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There. There it was that surging, empowering sensation flowing through him.
He spread his arms out in a flourish and the audience followed each movement, mesmerized, a single enraptured mind drawn to him by a magnetic pull. Light danced from his fingertips, illuminating the stage: nothing existed for him except that moment, and he lived only for it. Eyes glinting behind his mask, he smiled superciliously, as though silently daring anyone to contradict his defiance of nature…
The curtain fell, and I staggered offstage into my private room, losing all pretense of dignity; tonight’s standing ovation rang painfully sharp in my ears.
The Masked Wonder…
Everything in my body ached and the piece of cloth wrapped over my eyes began to slip down my nose from the sweat now forming in beads across my forehead. I ripped it off and discarded it in near the curtain. The cape dragged on the ground, no longer billowing impressively behind me to add to the affect of an illusion; I fumbled with the clasp, my blunt fingers not functioning with my brain, before hanging it up on the old-fashioned coat rack standing inconspicuously in the corner and collapsing in a chair.
…and no one has seen the mystery that lurks behind his mask…
From the theater I could hear the murmurings of the crowd as they left the building, the excitement lingering with them as an after affect of the performance. I snorted at the thought. If I were to walk outside right now, no one would recognize me; no one would remember me as the illusionist with magic coursing through his body in lieu of blood. In the crowd, I became one more person, one more undistinguishable face, in a mob. A mask and a cape were all that were needed to transform me into a Guardian of Mystery, a Master Illusionist. To everyone, I was an anomaly.
The stage manager chose that name for me, the Masked Wonder. He wanted to add dramatic flair and presence while I performed. The first image that came to mind when I heard it was a superhero dressed in a tight, boldly colored unitard and thrusting his chest forward for the world to see his six-pack as he struck a pose. With a cape flung behind him in an imaginary gust of wind, a mask protected this vigilante’s identity at all time as he observed the world’s injustices, but never allowing the world to know the man behind the heroics. I suppose I grew into that part, with the noticeable lack of heroism, muscles, and pajama costume. What the people saw was what they got: the audience glimpsed the aura of magic and mystique that I unveiled for their entertainment and I…I stared at the cracked musty mirror, gazing at the slight man trapped on its surface.
I cocked my head, considering; it was easy to lose oneself in the act of performing illusions that one’s actual life, reality, felt like an illusion. Pressing my face closer to the glass, I furrowed my brow and the reflection scrunched up at me in disgust as a response. Sweat glinted off his skin, perspiration that showed his struggles that fell in sync with every other person out in the world. There was nothing distinct or unique about this man: he was simply one more unsatisfied human being on the face of the earth. The audience does not care for the person behind the mask and would probably hate me for revealing who I was. They would take one cursory glance at my face and forget me the next. I would be like the Wizard of Oz, enwrapped in that wonderful thrill of being glorified by others’ misconceptions of power, only for the curtain to fall away and reveal the weak man behind the façade.
…And now, his final performance, his last illusion…
Sometimes, I feel a sickening surge of power pounding in my head with each standing ovation, like I am a parasite feeding off of their awe. The audience remains under my manipulation, an enchanted snake before its charmer, for the night. If I raised a sword, the honed blade gleaming with death, and posed it in preparation to run some assistant through, I inspire a tremor of fear mingled with sharp anticipation to ripple undulately through each of the spectators’ spines. In the back of my head, the small part not entirely seduced by illusions, I hear the disgusted hiss of, “Sadist,” that causes me to falter, but the doubt always becomes drowned out by the applause.
I wonder how I ended up like this, basking in the glory of cheap colored lights. My friends, the people who I grew up with, would not recognize me. And the audience…they don’t see anything except for what I allow them. I am only human, motivated by the need to belong and achieve more. Except, always, in the end, I am left alone, empty and unable to stand the person staring back at me in the mirror.
The brisk night wind, cold and prying, licked my face and I hugged my jacket closer to my body, stumbling slightly. Small pinpricks of light blinked down at me in astute speculation. I quickened my pace into a jog, turning down avenues filled with wavering shadows cast by dim streetlight. My footsteps echoed in the stillness, filling me with paranoia.
I broke into a sprint. I needed to get home; there was something I needed to do.
Pushing my way through the apartment entrance, I raced up to my room while simultaneously fumbling for my key. I hoped she wasn’t asleep at the moment: the one person who actually cared, who stood by me despite everything; the person whom I used to always push away because she could never understand but became my last thin lifeline to reality.
I swung open my door, dropping my coat to the floor. After groping blindly, I flicked on the lights to illuminate my apartment and plopped down on my bed, nearly succumbing to the mind numbing exhaustion. I wanted to sleep, my surroundings already half staggering into the kingdom of Morpheus, but first I grabbed the phone from the nightstand.
The dial tone made me chew my lip impatiently. Please pick up. Damn, pick up the phone.
I heard the click of someone answering on the other line and felt warmth spreading throughout my body. I opened my mouth, and, without waiting for a response, spoke quietly, “Hey mom. It’s me.”