I do believe I’ve said it before, but just in case I haven’t, I’ll say now: I am the easiest person in the world to scare. It doesn’t take much, half the time I scare myself over the stupidest of things (don’t even get me started on ET…shudder). Truly, it doesn’t take much to scare the bejeezus out of me, and everyone I know seems to find it the pinnacle of hilarity to jump out from a dark corner or behind the shower curtain (which is why you should ALWAYS check before you sit!) or something, making me scream and take off at breakneck speed with my arms flailing around my head like a crazed windmill. (I’m a runner; the whole fight or flight thing…yeah, I’m definitely flight.)
In my family, scary practical jokes are just the thing to do. And I admit, I enjoy being the one to jump out at someone (usually my brother) and run away laughing hysterically once I’ve screamed BOO at the top of my lungs or flipped the light switch off and shut the bathroom door while he was taking a shower or something (highly original stuff I know, but this is the kid who was petrified for YEARS that an anaconda was somehow going to come through the pipes and eat him after watching the Anaconda movie when we were little). But I’m usually the one who gets the really well thought out jokes, because really, I’m the one who’s going to give the biggest reaction.
For instance: apparently I slammed my door in high school one time after arguing a bit with my parents (slamming the door is NOT allowed and since I have no memory of ever slamming a door in my life, I doubt the validity of this explanation for why I was pranked, but I digress…) and they got the bright idea to prank me for slamming said door. Unbeknownst to them, I had thrown myself upon my bed with my brand new CD player and a new magazine (it sounds so after school TV special now but I promise, I’m not a drama queen!) and for the first time in many years, I laid down with my head beneath my window — which I never do because I’m petrified something is going to come in through it. Mid-song, I hear a thump against the window pane, my heart constricts but I tell myself it was nothing, just calm down and keep reading. A few seconds later there is another thump. Suddenly, I can’t breathe but I’m still slightly running on anger here so naturally I get mad at myself for being so scared and resolve to turn around to prove that there is nothing there
But there is.
Shining through my window is a bright circle of white light right above my head (my first thought and possibly one of my biggest fears: aliens!) and before I could move, something taps the glass again. That’s all it took. The new CD player went flying – slamming against a wall and never working afterword – and with a scream that would curdle blood I launched myself across my room, grabbed my door handle and almost ripped the door from its hinges…only to come face to face with Mickey Mouse and the gang. Yeah, you read it right, the big mouse himself. What I assumed was just an old sheet was somehow attached to my doorframe, but it was going to take a lot more than a bit of cotton material to keep me from getting to the safety of my family. I burst full steam into the sheet and was nearly thrown right back into my room as an entire bed – complete with the Mickey sheets – bounced off the hallway walls, knocking pictures down and finally landing with a loud thump on the floor. In this instant I knew that I was alone; the aliens must have already gotten the rest of my family and had set this up just to toy with me before eating me alive or something. It’s amazing how fast a person’s brain works when they’re frightened. But my flight instinct was still in full run-mode and so I made to run to the front door. But I only got a few steps before my nightmare became a reality.
Just inside the bathroom outside my room – and only inches from where I stood – a figure emerged. It was squat and compact, only reaching to my hip height-wise…but then its neck started to elongate. There is no way I can capture and properly express the utter horror and primal fear I felt at that moment as I came face to face with ET, the terror of my life…who happened to have little gold fish on the side of his head. And who seemed to be laughing uncontrollably. And since when was ET blue? I don’t know how long it took me to understand what I was looking at, probably only a fraction of a second, but then my mom pulled the blue goldfish embroidered towel off her head and my dad and little brother (who had been asleep I found out later; they actually woke him up to steal his bed and he gleefully agreed to join in on the whole thing) came bursting through the front door laughing like mad men.
Needless to say I was not pleased and when that righteous anger hits, it hits my tear ducts. It’s embarrassing to cry when you’re that angry, but it can’t be avoided in my case and so gathering up what dignity I had left, I stomped into my room and refused to come out and enjoy the joke. It took a few minutes for everyone to realize just how truly upset I was and how scared I had actually been; then it was all kisses and hugs (with the occasional chuckle) and a promise to go to my favorite bookstore the next day. And so it was forgiven. (I should probably mention here, that my family was not being cruel or anything here, this is simply how we are. For all the faults we bear between the four of us, I love them with every fiber of my being and I know that love is returned tenfold. They’re just a lot better at the jokes and pranks than I am, but that’s probably because I laugh and give myself away most of the time!)
So why was this entire story/inane rant told? Well, it gives you a bit of insight on how I handle fear and why, so you understand why my brain makes the oddest leaps to the unlikeliest conclusions when I am afraid of something. Which brings me to this morning and another brush of fear.
First, I have to admit I stayed up way too late last night reading my traditional scary October book (Libba Bray’s The Sweet Far Thing), but it’s so good and I was getting to the best part and I just didn’t want to put it down. It’s not unusual for me to pull an all-nighter to finish a book — it’s one of my favorite pastimes — but this one is quite lengthy and there was no way I could finish it AND be a functioning human being the next day. So by the time I finally put the book down (because my eyes were burning and I realized that I was hurrying through my favorite part instead of enjoying it) it was early in the morning, the entire house was inky black and eerily silent and I was highly creeped out by the last three hundred pages I had just read. Good luck going to sleep now. And yet somehow a miracle occurred and I fell right to sleep without any trouble.
It was too easy. And I should have known better.
I woke this morning to the sound of the dog barking. I opened my eyes and instead of the insane and monstrous Minotaur I had just been running for my life from, I was in bed covered in a cold sweat. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed of a Minotaur before and I never found them particularly frightening but somehow one had found its way into my dreams and proceeded to scare the living sh*t out of me until the dog began barking. I reached for my phone and saw that it was later in the morning than I thought it was, and no one had woken me up before leaving the house like they usually do. This was odd; I like to know when I’m in the house by myself, even if I’m just sleeping. Immediately a taste of fear left over from my dream clamped its way up my throat. I stealthily maneuvered out of bed and phone in hand, I crept into the kitchen to see what the dog was barking at since he only barks when someone other than us is outside or inside the house. It was quiet and suddenly there was no more barking, I looked but didn’t see the dog where I figured he’d be. There was just an unusual amount of bright morning light shining on the floor where it should have been blocked by the front door.
My stomach flipped. The front door was wide open. I called out as quietly as I could while still being able to be heard but there was no answer. No dog, no family, the door wide open, and no sound but my own breathing. Have you ever felt like you were the only person left on the planet, that somehow everyone else was taken and you were accidentally or purposely (and I don’t know which one is worse) left behind to fend for yourself until the monsters show up? I have. Feeling that no intruder was present inside the house, I hurried to close the door and take stock of the rest of the house. The little trashcan in my room was empty and sat abandoned precariously close my reading chair. And I knew at that moment something dreadful must have happened. No one would leave a trashcan where it shouldn’t be in my room, as I’m a germophobe to a degree and the trashcan has its designated place and everyone knows where that is. Now not only would I have to search for my family and the rest of humanity, fend off whatever crazed monster came looking for me (and at this point I was thinking zombies for some reason), but now I would have to get out the Lysol and de-germify my chair as the trashcan was too close to it for comfort. This was not a pleasant way to start the day.
As luck would have it, I remembered my phone still clutched in my now sweaty palm. I hesitated; fearful no one answering the phone might be the thing to finally break through my feeble calm and send me into a blazing panic because that would mean I really was all alone. With trembling fingers, I tapped my mother’s name, held the phone to my ear and held my breath. It rang…and rang…and rang…and then my mother’s voice filled my ear like the Hallelujah chorus.
“Hey baby, I’m so sorry about this morning. We had to leave earlier than I thought…”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
It’s alright mom, it’s all right; the zombies aren’t coming to devour me after all. The zombies aren’t’ coming…