“Tender lumplings everywhere, life’s no fun without a good scare!”
~The Nightmare Before Christmas
Happy Hallowe’en! Happy Samhain! Happy Pooky Night! (I just learned that one””isn’t it great?) I love being descended from the Irish, widely-credited inventors of this great holiday. It’s no wonder I love Halloween so much, it’s in my blood! So, in honor of the day, let’s talk about what really scares us.
Now, I don’t like spiders and snakes, to quote the old song. Quotidian little phobias, yea, but mine own. The idea of spiders, mythic spinners of silk and stories? Sure. The symbolism of snakes, icons of immortality and occult knowledge? Absolutely. Actual creepy, slithery agents of eeeewwww!? Not so much. As it happens, we get quite a variety of eight-legged visitors in and around our house, and if it must be one or the other, I’m overjoyed it’s not snakes in the drain.
Some time ago, Modhran found me the perfect spider-coping tool: Bugzooka! One flick of the trigger and *boof!* the little miscreant is safely captured. You can take it outside and set it free with another puff of air, or leave it trapped until it dies; it’s your call on the level of anti-creepy-crawly violence you’re willing to commit. Brilliant invention! I love ours so much, I named it (Sic Semper Arachnis), and it gets a lot of use.
But those are minor, manageable fears. I have a much bigger one: a phobia about uncovered windows at night. Once it gets dark out, I have to close the blinds and curtains, or I can’t stay in the room. I certainly can’t sleep with windows open to the night. I see movies where the characters live in homes with glass walls overlooking some kind of spectacular scenery, and I always think, “That’s so pretty. I wonder what they do at night? Do they have curtains that cover all of that? Or do they just stay on the other side of the house?”
When I was teeny, I had a bad dream about the Three Bears chasing me, and I tried so hard to run away in my sleep that I threw myself out of bed. The thud woke me up and brought my mom running, and after I stopped sobbing, I told her I didn’t remember what I was dreaming, because I was too embarrassed to admit I was afraid of the Three Bears. After that, I was afraid that they would come and look in the window at me (despite my room being on the second floor of our big old farmhouse.)
Around age 7, the Three Bears were replaced by ghosts at the window, thanks to an overnight visit to the purportedly haunted Hotel Manning. The ghosts were soon replaced by Bigfoot, after my older brother told me horror stories about that monster during a family trip to Colorado. When I was nine or ten, Bigfoot was joined by aliens, and that was a very bad deal, because the aliens could use their spaceship to give Bigfoot a boost to my second-story window. (I imagined Bigfoot standing in a classic clear-domed saucer-style UFO, the little green men working the controls to keep the pitch and altitude just right. Hilarious, in retrospect.)
The fear isn’t as paralyzing as it used to be; I can now enter a room with an uncovered window, if I have to. I generally turn off the lights to minimize the chance of being spotted, and I’ll probably close the curtains before I do anything else, but I no longer have to drop below the height of the windowsill and creep over to it. These days, I’m more worried about being scoped out by human opportunists””robbers, murderers, rapists–looking for a promising target, than I am scared of creatures out of legends. But I’m still very conscious of being in a room visible to whatever might be passing, or pausing, unseen on the other side of the window.
The monsters aren’t entirely gone, either. The phobia is at its worst in the smallest hours of the night, when I’ve woken from sleep and must get out of the bed for some reason. In my mind, the scene plays like this:
I get up to get a drink of water and happen to glance out the window just as a Something is passing it. It’s not there for me, it’s just going by, but I’m startled and I gasp, or scream, or drop the glass. The noise makes the Something pause, and it turns slowly to look at me. Even if I’m standing in a darkened room, it now knows I’m there, and this Something has only survived this long by never leaving a witness behind. It changes its path, moving inexorably toward me. I stand, defenseless, paralyzed by fear in the middle of a house that may as well be made of gingerbread, for all the protection it offers against this nightmare.
You see? The nightmare doesn’t see me, until I’ve seen it. And once I’ve seen it, nothing will keep it from seeing me. I can’t hold in the scream, I can’t keep a grip on the glass. My only control over the situation is to not see the thing in the first place. Yes, it’s a very Douglas Adams phobia, and yes, it’s completely irrational. Still, it’s easier to draw the drapes at dusk, than to lie in bed waiting for daybreak before going to the bathroom.
So tell me: what scares you?