The Darknesses

When I was a child I was afraid of the dark, but not just any old dark. When the lights went out I wasn’t filled with dread. Instead I was afraid of a very specific kind of darkness. That special kind of darkness that lives only beneath the bed of a child. The kind that waits, and breathes and listens.

When it was time for bed I would stand at my light switch, situated exactly 6 feet, 3.65 inches and 10 full steps from the safety of my bed. I would ready myself like an Olympic gymnast before the next event. As soon as the room went dark I bounded and vaulted with perfect grace into the waiting heap of sheets and pillows. Had the lights been on to witness my feat any present judge would be forced to have awarded me with at least a 9.5/10.

As it is well known, and stated clearly in the Handbook of Rules and Regulations Applying to Mythical Monsters and Scary Sleuths, once your feet are tucked deep inside the safety of a blanket – you’re officially safe. The Darkness, of course, is still there, but you are tucked away from its grasp. All it can do is lay in wait for another chance, maybe tomorrow, when you might fail to stick the landing quite as expertly.

But what do the Darknesses to when the children are gone? They can’t stay put while they escape to summer camps, sleep overs and family vacations. Instead they make their ways to their local meeting hall.

It’s always one of those gorgeous old Victorian homes on outskirts of every suburb. There they stand, huge and foreboding, but empty and forgotten all the same. The state of their disrepair and the thought of every utility bill makes parents shudder when they drive by and their kids point to the house and ask why no one lives there. Inside, between furniture coated in three decades of dust, corners stuffed with cobwebs and a solitary mirror stained and worn in all the right ways to make it more beautiful than it ever was in its previous life, the Darknesses gather.

There are plenty of rooms for them to pick from, but they of course prefer the master bedroom. In the middle there’s a massive four poster bed, what were once ornate and deep, velvety bed curtains hang in tattered, moth eaten shreds. The lack of electricity and pesky nightlights pleases them, now they can gather and talk.

They talk of all the children they saw grow into adults, whose own children they then saw grow. They would tell each other of all the dreams they saw over all these years, especially the ones based on a horror movie and a scary story the children snuck glances at. Of seeing little feet grow larger, and small thin limbs grow to long and shapely ones. How the toys would always eventually migrate from the room, and how nice it was each time their bed was upgraded.

The cribs were the worst, there was no storage and barely the room to lay during daytime. And you really only ever saw their parents’ feet, that were once so small. But how wonderful when a crib became a twin, a twin became a full, and if they were truly lucky, when a full become a queen. When this happened they gained room to stretch and relax, and every now and then a very interesting book would make its way down there. All the Darknesses were quite fond of H.P. Lovecraft. His childhood Darkness always had the best stories to tell at these meetings, the ones that even little Howard lost in the realm of his own dreams.

They talk about how these days’ children seemed to be much less fearful of them. This was good, in its own way, the Darknesses don’t necessarily enjoy inspiring fear in their children, but did it mean they were being forgotten? They feared, each secretly so as not to have to utter it aloud, of being relegated to the list of other creatures and tales that languished without human thoughts and fears to keep them around.

Like poor Spring-Heeled Jack. Jack once kept millions of children awake far past their bed times, staring sleepily out their windows to catch a glimpse of his storied figure run across a rooftop, or sliding down a drain pipe to fade into an alleyway. He ran from town to town, scurrying through the night with boundless abandon always knowing where he was needed.

But then one day all the children’s children’s children grew up, and he was slowly forgotten about. Children no longer gathered in schoolyards in circles to whisper his name in broad daylight. For a long time, he still wandered the sleepy towns and cities, but no one looked for him. Slowly he grew thin and tired, his eyes that once glowed (though they glowed a deep blue, not the rumored red), burned out aand went dull. Eventually he ceased his wandering and another day was simply gone. And there was no one to tell them to where he went.

“But surely you can’t be rid of all the Darknesses?”

“Can we be sure?” A Darkness that sat on the dusty bed asked nervously. The thought that they could vanish, too, silenced the room.

“But who then will watch over them?” One said.

With that the sun began to break the horizon and many went home, hoping to see those little feet.

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Homecoming

I got back into Michigan last night, stiff and exhausted from the three and half hour bus ride to Incheon Airport and the thirteen hours stuck on an airplane, ready to stretch out on my own bed with my dog at my side. For thirteen long hours I slept. Nothing could wake me, not even a tornado.

That night the wind was picking up some, thunder rumbled low in the distance and as I was laying in bed reading before sleep the power went out, I took that as good ol’ Michigan telling me to go to bed. By morning the power was still out.

In the kitchen there’s a note taped to the fridge. “DO NOT OPEN, DO NOT OPEN.” My grandfather has a habit of saying everything twice. But still, this isn’t unusual for Michigan. We get thunderstorms that light up transformers and even bring down a tree or two on a fairly regular basis. A day long power outage isn’t out of the question in the heat of July, bringing the sound of a cleanup crew with it.

But these cleanup crews had a lot more to deal with. Outside it was apparent that this wasn’t a normal Michigan thunderstorm. The neighborhood looks like a giant trampled garden, trees plucked up and dropped like common weeds.

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It’s hard to explain what it’s like seeing this little neighborhood my grandparents have lived in for more than 40 years being swiftly and violently re-landscaped. But thankfully everyone I talked to was alright, despite the fact that no siren went off – for a tornado that touched down for 10 minutes.

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I still don’t have power, and I don’t have any more time to spend outside of my house to finish this post right now. More when electricity is returned.

 

Have Won, Will Travel

I climbed a mountain! I should specify that for a mere 7,000 Won there was a cable car that went about half way up the mountain, but it still left us with about a mile of steep, rocky terrain to climb to get to the peak of Mount Naejangsan. So, for the purposes of this blog, I climbed a fricken mountain.

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Climbing a mountain is a mental challenge. It’s also a challenge for every other part of your body, and I don’t plan on taking it up for recreation anytime soon. Behind us people turned around, giving up the ghost in a huff of “Fuck this,” and proceeded back down the mountain side. That little voice in the back of my mind told me to join them, as did my racing pulse, burning thighs and the big bruise on my posterior from a foothold that gave way.

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But one only gets so many chances to see the peak of one of South Korea’s most beautiful and visited mountains – so I pushed through, took lots of breaks, fell once or twice more and in the end made it to the top. And it was, indeed, worth it.

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When we reached the summit, I reached for my knitting.

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We also stopped at the very underrated Guemsansa Temple, a still functioning monastery that houses the largest standing Buddha in the Orient. The temple grounds filled with the voices of the monks, and otherwise a calming silence while people filed in and out of the temples to worship and observe.

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Paradiso

In Korea farming takes place spontaneously, and ubiquitously. Everywhere you look food is being grown.

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Next to sidewalks, roadways, playgrounds, restaurants and banks. Rice steppes span out in all directions and most of the wild vegatation is left unchecked, growing verdant and lush. Not to delve into politics, but it’s a refreshing change from the largely unused land Stateside, where it seems to be getting harder and harder to have a backyard herb and vegetable garden. (Depending on where you live, of course.)

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We took a trip to Paradiso, one of the only Italian (read ‘Americanized’) restaurants to be found in Gunsan. It’s nestled on Eunpa lake in a little corner of the city that serves as a respite for the American tourist looking for food that hits a little closer to home.

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Eunpa Lake is surrounded by a path that was bustling with walkers, joggers and bikers as the cool evening started to settle in. We arrived with dusk and while we enjoyed our meal Eunpa Bridge flashed and changed colors over the still waters of the lake – making it easily one of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed with my husband.

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4 Levels of Retail Therapy

Yesterday my husband and I made a stop down to Lotte Mart – which is basically Gunsan’s version of a giant Walmart with wayyy better stuff in it – true to the Korean way of taking another idea and improving it exponentially. It’s 4 stories high, packed with bakeries, salons, toy stores, coffee shops, kiosks and of course a standard grocers on the first floor.

I purchased myself a camera just for this trip – so please bear with me while I try to re-learn the ins and outs after years of just having the camera stuck on the back on my cellphone. (And if you’re a photographer with tips or tricks that would help me, pleasepleaseplease feel free to leave them in the comments!)

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Lost in South Korea

On Wednesday morning I boarded a plane and 13 hours, and a few awkward conversations with my seatmate later I landed in Seoul, ending a 13 month military separation between my husband and myself. I’ll be here for the next month exploring, attempting to like kimchi and enjoying a once in a lifetime cultural experience that I’ll be sure to bore my grandchildren to death with.

A trip to Gongguksa Temple in Gunsan, South Korea was first up on our travel itinerary, the temple is a small relic of the Japanese Colonial period of Korea’s history so it’s not technically a Korean temple, but we’ll get around to those later.

That would be my husband standing awkwardly off to the side.

That would be my husband standing awkwardly off to the side

I found myself a little preoccupied with the temple's dog

I found myself a little preoccupied with the temple’s dog