Halloween is close, so it’s time for ghost stories. Although some wet blankets will insist, forcefully, that “there’s no such thing as ghosts!”
Oh. They are so mistaken. Or so afraid that they’re driven to attempt denying ghosts into nonexistence — which is kinda silly, when you think on it for a few. The ones that yell the loudest make me suspect they doth protest too much. A wimpy form of exorcism, but hey, whatever works for you.
I’ve seen ghosts my whole life. I’ve watched them walking and jumping, little four-legged blurs of ghosts of pets who’ve crossed over the rainbow bridge — they still visit me, nudging my leg or jumping up onto the bed to cuddle next to me. Yeah, that’d creep out some folks, but I find it reassuring.
Once I greeted a friend’s dog, face to face with eye contact and a tilt of his little doggy head, wagging his tailless rump when I smiled at him and spoke his name — and then I remembered he’d passed on a month prior. But what I saw appeared to me as solid, as flesh — he looked very much alive, and so it took me a moment to remember that he was gone. I blinked my breathless shock and the doggy little ghost puffed out, like a candle’s flame.
Most of the ghosts I’ve encountered, though, have been of people. About twelve years ago I awoke to discover an angry looking pre-Revolution colonialist staring down at me in impotent fury. Oh yeah, that one creeped me out — what did I do to piss him off so badly? It was kinda hard to not take it personally.
And there was the time at the ruins of Kenilworth Castle in England, involving spooky mischief with my Nikkormat camera. Hey, I was a dumb Yank tourist, so that made me fair game, right? The day I was looking down into the Great Hall, pictured below, was cold, wet, grey and dreary.
Sadly, I don’t have any pix of that visit — the ghost had mucked with the film in my camera, ruining it. But that’s another ghost story for another post.
Usually I witness these unaware shadows of the past as they drift innocently across my path. Several times I’ve been awakened by things that go bump in the night, noises of folks who don’t seem to understand they are no longer among ‘the living’. I grew up with this stuff.
But one night at the Black Rabbit a couple of years back was different. That night it became interactive.
Ben and I were sitting at the bar, enjoying a light dinner, ale and wine. The place is cozy — soft light over the bar, dim light in the corners, jazz standards coming in over the speakers. It wasn’t crowded yet, and for the first hour we nearly had the place to ourselves.
As I lifted my wine glass I heard a man’s voice, whispering something to me. The voice was soft, very close by my left ear, close enough that I felt his breath on my ear. But the few syllables he’d murmured were unintelligible. I turned to Ben — he was sitting to my left — and asked, “What did you say?”
He swallowed the mouthful of food, then took a drink of his ale. “I didn’t say anything,” he replied. He’d been busy with his own dinner and hadn’t uttered a word. The little hairs on my arms stood erect, and I was suddenly covered in chill bumps. “O-kaaaayyyy,” I said.
He asked why, I told him, and we both knew — it was ghost who’d spoke to me, one of the many reported ghosts who roam the halls and grounds of Edgefield. A couple of minutes later I asked the bartender if he’d had any encounters with ghosts during his tenure at the Black Rabbit —
— he calmly held up three fingers as he filled another pint glass with Ruby.
I told him what had just happened.
His eyes grew round. “You, too??! That happened to me just last week, right down there!” he said as he pointed to the darker end of the bar.
Of course, my gaze followed that pointing finger. Fresh chills crawled over my back in childish thrill as I stared at the empty bar stool, waiting for someone to coalesce from the shadows. It was a wait in vain, and I confess my disappointment.
But the bartender was happy to have corroboration. He told us of other sightings and encounters. There used to be a ‘ghost log’, kept at the hotel desk, that the guests of Edgefield could write in to record their own stories. But some schmuck swiped it.
What a shame. Ghost stories are meant to be shared.
… and just in time for Halloween! I’ve uploaded several greatly fussed-over images of new masks to the website. Allow me to introduce to you “Thresholder”,…
… one of seven brand new one-of-a-kind leather masks, in addition to several classics available from my Gothic Collection: “Gareth”, “Succubus”, “Darkfall” and “Vlad”; and “Nocturne” from the Fae Collection.
It’s September 29,… do you know where your mask is?
I really can’t say when I first became fascinated with masks — not for their ability to conceal my identity, but for their power to change how I saw myself.
It probably began with my first Trick-or-Treat mask. That first mask, that I wore for three successive Halloween’s, was a mass-produced thing of cheap, brittle plastic with knife-sharp edges, held in place by an elastic string whose ends were secured by the crimped-on metal aglets that had the nasty habit of digging into the tender flesh of my temples.
I remember the smell of assembly-line painted plastic. I remember my eyelashes brushing against the too-small eye holes. I remember how quickly the air got stale because of a lack of ventilation.
But it was my mask. It gave me the brief chance to redefine myself in accordance with my own dreams and aspirations, instead of fearfully keeping in line with the Collective’s self-serving agenda, and for that I loved it,… I also remember that fragile mask being torn from my face by a member of the Collective, and shattered beyond repair.
From the very beginning I was thrilled by the possibility of becoming someone else, something else, for a few hours. More, I loved not being ‘me’ for a while, the ‘me’ that the Collective ruthlessly dictated. Wearing a mask became an act of quiet rebellion, of seizing control of my identity, of my Self.
This all too fleeting time of disguise, Halloween, came only once a year, making it the most important holiday for me. Its significance was beyond the innocent fancies of childhood make-believe. It was a time of willful transformation.
Some have suggested I suffer from some form of identity crisis, and they’re probably right. But it’s damned difficult to be true to yourself when those in control of your life — the elders of the Collective — are aggressively telling you who you are, and aren’t —
— denying you the right to make those discoveries for yourself.
Maybe my fascination with masks is due to hopeful notions of assumptive magic: the wearer of a mask takes on the attributes of courage, strength, beauty, and dignity. Or the power of self-determination. Or simple anonymity, to escape the domineering clutches of the Collective for a short and precious time. Or whatever that mask represents to that wearer.
Now, I make the masks I wear. I create their identities and bestow their desired attributes. But this journey of being a mask maker has taught me I’m not the only one on this road. Other folks crave masks different from the ones assigned them by their own Collectives. When they come to me seeking new masks — masks that they choose — then for a few days our lives cross paths. These are paths we’re both treading in search of our Selves, by using a bit of magic and make-believe. I’ve met so many kindred spirits this way, and my life is better for it.
The mask, now over-riding the inflicted and enforced inauthentic identity, makes it possible to visualize the true Self. So, yeah, we all wear masks. And I’ve got a few extras for sale.
The masks I make aren’t for hiding anything — they’re meant to bring out the hidden.