She never liked the damn thing. I knew that. The whole ridiculous charade started out as a joke at first. I suppose most things like this do. But when the punch line of that joke was told, no one was laughing. Especially not me. Trust me when I say that the phrase, “That which doesn't kill you, will only make you stronger,” is a load of old garbage.
A clear glass containing an enticingly coloured drink rested on top of my worktable. Its intoxicating scent wafted around the room as I peered at that thing on the door. There was no question that it was nothing more than an ugly abomination, and I could understand why Amanda had hated it so much. But I can't throw it away. I'm too damn scared to throw it away.
I grabbed the glass from off the table and downed what was left in it, enjoying the way the smooth liquid burned as it slid down my oesophagus and into my stomach. With that warm feeling dissipating, I refilled the glass with twice as much as before, then I turned my attention back to that thing on the door. A hand sized wooden carving of a mask stared back at me. It's features depicted that of pure rage and aggression, and somewhere in that mix, I fancied there to be a smidgen of insanity thrown in for good measure. I suspected that the damn thing was getting close to being the epitome of all evil, and yes, Amanda had been right: it truly was hideous.
I'd found the mask in an old antiques shop in the quaint Cornish village of Pontobrow; a place we'd decided to visit for a long weekend away from the chores of everyday life. It's funny, I still remember precisely every word we'd spoken to each other in that shop:
'Hey, Amanda. Check it out!' I'd said.
'Oh, Michael! You can't possibly be serious! That has to be the most ugly thing I've ever seen in my life,' she'd said.
'I know. Isn't it great?'
'You're not seriously thinking about buying that...that thing, are you?'
'What the hell for?'
'Look, you need someone to keep watch over you when I'm away at work and you're at home in the study shed. This would be perfect!'
The study shed is (was) a small wooden building positioned a few yards away from the house. It was fully powered, and there was still plenty of room for two people to move around inside, even with Amanda's great big desk and separate filing cabinet in there.
'Uh, no. No way. I don't like masks. They give me the creeps!'
I recall the conversation continuing like that for sometime, until eventually, she finally came around to the idea. But even as I was buying the mask, I knew that she wasn't too happy about it. Still, that's all by the by now, and as soon as we'd returned home from our long weekend break, I'd hung the dreadful creation against the inside of the door to our study shed. And then...then things started to get weird.
I suppose I should have realised something was up when I started having dreams about the mask. The most prominent of these being where I would find myself standing face to face with it (pretty much how I'm standing now, in fact) while thick black smoke issued from its carved mouth. Despite it just being a dream, I can still clearly remember the smell of that acrid scent and the way it had filled my lungs as if it had been more like a liquid than a gas. The best way I can think of to describe the smell is to say that I'd imagine it smelt like burning flesh.
This was one weird thing, but there were also the things Amanda used to say to me. She used to say that she hated that mask on the door. She used to say that it would pull faces and snarl at her whenever her back was turned. Once, she even told me that the damn thing had sworn at her! Of course, my reaction towards all of this was nothing more than a vague kind of amusement.
Things went on in this way for sometime. I would go off to work in the mornings while she worked at home in the study shed. The hours would tick by, and I would come home to hear all about the things the mask had done that day. I would laugh. We would have dinner. We would go to bed. Then we would do it all again the next day. According to the calendar on my wall, it was six weeks ago now when that pattern had changed.
I'd been at work when I'd received the call – something about a fire at my house – and by the time I'd made my way back home, the study shed was nothing but a smouldering black mass of ash and a handful of half burnt timber supports. At the time, all the indicators pointed to the fact that Amanda had been in that shed when it had caught alight. I thought this possibly the most absurd thing of all: had she of been in there, surely she would have gotten the hell out. Of course, it was obvious that she had been in there. I guess at the time though, I just wasn't thinking straight.
Anyway, the inevitable was proved when they'd sifted through the remains, and a few days later, a young looking kid in uniform had popped by to give me a ring and a necklace that Amanda had been wearing on that day. He gave me those things, and something else: the mask. That mask had looked like it had never been in the fire at all.
I still dream about the mask. I dream about how the fire might have started while Amanda had been typing away at her desk. She must have noticed it, or at least smelt it. I simply don't accept the notion that she hadn't known anything about it at all. And so I dream about her trying to escape. I dream about how she would have tried to put the damn thing out herself before it took hold. And then I dream about how she would have gone for the door. It should have opened. But in the dream, it didn't. In the dream I see that mask bellowing and screaming at her while it kept that door shut. In the dream I smell that scent of burning flesh.
I don't know how true all of this is. A dream, after all, is just a dream. But sometimes when I'm working in this room late at night, I'm sure I catch an occasional glimpse of that mask pulling faces at me. That's why I have it nailed to the door. That's why I'm too scared to throw it away.