I enter work through the garage, LED-lit, bright, white light, always illuminated because of confusing signage. A white placard above the light switch, black lettering highlighted yellow: “This Light Must Stay On.” I interpret this to mean during working hours, but the cleaning crew takes it literally. They leave the light on all night. I unlock the door each morning and walk into a huge, well-lit garage.
Two parking bays sit side by side: one houses a delivery van, the other, home to thousands of donated books waiting to be sorted, boxed and stored. They will be sold next July to raise money for the library. I walk through the garage, confident, comfortable, and without a second thought.
I leave the garage into a dark hallway. When the door closes behind me, it’s pitch black, but only for a second. The ghost image of the knob before me seared into my brain shows me where to reach, how to escape this nightmare tomb. My skin crawls, my neck tingles, Zombies emerge from the expandable shelving behind me, the kind of shelves that move as you crank them open and closed to form an aisle where ever you want one. It’s where we store our lightly used books, our unpopular supplies, and any flesh-eating monsters looking for an easy mark. For an instant, I’m in danger. Then I pass through the door.
The next room is dark, not pitch, but shadowy, with hidden figures potentially lurking in the corners. A clever coworker could arrange a jump-scare that would stop my heart. I could flip on the lights, but I arrive an hour before anyone else. That’s a long time to burn electricity for no purpose. I’m the finance guy, I set the example.
I stopped watching the Walking Dead three years ago. Turned off by its inherent racism, and the crushing boredom of continuously watching the characters kill zombies. I have my limits. But dark rooms still set me on edge.
Back in 2018, as I binged the show trying to get caught up, I worked in a building with storage lockers in the basement. We archived financial records there. The central room, large, the walls lined with doorways, some open, some closed, was lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. A damp cinder block passageway angled off from the corner of the room, the dinge disappeared into dark. On occasion, I stood at the mouth of the passage. staring into the gloom, looking for movement, listening for shuffling feet. I never entered that passage, man that basement creeped me out.
In 1999, I watched the movie The Sixth Sense. Haley Joel Osment couldn’t help but see the ghosts that forever surround us. One, a child missing half his head, confronts Haley. “Wanna see where my dad keeps his guns?” That little boy haunts my house. I feel his presence when I use the bathroom in the middle of the night. On these trips, I never look in the mirror, there’s too much I don’t want to see.
1990, my girlfriend and I sat on our bed watching a Blockbuster rental of Pet Sematary on our twenty-inch TV. Our apartment building, with three renters plus the landlord’s family, had an unspoken rule: keep your laundry moving. Midway through the movie, one of us needed to go to the basement to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. After a bit of fearful negotiating, we decided that I (the man) should be the one to brave the basement alone. By the time I returned to my apartment, my nerves failed. I never finished the movie.
Does it seem strange that a sensible adult, a guy pushing sixty, should fear the boogeyman? As a child with OCD, I did a lot of rifling through closets and peaking under beds making sure that no one and nothing lurked waiting for me to let down my guard. Maybe my zombie fear is a natural extension of those childhood habits. Maybe it’s my overactive imagination, the part of me that loves science fiction books and started worrying about the coming pandemic in 1997. Maybe I’m just immature, and I never grew up. Regardless, zombie shows like The Walking Dead have an outsized effect on my general state of mind that I just can’t shake.
Each morning my blood gets a little extra push as I negotiate the unlighted rooms and hallways while making my way to my office. With summer winding down and the days obviously shortening, my shadowy treks through the building expand. By November, the entire trip is in the dark.