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Unseen Things

When I was quite young--I'm not sure how young, but young enough that we were living with my grandmother in her big house in Salem, with the bedroom that was painted chocolate brown and the kitchen wallpaper made of pressed leaves--I used to believe that there was something that stood behind me in the bathroom.

The bathroom in question was long and narrow and had two pictures of some stylized city, rendered in ceramic. The buildings were unglazed clay and the rooftops and domes were in bright orange. The bathroom always smelled like my grandmother's body powder, which I learned much later smelled like freesias.

It seemed to me, looking in the enormous bathroom mirror, that I could see every part of the bathroom except the spot directly behind me, so that was where the unseen creature must be standing.

I didn't know what it looked like. I had a vague feeling it was grey and shadowy and very flat, with long arms. I thought it would probably have eyes, but no mouth, but that was only a guess.

If I moved suddenly, it moved with me. At first, I thought it was just much faster than me, but that seemed sort of improbable--and when my mother would come into the bathroom, it wouldn't matter how fast it was, it might risk being caught because there wouldn't be any place it could stand that one of us couldn't see it.

I decided that it must be able to see the future. I wasn't sure if it could see my entire future, but it could certainly see a good few minutes in advance. If somebody else came into the bathroom, it would know long before it happened, so it would flow into the hidden spot behind the door, and it would know when the people were both looking in the same direction, and it would slip out the door and wait somewhere safe, like the top of the cupboards, or the hall closet. You could probably fit a number of them in the hall closet.

The bathroom was the place it was closest to me, because the only spot I couldn't see was so close behind me. It was also the only place I gave it much thought, because I had the attention span of a small child and unless I was actively staring in the mirror, I was easily distracted by books or Legos or my grandmother's collection of brass animals.

I was a little unsettled by the presence of the unseen thing, but I wasn't actually afraid. I was actually rather proud of myself for having figured out how it worked. Then it occurred to me that maybe they didn't so much tell the future as read our minds so that it knew what we would do next, and then that it must know that I knew it existed. I wondered if my thing and other people's things would get together and discuss that a human had worked out how they were hiding just out of sight. (Everyone must have a thing of their own, of course. My mother's would be larger than mine, and my grandmother's slower and probably inclined to hang out in the family room and not get up much.)

The notion of my own predestination did not particularly bother me. God already knew what I was going to do next, so presumably other things could too. I was a little more concerned that they might have to pull me aside, since now I knew, and tell me that I couldn't tell anyone. I assumed this meeting would also happen in the hall closet.

This thing was much more benign than whatever shadowy things lurk in the mirror when it's dark (which I am still somewhat afraid of to this day.) They just hid near you. Guardian angels were part of my vague cosmology, and adults were positively soppy about guardian angels, so obviously it was fine if there was something assigned to you that followed you around all the time. It didn't seem to be hurting anything, and I was frequently alone with it, so if it was going to do something bad, it would have already done it. And my mother had one, and she was a grown-up, so they must follow you around for years and years without doing anything.

Eventually I grew up and forgot all about it.

(My publisher got me a copy of "Deep Dark Fears" for Christmas and one of them is about a thing standing just behind you, and that clicked off a whole chain of memories. I particularly remember that I had worked out that the thing must be able to see the future. I could not have articulated this to any adult very well, but it was very clear in my head.)

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You have the most interesting mind, you know?

Edited at 2015-12-27 06:21 pm (UTC)

This is really interesting to me. I grew up believing in under-the-bed monsters and closet monsters. But I wasn't so much afraid of them as of making them unhappy by doing careless things like leaving my closet door open (it should always be closed).

Did you read Monster in My Closet by Naquin? It's a cute story. And the closet monster has mad cooking skills.

The things in mirrors are why I simply can't stand to have a mirror in my bedroom. I remember being very, very small, and having a horrifying nightmare about the lady in the mirror and just... uuuuugh.

Kid Logic is both simple and complex. Not to mention utterly fascinating.

(Deleted comment)
I'm not quite sure if this is very, very scary, or perfectly sensible and obvious.

It may be both.

Kudos... (and may I send you my next therapy bill?)

With me, it wasn't mirrors, it was the toilet. We lived in a large house, and if I needed to visit the toilet from my bedroom, there was a long corridor. And if I had to use it in the night, it was terrified that something would come out of all the horrible noises after I flushed it, and I would run down that corridor as fast as my legs could carry me. Which was odd, because I would use that same toilet before bedtime, even if it was after dark, without (as I now recall) a moments worry. It was using it after I was supposed to be asleep -that was when there was a risk of monsters.

When I had to get up at night to go to the bathroom, I'd take my teddy bear with me to look over my shoulder and keep the monsters from sneaking up behind me.

Did you read much Manly Wade Wellman when you were a kid? It would explain so much if you had.

My first thought on reading this was "did you read the McBroom series". One of the stranger critters I've come across in children's books -- outside of Seuss -- is the Great Seventeen-Toed Hairy Prairie Hidebehind from the McBroom books by Sid Fleischman. The Hidebehind was astonishingly fast, but it did leave behind footprints in soft dirt. It's been years since I read the series, but I recall eventually the McBrooms figured out a way to get a look at it, so it likely couldn't see the future.

I think perhaps the kids from Gravity Falls have you sorted out on this one.


(Edited for a version of the link that wasn't blocked by Disney)

Edited at 2015-12-28 04:54 pm (UTC)

Interesting, I love kid logic. I cannot remember what I was scared of when I was small. The dark itself never scared me but shadows on the other hand in a darkened room was another thing. it took me a while to be brave enough to sleep without some sort of light.

I do not like mirrors, I am always afraid I am going to look up and see something someone in there, looking out at me. Or that I will look in the mirror ans there will be something behind me, that is not there when I turn around.

Cant bear to have my wardrobe door open for the same reason, in case there is something hiding in there just waiting until it gets dark to come out.

That's fascinating. I've never quite been able to understand how children can believe in monsters under the bed or in the closet myself, but if you grow up in a family that believes in guardian angels and other unseen things I suppose it makes a lot more sense.

My childhood monsters were men in black (not like the movie, but sort of similar). I was convinced they were spying on me with low light goggles at night, so I'd refuse to turn any lights on (so I'd be harder to see) or go near windows. And if I was outside after dark and heard a car coming, I'd hide behind a tree so I wouldn't get caught in the headlights.

It sounds to me like you had the kinder, gentler version of He Who Walks Behind. Of the two, I'll take yours!

I remember feeling trapped in my room one evening because I could swear a demon was in the hallway trying to get in. I was in my early teens.

for me it was the electricity

when i was... 5 ish to 9 ish? i was certain that if i wasn't in my pajamas in bed by the time all the wtaer drained out of the bathtub, then the electicity would come zipping out of the outlets and shock me. i got into bed *very fast*.

i like your thing behind you much better!

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