Putting a child into a fight or flight scenario is going to unnerve the reader from the start and create tension. Michael Frayn introduces the darker side of Steven and Keith’s spying in chapter 6, whereby Steven has to take up the task of obtaining evidence to support their suspicions. It is Steven who is assigned to the after dark duty. It’s his eyes and ears that Frayn uses to transpose tension to us the reluctant voyeurs. We the audience are first introduced to Steven’s visions of the “darkness”, defined by its “blackness” and “sound”. We see nothing and feel our way along with Steven through his task reluctantly. Steven’s senses are heightened and are more apparent because he is a child and vulnerable, as he mentioned before he commenced his journey, “I shall die of fear”. We along with Steven want the “moon to lighten the world”, and bring him comfort, but this event will only bring him more fear when it does occur. Frayn does the unthinkable by putting a young boy out in the dark when there is a war on. Bombs have already been dropped sporadically close to where Steven lives and a neighbour has been killed adding more apprehension to this precarious escapade of Stevens.
The world now in its new form is ethereal, as the “nocturnal creatures” seek refuge from Steven’s “panicky breathing”, adding more fuel to the unease of this chapter. Steven tries to use his common sense to justify the “Stirring of leaves”, which during the day pass without reference, but at night seem to be alive with spirits? Is there someone in the trees? Is there something waiting to pounce on Steven? Theses are possibilities that must enter Stevens mind. Every sound drives fear into Steven.. Even the “murmurs of the telegraph wires” at first play Russian roulette with Steven’s nerves until he comforts himself with the fact he has heard them before. The possibility of some kind of protagonist out there with Steven is forced upon us by Frayn, creating more suspense and atmosphere. The author’s use of short and abrupt sentences leaves us hanging on tender hooks for a good conclusion to this young boy’s adventurous outing. All the tools we associate with a Horror Movie are there in a subtle format, initiating the power of suggestion via sound, vision and Steven’s imagination.
Frayn introduces a mysterious box, which is a device to create more anxiety for us the reader. We know Steven has been searching for evidence, and of course like all curious children will want to know what’s in it. It may not be Pandora’s box, but could have just the same level of devastation in the wrong hands. When Steven opens the box, he hesitates, but still puts his hand “cautiously inside”, and then pulls his “hand away” quickly, leaving us with the idea that something has hurt Steven. No adult would do such a thing, but children are reckless and this will always fuel the outcomes uncertainty in this novel. When the “darkness” changes and Steven begs for the moons little eclipses of light we feel his desperation, “at any moment” the moon will reveal itself along with a lot of other things. Frayn has exposed Steven’s naivety through his hope of light, which will only bring a cold kind of comfort. When Steven becomes aware of the “sound of the world changing” he identifies it has his own breathing that “no longer corresponds”. We know at an instant what this means: Steven holds his breath to stop breathing, and in the process reveals another presence. His fear has become a reality, as the “sound of breathing continues” . This is an intense experience that the reader can automatically identify with.
We would like to hope all theses sudden surprises would stop there, but to drive the fear stake into us more Frayn is going to introduce the ‘protagonist’. to spur on Steven’s fear; “some one is a few feet” away from me, Steven states, he or she ” has come silently up through the fence” . To fragment the situation even more, Frayn uses Steven’s senses as a tool to make us, the reader aware of every action the mystery person takes. The intruder has stopped to “listen”, Steven is “listening” acutely. He is aware that the other’s breathing is that of a man, as he can “hear the Size of him”. Steven’s fear gets more meticulous, as he knows “There’s someone very close behind”, and his biggest fear is of the intruders “hands as they reach” out to touch him. Although it is mostly Steven’s imagination causing us distress, and nothing has really happened to warrant any badness yet. Frayn mostly suggests possible outcomes, which draws us into the plot deeper.
When Steven describes ” the agonising electric cold-ness passing through” his back we jump to the notion of some kind of physical penetration, like a knife or other weapon of similar merit wounding Steven, but alas it’s just Steven’ imagination assuming the enemies “hands” are going to grab him. However, when the “darkness dissolves in a flood of moonlight”, we really wish it wouldn’t, as the other being will be revealed to Steven and vice-versa. The story has climaxed at this point. Steven and the intruder have realised each others presence, which has ended in a “raucous gasp” . Both are still, motionless and breathless, but Steven will not turn to look, as you don’t when you are in a dreadful nightmare with a “terrible figure behind you,”, Frayn has played the horror card well, as Steven’s fears have reached new heights. Steven’s wish for light has backfired, and now he wishes the moon to go behind the clouds again so he may be camouflaged. When this does finally happen the intruder scuttles away through the “wire fence” and into the “lanes”. Frayn explains Stevens fear, as too severe to initiate any movement, he is as, “immobile as stone”, and still racked with fear. We have a vision of Steven shaking, sweating and paler than white, but still able to take flight. We feel the dread of Steven’s experience and are glad that Frayn’s intruder flees, as Steven now can “hurl” himself into the tunnel he is familiar with all the fear attached, as he goes into the unknown again, or “booming darkness”.