by: Dennis R. Humphreys
The night can be a scary thing. We can't see what we hear and sometimes we can't hear what we can see. We think illogically at times in the dark and our primordial senses tell us to beware and fear the dark because predators lurk there waiting to devour us. That's how it was when mankind was young and was the hunted instead of being the hunter. He became the hunter as he bonded with other men to hunt, assuring his survival. However, that persistent fear of the night and of being alone continues.
I moved to the desert to get away from the conventions of man and the persistent attempt of those trying in some way to control you. I went off the grid and went to the desert of Nevada where it was quiet and I rarely saw cars, let alone people. I would go into town once a week to gather mail and do personal business. It was just enough of a visit to satisfy me for the week and it gave me something to look forward to when I went to town. Plus, the people I saw there were ones I liked to see not those I had to see.
The nights there were dark...pitch dark, except for the moon when it was out and the stars. The skies were typically clear so the abundance of stars was beyond explanation. It took getting used to because when the sun went down, there was little light. There was no electricity there so I relied on battery powered lights to begin with but eventualy adopted solar powered lights which expanded my capabilities since I had been going to bed with the sun and getting up with it. That was fine in the summer but in the winter fourteen hours of sleep was beyond what I needed, especially since before I went there to the desert, three to five is all I ever took.
Among the solar lights I set up was one that came on with the setting sun and shut off in the morning sun. I aimed it at the front door of my very small domicile and pointed out my path after a day's effort in my prospecting adventures, after retiring. It helped getting into the place and kept me from tripping on the rocks that littered the area.
Day times at fist mostly consisted of making the place more livable and adjust to the temperatures which in the high country desert can be very cold in the winters to very hot in the summers with up to fifty mile an hour winds or more, almost no humidity and coyotes that would start yapping in the middle of the night almost outside your door. You almost went through the ceiling in surprise.
I enjoyed the solar light at night and used it almost as night light though it was outside. It lessened the dark, making things inside more discernible if I got up during the night. I kept the curtains on my front door open so the light would show through and project the window pane pattern on the ceiling inside above my bed. I would sometimes lay there in the middle of the night just starring at the rhomboid patterns of the separate panes on the barn roofed ceiling.
Then it began...small noises in the middle of the night, ones you lay there after being awakened by them, and you try to figure out what they are. At first a mouse had taken residence with me and I would awaken to his gnawing in an attempt to fend off the overgrowth of his rodent teeth. I'd yell and bang on the wall in an effort to shut him up. Usually after a few times it would. Then I heard scratching. Same thing...a mouse or sometimes the wind caused the scratching sound and would lessen as the wind died down, to begin again when it arose. That was easy to figure out.
Eventually the sounds transformed themselves into something a little different, just enough to make you question what it was. That sound sort of sounds like a mouse but not quite. It's different so you go back to sleep without the pleasure of explanation as to the sound.
I began seeing things out of the corner of my eyes during the day. I thought there was some lonely wanderer in the desert that lost his way and was coming for directions or help. When I would direct my attention towards them I'd see they weren't there. They were human forms of indistinct shadows void of any color...it happened so much it was beyond chance.
At night I would lie there and listen to the sounds. Many were indistinct and unintelligible. I would fall back asleep still wondering what they were. Were they natural? Man made? Or something else altogether.
During the day I was active doing things that tired me out. Before the sun set I would make something to eat and then write for awhile, or I'd play games on my smart phone before retiring. One night I went to bed but was wakened by some sound, I wasn't even sure what it was, but I laid there looking at the patterns reflected from the light to the ceiling. I saw what appeared to be a human shadow at the door. I looked at the time which was 2:15am. Being that my closest neighbor was two miles away it wasn't a neighbor, but fear began to emerge at the pit of my stomach. This was not natural.
I watched as the shadow came closer to the door as if it were peering into it. I was completely still. My bed was right inside the door an arm's distance away from where the thing creating the shadow was. I looked at the shadow carefully trying to see some detail but there was none to see. I daren't make a noise, I daren't breathe, or that might create a noise. I realized then there were eyes not in the usual sense but two vacant openings where the eyes would be. They weren't dark as the shadow but they were void of shadow and only the background on with the shadow fell, appeared in them. I feared looking at it...it might somehow sense me there and take my soul. I heard the gentle attempt to turn the door knob but thankfully I had locked it. The shadow tried the door a few times as if it would miraculously open up eventually. I closed my eyes again and quietly and carefully turned my face away from the ceiling and slowly slid the blanket over my face as if my bed transformed to a castle to keep his likes away.
In the morning the events of the night before were forgotten until something struck that memory chord, as oftentimes something will do with a memory, and the fear reappeared in my mind. What was that shadow? Was it real or was it my imagination that created a dream so real as to terrify my being? I finally decided it was a dream and went about my day building a stone wall in the back of the building. Getting a bit hungry after working six hours non-stop and desiring something to drink, I brushed off the dirt and went to the door to enter and make something. I noticed small scratches around and on the door knob which I didn't remember being there. I looked down then and back from the door at the mix of stone, sand and volcanic ash that was the ground's surface. I thought I saw delicate outlines of footprints there but decided it was my imagination. For that to have happened the shadow I saw last night would have to have mass and some weight and not just be a shadow.
I awoke again that night around the same time. A nearby coyote had awakened me with it's howling and yelping. Then it was quiet for some seconds and this time the yelp was more of one of fear. I wondered what would have scared a coyote out here in the middle of the night? A forthcoming shuffle of feet walking on the soft ground and stone became audible. I listened closely wondering if I had locked the door. Yes, I had but I tried turning the knob just the same to assure myself I didn't imagine that I had.
The shadow, once again as the night before, appeared. I watched as it looked in the window again and held my breath not able to imagine what this apparition would do if it sensed me inside. What was it capable of? I hid my eyes from it to avoid any confrontation not knowing if our eyes met, if it could look into my soul. I stayed that way the rest of the night not daring to look at the light filtering through the door onto the ceiling.
Looking out from under the covers at one point, I saw the sky becoming lighter as the sun began to rise over the mountains. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I had made it through another night and I was safe. The shadow was gone and so was I, back to sleep.
I worked throughout the day thinking about the previous two nights. I wondered if tonight might be a repetition. The locked door seemed to be a deterrent, shadow or not. I wondered what it wanted. Perhaps it was a ghost of some pioneer long since dead crossing the desert at at time you carried your own water, the little it was, and you walked personally or rode on the back of a horse. Perhaps all the forms I saw since I was here were the ghosts of pioneers looking for retribution for their untimely deaths in the days of the west. I knew nothing of ghosts and didn't give it a thought that this one had substance. Maybe ghosts did have substance and there was some secondary corporeal existence to them most of us were not aware of.
Evening came to the desert. The wind that had been blowing all day, subsided. The sunsets were always golden or pinkish in the desert and their beauty was never the same twice. It was completely still and quiet as the sun dipped below the top of the mountain in the west. It was clear and was probably destined to be clear tomorrow.
I wrote on the computer for awhile then I switched to playing a few favorite games on my smartphone that I did before going to bed. It was my way of relaxing. A few years past I would have been watching some inane show on television or catching a movie on Netflix but after having moved out to the desert, I didn't miss it. I created a whole new routine. Since having eliminated television, I incessantly dream, so things like the shadow I have questioned, that perhaps they're dreams but they are not.
I went to bed around nine o'clock but couldn't sleep. I was too excited after the last two nights. Would I get a visitation like the previous two nights? The thing wanted something so I'm sure I would see it again. Finally I awoke to a sound but I wasn't sure what it was because the sleeping mind plays tricks. The fact I was awakened told me I had fallen asleep somewhere along the way. I looked at the light on the ceiling and there was just the shadow of the panes projected there. I looked at my phone and saw the time was about the same as before and my heart raced. A dryness permeated my mouth as I swore I could hear more clearly defined footsteps, one after the other, in a monotonous rhythm.
Then something moved and I looked at the ceiling. There was that hideous shadow peering through the window. It's eyes open on the ceiling without color or definition.
Then the sound of scratching at the door knob reached me. Did I remember to lock the door? I think I did. I'm not sure. My uncertainty added to my fear as now my heart was thumping in my chest. A ringing began in my ears. The scratching continued at the knob when at the last second, and I didn't care now if the thing saw me, I had to make sure. I had to be certain the door was locked. As my fingers touched the stainless steel knob, it clicked, indicating I left the door unlatched when I was always so consistent in locking it. I pulled my hand back quickly to pull my bed covers up as I saw the tall dark shadow step into the room breathing deeply and heavily. The stench was incredible making me gag under the covers. I felt its hand grab the covers but I closed my eyes, too afraid to look as it pulled them from over me, letting in the cool night air of the desert.