I have been afraid of the dark since I was about eight years old.
Sometimes, it was the shadows in the dark. You see them now, in your mind’s eye, I’m sure. It’s that odd shade of gray, a reflection of non-light paired against dusk. Artists attempt to recreate this timeless vision, and yet paint nor film is able to truly capture the odd feeling that accompanies night shadows. I think it’s because they should be impossible. How can there be shade without light? Yet the night continues to create them.
Sometimes, it was the sound of footsteps in my ears. With my eyes closed, I imagined villains racing towards my room. I was sure the next sound I’d hear would be the crashing of my door before they reached me. No matter how many pillows I stacked over my head, the pace of the steps would quicken with my fear. It was years before one of my siblings suggested it was just my own heartbeat echoing off the pillow back to my ear.
And sometimes, it was the creepy old teddy bear someone passed down to someone else who passed it down to me. It had hay sticking out of its elbows, and a Victorian neck cuff like a vampire. She did not get along with my other stuffed animals, and so was secluded to her own chair in the corner of my room. I couldn’t even name her, because nothing seemed to suit. Wherever I placed her in my room, she stared at me. My sleepy-time-teddy did his best to protect me from her, but some nights even he shook from a glance towards her corner. I was to never NEVER stare directly at her in the middle of the night. She might replace her own worn out stuffing with mine.
But most of the time, it was the man in the grave.
This poor man. He himself was not scary at all. It was his situation that was scary, and I hope I can describe his plight properly to you.
When my young self would fall into that dreamy almost-asleep, the gray hill would rise in my mind. If I close my eyes I can still see it. It’s perfectly oval-topped, as a child’s mind will do with a hill. It’s unmarked, save a small stone path that led from my feet to the very top. There’s no lightening or cliche thunder in the background, just a few clouds. But these clouds are slowly circling together, as if to form a deadly tornado.
Right before the tornado’s arm reaches out to the earth, the rising hill reaches its peak. On that peak is a single grave. It is a tall slate, nothing special, with just a spray twigs and dying moss surrounding it. There is writing etched into it, but I can never read the words. They are in English, and I’m sure could have read them if I tried. But how can I? How can I tear my mind’s eye away from this man in agony?
The man. No, no- the man’s soul.
There were no discerning features, his shape was black in full. Other than the feeling that spirit was masculine, he was nothing but a silhouette. His torso emerged from the grave, long fingers pulling himself up from the earth. He would try to crawl further into the sky, to join the ghostly world of drifting into the night. Yet he never succeeds. Each time my mind took me to the hill he was still there: reaching, stretching, begging for liberation.
He never escaped.
The gray headstone would shiver with silver energy, anchoring his chest to the earth where his body lay.
In the dream, I never knew whether to reach for him, or run. If I were a good little Christian, I would extend my hand, take his dark mass in my strength and pull him to freedom.
But what if that were the trap? Was this Satan’s call? If I reached for a brother, would I find myself chained to the torture of a traitor?
So that would make me think I should run. Could I outrun a soul? A demon? How could I possible escape whatever had held him all this time?
Was I thrust before it as an unbeatable test? Was it my fate to lose?
I never found out. My young self stood in the middle ground between reaching and running. The beat of my poor, exhausted heart would undertake such a crescendo that all those lovely Darwin chemicals in my brain would wake me, thinking there was real danger.
To my parents and siblings? The real danger was loss of sleep.
The times I crawled into my parents’ bed is innumerable. My mother sleeps on the right side of the bed, so she was often my security target. To me, her placement is unnaturally brave. I, myself, have always slept on the left side of the bed, because this is often the farthest from the door. No, monsters are not real. But if they ARE real, I expect whatever partner I’ve chosen to face them first- to either fight for me or sacrifice themselves so I can get away. My mother apparently believes in both her ability to take on the supernatural, and her tolerance of human crazies. Of all the things I did NOT inherit, am I right?
There was the occasional night I tried to wake my father first, and on those nights, he would sleepily yawn, mumble something about it being okay, and tuck me in between them. The dark was still there, but so were they, and so was their warmth. On the even rarer occasion when I moved slowly, millimeter by millimeter, into the safety of my brothers’ beds? Those were just as safe, but not for as long. I would be kicked back to my own room long before sunlight.
These days it’s all okay though! A few years ago, there was a night when I was simply too tired to be scared. I went to sleep without doing my last guard walk of the room or double checking the door. Something magical happened to my psyche that tired night. Since then, I’ve never checked my closets, the dark corners, or even under the bed!
Then a couple years after that, I was able to give up my nightlight. During the day hours, I dared myself to walk into the basement or the garage without flipping the light switch. Even while late walks with the dog, I would purposely move closer to the trees, testing my new courage. It was exposure therapy, really. I could do this; I could grow into an actual adult woman who slept through the night. I was determined that by the time I moved out into my own home, I would be able to do so without fear, without doubt in my safety.
And I did. With just a few hiccups of reaching for the phone around 1am, debating who might be up to answer, I have done really well. My growing fortitude changed my waking hours as well, made me stronger in many ways. Not to mention how much good it did the whole family to get a little more sleep.
I owe a lot to my parents and siblings, for walking me through this hard time. I certainly owe plenty to my very expensive therapist- so thank God that check cleared.
I owed a lot to the man, too. I left him still stuck there all those nights ago, reaching from his deep eternity into the stormy purgatory. Sometimes I wonder, now that I’m older, if I would reach for him instead of run, and then we’d both be free.
I planned to visit him tonight, actually. To close my eyes, and let my mind drift into the past, awaking the fears and oddly familiar heartbeats. I’ll tuck myself into my bed, in my small city apartment, and whisper into the dark that it’s okay. That I’m not afraid. I can see what before I could not.
But I haven’t gone to bed yet, haven’t invited the dark in. There’s a few drops of tea still in my mug and a couple minutes in my TV show. So I’m still sitting on my couch when the room chills. The starlight moves away from my window. The wind picks up to upset the plants on my porch, yet the trees out in the yard are not moving. It’s as if I’m hosting my own little storm.
While I’ve yet to catch on, my body senses what’s coming. Cold sweat springs across the back of my neck. My mouth runs dry as the echoes of my heartbeat quicken. The ends of my fingers go numb, my whole being is stuck again between fight or flight. Reach or run.
Because he has finally succeeded. He has escaped. He’s achieved freedom.
A shadow moves in the darkened hallway.
Creep (verb): 1. Move slowly and carefully in order to avoid being heard or noticed. 2. (of an unwanted and negative characteristic or fact) occur or develop gradually and almost imperceptibly.
(noun): 1. A detestable person. 2. Slow movement, especially at a steady but almost imperceptible pace.
More like CREEPED OUT, am I right?
I try to create different voices in my writing, but this one is blatantly me. 99% of this story comes from my own experience. However, I have yet to have the dude from my repeating nightmare pop up in my apartment (though I will be a bit wary this Hallow’s Eve now).
I hope you have a SPOOKTACULAR Halloween, readers!