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The scariest thing of all

When I was nineteen I spent a summer working at a warehouse. I was a student and away from home for the first time, and I needed money. The guy said I could start the next evening, i was to be stacking the shelves, taking deliveries and looking at the security cameras. It was a large warehouse containing all kinds of stuff, I think they shipped construction materials. I did the night shift. I got in to start at 10pm. I took a coffee with me and somehow managed to stay awake until the next morning. Most of the time it was just me. The time I want to tell you about comes after I’d been working there for a few weeks. I was really getting the hang of the job by that point. the nights had stopped bothering me. that summer the heat was stifling. If I was at home I’d have been turning around all night trying to sleep. The warehouse was cool and they had air-conditioning so it never got uncomfortable,

So i want you to picture the scene. I was in my first year at film school. I decided that was something I had to do based on some stories I’d heard and films I’d watched. You can tell I hadn’t given it much thought. I kept a notebook where I’d sketch down ideas, fragments of stories that I’d hope to one day be able to develop. You could tell though even then that they weren’t going anywhere. They were too raw, too rough. I’d have an idea I really liked, then realise quickly that i’d stolen the idea from a film i’d seen only recently. I’d tries to write about my own experiences but that got tiresome really quickly. The one thing that I didn’t want was to write about the dull mundane reality I already lived in.

About this time I was starting to discover Hitchcock. We’d already watched Psycho and the professor had linked it with some theories of psycho-analysis that were big at the time. I thought it was just a great film. The deeper meanings didn’t occur to me as i watched it, though they are somewhat more obvious now. Rear Window was another favourite. Watching James Stewart cower defensively in a wheelchair was more frightening than any horror movie I had seen, precisely because what Hitchcock showed could realistically have taken place. I don’t want you to think I was someone scared easily. Sometimes I’d get a chill on my way to work. The streets were deserted, a seemingly endless network of roads un-peopled and under-lit. That was the worst part of the job. I always carried a backpack and I fancied that if I was attacked I could swing it, taking a shot at any assailant. The bag was usually weighed down with solid hard textbooks that could hurt someone if positioned correctly. That never happened. Sometimes a tramp might ask for a money or a smoke, and i’d usually help the guy. I was a smoker then. Once I came to work I relaxed. I had a security pass to let me in the building. If it didn’t bring it to work I would ring the bell and the security guard came down from his office to let me in. Being impatient I made sure I always carried it with me. I spent most of the time tracking orders in the delivery room. If it was quiet, which it usually was, I’d watch TV. With any luck, they’d be a film on that I hadn’t seen. That night I remember they were showing Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. I’d seen it before, but couldn’t resist watching it again. I started to watch and before long I was engrossed. its not often that you can watch a film and become totally absorbed and forget everything around you. I mean you normally get bored or distracted. i got to the scene where Farley Granger strangles the girlfriend at the fairground, a particularly graphic scene at the time. Something was bugging me. I looked around the room. There were the usual piles of supplies, tools and building equipment. I didn’t want to watch the rest of the film. I got up and grabbed my jacket. Actually I wanted to turn the film off. But I couldn’t: for some reason I thought I needed to keep the sound on. I felt as though I was not alone in the room. Looking at the delivery book I saw that there were none expected that evening. I walked out of the room and shut the door. I thought I heard footsteps. You’ve had the same experience I know, when you’re convinced that someone’s there. The thing to do was to find the guard and tell him I thought something was up. I could have taken the lift but that was too claustrophobic at this point. If it was a brake-in, my orders were to press the alarm that went straight to the police station. They would arrive in minutes. It made me feel a little reassured, but not much. I could hear the noises getting gradually louder. If this had been a film I would have called out something or asked if anyone was there, but that seemed particularly pointless. I wanted to get out of the building there and then. But I also wanted to see what was going on, the way we can’t stop watching frightening films. 

I kept walking down the corridor to the security guard’s office, past piles of bin liners, old takeaway boxes and shoes. My face in the mirror showed me covered in sweat, panicked and terrified. I got out then. I didn’t even tell the guard. The nexy day they didn’t want me to come back, not that I wanted to. I admit it seems funny now, watching a not particularly scary film and being convinced that I was not alone. It wasn’t so funny at the time, I can tell you.

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