An array of unique and strange individuals wait in anticipation within a room. The room itself is quite large in its size and yet has never felt more crowded to its guests that are nervously huddled around the door. A door that leads to somewhere that none of them have ever seen before, nor will they ever see again after tonight. This waiting room is only lit by the few candles placed on the chains hung from the ceiling, revealing only minor visible details about each of the guests. Each person has inspected all others within their range of vision as an effort to pass the time, but can only make out the color of their eyes. In a normal setting, having this many people in one area would no doubt lead to conversations being struck up with one another, if only they were not explicitly instructed to speak no words that is. The various extroverts in this group struggle to resist the urge to speak amongst themselves while the ones accustomed to introversion enjoy the silence knowing that it will not last for much longer. How right they were. The red wooden door began to creak open slowly as the guests surrounding it swiftly stood back as if to not seem antsy to the one opening it. A man dressed as Zorro but with the mask of a golden lion stepped out from the darkness hidden behind the large door and into the candlelight. Simultaneously, each of the candles in the room saw its flame grow twice as bright, now revealing more details about each of the guests and their mystery host. He continued to walk to the center of the crowd with every set of eyes, or in some cases eye, now set on him as he carved his way through the sea of black and white party attire. A golden lion making his way through the jungle of which he is king, or wishes to be anyway. Once he was centered within the crowd for all to see he stopped and began to speak. “Hello and welcome everyone, I hope all of you are well and excited for tonight’s event.” His voice was commanding but friendly and inviting to those who trusted it. He continued onto describing a brief history behind this organization and why it exists. As he did so, he paced around the small area that had been made for him by the guests, facing every direction as if studying them. Either this man truly enjoyed taking on the personality of a lion, or he was paid well enough to do so. “Tonight will be relatively simple for you all,” he continued, “This is like any party that hopefully many of you have experienced before in that there is no given objective but to drink a wine of your choice and to conversate with whoever you wish. Ah but here is the twist that is so riveting.” The man in the mask swiftly made his way back to the door and placed his hand on the knob without turning it. Behind this door you will find a room with many faces. Using the invitation that you were given, each one of you shall one at a time enter this room and make a choice. You may either proceed onward to the party with the face that your mother loves so, or if you wish, you may select a face that satisfies you and may very well make you more confident than you may normally be. No other guest will know whether or not it is a real face that they are talking to, or a magical one woven of imagination and dream. If you also choose to put on a face of your choice, you will still see only your face within the mirror. No amount of magic can trick the mind when it comes to self-recognition.” He then swung the door open to only blackness as from where he came. “Now please one at a time come through the door and let us begin. Nobody is allowed to leave until the night has concluded its journey as stated on the timeframe of your invitation. I will lower the light once more so as to not reveal anyones faces before they enter the chamber.” The first one to step forward gave her black invitation card to the man and began to walk through the frame of the door. Before she could fully cross the threshold, the man stuck his arm out to stop her. “Oh, and one final detail everybody. Please do not attempt to find out if the face that you are talking to is real or not. I would hate to have to escort any of you lovely people out from the night of your lives. We have many eyes and ears.” The mask covered his entire face but every person in that room felt the slight unease in the grin that he was most likely striking. The man then moved his arm out of the way, and a few moments later, the first guest of the mystery party had finally arrived.
Once the guests are done with their choice, they precede forward into a large room lit by more hanging candles with an area for dancing and accompanying tables to rest on between songs. The room was built like a tavern that one would see or read about in a fantasy work but had the width of an entire ballroom, while keeping the ceiling low enough for the candles to give light to those basking in it. There were only two other doors in this area besides the one of entry. One behind the bar, and another opposite the room for the guests eventual departure. Our first guest walked in with the thought that she would be the only one in this room besides the band and the surprisingly short bartender cleaning glasses anxiously for the long night ahead. To her shock, she found the party already populated with women and men in their traditional black attire, as required by the party invitation. A few heads turned from their conversations to see her reaction to everything, but then shortly fell back into their respective topics, pretending that they had not looked at her only moments ago. She was then edged forward by the next guest arriving behind her with a face that she did not recognize. Neither before in the previous room or in any other setting. A complete stranger to one another. One by one, each guest came in with a mixed swell of excitement and nervous ting for what the night had set for each one of them. After all no two attendees of a party experience the same tale, especially at a place strange as this one. The smaller-than-normal bartender (one could even say dwarf judging by the beard and accent) started to gather the orders of the newcomers as to help get some “confidence” in them to get them talking amongst themselves. Some remembered the earlier words of their golden feline friend and ordered either a wine they had already fancied or one that sounded Italian enough. Most attempted a withdrawal of other forms of drink from this vault of alcohol but to their surprise were convicted to wine instead by its gatekeeper. Soon the last guest had their drink cradled tightly around their hands and the night started to take shape before their eyes.
As the night progressed, the stench of wine in the air came more apparent and the life and vividness of the people grew as well. For any other party held in these lands, one would be able to sight the various gaps and separations seen in those who find themselves there. You would see these groups start to form in the beginning of the event and study their movements and change throughout the night as the evening changes. Much like a zoologist studying migrations in animals. Most people stay in their pack, not straying far and making only a few interactions with outside groups without wandering off too far from the pack that they first arrived with. That is of course until one spots a suitable mate and then traverses the jungle of others in pursuit of him/her. These groups come with their pack and for the most part leave with that same pack to properly function in this environment of social security and fear. However there is one gathering that can be found that is not this way. For within these walls of this wine infested society, all are one. Each individual comes as a single lone stranger, as required by the invitation. Stranded from their normal pack, to spend their evening amongst other strangers, to leave feeling strange all the same for it. Every guest tries to quietly discuss with themselves who they think had put on a mask and who had felt confident with their current appearance as is. The level of social comfortability in a person is what gives it away most. Each guest remembers fully what they choose at the start but slowly forget that choice as the wine and extravaganza of the evening take hold. Eventually most stop caring and even let the best and worst qualities of themselves release as the security is the probability everyone never seeing each other again gives them comfort to do so.
At the beginning of each hour, the band rotates positions around the room and gather new instruments in order to craft a new mood for their audience. They would play from string orchestra to smooth jazz. From French song to folk and country. Even rock and roll would find itself played underneath the sky of candlelight, if the mood was right. Nobody here before had seen artists possess the skill to play one instrument after another at a level of such skill. Some suspected that the music was being secretly played on a speaker somewhere. Others thought they perhaps switched faces with newer performers upon each rotation. However whatever the truth was, none of them bothered to care as the spectacle was too pleasurable to deny.
Slowly and sadly, the night at last gathered to its final conclusion as the golden lion mask crept from behind the door opposite from which they all first entered. The band paused in their song and the room fell quiet. The Lion once again made his way into the center of the room like before in order for all to see. Only this time, the Lion appeared to have changed into a Lioness as revealed by the shape of her outline and the soft yet commanding tone of her stride. All guests saw her and came to the conclusion that the night was over. Most breathed a sigh of relief in realization that they could now leave this strange place and go back to the comfort of their bed for a stable rest. Some guests had even come to the agreement to share that same bed tonight, hoping that the face they had been staring at all night was the same one attached the soul behind it. Yet all guests felt a compelling urge to stay in this place of wonder, as if some educated individual had just delivered a TED talk on why they should remain. But all knew they could not stay here, the most beautiful and strange places can become dangerous to those who gaze too long at its wonder. The Lioness with the attire of Zorro cleared her voice and mind and began to speak. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” she cried out. “Unfortunately we must draw this evening to a close as the hour grows ever so late and the bottles become exhausted. I hope you all have enjoyed your stay here and enjoyed the night. You will not return here again. Our listing is very……delicate and we are very cautious as to not have repeats. Do feel free to tell your friends and loved ones about what you have experienced tonight. We’re always looking for more to invite to our secret cove.” Her left arm and side both turned to gesture toward the designated departure door. “If you could all simply exit through this door it would be most appreciated. Have a good rest of your evening.” The same chilling smile felt before found its way spread across the face of the mystery woman, and the same feeling from the crowd followed. “Oh and don’t worry about returning your mask if you choose one for tonight. The effect shall fade off the moment you cross the threshold of that door. May your rest be long”. Just as before, one by one each guest leaves this party back into the wild jungle of the world not knowing that the mask that they had chosen, did not change their face one bit. When meeting new individuals, new strangers, all feel the need to put on a mask. Some are visible ones, others are not so visible. Give people the confidence that their identity is shrouded, and they will reveal the true person underneath the mask. Thus true judgment is revealed. Thus true connections are formed.