At three in the morning, I was unable to sleep, reading Stephen King’s IT in bed in the dark.
I am thirty years old, aka not a baby, but reading this book, I was scared. My blood was pulsing. My nerves were tingling. It’s not real. It’s not real. Without turning the lights on, I got out of bed to to go the bathroom, calm myself down and splash water on my face.
Yet when I walked in the hallway by the light of my phone, I was deeply aware of the empty spaces of darkness around me. They shimmered with movement. The air shifted. If I looked down at my feet, my peripheral vision would wiggle. Anything could be there. A murderous clown. The demon soul of a small town. It’s just a book. But I could not let my gaze linger on the dark spaces of the hallway; if I concentrated for too long, a disembodied hand would surely reach out and grab me. I walked quickly, but not so quickly as to give in to a run, and did what I needed to do, trying not to think.
When I got back to the bedroom, Seth was sleeping soundly. I touched his shoulder to make sure he was still alive.
Then there it was: a movement at the door.
Footsteps padding on the carpet… in my direction. The floor exhaling. The air skittering. And a thwap of motion, a thrusting through the air, right towards me!
My cat jumped onto the bed.
She purred like a motor and curled up on my calves. She stood back up and repositioned herself; she rested her head on my left ankle. Her purrs vibrated through the quilt.
I nearly cried. I had missed her so much.
Let me back up.
It had been weeks since we’d let the cat sleep in the bed. Last month, we had bed bugs. It was a whole thing, I’ll probably write more about it some other time. But we had some bed bugs and we didn’t allow the cat on the bed, or anything that hadn’t come fresh out of the high-heat dryer, until we were sure they were gone.
Essentially, for all of October, our home was upended. During quarantine. We didn’t feel comfortable in our own home, and we had nowhere else to go. I decided during this time to try writing horror, to process and turn these awful feelings into something useful. This meant I should read horror, too. So I started reading Stephen King’s IT. I remember being so thoroughly frightened by The Shining in high school I nearly threw the book across my bedroom. How can words on a page bring your heart to a quick beat, make you catch your breath? I wanted to remember that feeling. I wanted to be terrified by something other than real life. And I wanted to recreate it. I didn’t realize that the feelings would be so hard to eliminate in the middle of the night.
The worst part about the bed bugs wasn’t the bed bugs. It was the fear. The fear that a couple tiny bugs could lead to a major infestation. The fear that we would be trapped in our house with these bugs, that all our plans to travel would be ruined, that we’d bring the bugs to our friends, that we’d never be able to sublet, that nothing would be the same. But none of that happened. Everything is fine. We did what we needed to do, and now we’ve been declared bed bug-free (and we’re getting professional treatment on Monday just in case).
I tried to keep my spirits up, but this ordeal really wore me out. On top of… well, everything else. Election stress. Climate change fears. I needed a home base. I needed a private place of normalcy.
When we let the cat back on the bed, it was a relief. My furry lovebug, my miniature elephant, my rock; she was with me, and I knew everything would be okay. The dark corners of the hallway were just dark corners. The sounds of the night were just the earth moving and breathing as it whirled around the sun.
The movements of nighttime are terrifying not for what they are, but what they represent. The unknown. The unseen. It all has to do with the stories you tell yourself. You can tell a story of fear, or of wonder.
Still… I think I’ll read IT by day.
PS: Please enjoy this photo series of Ellie getting a headrub from Seth: