The dark at the top of the stairs held every demon of the boy’s imagination. Eighteen steps to the banishing light. Why was the switch at the top? He couldn’t climb all the way up there by himself!
No matter where he was, the darkness followed. In the middle of the night the sounds of his fear were manifested and magnified by senses more refined than any slavering lion crouched behind the door, his panic more crushing than the coils of the largest snake biding its time beneath his bed. The deafening drums in his ears were an ogre’s heartbeat.
He didn’t know how they got there, into those cobwebbed nooks and crannies of his mind. In the daylight he conjured up the glowing bravery of superheroes and gallant soldiers, the stiff-backed defiance of warrior maidens pursued by dragons until they stood their ground and snuffed sulfurous flames with mere icy stares. Standing beside them he wielded his great sword of fearlessness sharpened on a harpy’s shrieks and a mirror shield polished with a Gorgon’s hair.
Why did only the villains of his fantasy seem to outlast the sun? Why didn’t the league of heroes with whom he spent glorious days come out of the pages of his books or from the nib of his pen to accompany him on the simplest mission—to be the first one up the stairs to simply turn on the light? The only thing worse than the humiliation he heaped upon himself for this fear was the derision from his younger brothers.
But they always waited to climb the stairs until after he turned on the light.
Up he ran with hair standing on his arms, blood racing, holding his breath. Snap. Light! Anything there? No. Swallow your heart. Look down the stairs and…“You guys coming to bed or not? I’m tired.”
The dark at the top of the stairs no longer holds the same fears. Oh, there are still demons in the dark, but the darkness is a different Unknown and the demons are monsters of a very different ilk. No sword or shield of magic steel can offer any protection. The bravery it takes to face each day now is courage born of wisdom and experience and age, but it is still better not to face these fears alone. And laughter only comes from fools.