“Don’t look at the lights for too long”
This was something I have heard my whole life, regarding the northern lights, or Aurora Borealis. The warnings always popped up when winter was approaching in Northern Canada. Sometimes it was a joke. We have a café here that is called “Lights”, and when winter approaches there is a sign added that says “Don’t look at me” It’s a fun joke for everyone who lives here, and even funnier to explain to outsiders.
You see, there is a myth that goes with the lights here in Northern Canada. It’s not the myth that the lights come from a fox’s tail, or from a great warrior building fires. We have heard those, of course, but those aren’t the myths we believe in. Here, the myth is a bit darker.
It’s said that the lights are reflections of spirits. The colors change because there are always new spirits being added. But it’s all spirits in the lights, floating all over to find their way back home. Some spirits are old, and evil. Some are fresh and new and confused. But they all carry a negative energy. No spirit in the lights wanted to be there, ever. It is said that if you look at the lights for too long, the spirits will think you are envious of them. They will come down and take your life, and bring your spirit up with them. They take your interest as jealousy, and it angers them that we waste so much time looking at them when they wish they could be where we were. They think we are taking our lives for granted. They think they have to teach us some kind of lesson, to make us appreciate what we have. So that’s the myth. Don’t look at the lights for longer than ten minutes consecutively, or the spirits will become angry and take you up there with them. Around 9 minutes you are supposed to start hearing crackles and whistles, to signal the spirits descent to come and get you. However, you can look for as long as you want from indoors, through a window. They say the spirits cannot see you if you are indoors. But if you are open and exposed in the forest, which is practically everywhere where we are, you cannot look for too long.
And with any myth, there is alleged proof as well. This proof is Sarah Watkins. Allegedly, she was a nine year old girl, who fell victim to the spirits. Many years ago, her parents took her camping. They believed she was old enough and has heard the warning enough times to believe it. They enjoyed a nice day of winter camping, and once it got late, they all nestled in together on a log to watch the beautiful lights. After watching for 7 or 8 minutes, her parents took her into the tent to go to sleep. It was late after all. But Sarah was much more curious than she let on. After her parents were long asleep, and after the embers of their fire died away into nothing more than lightning bugs, Sarah crept out. She was entranced by the lights, and craved more time with them. Without her father’s old watch to keep time, she had no clue when her time was up. She got carried away. And so, Sarah Watkins was reported missing the next day, when her parents woke up and discovered her gone. They slept through the night, only waking up to an empty space between them, where Sarah had nestled in the night before. The site was assessed, but because her parents made such a mess looking for her, the police couldn’t get much out of the scene. After weeks of scouring the woods and nearby towns, everyone sort of gave up. Her parents moved away, and nothing ever came from the investigation, but to this day everyone swears it was because of the lights. And to this day, everyone swears that the lights glowed blue like little Sarah’s eyes the following night. All the people who were around for Sarah’s vanishing act practically had an aneurysm if you suggested Sarah fell victim to anything but ancient spirits.
So, to this day, even though I am twenty years old, my mom still tells me not to watch the lights for too long. But now that we were all old enough, me and my friends and boyfriend planned to camp in the woods to see the lights. Even after seeing them so many times, it’s just not something you get sick of. Despite the myths, nobody can deny the lights surreal beauty. My parents were fine with it, believing their warnings had resonated with me and I would not be that stupid. But I was that stupid.
This isn’t a story meant to scare you. I still don’t understand it myself. It’s scary to me and my friends, and it’s sure as hell confusing, but this will not haunt you in the middle of the night. It haunts me, but that is for different reasons. It is not horror movie material. I am simply going to recount exactly what happened, I will not add anything for scare factor.
So, in the middle of the week, me, Matt, Jasmine and Craig loaded up Craig’s Jeep. Sure, it was a sort of double date. Normal kids shared straws in a milkshake, we went myth busting. We were going to watch the lights for 11 minutes. Jasmine and Craig were great, going on four years. They introduced Matt and I, and they were the only ones who were truly supportive of us. We all made a great group, and I couldn’t think of anyone else I would want to go on this trip with.
Craig parked his jeep a bit away from where we planned to camp. It was a small walk, and me Matt and Craig mostly carried everything. Although I was annoyed that our packs and equipment made it impossible for me to hold Matt’s hand, I really didn’t mind all that much. So, with more than enough food, clothing and equipment for less than 24 hours we were all set.
Anyway, we arrived at the clearing excited and nervous. We set up the two tents, one for me and Matt and one for Jasmine and Craig. After everything was set up and the fire was roaring, it was well past dark. We indulged in some good old fashioned gas station booze, and by the time the lights showed up we were freezing and tipsy.
It was honestly amazing, and being there with Matt and my best friends made it all the more special. I snuggled closer to Matt, keeping an eye on the clock. After 7 minutes, Jasmine and Craig stood up. Jasmine claimed she couldn’t feel her toes, and they were tired. I didn’t believe them, and assumed they were scared. But I walked them back to their tent anyway because I had the flashlight. When I returned it was close to 10 minutes. Matt asked me if I heard anything, but I honestly thought he was kidding. When I laughed and gave him a playful punch, he laughed too, but I saw he felt weird. We reached our 11 minute mark, and me and Matt cheered and kissed to celebrate. The weirdness was forgotten. What was there to be afraid of, spirits can’t even tell time anyway. A few minutes later, we did lose feeling in our toes, so we went to the warmth of our tent. We both fell asleep quickly. That was the last time I will ever watch those damned lights.
Around 3am I woke up to an emptiness all around me. I looked over to see Matt had rolled to the far edge of the tent. I assumed he was asleep, but snuggled up next to him anyway to comfort myself. As I rested my cheek on his heavily clothed and blanketed chest, he murmured, “Don’t hold on too tight.” It was weird, but I was tired and brushed it off. I figured he was talking in his sleep.
Hours later I awoke to hear Jasmine yelling. I was in a daze that being woken up leaves, and checked my phone. It was only 6 AM, and we weren’t set to leave until 1 pm. I was frustrated, and assumed Craig and Jasmine were fighting. They were great, but at 4 years, they were well past their honeymoon phase. They fought all the time.
I was already awake though, so walked out to see what was up. What I saw is still blurry in my mind, and still makes me feel really weird. There was Matt, fully naked. I hadn’t even noticed that he left the tent. Now, let me be clear, while we were adults and we did do..things, it was way too cold last night to do anything. As appealing as I find Matt, nothing could make either of us take our pants off. We were both fully clothed, in layers all night. He didn’t simply wander out forgetting he was naked. Jasmine was yelling at him and so was Craig, all the while trying to avoid looking at him south of the belt. I didn’t care of course, so I faced Matt and looked him in the eye, asking him what was going on. What I saw made me stop in my tracks. Matt’s normal, bright green eyes had gone so dull, they almost looked grey. He did not acknowledge me or anyone. Eventually we resigned our yelling and just tried to get his clothes on. Everyone was shaken up, and we weren’t waiting til 1. It was clear that Matt wasn’t just joking around or being forgetful. We left and took Matt straight to the hospital.
Everything happened so quickly.
Within hours of being admitted, Matt slipped into a coma. The doctors had no explanation. There was nothing wrong with him, that they could tell. This pissed everyone off even more. The waiting room was filled with me, Jasmine and Craig and Matt’s parents. While they were never fully accepting of Matt being gay, and our relationship, they still embraced me warmly with tear soaked faces. That’s the last time I felt truly comfortable, being with everyone.
Two days later, Matt died. Again, the doctors had no explanation. They claimed he just “didn’t have any fight left”. I was so angry. Why didn’t he have fight left? He never had to fight for anything. Why would a fit 22 year old not have any fight left? He was surrounded by family, and he had to know it deep down. None of this made sense.
Truth be told, the lights never even crossed our minds. Matt didn’t disappear, he died of a coma. A weird coma, but it’s still a common scientific thing to die from. And after all, I watched for 11 minutes and here I was. But that’s when I realized, I hadn’t. I broke my gaze to walk Craig and Jasmine back. This fucked me up, and for days I was just so confused. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t even tell Craig or Jasmine. I didn’t want to sound crazy, and I didn’t want to believe it. So we all mourned Matt in our own way, and eventually, we all sort of drifted. The people I once found all my comfort in were now the ones who put me most on edge. I reminded them of Matt, they reminded me of Matt. There was no winning.
I struggled for a long time after that, and I still do. I still don’t know what happened. But I have a theory that I still hate. Maybe the lights don’t take you away physically. Maybe they only take your soul. Maybe that’s why Matt’s eyes looked so dead that day, maybe that’s why his last words to me were a cryptic warning.
I mean, the night Matt died, the lights did seem to glow a bit more green than normal.