When nighttime falls, and my two little dogs need to go outside, I, with much trepidation, put their leashes on and walk out the front door with them in tow. If I hear a car approaching on the highway, it requires supreme effort to keep walking. Just as I tell myself how irrational this is, if the sound of a motorcycle reaches my ears, I will quickly scramble back to the door, two bewildered dogs in my wake.
Am I afraid of the dark? Not at all, as long as I’m indoors and all entrances and exits are locked. But put me outside, when the sun has gone down and I’m at our house surrounded by trees on three sides and a dark highway on the fourth, forget it.
I blame Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Also, my brothers and sisters.
When I was a little girl living at 2844 Evergreen Street in Camden (Fairview, to be specific), my sister Susan and I watched a show every Friday night called Kolchak: The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin as the titular character. This quirky investigative reporter in Chicago managed every week to unearth the scariest, most mysterious story with the intentions of solving it. Not once did an episode end with him unmasking the perpetrator and being scolded for being a meddling kid. No, these demons, ghosts, Rukshasas were REAL and ALIVE and they were all coming from Chicago to South Arkansas for me.
The earliest visit was around the time I was in 1st grade. The episode about the Rukshasa (“Horror in the Heights”) had aired and showed how a monster could be seen as a benevolent, familiar person by those viewing it from the front. Those of us viewing at home could see on the TV screen that from behind, that kindly person actually had the hairy back of the Rukshasa, going in for the kill. Lesson learned from that episode: you can’t trust anyone, because everyone is out to get you.
One night, while everyone else was at home where they were supposed to be, I was walking down the darkened hallway in the building where I had attended Kindergarten the previous year. All four classrooms were unlit and appeared to be empty, until I reached my classroom at the end of the hallway. I could hear a rustling noise and as I turned to stand in the doorway and look inside, there behind my teacher’s desk stood the Rukshasa (who hadn’t bothered to disguise himself), eating worksheets as fast as he could. He immediately turned to me, opened his mouth, and somehow, I fast-floated across the room and jumped into that dark abyss feet first. I remember waking in a sweaty and shaking panic, convinced he was standing there, still and watching, in my dark bedroom. Fortunately, the Rukshasa returned in my dreams over the next 10 years only – ha! “only” – and hasn’t been back to visit me since.
Also terrorizing me was the headless motorcyclist from the episode “Chopper.” TO THIS DAY, nearly 40 years later, when I hear the rumble of a motorcyle, no matter how far away it is, a chill goes down my spine. In my dreams, I don’t see the headless motorcyclist so much as hear his approach. Usually, mercifully, I awaken right before he arrives – with my skin clammy and heart beating wildly. Unlike the Rukshasa, Chopper still comes to me at times, and always when I least expect it.
Not only did these episodes scare the living daylights out of me, but a game we played as kids was an additional ingredient in this lifelong irrational fear of moving vehicles. My brothers and sisters made up a game called “Witch.” The object of the game was to stand by the road and upon hearing a car approaching, run across the yard and hide behind the bushes under the front windows until the car drove past us. Then we were free to return to the road and wait on the next “witch” to come. After they had grown and gone, I was still young enough to play with friends and it was always a favorite! “Let’s play ‘Mother May I?'” Later, “Let’s play ‘Red Light, Green Light!'” and so on, until the grand finale of the games would be spoken in unison in darkly gleeful voices, “Let’s play Witch!” and off to the ditch we would run. There we would stand, watching and listening for cars, which up until now had been driving benignly past us. Clearly, they immediately took on a new mission, which was to suck us up onto their roofs and drive off to do unknown horrors to us at another location. Dreams of these cars, driven by invisible, malevolent forces who I had to run and hide from, have haunted me since. On those occasions when I don’t hide fast enough, I will be transported suddenly to the roof of the car in a state of panic, and immediately will awaken with heart pounding and that metallic taste of fear in my mouth.
Funny how those little things stay with us, shaping the odd little quirks in our personalities. In a way, it’s a little mind-boggling just how many facets we each have in ours. Their origins, wrapped in funny little stories, that only begin to explain the why-we-act-the-way-we-do. This irrational fear of the outside dark is just one of many quirks of mine. But enough about me, it’s time to take the dogs out and I’d better hurry. There’s not much time left until nighttime falls.