It may have been because I was living in Hanoi and missed the hype, but to me the scariest film I've ever seen is the Blair Witch project. I know people who were bored by it, but I think it depends on whether you've ever camped in the woods. I grew up doing just that, trading ghost stories around campfires, and that's why the film rang true for me. It's what you can't see that really chills you to the bone, when the imagination runs riot.
A few years ago, while driving across Namibia, following roads on which you would be lucky to see one other car in an hour, I stopped at an Afrikaaner's farm near the Fish River Canyon, which had been recommended to me. It was close to the gravel road - and by 'close' I mean only twenty or thirty miles - and when I arrived I found that the farmer was away in town for a few days. His wife was there, however, and suggested that she drive me to the bottom of the canyon where I could camp and walk back the next day. We drove ten miles further into the wilderness down a rocky track that she told me had been built by German soldiers during the war, and that sometimes you could still hear them in the canyon still. Then, with a friendly warning to beware of the leopards and a promise to send a search party if I wasn’t back before noon the next day, she was gone.
The canyon was simply perfect. I knew I was the only person for miles; I swam in rock pools, read in the sun and eventually made a fire and watched the lizards scuttle about their business. As darkness fell, I unrolled my sleeping bag close to the fire and, feeling as happy as I had ever been, watched the embers slowly fade as the stars began to drip down from the Namibian night sky.
It was at this point that my imagination took over and - as you know - once a seed is sown it can do little but grow. These footsteps must be the ghosts of the German soldiers who had died making the road. I clutched rather pointlessly onto my Swiss Amy knife, feeling utterly helpless. It was then that the Blair Witch project simply popped into my head. As hard as I tried I couldn't shift it, and found myself instead running through the entire film, scene by scene.
The footsteps quietened and then returned, circling me slowly in the darkness. This continued all night. I held out until 4:00 am, unable to grab so much as a wink of sleep. It was still dark, but I could stand it no more. During a quiet spell I packed up as quickly and quietly as possible, and marched out with something of a spring in my step, conscious that at least I was doing something rather than waiting for something to happen.
I arrived back at the farmhouse as the sun rose, just in time for coffee. Sheepishly, I told the farmer's wife of my ordeal and then noticed she was laughing.
“Oh, so you met the aardvark then? They sound just like humans, don't they?”
About the Author
Following an interesting if questionable early career of working in morgues and nudist clubs in Europe, Simon spent several years doing what everyone dreams of - pig farming in Vietnam. Returning to London, Simon spent time putting together a start-up social business, before moving on once again and finally his way to a more permanent home in Senegal. Visit www.simonfenton.blogspot.com to read more about Simon's global adventures and life in western Africa.