[What follows is an anecdote from my experience at the Books with Bite workshop at the Highlights Foundation earlier this month. However, it is also the personal narrative I’m writing with my seventh graders (because I like to multitask). The story is true, but some details regarding other participants and the events they shared have been changed to protect anonymity.]
Comfort in the Dark
When I was little and I got scared during the night, I pulled the covers over my head and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping if I didn’t see the ghost or monster, it couldn’t get me. I guess it worked because I’m still here. No monster ever succeeded.
Now, though, I’m all grown up, and nighttime terrors are a thing of the past. Right?
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop in Pennsylvania with a group of horror writers. I stayed by myself in a small cabin at the edge of the woods with no TV, no internet, and very little cell service. The cabin was cute and cozy during the day, with the windows open and the sunlight streaming in, but at night my cozy cabin became pretty creepy. One evening in particular it showed its sinister side.
The third night of the workshop was “ghost story night.” The other ten writers and I sat in the living room of the meeting house, lounging on comfy couches, sipping cups of coffee or wine, and taking turns telling ghost stories. Only, these weren’t neatly cased in the safety of “fiction.” These stories were true. And they were eerie.
One woman told a heart-wrenching tale about seeing her father’s ghost after experiencing a terrible accident. That one left most of the room in tears. Another woman described a puff of smoke with eyes that used to follow her around her grandparents’ house when she was a child. She didn’t know until she was an adult that the smoke followed her younger brother too.
Some of the stories were funny, some were sad, and some were hard to believe even though the speaker swore they were true, but all of them sent shivers down my spine. Then someone brought up the fact that most supernatural experiences happen between three and four o’clock in the morning, and suddenly the room was abuzz with people saying they wake up at exactly 3:00AM every night. I stayed quiet, but my mind drifted to the night before, when I’d been roused from sleep to see the numbers of my cabin’s alarm clock glowing 3:03. My spine shivered again.
Before long, it was 10:00PM, and the ghost stories were over. It was time to go back to my cabin. In the dark. Alone.
The excitement of the evening and the coffee coursing through my veins kept me up for a couple more hours. First, I sat on the porch writing in my journal and listening to the coyotes howl in the hills. Then I snuggled under the quilt of my tiny bed and read a ghost story (which, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea). Finally, just after midnight, I fell asleep.
At some point in the middle of the night, I became aware that I was screaming. The reason for my screams wasn’t apparent. I just knew that I was terrified of something, and I was screaming. With effort, I managed to wake myself up from this vague nightmare. Then, suddenly, I felt a hand softly stroke my head, running its fingers gently down my ponytail. The gesture was kind, soothing. It seemed to say, Shh, shh. There ‘s nothing to be afraid of, which would have been comforting if I hadn’t been ALONE IN MY CABIN.
At this point, I jerked awake again, for real this time. But, even though my brain was now conscious and every cell of my body was on high alert, I didn’t open my eyes. I did NOT want to see whatever was in that room with me, be it ghost or monster or scary shadow or even just the alarm clock flashing 3:00AM. I did not want to see anything to make my heart pound harder that it already was. I refused to look.
Instead, I pulled the quilt over my head so that not a single inch of me was exposed to the night, and I squeezed my eyes shut until I fell asleep, fretfully, once more.
Then the morning came. Sunlight streamed through my windows. There were good friends and good coffee waiting for me at breakfast, and I felt happy, relieved, and a little curious about what I’d experienced during the night.
One thing I did not feel was childish. After all, you’re never too old to be scared. The night will always be dark, but eventually the morning will come, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you escaped the monster once more.
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