Spooky stuff

Where the hell do I start this? Right. I recently read two novels by Tana French, The Likeness and In the Woods. Actually I just finished The Likeness and I´m on the brink of an anxiety attack.


The Likeness is about an undercover detective investigating the murder of a young woman. The detective is getting the victim´s housemates to tell her what has happened: One of the housemates has stabbed her in an argument, she ran away and died somewhere, they found her, erased their traces and returned back home, waiting for the body to be discovered. Then they talk about what they did that night, after they´d come back home: They played poker.

Something about this situation, having a secret with which one will have to live forever, a burden which will never be relieved again, all while having to be normal and go on with life feels terrifyingly familiar. Each and every time again. This is a common motif in crime novels, after all, and I read enough of them. Knowing that the fear, the hypervigilance, the jumpiness will forever be there. The fear of some kind of revenge. A hostility that seems to lie in everything around you and might jump at you at any moment.

But also the guilt, like a stone in your stomach. You can never be happy and careless again, for as soon as you are, you will remember what you did and be alert and watchful again. Watch out for the revenge, the attack which one day will come unless you remain on the look-out. It cannot get you if you keep it in mind.

This last thought is probably at the root of my constant worrying and my perpetual anxiety. It cannot get you if you keep it in mind. Constantly keep an eye on it, though what complicates this is that I don´t know what “it” is.

For all I know I never murdered anyone. Never even did anything that was spectacularly wrong. So what is it that I´m keeping an eye on without seeing it?

Reading about people trying to get away with murder always stirs something up somewhere in my unconscious. Like I said, it feels familiar. It makes me wonder if I´ve ever been in some similar situation. Nothing quite as bad, but trying to cover something up together with others. Other kids, obviously, since I remember my teenage years (14 up) in a way in which I don´t remember my childhood, maybe but not just because I kept a diary since I was 12. And when I try to remember if anything like that happened something inside of me responds, but what I get back is not a memory, not even a picture, just murmur and a certain feeling. It´s like seeing bulky shadows moving behind a curtain. I couldn´t tell who, what, when, why or even if. I might as well be getting this from a movie, a book, a newspaper article or whatever. But it is creeping me out, it is drawing me faster and faster into some maelstrom of seemingly harmless pictures, impressions and memories which always ends in complete fear.

And that leads me to In the Woods. The main person is a male detective who has lost two of his friends when he was in his early teens. The three of them were going into the woods some sunny afternoon, and they didn´t return. The protagonist was found clinging on to a tree, stained with his friends´blood. The other two were never found, and the protagonist does not remember anything about the incident. As an adult he decides to spend a night in the woods, hoping to retrieve his memory. Indeed he starts to remember things. He remembers a day in the woods with his friends, them running along before him, and then:

Gradually I became aware that under the sleeping bag I was drenched in sweat; that my back, pressed against the tree trunk, was so rigid I was shaking, my head nodding in stiff convulsive jerks like a toy`s. The wood was black, blank, as if I had been blinded. Far off, there was a quick pittering sound like raindrops on leaves, tiny and spreading. I fought to ignore it (…)

He keeps on pushing for more memories, but they are interrupted by the eerie atmosphere which seems to be intruding on him –

The darkness in front of me was shifting, condensing. There was a sound like wind in the leaves, a great rushing wind coming down through the wood to  clear a path. I thought of the torch, but my fingers were frozen around it. 

– and suddenly he gets so terrified he simply runs away. He is too shaken to drive, he has to ask a colleague to pick him up.

Now, what does that scene remind me of? This, maybe?  Sitting in my living room, a cascade of memories rolling over me, feeling like there is some black hole in the middle of them, a riddle, I try to get a good look at it until I´m sucked in, struggling to get out again? A couple of harmless memories (the memories the protagonist had were harmless, too) and suddenly there is this nameless terror like something is about to attack?

When I read that passage I got so creeped out I actually had to put down the book a few times. Not just because of the similarities, but mostly because the atmosphere hit me so hard. I felt myself being sucked into that maelmstrom, just that it wasn´t my own but his. I had a hard time remembering my surroundings, or perceiving them as real.

Here is something odd I notice. Above I wrote:

You can never be happy and careless again, for as soon as you are, you will remember what you did and be alert and watchful again. Watch out for the revenge, the attack which one day will come unless you remain on the look-out. It cannot get you if you keep it in mind.

In my old entry, though, I said:

So, “what if there is a fire behind the door?” I didn´t picture the hall to be ablaze. “The Fire” is a very confined thing, and its existence does not depend on any flammable objects. I guess you could imagine it to be a demon. So if it was there, it was standing behind the door. “The Fire” is not a chemical process. It is an semi-conscious entity, something with a will, though maybe a programmed, pre-determined will. Something that might notice I´m right here on the other side of this door if I should think about it too loudly. It is like a sleeping dog which will wake up if you stare at it or even think about it for too long…like…NOW!

On the one hand, you must always keep it in mind, and on the other hand you mustn´t think about it for too long? Maybe you have to keep it in mind in order not to think about it? In order to not let your thoughts wander to whatever it is, stumble upon it accidentally?

Whatever it is, it is asleep. I must keep it in mind in order to remember to not make any noise, but sensitive as it is I can wake it up by thinking about it “too loudly”, by being too aware of it. And then it might look back at me. Become aware of me. And I am prey for that thing.

If it even exists.


One Response to “Spooky stuff”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    I feel a lot of guilt for things I’ve never done, probably never would do. I think it is from a general sense of being “constitutionally wrong” imbued by my parents. That somehow I am at fault for not getting things right and making things miserable. I used to be filled with a lot of dread that I was one step from causing enormous disaster. I don’t know if any of this resonates with you, but it is what your post brought up in my mind.

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