Day 4: I’m terrified of nothing
The following essay (slightly altered for reasons you don’t need to know about) originally appeared in The National Post, Friday, October 26, 2012.
October 31, 2014, will mark my 45rd Halloween. I’m half-way through my fifth decade of celebrating monsters, demons, and all manner of evil beasties for one night a year, with the occasional sexy cat/nurse/hobo thrown in. On October 31st, having long since passed the acceptable age to beg for candy, I will pick out a few of my favourite movies to thrill me with gore, despair, and misery. I’ll rustle up some popcorn and a few beers, dim the lights, and gleefully watch Bruce Campbell chainsaw-battle the Necronomicon, Jack Nicholson write himself into insanity, and Virginia Madsen match wits against a bee-infested hook-handed Tony Todd.
Lately, thought, there’s something missing. Perhaps it’s a product of the inevitable wisdom that accompanies maturation.
Perhaps I’ve become desensitized from decades of fantasy violence and Fox News-style sensationalism.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m dead inside [ED: I’d lay money on this one].
Whatever the reason, it’s indisputable that my capacity for fear has been whittled away to a tiny nugget of anxiety nestling quietly in the black inky recesses of my medulla.
I still get a good shiver from watching a possessed Linda Blair vomit goo over Max Von Sydow. I always enjoy that cheap BOO! moment when a cat jumps across the screen instead of that maniacal slayer Michael Myers whom I was expecting. I feel tentacles of dread envelope my chest as I read in bed, David Moody’s Hater and Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart being recent novels that have had me shivering at every house-settling creak while I bravely turned the pages.
Nevertheless, when the last page has been turned, the house lights have come on, or the DVD has ended, those pangs of terror swiftly evaporate. I don’t avoid dark alleys on my way home. I no longer check all the closets and leave the hall light on before I bed down. Entertainment that horrified me for days on end when I was younger now barely gets a mention at work the following day.
I honestly miss those scares. I crave those unkillable serial killers. I yearn for giant mutated ants, because I can handle them. I beseech you, bring on the zombie apocalypse; I’ll be safe in my heavily fortified rec room. Because there is only one thing that truly frightens me anymore.
I am terrified of that moment, that final spark that signals the switch from everything to nothing. I’ve read books on the last moments of brain activity. I’ve listened to people expound on what, if anything, might lie beyond, from the sublime to the absolute ridiculous and everything in-between. But I don’t buy any of it.
I want to believe there is something else. Not because of a religious upbringing that promises clouds and cherubim and all-you-can-eat buffets where you never gain a pound. Not because of theoretical physics professors who tell us that energy cannot simply stop, and the body’s reservoirs of energy must go somewhere. And not because I am afraid to die.
It’s the nothing. I cannot fathom the nothing. I have tried, and tried, and tried again, but I cannot wrap my mind around the concept of un-being. And all the Sigourney Weaver-haunting extraterrestrials in Hollywood cannot distract me enough from obsessing over it.
I do not want nothing. I would rather be Schrödinger’s Cat, forever quantum-trapped between the states of being and not-being, because at least that would be something.
So this Halloween, I will gather up my courage and sit through a late-night frightfest. There will be screams, and amputations, and impalements. And I will revel in it, and celebrate every shock, scare, and horror.
Because it is better than nothing.