This story is by Carmella T. Penny and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I used to be afraid of spiders. I used to be afraid of slugs, and centipedes that scurried across the floor faster than a shadow. I was afraid of heights. I was afraid of lightning, thunder, rain. I was afraid of talking to the cute guy across the aisle in school. I was afraid of making myself vulnerable. I kept myself locked up like a blood-red ruby in a strongbox, afraid.
And I was afraid of the dark.
Somewhere around the age of fifteen or sixteen, I reached the adolescent period where, instead of going through a phase of insecurity, I went through a phase of confidence. Fear was overtaking my life and creeping into everything around me, so I decided to dispel all my fears for once and for all.
I let a Black Widow spider sprint across my leg one evening as I sat on the cold cement of the porch steps, drinking a strawberry milkshake. I didn’t even shudder. It’s just a tiny bug, I told myself, ignoring the scientific falsity of my words. I could crush it with the palm of my hand.
I found a slug edging slowly up the door frame, waddling like obese people do. I picked it off with my hands and carried it outside, forcing myself to quit being afraid. I’ll never do that again because the slime stuck to my hands like peanut butter does to the roof of your mouth, and it took five minutes to wash the goo off.
But I wasn’t afraid of slugs any more.
I forced myself to scale the highest tree in our backyard, a feat I could never attempt before. I climbed so high that when I sat at the very top, looking thirty feet down, the bare limbs on which I perched swayed in the wind and I almost fell to the hard, frozen ground below. But I was no longer afraid.
My quest for a life without fear went on. Why did I fear spiders? I wondered. Why was I afraid of insects, of thunderstorms, of things that go BUMP in the night? What is the purpose of fear?
I befriended the centipede family that lives behind our trashcan, feeding them food scraps from the kitchen. I walked outside during a thunderstorm and reveled in the feel of the fresh, clean rain changing my clothes from a warm dry cotton to a cooling blanket of water. And I laughed at the danger.
I nervously approached the cute guy at school and started a conversation. He pushed his hand through his thick, floppy black hair a lot, looked down at me from his 6’3” height and smiled knowingly as he tried to hold my interest. But I realized the cute guy was just that: a cute guy; nothing upstairs.
We only talked once.
I overcame my fear of spiders, centipedes, slugs, heights, thunderstorms, cute guys, and all the other little things that made the left side of my chest pound like the drummer in a Christian rock band and my throat constrict like a deflating balloon.
Except one thing: my fear of the dark.
One night in mid-winter, I was working on my favorite hobby, painting. I was doing the Madonna as she appears crushing a snake under her feet. It was supposed to symbolize me conquering my fears. It bugged me that I still hadn’t overcome my fear of the dark, and I didn’t know why.
I didn’t get to sleep until 11:55pm. I was so sleep-deprived that my eyelids felt like there were half-pound weights hanging from them, trying to force my eyes to close. Maybe that’s why I had The Dream. Or maybe it was the full moon, which I could see, shining ghoulishly thick and yellow as homemade butter through the window, haunting my dreams.
I’ve had nightmares before and they freaked me out. As a five-year-old, I dreamed that a giant Carrot was out to get me. Go ahead and laugh, but let me tell you, that was one freaky carrot. When I first started high school, I’d have nightmares about being hours late to class every day or being unable to even get there.
The Dream cannot be classified as a nightmare. It was a living, breathing, horror. To this day I’ll never know how much of it was even a dream.
I walked outside in the middle of the night. The full moon gave off a half-hearted sort of white light, enough to see my way into the woods, but not enough to really earn the name Light. I walked towards the woods, a giant cluster of trees gnarled so close together that there didn’t seem to be an opening, but there was. It was dark in there. Even with the lack of leaves in the wintry barrenness, the moon could not penetrate its darkness. I felt this chilly tingle of fear run through my vertebrate as I walked closer to the trees, like a chunk of ice slithering down my back. But I couldn’t turn around.
I walked closer and the foreboding black mass grew larger and larger before my eyes, crowding out everything else in my vision until the Trees of the Night engulfed me. I continued walking automatically, and with each step I took the fear and adrenaline in my cells, my blood, my every tendon and muscle, elevated and elevated until my heart was beating faster and harder than a rap song. The air was frigid and frosty but that had nothing to do with the reason why my body was shuddering and trembling like blinds do in front of an open window on a gusty day.
I felt like I was walking into Hell and I couldn’t turn back. It was completely silent, which was freakier than howls or moans, because the dead silence that I heard grew more and more pregnant every second with the sound that was to come. The stench of sulfur surrounded every tree in that cursed forest. There was blackness in front of me, blackness behind me, to the right of me, and the left of me, under and above me. I could barely see a thing. I could no longer see trees. I couldn’t see anything, except one thing. I didn’t know what; it was indistinguishable, just noticeable enough to know that Something was there.
I kept walking. My fear and tension grew to the point where I was insane enough to scream out, a maniacal scream that would shatter the air, I recognized a Presence besides my own. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t feel him, or smell, or touch, or hear him. But Someone was near. I knew that.
Everything was black. I saw nothing. And I stopped walking and stood still, feeling that huge, unconquerable, rising terror and I still didn’t know why. Then I heard it.
A harsh, grating, hungry whisper seared through the consciousness of my mind.
My eyelids flew open at that moment, and instead of feeling that relieved warmth you get when you realize, it was just a dream, I felt a cold terror deep at the pit of my heart. I was in bed, but it was still dark all around me. And the sound of that cruel, rasping but clear whisper rang in my ears, rang soundly because I had actually heard it.
I recognized the voice although I knew I hadn’t heard it before. It belonged to someone I was familiar with.
It belonged to Satan.
Then I knew: I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of what’s dark.
The Evil One’s voice, cutting through my ears, was hungry. His one word was a cry for my soul, which he wanted to suck the Love and the Life and the Truth from and laugh with twisted, cruel mockery as I screamed from the helpless depths of Eternal fire.
I’m afraid of Evil. Of Sin. Of the One who uses the empty joys of this world to deceive us and drag us down the slippery path to damnation. I’m afraid of losing my soul.
So I started using self-control, not to control my fear of the dark, but to arm myself against that righteous fear. I gave up sugar, my favorite addiction. I gave up TV and video games. I threw my much-beloved iPhone into the school wastebasket, among half-eaten hot dogs and paper plates with cardboard-tasting spaghetti, stale peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and empty milk cartons.
I deleted all the selfies I ever took on the computer. I threw away all of the personal possessions that I owned that were useless. But I kept the portrait of the Madonna and hung it on my wall, as a reminder that with God’s help, Satan can be crushed.
And I will finally overcome my fear of evil, one day in Heaven.