Since Peter was aware of being himself, there had always been a nagging thought that he wasn’t alone. It (whatever it was) had always been there in the background, and he found this unsettling. As a child, he had always wanted to be alone, completely alone, but found that it never happened. He was always looking over his shoulder, wondering if he was being followed.
Wherever he went, It was there too, lurking inside the wardrobe when he went to stay at his grandparents, or hiding behind that door on the landing when he went out in the dark to go to the toilet, or waiting behind that tree when he was out in the garden. Peter didn’t think this through very much, only feeling a deep intangible fear at certain moments. He knew It took an interest in him, but he could never see It directly – he just knew It was there. As an infant, he avoided any chance of being alone with It, but never succeeded. As an adolescent, he imagined It becoming larger than him and infinitely more threatening.
As an adult, he did the reasonable thing, and explained it away as a subconscious memory that re-awakened when he entered situations similar to his childhood. The dark thing in the wardrobe became the dark thing waiting at the top of the stairs when he went to bed after seeing a horror film on late-night TV. Perhaps, he wondered, this was where his ancestors had got their ideas about pixies and the little people. Maybe it came from an over-active imagination and reading the wrong type of books.
But whenever Peter wanted to be completely alone, It followed him, out into the desert (when he visited the Sahara) out at sea (when he paddled out miles in a canoe) and even when he was at the top of a mountain. It was always there, just over the brink, just waiting for him to let his guard down and turn his back.
Then one day, Peter decided he’d had enough, and turned his back. Let It come, he thought. Let it come up and strangle me, sink its fangs into my neck, or cover me with its tentacles. So one day, when hiking up a high mountain, Peter deliberately sat down, shut his eyes and waited for the thing that had been stalking him all his life. He waited for the sound of its heavy footsteps, its giant leathery wings and its slithering tail. But there was nothing. Or nearly nothing. A slight scratching sound on the ground made him turn, open his eyes – and see it for the first time. It.
The creature was small, rodent-like, about the size of a hamster, sitting on its haunches like a squirrel – and staring up at him intelligently. Here, on the top of a mountain and viewing all of nature’s vastness, the animal looked rather insignificant – except for its small, dark eyes.
With a move of his foot, Peter could have kicked or crushed it, but the idea felt wrong. Was this the thing he had been frightened of for all these years? Yes – he knew that instinctively. But now things were different, and in a strange way, he felt strangely sorry for this vulnerable creature. He reached down and stretched out an open hand, and it stepped nervously on to his palm, feeling amazingly light. As he raised It into the air to study it more closely, the creature glanced down at the receding ground, obviously fearing to fall. Then Its little black beady eyes fixed him in their gaze.
Was It intelligent? Yes, after a fashion, but Peter didn’t know how much. As they silently gazed at each other, he wondered why it had frightened him- perhaps because the unknown can always seem more frightening than the actual thing itself when it is seen for what it is.
He held It closer, puzzling over the fact that in some ways, It seemed rather nervous at being noticed, exposed at last for what it truly was. But Peter wasn’t frightened now, that was certain. How odd, after all these years, to finally face your fears like this – to find they were nothing. This little thing looked so small, so defenceless. With a sigh, Peter realised what he had to do – and gently placed the creature in his coat pocket, softly stroking it for reassurance. And realizing there was no need to be frightened anymore.