Figures in the darkness

Perhaps among the writings of Freud or those of Jung, there is an explanation.

Why are there certain images from childhood that recur in the memory? They are not images from significant moments, they are not images from occasions shared with family and friends, instead they are random and often ill-defined. Some cannot be located in a place or a time. The content of the images is not susceptible to either verification or falsification because no-one else recalls them.

One that recurs is a glimpse of a figure in the night. It is illogical that it should be troubling, perhaps its potency is in its evocation of childhood fears of the unknown.

It is the summer of 1969. The weather has been warm and dry. I am with an aunt and uncle and five cousins on a camping holiday in Charmouth in Dorset.

Should I return to Charmouth, I believe I could find the spot where we camped. The site was beside the River Char, a bridge crossed the river and from the site it was possible to walk to the river bank and under the bridge.

A group of six children aged between five and nine years of age on a camping holiday are not likely to go to sleep peacefully at night time and undoubtedly there were silly tales of ghouls and ghosts.

Whatever conversations had taken place, a memory remains from the early hours of a morning.

The tent was large, three bedrooms, a store area, and a living area, so that what might be seen by one person might have been invisible to most of the others. In memory, I hear sounds from outside and stand up to look out through the mesh window of the room at the front of the tent.

Outside in the gloom, there is the silhouette of a figure who appears to be standing looking in.

I remember feeling frightened and hastily getting back into my sleeping bag. I do not recall sharing the experience, or perhaps I did and the story was dismissed.

The only place where I have found a story that captures the intensity of that childhood feeling is Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev which captures in a paragraph the intensity of that childhood feeling:

“He came to me that night out of the woods, my mythic ancestor, huge, mountainous, dressed in his dark caftan and fur-trimmed cap, pounding his way through the trees on his Russian master’s estate, the earth shaking, the mountains quiver­ing, thunder in his voice. I could not hear what he said. I woke in dread and lay very still, listening to the darkness. I needed to go to the bathroom but I was afraid to leave the bed. I moved down beneath the blanket and slept and then, as if my moment awake had been an intermission between acts of an authored. play, saw him again plowing toward me through giant cedars. I woke and went to the bathroom. I stood in the bathroom, shiver­ing. I did not want to go back to my bed. I stood listening to the night, then went through the hallway to the living room. It was dark and hushed and I could hear the sounds of night traffic through the window. I opened the slats of the Venetian blind and peered between them at the street below. It was a clear night. I could not see the moon, but a clear cold blue-white light lay like a ghostly sheen over the parkway and cast the shadows of buildings and trees across the sidewalks. I saw a man walking beneath the trees. He was a man of medium height with a dark beard, a dark coat, and an ordinary dark hat. I saw him walking in the shadows of the trees. Then I did not see him. Then I saw him again, walking slowly beneath the trees. Then he was gone again and I did not know if I was seeing him or not, if I had been asleep before and was awake now, or if I had been awake before and was dreaming now.   Then I saw him again, walking slowly, alone; then he entered, a shadow and was gone. I do not remember going back to bed. I only remember waking in the morning and staring up at the white ceiling of my room and feeling light and disembodied, as if I were floating on the shadows cast by dark trees beneath a moon.”

 

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