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A Phantom Passing
By Matt Wyatt

It's Halloween. I'm nine years old. A good day for a nine-year-old. Lightened work load and lenient teachers at school. Assorted mischief after dark. Mounds upon mounds of sugary goodness. A marvelously frivolous occasion for any young boy.

Or it would be, if I weren't stuck inside the larger of the two stalls in the upper-grade boys' bathroom at Golden Elementary School, trying desperately not to shit myself.

How did I get here? That's an interesting question, bringing to mind much discourse about logic, cause and effect, and the pre-determined inevitability of our destinies. Did I imagine for a second when I awoke this morning that my day would find me here? I seriously doubt it. I mean, come on, I'm nine years old. Light years away from even the idea, to say nothing of the compulsion, of shitting my pants. Right? Right?

(It must be stated here for the record that I later learned several of my friends were shitting their pants well into high school. But that's another story. A good story, involving a dilapidated Celica, donuts in the campus quad, and a pair of khaki cargo shorts. But another story nonetheless.)

The costume was glorious. Even if I had foreseen my undoing at its hands, I might still have steeled my pre-pubescent jaw and worn it. There was a reason for the extravagance of the costume. I was nine. Nine years old meant Fourth Grade. Fourth Grade meant entry into The Upper Grades. The Upper Grades meant business. Previous costumes -- during the lower grades -- had been flimsy cloth and plastic cut-out caricatures: pirates, blue robots, pumpkins. All lovingly constructed by my mother's hands to be sure, but The Upper Grades wouldn't take that into account. The Upper Grades demanded excellence. Excuses were out of the question.

Something extraordinary was called for. My mother and I put our heads together. After careful deliberation, an idea was born; a costume was selected. I don't really remember what led us down the chosen path. Perhaps it was mostly Mom's idea. Regardless, it was brilliant, and I was behind it one hundred and ten percent.

I would be The Phantom of the Opera.

You giggle and you snort and you scoff. And I glare at you with a dark, fiery eye from underneath my deathly white half-mask. Remember, there are worse things than a shattered chandelier...

At the time, I was quite taken with Andrew Lloyd Weber's faux-operatic popstravaganza. Slinking around the kickball field as the title character held a definite allure for this lanky child who wore bright baggy MC Hammer pants and had once been sucker-punched in the soft white gut by a girl named Emily. It was a chance to be sinister. Menacing. Formidable.

Of course, we spared no expense. As with all ventures, my mother sank her tenacious fangs into the matter with a deep thirst for problem-solving. In our vision, there were three elements to l'ensemble de la Fantome: clothing, mask, and make-up.

Clothing. Pretty standard, really. Black slacks - standard Sunday school issue, no problem there. White dress shirt - see above. Black jacket - not sure, actually; the memory of that piece has meandered into oblivion, but I'm almost completely sure that one was obtained legally. Cape. Yes, cape. The costume may have gotten a little confused here. I have not bothered to check Google images for the purposes of this story. I am not entirely sure that Mr. Weber's Phantom pranced about the West End in a cape, nor that Monsieur Leroux's Phantom paddled through the underground waterways of the Opera Garnier with a cloak on his shoulders. But my Phantom had a cape. We borrowed it from a previous year's Dracula costume. And I tell you, it was bad ass.

Mask. The accessory most necessary to selling the package. I think we bought it at Tall Mouse for five bucks.

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