When I was young, I was scared of the dark. It swirled around my bed like mist, teasing and taunting. Every night, my ear-piercing scream would echo through the house until My Protector (mother, father, brother, anyone) opened the door and told me to put a sock in it, or other unsympathetic advice. I pleaded for the door to be left open, for a sliver of light to bounce off familiar pieces of furniture, dirty clothes on the floor, and the collection of Barbies piled in a basket as though in a mass grave. What I saw, I knew. What I couldn’t see was menacing.
I grew out of it, of course I did. My developed, rational brain understood that the chair in the light was still there in the dark. Logical. Reasoned. Obvious.
When I had children of my own, I grumbled at my husband when he closed Maddie’s door at night. “Just leave it slightly open. It’s not that hard.” Maddie would wake the baby, and the screaming would be passed on from one child to the next, a relay of anguish.
Maddie grew out of it, of course she did. Her developed, rational brain understood that the chair in the light was still there in the dark. Logical. Reasoned. Obvious.
Many, many years later, Maddie and I shared a quaint weatherboard cottage. (Ben shared an apartment with his father.) We cooked comfort food on the old electric stovetop, and grew geraniums near the Narnia lamp-post in the yard. The wallpaper was peeling, the pavers a death-trap, the carpet threadbare. But what we saw, we knew. We loved it. We were happy, childhood fears long forgotten.
We heard it before we felt it, the roar of wind through the valley, the crescendo and crash of thunder in a sinister sky. The old gum toppled over, crumpling the lamp-post, bringing down wires, skimming the side of the house. The sun was setting. What we saw, we knew. But what we saw was menacing.
The sun disappeared, replaced by a dense darkness. It swirled around us like mist, teasing and taunting. We could not see our hands in front of our faces, much less the peeling paint. But we didn’t make a noise. Oh no. We were much too old to be scared of the dark.
And yet I screamed, a primal, silent scream that permeated my being, but soundless. There was no light, but my fear was blinding, electric.
Electric wires arced in the distance, lighting up the street. What we saw we knew. Or did we? What we saw we didn’t recognise. Changed landscapes. Broken homes. Broken people.
We had danced with destruction and desolation, and somehow survived. Unlike the cottage. Unlike the neighbours.
Maddie moved interstate. “A fresh start.”
I was alone.
Dormant fears had been charged, hardwired.
I’m scared of the dark. I’m scared of sounds. I’m scared of life.
I’ve grown into the fear, not out of it.
swinburne microfiction challenge
Part of the Emerging Writers Festival