My fear of the dark blossomed when I was seven years old. That’s when we (my family and I) moved into a house at the end of a dirt road in the Adelaide Hills.
Dad was proud of our new home. He had designed it himself and supervised the construction. For the time, it was a modern design which complimented the surrounding bushland. A long, single storey dwelling, with cream rendered brickwork and a dark tiled roof.
Where Are the Curtains?
I was alarmed to discover every bedroom window in our new home was floor to ceiling glass with no blinds or curtains. This was a big problem for me. My bed was parallel to the naked wall of glass that separated me from the outside world. Nothing prevented anyone (or anything) from peering in at night to spy on me.
The location of our block of land made it unlikely anyone would spy on me. Not only was our new home at the end of a dirt road, but it was also at the top of a steep, winding driveway lined with tall native trees. No one could see the house from the road. My feverish imagination overcame any appeal to logic though.
Fear Likes to Be Fed
I was a weird kid. Rather than deal with my fear of the unknown in a healthy way, I perversely tried to feed it. Not long after moving into this house, I pleaded with my mother to purchase a set of three books I saw on display at the school book club. Each lavishly illustrated volume dealt with a single spooky subject. Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs. Mum reluctantly capitulated after protesting she did not think these were appropriate subjects for her fearful son.
Each night, while lying on my bed, I would immerse myself in stories about alien encounters, haunted houses, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. When I felt too tired to read anymore, I would get up, switch off my bedroom light and slip beneath the covers.
Of course, I could not sleep. My mind was filled with terrifying images of the paranormal and cryptozoological. I’d peek over the covers at the floor to ceiling glass beside my bed and wait for someone (or something) to appear from behind the ghostly gum trees in the front yard.
Terror Outside My Bedroom Window
One vivid memory is still lodged in my brain. Dusk had fallen outside as I completed another intense reading session. I put my book aside and gazed at the bushland outside my window. As I lay in my bed, I was convinced a floating apparition, donned in a purple robe and with the head of a large dog, materialized at the far side of the front yard. I cried out in terror and ran from my room to the other end of the house to my parents’ bedroom.
I breathlessly tried to recount to my parents what I had seen. They did not believe me. When my father inspected the view from my room to prove there was nothing to worry about, he spied the Monsters book on my quilt.
My choice of reading material did not elicit sympathy. It incited him to anger.
“What do you expect, when you read… THIS?”
I felt embarrassed and did not bother him anymore with my concerns. My fear of the dark remained though and tormented me for most of my childhood.
A Haunted World
Many years later, my thoughts now drift back to those haunted nights outside my bedroom window in the Adelaide Hills. Fear is on my mind once again because I perceive everyone feels afraid now. Not the fear of dog-faced apparitions, but fear of something much worse. The most frightening unknown of all – the future.
The spirit of the times outside all our windows reminds me of my childhood sense of terror. Which surprises me. After all, adult life had convinced me my own fear of the unknown had evaporated. I now realize it was only filed away in the bottom of a mental drawer, waiting to be rediscovered.
When I read or watch the news each evening on my laptop or smartphone, the effect is more potent than spending time with the Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs of my childhood. It is difficult to compete with the looming spectres of economic devastation, civil unrest, and international war.
The zeitgeist is more disturbing than any poltergeist.
My Night Walk
A week ago, it occurred to me the only way to deal with the unknown is to willingly walk towards it. The time had come to leave my bedroom and wander into the night enshrouded territory outside my window.
After I dressed in warm clothes, and slipped on my hiking boots, I walked to the edge of my Sydney suburb. On the fringes of my neighborhood is a stretch of dense bushland which extends for kilometers.
I left the comforting glow of the streetlights and entered the thick scrub. The path ahead of me was dimly illuminated by the full moon and the tiny torch in my hand.
Twenty minutes prior, the brightness of the torch beam filled me with confidence when I tested it in my darkened living room. Out in the wilderness, its pool of light was anaemic and barely reached a meter or two. I realized the confined white walls of my home bounced the small amount of light around, intensifying the effect of the torch. With nothing for it to bounce back off, the darkness swallowed the light, except for the small orb leading my footsteps.
When I arrived at the tunnel at the end of the first leg of my journey, I felt the urge to turn around. If I entered its cavernous maw, I was sure I would be digested and expelled out the other side into oblivion. I popped the flash on the camera around my neck and snapped a picture. When the darkness returned after the explosion of light, I reviewed the image on the camera LCD screen.
The flash image only reinforced the fact the bushland at the other end of the tunnel was in total darkness. I knew if I did not continue, I would not come back for a second attempt. I forced myself forward, one step in front of the other into the tunnel. It was now much, much darker with no flash to bounce off the corrugated iron.
The ground as I exited, was rocky and uneven. My pitiful torch beam scanned each rock and tree root that punctuated the path at my feet.
I heard the plaintive cry of a night bird in the distance. Possibly a Tawny Frogmouth. After a minute it ceased its mournful noise. I hoped it was because it sensed my approach and not something else.
While my sight was diminished, the night amplified my sense of smell and hearing. My ears were keenly aware of the buzzing ambience of insects. My nose constantly sampled the thick aroma of jasmine which competed with the damp scent of the creek beside me.
After thirty minutes I arrived at a fork in the path. From my daytime explorations, I knew the path to the left returned to the brightly lit safety of my suburb. The path on my right plunged deeper into the wilderness. The tree canopy was at its thickest here and the light from the full moon barely penetrated it.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This felt like another test, one more difficult than the tunnel. I took a deep breath and surrendered to the winding, treacherous path on my right.
For the next hour, I persevered through the thick scrub, branches and leaves brushing against my face. Pitch black night surrounded the tiny oasis of light at my feet. I kept my fear at bay by pretending I was safely locked in my car as I drove along a lonely rural highway.
After what seemed an eternity, I reached the end of my lonely journey when I spied the light from houses through the trees ahead of me. At the end of the path, I turned around and snapped another photo. A reminder of what I passed through to get here.
As I walked home beneath the orange streetlights, I felt a sense of relief but also a sense of accomplishment. I had defeated a dragon, one that has terrorized me since childhood.
Night is here, just beyond our windows. We all must face it. Better to put your boots on now, grab your torch and walk into its dark embrace with a brave heart.