Yesterday evening I finally began John Langan’s House of Windows, and managed to knock out a good seventy pages, a reading feat I hadn’t remembered since I read the Shining a month before, and before that – well, I’m not sure I can even remember. It’s been one of those books that I picked up after seeing an author – Peter Straub, if I remember correctly – commenting on it with good reviews, and has since never fully ceased screaming at me from its place on my shelf. Perhaps it was the similarity in title, and to some similar extent, premise, to Danielewski’s utterly brilliant House of Leaves, but I’ve been excited to dive into it.
Finally getting to the haunted house prompt and one scene in particular, where the narrator, Veronica, and her husband, Roger experience a strange, hallucinogenic-like happening, separate for both, but prompting similarities in a kind of stretching imminence, a darkness, a god-like totality of consciousness that speaks of sheer humbling power, in much the same way as the endless hallways of House of Leaves and the arguably derivative Grave Encounters.
It reminded me of the first week I spent here in my new townhouse apartment. Though the apartment itself is part of a cozy complex and, while close enough to the foothills and arid Fort Collins area approaching those hills, there’s no sense of eeriness or desolation about the apartment itself. While for the first few weeks here, I did have to become accustomed to new bangs and rattles and my roommates leaving kitchen drawers open in the mornings, I don’t believe this place to be haunted. (I have had small experiences of fleeting figures, and one surprisingly detailed shadow figure, but I’m not sure I believe those to be of the house).
What prompted the blog post had little to do with ghosts per se, but that humbling fear of vast empty space. On the fifth night sleeping in this house (alone, my girlfriend was crashing at her own apartment that night), I finally had to dig out my small fountain and shuffle a place for it on one of my bookshelves to give me some sense of sound and light in the room. The basement bedroom is easily twice as big as my last closet (okay, it was a “room” by name only I suppose, which I constantly look back on with awe for how I managed to fit so many books and shelves along the walls in addition to my desk and bed), and my first few nights brought very little awareness of the room when the lights were off. Flip the switch, and despite the touch of blue moonlight from the window well, my room could have been any space, and could have gone on for as long as my imagination could sustain it. Like my bed was lifted at the feet, my head dropped so that I couldn’t make out anything from floor level, only the ceiling, I had the sense of detachment. Of course my things were still here, but they felt far. The quiet almost seemed to echo.
I want to defend myself, to justify that it wasn’t quite a fear of the dark, no, but that’s close to exactly what it was. Perhaps not fear in the traditional sense, I had no desire to leave my new room, nor did I worry for my safety, but it was essentially a reaction to the darkness, not the darkness that hides boogeymen, but that darkness that in itself is a boogeyman, a pressing force, a kind of eternal blanket where all space and time and perspective stops, in which we could lose even our very most basic nature, our humanity, were we to float in it for long enough.
They talk of men going insane, locked inside small dark holes, confined solitarily in prisons across the world, oubliettes, forgotten. How many of them simply walked away into that abyss?
It’s the infinite, the fear itself, the godlike, alien nature of the universe. There’s a cosmic irony somewhere deep down that I appreciate. If indeed the vastness of the universe as we know it was created necessarily to produce that spark of life on our little planet, and beyond that the spark of consciousness found in our recognition of ourselves, then in some way we should look to this sea of the dark and the unknown the way we’d look into the eyes of our parents, with a kind of appreciation and familiarity.
It’s these realizations and ironies I want to express in my writing and my work, but beyond that it’s the experience of looking into this cosmic eyeball, this infinite terror, that I want to capture in my stories and my writing. I want to capture the moment I lay in bed, awake because the quiet was too loud, turn it up to a point of mortal fear, where life and death come into a kind of epic intersection as one, and bring that to revelation.
But just the same, I turned on my fountain, filled it with water, and to my satisfaction, heard it trickle into life a few minutes later. I’ve left it on ever since.