Two of my closest friends in Junior high were Cory Stafford and Chris Burns. Cory was an artist, Chris was a sax player, and I was a ninth grader with size 12 shoes. We used to get into incredible mischief, but never were we more imaginative, more outlandish than with our excursions into the Bad Place.


The Bad Place, Tynehead Park, was an underused green belt about a mile or so behind my house. In recent years, it’s regularly used in all sorts of television shows—Stargate SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, the X-files, Alias—but back then, we three were probably the only ones who ever really ventured into Tynehead on purpose. With its full canopy of glowering trees, Tynehead was dark by about 2 pm and impassibly black after supper. The darkness there was palpable—like gallons of pitch, a paint pool, latex midnight—and it used to scare us immensely.


Such a profound emptiness deserved a name of its own. Hence “the Bad Place.”


But the Bad Place wasn’t uninhabited. In our adolescence, we understood that such a place needed—no, required!—an indigenous species. There had to be a caretaker to keep such emptiness unfilled.


And so we came to fear the Bad Thing.


For two summers, we bravely ventured into the Bad Place, simultaneously eager and unwilling to meet the Bad Thing. We ran from it when we heard it rustle in the thorns, and we screamed defiantly when we thought it had finally caught up to us.


It was only when we tried to introduce some of our other friends to the Bad Place that the spell was broken. They brought flashlights, made lots of noise, and quickly came to the conclusion that we must have been eating the wild mushrooms that grew on the feet of trees.


The Bad Thing was my first real monster, my first spectral adversary, and though I know— believe me, I always knew—it wasn’t real, I was truly terrified in the woods with Chris and Cory.


We all have our monsters,

and whether or not they are real

is less important than whether or not we are afraid.


We all have secret and abiding fears, shades of doubt and fear-filled wonder, pecking away at our confidence and causing us to question our capability, our culpability, and our ability to live.


What we need to do is learn to live with courage in the face of our fears, while simultaneously working to de-power those fears. We need to know and understand that even in the midst of our worst fears coming true, God will still sustain us and lead us into a better future.


Excerpt from Monsters: The Imagination of Faith and Fear.