It was recess, and the day was bright and chilly. Maybe late fall or early winter, I was so young when it happened, probably only six or seven years old.
But the memory of it has always stuck with me.
I was at my public school in Philadelphia, playing in the schoolyard, a vast surface of poured concrete encased on three sides by the massive school, four stories tall, built of brick and wissahickon schist. The other side opened up onto a small tertiary street lined with rowhouses, separated from us by an old wrought iron fence.
We were playing freeze-tag.
I was running away from Malik, as fast as I could, towards the iron fence, when he overtook me, and I had to freeze there, facing the small street.
And that's when I noticed the Man in White.
This was the early 90s, a bad time in Philadelphia, when most of my neighbors were black crack addicts and working class white folks just trying to hang on to their pride and safety.
But the man in white was different.
He was wearing a white three-piece suit which seemed to be perfect, and on his head, we wore a white hat, maybe a fedora or a derby, and it all seemed so out of place and remarkable, but I don't think anyone else noticed him.
None of the other children in the yard gave him a single glance, none of the teachers or chaperones even looked his way.
But I was frozen by the rules of freeze tag, which I was obligated to obey, so I had to look at him.
And he was staring right at me.
The street was a small one, barely wide enough for a single car to drive past without occasionally having to jump over a curb and go onto the sidewalk. And he was on the other side of it, so he was probably a good 25-30 feet away from me at least.
But I could still feel his eyes. That hypnotic feeling, where the whites of his eyes were so pure and brilliant and clean and clear, but his pupils...
His pupils were black beyond black, so dark that they threatened to take away all the light that encapsulated this bright day. The blackness in his eyes seemed to want to consume me.
I was still frozen.
But it no longer had anything to do with the rules of freeze-tag. This was deeper and more primal and fearful than anything I had ever felt.
He walked towards me, across the street and as he got closer I began to notice how sickly his skin looked.
It was like a damaged porcelain bowl, pure white with veins of black biological oil pulsing through all the fractures and lines and cracks and crevices.
He got right next to the fence. Close enough to touch me.
Eyes full of sadism and malice, he slowly pushed arm through the black iron bars of the fence, and touched my chest with a single, elongated finger.
And it felt as though liquid ice rushed into my heart and my brain was burning and I only had one wish and that was to be anywhere else.
Finally, he spoke.
Although he moved his mouth, the sound and the noise did not project from his mouth. His voice echoed from the cavernous buildings behind me, and it sounded terrible.
It was loud and deep.
It cracked like an old man who had sludge and gravel in his throat, and evil thoughts in his intonation.
I wished it would end.
I wish I had never played freeze tag.
All this is what he said
You Are It.