“Welcome back to Jeopardy. The theme of today’s episode is centered around ‘Typical Things That Children Are Afraid Of.’ Adam, you’re up first. The board is yours.”
“Thanks, Alex. I’ll take ‘At Theme Parks’ for $400.”
“‘These are things that usually have long lines and inevitably end with you getting a queasy feeling and upset stomach.’”
“Oh, I know this! What is meeting the people in costumes that cover their faces, AKA The Big People?”
“I’m sorry, Adam. The correct answer is going on roller coasters.”
“Dammit!… Hey, by the way, what happened to the wheel?”
“You know, for me to spin and then guess my letters and maybe try and buy a vowel. I always love watching the bonus rounds! And also, why isn’t the crowd screaming like crazed maniacs who’ve just ingested a gallon of Red Bull? Aren’t they supposed to do that and tell me how much money I’m supposed to guess a product costs?
“You-you’re getting a few different game shows confused there.”
“Wait, so this isn’t the show with the mystery baskets?”
I’m someone who considers himself to be a bit of a night owl: my most productive hours of the day are usually late at night when everyone else is fast asleep, and I enjoy working in the complete silence those hours bring. If it’s between midnight and three in the morning, especially on weekends, chances are you’ll find me in a dark room typing away on my computer, the only light coming from the dim glow of the screen reflecting off my face. As an introverted person, I enjoy the peace and quiet those hours bring, and it’s when I find that my mind can really focus on work or the personal project into which I’m currently putting my efforts.
I’ve come a long way. As a small child, I was horribly afraid of the dark, so much so that I’d sleep with my bedroom door open and a light on in the hallway. And if, God forbid, I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that someone had turned the hall light off, I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep until I’d hauled myself out of bed to flick it back on. Those twenty seconds it took to do so I still consider to be some the bravest moments of my childhood. After all, abandoning the safety of my bed and covers, I was leaving myself open to all the monsters my imagination crafted looming about in the night hours, slinking in the shadows, forever just out of sight. The fact that I always somehow managed to survive certainly was a confidence booster though.
I was very easily frightened as a child, by many things, most of which weren’t even meant to be scary. I remember spending one summer being absolutely terrified that The Iron Giant was going to be waiting in my closet to jump out at me when I opened it one unassuming night (how would he even fit in there?!). I wasn’t so much afraid that he’d attack me or anything, just the fact that he could be there and I couldn’t do anything to either confirm or deny that possibility brewing in my head. But things are different now. I’m proud to say that I’ve outgrown most of my childhood phobias and have moved on to a life of endlessly reading AskReddit threads, binge watching television shows, and late-night writing.
The key phrase there is “most of.”
The other night it was 2:30 a.m. and I was in my room innocently going about my late-night shift and doing my usual thing. The house was silent and still, save for the the distant hum of the air conditioning going off in the dark distance. Pretty run of the mill, routine stuff. I was actually mostly done with my work for the day, night, whatever, at this point, and was taking a break to watch horror movie trailers. You know, because who needs sleep?
Well, that was when this little fellow caught my eye, scurrying across my desk and stopping an inch away from my arm.
My fear of the scutigera coleoptrata, more commonly known as the house centipede, holds a very special place in my soul. It’s existed for as long as I can remember and has stood the test of time by lingering and passing on to my present self. Right now, of all the things in the world, they’re what I fear most. If the world of Harry Potter was real and I was at Hogwarts (in your face, MUGGLES!), standing in front of a Bogart, the thing that shapeshifts into your greatest fear, that’s what it would turn into.
In short, I Goddamn hate these things.
After fully realizing my situation and coming to terms with the possibility that I might not survive this encounter, a Mexican standoff began, the two of us locking eyes, both frozen, both waiting for the other to make the first move. All that was missing was the Clint Eastwood soundtrack from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly to kick in. You know the one. I could see every detail of the creature’s tiny body: its weird antennas, its orange back, its uncountable legs. I was reminded oddly of the bugs Steve Irwin used to play with on his show, and we all know how that ended up for him.
I was the first one to make a break.
In one swift motion, I jerked my hand off the desk and jumped out of my chair. Quickly, I turned on the light in my room and looked back just in time to see the centipede trying to scamper off into the cover of darkness I had snatched from it. All that running it did must have tired it out though, because it stopped midway on the wall up against my bed, hoping I’d magically forget its existence if it stayed still enough, and just hung there… in a place near where I was planning to go to sleep soon. I admire it’s commitment though; the bug thing didn’t budge at all.
Now, in a normal situation, as I imagine any other sane person afraid of centipedes would do, I’d get someone else to take care of the “humane-euthanasia,” but keep in mind it’s two in the morning. Whether or not I survived the night was all up to me.
With some poor Youtuber’s spoiler recap of The Babadook still playing on my computer, I slowly backed out of my room. We keep the Raid bug spray downstairs in a small closet near the kitchen, although this is a standard that I’ve since decided to overrule in light of what I experienced this night, and I was quick to shimmy my way down and retrieve it. When I returned to my room, armed with an additional fly swatter for good measure, I found that the centipede had smartly taken the opportunity to make a mad dash for safety and cover. Luckily, it wasn’t yet out of sight. I spied it moving along the wall on the opposite side of my room (those things move fast!), trying for my closet, a place with a plethora of proper hiding spaces to choose from.
I had to act quickly: time was of the essence.
With more courage than I’ve known in my life, save for that one time when I was brave enough after five years to finally hug Donald Duck at Disney World, I stepped forward and held up the Raid.
“Sorry Bug-o,” I preemptively apologized.
Arms fully extended, one eye closed, my head tilting back, I clenched the spray…
…and I missed. By a few inches. Goddammit, I missed!
Science has pretty much proven (I’m not a scientist, I’m basing this off the three minutes of research I just did) that bugs don’t process emotion like we do. But at my expense, if nothing else, I like to imagine that centipede was pretty over the moon as it disappeared into the crevices of my closet. I, however, was distraught. And as I would soon fumble with a flashlight, searching my closet in vain for the little bastard, I found myself left with one single, looming, question: what the hell do I do now?
Thus had begun the most intense sleepless night I’ve thus far in my life experienced.
I decided to spend it on the floor in front of my closet, wrapped in a blanket for extra protection (just in case) and the Raid and flyswatter still in hand, waiting, watching, and daring the centipede to try and take another late night stroll through my room. This was my room, Goddammit, and I wasn’t going to let some stupid bug walk over me thinking I was going to give it up without a fight. By now the audio coming from the Youtube video had ended and the house had reverted to its hushed status.
As I sat there in silence but very much awake, the minutes turned to hours and my mind started to wander (as they tend to do when you’re sleep deprived and engaged in a figurative staring contest with a bug). I started thinking about the precious sleep I was missing and how I was definitely going to regret this in a few hours, but I was also thinking about my fears over the years. The time ended up turning into a trip down memory lane as they all came back to me in one fell swoop.
One of the first things I recall being afraid of was of this statue of a man leaning against a pole in my Grandmother’s house. If you looked at it, you’d smartly be able to surmise that there’s nothing particularly scary about it, as I did at first. But that all changed one day because of a conversation I had with one of my cousins. It was right when I was dropped off to spend the night at Grandma’s house alone with her and he was there visiting.
“You see that statue?” he said to me, pointing to it. “Over there?”
“Uh-huh,” six-year-old Adam replied.
“You know,” he said, his words coming slow, drawn out. “At night it comes to life.”
“Yeah. It likes to wander around the house.” He paused, allowing the moment to breathe and process in my head. “By the way, which room are you staying in?”
“The one over there.” I said, pointing towards the hallway, as a child does, in no discernable direction. My finger could have been pointing at any room honestly. It didn’t matter.
My cousin shook his head sadly. He breathed deeply and placed a hand on my shoulder. “I’m so so sorry,” he said, his facial expressions completing the performance. “That’s the room it likes walking around the most.”
“Oh my gosh!”
I FREAKING BELIEVED HIM!
Like I said, I was easily frightened as a child, but I neglected to mention that I was also very naive and gullible. This is a pairing that did not bode well for me and unfortunately left me very susceptible to misinformation over the years until I finally wised up. Nowadays I can mostly call my cousin’s bluffs and he instead just plays better than me at Fortnite (I’m still only a little bitter that my hours of practice have still not made me better than most fourth graders). And that statue never moved once, in case you were wondering.
Another thing that I was afraid of as a child were the iconic Star Trek villains known as The Borg. My father can go on and on telling stories about how I would bolt from the room as soon as they came on the screen whenever we were watching an episode together. They look like this.
The thing is, I also really liked Star Trek, and would feel bad about missing the episodes they were in. So as compromise so that I was only missing half of the action, I started staying in the corner of the room by the door whenever The Borg came on, just at an angle where I couldn’t see the screen. My father, bless his heart, would give me a rundown of explaining all the horrifying details of what I was missing.
But the worst part about The Borg was the fact that they started invading my dreams. I’d be off riding through Narnia on Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender with Luke Skywalker and a scantily clad Officer Jenny (the true dream team) and all of a sudden one of them would show up and start trying to attack me. Thankfully, I could always count on the inevitability of the voice of Mary Schneider coming to rescue me: her voice permeating my dreams and waking me up, always just in the nick of time. It was my father’s thing to play her tracks as our “it’s time to wake up for the day and get ready for school” song. For those of you who have spent your lives unfamiliar with this legend, go ahead and have a listen below. Does she not have the voice of an angel, perfect for waking you up from dreams of cyborgs attacking you?
It’s really such a shame that Captain Picard never realized that the true way to defeat The Borg was the voice of Australia’s Queen of Yodeling…
Anyway, on the topic of Star Trek, my father is a very big fan. He loves to collect props and memorabilia from the various shows, and about once a year he’ll take our family to Ticonderoga, New York, to explore a recreated set of the original series. My mother and sister roll their eyes, but we have fun.
One of the most prominent things in our family that he’s collected is a life-size cut out of Worf, from The Next Generation. For those of you who don’t know, Worf is a Klingon, which basically just means he was another alien for me to be afraid of in my early days. When I was little, Dad kept the cutout in his office, which was directly across the hall from my room. He was supposed to remember to always close the door behind him when he was finished with work for the day, but every now and then he’d forget and so when I left my room at night to use the bathroom, I’d inevitable see this.
I wasn’t as afraid of Worf as, say, The Borg, but still seeing the cutout of him late at night staring at me through the darkness was enough to make me jump and get my heart racing. My sister and I together were pretty scared of the thing, but as we grew up and got more used to its presence, we started finding ways to have fun with it. Humor is forever the ultimate champion against fear, after all.
When my brother put a few years behind him, he eventually moved into that office and it became his bedroom. He was unwilling to share the space with the cutout though, and so Worf was relegated to a closet in the attic, where he sits and collects dust to this day. I think it’s for the best, especially because I know one day there will be little kids again running around in the house and one of them will inevitably stumble upon it and history will repeat itself. At least there were no cutouts of The Borg.
Then there was my fear of escalators. Children are afraid of many different things growing up, whether it be sharks, zombies, or that one weird guy from Lazy Town (RIP), but I was different; I was afraid of escalators. Even now, I am forever traumatized by my experiences with escalators. I’m always reminded of the rule my mother instilled in me as a kid, the one where if I got onto one with my shoes untied I would one hundred percent guaranteed suffer a horrible horrible death. In my mind I imagined it would include my entrails spilling out onto the floor of whichever poor mall we were unfortunately shopping through on that day, my death acting as a catalyst for mothers walking by to turn to their traumatized kids and say, “See little Jimmy, that’s what happens if your shoes are untied on an escalator.” I’ll always choose the stairs over them.
Here’s another fear that I’m pretty sure not many other people share: eyes. I can’t look at people touching their eyes or doing weird things with their eyes, and as a reflex I can’t let anyone put anything anywhere near my eyes. I actually know exactly where I developed this from: I was a little kid and was at a museum and there was a lady in a lab coat doing a live dissection of a cow’s eyes. Her work was shown on a giant screen through a camera that captured her every cut. I’m pretty sure I became traumatized and that’s why I’m still feeling the lasting effects today. It’s not that funny, but it has given me an outlet to try and use eye-related puns as a way to combat it. Eye can’t stand it!
Moving on to the two last fears that I really remember. First, I was terrified of the cover of the Goosebumps book: Night Of The Living Dummy. This one doesn’t really need much explanation. Just look at it!
Secondly and finally, I would be remiss for not at least mentioning the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Holy crap, the amount of nightmares this guy caused… If The Borg weren’t scary enough you had this creepy dude to avoid during TV time. Fun fact though: when I was working in a school, not a single kid knew who this character was or what movie he was from! I consider them lucky…
Anyway I guess that just about brings us back to my sleepless night with the centipede. I did actually end up catching it a few days later (he was just chilling on my desk again, probably trying to use my computer to see what other hot single centipedes were in the area). At least I think it was the same one, they all pretty much look the same, more or less. Thankfully, that means I survived the night, hopefully, otherwise God knows how you’re reading this (maybe the centipede has stolen my identity and decided to pursue a career in writing under my name. I’ll be pissed if he’s more successful than me. Quick! Someone do a wellness check!).
That night did really get me thinking a lot about fears and how they shift and change over the years. When you really think about it, you start to realize that as kids we have tangible real-life fears, like mummies or spiders, but when we become adults they shift and become more abstract, like the fear of dying alone or watching people we love pass away, though the two are not mutually exclusive, hence my fear of centipedes and countless other examples. I’ve certainly changed. I actually now love horror, something I never before thought I would, and things that used to frighten me I can find enjoyment in. I love Stephen King books (I’m currently reading The Stand), and one day I’d love to write a script for a movie in that genre (adding that to my list of countless other things I want to do this year). Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even be brave enough to ride an escalator! As the years pass, I think you just start to realize that growing up is watching Disney cruise commercials and relating more to the adult activities.
Anyway, I just wanted to get this all out there in the event that in the future it’s 2:30 a.m., or any time of the day really, and you hear me screaming and cursing. At least you’ll know the story.
Either it’s the bugs or I’m being murdered.