. The other woman drawing a hand through her long, wild black locks, Mary croaked as green eyes turned and narrowed in a little, haughty chuckle. Finding her voice at last, Mary was confounded by not only one thing, but the seeming truth of another; a profile that had been building ever since she saw a certain hand bag, the tattered suit and now dangling ID card.
“You... uh... what – I – I mean... wha – what the hell? You’re that... that... you’re her, that green faced one...”
The words of incredulity drawing a wide, purple lipped smile in green features, Vivia the Jade turned.
“Oh? Oh, yeah – and you’d better believe it too. I’m all for letting off some steam and bringing the house down, but not always literally.” Her words punctuated as wiring somewhere above gave a spark and the toilet gurgled as the handle fell to the strewn floor with a rattle.
Mary’s eyes still wide, though her posture lent more to vindication as she pressed a hand in the direction of the green faced apparition, more words came.
“You... I mean, you... you’re here and you’re her – you, of all people,” she blinked as she inched closer, tongue pregnant.
“I mean... I can’t believe it – it’s you, isn't it, Cara? You... You're Vivia the Jade, right?..” The cat suit clad, more shapely woman turned with a perk of an eye; a flicker of green as she snapped her fingers disintegrating the once fitting clothes as she mused on the words.
“Hmm... ya know, why not? Oh, yes; you got me. I can’t deny it: sometimes I gotta be her, but never doubt what a refreshing green face lift will do for a repressed girl. That’s when I get to be me, and I can say, looking on the greener side of life has never been truer...”
Mary’s stiff features almost molten as she drew back a little; eyes wider as the implications of the confession began to dawn. “But... but... what will happen? I mean – I mean do you understand what you've done? What you've done to others? What this means for you, and what you've been hiding? Cara... Vivia... who the hell are you?”
The woman’s accusing, almost indignant words doing little to harden Vivia’s rich, rubbery green complexion, something odd happened as Vivia peered not once, but twice as her secret was seemingly laid bare. At first glance, there was Mary, but a second glance from between black bangs perked an eyebrow as she turned stiffly; green features marked by a slight bemusement.
What sat atop Mary’s shoulders, making all the noise, was not in fact her head; that had been mysteriously replaced with an over sized blueberry muffin. Vivia approaching with a grin as one long nailed hand sat atop a hip, the apparition gestured before retreating out the door and running away down the corridor. The cat suit clad woman’s feet coming to a stop as she lent against the door frame, Vivia tapped a smooth green chin as she peered down the opposite direction. From around the bend, and heard before they were seen, there came a stream of exotic, costumed characters; some from myth while others were more human but all having a very good time as they drank, sang and danced in their progress.
Vivia stifling a laugh as they began to pass, she eyed their revelry with a keen humor before a beautifully clad, somewhat elfin woman passed; Vivia exchanging a high five with Titania, Queen of the Fairies, before a masked waiter proffered a glass of wine from a silver dish. Vivia taking the stem as she blew a kiss of thanks, she sipped as the Greek god Pan passed, blowing merrily on his flute with dancing, cloven feet below. The stream of figures never relenting, she noted that a few had found their way into a nearby office; the sprinklers now showering rainbow water down while others with a febrile zest read sonnets shot from a nearby printer.
Drinking down the last drop, Vivia laughed with a flash of broad white teeth. Snapping her fingers as the glass vanished, she reflected to herself with a coy tone.
“Ah – poo; fun, but pity it’s just a dream...”
With a flustered start, Cara awoke; clamping and tugging at her face while covers scattered. The world resolving itself soon in a heart jumping few seconds, the poised woman slowly sunk back after a protracted silent stillness with a long sigh. Sunk atop her bed again, the world about her bedroom was that familiar shade of rich twilight familiar to the occasional cloudless Saturday, as today was too. Swallowing, she groaned and found her bedside clock. Slipping out of bed slowly, she sat for a moment before rolling her eyes and getting up. Padding to her kitchenette as the sound of mid morning TV rolled on around her, Cara found the world to be as it was. No procession of massed revelers, no fairy queens, no masked alter-egos suddenly and inexplicably making themselves known. Waiting for her coffee, she turned and let a grin rise to a little chuckle.
It had been nearly two months now since she had donned the mask, still firmly locked in her study, and had chosen to keep it. Still, as she mused on that wild, weird dream, she couldn't deny where it may have come from. Pouring the steaming liquid, as she considered her phone, Cara was soon sat on her couch to catch up with the news. Sipping as she considered her newspaper by her side, Cara Vernon mused coolly on something which had proven resonant recently – something which lingered, with no definite answer.
She had kept the mask, and had furtively studied it for some time now, but would the cat suited, green faced Vivia the Jade come to be again? Would she come to be as she had once appeared? Would Vivia ever return one day?
The thought stilled Cara before she took another sip. Reflecting on her dream, she would never deny she had to be careful, but perhaps it would be interesting to look on the greener side of life, again... as it was.