Writing the introductory pieces for the stories in this anthology, I find myself writing this one for Hunter’s Tree last. I enjoy writing all of my stories. I don’t write about things that don’t interest me. But I would say that some stories entertain me more than others to write, entertaining in the sense of being fun. Hunter’s Tree felt a little different, a little less fun, and a little bit harder. That isn’t to say that I don’t like the story; on the contrary, I feel satisfied with the way it turned out. It feels finished to me.
But I feel a bit of unease with it: not distaste, not disappointment, but it puts me on edge somehow. Like most of my characters, Justin very much exists as a social outsider. His passions and actions make him incompatible with the average person. Unlike most of my characters, Justin adapted to his outsider status and found a niche role. He works with an organization, within social contracts that are, by an admittedly loose interpretation of the word, consensual.
Justin, in his predatory role, wears a wolf mask. I’ve thought more about that aspect now than before I wrote the story. People trying to elude being spotted by helicopters may know to not look up, to not let the helicopter crew see their faces, because the human mind is adapted to spot faces among shapes. One’s body may blend in with the dirt and rocks, but the face sticks out. Bow hunters, when spotted by a deer, will sometimes place the limbs of their bow so as to break up the visual outline of their faces.
Masks pose an interesting aspect of human culture. So much of our identity exists in our faces; a mask interrupts or conceals this communication. People may be more likely to lie on the phone than in face-to-face conversation, because the other person can’t see the liar’s face. Faces betray true emotions. A lop-sided expression tends to indicate contempt. Many people use smiles for social approval, raising the corners of their mouths, but most people cannot successfully fake a true smile, which adds crow’s feet to the eyes. People alter their facial appearance with make-up, plastic surgery, and strategic facial hair in order to manipulate impressions. Many people use younger pictures of themselves for social media profiles. A mask, however, cuts out all of that information. It forces others to observe the masked one by his or her actions, words, and body language. It also seems to invite another identity.
Masks hold an important role for shamanic practices, allowing the wearer to take on the aspects of another being. Any child donning a Halloween mask may very well understand a sense of transformation, if only for one night. Time and again in folklore, we hear of humans donning animal skins to become other creatures, with the practice extending to various species across cultures. In the case of Justin, perhaps the wolf mask reflects his true self.