Like most people, I have a vivid imagination when it comes to things I am scared of. Fear of darkness is one of them. I wonder what causes this primal fear. Is it the fear of the unknown? Is it a feeling of vulnerability of not being able to see what is in front of you? Or is it an overactive imagination? Does it ever fade away with age? I don’t think so, at least not in my case. It has been the most tenacious of all my fears. If you are wondering what happened to rational thinking, well, I will have to tell you, apart from the fact that I am not very good at it, fear trumps reasoning every single time.
Growing up, we were in the habit of turning on the lights when we walked into a room (when it was dark) and turning them off on our way out. Saving energy was so ingrained in us that it was almost a reflex action. I didn’t mind that at all. The problem was when I had to walk into a dark room, alone. I was terrified.
In the house where I grew up in, there was this huge room at the back that had the outer wall covered almost entirely with windows. And they were left open all the time, night and day. You faced the windows when you walked into the room. The light switch was to the right of the door and you had to twist a bit and look away from the windows to find the switch high up on the wall. I always walked in with my heart racing, staring outside the windows trying to peer through the darkness to see what I can only feel - eyes that stare back at me. I make a few frantic jumps to reach the switch and finally the room is filled with light. But now that I am very visible to whoever or whatever it is that is lurking outside, I steadfastly avoid looking out the window. Finishing up whatever it is I came to the room for, I leave the room as fast as I possibly can. On my way out, it only takes a second or so to turn the light off, but with my back turned to the windows, those are some of the longest seconds I will ever remember.
In that second or two, my mind conjures up images from stories. Eerie, spooky stories that I eagerly listened to during the day that become invariably baneful at night. These phantom beings that came to life (well, sort of) were out to get me. If nothing else, they were there to scare me silly. They materialized from stories I heard during summer vacations at grandma’s. From after school stories from an aunt who was an avid reader. These were mostly stories of little old ladies and lost forlorn souls, young and old, roaming the village, long after they were dead looking to torment anyone who passes by. And heroic tales of men and women walking home from farms in long lonely roads in the thick of night hounded by an indescribable towering shadow at their heels. The kind of creatures (if you could call it that) in these stories were as varied as the stories themselves. There were ghosts, goblins, zombies, spirits and if it defies description, was simply referred to as ‘that’. Not all of them were mean. Some were decidedly benign. But just the fact that they were not exactly alive (though mostly in human form with extraordinary powers that defy logic) make them less so.
Of course there are the more tangible stories. Alarming stories of burglars looking for easy access. It never occurred to me that if my parents were worried about burglary, they would never have left the windows (you know, at that back room) open at night. But of course, that part of my brain was never turned on and unfortunately, it still kind of remains so. It is funny how during the light of day, those windows are the most innocuous things around. It is almost magical how they transform into a source of mystery and terror at night.
For whatever reason, normal or abnormal, my imagination runs overtime in every dark space. An aunt once told me that one is scared of the dark when one doesn’t have a clear conscience. I think she may have a point. She is no more. Now I am all the more worried because she is one of the apparitions I ‘almost’ see behind the dark shadow of a door at night ( you see, she used to play a game of ‘light and shadow’ with us a lot :-) and also, I am ashamed to say, I am guilty of throwing tantrums around her).
You know how we are all encouraged to face our fears. So, say I try that for a change. Then what would my plan of action be? What would I do if by some incomprehensible experience, I do indeed see these phantom characters (like something in the lines of ‘I see dead people’)? How do I meet their silent and menacing look of disapproval (I think they know exactly what goes on in my mind, hence that look). Now if only they said something, it would give me a chance to explain. No, wait!......that might lead to bigger trouble. Never mind.