Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
“I couldn’t exist in a world devoid of marvels…
even if they frighten me to consider them.”
– Catlin R. Kiernan
There’s got to be something wrong with me. Seriously, I’m twenty two years old and still afraid of the dark. I’m not a little kid anymore, but I can’t work up the courage to just turn off the lights and go to sleep. Okay, let me explain how I came to this. One minute I was enjoying myself, writing a paper on Paleolithic cave paintings for my art history class, and then without warning I imagined that there was something spooky waiting for me in the hallway of my apartment, effectively trapping myself in my own bedroom. You see, I did more than just creep myself out, because with me, fear has a tendency to spiral out of control into levels of mind boggling stupidity.
At first I just ignored it, going on with my work in the hopes that the feeling of being stalked would go away on its own. It didn’t, and I was starting to worry that some shrieking terror was about to burst through the door, so I had to double check to make sure that it was securely locked. After that I couldn’t concentrate on getting my paper written, as every other minute I’d have to look away from my monitor to see if the door was still closed. “This is getting retarded,” I said out loud to no one in particular, “it’s just my imagination fucking with me.” Which is honestly the truth here. I know that if I were to open that door and look into the hall, nothing would happen. One single action and “poof,” sanity becomes restored. The problem of course is the actual opening part. That’s always when the anxiety reaches its high point.
This bullshit started about thirty minutes ago, just before midnight, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up anytime soon. So yeah, I’m stuck in my bedroom for what seems like the hundredth time, alone with my computer and thoughts of strange boogeymen. Actually, this whole thing got me wondering where these irrational, paranoid delusions first started. That’s an interesting story actually, and it happened long before anyone could call me crazy.
There’s Something in the Basement.
This story happened in the spring of 1998 in the old house on Erie Street that my parents were renting (Erie as in “Lake Erie,” but yeah, weird coincidence right?) I was six years old at the time, so I was at a point in my life where sleeping with a night-light was still considered normal. I think that we had only been living there for a few weeks, it’s kind of hard to remember for sure exactly, but I do remember the first time my dad took me and my brother to check out the basement. Now the house itself was well over a hundred years old, and in a previous lifetime it served as a train station. The basement as it turned out, was used as a temporary jail cell where the town sheriff would keep the criminals he caught trying to catch a ride out to Chicago, and in the time between then and when my family moved in, no one had thought to updated the basement.
Basically, it was dungeon. The walls were made out of carved rocks or something, with certain areas bricked over from where ground water had been leaking through. Also the whole place was coated in layers of spider webs and dead insects. That’s not even the creepiest part. In the way back around a narrow corner was a heavy door labeled, “Milker Room,” whatever that meant. In any case my dad couldn’t get it open, even with a crowbar. The hinges were so rusted and caked in calcium that nothing short of a jackhammer was going to get through it.
During the daylight hours, I didn’t worry about the basement or the cryptic Milker Room, I just avoided going down there. But at night I couldn’t help thinking about it, and invariably I’d end up hiding under my sheets until I could eventually fall asleep. Of course, I wasn’t always able to fall asleep. Sometimes the voices would keep me wide eyed and alert. And when I say “voices,” I mean what I thought constituted the sound of a man’s muffled speech coming from the cellar. To me it sounded like someone under the floor boards was mumbling incoherently. The reality here of course was that sounds were bouncing around the air vents in such a way as to trick my little kid brain into thinking that there really was someone down there, trapped behind that huge immovable door, trying to get out in order to… I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps I thought he wanted to eat me I guess. Who knows, I was six remember? It doesn’t matter what I thought this made up man wanted, all I knew at the time was that it was bad. And it got worse when my older brother Joshua keep telling me that he knew what was really in the basement. He was a sadistic asshole, and he thought it was just so damn funny to tell me that a monster with a woman’s face and a body covered in tufts of fur was trying to escape from the Milker Room. Let me repeat that: A woman’s face, and a body covered in tufts of fur. It was weeks before I could sleep a full night without yelling for my parents to rush to my room.
Let’s move forward a few years. When I was nine, my parents had decided to move to a better house for commuting reasons. I was helping my dad move some boxes out of the basement, and at this point the place had been cleaned up a great deal and being three years older, I didn’t find the basement all that scary. Until I found myself alone down there while my dad ran off to talk to my mom about something. At first I was fine, but then out of nowhere I started to hear this weird tapping noise. I remember looking around for what was causing it, more annoyed than frightened, when I looked around the corner towards the Milker Room.
It started getting louder, and it was coming from behind the huge black door. I didn’t move for what felt like hours, petrified, when all of a sudden I heard a crashing bang come from where the tapping used to be. I shrieked and started running back towards the stairs, nearly knocking over my dad in process. When he asked me what was wrong I told him about the noises coming from the Milker Room. He laughed. I swear he laughed and told me to follow him.
Going around the corner, my dad walked right towards the Milker Room door, opened it, flicked on the lights, and showed me the loudest water softener in world. He told me that he had it installed two years ago because he was sick of drinking rust flavored water, and the Milker Room was the best place in the house to put it. How’d he get it open in the first place? Well, a lot of hardware stores sell solvents designed specifically for rust and calcium. I had nothing to be afraid of, never really did, but to this day I can remember with perfect clarity that one single moment of pure terror, where I was absolutely sure that something terrible lurked behind a few inches of wood and shadows.
12: 42 a.m.
So the point of that story was to remind myself that there’s nothing evil waiting for me outside of my bedroom. I don’t think it worked. I tried to open it about a minute ago to use the bathroom, but the second I placed my hand around the doorknob my heart started racing like I had just pounded six shots of espresso. Images of a writhing mass of rot and flies filled my mind, or a black hound waiting to pounce from the darkness. I’m freaking out a little inside, because not only do I have a feeling that there’s something out there, but also the sense that whatever it is, it knows that I’m scared. I keep telling myself that it’s all in my head, that I’m just projecting my fears onto the environment. But it’s not working, which is a shame, because I know firsthand how frightening one’s own imagination can be. So here’s what I’m going to do: First, I’m going to pee in the beer bottle I found in my trashcan, and second: I’m going to write down another story, one where I had to go toe-to-toe with my own nocturnal demons.
About four years ago I was trapped in a state of almost near total depression. I had just graduated from high school, but my grades where so low that my choices for college were very much limited to the “first place that accepts me,” category. Add to this that I was unemployed, my best friend had already left the state, and my parents were in the process of getting a divorce. In hindsight, I handled the whole situation in an extremely immature way by smoking a ridiculous amount of weed and barricading myself into my room to play video games all damn day. In other words, I was starting to turn into a complete loser.
Now, some schools of thought suggest that nightmares serve as a subconscious mechanism to resolve perceived stressors. If this is true, then I was lucky that things hadn’t started to get strange earlier.
One night after a long hard day of bong hits and masturbation, I fell asleep just as I always had. Except this time I woke up right in the middle of things. And by that I mean my brain woke up while the rest of me kept right on sleeping. I would later discover that this phenomenon was called “sleep paralysis,” which occurs when a person wakes up during the middle of the R.E.M. cycle and cannot move his or her limbs due to the sympathetic nervous system having shut down muscle control, in order to keep the person from hurting themselves while they dream. The experience is known to cause feelings of being choked or a sense of panic, and is often accompanied by hypnogogic hallucinations. Needless to say, I didn’t like it one damn bit.
I couldn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t move my arms, and I started to feel a sort of presence enter my room. I wanted to scream but couldn’t and the entity was surrounding me, observing me, judging me. I didn’t know what it was, but somehow the thought got into my head that it wanted to hurt me. I struggled to break free, yelling at myself internally to wake up before it got any closer, but I couldn’t move so much as a finger. Then I felt a pressure, or tightness on my chest, like the life was being crushed out of me by something huge and angry. If someone were to try to read my thoughts at this point, all they would hear would be the sounds of a wild animal backed into a corner: Vicious and scared, border lining madness.
Right when I thought that I was about to die, I heard myself scream, “WAKE UP!” Whether from inside or out I don’t know, but suddenly I bolted upright in bed, feeling very dazed and tired. I looked around my room, looking for whatever it was that was trying to kill me, but everything seemed fine, so I decided to get a glass of water. Almost immediately after getting out from beneath the covers, I started to hear a very deep, almost painful moan coming from the hallway outside of my bedroom, followed by a thud and footsteps. At this point I was more angry than scared, so I grabbed a baseball bat and moved towards the door. I didn’t rush out into the hall immediately, because by now it was slamming itself against my door, trying to get in, all the while its moans sounding more and more like it was in a state of constant agony. Eventually I heard it start to shuffle away, so fast as lightening I threw open the door a rushed into the hall. That’s when I saw it.
It was very, very tall. So tall that it had to crouch a little to avoid the ceiling. Also it was thin, more bone than flesh. It didn’t have arms, or skin, or even a face really. I suppose that the best description here would be that it was an elongated skeleton wearing a straitjacket made of bacon. Whatever it was, it had turned around and was beginning to shuffle towards me, so I ran forward swinging my bat like a madman until it had stopped moving, gurgling in a puddle of its own blood.
I woke up the next morning around dawn, lying face down on the hallway carpet next to my bat. Apparently I had dreamed the whole encounter, and now there was a hole in the wall from where my bat had punched out a chunk. I haven’t had a case of sleep paralysis since, nor did I ever witness the bacon monster again, but it just goes to show what sort of nightmares my own brain is able to conjure.
1: 38 a.m.
Well that clearly didn’t help. No, I’m not worried about the bacon demon hiding out there (I already stomped his bitch ass into the ground), but I’m still unable to just open the door. I can’t sleep if I think there’s something out there. I can’t force myself to stay awake until sunrise either. I really don’t have a clue here.
Shit, I just pulled a neck muscle from turning my head to fast. I thought I saw something moving in the corner of my eye. It was just a shoe. An unmoving, unlaced, dirty whore of a shoe. Okay, enough screwing around, I just found a hammer. Wish I had a shotgun, but I guess a hammer will have to do. I’m going try opening the door again, I’ll be back in a minute.
1: 39 a.m.
Nope, not going to happen. I started sweating before I could even touch the handle. I tried, I really tried, but it was too much. Even worse, now I’m hearing noises coming from outside of my window. Good thing the blinds are closed. I wish my roommate would just come back. He works a late shift, so he usually doesn’t get home until around five in the morning. Wait, hold on, that’s only like another three and a half hours or so. Yeah, I’ll just wait from him to get off work and then I can finally put this nonsense behind me. Then again, It’s not such a great idea to have too much faith in your friends. Especially when they know just how easily you can be startled. Like my friend Stephanie, who decided to tell me one of her own horror stories just as I was about to head home for the night.
The Union Street Cemetery
The Union Street Cemetery is the oldest graveyard in town. It’s also the shitiest. Over the years a combination of vandalism, poor upkeep, and harsh weather have made the headstones virtually unreadable, and the surrounding patches of grass that haven’t been overrun by weeds are a sickly yellow color, similar to bile. The cemetery itself sits squarely on top of a slight hill, and despite the fact that it’s been there for ages, most people in town don’t even know where it is, if they even know that it exists at all. This might have something to do with the fact that the entire area surrounding the Union Street Cemetery has been unofficially designated as the town ghetto. In other words, the houses in that area are made homes by the lower income families. My friend Stephanie was one of them for a while.
When Stephanie was in her early twenties, she led the glorious life of a single mother working as many hours as possible as a diner waitress, and in order to survive she had to move herself and her four year old son into a house on Union Street with two roommates. Or maybe she wasn’t single at this point, I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, but I do know that she lived in one of the Union Street houses with her son.
So the story as told by Stephanie, was that one night while her husband/ boyfriend/ roommates were all out of the house, Stephanie was in the kitchen trying to make some diner while her son played in the living room. Now her son Tyler (at least I think his name was Tyler) was being loud as usual, banging toy trucks into each other like little boys are known to do, so naturally Stephanie became worried when everything got quiet. When she walked into the living room to see if Tyler was doing alright, she saw him looking out of the front window from in between the curtains and the glass pane. Keep in mind that their house was right across the street from the cemetery.
“Whatcha looking at Tyler?” She asked.
“They’re coming over.” He responded, still looking out of the window.
“Who’s coming over Tyler?”
“The people from across the street.” He said.
It was here that Stephanie looked out of the front window expecting to see actual people, but instead saw only gates to the graveyard. Now Stephanie isn’t some dumb bimbo from a cheesy zombie movie, she’s a real person, and like most people in real life she’s seen her fair share of horror films. She wasn’t going shrug this off as just another child saying strange things, she was going to get the hell out of there, which she did. Stephanie grabbed Tyler, an overnight bag, and spent the night at her mother’s house. She returned the next morning after whoever else lived there had told her that everything was fine, that the walls weren’t bleeding or anything else even remotely supernatural. Even still, Stephanie moved out of that house within a year.
She told me this story one night just before I was about to leave my ex-girlfriend’s house (Stephanie was a good friend of my ex’s, that was how I came to know her.) so I was more than a little nervous to walk home alone in the dark. Actually, it really wasn’t a big deal until her story ran through my head when I was about half way home, which got me wondering just where I was exactly in position to the Union Street Cemetery, so that I could plan my walk in order to avoid it. I remember thinking that I was pretty close to Union Street, so I stopped walking briefly to try and locate any notable landmarks. I was trying to look over a hill when it happened.
At the worst possible moment, the clouds parted enough so that some faint moon light outlined the silhouettes of several headstones resting on top of the hill. As it would turn out, I was facing the back side of the graveyard, standing so close that I could have thrown a rock over the fence without even trying. Of course I freaked out, I honestly didn’t realize just how close I was to the cemetery. It was just that dark. I turned and ran without looking back. I didn’t stop running until I had reached the highway.
2: 57 a.m.
I’m not going to get out of this room tonight. I just can’t do it. There’s something terrible out there. Not just in the hall, but also outside my window, staring from behind the blinds, waiting for me to let it in. I’ve been griping the handle of my hammer so hard for so long that I know every grove in the carved wood better than I know my own face.
The light bulb of my desk lamp blew out about fifteen minutes ago, so now the only source of light is what little comes from this screen. I’m starting to think that it’s already gotten in here. Yes, yes it is. It’s definitely in here, maybe it’s always been in here, with me. I can’t face the darkness, that’s how it gets you. It only becomes real if you look at it, if even for just a moment. It will flicker to life, like a movie reel that skips a frame. There for a heartbeat, and then gone. But that’s all it wants, all it’s ever wanted. It will blink into existence for only a fraction of a second, but the damage will last forever. Where do you think these stories come from? They’re just the fallout of what I’m trying to forget: Something that doesn’t want to be forgotten.
I’m not going to let it get to me again. It only becomes real if you look at it, so I won’t. I’ll just keep my eyes on the screen, and I’ll try to ignore the shapes moving around the edges of my vision. I’ll be fine as long as I’m looking at the screen, because it only becomes real if you look at it. It’s only real when it looks back.
Credit To – Stephan D. Harris
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