The Rear End

THE REAR END: That’s Scary Stuff

Who‘s afraid of the big, bad October?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

Lying in bed at night, staring at the dark corners of your room, you can convince yourself of almost anything. It’s late October. Outside the wind is howling. Inside the air stands still.

And what are you thinking about?

Did you lock the door? Are you ready for tomorrow? What was that tapping sound downstairs? Why did you say that thing you said to that person? Will someone you know get sick this week? What is the cat looking at? Who will we elect president?

Is everyone safe?

Lying in bed at night, you can run through all the scary possibilities, each in turn. And in the dim light of your alarm clock, they all seem plausible. A wide assortment of many-colored “what ifs” bobbing around in the stormy waters.

If you must be scared, October’s a good time for it. The sky grows dark so much earlier. Strange, fiery lights appear upon our doorsteps. You hear rustling in the bushes. All of this keeps us on our toes as we head into the harsher months. It sets your senses humming. Keeps you on the lookout. Keeps you wary.

One of the many lessons we can learn from the animal kingdom is that fear keeps you alive. And of course, for many, fear makes you feel alive.

I’m technically a grownup adult person, but I’m still afraid of stuff that frightened me as a kid. That’s just evolution, right? The same “lizard brain” responses that kept us alive eons ago – dodging the claws of saber-toothed beasts and whatnot – they’re still there, deep inside us.

One of the many lessons we can learn from the animal kingdom is that fear keeps you alive. And of course, for many, fear makes you feel alive.

It’s why the unannounced arrival of a spider is so startling. It’s why roller coasters are fun. It’s why horror movies work.

It’s why the darkness is so fascinating.

When I was a kid, I was absolutely afraid of the dark. Nowadays (nowanights?) I’m able to sleep without a light on. But I’m not completely free of the fear.

If the lightbulb above the steps to our basement goes out? Forget about it. I scramble up the stairs like a crazed gorilla, and about half way up I look over my shoulder. Looking down into the deep darkness eases my anxiety, just a little bit. It’s better than not knowing if some pale-faced man with his mouth sewn shut has appeared on the steps behind me.

Crossing a footbridge a night sets my heart racing. There’s always little scuffling sounds behind you, back where the lamplight ends. Dead leaves in the wind or a blood-soaked serial killer? Could be either, and you’ve only got one direction in which to run. And running is not something I like doing.

Standing in the bathroom in the middle of the night, staring into the mirror, gawking at the shadows behind me. Something inside me wants to keep looking. Something else won’t let me. I climb back into bed and fall back asleep as fast as I can.

But some nights, you’re lying in bed, staring at whatever, convincing yourself of whatever. Spooky Halloween nightmares. Health issues. Family trouble. National tragedies.

That thing you said to that person.

How come no one ever lies awake at night because they can’t stop imagining good things? No one ever says, “Whew, I’m tired! Couldn’t sleep last night. Couldn’t stop thinking about all my favorite foods, a world with equal rights, and that hilarious thing I said to that person!”

I don’t think evolution trained us for that. Laughter is the best, but it doesn’t make you wary.

October is a great time for some healthy fright. Maybe you’re afraid of ghosts in the darkness and the wind howling outside your door. Maybe you’re afraid of sickness. Maybe you’re afraid of politics and fighting in the streets.

I’m right there with you. And as much as I might fear the dark, I kind of like it, too. It keeps me on my toes.