I was barely hanging onto the edge of sleep; my mind lulled into letting down its defenses due to the clicking sound from the overhead fan making its way steadily around the room. I had grown accustomed to sleeping with the sheets over my head, regardless of how hot it was. That night was no different as I lay there in my cocoon of security I pretended would somehow keep me safe from ghosts and ghouls and the make believe we conjure up to inject excitement into our otherwise monotonous existence. The edge of the sheets were slightly lifted so enough fresh air could enter and push out the old, stale air, but not far enough that anything could see me if it was stalking around the room. It’s important to a child that they not be seen. Being seen makes all the difference in the imaginative way they establish defenses and safe guards to push back against fear of what lurks in the dark.
The sound of something pinging against metal jolted me wide awake. The ringing in my ears was only a slight hindrance to my heightened senses as the fight or flight response in my body shot adrenaline through me like a cannon. My arm felt like it would be crushed by the drum in my chest as the position I had taken on my left side suddenly left me feeling claustrophobic and paralyzed. I had metal closet doors that were slightly bent around the edges but would retract like an accordion on double hinges and make a squeaking sound from the metal on metal sliders. They were extremely loud when something banged into them, as I’d been yelled at far too many times to count for the noise I was making when I was playing in my room.
I froze in the dark. I tried to hold my breath to hear over the ringing in my ears and the pounding in my chest, but it only made things worse. Over the years, my brother would sneak in and try to scare me after he found out the extent of my fears. My increased awareness reminded me he wasn’t home that night, however. As I lay there motionless, trying to listen for anything that might allow me to hide behind my rulebook of imaginary defenses, I remembered the fish flashlight I kept next to my bed had stopped working. The fish flashlight would light up with a tiny bulb in its mouth when the sides were squeezed, and it was another critical line of defense in my repertoire. It would be sometime yet before I would learn that true darkness doesn’t flee from the light of a child’s flashlight, but so far I had been safe while playing by a set of rules which likely mirrored every other child. A flashlight was vital to whether you made it to the next morning alive or not. My faith in those rules would end that night.
I kept listening, but I didn’t hear anything. As the seconds turned into minutes, my body slowly started to calm down. I used the gap in the blankets I’d created for fresh air to try and scan the room. It was dark, but a sliver of moonlight cutting across the edge of the window blinds gave me just enough illumination to make out the shape of objects in the room. I panned across the room while trying not to move so I wouldn’t draw any unwanted attention. My toybox lid was slightly open, but that was fairly normal. I would haphazardly stuff my toys in there before bed, and it wouldn’t always close all the way. I needed to see more of the room, so I took a chance and lifted the covers enough to give both eyes a clear vantage of the whole scene.
I can recall the feeling. I think back on that exact moment, and I can faintly remember the thick walls of pure terror that folded in on me like a heavy blanket. It came in paralyzing waves that washed over me, not allowing me to breathe or think or control any willful response of my body. I looked up at the man on the wall, and he was gone. In his place was a jagged discoloration which pulled apart like threading from corner to corner.
That same dizzying feeling of panic that makes your bones feel hollow; the picture on the wall I would see hundreds of times over the years that made me feel like I was being pulled apart because of the unequal way the seams didn’t connect; my pleading through tears as I would beg my parents to believe me, to not make me go in there, because I thought those second nights would be my end; but this was the first time, the true moment of horror, the shattering of all the stored up make believe I’d clung to in false hope. What came through the blur, the frayed lines of sanity and normal, is impossible to describe. Like describing a new color that doesn’t exist in this reality, I can’t describe what happened with accuracy. The other world descended on top of me as I lay frozen stiff, screaming inside but incapable of making audible sounds. His face and form came from the closet where I had heard that sound, but he didn’t have that dreadful smile smeared across his face anymore. This is the moment I recall when I realized true evil exists in the world. He was true evil. His face was contorted and twisted up in hideous, indescribable horror, and after thirty plus years of trying to describe it, I still can’t find the words. I lay frozen in terror as his limbs seemed to move and twist like they were made of putty. He bobbled along like a daddy long leg; seemingly unsure but deliberate and with steady purpose. Not just his eyes, but his whole face bore into me as he seemed to be determined to get to me as the confinements of my room grew immensely in size. The bigger my room grew, the longer I had to wait as he awkwardly moved on stilted legs of rubber towards me. My impending doom dragged on longer and longer until I felt madness start to close in around my mind.
I don’t know how long it lasted, how it ended, or how I eventually was able to move again, but I can recall sobbing under the sheets. After some time, I ran down the stairs to my parents room bawling my eyes out. They were used to my bad dreams, so they said it was just a nightmare like they always did, and my dad took me back upstairs. Getting closer to the room felt like two magnets repulsing away from one another. The closer I got, the more my chest would tighten up, and I couldn’t breathe. I knew he was in there. I could feel his presence, and it was stronger than it had ever been. I would come to learn that his presence, along with others like him, was unique. It was as if he had been assigned to me alone. The room, his face and the horrifying way he moved towards me was burned into my memory forever. It wasn’t his face that drove me to the edge of madness over the years, though. It was the jagged fraying in that picture. I would never see him like that again, but he was far from done. The jagged seam in that picture haunts me. When I would see it over the years, I would pick at the stitching; whether in my mind or in real life, I honestly don’t know. The more I messed with it, the more sure I was I would soon go crazy. I felt it; I was there so many times. I was sure this was how people ended up in insane asylums. People who picked too long at the jagged stitching would simply fall off and disappear into their minds. They were there, but they didn’t know how to escape the world that had grown over them. Though madness didn’t take me, my world was dismal and cold nonetheless. I look at the boy I was that night, and I envy him for not realizing the darkness that would eventually haunt his nights and his days alike.