Posted by: dougery | June 29, 2011

all sorts of terrible things cavort in the dark

Illustration by Tony Sandoval

I am told that I do not snore. Despite this fact L insists upon having white noise while she sleeps. I cannot remember the last time I’ve gone to bed without the soft hum of a fan or air conditioner purring away in some dark corner of the room.

In Chicago I could deal with this. The city is a maelstrom of night noise. Most of which will pierce through the white noise of a fan like a shark’s tooth through a seal pelt. Ambulance and police sirens, car horns, drunken shenanigans in the side alley, drunken jilted lovers proclaiming their undying love atop the hood of their illegally parked cars, drunken neighbors playing the bongos are just a few of the choir members we would contend with in Oldtown.

Then we moved to the Wilderness Lands. We have a brook out back that actually babbles. You can hear it from our bedroom on any given night unless it hasn’t rained in a month or the winds are 40mph+ or the fan is on. The woods are full of several different species of owls. You can hear their doleful hooting unless it is pouring out or the fan is on. And the sound of a soft rain falling is as soothing as anything you might imagine. You can hear it unless… well, you get the idea.

Now I understand why L likes the fan on even out here in Hill Country. Our house is old. Like an old man it has creaking bones and sighs as it settles down at night. These sounds can be disconcerting, especially when 80% of the house is supposed to be unoccupied. L’s sister B says its haunted. If all it takes for a structure to be haunted is cobwebs, 8+ generations of inhabitants (some of whom undoubtedly died inside) and a few fat spiders thrown in for scary seasoning then yes, the damn place is as haunted as Stephen King’s typewriter.

The cats being cats are also nocturnal. They scrabble around after moths, stare at the walls, chase each other down the stairs, jump of chairs and knocks stuff over. Hearing stuff crash in the middle of the night is disturbing. A loud fan can cover up all of the spectral and non-spectral sounds coming from just about every room but the one you’re in.

I get the rationale behind the fan. I just don’t like it.

Last night a storm front made its way towards the Berkshires. L turned in around 10 and the storm was due to hit an hour and a half later. She pleaded with me to keep the fan on, at least until she fell asleep. So I read. She slept. An hour passed. Pickle fought and lost to a firefly. Barry rolled his eyes at her. When I figured I was in the clear I crept over to the fan and flipped it off.

Immediately out of a sound slumber L sat bolt upright and stretched her hand out at me like some sort of witch attempting to turn me into a frog. Her eyes never opened but she mumbleslurred “Turnonkeepfanitonfanonfaaaan!”

I turned the fan back on and she instantly toppled over. I doubt she was really awake at all. But I gave up and went downstairs to open up a few windows and listen in as the storm approached. First the soft patter of rain against a pitch black backdrop. I lay on the couch and there was absolutely no light to be had. I knew where the windows were because I could hear the rain outside and my mind reconstituted the layout of the room accordingly.

Then the flicker of lightning. Infrequent at first, once every few minutes, still no thunder. The corners of the room lit up. The tv screen reflected the vegetation lit up for fractions of a second outside. Gradually the lightning flashed a few times per minute. The rain was aggressively loud. The first roll of thunder.

When the storm struck with its full force I couldn’t help but feel that rush one gets from a good horror film. Despite the fact that I knew exactly what to expect, would see the lightning flash and knew the thunder would follow, the crumbling boom still took me off guard. I wondered why. Then I realized the lightning wasn’t an early warning system at all. It was part of the problem.

At its most brilliant and frequent it would light up the whole room, giving me jump-cuts of everything around me. The brain does not like fractured images any more than it enjoys a vacuum. All sorts of terrible things cavort in a dark room. The same dark room suddenly brought to full incandescent life, but only for a half-second, is just as terrible. The mind is overcome with what it already knows is there, then recoils as all that data is then stolen away once more. It is the sensory equivalent of having brain’s table-cloth ripped out from under it.

Thunder is a bit more self-explanatory. It is loud, spectacularly loud. It begins with this skittering crackle that devolves into a sound, something without any mass at all, that is so strong it feels like it is moving things. The absence/presence dynamic here isn’t applicable. A minutes worth of constant lightning gives you illumination and eliminates the unsettling contrast of darkness swallowing light. A minutes worth of constant thunder will give you a headache.

I enjoy thunderstorms in the same way I enjoy horror movies and some rap / punk music. There is something wonderful in being unmoored, in being scared, in being overwhelmed by things that are not friendly, familiar, peaceable or correct. Perhaps it is the pleasure of knowing these things exist, but not forever, that all the pleasant if not downright beautiful stuff laying quietly to the side will still be there when the assault has moved on.

Or maybe I just enjoy a kickass light show with nature’s own stereo-surround sound.

Watching: Modern Family S1



  1. This is my favourite thing of yours.

  2. I love this. Even though I am a witch. Beautiful, as always. I especially love: “There is something wonderful in being unmoored, in being scared, in being overwhelmed by things that are not friendly, familiar, peaceable or correct.”

  3. Great observations Doug – I too love the storms, heavy rain, thunder and lightning and your wonderful writing captures it well. Mom and I used to sit on the back porch in rural Pennsylvania and watch the storms come between the mountains and over the Susquehanna River towards us. But as someone who has long had trouble with sleep, I also closely identify with Lara’s plight – I also require the gentle breezes and the pleasant hum of Mr. Fan, and even better, the goldfish bowl with it’s bubbling stream of water. Now put them all together – thunder, lighting, rain, bubbling goldfish bowl, AND Mr. Fan…! A Night to Remember!

  4. oh, a goldfish bowl. We haven’t ever tried that. You see, these things never came up for me before I knew Lara. I am the soundest sleeper there is. My mother once said that a train could rumble through my room and I wouldn’t wake up.

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