The Formula of Fear
Posted: 09th March 2016
There's always that fear, I can see it when people look into these places. Somewhere around the corner there is surely a monster, or perhaps the face of a howling specter reflected in the broken glass of a window. Despite the fact that I am not superstitious, that I have been in more of these sites than I can count, I still sometimes jump at sudden fluttering of a pigeon's wings or a door slammed by an unexpected gust of wind. It's ridiculous, really. We like to categorize things, capturing them within the definitions we create and telling them that those parameters are the ones they must exist in. Since we know there are frightening things, we decide with some limited, instinctive version of logic that they must be in frightening places. We know that places where any human is placed in the care of, and under the authority of, another can quickly spiral out of control and devolve into havens for neglect and abuse. What is there that is more frightening than the loss of autonomy and freedom, the withering of the body, being forgotten or left behind? Is there anything that could possibly be worse than slowly losing command of your body and your mind, with only the impending silence of the grave to release you?
So we tell ourselves that these sites must be haunted. There must be remnants of the crimes inevitably committed, the broken hearts that never healed, the hopelessness of being condemned to spend your last days imprisoned in a world that seems indifferent at best to your struggles. The evils must be revealed for what they are, and the wronged and forsaken must linger on, in search of some resolution, until some is offered - this is the line of reasoning we consciously or subconsciously follow.
And yet my experience is that the only place these figments exist is in our imagination. There is certainly every possibility that I am wrong, but I have fairly extensively researched the paranormal and find that those who claim to see or communicate with the dead are generally either deluded and naive or the histrionic and the charlatans. Perhaps they are someone who wants to solve some problem with a deceased relative and death offers only the mute immutability of the past, or heard a noise in a place they were afraid of and never investigated far enough to find a rational explanation. Maybe they 'felt' something without recognizing that the feeling was the anxiety of the unknown, the overwhelming sensation of being confronted with so many uncomfortable questions that can never even begin to be answered. Either that, or they sought the attention and awe of others, the mystique of having seen something larger than life - or maybe simply to fleece the unwary.
In any case, I do believe in monsters, and the empty and unused buildings I visit are probably the spots where I am least likely to encounter them. One need only to read the paper, to closely observe people around them, to understand that they are among us and often indistinguishable from anyone else. The horrors of an asylum or elderly care facility don't happen when they're closed, they happen when they're open. The most terrifying things we will encounter are often cloaked in banality, sitting right out in the open like an ugly, gaping wound nobody really wants to look at or talk about - less a product of malice than laziness, selfishness, arrogance, or thoughtlessness. Even more frightening is the fact that while we look for villainy in the people around us, it flourishes in our own words and interactions. Our very tendency to mentally relegate monstrosities to scary old buildings allows them to flourish unchecked in our homes, our jobs, our societies. Because we expect them to be dramatic and larger than life, we are oblivious to them when they are ordinary.
I am not afraid of what awaits me in an abandoned building. I may be injured, I may even die, but I run that same risk in any place I go to. We may believe the probability of our demise increases in perilous places, but people have heart attacks while going to the bathroom, aneurysms while talking with friends on the phone. The thing that i am most afraid of - human nature itself - is mostly absent when I am alone. Forget ghosts and goblins, spooky old mansions and rotting ruins, the formula of fear is simple - simply open your eyes, clear away the lies and distractions you've hidden your heart away in, and really look at yourself and the world around you. Every day the wicked go unpunished, the good unrewarded, and we get up and brush our teeth every morning and walk out our front door into more of the same.
Image and text by Matthew Christopher
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By sharon kidwell: the darkest shadows are the ones of our soul
By Martin: You are absolutely right about human evil and the fear that allows it to be practiced in plain sight. The example of this that I'm most aware of is our political system which has become a marketplace. Want a bill passed? Buy it. Want a candidate elected? Buy it. And we do seem to get the government we deserve. That much power absolutely needs to be monitored and controlled or it becomes what we have today. It's probably obvious I could go on but what I really want to do is commend you for what you've said here. Well crafted and beautifully placed in a perfect context. Thanks for speaking up.