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Man in the Mask

My personal ghost story…

The gray morning sent its glow through my sheer blinds, slowly rousing me for the day. I rolled over, groaned, and tried to capture a moment more of sleep. “Never enough, it’s never enough.” I rose, rubbed my eyes and planted my feet in the cheap, rough carpet. The bone chilling Northwest cold crept into my toes, my legs, my chest. “Never warm, it’s never warm here.”

Gloomy as the morning gray, I pulled a hoodie over my pajamas and turned to lope toward the door. Then I saw him. Not with my eyes. I just knew he was there. He sat in the northeast corner, hunched over in dark clothes. His over-sized head hung low, tufts of black hair covered all I could see of his face. My hackles shot up. A pit landed in my stomach, and my heart began to beat loud enough for me to hear it in my ears.

I rubbed my eyes, took a breath, blinked; he was there, I could see him. But then, he wasn’t there. My eyes strained hard in his direction, but I could only see him in my mind. He was so vivid, I felt him. When I blinked my eyes closed, blackness surrounded his form, but he remained.

Fast as I could, I took off for the door. I was outta there. Down the narrow dark staircase to the kitchen I fled. But he was there too. In the corner of the staircase, in the darkness of the kitchen, always there. I tried to mentally block him out. I pushed, I strained. I looked away from his direction.

Slowly he faded from my awareness just enough. Enough to eat a little. “Are you okay?” my mother asked, as she observed me nervously pouring cereal into a bowl. “You’ll be late for school,” She scolded, noticing the time and the state of my everything.

I swallowed the fear, let it rest at the bottom of my stomach while I dressed. He was there, hunched in the corner, face down, but always there. I felt so violated as I clipped my bra in front of my body and spun it behind me, flipped it up, and pushed it in place. “Who the hell is this guy?” I thought.

I threw on a standard Seattle flannel, the shirt of the times, a pair of forest green tapered jeans, and a scrunchy in my hair. I brushed my teeth, grabbed my backpack, and headed for the door. I slid into the seat next to my brother who peeled out, always driving like the teenager he is.

“Hello, hello, hello,” grated Kurt Cobain’s voice over the radio. “Why did he have to go and kill himself?” I lamented, “Everyone around here is obsessed with killing themselves.” My brother just shrugged, he didn’t care.

His sophomore year was off to a decent start. He had friends, finally. He was killing it at Debate Club. Auditions for the school play were just a month away. He could care less about some grunge singer whose death was a tragedy for all the girls and gay boys within a 300 mile radius of this gray, grungy city we now call home.

I turned around to look in the back of the car, he was there. Face down still, sitting slumped on the backseat. My hackles were up again, heart pounding. I swallowed and breathed. Kashi pulled into a parking spot and we piled out of the beat up Hundai that had already been stolen from us, and found again, tarnished with a faint smell of piss in the backseat.

In the classroom, he was still there. Morose in his posture, but seemingly harmless. I took another breath. “What is going on?” my inner voice screamed. But no one heard. No one but him. He looked up. His face was not there, a mask covered it entirely. It looked like one of those drama masks with the smile on it. His dark curls fell over the top of it.

He followed me all day. Down the fluorescent hallways, lined with lockers, and Mountlake Terrace High School’s red stripes. He sat in the corner of my classrooms. He said nothing, seemed to see nothing either.

As the day rolled on, I got used to him. My hackles stayed up, but I began to calm down. You can’t stay alarmed forever, it’s not biologically possible I think.

Alone in my room, sunset hidden behind the Seattle grey, I sat on my bed and tried to understand what was happening. “Who are you?” “What do you want?” I asked, rather tentatively and only in my mind. He looked up, the mask obscuring his face, I couldn’t tell what mood he was in.

I felt his answer, “I miss you.” “I can’t live without you.” I could feel love in it. I could feel desire. I started to feel less fearful, but more confused. His mere presence kept me on edge, but there was comfort in knowing he didn’t want to kill me. Maybe he even loved me? No one ever had. Not a man. Like a thick string of yarn pulling at my heart, I could feel his yearning for me to be his. It scared me.

As the hours rolled by into night, I knew I needed to sleep. I knew I couldn’t stay awake with this man in my room forever. Tentatively, I crossed the room. I felt him watching me. I flipped the light switch and ran as fast as I could back to my bed. I lept in and pulled the covers over my head. Sleep came eventually, although I’m not sure when, nor how rejuvenating it really was.

He was still there in the morning, in his usual corner, shoulders hunched as if pressed by a heavy weight. Sadness, deep sadness emanated from him. I got up, got ready for the day as fast as I could, and loaded up in the old Hundai again, the smell of piss stinging my nose. My brother didn’t say anything today, he seemed sad too. I didn’t care, I was being followed by a ghost, nothing could be worse than my life right now.

Days passed like this. Racing to bed, hiding below the covers, dressing quickly and barely eating. “How long will you be here?” I asked mentally. No answer came, just a strong tug on the string he had attached to my heart.

On the fourth night, my heart felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore. I switched off the light and fled to my bed, as usual. This time a cold pointed object met me with a vengeance from beneath my covers. I leapt from the bed and bounded for the light switch like a wild creature. In the brightness, I could see it glint beneath my sheets. It was a knitting needle, pointing upward at a 30 degree angle. My skin wasn’t punctured, but I felt like my heart would explode.

That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. I fled to my brothers adjoining room and a fountain of tears streamed from my face. Between sobs, I told him what was going on. I told him about the man in the mask who has been following me for days. How I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t turn out the light. I felt like a wild animal in my fear, it was consuming me.

Calmly, Kashi listened to my tale of woe. Compassion circled me from his heart. With his help, I knew I would be okay. When I was done spilling my hysterical sorrow, he told me to sit up straight on his bed.

“Close your eyes.” He began, “Visualize yourself in a grassy field. Rolling hills of fresh green in every direction. Now, see a pillar of white light. It’s a bonfire, but it’s white and it stretches all the way to the top of the sky.” I could see it, I could smell the fresh grass. The light, oh the light gave me so much comfort. I could feel it’s impersonal power.

“Now, invite the man in the mask to come.” My heart skipped a beat, but I obeyed, my big brother knows what he’s doing. “Feel him with you, the man in the mask. Acknowledge his feelings for you as real.” I did and I felt my heart calm itself as the masked man’s shoulders relaxed down his back and he stood erect for the first time since he appeared in the corner of my room. It was as if the acknowledgement was what he needed. He needed to know that I saw him, that I knew of his pain.

“Now, tell him strongly that you do not want him to be with you anymore. Ask him to enter the light now.” My brother said with a command of voice that gave me strength. So I did. Mentally, I told the man in the mask to leave me alone, to enter the light, and move on with his next incarnation.” At first, it looked like he wouldn’t listen, his body stiffened and he stepped back. But, I saw him soften and then, with graceful movements, he removed his mask to reveal a soft, sweet face.

Thin lips, a gentle curve in his long, thin nose, and dark brown eyes greeted me. Not the horned creature I expected. He smiled, gave a small gesture, almost a bow, turned on his heels and walked into the pillar of light. His mask was the last thing I saw. In the final moment, it was consumed by the light, much like paper in a flame.

He never returned. I knew in my heart that he had come without malice, but I could not live like that, with a stranger in the corner of my room. He was free from me, at least for now, and I from him.

(NOTE: I asked my brother if he remembers this incident, but he does not. Apparently it was life-changing for me, but made little impression for him.)

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