The Scary Movie
Watching it on my phone, with headphones on, at 1:06 am, while everyone else is in the other half of the house, deep in slumber.
In the film, they look for someone in a deserted house, and then there is a shout from off camera. It’s recorded in such a way that it sounds somehow like it came from the other room of my house.
Initially, I think someone has called to me from one of the bedrooms. Perhaps my wife, reminding me of something happening in the morning. Our youngest, requesting a drink of water. I pause the film, take out the earpiece, listen. Nothing.
I scroll the film back 15 seconds. The sound from the other room again. Again, I’m fooled, and pause the film a second time to listen to what’s coming from the other rooms.
Then, in the second, the micro-second, before my brain makes the logical connection and I realize the sound came from the film, the trepidation the film had produced in the part of me that is following that narrative instantly transfers to the part of my brain that is not engaged with the film, and I have a sudden, intense pang of mortal fear that an intruder is somewhere in the house, preparing to spring lethally upon me or upon my sleeping loved ones in the bedrooms. It is the progress of that malevolent being toward his dreadful goal that I am hearing.
It is an exquisite terror.
It only lasts the blink of an eye, and then reason unceremoniously and brutally removes it. I am reassured and somehow disappointed at once as I go back to the film.
I recall that as a child, in the house in which all my dreams still take place, I would stay up on Friday night and watch the late night scary movie. Vampires and zombies and two headed transplants would stalk across the screen before my young eyes, as I lay wrapped in a blanket on the floor in front of the television, with all the lights in the house out, the glow from the box before me the only illumination.
At the conclusion of the movie, there would be a patriotic station sign off, with video of an Air Force pilot in flight and a voiceover reading from Magee’s “High Flight” and then the screen would go to static.
And I would lay there, blanket pulled up to my chin, peering nervously around into the void of the living room, listening intently as the old house creakingly settled into the cool of the night. Gathering my courage to make the journey upstairs to my bed. After a little while, the gloom grew less opaque, and I could make out gradations in black and shadow, and forms materialized.
Invariably, at some point in this weekly ritual, I would look to the stairs, perhaps a dozen feet from where I lay, and I would see someone, something, a shape slowly gliding down them.
As I struggled to make out details, a ghostly face that I could only just discern would turn from the path it was taking down the stairway to fix its vacant gaze upon me, there on the floor.
This was the same malevolent entity, I imagined, that had followed me from another house in which we lived, where it dwelt in the attic, coming down to the door at night, a door adjacent to my childhood bedroom, to claw and rap at it while I lay frozen in my bed.
Now, I would watch my imagination’s invention of the thing as it descended to join me, fairly quivering in anticipation, half terror, half excitement to discover that the mundane waking stage of sun and light was not the extent of our world. That there were dark crevices from which slithery things watched, places haunted by ghouls and shrouds that wanted commerce with us in life, the child’s naïve desire for demons, so long as they can only spook and unsettle but not corrupt.
Sad, empty, incomplete, the adult world that destroys and cauterizes one’s capacity for belief that things like that one I so regularly beheld as a boy could be and could come from some distant, icy void to waft down the stairway of the house I grew up in and fill me with that delicious dread that is inspired by the eerie fullness of the universe.