I was reading Lucy’s Football the other day, about Amy’s visit to her haunted state capitol complete with photographic evidence of a ghost http://lucysfootball.com/2011/10/28/ray-when-someone-asks-you-if-youre-a-god-you-say-yes/#comments, and I was reminded of an experience from my youth which scares me to this day. I thought that since today is Halloween, you might enjoy it.
When I was a teenager, and my older sister had moved off to college, I inherited her bedroom. It was cool for two reasons: 1) it was the only bedroom downstairs (except for the seldom used guestroom) so it was very maturely set apart from the rest of the family, and 2) it was home to the lofted double bed my dad had built for my sister out of 4×4 beams, with a heavy wooden ladder, the rungs of which were carpeted with a variegated blue shag. SO cool! The ladder did have an unfortunate tendency to slip off the edge of the bed when I was on one of the top steps, so the fear of a sudden traumatic fall followed by injury added a thrill to the mix. The bed platform filled one end of the room, with enough space for the mattress, plus a shag-carpeted area and shelves at the foot of the bed for my clock radio, books, and statues of cats and dogs. There was a big ground level window in the wall next to the foot of the bed, draped with white eyelet curtains: panels that covered the lower half of the window for privacy (not that there was anyone to see in; our house was one quarter mile off of the road and the neighbors were far distant,) and a matching valance that framed the top half, leaving a gap through which I could easily gaze from my bed. My small closet was on the wall opposite the bed, and the door to the room was on the same wall as the head of the bed. Underneath my bed was a space big enough to stand in if I hunched over. There were more shelves of books and trinkets under the head of the bed, a chest full of my junk and supporting my record player and modern yellow plastic lamp with white plastic dome shade against the side wall, and the bean bag chair that I bought with my own money in 1976 (white, spangled with red and blue patriotic emblems–the Bicentennial rocked!) I bet you are beginning to see how outrageously cool I was.
One night, as I lay tucked under my faux-patchwork printed quilt I was having trouble falling asleep. My gaze drifted around the room in boredom. The darkness of the night competed with the moon and starlight coming in the window, which seemed to cast shadows randomly against the walls. I began cataloging the source of the shadows, guessing their origin from the shape. Some shadows were darker than others, the darkest being the frame of the window, with the curtains indistinctly outlined on the floor. There were some fainter shadows against the wall under the window. The easiest to make out was that extinguished domed lamp on the chest, casting a shadow instead of light. The record player made a low oblong shadow next to it on top of the larger oblong of the chest. Next to that…what was that? It was a weird shape, not like anything I recognized. It was like a…goat’s head, with no ears and with really big straight gnarled horns. All thought stopped as my emotional reactions locked into panic mode. I ceased breathing while my heart began thudding, pounding to be let out of my chest. After a few moments my rational brain responded by saying, “Now, now, don’t be silly, can’t be anything like that, keep looking, you’ll figure this out.” The next shadow was of my ladder by the foot of the bed. No help there. The figure casting the horned shadow appeared to be motionless, sitting in my bean bag chair. I squeaked the tiniest gasp of air into my lungs as I watched and watched, frozen, waiting for that shadow to move, but it didn’t. I can’t wait until I wake up in the morning and see whatever stupid thing is scaring me so bad right now, I thought to myself, and then my rational brain wondered, Where in the world is the light coming from that is making those shadows? Are you with me? Because all those things were against the wall UNDER MY BED in the darkest part of the room!
The next thing I knew, I was waking up with sunlight coming in through my cheery white curtains, and I was locked in the same position I’d been in when I’d passed out from terror the night before. All shadows looked normal. I swallowed hard, took a silent breath, and lurched forward to find out what was under there, praying for an embarrassingly reasonable explanation. Nothing. Nothing but the record player, the lamp, the chest, the bean bag chair and the ladder. I numbly climbed down from the bed and went upstairs for breakfast. I went on as if everything was normal, because there was no evidence that it wasn’t. Pretty much forever after that, as I entered my room to climb into bed, I did a quick survey for objects and shadows and nothing was ever out of place. I never again saw light, faint or otherwise, casting shadows from beneath my bed. I did not tell anyone about the episode until much later, when possibility had faded into memory. It is called compartmentalizing, and for the most part it is a pretty effective coping strategy–when you don’t have too much to stuff into that compartment. For me, it works. I am just glad I didn’t have to figure out how I would have coped, if that shadow had moved.