by Robin Salisbury Belknap
I stood watching the moon shine down on my parents as they lay in bed, sleeping. My father faced away from me, toward a clock, ticking loudly, on the bedside stand. I was petrified with a numbing fright. My mother lay on her left side, toward me, with her eyes closed. The moonlight intensified into a wide tangible ray of beam that lay at my mother’s feet. She awoke, and with a total lack of expression—an indifference to me or the life that she was leaving—began to crawl up the gleam of light. I prayed my father would wake up and stop her, but he didn’t move.
I looked into the hateful face of that pale orb and saw pure evil—an utter uncaring to my pain, or what havoc it was causing. By this time, my mother was out the window and continuing to climb that frightful golden glow. I was filled with the rage of abandonment. I woke up sweating and breathless, my heart pounding, unable to move.
The year before my mother’s death was a tumultuous one at best. In the middle of puberty, within the first stages of adolescence, everything wrong with that year was magnified ten-fold. And what was wrong with that year? My dawning comprehension that my parents’ marriage was not the Ozzie and Harriet fairytale I saw on television. Too many spent pay checks, too many days during the week when my father wouldn’t show—and when he did, we were edgy with the fear of doing something to antagonize him—even walking between where he laid on the couch—in his briefs, holding a can of beer and an ashtray overflowing beside him—and the cheap black and white television set, where an endless cycle of ball games played, was enough to bring his wrath down on our heads. And too many times going to bed hungry.
And what magnified it was the dark aura that hovered always in the air around, giving me just a little respite in the daylight while I cavorted feverishly with my siblings and friends, and bombarded me during the endless hours of the night. With parents that believed only maladjusted children feared the night and had no patience with a child prone to project raw emotions into deep-seated fears, the night seemed even more threatening, with no recourse to be found in an empathic adult. Yes—I was afraid of the dark.
The definition of paranoia is the feeling that someone is out to get you—unless, of course, someone is out to get you. Fighting my fear that year, feeling inadequate as I watched other children—normal children— play, skip along with their parents on errands, go in for satisfying meals, and back out again. All the while, night loomed closer and closer—only helped to compound the dark blight that tried to swallow me. I knew something was coming—the blackness showed me through terrifying visions in dreams that I could mostly discount during the day, albeit disquietly. Until one fateful night when even my days were no longer a haven against the night and its believers. And never would be again.
This night I was reading, engrossed in a book I’d managed to sneak into bed with me. It was a school night and I was supposed to be fast asleep.
Echoing, eerily, from the one window in the room, a ghostly voice called, “Help! Help me! Somebody please help me!”
My heart pounding, fear heavy in the pit of my stomach, I stumbled downstairs, throwing myself on my mother, who was relaxing on the couch in front of the television.
“I heard something in my room,” I sobbed. I told her what the voice had said.
“You just had a dream, Susie; it was just a dream, honey.” She coaxed me back to bed, against my protestations, where I lay terrified of hearing the voice, again—that night, and many more after that.
It was months before I raised enough courage to talk about it. We had gone to the lake…it was a hot, sticky day, but we didn’t feel it. It had been a good day; my brothers and sister along with our cousins had played in the water the whole day, only getting out to eat our bologna sandwiches and shortbread cookies…waiting the required 30 minutes after eating to go back in the water. Now, our parents were at carte blanche house, in the middle of a marathon canasta ‘tournament.’ So, I confided in my cousin. We were at a neighbor’s house where I had carte blanche permission to pick grapes from their grape arbor during summers. On the way up our walk toward the front porch, she stopped, a frozen look on her face. “That’s it,” she whispered.
I stared at her. “What?”
“That’s what you heard,” she stated in a shaky whisper.
Peering through the dusk, up toward my bedroom window, I finally heard the sound I’d been dreading for an eternity. “Help! Help me! Somebody please help me!” We ran, stricken, into the almost-otherworldly light of the house to tell the adults gathered around the kitchen table. I tried to remind my mother, while my cousin tried to explain to hers, only to be dismissed with a smile. I can still remember the smell of the pack of Juicy Fruit gum I was holding, and how the taste thickened in my mouth. As time passed, the memory dimmed, but the terror lingered. Not even the day could calm; I was in agony fearing the voice that would shatter me.
The following winter, on the last day of January, I was scuffling, in my too-small shoes, on the way back to my junior high school after lunch. It had been a special lunch. You could get a hamburger and a coke for a quarter at the Big Chef a block from the school, and my mom had given me a quarter that morning. I heard sirens blasting, angrily, from behind me and turned to watch monstrous red fire trucks streak past me. I shivered as the vibrations of the wind and the sirens shook my bones.
I’d almost reached the front steps leading up to the school when some of my friends, neighbors in my community, ran, breathlessly, to me. “It’s your house; the firemen just told us. We asked them, and they said it was the first house on Shadow’s Road.”
I struggled against the thick air, reminded of one of my nightmares where I never seemed to have enough strength to move. We, finally, made it to the office, where the pity on the faces of the staff gave lie to their actions as they pretended not to know anything even as they gave me permission to call our landlord, who lived next door to us. I was told, in a trembling voice of this friend of my mother’s, that someone was coming to pick me up—try not to worry. As it was, I had every reason to worry. A gas stove had exploded in an upstairs bedroom and set our house ablaze. My mother had saved my four-year-old brother, and had tried—but failed—to save my two-year-old baby brother.
On our way to break the news to my remaining brothers and sister, another one of my mother’s many friends told me, “She’d managed to make it to the boys’ room to get the baby, but she couldn’t get back out. She finally broke out the window and started crying out, “Help! Help me! Somebody please help me!”
I felt removed from everything. I could hear voices clearly as they spoke, but a few seconds later, it was as if I had heard them from a distance, and hours before. I fought for something—or against something—but I didn’t know what it was.
There wasn’t much written of—or spoken of—in those days about precognition and Mother’s ESP. I spent most of the rest of my life watching horror movies and reading scary books—just soaking up anything otherworldly—as long as it was fiction—never reaching for the truth. I knew whatever was in scary tales could be discounted. I’d had enough of my perception of existence. I wanted everyone else’s truth and reality—there is no such thing as ghosts—only superstitious fools and crazy people believed in anything but what you could see, hear, or touch. Absolutely no tolerance.
However, the truth can’t be denied, and the trouble with submersing yourself in a sea of anything is that sometimes things stick. The writers of books and the makers of movies have to get their information from somewhere, and like a seed, the truth can be buried deep in the soil of legends, myths, and superstitions—especially superstitions. It can be hidden beneath mummy wrappings and drenched in vampire’s blood, but eventually, it emerges.
As the times made it possible for people to share their psychic experiences, I thought, “Is it so bad?” And then, I’d wake up from another nightmare, barely able to move, wondering how anyone could just open themselves up to “whatever was out there.” The different shows on television that showed ‘ghost busting’ I felt were ludicrous; NO ONE who believed in ghosts would go looking for them!
By the time my children were born, irrational fear still lived dormant inside my soul. But I wanted to be different. I would believe my children. And I did. But I also projected my fears onto them.
“So,” I thought. “This is the legacy I’m leaving my children? They’ve been plunged into the same nightmare bog of fear for anything unknown, and despair of ever escaping as I was.” Or could I be a paranoid schizophrenic? One of the symptoms is hearing voices.
Finally, desperate enough to face the blight again, I wondered about what was really out there, and around us. Was it something to fear, or just another reality?
The first non-fiction book I ever read in a serious attempt to understand the paranormal was a book on parapsychology. As I read, I picked up on a term—Precognition. Auditory Precognition is the most common, especially between a mother and her daughter. Precognition is knowing, or envisioning, something is going to happen before it does. In my case, I heard it but didn’t recognize it for what it was. I thought it was a ghost—a monster. Of course, it was a ghost, but now, in hindsight, if it only could have been explained for what it was.
Denying the existence of things beyond the physical had put me into a literal hell. As my fears lessened, or my courage grew, I read more books. I learned the veil between worlds is so thin in some places that auditory, and sometimes visual, communication is possible. A world filled with spirits that have already lived and want to live on, or have never lived and want to with a blinding obsession. A tiny peek into another dimension that those with small minds can only fail to comprehend. Of course, it could just be paranoid schizophrenia!
It’s taken a lot of years and I’ve done much research trying to ease my mind and soothe my spirit. And still I study on—always one step behind knowledge and one step ahead of terror. There’s an explanation for everything. But, it’s not always an explanation an adult—an ordinary adult—will accept. So, one child spends thirty years of her life coming of age. Because if there’s an explanation for everything, it’s never black and white.
At one point, my five-year-old granddaughter was having nightmares about rats. An unbelievably animal-reptile-insect-loving little girl, she was waking us up, screaming. I overheard my daughter explaining to her that the rats were just symbols, they represented something else that was really bothering her.
So, my monsters were all the fears of the unknown that I’d gathered during my childhood and harbored into adulthood—the visions and voices that my parents insisted were my imagination, as they stood before me and demanded my assurances that I wasn’t scared of the dark; that there was nothing to be afraid of. Where was the comfort for a child who thought if there’s no such thing, what was she seeing and hearing? How do you fight those monsters?
“So,” I whispered, almost in litany. “Please—let there be monsters.” Monsters from books and movies, monsters handed down in stories from generation to generation, intended to frighten. Monsters you dream about—and can awaken from.
Although not a Buckhannon native, Robin Salisbury Belknap considers Buckhannon her hometown. During her employment at Wesleyan from 2005-2010, she was able to complete all her core classes toward a B.A. Although she did not declare a major, Robin took music classes that included piano and voice. Robin published a novel, Softly Do The Spirit Animals Speak, in 2005.