D.S. Thomas

No-name could have been you and, for a brief moment, you were No-name. Everyone has been, at some point or another. Suspect and uneasy features assigned to an otherwise faceless being. A boogeyman. Someone’s nightmare. For a few moments, at least, you could have been a shadow that terrified or an unexpected voice that left your victim slack-jawed and pale. You might not have been my No-name, but you might have been somebody’s.

“You’ll keep quiet or…”

With those four words, No-name welcomed me into his world. A knock at my door, a man in a mask made of papier-mâché, and those five syllables. No knife, no gun was necessary. He was well armed. If he hadn’t studied me, he’d happened upon the perfect target. I was well guarded and, because of it, I was helpless prey for the game. All of my compartmentalizing –keeping this friend and that circle from the other– all of my privacy was the blunt but brutal weapon No-name now wielded. My agoraphobia. My fear of spontaneous action. It all glistened in his spit-glossed smile.

“Now shut the door.”

And I did. No-name stood on the other side for what seemed like an hour but, in reality, was mere minutes. “Mere minutes,” as if that is the most ordinary thing for a stranger in a papier-mâché mask to do. He stood there, largely motionless, and I watched through the frosted panes as a fittingly sepia sunset sacrificed itself to darkness, and then I pressed closer… closer… closer to the door and hoped. No-name had gone. Physically. In turn, he haunted every other door and window in the house. I scrambled through the house, drawing blinds and fastening bolts.

As a child, my father had said, “If you run up the stairs and make it safely to your room, then the monsters are duty-bound to leave you alone for the night.” All of that childhood urgency, provoked by well-intended but misguided words, caught in my throat and grabbed at my feet. I didn’t know if No-name played by those particular rules.

Then came a thousand other No-names. The organic groan of a shifting house. The ice maker bearing its particular fruit. Occasionally, I would forget the surf-like sound of my own rhythmic breathing and then, too, he’d be right in my ear. He bore down on me. His hand at my throat but, in reality, only the shallowness of my own breath.

I didn’t sleep the night No-name had arrived, but when the sun came up I surrendered. I slept the sleep of someone who is escaping. I dove deep, past the realm of fever dreams and into blue-black nothingness. I awoke and, upon checking all of the doors and all of the windows, found a note attached to each. Taped, from the outside, so that I could read their words from the imagined safety of “within.”

Scribbled on each: “So easy to be here without you knowing.”

The woods that surrounded the house seemed to conspire with No-name. They suddenly loomed closer. Agoraphobia chuckled as it switched places with claustrophobia. “The woods will conceal him,” they both would say if phobias could suddenly speak.

The second night (the night after meeting No-name) he stood halfway down my mile-long driveway. He stood underneath the only light that illuminated my property, his papier-mâché mask still in its place. He was largely motionless and, I might have thought it some decoy but occasionally he’d wave. One does not simply go and make coffee in such a situation. One sits. One gives one’s rapt attention. Stave off hunger. The need to urinate the glass of water you never consumed. No-name could kill me this way, I thought that first night. Slowly.

The rational mind, unacquainted with No-name, thinks this all irrational. All I could think, having been acquainted, was that if I got up… if I even looked away… that he would bolt for the house. I could hear his fists pounding at the doors with absolutely no intention of getting inside. Just pounding his fists to let me know he could.

Or he’d take off into the woods. Or back from where he came.

At least if I could see him, I knew where he was.

And the third day was much the same.

On the fourth day, I considered motives. None of them make for polite conversation and none of them soothed the rough and tired edges of my psyche. The cutest, if I can call it that, was that No-name was childlike. That this was all a game. That “You’ll keep quiet or…” was some bucolic preamble to childhood games of hide-and-seek. That the scribbled notes were delighted over with crayons and sugary sweets. That the intermittent waves, made film noir by the utility light overhead, were mere invitations to “come out and play.” That was the cutest and most palatable motive I could bring myself to articulate- that six-foot-tall No-name, with his papier-mâché mask, was just seeking a playmate.

Arriving at that motive last must have bolstered my confidence. Or maybe No-name was chipping away at my rationality, and then I wondered if that is how all of the world’s madmen are made? Slowly breaking others down until a little gap opens up for the infection to find its way inside. I was, at least, contaminated and he’d never put one finger to my skin. Confidence or contamination, I waiting for dusk and then I unbolted the front door for the first time in four days. I slowly opened the door and stepped outside.

No-name was everywhere.

The wind lent its frenetic energy to the woods and, in that moment, that sound of leaves rustling sounded like an over modulated speaker. The hair on my neck stood up and my eyes made every shifting shadow into a six-foot maniac so that I missed the one sitting on the porch swing right beside me.

“Hello.” But the mask caught the word and it sounded like he said hell loaf and I laughed. Because the bogeyman shouldn’t sound like a man who says hell loaf when he’s meant to say hello. And No-name stood up and I could feel the electricity in the air. You weren’t supposed to laugh at faceless evil. You weren’t supposed to laugh at faceless evil. And even if it offered up some little nugget worth laughing at, you were wise to remind yourself of the rules.

There were rules.

The fourth night, I wrote my own note. I wrote it once for every window and door in the house and I taped it, from the inside, so that No-name could read it from the imagined safety of “without.” And before the dawn of the next day, I took a shower and combed my hair and got dressed and put on my shoes and I went to the front door and I opened it and I ran like hell. Past the porch-swing, past the menacing woods, past the utility light. I ran and I ran and I ran and the footfall behind me kept pace – the stifled breath behind the mask drew near – but never quite caught up and then I was in the road.

My own breath tied a tourniquet around my airways and brought a hot pain to my chest. I put my hands on my knees, momentarily forgetting the scene I found myself in. Remembering, I stood up and turned around. No-name stood on the other side of the property line. Defeated. The electricity that had, hours before, sizzled through the air was gone. The first rays of sun were casting a dim glow on everything and, in this light, the papier-mâché looked poorly constructed. I saw the cracks where the paste hadn’t quite taken hold and that’s where the infection found its way inside. Maybe I didn’t think he was so evil, and that wasted him. He walked into the woods. I knew it was over. He wasn’t going in there to haunt my nights, but to go back from where he came. My saccharine notions of No-name as a child suddenly seemed founded.

I leisurely walked the mile back to the front door. Daylight. No utility light glow. Just dawns safe radiance illuminating the note I’d left on the front door: We both are playing and so we both write the rules. Here’s one of mine…

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