Nothing in the Dark

It can be anything, really . . .

A sense of dread at the thought of standing up in front of a room full of strangers and delivering a speech.

blicspeaking

 

A heavy, sickly feeling that grabs on tight and doesn’t let go whenever you think of that annual performance review or that interview for a new job.

jobinterview

 

A sense of doubt so severe, it causes you to sweat and second-guess and procrastinate when confronted with a certain nausea-inducing task.

procrastinate

 

The list can go on and on, scrolling through the virtual pages of our minds, memories, and backstories.

For Mitchell Brant, it’s a sensation of coming up short, a belief that he doesn’t quite measure up as is, inspiring him to lie and tell tall tales about himself.  For Ryan Swinton, it’s the possibility that someone won’t laugh at one of his jokes, or that he might inconvenience or upset a friend.  For Joe Marma, it’s that he will be judged as lacking, second-rate, always finishing behind his older brother in everything he does.  And for Marc Kuslanski, it’s the frustration of uncertainty, the specter of problems and puzzles he cannot solve, of mysteries he cannot fathom.

Rejection.  Disappointment.  Failure.  Misunderstanding.  Heartache.  Loss.

We are all afraid of something.  We all must wrestle with our own personal ghosts and ghouls, worries and fears.

fearheadinsand

 

For Wanda Dunn, an old woman we meet in a third-season Twilight Zone episode titled “Nothing in the Dark,” the albatross that weighs her down is made clear from the start.

twilightzone

 

Wanda Dunn is terrified of death.

The story opens with Wanda holed up in her broken-down tenement, snow falling outside her windows.  She spies someone on the step just beyond her door–a young man in uniform.  She cowers in a corner, fearful of being seen.  And then a whistle blows, a gunshot rings out, and the man falls.

gladyscooper

 

Reluctantly, Wanda opens her door, just enough to peek outside.  The man (played by a twentysomething Robert Redford) is lying in the snow.

redford1

 

He pleads to her, says he’s a police officer and that he’s been shot and needs help.

redfordplayinghurt

 

“You’re lying,” the old woman says.  “Why can’t you leave me alone?  I know who you are.  I know what you are.”

It is here that Rod Serling provides the opening narration of the episode.  In the voice-over, he tells us that Wanda Dunn thinks the man outside is, in actuality, Mr. Death in disguise.

But the police officer continues his appeal.  “Unless you help me,” he says, “I’m going to die.  I don’t think I can move.”  He tells her his name is Harold Beldon and asks her to call a hospital.

She tells him she has no telephone, and cannot call anyone.

When he asks if he can come inside, out of the cold, she balks.  “I’d have to unlock the door,” she says.  “I can’t do that.  I don’t want to die.  I know who you are.”

gladyscooperscared

 

He grimaces, clearly in pain, and tells her as much.

Eventually, and grudgingly, she opens the door and lets Officer Harold Beldon into her home . . .

Later, we see her tending to him, as he lies in a bed.  She brews him some tea, not as afraid of him now, apparently comforted by the belief that he is who he says he is–just a police officer injured in the line of duty, and not the angel of death come to snatch her away.

As they talk, we learn that Wanda Dunn lives alone.  There are no neighbors.  They’ve all moved away.  And she can’t open the door, seek out a telephone to call a doctor, even if there still were a neighbor.

“I can’t let him in,” she says.

“Mr. Death . . .” Officer Harold Beldon replies, catching on.

“I know he’s out there,” Wanda says.  “He’s trying to get in.  He comes to the door and knocks.  He begs me to let him in.  Last week he said he came from the gas company.  Oh, he’s clever.  After that, he claimed to be a contractor hired by the city.”  He’d told her the building had been condemned and she had to leave.  But “I kept the door locked, and he went away.”

The officer objects, pointing out that people all over the world die every day.  How can one man, a single Mr. Death, be in all those places at once?

deathcomfortingsad

 

She says she doesn’t know, but she has seen him before.  Every time someone she knew died, he was there.  She admits, others don’t seem to see him, but she thinks she does because she’s old, and because her “time is coming.”

“I could see clearer than younger people could,” she says.  And yet–his face is always different.  She can never be sure it’s him at first glance, and that’s why she hides, shuts herself in, not allowing herself to venture outside.

“How can you live like this?” Officer Beldon asks.

To which she responds, “But if I don’t live like this, I won’t live at all.  If I let down, even for a moment, he’ll get in.”

Suddenly there’s a knock.  She doesn’t want to answer, but the officer urges her to.  She opens the door a crack.  A burly workman is there.

whosthere

 

“I’m sorry, lady,” he says, “but I’ve got my orders.  I can’t fool around any longer.”

The man forces his way in, and Wanda Dunn is certain it’s Mr. Death.

rgarmstrong

 

The man assures her he’s just a worker arriving to warn her that she needs to move out immediately.  His crew is set to begin demolishing the tenement in one hour’s time.

“I’m surprised anyone still lives here,” he says.  Hasn’t she read the notices, opened her mail?  It’s an old building, he explains, dangerous.  It’s got to come down.

“That’s life, lady,” he goes on.  “People get the idea I’m some sort of destroyer . . . I just clear the ground so other people can build . . . It’s just the way things are . . . Old animals die, and young ones take their places.  Even people step aside when it’s time.”

“I won’t,” she says, and implores Officer Beldon to help, explain to the man that she can’t leave.  But the man asks who she’s talking to.  There isn’t anyone else in the room but the two of them.

Pressed for time, ready to coordinate the demolition, the workman leaves, again issuing a warning that she needs to leave the building immediately.

But Wanda Dunn is no longer concerned about the workman or the tenement.

“He didn’t see you,” she says to the officer when they are once again alone.  Officer Beldon tells her to look in the mirror.  When she does, she can only see herself.  The police officer has no reflection.

Finally realizing what has happened, Wanda exclaims, “You tricked me!  It was you all the time!  But why?  You could’ve taken me anytime.  You were nice.  You made me trust you.”

redford2

 

He gets out of bed, asks, “Am I really so bad?”  And tells her she’s not afraid of him, of death, but of the unknown.  “Don’t be afraid,” he says.  “The running’s over.  It’s time to rest.”

redfordcharming

 

He offers her his hand.

“I don’t want to die,” she says.

But he encourages her, softly, gently, and they touch.

“You see?” Mr. Death says with a smile.  “No shock.  No engulfment.  No tearing asunder.  What you feared would come like an explosion . . . is like a whisper.  What you thought was the end . . . is the beginning.”

“When will it happen?” she wants to know.  “When will we go?”

But they already have.  He tells her to look at the bed.  She sees herself lying there, lifeless.

Understanding at last, fearing no longer, she smiles, and, arm in arm, they walk out the door.

redfordleadinghertodeath

 

In the closing narration, Rod Serling sums it up like this:

“There was an old woman who lived in a room and, like all of us, was frightened of the dark, but who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life, that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on.”

lightdarkend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

50 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robin Vansal
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 18:36:18

    Meaningful thoughts! Thanks for such a post.
    Yes the list never ends.

    Reply

  2. Carrie Rubin
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 18:39:57

    I think I might remember that episode, but it takes on a whole new meaning when I’m rereading the story as an adult (on your blog) than when I watched it as a child. Makes me wonder what other new takeaways I’d get revisiting some of the other episodes of The Twilight Zone.

    Reply

  3. Ameena k.g
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 20:35:28

    Wow! I really don’t think I can explain eith clarity how I felt reading this, but honestly, it was like “holding my breath” and then having that amazing feeling once you let it out “which happened at the last paragraph “. This is insanely good!

    Reply

  4. jessicawrennovels
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 20:48:04

    Reblogged this on jessicawrenfiction.

    Reply

  5. Lyn
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 22:10:17

    I love your posts about The Twilight Zone, Michael. You always tell them with such pizazz.

    Reply

  6. europasicewolf
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 22:58:47

    “What you thought was the end is the beginning…” That will stay with me 🙂 Brilliant post! I was enthralled and actually forgot I was reading a blog such was my sense of absorbtion! That’s a first!

    Reply

  7. jjspina
    Aug 07, 2015 @ 01:50:34

    Loved this post! I am a big fan of yours and Twilight Zone! This is definitely the Mike Zone! Lol!

    Reply

  8. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Aug 07, 2015 @ 16:39:34

    Okay. You’ve managed to spark another idea Mike…you wonderful man, you! Revision can indeed be fun. Thanks for the shove!

    Reply

  9. Sherri
    Aug 11, 2015 @ 17:00:43

    Loved reading this Mike, you know I’m a huge Twilight Zone fan, and I love the way you tell a story! I don’t remember this particular episode strangely, so you had me hooked from start to finish…and then there’s young Robert Redford. What more can I say? 😉 🙂 😉

    Reply

  10. reocochran
    Aug 11, 2015 @ 21:09:12

    I like this style of suspense and get “goosebumps” with great descriptions!

    Reply

  11. lscotthoughts
    Aug 11, 2015 @ 23:37:23

    You had me on the edge of my seat; wonderful post and message!

    Reply

  12. Lesley at Lola Rugula
    Aug 12, 2015 @ 00:18:21

    Oh my God…I’ve not had a chance to catch up with you for months and then this is the first post I see. You have an amazing gift for storytelling, even when it’s the Twilight Zone. I’ve not seen this episode but I just saw it through your pictures and words. Thank you. Hope all is well on your journey, Mike!

    Reply

  13. A. Blake
    Aug 12, 2015 @ 17:06:08

    This is definitely one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes … the irony…the fear she feared the most wasn’t outside the door….

    Reply

  14. Stephanae V. McCoy
    Aug 14, 2015 @ 21:23:20

    Thank you for this post. I barely remember this particular episode of Twilight Zone but it was one of my faves. So nostalgic.

    Reply

  15. Ste J
    Aug 15, 2015 @ 08:45:28

    If this isn’t an excellent reminder to rewatch The Twilight Zone, I don’t know what is!

    Reply

  16. Today, You Will Write
    Aug 15, 2015 @ 22:34:32

    Reblogged this on Today, You Will Write and commented:
    A blast from the past…How do you defeat fear?

    Reply

  17. teagan geneviene
    Aug 17, 2015 @ 12:03:56

    It’s a lovely post, Mike — a beautiful retelling of the episode. Hugs.

    Reply

  18. sherazade
    Sep 04, 2015 @ 21:30:51

    Rally nice 2 meet u!
    SherazadefromRomeItaly🎵🎶🎶

    Reply

  19. K.A. Libby: A Novel Enterprise (aka Karla Libby Reidinger)
    Sep 05, 2015 @ 13:55:07

    It’s a busy morning and I intended only to scan your posting. But you captured my attention and held it to the last sentence. Good job! And thank you for taking the time to read my postings. Enjoy your day.

    Reply

  20. JoHanna Massey
    Dec 09, 2015 @ 14:54:15

    “A sense of doubt so severe, it causes you to sweat and second-guess and procrastinate when confronted with a certain nausea-inducing task.”

    It is the PUBLISH button on my website. It hits me hard every time it is time to let it go and share what I have done. No matter how much fun I had creating and building it, I always have self doubt as to it’s value to others.

    Great post. Thank you.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Dec 11, 2015 @ 21:42:13

      Hi JoHanna! I feel that sense of doubt, too, before sharing my work with others. I think it’s something all writers wrestle with, but, in the end, it’s actually probably a good thing. It shows that we care and want our words to move and impact others. Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

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