by Jim Bates
hot black coffee
Bam! Bam!! Bam!!! "Open up, it's the police."
Oh, shit, thought, Bryan, what have I done now? He got out of bed, stumbled over a shoe and fell to the floor. Damn. He got up cursing his fall and, while he was at it, his hangover. "I'm on my way. Hold on."
"Hurry up," came the voice outside his apartment. Impatient was putting it mildly. The guy sounded mad and pissed off. "We need to talk. Now."
As Bryan crossed the living room he tried to piece together last night. It only was coming back in fragments. Oh, yeah, the Halloween party. The last party in a long line of parties he'd attended wearing a mask.
Wearing masks. Once he'd gotten in the habit of doing it, it really wasn't really all that weird, wearing, say, a Tricky Dick Nixon mask to a party. His friends even thought it was pretty cool, saying, "Man, you are some strange dude, you and your masks. The next party is in two weeks. Will you be there?"
The crowd he hung out with liked weirdness so he was happy to oblige. "Absolutely," he told them. "No problem." It was nice to be well thought of. Besides, it was a perfect opportunity to hide. Put on a mask and be someone different. What was not to like?
For one whole year he'd done that, worn masks to parties, and by now had accumulated quite a drawer full of them: a ghoul, Yoda, Frankenstein, Elvis, a unicorn, Tricky Dick Nixon, even a parrot. It had been fun hiding behind whatever mask he'd chosen to wear, acting out and being crazy. But it all had came to a head last night.
He'd gone to a friend's Halloween party wearing a mummy mask he'd bought a local novelty store and wrapped in strips of a sheet, which he thought had added a nice touch. Once at the party everyone thought he looked great. Even that lady he'd met, Batgirl. Then they'd started drinking, the two of them, and partying hard. Then this, the aftermath. He couldn't even remember how he'd gotten home, or, for that matter, where his strips of sheet had ended up.
If it had been a nightmare or even a bad dream, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't, it was real, and that made it even worse. He'd awoken in the early dawn, dragged himself from bed and made his way shaking to the bathroom where he'd fallen to his knees and thrown up into the toilet, flushed it and threw up again. Nice way to start the day, he'd thought grimly. What a credit to the human race you are.
Then he'd made his way to the sink where he splashed water on his face. His mouth felt drier than the desert, his swollen tongue stuck to its roof. He took a gulp of water, swirling it around but it barely helped. He swallowed and fought back a dry heave. Then he dared himself to look at the mirror, horrified at what he saw - puffed up face, dark bags under bloodshot eyes, hair a mess. Himself a mess. One more night of drinking. One more day looming ahead hung-over and wasted. He couldn't go on like this. He had to clean up his act. He had to quit pretending and hiding behind a mask and face himself for what he really was - a poor excuse for a human being.
More pounding brought him back to reality. Bam! Bam!! Bam!! What was this all about?
He finally got to the door and opened it, hanging on the frame for balance. "What's up?"
A large policeman with a handlebar moustache stood in the door way, frowning, "We understand you were with a girl last night. We need to talk. She's missing."
Holy shit. He stepped back. "Sure," he said, voice shaking. "Come on in."
The cop was just stepping inside when he received a phone call. He listened for a moment, then said, "Okay. I'm on my way." He turned to Bryan and said, "We don't need you. She's been found. She was at a girlfriend's."
He looked hard at Bryan, then took a quick look at his apartment: dirty clothes on the floor, crusted dishes scattered everywhere, a faint aroma of vomit in the air. He shook his head sadly and said, "A word of advice? You better clean up your act, buddy."
Bryan closed the door and looked back into his disaster of an apartment. The one bright spot was the framed picture of his parents he kept on his desk. It had been taken at his twenty first birthday almost two years ago, just before they'd been killed by a drunk driver on a busy stretch of highway on a local interstate. He owed them better than this.
He noticed his mummy mask on the floor and picked it up. Then he went to his desk took a pair of scissors from the drawer and methodically cut the mask to shreds. It felt good to destroy it. He had to get his act together and this was the only way he could think of to begin. A plan developed. He reached in the drawer for another mask and started cutting. He'd destroy them all. Then he'd figure out a way to live without them. Hopefully his friends would understand, but if they didn't, too bad. This was something he had to do. It wasn't much but it was a beginning. He felt better already.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Mused - The BellaOnline Literary Review, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart and Potato Soup Journal. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.
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