The house across the street had been uninhabited for as long as I could remember, hence, I like to think it was perfectly appropriate of me to scream in fright that day I left the house and saw a wrinkled old man sitting in a tattered chair on the front porch of the supposedly abandoned house.
Now, I wasn’t a wimp. Nor was I one of those boys who belied toughness in order to mask a brittle personality. I was a genuine wall; nothing ever fazed me, nor was I ever victim to the idiosyncratic phobias of other children my age. For the longest time, I was incapable of feeling; no love, no hope, no disappointment, no fear.
But this old man...this old man was something else. If nothing in this world was able to shake me, this old man must’ve been from some supernatural realm. Everything about him was paradoxical and petrifying. His blank, detached gaze and apathetic features somehow emitted a predatory aura. As if he’d been through hell and back and would make you go through the same journey if you disturbed him. Even the way he was collapsed in his chair subtly warned you to keep your distance if you valued your sanity. His rocking chair ominously swayed like a pendulum, whittling a life away with each swing. I stood there, paralyzed by fear, and the old man didn’t move a hair.
For what felt like years, I watched his lifeless form and felt myself transform into a empty corpse. I could feel my soul being dragged from my body, my flesh decaying into dust, and my very existence being eradicated from the universe.
I ran out of air, and my scream was curtailed. That one moment--the moment I noticed the silence--I fled. I ran faster than I ever thought possible, and vowed that I would overcome this. That I would somehow put it beneath me, turn this terrifying old man into one of the many aspects of this world I casually overlooked. And if I couldn’t face him head on, I’d leave him behind. Run away. Make him a distant memory that I’d forget someday.
I sped up. I never looked back, but I somehow know he was watching me. I can still imagine his stationary reaction. How not a muscle twitched, how his gaze never shifted from the void he was staring into. How his chair rocked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
* * *
The next day, I left the house and steeled myself for the encounter. He was the same as before: empty stare, blank expression, no signs of life except the light, misting air that formed as he breathed. And still the same terrifying presence.
This time, I felt something deeper amongst the fear. In addition to the fear of being vanished on the spot, there was more prolonged danger emanating from his prostrate form. As if he was the embodiment of death that was gleefully rubbing his hands together in anticipation of putting me through some unperceivable form of eternal torture without chance of escape.
I once again stood there, paralyzed. The fear danced around me, toying with my conscientiousness, enjoying the effect it was having on...