Friday, September 9, 2011

Fear itself

Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine. 

Remember when you moved into your current house or apartment, and how unsettling it was to go to sleep there for the first few nights? Or is that just me? New noises, odd lights, and unfamiliar surroundings all seem to combine to awaken some deep and primitive insecurity that leaves me feeling as exposed and vulnerable as if I were sleeping on the side of the highway.*

This phenomenon was probably more pronounced than usual when we moved into this house a decade ago. It's big, it's old, and it's oddly shaped, so it made lots of noises and I was forever getting lost in it at first. The quietness of the street seems to make the noises all that much louder, and the streetlight at the foot of our driveway throws odd shadows through the front windows. Frankly, it was terrifying.

Of course, we accommodate quickly, so the anxiety faded in a few days, and now eleven years later I feel more secure in our old boomerang-shaped house than just about anywhere else in the world. At least until two nights ago.

That was when Biscuit woke me around 3:30 AM saying that someone had just pounded loudly on our front door. I don't know if you've ever had the experience of waking to a sudden loud or frightening noise, but it will get your heart going nicely. We wandered the house, peeking furtively out of windows, finding neither prowler nor any indication of anything unusual. We both eventually slept a little more, but it made for a long night and a long next day.

Maybe she dreamed the noise. Maybe not. The fact that I didn't hear it doesn't mean much. I once slept through a tree falling on my house.** The part that is interesting to me is how quickly that first night feeling can return, and our safest refuge once again seem as insubstantial as a house made of straw.

Our monkey brains are excellent at papering over our more primitive systems, so by the next night all was back to normal, and I once again slept the sleep of the dead. Though I'm still a little more attuned to the odd creak or shuffle.

Stephen King once said that what really frightened him was the thought of an unexpected hand closing over his as he fumbled for the light switch in the dark. I think I know exactly what he means.

* I've slept on the side of the highway. I don't recommend it.

** True story. Though in my defense, it wasn't a really big tree.


  1. if my dinosaur brain starts to unleash the adrenaline, there is no way in hell i can go downstairs without the dog at my side. tweakin' like a crack-head when i get back upstairs.

    and never mind what happens sometimes when i think about axe-carrying clowns when i'm walking the dog at 2 am after an evening out...

  2. The last year I was in BR, I lived in a tiny ground-level apartment on Zeeland Street, right off Perkins Road (across from Perks - or, er, what used to be Perks). It was one unit in a building that I'm pretty sure used to be a house but was since divided into four units. It was the first time I had lived alone in a ground-level apartment. (The only other place I had previously lived alone was a second-floor unit in a gated complex.)

    There was a big-ass window in the bedroom. The door itself was one of those wooden doors that's actually half window. There were two more windows in the main room. (The apartment was so small that it really only had two rooms - a bedroom with a bathroom off of it and a main room with a kitchen in the corner separated by a countertop. It was actually a really, really cool apartment, if super old with low ceilings, and I loved living in it.)

    However, any time I spent the night there without my boyfriend at the time (which was maybe a total of ten nights in that whole year, even though he didn't technically live there), I had to leave the floor lamp on in the main room and the desk lamp on in the bedroom, I slept with the bedroom door open, and "slept" is probably a stronger word than I would use to describe my state. I worried far too much about intruders.

    I loved that apartment, but I was super, super uncomfortable sleeping there alone, even after a year.

  3. Eight years ago at 4 a.m. someone pounded on our front door too. I am a light sleeper when it comes to the out-of-the-ordinary and I awoke and told Excy -- his response: "No one is knocking on the door..." The next morning he explained to me that there was no way in hell he was answering any knock on the door after midnight out in the country...guess he's right...having actually SEEN two ghosts when we lived at Burnside, I can tell you it's not the undead that scare one, as much as the LIVING....S King is right...

  4. A pounding on the door in the night or an unexpected phone call at that time can really rattle my chains. Sometimes punks will pound on doors or ring doorbells in the night in our town just to get on people's nerves.

  5. So...DO YOU live in that house now, or were you just showing us a photo of Stephen King's house???? (I am easily confused)
    I hate weird strange, unexpected sounds in the night.
    that last statement by S. King was very freaky!!!!!
    thanks......NOW, I'll be afraid to reach for a light switch in the middle of the night.

  6. This kind of fear is exactly why I stopped reading Steven King, or watching horror movies, when I was in my 20s. Now, when things go bump in the night, my first reaction is to wonder what mischief the animals are getting up to, rather than to wonder if a mad axman/zombie/evil spirit is creeping up the stairs...

  7. Whenever I hear a noise, I sigh and grab my baseball bat and check it out. Usually being afraid doesn't even occur to me, it's all, "Goddammit, am I going to have to fuck a bitch up?"