Thursday, October 08, 2009

You Should Not Look at Me

If you think you're alone right now, turn around. Did you see anything? Probably not. But that doesn't mean that you're alone. Ever since I was a boy, I felt something behind me in the dark, staring at the back of my head. While light warmed my face, shadows darkened the nape of my neck. But every time I turned around, it was nothing but a dull, empty hallway.

Check again. Behind you now. Maybe one of these times you'll catch those eyes that never leave. Demons, spirits, angels and shadows. Are these the terrors that haunt us in the evening?

I believed so until I actually caught the fiend who stalked me from behind. It was only a slightly fearsome discovery, one that will surprise you. How did I catch him, you ask? It wasn't too difficult, really. I lured him in, with aromas and spells. By process of elimination, I lured invisible phantoms towards my back. One by one, Lucifer, Michael the Archangel, Mephistopheles, the boogie man and the ghosts of Native Americans. None of them took my bait, which ranged from skull shavings and blood soaked scarves to dream catchers and dead toads. Not one brought its nose close enough to my hair, not until I washed it with a shampoo made of raven beaks and gold-bug guts.

It was when I got out of the shower that I felt his presence. He stared at me, but wouldn't at first show himself. I used two towels to cover my naked body, chilled by his breath and scared of his skin. Would it be rotten? Would I even see it at all? Oh the torture that it was to turn my head and see nothing but familiar furniture! I knew that I wasn't alone, but I couldn't prove it!

So I sat down on the bed, towels dropped to the floor. My hair still damp, my back with a few clinging beads of water. The chill caused me to shiver uncontrollably.

He spoke, "turn around." I did.

A man with a white face, in a dark suit that looked a hundred years old. Like a photograph from the Civil War, the figure was cracked and faded. His hair as dark as his clothing, combed messily to one side. And small lips, that looked like they haven't moved in decades. Above his lips a mustache, small and sinister.

It was Edgar Allan Poe. All this time, the creature lurking behind me was a mere writer. A man with an imagination, who created poems and stories with his mind. Poe is nothing to fear, I thought briefly, he is an artist.

And yet, here he is, resurrected or ghastly in my apartment bedroom. He has been hiding behind me for my entire life, refusing to reveal himself to me. I've felt him so many times, but this was the first time I'd actually seen him.

I couldn't speak to him. I was afraid and naked. But without moving a muscle, he spoke to me again.

"You should realize that you're not well. Only a mad person can gaze upon me as you do now."

What did he know if I was mad? He was Edgar Allan Poe, and a dead one at that. He's the mad one.

"If you continue to stare at me, you will never be able to turn away from me."

A threat or a dare, something sinister regardless. My hands were in my crotch, covering my genitals.

"You've been trying to look at me, twisting your neck around time and time again. But you should not look at me. Only I can look at you. And not even I should look at your face, not even when you're sleeping."

As I looked on, I noticed how formless his face actually was. Even though I could describe every feature, his countenance was strangely flat. Not in the physical sense, but there didn't look to be a way to touch his skin with my hands.

"So decide now. If you choose to look at me, look at me... Get up and walk around. You'll never be able to turn away from my face."

Slowly I stood, and sure enough, whether I moved forward or backward, right or left, Poe would not remove himself from my vision.

Poe moved toward me slowly, placed his hand into his pocket and pulled out a knife. He held the handle loosely, with a single fingertip even. The tip of the blade was pressed against my chest. It was the coldest steel I'd ever felt, and it made each hair on my body stand out stiff.

"Well," Poe went on, "It's too late to turn your head away now. If you no longer wish to gaze upon me, take what I give you and look no more."

As he spoke, his fingertip became my own. And then I grasped the handle of the knife.

I looked hard into Poe's eyes. They were dead black cats. I hated him. I didn't want to look at him anymore.

Until a flash of light washed through both of us. There were shrill screams and dizzying falls. There was a rescuer, a beautiful woman in my room. Poe was gone, and I could only see the eyes of my wife in front of me.

But she didn't look herself. She wasn't smiling at all, but crying and mad. Her eyes were fiery and pained. I couldn't look away from her. But I didn't want to. There was a torment in her, it was all I could see. I reached out to embrace her, to comfort her, but my stretch was weak and short.

Behind my head I felt the palm of a hand. Its fingers massaging my hair gently. I couldn't tell if the hand belonged to my wife or Edgar Allen Poe. And I would never find out.

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