Listening to the rain beat down as I lay quiet in my bed last night; I felt a sense of disquiet. It was so dark and I needed to pay a visit to the bathroom. I was drawn back to remember my childhood. Darkness was my enemy as a small boy and I conquered it, by challenging myself to walk up the stairs, one extra stair each night with the lights out. It was a terrifying thing for me. At the top, I knew a monster lurked and I knew he had a taste for small boys.
He hunkered down, just out of sight where the landing turned and the night seemed blacker. But I was a determined little boy. That I feared the dark became a source of huge annoyance. It was besting me and I hated to be bested. So off I set on my mission and on the first night I simply stood in the dark at the bottom of the stairs, and stared at the space where I knew the monster lay in wait. I told no one and I had to slip away nightly to test myself. By the end of the week I still hadn’t reached the top.
There were fifteen stairs and I knew each one intimately by the time that week was over. I knew every creak that gave me away to the creature with a voracious appetite for little boys, the very feel of the carpet beneath my toes, and every familiar sound as well as some frighteningly unfamiliar ones. It sounds silly now, but in those ascents, I was in a state of heightened vigilance and fear. It wasn’t a childish fear of the dark for me. The creature that waited for me, was as real as the bannister I held onto and as certain as my preparedness to flee, the moment he leapt out to grab me, which I knew he surely would.
I tested myself in the light of day, turning and running, or simply leaping to the bottom of the stairs so I might escape the beast if I needed to turn and run in the dark. My daytime practice sessions were taken very seriously. I put as much effort into planning my escape, as I did for anything else I had done up to that point in my short life. Small and slight though I was, long before I had made it to the landing on my nightly visits, I could leap from the tenth stair to the bottom and land on my feet without falling. It was a huge jump for such a waifling.
That I could do it, that I was willing to practice such a dangerous leap daily, only emphasises just how real my fear of what lay in wait in the dark, truly was. The last four or five steps were very frightening indeed. My night vision had improved with training, but there was no window on the landing and with the bedroom doors closed at the top of our small terraced house, the darkness faded into gloom at the bend in the landing, with three more steps off to my left out of my line of sight. They led to the unknown, a seemingly impenetrable shade of night to hide my waiting monster.
It was as familiar to me as my mother’s face, that space at the top of the stairs, but at night it was a different world. On the night of my assault on the first landing I was utterly terrified. Ten steps was the point where my bravery always seemed to abandon me. That was the limit to my ability to make it to the bottom in a single bound.
That night, I kept going. Four steps away, then three, I lifted each foot with the other already on the half turn, ready to flee and jump to the bottom if necessary. I knew I couldn’t make a jump of more than ten stairs, so I calculated and recalculated as I went, fearful of making an error that could cost me dearly. Three steps from the top, was two steps higher than I could jump. I would have to make a double bound, first down two to make it to the tenth stair and then the big jump itself.
But as I neared the top, the closer I got, I began to realise there were holes in my plan. Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead and I knew I hadn’t ever practiced the jump in the dark. Not that I could have, for that would have meant turning my back on… There was a noise and I froze. It was there, right there just around that bend. He knew what I was doing and he was waiting.
I finally placed my right hand on the first landing, an incredible feat and then, gently leaned forward and placed my other hand beside it. For sure I heard a low growl, and I lay my skinny little torso against the stairs, retreating a couple of steps to do so. My eyes darted left and right, trying to make out where the creature was exactly. I felt sure I saw him shift a little in the corner. I lay on my tummy because I did have a plan B. I was able to slide down the stairs on my belly like a snake so fast; he would never catch me and never having to take my eyes of the space where I knew my nemesis waited.
I could hear the feint sound of the television from our living room below where my parents were, but they couldn’t help me now if he struck. Other than that, all was quiet and I knew that this was my moment. I had come so far, overcome so much and if I panicked now, there might not be enough brave left in me to try again. I sat sideways on the eleventh step, eyes focused on the bend in the stairs, back to the wall. My little legs shook as I pushed myself up and sat on the twelfth, then the thirteenth, and then I was only one stair away from the landing.
As I pushed my skinny little arse up onto the final step, my legs were actually shaking and then there it was again. I felt sure there was a low growl. I hung there in mid-slide, supported by my shaky legs and arms like a backward crab, ready to abandon my final push to the top should the creature make a lunge. I stretched out my neck and tried to peer into the night to see him around the bend, sitting as I knew he would be on the top landing, but I could only see black.
I lowered myself and finally sat there, barely on the edge of the landing but barely was enough. I was like a sprinter waiting for the starting pistol, so ready to burst out of the blocks to the bottom of the stairs at the first hint of an attack. The fine fair hair on the back of my neck stood on end and I sat there, finally able to see around the bend to the place where my monster had retreated, only it was too dark to see.
It was then that it dawned on me. He had retreated. I had pushed him back off the first landing and now that was mine. Having taken the first hill, the next should surely be easy. Victory should have tasted sweet, but revelling in it would have to wait. I had indeed used up my last reserves of little boy bravery. There was a creak and I still believe I heard that low growl again so, discretion being the better part of valour, I retreated to base camp as fast as I could.
I had secured my first true victory over the dark that night. There would be more battles to come, but for that moment, I knew what I had achieved and it was a momentous event in my life and something that I can still go back to today when, like last night, I felt a heavy weight on my chest. As I returned to my bed and listened to the rain beat against the window, an old familiar foe returned. There was a flash of lightening which briefly illuminated my old friend Mr Squiggles, my shadow man, my night hunter. He had returned to stalk me in the dark. That dark soul, my forboding precursor to a darker world was where he always is, sitting on my window ledge, watching and waiting. I looked at the clock and it was my witching hour, the same time he always appears and then…he was gone.
The night seemed to flicker around me. He had come to check up on me again. He has haunted me since my first dice with death. That he returns is disturbing, more by his patience than by his presence, more by what he represents than what he is. I lay there and listened to the rain and remembered my first ascent to that landing and I smiled…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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