Afraid Of The Dark

Writing Assignment from today’s Writing Group

The lightbulb was burned out again in the outside light. I’d counted on it to light my way up the stairs every evening when I came home; to light the little porch all night long so I could see anything or anyone who might come unbidden to the door; to be the warm electric candle marking home for me as I drove up the dark street. But lately some electrical short or run of bad bulbs or perhaps just plain ole bad luck had rendered the familiar golden guardian of the door blind once again.

Betrayal! If I was honest, that was the feeling. Betrayal. Just like a reliable old car that suddenly decides to let you down at the worst possible moment by not starting when you’re late for that really important meeting. I pulled into a dark driveway at the end of a dark road at the end of an exhausting day. The light was out and I’d used my last bulb days before. Too late to go buy more so there was nothing to do but fumble up the steps and flounder around with the keys for the lock.

As I reached the bottom step, I remembered the huge black snake I’d nearly stepped on just days before. Kinked and frozen still into jagged crinkles like an old woman’s painfully twisted arthritic fingers, the snake had done its dead-level best to mimic a stick that just happened to be lying at the foot of the stairs as I came near enough to absent-mindedly step on her vulnerable spine. But I saw her in plenty of time to save us both, her silky blackness shiny in the hot June afternoon. I’d talked softly to her until she smoothed out her wrinkles and slid away like black satin night slipping over the mountain at dawn.

Blindly, I felt my body rise up each step as my fingers felt along the emery rough bricks of the wall. Thin bits of string…or grass… or something met my fingertips as I reached the top. The frail legs of a member of the granddaddy long legs clan who lived right around the door frame trembled beneath my lightly rested hand then artfully escaped before I could even recoil. They aren’t actually spiders. They are called herdsmen and their fat orange-red bodies bobbed a greeting to me each morning on their impossibly long and slender legs. I’ve read that they bob like that when they are frightened and are trying to be intimidating but they always seemed to be nodding or dancing.

In the herdsman’s scramble, I got a little confused and my right foot came down too hard on the patio. I’d miscalculated the top step and the unexpected chasm of space where another step was anticipated threw my balance enough that I nearly went flailing across the concrete. It was then I realized just how frightened I truly was. In my mind I tried to picture the door and knob and lock in front of me and with minimal additional incident I was able to get the door open and tumble inside.

I slammed the light on in the house and blinked at its brightness. Safe at last! Lock the door. Home.

Much later that night, so late that you could actually call it very early, I heard a sound at the door. Sleepy, I shuffled into the hall and peeked around the corner at the entryway. I never open the door at night, but I had to see what or who might be out there. I’d forgotten the outside light was burned out and was momentarily stunned by the darkness.

Normally, I would have just gone back to bed but curiosity had the better of my dreamy mind. I peered out through one of the small windows in the door and saw….nothing. Truly nothing but blackness. I waited. Still, nothing.

Something in me decided to take a chance and, without really thinking it through, I unlocked and opened the door. It was so very dark. The neighbor’s porch light across the street filtered through the tree at the end of the driveway casting more shadow that light on the lawn. The warm, damp night touched my bare legs as I opened the storm door.

It was then I saw him. The orange tabby cat that lived in the neighborhood sat patiently before me. He belonged to everyone and no one. Meow, he cried. Meow, he demanded. Meow, he whispered. But how could I see him? It was the middle of the night and the bulb was out! I stepped onto the gritty patio that bit timidly at my bare feet. Meow, he said again. I reached to pet his head, scratch behind his ears. And then I looked up and saw the full moon.

She shone bright as any bulb. Crisp and pure, light as early dawn to my now-adjusted eyes. I sat on the top step with the orange cat watching the herdsmen dance in the half-light, listened for the silky snake moving through the shrubs below and was not afraid.

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