Language Warning. I get a bit potty mouth in this one.
Back in 2005, I was asked to write a quick essay for the horror blog Dark, But Shining by Newsarama blogger and all-around good guy Kevin Melrose. The piece was to be included in a series of essays by different authors describing what REALLY scares them.
Last year I jetted out to Hollywood and did a round of meet-and-greets with a few movie types and I told this story in one of the meetings. When I finished, the veep in charge of story told me, "Go home and write that one. That's fucking creepy." I've got the bones of the story down, just need to find the time to write it.
I've posted the essay before but I thought I'd dust it off again. So, for your reading pleasure, here's PEERING INTO DARKNESS.
When was the last time you were really scared?
I mean really fucking scared.
Not the quick adrenaline shock that comes when you slam on the brakes and narrowly avoid rear-ending the car in front of you, but that sick-to-your stomach, creeping feeling where you are absolutely certain that something awful and vile is going to happen.
True story –
In the year after college I worked for an apartment management company renting units and dealing with tenants. An older woman, the mother of one of the tenants, came in late one dreary September day and needed to get into her son’s apartment. We hadn’t received a rent payment in almost two months and we were fairly certain the guy had just disappeared and abandoned his apartment. The mother was there to pay the balance, remove some of his belongings, and sublet the apartment.
My boss, Steve, wanted me to go over and unlock the door and stay on site until the woman had finished and lock up behind her.
“Go now, man. You gotta see this guy’s apartment,” Steve said. The mother had to fill out some paperwork and I would have a good ten or fifteen minutes at the guy’s apartment by myself.
The guy – I’ll call him “Max,” as I’ve long since forgotten his real name – lived in a basement studio apartment right across from the laundry room of a small, older building with nine units.
Max was a LARGE guy. By large I mean HUGE – easily 6’6” or 6’7” and a flabby 250 lbs. Max was also a very odd guy. He liked to pace between the parked cars in the small lot behind the building for hours, and had taken to sticking his head out his door and glaring at each tenant as they tried to do their laundry. One tenant was certain Max was holding a hammer as he watched her sort her whites from her colors. Most tenants in the building began frequenting Laundromats.
Max’s studio apartment was the only one in the building located below ground, and it had no windows. None. No source of natural light. So, when I pushed open the door to Apartment A, the room was completely dark except for the light spilling in from the hall. The switch by the door failed to produce light of any kind, but I could make out a standing lamp next to a mattress resting on the floor. I stepped over some scattered magazines or newspapers and turned on the light.
And there I was, standing in a room covered from floor to ceiling in images of bondage, S&M and gruesome torture.
Neat stacks of cheap leather-fetish porn mags were against one wall, each about two and a half feet high. More magazines were scattered across the floor along with hundreds of pages torn from other issues and tossed casually around the room, and in piles so deep you couldn’t tell the color of the carpet.
Scotch-taped to every inch of wall was Max’s original artwork, his twisted creativity on display, where he could really amp up the action from the magazine photos and manipulate and control his sadistic fantasies.
A pencil-and-charcoal drawing of a blindfolded woman lashed across a bed of nails.
A woman nailed to a cross and hung upside down, done in marker.
He’d saved the most graphic of the images for the wall and ceiling above his bed. These were the last images Max would see when he went to sleep and the first thing he’d gaze upon when he woke up.
A crayon drawing of a woman with hundreds of small cuts across her back tied to a rack and suspended above a pit of fire.
Women with spikes through their breasts and with flesh pierced by dozens of hooks.
This isn’t what freaked me out. The explicit stuff didn’t really get to me. It was two other things, really.
One was the hammer lying next to the door, sitting there, waiting for Max to take it in hand to defend against perceived threats outside in the hallway.
The other was the small, child-like handwriting underneath the most prominently displayed and most violent series of pictures.
The writing on each picture read, simply: “SARAH.”
That really fucking got to me.
Sarah was someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister or girlfriend. Someone’s mother, perhaps.
Max had decided that she suited his taste.
He knew exactly with whom he wanted to dance. These weren’t random, sick thoughts on paper. The pictures were simply a blueprint for what he really wanted to do to Sarah. She probably had no idea that Max was watching and plotting. I knew damn well that she had no idea her naked image was plastered on Max’s wall, or she would have run to the cops as fast as she could.
At that point, I could feel Max there in the room with me. His presence filled the small space. A door closed loudly somewhere upstairs and I got the fuck out of there, barely remembering to lock up behind me.
I ran into Max’s mother coming down the stairs and had to descend to the basement once again to open the door for her. Before going inside she turned, smiled, and said, “I’ll be just a minute. I only need to get some clothes. I don’t like to be in there.” She knew about her son. She understood when I told her I’d wait out in the hall.
As it turned out, Max had been committed to an institution and she was taking him some of his things. I hope he’s still there rotting, frankly, and that Sarah is far away.
The apartment was soon cleaned of the filth and closed up never to be rented again.
As for Sarah, I never did find out who she was exactly. I checked the tenant list for the building and didn’t find a Sarah listed. She’ll never know how close she came to, what I believe, was a monster.
When it comes to movies that really creep me out, it’s not the flicks with demons or monsters or undead stalkers in hockey masks that get to me. It’s always the film where the human mind is the real villain that scares me. Give me a well-done and cliché-free serial killer movie, like The Silence of the Lambs or Seven. I think it’s because of my short time in Max’s apartment, where I peeked into the window of a really dark and twisted psyche. I found that, for myself, the scariest of monsters lives inside the disturbed mind