I will begin with the admonishment, “Beware of what lurks in the shadows!” Properly forewarned, I will tell my story. My brothers and I delighted in scaring one another and/or testing our courage. We would tell scary stories in closets. We would make faces in the dark and then shock one another with a flashlight showing a devilish grin or eyes popping out. I was probably the best with scary faces. Even today, young mothers should probably remember this when babies spy me over their shoulders and start to cry. Did I make a face or am I just naturally scary looking?
My parents had added two bedrooms to our small house. There was an interconnecting hallway room with three doors. There was no light in the small space. When all the doors were closed, it was quite dark. Mike, Danny, Paul and I would play in the room. The hard tiles made marbles exceptionally good fun. We would also play dare games, sitting in the blackened enclosed space, making eerie sounds and telling scary stories, daring each other to be the first to open a door and run for it. I was quite good at this game.
I recall one in particular . . .
“Hey, Joe, come and play!” I heard my baby brother Paul call out.
Okay, I thought, this will be good. He’s the easiest one to scare. I entered the dark space and closed the door behind me. Surrounded by pitch darkness, I sat down on the floor, facing where my brother was obviously sitting.
I started, “Booooo! Muhahaha! I’m coming to get you! Muhahaha!”
“I’m not scared,” Paul cried, “now it’s mine turn.”
“I’m coming to get you!” he parroted in baby fashion.
I interrupted, “Oh come on, try something different.”
“Let me finish!” he complained.
“All right, go ahead, give it your best shot.”
“I will, I really will,” he responded. His voice had taken on a shrill quality. Hum. He was getting better at this. “I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother! I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother.” His speech entered into an up-and-down sing-song kind of pattern. It was really quite unusual. “I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! I’m not your brother!”
He really was getting good at this. The voice he was using was now nothing like it was usually. I tried to interrupt again. “Uh, that’s pretty good, but it’s my try again,” I said.
Nevertheless, he did not quit. It was as if he no longer heard me.
“Stop it, I said, it is my turn,” I argued.
Still he continued in the peculiar rhythmic speech. “I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! I’m coming to get you!”
I could not believe it, I was actually getting scared. He would not stop, that was unlike him. Paul always listened to me. His voice got louder and he began to hold the vowels longer. The words were clear but the inflection was all wrong, as if he did not know how to speak as a human.
“I’m not your brutheeer, Joooooe! I’m a deeemon from hell! I’m going to get you! I’m right next to you! Ready to grab you! Take you with me to hell! I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! A demon from hell! From Hell!”
I yelled at him to stop but he wouldn’t. I had all I could stand. This was a little too scary and on top of that I had to go to the bathroom. I opened the door. Light poured into the small chamber. I stared at my brother, well I would have, except there was one small problem. He was not there. I had been in the dark space alone. I stared in disbelief and ran to the kitchen where mom was cooking. My brother Paul was eating a cookie. He had been there the whole time. I had been by myself or worse, maybe not? I can still hear the shrill sing-song voice after all these forty plus years, “I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell!”
The darkened space was created by the addition of two rooms upon the house. We had neglected to have that section blessed and there were no holy pictures or crosses in the enclosed space. Maybe this oversight was all the thing that I had encountered needed to violate our home. Or, perhaps it was all the overworked imagination of a young boy?
One evening not long after, I recall awakening in the middle of the night and putting my hand out into the hallway beyond my bedroom door. Again, in the darkness there was absolutely no light to see. Everyone was in bed asleep except for me. I dared myself to get over the fear I had experienced in the connecting space to the new rooms. There was nothing in the dark that was not there in the light, right? I had to prove it to myself. I would not be a coward. I stretched out my hand as far as my arm could reach. Just as I was ready to dismiss my earlier experience, something grabbed at my finger tips and I quickly withdrew my hand. I shook with fear in my bed. The grownups were wrong. There was SOMETHING IN THE DARK that was not there in the light!
Humanity has always feared the unknown associated with the darkness. We cling to the light. Many of the dying saints have begged to have a lantern or candle burning by their bedsides so that they might not have to die in the darkness. May we take comfort and courage in the true Light of the World who leads us out of the darkness of sin and death.