Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When We Can't See Through the Darkness

Most scary/suspense movies I watch reach that fever-pitch level of fear simply awaiting the monster/demon/lunatic to jump out of the darkness. And, oddly enough for me, once the monster is 'seen,' it is suddenly much less scary. Maybe that's why so many movies depend on that "it's what you can't see" motif. It allows our imaginations to run wild and conjure up all kinds of horrific beings. That evil holy man from Poltergeist II, Linda Blair's possessed character from The Exorcist, and Helena Bonham Carter (she's always been scary to me).

I'm working on a short story for Halloween, and definitely like the idea of what's lingering in the darkness. When I was in college, I had an apartment on the 4th floor of this really old building. The walls and floors were cement, so noises were seldom for the most part.

One particular night, I was coming home from a late shift of bagging groceries. It was a hot September. So hot that even at 2 or 3am, the air was muggy and thick.

Coming home so late, I had to park at what felt like the other end of a football arena. Every step I took, I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. It was irritating. I was already tired. The sweat beads that gathered around my neck just reminded me that I would have to wash my hair again (seriously, long-college-hair was a lot of work).

When I got inside the building, it was pretty quiet. There were no elevators, but 3 sets of wide stairs that took you up to each level. The negative was that coming up the couldn't quite see what was just around the corner. A single light would shine at the base of each stairway, but often the one on the 4th floor would be out. Usually, I was too tired to be bothered.

My apartment was the last one on the left, number 49. I'd usually leave the kitchenette light on, which would shine underneath the door. That was enough to guide me through the darkness.

This particular night, though, I paused before going up the last flight of stairs to the 4th floor. The light was out (again). Up above, there was an odd sound--as if someone was dragging something across the floor. I couldn't see anything, so decided I would just 'try' the first or second step. ...Because then maybe I'd be able to make out what the noise was. But upon reaching that second step, the noise abruptly stopped.

I waited probably 3 or 4 minutes. Then I decided it was probably my nerves. Plus I was so tired. So I took another step...just as that dragging sound resumed. I froze; it stopped. My heart was pounding into my ears.

I kept thinking, "Is something looking at me? Is something up there in the darkness just waiting for me?"

That feeling of sheer terror, once you experience it, is truly remarkable. On one hand, you turn on those raw survival instincts--and you've never felt so alive. On the other hand, you definitely don't want to die.

Luckily, my terror was pretty short-lived.

A neighbor upstairs suddenly opened his door, shouted at his terrier, Muffy (who was dragging a doormat across the floor), then picked up Muffy and presumably went back to sleep.

And that was that. I ran up the stairs, saw the light shining from under my door, and reached refuge. A fleeting few moments of absolute fear, and then I was under a cold shower. Life went on.

It's funny how we perceive things...especially in the dark. And it's elements like that that brings out our worst fears. And THAT is exactly what I'm hoping to do next...