In the Infocom adventure game from the 70s and 80s, there existed sinister creatures that lived solely in the dark and ate people who wandered into it.
It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
> what is a grue?
The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is adventurers, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its fear of light. No grue has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived its fearsome jaws to tell the tale.
Fear of the dark is a pretty instinctive thing for many people. It’s the unknown shadow world of maybes and what-was-thats. Growing up in the country, and for a while, on a farm, I had my fair share of moments in the dark. I’d usually go for a walk late at night, and on a farm, with no-one around you for kilometres, on a pale, crescent moon with fog rolling in, it was often an eery, spooky thing. It didn’t matter that I knew the roads well – that log on the side of the road suddenly looked like the silhouette of a crocodile; that rustle in the grass could have been one of the suspected big cats, or perhaps less fantastically, a brown snake, resentful of being disturbed.
The occasional actual spooky encounter didn’t help, of course. I remember one night thinking there were a bunch of worms sitting out on the road and knelt to inspect them closely, only to realise they were baby red-bellied black snakes. Equally, late in the dark with visibility limited to 10 metres, hearing a fox nearby scream is enough to jolt anyone caught unprepared.
There’s a long history of telling stories designed to make the skin crawl around a campfire, and there’s likely a substantial overlap between people who feel even a minor fear of the dark and people who like horror and thriller stories. Much as I’m not a horror fan, for instance, the Alien movies have always resonated with me. Not because I want to be violently birthed through someone’s chest then go on a killing rampage, of course – but there’s a particularly unique mix of science fiction and horror in the Alien movies that I can enjoy, despite enjoying no other horror.
It’s entirely driven by the dark, too. It’s that feeling of going to the toilet in the middle of the night and not bothering to turn the light on, but half-way through suddenly imagining a giant, killer xenomorph slowly unwinding itself behind me, readying for the kill. That thought … is the back of my head about to be caved in?
Years ago, growing up, we used to visit my aunt in Ivanhoe, NSW over summer holidays to spend time with my cousins. I was the youngest of the four of us, probably only 6-10 at the time (my memory is a bit hazy). Ironically, my aunt used to take us for walks while Doctor Who was on, worried that it would give us nightmares. I say ironically, because one evening on such a walk, she told us the story of the headless horseman – in gruesome detail.
Being a long way out in the country, and in the late 70s or at most early 80s, her house didn’t have an indoor toilet – there was an outhouse, maybe 25-35 metres from the house. Visiting that in the middle of the pitch black night was usually an entirely creepy experience, particularly when the mind started to wander and imagine all the red-back spiders normally seen near the out-house during the day. Visiting the out house in the middle of the night after the story of the headless horseman was near terrifying.
Then, a few days or maybe a week after the story was told, pale, white horseshoe prints started appearing on the path leading between the house and the out house. Every morning, without fail, there’d be horseshoe prints leading from the back step to the out house, and every night the prospect of going to the toilet in the middle of the night became all the more terrifying. Would we be unfortunate to go at precisely the time the horseman came visiting? What if we were already in the loo and we could hear the horse at the door? (Arguably at least you’d be in the best location to soil yourself, but that wasn’t a particularly comforting thought.)
That went on for a week or more, before my aunt suddenly realised her daughter had started to become worried about foot odour, and was pouring talcum powder into her slippers each day. And as each slipper slapped down on the path, a ghostly crescent of fear in the shape of a horseshoe would be created.
Slap-slap, slap-slap, all the way down to the out house and back, each night.
Decades later of course, I can chuckle at the experience. At the time, I would have seriously contemplated the merits of wetting the bed instead of putting myself through that horror.
These days I have a simple way of dealing with that limbic fear of the dark. After all, it comes from the unknown, from the half-thoughts and the maybe-there-is’s and the sleepy recollections in the hour of the wolf of things seen during the day.
Do not feed the Grue.