Very little creeps me out. I’m good at writing stories to creep others out so maybe my imagination has already gone there. Either way if a book or movie gives me the heebie-jeebies then it has to be good. People I meet can sometimes creep me out of course. On more than one occasion, I have been uncomfortable with the actions or comments of another, certainly enough to warrant me saying that they had creeped me out. For the most part it was a small thing but on one occasion…
A total stranger spoke to me as I disembarked from a train journey in Dublin. I was on crutches at the time and while the man had been staring at me while I was on the train, I simply assumed it was because of my cast. People on trains have a habit of staring I have found. He came up to my shoulder, leaned in a little too close to be comfortable and said,
“I feel the cold of it.”
I was in the process of swinging my hobbled leg off the train in a busy station and I hadn’t expected anyone to talk to me. It seemed such an odd thing to say in the middle of summer, that it caught me off guard and for a moment I thought I had misheard. But my focus was on getting both crutches and one good leg, off the train and onto the relative security of the platform. Once I secured myself, I shifted on my crutches so I could look at him. He was a tall thin man dressed mostly in black with a long overcoat and unusually he wore a brown fedora. There was nothing really wrong but something was just not right about him. His face wore the life he had lived and I knew it had been hard, but he was clean and fresh looking, this was no vagrant tapping me up for money and his shoes shone like a sergeant major’s.
“I know you’ve seen him.”
He almost whispered the words and touched my elbow very gently. The accent I thought was Irish, but there was something else in there too. I looked up at his face and beneath his disheveled beard; I could see his pock-marked skin. He removed his hand when I looked at it, expressing my displeasure without words. I don’t like strangers touching me. People walked around us as though we weren’t there. We were like a little invisible island in a sea of rush-hour bodies on that narrow crowded platform.
He straightened and looked beyond me, a dark shadow crossing his face as though he had seen something terrible or perhaps someone he was frightened of in the distance. The strange, tall man even took a half step backwards, before leaning in once more. It was most unlike me to entertain such an invasion of my privacy. I can be a curt man when approached by strangers but I stood there and I didn’t move despite the closeness of his face to mine. I detected the scent of oranges.
“Look at me.” I knew he meant for me to look into his eyes and I began to feel rather strange. In that moment, I could feel ‘the cold of it’ too. I shifted on my crutches.
“You feel it?”
I didn’t want to admit to this crazy stranger that I knew what he was talking about. He held me with his eyes and for a moment, I saw a shadow man there. It was nothing, an illusion, a trick of the light, but for a moment there was something … and then he straightened once more before repeating,
“I know you’ve seen him.”
… And then he was gone. He simply strode away and a chill overwhelmed me, ‘the cold of it’ for sure. I looked back in the direction of the place I had seen him looking and for the briefest of moments, I thought I saw him there too, but that was impossible.
The crowd seemed to come to life again, as though all had been silent throughout our brief interaction, as though time had stood still and the noise of the station erupted in my ears with the sound of a diesel engine on the next platform. The stranger had disappeared and I was suddenly in everyone’s way again. I was a cripple blocking their path, an inconvenience and an irritation, so I shuffled towards the side-lines to get out of the rush of people.
I never saw him again but I have felt ‘the chill of it.’ Time and life have swirled about me and for a long time I never knew what he meant. But in recent times I have begun to understand what he meant. He knew that I had ‘seen him’ or so he told me but I hadn’t of course. I had no idea what he meant at the time.
But I remember his face and in particular his eyes. I recall what I saw there and perhaps he was offering a portent of the future, for I have indeed ‘seen him.’ The shadow man of that stranger’s eye has been to visit with me on more than one occasion and the darkness of that encounter, the thing that creeped me out that day, came to be given depth by subsequent events in my life.
That thing for you…That thing that places you on edge, chills your spine or gives you the willies… Is it just the shadow in the corner of your eye in the dark of your room at night? Is it the creak on the stair that keeps you listening and straining to hear it again, afraid to relax in case it really is more than just the wood expanding on the floor? Is it the thought of a hand reaching out from beneath your bed to grab your dangling naked foot, or is it something more tangible, something perhaps real? Could it be more than just a feeling?…
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