Last week, I awoke in the middle of the night to an engulfing darkness, my alarm clock’s crimson digits casting 3:42 a.m. into the shadows. After briefly tossing about under a heap of covers, I headed to the bathroom for a glass of water.
My bathroom looked as it did at any other time of the day. Towels were neatly stacked on a metal shelving unit and my toothbrush rested unmoving upon the sink’s countertop. But, as I turned on the faucet, a prickling sensation suddenly began to crawl up the back of my neck. It was a familiar feeling. Trying to catch it before it’s full-blown onslaught, I averted my eyes from the medicine-cabinet mirror before me. I hastened back to bed, huddling deep beneath the blankets with only my face peeking out.
This happens far too frequently than I care to admit at age twenty five. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Candyman, the mythical figure from the 1992 horror film bearing his name, still lurks about the corners of my mind from time to time. His hooked hand and his penchant for popping out of bathroom mirrors when summoned, leave me as terrified of medicine cabinets today as they did when I first saw the movie as an adolescent.
The terror is, of course, a strange brotherhood of horror and happiness. I’ve always loved scary movies. My partner says it’s because I have an overactive imagination. A psychologist might say it’s because I can explore my anxieties from the safety of my own living room. I would say, however, that maybe I haven’t grown up much after all, if the same movies that scared me years ago still test my courage today.
Like the movie Jaws, for example. Sometimes when I’m swimming laps at the local pool, I still half-expect to see a dorsal fin cutting through the water, much like I did as a child in the bathtub. At other times, a blaring phone call when I’m home alone is surely coming from somewhere inside the house, as it was in When A Stranger Calls. Though I haven’t seen this movie since I was twelve, chomping on a bag of Doritos as a thunderstorm thrashed beyond the living room curtains, I can’t say I’ve been entirely comfortable with unidentified callers ever since.
Candyman, however, has forever been the kingpin of horror films for me.
This strange love affair began in fourth grade, when I first watched Candyman at a sleepover. My parents had long recognized my fascination with scary movies, and though they wanted to indulge my interests, they played it safe by renting benign thrillers like Ben and Cujo. I jumped when Cujo attacked the family car, but I yearned for something more.
Fortunately, my best friend Lisa shared my fascination with scary movies. Her parents didn’t care what movies she rented, so each time I spent the night at her house, our first task was to tackle the horror section of the video store. After grabbing packages of Starburst and bite-size Milky Ways with our rental, we were set for the evening.
I don’t remember being particularly scared of Candyman the night Lisa and I rented it in fourth grade. Maybe having a friend to fall asleep with afterward made it seem less ominous. All I know is that once I returned to the quiet of my own bedroom and those images of Candyman lurking in empty parking lots and bursting through bathroom mirrors began to settle into my brain, things began to grow somewhat tense.
The mirror in my bedroom was the first to go. Large and painted yellow on its wooden frame, it rested comfortably on the wall above the head of my bed. I politely asked my parents to remove it. But, when that wasn’t enough—when I was still lying awake at night, imagining Candyman emerging from the bathroom mirror down the hall and charging into my room—I was next to go.
I first dragged a blanket and pillow into my parent’s bedroom as an act of desperation—exhausted from the hours I’d spent debating whether to actually leave the safety of my covers and flee into their room. But, once I realized that this stealthy maneuver guaranteed me a restful night of sleep, I began sneaking into their room more frequently. My parents didn’t want to reinforce my behavior, but they also didn’t want me to sleep on the hard floor. They left out a gray sleeping bag for me, between my father’s side of the bed and the wall, just in case.
Our arrangement worked well for several weeks. I’d left Candyman in the dust, likely still prowling about my room, while I’d escaped to the security of my parent’s carpeted floor. However, early one morning when I awoke in that gray sleeping bag and couldn’t move my arms or neck, I began to panic.
My parents panicked too. Thinking I might have meningitis, my father took me to St. John’s Hospital at 4:30 a.m. while my mother stayed home with my sister. My dad remembers that I sat in the passenger seat of our Dodge Aries, turning my entire body toward him to speak and carrying my arms still-frozen above my head. When we arrived at the hospital, I was given a CAT scan and a blood test. It was not, after all, meningitis, just a stiff neck, the result of one too many nights huddled deep within a sleeping bag on the floor.
My little campouts ended shortly thereafter. By seventh grade, my bedroom mirror finally returned to its rightful place on the wall. I cannot say, however, that Candyman has completely ceased his reign of havoc. Perhaps I don’t want him to fully retreat. Perhaps I’d rather preserve that strange blend of horror and happiness that reminds me of a time when I believed anything was possible.
Though I no longer have the option of camping out on anyone’s floor, my own bed has at times become a makeshift gray sleeping bag on nights when his shadowy figure inexplicably creeps back into my mind, and I simply cannot sleep.
On these nights, when I am standing before the bathroom mirror in the dead of night, I still wonder whether within mirror’s reflection, alongside my own likeness, there might also appear a towering, sinister figure behind me—and the glint of a hook.