Exercises in Fear

by Christopher DeFilippis

DeFlip Side, Vol. 1, No. 19
(First Appeared: October, 2000; First Light E-zine, Issue #96)

So get this.

I’m having this dream the other night in which I’m sitting in a restaurant. I don’t know what restaurant it is. I don’t even have that dream-sense of knowing where you are. (It looks a lot like what I’ve always imagined Tavern on the Green in Central Park to look like: wainscoting, green floral print velvet wallpaper, those billowy scarves hanging down from the center of the ceiling and radiating out toward walls that are bordered in ivy and little white lights… Hey, I’ve never been to Tavern on the Green, and I have a feeling that if it did look like that, interior decorators would kill themselves upon entering. But that’s neither here nor there. I was in a restaurant.)

Dreamscape?

Or nightmare?

Anyway, I’m dining alone. I don’t know where my wife is. My dream-self did have a wife, but she was nowhere in sight. I’m eating something that looks a lot like roast Long Island Duck with gravy and garlic mashed potatoes centered in a nest of zucchini, carrots and yellow squash (even in my dreams I have great taste in food). The artistic culinary presentation cues me in to the fact that this is an expensive place. I look around and the restaurant is filled with well-dressed diners.

One little girl in particular catches my eye. She’s clad in a pink dress with ribbons on the shoulders, and is wearing a straw hat with a pink ribbon band. She looks like she just got finished with the Easter pageant, white gloves and all, and is sitting with her mom and dad, talking a mile a minute.

She’s so animated that I get up and cross over to her table, eager to know what she’s so excited about. When I reach the table, I just plop myself down, giving her parents a nod. They nod back, all smiles, as if it’s a perfectly normal occurrence for thirty-year-old men who are dining alone to horn in on their mealtimes and give their daughter rapt attention.

I turn to the little girl. Brown curls fall to her shoulders, and two baby-blues sit atop her freckled nose. She’s adorable, and can’t be more than four or five. I ask her what the excitement is all about and she eagerly tells me that she lost a tooth and is hoping the tooth fairy comes to visit her. She punctuates her point with an ear-splitting grin and probes at the stub of a new tooth with her tongue.

Well, we keep talking. And though I have no recollection now of what we were saying, my dream-self was very impressed by her articulate manner. Impressed, I asked her how someone her age could be so glib and intelligent.

“Because,” she says, smiling and fixing me with her big blue eyes, “I AM THE ANTICHRIST.” Her expression doesn’t change, but her voice is now deep and her eyes begin to glow crimson.

Startled, I get up and back away. A little boy, maybe three- or four-years-old with flaxen hair and chubby cheeks stands beside her. His eyes also begin to glow red as he says in the same satanic voice: “I AM THE ANTICHRIST, TOO.”

On the verge of panic, I look around and all the kids in the place are staring up at me with glowing red eyes and matter-of-fact expressions. Then I realize that all of them are the Antichrist and this is how Satan plans to usher in Armageddon, using the children as his tools.

This epiphany sets my mind racing with the problem of how I’m going to stop this. As if I could…

It’s at this point that I wake up. I’m more intrigued than creeped out, since I never remember my dreams, much less in such startling detail. At most I get a vague hint of images and never anything like the narrative continuity that this dream had. Is there some special reason for this clarity, this sharp memory? Is someone trying to tell me something?

Then it hits me. The date is Friday the 13th! It’s the world-ending year 2000! There’s active fighting in the Middle East! And, sitting like a bleached, bloated cherry-corpse on my cake of disaster is tonight’s full moon! It all fits! Coincidence? I THINK NOT!

So that’s my weird-but-true story for this Halloween issue of First Light. I usually try and write about my latest real-life ghostly encounters for the October column, but seeing as I used all my new ones up in months past (see March & August 2000 columns), this dream sequence will have to do. Still, the timing was a bit odd.

Of course, I sit and write this on the most beautiful Saturday the 14th you’ve ever seen. It’s about 80 degrees out, the sun is shining and I just got through washing my car and mowing the lawn. If these are heralds of the end of days, keep ’em coming. If not for the pumpkins I picked last week, I’d never believe it’s October. Still, it’s that time of year when we want to be frightened. And if it’s fear you’re looking for, have I got the thing for you. You need look no further than MTV.

No, it’s not the new N’Sync video. I speak of MTV’s new show, FEAR. I’ve held off on commenting on the new television season since I don’t like to judge new shows on the basis of a single episode (no matter how much this year’s crop deserves to be panned thus far). But in this case I’ll make an exception. FEAR is sheer brilliance. The show has taken “reality” programming to a new level, combining the best elements from Survivor and The Blair Witch Project to create some of the most effective and entertaining television ever.

Here’s the premise: Gather a bunch of twenty-somethings together and bring them to some reputedly haunted place to complete a series of challenges, working only in the wee small hours of the night, over the course of a few days. Those who can complete the tasks and stay until the end will walk away with a handful of cash.

Simple, right? Even sounds a bit hokey. But the way the show is produced puts the viewer right into the contestants’ shoes. Each player is outfitted with a personal steady-cam that stays trained on their face the entire time. This creates the unique visual effect of having the player stay seemingly still while the background hops about around them. That alone lends the viewer a feeling of being there with them.

The haunted locations are also eerie as hell. The first episode takes place in an abandoned prison. The group gathers in a “safe house” (in this case, the prison chapel) and draws lots to see who will complete the first set of challenges. A computer in the safe house details the history of the places they need to visit and tells them what they have to do.

In the prison episode, players were told to go to locations like the hole, death row, the electrocution chamber, and other areas of the prison reputed for murders and torture. Interspersed with the descriptions of these areas are testimonials from prisoners, COs and professional psychics, telling what types of violence were common to the area, who was killed where, and what type of psychic energy resides in the place. Once these psychological time bombs are planted, the challenges begin.

The challenges are simple. Go to those places alone and stay there in the dark for fifteen minutes. Again, sounds hokey. But this is where the fun begins. You get to watch as these kids confront these places and become truly terrified. I was scared myself just watching. The fear sucks you in. Of course, players have the option to back out of a challenge. But that means they have to pack up and leave in the morning, sans cash. A few of them did, and I can’t say I blame them.

As the game progresses, remaining players have to actively hunt for ghosts and complete increasingly creepy challenges. It’s a real blast.

Of course my biggest fear is that MTV will ruin FEAR, as it routinely does to all of its shows with any spark of hope, by over-hyping it or over-playing it. Thankfully, it’s been the opposite so far. I’ve only seen the show air twice, and both times late at night. Maybe if it doesn’t become a phenomenon it will keep its edge.

The next episode is set in an abandoned hospital and looks to be just as good, if not better, than the debut. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Of course, this is our last specifically spooktacular issue. But rest assured that I’ll faithfully report any new brushes with the other side as they occur. And you may even have a chance to keep on hearing about them, even after First Light has ceased publication.

Hmmmmm… Another omen of things to come? Is there life for DeFlip Side beyond First Light? Stay tuned…

😉

Editrix’s Epiphany: So that’s what that show was! Was channel surfing, came to his guy with a camera on his head. Friends were telling him he had to go into the Hole. I watched for a bit, and yessss, was spooked! I liked the clip I saw. Thanks for clearing up the mystery, Chris!

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