Writing Prompt: “Remember a time when you were scared, where you felt like you were experiencing something strange/supernatural/preternatural. Something scary, something real.”
I originally wrote this in like 2006. It was published in one of my Spandrel zines, but I decided not to include it in my e-book because it’s really short and kinda doesn’t go anywhere, so I’m posting it here for posterity’s sake.
When I was a kid, I had a nightlight. Which probably actually aggravated the problem. I also had, on the wall directly across from my bed, a bulletin board with school papers and photos of family and pictures from magazines on it. The yellow light from the nightlight (which was shaped like Pooh Bear with a jar of honey) shone from underneath the bulletin board, casting warped shadows of the papers on the top part of my wall and ceiling. I used to stare at the shadows instead of going to sleep. If a car drove by the house, the shadows would travel, look like they were moving, and I was always partly waiting for them to move without external stimulus. To me, it looked like a canoe with about a dozen people in it. To this day, I don’t know how I knew what a canoe of people looked like, nor do I know why a canoe of people on my wall was scary, but there you go.
Also, the closet door had to be closed. Obviously.
Also, I couldn’t go to the bathroom (which was at the top of a very dark flight of stairs) unless I absolutely had to.
And after dark but before bed, if I had to go to the basement, I brought the dog with me. The fourteen-pound Shetland Sheepdog. She wasn’t exactly Bowser, but she was better than nothing.
Sometimes I slept with my little sister, who at the time would’ve been three or four. Her bed was against the wall. I slept against the wall—if anything came in to grab us, it would grab her first. Self-preservation before all else was kinda my slogan at this time.
In fourth grade, we had a fire safety unit. I’m sure it was planned with the general principle that knowledge is power, and with the idea that we would be less likely to burn to death if we knew to not run around in circles while on fire, but all it did was rob me of sleep. I’d lie there, watching my canoe people, making an inventory in my head of stuff of mine I’d have to grab when there was a fire (yes, my teacher told me you left everything behind, but no way was I losing my photo albums, or my bell bracelet. Or my dog, for that matter). If it got really bad, I went to my parents’ room—they were usually still awake, and if they weren’t, I woke them—and tell my parents I was worried about fire. My dad used to be a volunteer fireman, but somehow, this wasn’t reassuring.
When I was seven or so, I watched some of a movie that my brother was watching one sunny summer evening when we were having a barbecue. I remember very, very little of it—there was a boogeyman. The father of a family became possessed by the boogeyman, and floated on his back down a hallway chanting “boogedyboogedybooooooooooooo!” There was something about a carousel and a lightning storm. The evil demon thing was a laughing, cavorting sort of evil. Like the Joker in Batman—he knows he’s evil and he enjoys it. In retrospect, it might not have been a scary movie at all, it might have been a comedy that I misunderstood (I thought The Naked Gun was a drama until I was fourteen, because when I saw it as a small kid, my satire brain hadn’t grown in yet). I have searched imdb.com and my fear is no closer to having a name, but soon after watching however much of that movie I watched, I woke up late one night—I am certain of this even today, that I was awake, even though logically I must have still been asleep—that there was a blue hand at the end of my bed, reaching up, groping for my feet—as if someone was under my bed and reaching around to the top of it. I started screaming bloody murder, I must’ve woken the whole house. I made my mom sleep the rest of the night with me, and I slept with my light on—not the nightlight, but the ceiling lamp—for months after that.
I think it was about that time that I had a dream that I couldn’t breathe. I woke up and it wasn’t true, but still, it didn’t make falling asleep again seem advisable. All of this also roughly coincides with the time I got sexually assaulted, but I don’t recall ever making a connection to it then, so I don’t know if it’s connected at all. I didn’t imagine that the guy who hurt me was the one living under my bed, for example. But I do know that I didn’t have any words to describe what happened, and my fear of sleeping was similar. Why be afraid of the dark? Because I don’t know what’s there. If there’s a car coming at me, I can get out of the way. Danger I can see is danger I can react to. I’m fine with danger if I know it’s there. It’s the danger that hides, that you can’t get out of the way from until it drops on your head, that’s the danger that scares me. That’s what, in my head, looks like that dark staircase in my parents’ house, the one right by the bathroom, the one that kept me from peeing at night.