Fearful Thinking

a small collection of scary thoughts

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

I used to imagine people picking up the brooms my mother left behind at every house in which we had ever lived, maybe wondering why they were there, leaning up against a counter or standing silent in the closet. Mom says it’s bad luck if you don’t leave a broom behind when you move out of a house. I thought it was a nice thing to do for the next people to live there. Maybe, after carrying in all their boxes, they’d need to do some sweeping, but their own broom would be packed away. Luckily, there’d be a broom right there waiting for them.

But later I read that “old brooms carry the negative aspects of your life. A new broom signifies a fresh start in your new home.”

So what exactly are you leaving behind? What is that new family going to inherit?

***

I used to live in an old house in Hammond, Wisconsin, and it never felt scary. It never felt haunted. But I would lie in bed at night thinking of scary things, I couldn’t stop myself. Somethings I’d play a game, trying to conjure up the scariest thing possible. What could be so scary I’d faint? What would make me scream?

I’d lay on my side, wide awake, staring at the shiny, glass doorknob across the room. Before my parents went to bed, I could see pale yellow light seeping though the keyhole.   

After the lights went out, and the house grew quiet, sometimes, somehow, I’d see movement through the hole. A shift in the darkness. Probably nothing. But I used to imagine the other side of the keyhole growing pitch black, and then an eye would open and look at me.

It knew I was awake. It wasn’t trying to spy on me. It just wanted to make contact. It wanted me to know it was there.

Eventually, I’d fall asleep.

***

Our bedroom in the old carriage house on Lake Street was on the second floor, at the end of a narrow hallway. One side of the hallway was lined by a wobbly guardrail, stopping you from toppling down into the stairwell. The wood floor was in good shape, but it had grown dull after years of renters padding down to the bedroom – and many years before that, we assume, the people who worked for the family in the main house.

It was just the two of us, so we almost never closed the bedroom door. And often our big grey cat would sit on a rug we had next to the bed. You could stand at the other end of the hallway and watch the cat, sitting near the doorway, as it stared upwards at something. Probably a bug or a tree outside or whatever it is cats can see with their eerie, suspicious eyes.

I used to imagine the cat, sitting there, cocking his head to one side. From inside the room, beyond the part I could see through the doorway, a hand would reach down, calm as calm can be, and scratch the cat behind his ear. Like it was familiar with our cat. Like they already knew each other.

***

One night when I was young, I stayed up late and watched an episode of The Twilight Zone where the last thing you see is a man revealing a third eye beneath his hat. It looked cheesy and fake. But when I shut off the lights, it’s all I could see. For years, I used to imagine rolling over in bed to see the man staring at me, peering over the edge of my bed, just inches away. Some nights, I’d turn the lights back on and  stare at the wall until I got sleepy.

***

Sometimes, in the dark early morning when I’m the first one awake, I’ll shuffle into the kitchen to find the pantry door standing wide open. We must have left it open the night before. Between two adults and two kids, it happens. It happens all the time.

But I used to image a man sneaking up from the basement to steal our food, and then forgetting (like us) to shut the door. Missing food would get blamed on the kids, much to their frustration. And life would go on.

After I made sure to close the door each night, I never found it open again. And that was that.

But sometimes I imagine the man in the basement realizing how forgetful he's been and realizing that I’ve noticed. I push those thoughts out of my each time I go downstairs to start the laundry or sweep up around the litter box.

And by the time I come back upstairs, I’ve somehow forgotten about it altogether.

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