Every night, you sit there in the comfort and safety of your home, but you have no idea of what is going on outside in the darkness. Not far from your home, there is a dark and lonely place. You may not know about it, but it’s there. All over the country, in small towns and cities, there are so many of these dark and lonely places.
When I was a young boy, I lived in a small town. Johnny Craig lived across the street from me. I was friends with his big brother. He was just a baby then. I saw him growing up, but I never paid much attention to him.
Sometimes, in the evening, my mother would send me out to the local store to buy a carton of milk or a bag of sugar. On the way to the shop, I had to pass a long, dark stretch of road.
During the day, it was just a shady place lined with old, gnarled trees and vacant lots where nothing had been built and nothing was ever going to be built. I was never afraid of it by day, but at night it was a different place. A lonesome place. A place of darkness and strangeness. A place of terror and fear.
There were no houses nearby. No streetlights. It was pitch black. As black as black could be. Dark as the deepest night. The tall trees blocked out the moon and the stars, casting their long shadows across the road.
Whenever you had to go that way, you walked slower and slower. It was like stepping into a dark tunnel. Behind you were the lights of the houses, the sound of cars and people walking along the sidewalk. Ahead of you, there was just a long, lonely stretch of darkness in which anything could be lurking, anything at all.
Every time I had to pass that place at night, I would dread it. I kept hoping somebody would come along, so I wouldn’t have to walk alone. But nobody ever came. As I walked along that dark stretch of road, I would keep my eyes fixed on the trees, half-expecting to see something or someone lurking there in the darkness.
Perhaps it was the bogeyman. My mother had often told me about the bogeyman and how he waited in dark places for boys and girls who strayed from the path. Perhaps it was a child predator. My mother had also warned me about evil men who tried to lure children with the promise of candy and puppy dogs. Perhaps it was something else. Something worse.
Out of the corner of my eye, I would catch glimpses of misshapen figures crouching there in the pitch black, waiting for the moment when they would burst forth and pounce on me. Then, in that silent and isolated area, they would begin tearing me and rending me and doing unspeakable things with me and nobody would ever see me again.
I’m not sure what I expected to see lurking in that lonely place at night. My imagination always got the better of me. In my mind, it was a hideous creature, somewhere between animal and man. It had long, spindly limbs and huge, sharp claws. It had wet, slimy skin and eyes that burned like fire. I imagined it hiding in the branches of those old trees, dropping down without a sound and stalking the unwary boys and girls who passed along the dark and lonely road at night.
One night, it almost got me. I was walking down the lonely road and all of a sudden there wasn’t any light up ahead. That’s when I knew it was coming. I could just feel it waiting there in the darkness. I started running, desperate to get away, but I could feel it behind me. It was gaining on me. I could feel its breath on the back of my neck. I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I ran until I thought my heart would burst.
It almost had me in its clutches, but I managed to get away. When I got back to the safety of my house, I looked at myself in the mirror and there was a long, jagged rip in the back of my shirt, as if a sharp claw had tried to grab me and just missed me by an inch. That scared me, real bad, and afterwards I hated going down that lonely road more than ever.
“Some night I won’t come back,” I warned my mother.
She just laughed and told me not to be silly.
“There’s something out there in the dark,” I told her.
“There’s nothing there in the dark that isn’t there in the light,” she assured me.
What do adults know about the world? Grown-ups think they know everything. They place their trust in what they read, but they only read what is reported in newspapers and on TV. They drive around in their cars and never have to walk anywhere at night. They don’t know what goes on out there in the dark, in the wretched, lonely places where no light ever shines and the darkness hangs like a cloud on the ground and no bird ever sings.
I knew they wouldn’t believe me. I knew there was nothing I could say to convince them that something or someone lived down there, among the trees, on that dark and lonely stretch of road.
As I grew older, I gradually forgot about the lonely road. I got taller, I went to high school, I started playing football, I learned to drive and I started dating girls.
The years passed by and somehow I forgot about the thing that lurked there in the darkness. The memory of it still remained in a distant corner of my mind, but it was a memory locked away in childhood.
The years passed by, but I never thought about the other kids who had to walk down that dark and lonely road at night.
Three days ago, Johnny Craig went missing. He lived across the street from me. I was friends with his big brother. He was just a baby then. I saw him growing up, but I never paid much attention to him. Not until he went missing.
They found him in the trees on that dark and lonely stretch of road. His body was torn and ripped and crushed, almost beyond recognition. The police said he had been mauled by some kind of animal.
The moment I heard about it, I knew what happened. Johnny Craig had been murdered by the thing my childhood fears had created. The thing I had conjured up in my imagination. I had left it on that dark and lonely stretch of road. I had left it there to wait for some scared little boy who happened to be walking home one dark night, a little boy who couldn’t run as fast as I could run.
After that, the town cut down the trees and put up streetlights. That stretch of road isn’t dark and lonely anymore. The thing that lurked there is gone now. It’s gone somewhere else, where the people are unsuspecting, to some other small town. A small town like yours, where it will wait again, just as it did here. It will wait for some other frightened boy or girl to come along. It’s only a matter of time…