By Dan Stankivitz
“…‘It’ sneaks up behind your back. Sometimes it even precedes your appearance in a room. You feel horribly uneasy. In your back grows the sensation that a gang of things invisible has shoved its way in through your back, as through a door…”
-Andrei Bely, Petersburg
There are a few things to consider when reading this story. First, nothing that I write is real or true. The creature that appears is fake—there is no particular legend (or experience) it is based on—everything comes from my mind. Second, in the very instant the particulars of this creature came to me, as soon as I gave it a world to live in, it became real. It is wholly and completely real, and I haven’t been able to sleep since I invented it.
Of course, none of this makes sense to you, dear reader—I say that what I’m writing isn’t real, then go on to say (in the same paragraph, no less) that it is in fact real and that I’m scared. The fact is I haven’t really slept in days. I’ll fall asleep periodically throughout the night, but I wake up sweating, with a gasp in my throat minutes later. Perhaps if I explain how everything began, you’ll understand my anguish.
It started one night before bed when I invented a “scenario.” I call it a scenario because of the way it revealed itself to me; not in any clear progression, but in a desperate haze of black images, frightfully chasing one another in my mind. The first image appeared to me most innocuously as I washed my dinner plate. Out of the dark emerged a creature, pale and thin. It had long white fingers that seemed to be stroking something and a tall thin head to match that bobbed in and out of the darkness. As soon as those long fingers entered into my imagination, they grabbed onto my brain firmly and put my entire being into a state of despair.
I began to relax after a few tense minutes and found myself drifting into sleep when the creature bobbed through the darkness and once again gripped me with a surreal terror. Of course, I knew the creature wasn’t real, having created the thing only hours before, but the thought of its horrible fingers and long head struck me with a real horror I’d never before experienced.
In an attempt to combat the evil touch of the pale creature, I began to create more images to accompany that initial image—I began to create my “scenario.” I thought (rationalized, really) that if I could control the horrible image in my mind, it would lose its grip over me. After all, the most frightening aspect of anything, whether it’s a monster in a movie or the first day of a new job, is the aspect of the unknown.
Either the initial image of the creature was too intense, or my ability to take a firm hold of my creations is non-existent, because after fleshing out more details, the creature seemed even more real and my terror increased. I began to run the scenario through my mind over and over, my heart racing faster and faster, I found myself on the verge of tears by the time dawn began to break. With its all-soothing light, the rising sun erased the horrible images that had infested my mind the entire night. I was exhausted, but almost elated for some reason. I almost felt as if I had won a prize. But for what?
I carefully made my way out of bed and immediately saw the culprit of the midnight crash: a bucket I’d precariously placed on a stack of books had fallen over—most likely from the vibrations of the furnace—and banged against the kitchen table. As my fears began to shed one by one, I laughed at myself for my actions during the night. I was far too old to be acting like a child afraid of the dark, and the tipped over bucket was evidence of the logic behind all spooky noises that occur during the night.
Nonetheless, later that evening after the sun was set, I began to find myself leering cautiously into the unlit rooms of my house. Every corner of darkness seemed full of something, even if that something was my own fear. I positively knew that the creature didn’t exist. It popped into my mind from nowhere. There was no reason to assume the long fingered creature would ever be a true physical being, but its image continued to haunt me.
That night went much the same as the previous night. I awoke (for no particular reason) and the long fingers of the creature were burning brightly in my mind. As before, I thought of my scenario, adding more details to try and control the horrible thoughts that bombarded me, leading to my bed sheets being drenched with a fevered sweat. All night my mind went back and forth, between a state of almost relaxation, to a heightened sense of terror, sending me to the brink of madness. But once again, the sweet morning sunlight brought about my salvation.
This same cycle continued for the next two nights, I am writing now on the eve of the fifth night with a sense of hope. I had a revelation of sorts today stemming from an unusual source. Earlier this morning I spent a great deal of time thinking about the idea of existence, when something really exists. There was some larger idea tickling in my brain about existence and reality that I couldn’t quite place—then it came to me in a flash. I remembered a novel I’d read where the narrator clearly states that once a character is created, it truly exists, because it exists in thought. As long as that thought exists, the character is real. After a quick browse of my shelves, I found the book: Petersburg, written by 20th Century Russian author Andrei Bely.