Darkness never used to bother me. In fact, back where I used to live, there was a 10,000-acre state forest directly behind our place. And whenever there was a full moon, which illuminated the trails, I thought nothing of taking walks in the woods with my dog at 10:00 at night. I thought it was peaceful.
You’d never catch me doing that nowadays, even though the woods where I currently live aren’t even half as dense. But walking through them at 10:00 PM…peaceful? More like suicidal!
Now that I’m older, darkness makes me think of things like vampires, The Walking Dead, Bigfoot, escaped murderers and burglars.
Which is why I have two dogs…big dogs, even though people keep telling me that at my age, I probably should switch to a cat.
“You’re too old to take care of two huge dogs,” one of my friends said to me. “If you ever fell in the house and hit your head and lapsed into a coma, the dogs would end up eating you if they got hungry enough! There wouldn’t even be a skeleton left for anyone to find. Dogs love bones, y’know.”
I made a mental note to “unfriend” her on Facebook.
Thanks to her, every time my dogs stare at me now, I find myself wondering if they’re picturing me smothered in gravy.
I do blame my current fear of the dark partially on my habit of watching true-crime shows on the ID channel, which seems to have a penchant for shows that deal with the most gruesome crimes imaginable. No run-of-the-mill shoplifters or car thieves on this station. No sirree, they prefer guys who make Hannibal Lecter look like a choir boy.
So why do I watch those shows? It’s because the killer never is revealed until the last five minutes of each one, and I like to test my detective skills and try to guess who it is before then. The problem is, I usually have to sit through a whole of lot of strangulations, stabbings, shootings and enough blood to fill a bathtub before I reach that “Aha! Raoul, the pool boy, is the killer!” moment.
And as a result, I unconsciously have turned myself into a paranoid chicken when it comes to being in the dark.
I always try to plan on being home long before sunset, but this time of year, it’s difficult because it seems to get dark right after lunch. So the other afternoon I got home at 4:45 and it already was pitch-dark out. The automatic garage door opened and I drove into the garage. Then I hit the remote control tacked to my car’s visor and watched, in my rearview mirror, the door slowly close behind me. But instead of feeling safe, I suddenly felt terrified. What, I wondered, would have stopped someone or something really creepy from crawling under the door right before it closed? And who or what might be lurking in the garage, just waiting for me to get out of the car?
It didn’t even dawn on me that if something had tried to slither underneath the door, the door’s anti-crushing sensor would have automatically opened it again. No, I was too busy imagining some drooling, wild-eyed murderer hiding behind the folding stepladder or the trash bin. So I stayed in the car and frantically searched for a weapon. The only thing I found was a dog leash lying on the passenger’s seat. I thought maybe I could use it as a whip…or a noose.
And then it happened.
The garage light that automatically pops on whenever the garage door opens, popped off. I was sitting in total darkness. I knew the only way I’d be able to light my way into the house would be to open the garage door again, but I didn’t want to risk opening it to an awaiting axe murderer standing outside. I thought about turning on the car’sheadlights and walking over to the light switch on the garage wall and manually turning on the overhead light, then walking back and turning off the headlights. But all of that walking around sounded too risky.
“Oh, just be brave and make a dash for the door to the house!” I told myself. “Stop being such a big chicken!”
I finally eased open the car door, which made the interior light in the car pop on, so I was able to see a little of the garage. Every shadow in there seemed to be moving. Clutching my weapon (the leash), I eased out of the car and walked a few steps away from it to check for anything unusual that might be sticking out from underneath the rear bumper. Then I extended my leg and used my foot to shove the car door shut, which threw the garage back into darkness.
I felt my way up the two steps into the house, then fumbled with the key, unlocked the door and bolted inside. I slammed the door and leaned against it, breathing a sigh of relief. Almost immediately I realized I’d left my handbag out in the car. At that point, even if it had a roll of $100 bills and a winning lottery ticket stuffed into it, I wouldn’t have gone back out to the garage to get it. I was inside the house, safe and sound, and planned to stay there. But, I suddenly wondered, was I really safe?
I wasn’t imagining things…something just wasn’t right.
A TV program I’d watched not too long ago instantly sprang to mind. In it, a police officer had said if you own a dog that usually excitedly greets you at the door but you come home some night and the dog isn’t anywhere in sight, you should turn around and head right back outside because it could mean a burglar has silenced the dog and is hiding inside.
Well, I have two dogs and neither one greeted me, which I thought was strange...and a bit frightening. Usually, the minute I set foot in the door, I am attacked by two furry bodies that sniff me all over with their wet noses, just to be certain I’m me and not someone they should be ripping to shreds.
I’d left a light on in the living room, so I peeked around the corner of the kitchen doorway and saw both dogs lying on the rug. I stifled a gasp. They were so still! Had they, I wondered, been fed drug-laced meatballs by some crook who, at that very moment, was rifling through my underwear drawer? I carefully made my way through the kitchen and into the living room, flipping on every light switch I came to as I did. When I reached the living room, both dogs looked up at me as if to say, “It's about time you got home.” Then they both yawned and fell back to sleep.
I felt somewhat reassured that their ho-hum attitudes meant there was no burglar hiding underneath my bed and waiting to grab me by the ankles. So I headed down to the bedroom to change into my comfy sweatpants. All I can say is living in a house that has 15 doors can be pretty scary when you’re alone at night. Every time I passed by one, I had the eerie feeling someone or something was standing behind it and was going to jump out at me, like those guys in the Halloween haunted houses do. Unfortunately, I had to pass six doors just to get to the closet…and my sweatpants.
The good thing about having a walk-in closet is I can store tons of stuff in it. The bad thing about it is it easily could hide a small army of thugs. I grasped the closet door’s handle and hesitated. Was something other than my ratty old clothes and stacks of shoe boxes waiting for me on the other side?
As it turned out, the scariest thing in my closet was the full-length mirror.
But I slowly am learning how to cope with and eventually overcome my fear of the dark. All I have to do is turn on every light in the house, sit with a dog on each side of me, keep a Ginsu knife in my lap, and not go to bed until the sun comes up.
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines for over 45 years. She is the author of “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” “Heed the Predictor,” “The Common-Sense Approach to Dream Interpretation" and “Christmas, a Cabin and a Stranger.” Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.