I am not afraid of the dark.
I love the dark. It’s the things that lurk in all that blackness that terrify me. Well, at least I hope they lurk in the dark. Otherwise all the energy I’ve spent getting out bed to secure the closet door, all the bed cover tucking I’ve done—so that clawed hand has to give warning before grabbing my leg—and all those exhausting sprints up the stairs (certain I’m being chased), well then it has all been for nothing. And that would be really embarrassing.
Except I’m not the only adult doing those foolish things.
Perhaps the only real difference is I don’t just do these things . . . I write about them. I explore the horrific possibilities in all of life’s dark “what-ifs.”
I know it makes no sense. No rational sense anyway. I have a degree in cognitive psychology, and had a career as an investigator before becoming a consultant. These are all fields rooted in fact, in science, and in research so I should know better than to believe that the shuffling noise in the darkened hallway is anything more than my imagination. But . . . What if?
I blame my parents for my love of horror and my overactive imagination. My parents divorced when I was seven and back in 1973, me and my brothers could be latch-key kids without anyone getting arrested.
Unsupervised, roaming about the woods and streams of that small Northford, Connecticut town, without the distractions of cable television or video games, a kid’s imagination just grows wild.
And country nights, they aren’t like the city or the suburbs. It’s dark, and it’s quiet, and you just can’t help but imagine the things that have stirred from their daytime slumber drawn to the light of your bedroom window. A psychologist might say that my love of horror represented a displacement of the other, real-life fears—divorce, abandonment, uncertainty.
Perhaps, but I was mainlining horror even before my parent’s marriage ended. My mother should have known better, but she fed it with the short stories that she read to me, and the old Creature Feature and Universal Monsters we watched together on our black and white television. If I was a horror junkie, then Mom was my Dealer.
But if there were a single moment I could point to and say, “Yeah that is when my habit became an addiction,” it was that summer’s night in 1971 when we pulled into the drive-in to watch Charlton Heston in The Omega Man.
Years later I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you think a movie like that is a little much for a five-year-old?” She got an embarrassed look on her face and answered, "Umm, I didn’t think it would be that bad."
“Hmm,” I thought but didn’t ask. “If not ‘that’ bad then exactly ‘how’ bad DID you believe it would be, mother?”
That movie gave me some of the best nightmares I ever had. Nothing would come close to it until Mom took me to see Jaws four years later, after which (and still to this day), I have a healthy suspicion for all bodies of water including my swimming pool.
But some of the blame goes to my grandmother. She was the smartest and yet most worrisome woman I’ve ever met. We had a lot of sleepovers at Grandma’s. And Grandma was not one to scoff at childhood fears. You needn’t ask, she put you to bed, checked the closet AND checked under the bed. You’d think that would be comforting, but it wasn’t.
You see, I was a smart kid too, and her actions made me wonder, “If there are no such things as monsters then why waste time checking the closet and underneath the bed?”
To me, the inquiry made perfect sense. I lived in a world where adults assured me a fat guy in a red suit brought presents in a sled pulled by flying reindeer and that a bunny brings candy, so the belief in monsters seemed perfectly reasonable.
Light and Darkness, you can’t have one without the other.
So, I grew up loving horror and dark fiction. And since I couldn’t get enough of the stories, I wrote my own. And when I had my kids, I shared my passion with them, and then I started writing stories for them.
But the five of them have grown into adulthood and gotten too busy for campfire stories.
And I’ve grown too, but my passion for telling dark stories remains as strong as it ever was. My wife is still a willing listener.
For both of us, those tales of darkness inspire the fond memories of the Autumn Halloweens that feel less festive here in Fort Myers, Florida than they did back home.