Friday, January 28, 2011


Night. No stars. No moon. You are in bed, alone in your house. The streetlight outside your window blinks out. At the same time your night-light dies. You hear the whine of the wind and tell yourself an electric line is down somewhere. Your cat, next to you, rouses, growling, and leaps from the bed. You sit up, the hair on your nape bristling. Something's wrong. The closest flashlight is in a drawer in the kitchen. You fumble along the top of the bedside stand for your cell phone. Not there. Even though you know you put it there when you went to bed. Don't panic, you warn yourself, but it's far too late to heed those words.

I felt a shiver when I wrote the above paragraph even though it's early afternoon and the sun is shining on snow, creating almost blinding light. But for a moment I was the one in that bed in the dark. Fear of the dark is something we all carry, courtesy of our DNA from ancient ancestors. From the time there was no light at night if the moon and the stars weren't shining. From the time if the fire went out you were at the mercy of the real monsters that prowled the dark night.

Do you use the dark to panic your characters when you write? I haven't done that for quite awhile. It's very effective and so I'll find a way to work it into a tale real soon.

When I was a teen I lived at the top of a hill about a mile from the village downtown area. The street lights stopped several blocks away from my home. Either I was much braver then or the urge to be with my peers was greater than any fear of the dark. There was a deep gully I had to go through to get home. At the bottom not even the puny light my folks left on above the back door was visible. I usually went down through that gully and back up the other side of the hill at a pretty fasty clip. This even though I lived in this small village in a wilderness area.

I never worried about animals--it was a possible bad guy in the guise of a hobo I feared, because we lived along the railroad track. That is until the night I got to the top of the hill, saw the welcome light above the door and breathed my usual sigh of relief as I hurried toward the house. In doing so I had to pass an old apple tree near the road. Something moved in that tree as I went by it and I flew inside the house. My mother shone a flashlight out the back door at the tree just in time for us to see a big old black bear climbing down it. After that I had something new to worrry about even though I knew bears rarely attack humans unless they happen to be a mama bear with cubs to protect.

I do enjoy writing scary tales. But if I don't scare myself in the process, I know I've failed to scare the reader as well. Jane

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