My earliest memories include being afraid of two intangible things: bears and ghosts, neither of which reside in Kansas, so my parents taught me. I suffered nightmares of our tidy little farm home being stuffed entirely full of bears, crammed to the ceiling. I would wake in a state of terror. Sometimes I would dream of ghosts filling the house, equally as frightening. I do not know what caused these terrible dreams. My mother scolded me a thousand times, "It's just your imagination!" My imagination was a burdensome thing for both me and my mother.
One horrible episode involved my entire family. My father had to leave for Wichita literally in the middle of the night. He worked the third shift at the Boeing factory. The yard light was turned on so he could do a few of the heavy farm chores before he left, and the light shone directly into the bedroom window. My little brother and I shared a bed. In the shadows between our two pillows, I saw a little snake slithering toward the covers. My little brother saw it too. I ordered him to touch it, which he did. (At age three, he knew the consequences of not following my orders.) When he confirmed that it was real, I screamed because snakes were the third thing I feared.
My parents came to investigate my hysterical screaming. My father took it seriously because sometimes there had been a snake in the house. He turned on the lights, shook all of the covers and sheets, looked under all the furniture. He found no snake and tucked us both into bed with strict instructions to go to sleep. As soon as he turned out the light and left, every shadow in the room was full of moving, wriggling, fearful "monsters". It was as if that shadow snake was only the first one of a million black entities haunting that room. They could not exist in the light, so they crowded into every square inch of shadow. The seething cauldron of black energy surrounded my little brother and me in our tiny square patch of light coming in through the window. I could not bear to close my eyes and I could not bear to keep them open. Well over fifty years later, my brother also still remembers that strange night.
In the decades since, I have never seen a bear in the wild but I have no unnatural fear of them, nor dream of bears filling my house to capacity. I no longer run in a blind panic whenever I come across a snake. In fact, as long as there is a safe distance between the snake and myself, I enjoy seeing them. Amazingly enough, I have even evolved to holding the opinion that baby snakes are cute - on a sliding scale, you understand.
I am still afraid of ghosts. If they bother me in dreams, I wake myself up and have some tea. They know they cannot scare me while I am awake because I do not believe in them. I know they are just my imagination. The last two times I dreamed of someone knocking at the front door of my house, I woke myself instantly, the rattling of the storm door lingering in the room. As soon as I am fully awake, I am thankful it was just a bad dream. Then I get up and shut the front door, the same front door that was firmly shut and locked behind me when I went to bed.