I decided it was worth checking the fuses before setting off on said tour of my house, in case one had simply blown, which would make me feel completely hysterical for reacting to such an everyday problem with such internal histrionics. Then again, I told myself, that’s my life. The thought of finding the fuse box on my own, in the spider’s nest of a basement, with nothing but a flashlight put me in direct confrontation with number one and two on my list of blackout instructions. There was no telling what my imagination might find lurking in oddly shaped, dark spaces of my unfinished dugout basement. The house is old and the ceiling low with brick partially laid on some of the walls. Everywhere you would run into exposed pipes and wiring that cast the most glorious and deranged shadows to frighten yourself with. I decided to ask for a volunteer to accompany me to the basement and to my surprise everyone decide to come and explore the imposing dungeon below.
The instruction I left myself about not letting my imagination wander in the darkness was not an exaggeration. I have an overactive imagination, on where I find I don’t need to do exercise because my imagination does it for me.
As my relationship with light was anything but unimaginative, my relationship with darkness was a blank canvas for my imagination to fill in. It was vivid, the shapes and figures I saw in the back, like hands coming to lead me into the dark. I exist in a constant state of dim, to expose the world piece-by-piece and leave as little as possible to the imagination.
Leading a party of strangers down those stairs with only one flashlight and not much else to light us, a sudden and unexpected silence settled in and I let my unruly imagination creep on me. It was hands with long greasy fingers, peeling skin and yellowed nails that came reaching slowly out of the depths of the basement as I came to the bottom of the stairs. With everyone crowding around me, I was unknowingly shoved towards their grasp. I tried to follow my instructions and not panic, but I had lost grip on number two and number one was lost completely when I said, or more likely screamed: “Watch out! Stop! The hands!”
I was caught off-guard in that moment by one distinct observation, the power of anybody’s imagination when coupled with fear and a dark basement is nothing short of spectacular, and enough to send most people of a group into complete and utter panic. Of the fifteen people who came downstairs four immediately left, three climbed on top of tall things, two played it cool and did nothing at all, three hid behind the two who did nothing and the last two people simply screamed. Then, to my utter shock and bewilderment, one of the two who had done nothing pointed to the hands and said: “I see them too. Look, they’re coming.”
Everyone stopped, looked and shouted their exclamations in a state of unified stupor, held captivated by these hands that grasped ever closer from the complete black that had descended, only one light still remaining on after the irrational panic. Even the ones who hadn’t reacted before stood now, slack-jawed with the rest of us.
“What are they?” A women, who had jumped on top of a filing cabinet, finally asked aloud as she jumped back down to the ground. The hands were gliding towards us in a haunting manner, but so slowly now that the panic had ebbed to a general confusion.
“They look like hands.” Another woman, having re-entered the room after dashing up the stairs a moment earlier.
“Are they reaching for us?” Added someone else as questions and observations were spoken absent mindedly by everyone in the basement.
“Those are creepy.”
“Are you doing this, Margaret?”
“Yea, what the hell is going on?”
“It’s gotta be a projection or something.”
“They’re definitely coming closer.”
“They look like they’re going to grab us.”
“What’s going on, Margaret?”
“Yea, what’s the deal?”
I was standing at the back of the crowd in the corner opposite the staircase, trying not to act differently than anybody else, but quietly I was resisting the urge to run up the stairs and wait for the moment to pass.
Everyone’s eyes turned on me and I had no option but to explain: “It’s my fault. It’s just my imagination.”
“We’re just imagining this?”
“I see them every time I come to the basement with the lights out.” I attempted to explain, while trying to remain non-chalant about something clearly out of the ordinary.
“I have a bit of an overactive imagination.”
“I’ll say, we’re all seeing hands now.”
“It’s like all you had to say was hands, and now our own imaginations are filling in the details.”
“They’re getting close now.”
“What’ll happen when they reach us?”
“Pull us into the darkness they came from?”
“That’s just creepy.”
“They’re just shadow.”
“What do you say, Margaret? What do they want?”
I told them the truth, I saw no reason not to, the whole situation was totally out of control. Here we were; myself, these strange party guests, no power, the other Margaret looming over my shoulder and my imagination being experienced by all in my the basement.
“I’ve never found out. I’ve always ran up the stairs as quickly as I could.”
“It’s just light and shadow playing with our eyes. They can’t touch us.”
I didn’t argue with them, in fact I felt like a childish fool for having ever considered anything else. They were small amount of light in the dust filled darkness, playing on our perception. I consoled myself by saying it was much easier to admit in a group than on my own, but that only demonstrated an entirely different flaw of mine that was becoming more present each moment.
“Still, it’s god damned spooky.”
“Here they come.”
As the hands, fully extended with palms first, fingers flexed back and loaded to spring, came upon us, I couldn’t help but close my eyes. Despite what my mind could tell me, the quickening of my pulse was overwhelming as I tried to remain cool and collected. In that moment, as my eyelids shut it all out, a hand grabbed mine. My eyes shot open in surprise, forgetting the hands, to confront the mistake someone had made in grabbing my hand instead of their friends. But the woman holding my hand next to me had her eyes tightly shut and looked just as I must have a moment before. As the shadow hands grasped around each of us, I noticed a few other pairs of hands clasped or shoulders being hidden behind and smiled at the number of eyes throughout the group being squeezed shut.
All at once the shadow hands pulled back to where they had come from and as they disappeared into the darkness disintegrated into pieces, like tiny specks of light, that floated up across the room to adorn the ceiling in what looked like a sparkling star filled night sky. Eyes reopened to take in the spectacle above and everyone remained where they had ended up, tucked in together, closer than need be, a group together rather than individuals apart.
We returned upstairs after determining that all the fuses were intact, which meant that the party would go on without power, but it seemed as though everyone looked at it as an opportunity rather than a disappointment. I had almost forgotten that we had downstairs to check on the fuses, I was still so curiously bewildered yet pleasantly surprised by what had happened so unpredictably in the basement. It was something I could never have expected or planned to have happen, it was a mess, but an enjoyable mess. A mess that I enjoyed sharing with these strangers.
As everyone stopped to pour themselves another drink or go outside for a cigarette, I noticed a sense of momentum that gained in people’s conversations, an engagement, expressed with a smile that wasn’t there before or the increased dramatization of hand talking. Words seemed to travel more quickly and ideas seemed to be capable of doing no wrong. I watched and thought of all the moments that had gone wrong throughout the day. I began to wonder if they had gone wrong at all, or were simply things I couldn’t predict or decide to have happen ahead of time. I never could have predicted or controlled what was happening in that moment. It was a scene that I had often placed myself in when I thought of having my tea parties, but it was a scene I could never quite figure out how to set.
I poured myself a gin and tonic, with both a lemon and a lime wedge, because it appeared to be what most people were drinking. It was my custom not to drink, because I had a difficult enough time with reality. I drank that gin and tonic because there was no reason not to, not in such an ideal situation, where my desperate need to retain a sense of control was proving to be my greatest weakness. My gin and tonic was to celebrate the notion of control being an illusion.