One time when I was younger my mother told me something that really stuck with me. She told me that when she was a teenager she saw the movie ‘Psycho’ even though her parents had expressly forbidden her to, and after she watched that movie she couldn’t shower for a month, she was so scared of the infamous ‘shower scene’.
Imagine that. Watching a movie with a scene about something as commonplace and everyday as taking a shower and having that make it absolutely terrifying. And, as many people have pointed out, compared to modern films, the shower scene doesn’t actually show all that much of anything – it’s all in what is suggested, which is the brilliance of Hitchcock at work.
I’d never seen the shower scene, in fact, only heard it talked about by others and seen bits and pieces of it when it was referenced in documentaries and TV specials about Hitchcock or the history of film. But still my mother’s story about it terrifying her that much changed the way I thought about showering. It made me realize how strange an act it actually was and how frightening it could really be.
I mean, it’s kind of strange when you really think about it, the fact that each and every day we step into this tiny little chamber, no more than a few feet by the length of the average human body, and then completely close ourselves in. With a curtain. Or maybe a sliding glass door. Frosted usually, so if someone else happens to be using the bathroom they can’t see your naked ass and naughty bits, but perhaps more importantly, it means that you can’t see what’s going on outside. What’s on the other side of the curtain? You have no way to know except to hold it back a little and peek out from behind it.
I guess it was about two years ago. These past two years my morning routine is a lot different now than all the years before, but we’ll get to that in a bit, hold on there. Even then, even before it happened, I guess I never really liked showering that much, after what my mother had told me. I found myself sometimes worrying if I’d forgotten to lock the front door or left a window open, or the back door maybe, with only the old storm door that didn’t shut completely on its own, and maybe someone could break in and rob the house while I bathed myself, or, worse, barge into the bathroom and attack me where I was behind the curtain blissfully unaware.
So, I’ll admit it. Sometimes those types of thoughts got the better of me. Sometimes, I peeked, just to make myself feel better. To reassure myself that I was just being silly. Irrational.
That time I really wish I hadn’t.
Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? Ever just been sitting somewhere, minding your own business, reading a magazine or playing with your phone or watching pigeons flutter away against the backdrop of a blue sky and you know – you just know – that someone is watching you? I remember one of my psychology professors in university liked to say that there’s nothing more powerful than the gaze of a human eye. If we see other people staring at something we can’t help but follow to see where they’re looking. It’s in our nature. Evolutionary. But I think he meant more than that, I knew he did. There’s something about another presence, about something observing you, that you can just feel.
The steam of the shower was hot and the water was too, and just as I was finishing rinsing the last of the shampoo out of my hair, I felt it. A presence. Something watching me. Something there in the bathroom with me. It sounds crazy, I know. I knew I was just being ridiculous but I couldn’t help it, just like my irrational fear that someone would barge into the house while I was defenseless beneath the hot water, I knew this was irrational too. Ridiculous.
But I still had to look. To prove to myself that it was. That the presence I felt was only my imagination, only my mind playing tricks on me.
Ever so slowly, I stepped over toward the far side of the tub, the one away from the falling water of the showerhead, and slowly pulled back the curtain to look.
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Thank God nothing did. Who knows what would have happened had I made a sound? Terror, sheer, raw, utter terror overtook every part of me in that moment. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream but knew I could not. I wanted nothing more than to flee from that tiny space beneath the falling water and dive into the safety of my warm bed and hide beneath the covers until it went away and I could stop shaking and convince myself that what I saw was not, could not, be real.
In the bathroom, not two feet away, towering over me, was a creature.
I don’t expect you to believe me. Why should I? It’s impossible. But it happened. I know it did. How do you describe to someone something that is beyond belief? The paranormal? The fantastical? The beyond real? I’m doing my best. All I know is that that thing I saw in the bathroom was as real as you and me. And it’s no exaggeration to say at that moment I was more terrified than I’d ever been in my entire life.
The thing was tall, too tall, tall and white, and had smooth, smooth skin. It was facing away from me, so all I saw in that furtive horrified glance I took was its giant back arching toward the ceiling and the rounded whiteness of its skull.
The terror I felt. What did it want? How had it gotten in? And what horrible would the face of this horrible thing look like when it turned to face me? Full of long pointed teeth covered in the blood of children it had devoured. Of previous victims caught unaware in the shower, dozing on the couch, sleeping in their beds. Two sunken black pits for eyes that burned with the red fires of hell.
The water poured down and the steam rose and the seconds passed and the thing, the terrible thing, just sat there and my fear, my complete and utter horror and dread of this thing, was absolutely palpable. I put my hand over my mouth and tried not to make a sound. Not to breathe.
The creature was not two feet away from me. It needed only to reach out the tiniest bit with one of its long spindly arms to touch me, and then what would it do? Impale me on its long bony fingers that I’d seen hanging down to the tile of the floor. Spear me on its claws, slash and tear me until I bled to death and my blood mixed with the water going down the drain, just like that in the shower scene.
Have you ever had to do something you know you must but every part of you screams not to? Have you ever been so terrified that every part of you, every tiny fiber of your being screams for you to turn and run, but you know you can’t, that you mustn’t, that you’ve got to face your fear head-on if you want to survive?
Ever part of me wanted nothing more than to scream and run from the warm wet safety of my tiny universe, to tear out of the bathroom and run screaming out of the house, down the street, naked and dripping wet, just to escape the horror of that thing that stood waiting for me. But I knew I had to look again. I knew I had to hold back the curtain and look again just to convince myself that it was real.
Holding back my fear, quivering and shaking, every part of me wanting to scream, wanting to run, I slowly pulled back the curtain just a little to reveal nothing.
There was nothing there. I was alone. The water kept falling and beating its rhythm against the bottom of the tub. I had imagined it.
I finally watched the shower scene. And I know now why it must have been so terrifying for my mother at the time. It’s true, it doesn’t show that much, but that’s is precisely what makes it so brilliant, as I said before, and so many others have said before me. It’s not about what you do see, but what you don’t see. Terror is not about what is shown, but what isn’t. The greatest horrors are those that are left to our imagination. The white creature that visited me will always fill my nightmares, but only because of what I did not see – it never faces me, never acknowledges me, but still I know that it is watching. The most frightening thing is that if the very presence of this thing filled me with such dread I cannot begin to comprehend its true nature – what staring into the face of such a thing would have done to me.
I don’t take showers any more. Two years it’s been since then. Two years that I’ve only taken baths, and then only with the door open. I try to tell myself that what I saw wasn’t real. Couldn’t have been real. But when I stepped out of the shower that day, still very much shaken from what I’d seen, on the tile of the floor next to the bathmat were two giant wet footprints.
It’s still out there, watching me.