October is more than half over and yet I don’t feel like I’ve gotten much of my horror business done for the month. And I was doing so well a couple of weeks ago. I had watched a couple of movies with the horror bend to them, but since catching about 1/2 of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, I’ve seen nothing that would disturb my soul. Nothing which would freeze the blood in my veins.
But a movie did come on the other day which set my mind spiraling back to a simpler time… to a time when I was much younger. The first time I remember being truly afraid.
The TV glowed from its perch atop my dresser. My room was wrapped in complete darkness other than that solitary light (and perhaps what little could trickle under the door from the hallway). At the elderly age of 10, Saturday night meant that my bedtime could be extended to at least midnight, and if I was careful about the volume, I could push it past if need be.
This night, though, was a little different. I had become fascinated with horror movies earlier in the year. Somehow, perhaps with the help of HBO streaming into our household, I’d managed to watch Nightmare on Elm Street. The sight of those knives on the end of Freddy’s fingers shook me up, in a way I had never understood before. I didn’t know that a movie could do such things.
It was a gift.
So now, there I was, alone in my room, preparing to watch another horror movie. Something called Children of the Corn. Whether it was the soundtrack of the movie, the basic premise of an entire town’s worth of adults missing – leaving only the kids in charge… a thought which certainly seemed interesting to this 10 year old.
Or it could have been that the villains turned out to be the kids. Whatever it was, I was entranced. Completely enthralled. I glanced at the clock, seeing that it was well past ten o’clock and the sounds from outside my room had died down at some point during my seclusion. That was ok by me. I loved the idea of being there and letting the fear wash over me.
Being only a one story house, my room sat facing the subdivision road which ran in front of our house.
Somehow, between the movie and the soundtrack and the sound of my own breathing, another sound filled my ears… from outside the house.
My heart slammed faster in my chest, but I did what every 10-year old would naturally do: I pulled the covers up to just below my eyes. That age old idea that the monsters in the dark can’t possibly get you if you are protected by an inch of comforter. I closed my eyes and blocked out everything else. Surely it was just something from the movie that I’d heard.
And then it came again.
There was no doubt in my mind that time. It had come from outside. I needed to figure out what it was. The idea of being afraid of something on a television screen suddenly became a distant memory. I slid from my place in the bed, slinking down to the floor beside it. Keeping low, I crept towards the window. Even while every synapsis in my brain fired to tell me to run out of the room, to go pound on my parent’s bedroom, and to let them deal with it… I continued until I was at the window. Slowly, I raised myself up, peering just over the window sill.
Outside he darkness chose not to reveal any potential secrets. Growing a little bolder, I managed to get my whole face up to be able to look.
And a light flashed directly in my eyes.
Somewhere I heard a scream, and my own fight or flight instincts kicked in. Had I been stronger, my door might have come off the hinges with the force I ran out of the room. Then I heard the scream again, only this time I understood that I was the one making the noise. Turning the corner, I found my mom in the living room and I proceeded to tell her everything I could through gasps and wheezing. I needed her to understand that there was something outside my window… that this wasn’t just the overactive imagination of a 10 year old who was watching scary movies.
I need not have worried. She hugged me, smiled, and said, “Your step-father is outside. He probably did it.”
The next sound I heard was one of laughter as my step-father rentered the house. His whole body shook as he relayed what he had seen. In light of this knowledge, I crept back to my bedroom, shut the door (but left a crack open), turned off the tv, and hid under the covers once more.
It’s that same fear that sometimes still gets me when it is very late and I am all alone in my house. A stray sound at 3 in the morning on a Friday night… I still find that I am comforted by ducking under the covers.
Perhaps there is some magic in that thought after all.
John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.
He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!
And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!
This post originally appeared on tesseraguild.com.