The Council of the Masked

Christine pushed back the door with her bruise-covered arm, the pain from the cut that had been caused by the jagged-edged wine bottle Raoul had hurled at her shooting down through her entire arm as the door swung open. Her normally-in-place hair now disheveled, her eyes and cheeks besought with tears, she plowed her way clumsily down the dark stairs, hoping to find he who would comfort her. She knew he would, at least, if he forgave her after the hurt she knew she had caused. Oh, what a mocking visitor regret can be! She made her way down the last step and there, she saw a sight she had never seen before.

A man was seated at the organ, as she had imagined Erik to be sitting, but it was not Erik. He wore a blue mask that hid most of his face except for his mouth.

"Come on, people, we only do this once every eighty years!" he shouted.

At this cry, more people emerged, all males, all looking very strange. There were many men in various masks, one man was wearing a scarf over his mouth, another had very pointy teeth, and, to top it all off, whilst some of them appeared as people usually do, with healthily-colored skin, others were various shades of gray. And they were glowing. As if this was not strange enough, but some, instead of speaking, had what they wished to say magically scrawling in the air above their heads, as if some invisible hand was typing out their dialogue for them.

"Okay, okay, chop, chop, guys, come on, we have a lot to get through," said a robotic-voiced man with a silver mask covering his head.

Everyone took their seats around a giant oak table, which had appeared out of nowhere. No one had taken notice of Christine.

"All right, so, first, the census. How are things looking for you? We'll start with Claudin and go to his left."

"It's horrible!" complained the man in the blue mask. "They actually wanted to put back in the film that I'm Christine's father! How sick and twisted is that? Incest? Come on!"

There were disgusted moans and exclamations from the others. Those who could not verbally speak just had, "Ew!" appear over their heads. Christine felt a bit of vomit rise in the back of her throat and she swallowed it back down.

"What about you, Petrie?"

"Don't. Get. Me. Started," said a man in a mask that only showed one of his eyes. "I got another batch of angry letters about how I hit Heather. And let's not forget the age-old, 'There's no romance in your film' argument. Um, excuse me, but, does getting your sorry ass crushed under a chandelier—thus ending a life that was really crappy anyway—for a girl who would otherwise have been mercilessly crushed not show love? Just because I wasn't all over her like some people—that means Gerry—doesn't mean I saw her as just a student."

"That is so depressing," commented the man with the scarf over his mouth via the magic words above his head.

Petrie nodded.

"My turn!" said the man in the silver mask.

"Okay, Winslow, what's been going on with you?"

"Well, let's see, people who see my movie apparently don't understand the meaning of the word interpretation, I still get mocked for the fact I have no song—I guess my cantata rehearsal in the beginning is excluded!—and everyone's angry that my girl's name is Phoenix. And the '70s rock songs don't help with our ratings, either."

"Oh, you think that's bad?" piped in a man who was not wearing a mask, "I get worse publicity than that!"

"Well, it's understandable with your case."

"How so?"

Everyone just stared at him.

"You force yourself on Christine!"

Christine again felt the vomit rise.

"And you satisfy yourself with a rat, for God's sake! That poor little rat. What is wrong with you?" Petrie asked.

"At least I'm pretty!" the man without a mask commented.

He picked up a rat that had been sitting on the table next to him and stroked it a little too affectionately.

"I know who loves me . . ."

He then got up, the rat in hand, and left the room.

"Seriously. There is something seriously wrong with him," said the man with pointy teeth.

"Amen to that, Dracula. Anyway, how are things holding up for your movie?"

"Pretty good, especially around Halloween. I saw so many mes walking around. It was great."

He smiled, revealing his very pointy teeth.

"Great. Now stop smiling—you're scaring everyone," Winslow said and Dracula's grin dropped.

"What about me?" whined a man in a plain brown mask, a briefcase in front of him, "Isn't anybody going to ask how I am?"

"No," everyone chorused together.

"Why not?"

"No one cares about you," Winslow informed the man. "Everyone hates you—and you can thank Forsyth for that."

"But—but—I've memorized the periodic table!"

"What the hell does that have to do with being a Phantom of the Opera?"

"Hey, some of these guys aren't even Phantoms! Like Blood Boy over here!"

"Hey, watch it," Dracula said threateningly, "Or . . . or . . ."

"What, you'll suck my blood?"

"No, worse—I'll tell all your fellow Phantoms where your stash of Christine memorabilia is hidden."

"You wouldn't dare."

"Watch me. He keeps it—."

Forsyth Erik held up garlic, which caused Dracula to run screaming from the room like a little girl and Forsyth ran after him, cackling.

"We can never get through a meeting without those two arguing," Claudin sighed dryly. "Okay, let's keep going. How are things with you, Frankie?"

Frankenstein's monster proceeded to grunt some things that apparently only those seated at the table could understand, but Christine did not understand a word.

"Damn those press editors," commented a man in a full-faced mask via words over his head. "They actually tried to get me to reveal how I did my makeup. How stupid is that? I feel for you, Frankie."

Frankenstein's monster hugged the silver glowing man, who started to look more and more transparent.

"Okay, okay, Frankie, I think Lon understands that you're grateful for his empathy. Now let go of him before he crosses over."

Frankenstein's monster let go, at which point the man Claudin had identified as Lon no longer had that ethereal quality to him.

"So, press-related crap with you, too, eh, Lon?"

"Yeah. They're still mad that the film was really close to the book except for the end. And honestly, I agree. If you'd filmed the book's original ending only to be forced to film a new ending where your head gets bashed in and you drown in a river, you'd be pissed, too."

There were solemn nods from everyone in the group. The attention was then focused on another man who was not wearing a mask and did not appear to have anything unusual about him.

"Well, I've been good," he said. "And, by the way, it's been three weeks since my last raw steak!"

Everyone erupted into cheers, but the cheers stopped when the man happened to glance at a calendar on the wall.

"Oh, God, tonight's a full—um, I have to go now!" he cried and ran out of the room, something that sounded like a mix between a frightened scream and an animalistic howl escaping from his throat.

"That's my boy!" said a proud subtitle over Lon's head.

Finally, everyone turned to the man with the scarf covering his mouth.

"So, Gwynplaine, how are you?"

"The movie wasn't paying me enough, so I went to work for a terminally-ill-animals hospital and they fired me for looking too happy all the time," said Gwynplaine, via subtitles.

"Harsh."

"Tell me about it. So then I went to work at the Braille Institute. Except I can't read Braille. So Dea was trying to teach me, which frustrated me because I couldn't get the hang of it, and we were in an elevator, looking at the Braille symbols on the buttons, and then the elevator broke down and we were stuck in there for five hours. So that, understandably, really pissed me off, but I couldn't show it because of this damned smile, but then Dea told me she thought I was cute when I was mad, so that made me feel better, and, well . . . one thing led to another and . . . hey, we had five hours in there—no one knew!"

Everyone was staring at him with open mouths.

"You did it in an elevator?" Claudin asked, raising an eyebrow.

"An elevator at the Braille Institute?" Petrie added.

"Hey, that wasn't our first time! Remember the scene where I carry her into the wagon and it cuts to the dog under the wagon with a bone in his mouth?"

"I thought it was a stick," Winslow said.

"Whatever. Bone, stick—the point is, it was a cylinder-shaped, hard object. Symbolism, people, symbolism."

"I am never going to be able to watch your movie again," Petrie said, "Seriously, that's just way too kinky to think about."

"Well, I didn't have pet rats!"

"Point taken."

"Excuse me!" Christine finally exclaimed before the testosterone-driven conversation could go any further and thus pass her level of comfort, "What exactly is going on here?"

Everyone was staring at her.

"Christine!" exclaimed Lon, Petrie, and Claudin.

"Um, yes?"

"Don't mind them," Winslow said, "You're probably wondering why all these assorted people are here, right?"

Christine nodded.

"I'll explain. Every eighty years, it is our duty to come together and vent about our films, how they're doing now, stuff like that. If we don't . . . I don't know, it would just seem weird. Plus, we'd miss out on the free doughnuts and punch."

Christine nodded, finally understanding.

Just then, a man wearing a mask that covered his entire head came walking in, looking very confused. He had a flyer in his hand.

"Um, excuse me," he said, speaking with a strong Hungarian accent, "Sorry I'm late, but, I'm here for the Council."

The men seated at the table stared at him.

"I'm Janos," the man clarified.

He still got blank looks.

"The Face Behind the Mask?"

Still, the same puzzled looks.

"Oh, come on!" exclaimed Janos, "Didn't anyone see it? 1941? I'm a naïve Hungarian immigrant who gets burned in a fire? I fall in love with a blind girl?"

"Hey, that's my storyline!" cried Gwynplaine's subtitles.

"Well, we couldn't film all that we wanted," Janos said, "We were supposed to film a scene at the Braille Institute but we couldn't. The elevator was broken."

Christine just stared. Perhaps another night of sleeping in the doghouse Raoul kept out back for her wouldn't be so bad. After all, the weatherman said it should stay at least above freezing tonight. She quietly slipped away.