Why fear the dark?

About 200,000 years ago, humans evolved into what we are now. Ever since, the most primal emotion that served an important purpose to our survival was fear. Being afraid of the dark is natural in that sense, for we were often terrified by what could be lurking in it — an unknown that carried with it the promise of death.

I often think about my relationship with fear — terror more accurately as a precursor to the actual horror. Having been diagnosed with a chemical imbalance in my brain, partially resulting in a panic disorder at such a young age, fear has been my closest friend throughout life. I’ve found a strange comfort in things that terrify me since, which started in my elementary school years. I fell in love with Goosebumps and the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and I’m sure everyone of a similar mindset knew the childhood horror of Jenny, the girl with the green ribbon tied around her neck to keep her head from falling off in The Green Ribbon.

My introduction to real-life horror began much around the same time, although I’d been having sleep paralysis episodes and night terrors since I was an infant. My mom described it to me as I got older: ‘We would rush into your room, and you were in your crib crying and screaming. Your eyes were open and glazed over, and we couldn’t get you to move or console you. Sometimes you were very difficult to console as a child because you cried so often for no reason.’

Something in that vein of thought. It was only when I discovered that the ghosts could be very real that I was traumatized and terrified of the dark forever. I wrote about a specific event in my current dark urban fantasy project, a book based on my actual life. Here is an excerpt from that moment that I remember clearly to this day:

“Bloody Mary!” The group finally shouted the last word, and they all stared into the mirror. A few of the girls started to giggle, and it turned into a collective scream as Miranda’s sister flipped the lights off again. She stood in front of the switch as the girls fought to turn it back on. While they laughed at their fear, Sera trembled as she looked away from the mirror at last. The lights came back on and everyone fell into chatter about the game, but Miranda and her sister approached Sera, who was clearly shaken.

“Hey,” Miranda’s sister said. “There’s too many of us. She’s not going to come if we’re all doing it.”

“Ooh, you got a point,” Miranda agreed. She looked to Sera with her sister. “Hey, you’re brave. Why don’t you try it and let us know if it works?”

“No.” Sera’s voice shook. “I don’t want to.”

Miranda’s sister tossed the anxious girl a flashlight. “Here, you can even use this if you get too scared, but you can’t turn the big light on.”

Sera was ushered into the hallway and noticed a few of the girls were headed toward the front door. The party was nearing its end for some of them, but Sera wished it was ending for her too. She’d agreed to stay the night. And foolishly without Byleth. She regretted telling Byleth to stay away for the sake of it being a girl’s night.

Sera fought against the hands pushing her into the small bathroom, and she clung to the flashlight for life when the door closed behind her. She took a deep breath. She didn’t want to seem like a loser. Maybe if she could do this, she could be friends with the other girls and they would see that she wasn’t just a big baby. She was worthy of being cool and mature like they were.

“Turn off the light!” the teenager shouted from the other side of the door, and Sera did. She turned on the flashlight and begrudgingly looked into the mirror.

“I can’t do it,” Sera stammered.

“Sure you can!” Miranda feigned encouragement. “Just do it once. Come on, you chicken!” The girls giggled as Sera tried again to look straight into the mirror. “And say it so we can hear it.”

With the flashlight on in the dark bathroom, Sera opened her mouth to speak, but no words would come. She finally forced out the first one. “Bloody Mary.”


“Bloody Mary.”

Sera’s shaking reached a crescendo and tears formed in her eyes. Just one more time and she could escape.

“Bloody Mary!” Sera forced the last utterance of the damnable name and gripped the flashlight like it was her final lifeline. And she truly felt it was.

At the time, I was obviously not out yet as a trans man. I was around nine or ten years old, and I’d been invited to a birthday party only to be bullied. After being trapped in the bathroom, I wasn’t able to escape. The girls leaned against the door and laughed at my cries, and after some time I went into a dissociative state from the intense horror I was in. The night became a blur after that as I was rescued by the birthday girl’s mother, and my mom pulled in the driveway to take me home.

This was during the 90s when just about every kid knew who Bloody Mary was. I did as well, which made her all the more terrifying, but I went home that night and opened Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, re-reading the Bloody Mary urban legend while I shook. It was late and the hallway stretched before me as I sat in the family room, my heart pounding with fear as my underdeveloped brain tried to understand what was happening.

I couldn’t go to bed that night. My father became irritated and had to turn the hall light on before I could even begin to approach my bedroom at the end of it. That was when I realized that the dark held dangerous things, and that mirrors were equally threatening.

Mirrors have always held a significant place in my life. Although that moment itself defined why, as I got older, I would often wander through antique stores like I was finally home. It was a time that beckoned to me like an old friend, and the walls of mirrors would cause me to pause. Not because I thought Bloody Mary would be in them, but because I thought of the faces that had looked into them over time. So much energy existed in those intricately shaped pieces of reflective glass, and I felt as if I was being watched — tempted to take one of the mirrors home to see what was trapped in it.

I’m certain this was an early sign of some sort of past life. This realization would hold the key to not only my comfort around antiques and my fondness for Victorian parlors and plants, but also to my irrational fears that I morbidly poke and prod every chance I get to understand them. And I have an unshakable desire to understand everything no matter how unnerving a certain thing might be.

I’ve often been told — by spiritual friends and at least one psychic — that I have an old soul. I’ve felt it deep down for some time. In the exhaustion I feel on a regular basis to the aches in my bones that have no rhyme or reason. In an age long past, was what lurked in the darkness my eventual end? Our fears often hint at how we perished or were gravely injured in a past life, so I can only imagine what I may have seen before dying, embraced by the shroud of darkness.

I already know and see things that few others do. I see shadow men in my nightmares that come back upon waking just to say hello. I see figures in my peripheral on my worst days, and often, something in my apartment will move of its own accord or make sound. Such as the time an unexplained entity played the drums on my water heater behind a non-accessible closet.

The darkness terrifies me, yet I’m continuously searching for answers in it. I’ve made friends with some of the entities that lurk within it, and I will often call to others that are much more ancient than even my demonic spirit guides. Entities that have existed in the purest of darkness since the beginning of time — swaying on another plane altogether. They’ve seen everything and are born of the energy that exists in the shroud of a starless, moonless night. And they often dance around the perimeter of my personal space, curious that I can sense them and I want answers from them.

And I still fear the dark.

©2020 Shane Blackheart


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