Your Sunday Brunch Special: The Dark.

As a seven year old, I had a fascination with monster/horror/space films. When my parents weren’t looking, I would leaf through the newspaper to find the page where the theaters advertised their current wares. Inevitably, there were some wonderfully creepy black and white ads leaking out of the bottom of the page: “Blood Monster from Hell” or “The Blob,” or some such. Stuff they never discussed in Primary. When my mother was out of earshot, I’d mention these to my dad, who, knowing better, shared a bit of this interest, or at least he pretended to share it. My mother was one of those practical people who never opened the door to the night.

Our home at the time was brand new, and still had that smell of new concrete in the basement, half of which my father had finished himself. The contractor, to save money, (with which he lined his own pockets, according to my mother) had used short forms for the basement walls, so any six-footer had to stoop to avoid the heating ducts running crossways to the ceiling rafters. A wall of cement block ran lengthwise down the middle of the place, with a single doorway, never graced by a door to my certain knowledge. There were two or maybe three horizontal gunslot windows down there.

The house had two bedrooms upstairs, one occupied by my parents, the other by my mother’s sewing apparatus. The boys stowed their sleeping gear downstairs. I remember that eventually, my father added a room on the back of the house but he kept a bed in the basement. Night down there was cool, quiet, and pitch black. And when my mother and father sort of lost interest, he slept down there a lot and I got the sewing room. Once when I brought a girl over to the house to watch some TV and well, fool around on the couch, she was startled in the middle of a particularly good kiss, by the floor rumbling. At first she didn’t believe it when I told her it was my father snoring. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

My father and I would sneak off in the early afternoon some summer days, and hit the movies. There was always a new offering from Japan about space invasions (sometimes with a token American actor or two), or a B-level Hollywood thing usually in black and white, with vampires, werewolves, and the like. These were hardly ever tinged with (and ruined by) romance or sex. They were tragic stories of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or that’s what I thought then. I should add that vampire fangs in these films sported a modicum of taste. They were only slightly longer than your normal set of eye teeth. How they got through the necks of some of those victims, I didn’t know, but I let it pass. The main thing was seeing the fangs. You should only leave so much to the imagination.

My father indulged my monster thing for years until my allowance could cover the cost of a bus ride downtown. By age eleven, I’d recruited a friend or two on these adventures. Also by that time my brothers, who were considerably older than I, had moved out. That meant I slept in the basement alone. This is all preliminary explanation for my state of mind.

My normal bedtime activity consisted of late snack, brushing the teeth (sometimes), getting the pajamas on, doing the prayer thing, and settling down to a dose of the Book of Mormon, some National Geographic and when I could get it, Scientific American (in those days, SA was a respectable outlet for some real science and it could be a little deep, reading about DNA or quasars, etc.). I had a reading lamp attached to the headboard of my bed. It was just about a foot above and behind my left shoulder. It didn’t have a switch, just a short dangly pull chain that seemed to be sentient–if you didn’t look at it when you tried to pull the damn thing, you could never seem to find it. The room had a ceiling light fixture, but the switch for that was also on the ceiling, over by that single doorway in the block wall, fifteen feet from my hand.

I think I was a restless sleeper, because sometimes I woke in the morning with the covers clearly kicked completely off the bed. But sometimes, I woke in the dead of night.

Our street was not graced with street lamps. We didn’t even have a sidewalk on our side, and my mother, God rest her, did not like wasting electricity. I think you have the picture.

I woke up. But I wasn’t sure at first. Lying on my back, no covers on, and it was dark. As dark as a cave when the rangers turn out the lights and tell you to put your hand in front of your face. Except this time, I knew there was something near my bed. Something that didn’t belong there. And it was quiet. So quiet. I knew what I had to do. I had to get the covers on. But first, I had to turn on the light. I’m right handed, but the light was on my left. Both hands were at my sides. That’s what I call unwary sleep. I had to move my left hand up and turn on the light and I had to do it quick. Don’t ask me how I knew it, I just did. But if I moved my hand quickly, the thing (I shivered) would know it. Probably already knew I was awake. So I started moving the hand. SLOWLY. It was achingly slow. I couldn’t really tell where the lamp chain was of course, only make a guess. It turned out to be a poor guess. No chain anywhere as my hand brushed the headboard. Where was it? Did someone remove the lamp, like those damn people who removed the escape mechanisms in the coffin for that guy who suffered from catatonia? Finally, I found the chain. Naturally my first pull was ineffective and I went into frantic mode. The blessed light sprayed the room. An empty room.

I went to sleep with the light on. The thing never came back. While I was awake. I still like monster movies, but I think it is Death that lurks in the dark. She will take me with her some day.

Comments

  1. I’ve been mulling over this post for about six hours now and I still can’t think of an adequate response to it. I don’t think I’m alone, though. :)

  2. J. Stapley says:

    This really is great.

  3. Delicious.

  4. I get it! Until the revelation [re women's ordination] comes, we’re just scared kids flailing around in the dark. Nice.

  5. Something near your bed….or someone?

  6. This reminds me how I couldn’t sleep for months after I snuck out to see Alien in the 3rd grade.
    I got over it in my mid-twenties…

  7. Great story, reminds me of Bradbury a bit.

    Ever heard of sleep paralysis? When the mind partly wakes up but the paralysis that (mostly) keeps us from moving in our sleep still keeps the muscles frozen?

    This condition would be scary enough on its own, but it is almost always accompanied by an overwhelming terror, like that of a nightmare–except you know that you are awake. Curiously, many people report having a clear sensation of someone or something being right next to them, something hostile and dangerous. Luckily this is just a hallucination, and the paralysis breaks fairly quickly (though it can seem like an eternity).

    Some people speculate that sleep paralysis is the origin of stories of demons or aliens menacing people at night. I’ve experienced it twice in my life, and I can easily see that–if I hadn’t known about sleep paralysis before my first attack, I probably would’ve thought it was supernatural as well. I was absolutely certain that something inhuman was right behind me.

    The human mind is neat, if sometimes terrifying.

  8. mmmmm1234 says:

    I’m leaving a comment here since comments are disabled on your older posts regarding D&C 130. I love that series! We need more six-part (with epilogue) analyses of the D&C. I’d buy a book.

  9. unendowed says:

    Whoo, deliciously creepy. This is why I don’t watch horror movies–I’m a complete wuss and I’d never sleep again. But I do love certain horror books. My grandma once asked me why I was reading Lovecraft (“why” in the sense of “How in the world is that beneficial?? What’s the point???”) and I was stumped. Sometimes it’s fun to be creeped out, I guess.

  10. mmmmm1234, your wish is granted. Books in process. CIM, I saw that too, and stayed awake three nights running. It was great stuff.

  11. WVS, I have never liked horror films for precisely the same reasons.

  12. My kids when little would have what we called “night terrors,” and I have always imagined them to be something like this. I also used to sleep in an unfinished (later partly finished) basement, and had an experience or two like this myself. You capture the feeling better than I can explain it.

  13. When I was a teen, i awoke one night because something had jarred me. I was alone in my room and gentle moonlight was streaming through my window, which was open because of summer heat. I heard nothing. But I was quite sure something had bumped into me, or jumped on and off of me again. I knew it was still in the room, so I carefully turned my head, trying not to give up that I wasn’t still asleep. And there it was, a dark shape silently crouching on the floor, just out of the moonlight. I knew beyond any doubt that that dark shape had made contact with me, and notwithstanding that knowledge, I had no gauge on its intentions. So I lay there for a very, very long time – watching, too afraid to form any reasonable plan of action.

    Turned out a large stuffed shark I’d won in the carni-games at Lagoon (Utah amusement park) years back and hung from my ceiling had broken free and bounced off me in the night. Scared me to death.

  14. Reminds me of Bill Cosby:

    Bill or Friend, to Man: “What time is it?”
    Man (in deep voice): “It’s ten o’clock.”
    Bill (in deep dread) to Friend: “Ten o’clock … Ooooh, that’s when The Monsters come out.” ;-D

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