On the Nature of Fear

Everybody’s afraid of something.


When you wake up in the middle of the night, your nightmares still creeping in the back of your mind, your heart racing… What do you see? What are the monsters in your closet, the shadows in the dark, the evil lurking behind your back?

We humans have many natural, in-born fears. For example, I am afraid of spiders. Yet, I don’t often dream of spiders. When I look over my shoulder in the dark at night, I don’t expect to see a spider standing there, watching me. When I stare at the shadows in my room at night, I don’t worry that a spider will be standing there, looking back at me.

Perhaps my true fear is not spiders. Perhaps true fear is a distinct phenomenon. Maybe there are fears and phobias, which affect us in the daylight, and there is another kind of fear which haunts us in our most private hours. There is a sense of horror within all of us, and it is this sense, the tingling, creeping, terrorizing horror with which I am enamored.

Many years ago, a ghost came into my dreams. She visited me in the night, and she wrought upon me a most horrible nightmare. It was so terrible, so vivid, so inescapable, that upon waking I could think of nothing else. This woman struck me with a penetrating terror that nothing in the physical world could ever manifest. This was fear of the unknown, the most deliciously paralyzing fear known to man.

When we watch a scary movie, and we turn out all the lights, what do we fear when we go to sleep? Do we fear that Freddy Kreuger himself will come and slash our throats? Do we fear that Jason will come and chop us to bits? No. We’re not children, anymore. We don’t fear the monsters from the screen. We fear the possibility of the monster. We fear the implication that perhaps Jason and Freddy are real, just maybe, and maybe they’re right behind you even as you sit there. Maybe they’re around the corner, waiting to slide a sweet little blade into your gut.

But again, it’s not precisely the shadow of the monster, nor the possibility of him. It’s the mere taste, the shadow, the feel of the unknown threat in the dark. In the dark, all mundane terrors of the daylight become unknown entities.

There are, of course, some monsters which may translate more adequately into our own nightly horrors. Some monsters can be believed in a way which old Freddy and Jason cannot. Some monsters feel true, and they seep into the back of their minds. They extend their nightmare tendrils into our subconscious, and they feed upon our fear until they are as real to us as any other shadow in the night.

My dead girl, the ghost from my past, is still with me to this day. She lives in the back of my mind, waiting for a moment of weakness to strike. We’re friends now, however, and I have learned that even the monsters who haunt us are not necessarily only capable of inflicting fear. I have seen my ghostly companion laugh, and smile, and look at me with her haunting dead eyes curved up in a joyful expression.

She’s still terrifying, of course. But we live in harmony, here in my head. Most days, I am not afraid of her. I try my best to treat her just like a normal girl. I empathize with her. It must be so lonely, being a ghost. She’ll smile, pat her dead hand upon my shoulder, and everything will be alright.

Sometimes your monsters just need a friend.

Sometimes. Sometimes, only.

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