Monsters in the Dark

When I was a little kid, I was afraid of the dark.  I never would have admitted this at the time, of course.  That would have made me look like a little kid and such a show of weakness would have been completely inconceivable.  In particular, I remember the closet in my bedroom, located directly across from my bed and right in my line of sight, and how I had to make sure the door was closed every night when I went to bed.  If, in some colossal display of negligence, I happened to turn off the lights and get into bed before I noticed that it was still open, then I was screwed.  I couldn’t just close my eyes, because then they could sneak up on me with impunity.  And getting up to close the door was right out; moving closer to them would have been playing right into their claws.  Nope, I was trapped.  For the rest of the night, I would be forced to stare at that hole in space, an event horizon from which light and hope could not escape and which harbored horrors that only a child could imagine.

Hint: It wasn't these guys

A small measure of this still afflicts me even today, but at least now I can recognize it for what it is: an overactive imagination trolling a powerful survival instinct.  I just happen to be in the (admittedly fortunate) position that my survival instinct hasn’t had much real life experience in what it should really be getting worked up about.  In absence of anything useful to do, it goes with what my imagination keeps feeding it.  In all honesty, though, there are worse problems to have.  I’d rather have a fight-or-flight response that suffers a few false positives than be stuck with one with a dulled edge.  We evolved a hair trigger on our thalamus for a reason: it only has to miss one cue of danger to get you killed.

As you can imagine, this means I don’t tend to react terribly well to horror movies.  Restful sleep becomes a precious commodity for the next several days.  The idea of going out and deliberately scaring yourself has never really made a lot of sense to me.  I’m told there’s a bit of a rush to be had from the experience, whether from endorphins or good old adrenaline I don’t know, but I don’t recall ever experiencing anything like that.  All I’ve ever gotten for my trouble has been a few sleepless nights.

Even that, though, has been enough to condition me as to how monsters work.  There’s always something horrible out there.  It could be anything, really.  And it’s gonna kill someone, because that’s what monsters do.  The first guy to die?  He never sees it coming.  After all, there’s no such thing as monsters, right?  There’s no need to be on guard and no need to prepare because there’s nothing out there after you.  It’s only over that first guy’s corpse and all those to follow does the last person have any chance to vanquish the horror and walk off into the sunrise, traumatized but alive.  A triumphant victory for the sole survivor and for humanity as a whole, to be sure.  But someone always has to be first and that guy never stands a chance.

Dead Redshirt

This guy? He was first.

Stories to the contrary, though, we all know there are no such things as monsters.  It’s the armor that our rational minds clad themselves in every time the lights go out.  The reach of humanity has spanned the globe with nary a discovery of werewolves, vampires, demons, or the even more exotic terrors borne of the human imagination.  It’s a great big world full of… the mundane.

And that’s why we really keep telling horror stories, again and again.  It’s not because we need to keep our survival instincts sharp; frankly, most of us will never need them.  It’s because we want them to be true.  We want the monsters and the darkness to be real because if they are then maybe the heroes and the light are real too.  We want there to be wonder left in the world, something beyond the crushing banality that confronts us every day.  We want to believe.

Or maybe that’s just me.

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3 Responses to Monsters in the Dark

  1. Triss says:

    Ain’t just you, though there’re other reasons as well; as kids, to paraphrase a guy, we got told these stories to prove that monsters could be beaten. They contain life lessons. We read horror stories so that we can know how not to be that guy, you know, the one who goes into the dark room alone after hearing the suspicious thump and not being able to raise the others on the walkie-talkies.

    The implication is definitely there that we wish to learn how to be Heroes, so that when the time comes, we can get the adulation of our peers.

    Ah well. A little heroic fantasy is good for the ego, right?

  2. Destril says:

    I’m glad to know there’s one other person out there who isn’t all into horror films. That being said, “Psycho” (the original, not the remake, thank you very much) is one of my favorite films of all time. I’ve visited a haunted house during Halloween season exactly once in my life…given that I nearly brained a hapless mummy that jumped out at me, I decided that this was an attraction I just didn’t need to visit after that.

    As to whether or not there are monsters…sadly, I believe the conduct, crimes, and convictions of certain individuals does indeed confirm that there are monsters out there…they just look exactly like all the rest of us.

  3. Don’t be fooled. Monsters are very real. They just happen to wear the same skin as you and I. They look like us, talk like us, and for the most part act like us. It’s only when no one is looking, when the light goes out, that they rise from the shadows to wreak havoc upon those who don’t believe in them.

    The lives you and I have lived have been radically different. In my life I have met these monsters, I have face these monsters and I have learned that anyone who chooses to can wield that light. Sure I have scars from some of these encounters. I’ve had stitches because of some of these encounters. Broken a few teeth. In the end what you’re left with is the realization that anyone can be that hero, the harbinger of the light. All you have to do is refuse to yield to the fear that so many others fall victim too. Well that and an understanding of what you’re facing.

    The things I never knew about my own brother, I swear.

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