Spooky times

So, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but did you guys realize what today is?  It’s Friday the 13th.  And in case you haven’t heard, the world is also ending next weekend.  I had assumed the Mayan calendar/2012 stuff was nonsense, but I didn’t realize it was because we’re actually not making it out of 2011.

Still, you’ve got a week left for reading, and you might as well get yourself in the spirit of things with something really creepy and unsettling.  For me, I can go for a good horror schlockfest now and again, but don’t tend to find them genuinely frightening.  More campy, nauseating fun.  I usually find psychological horror and real life situations most intensely disturbing, but they tend to keep me up at night contemplating rather than willing sleep to come while refusing to close my eyes.

I wasn’t always that way, though.  The scariest book moments I can recall are all from my childhood.  I grew up in a somewhat creaky 100-year-old house, so hauntings were a particular source of terror.

I once made the mistake of starting to read Robert Bloch’s Psycho, on which the film was based, while idly flipping through bookshelves when I was reasonably young.  I didn’t make it very far, if I remember correctly, because I was too creeped out—I think mostly by the idea of reading something I knew was scary—and not kid’s stuff scary.  Real adult scary.  I had dreams for a while after that that related somehow to Psycho, even though I’m reasonably certain that I still had no idea what happened in the story.  The dreams made no sense, as dreams are wont to do, but I distinctly remember that Psycho was the name of the bad guy I was afraid of and at one point he morphed into a sneaker.  Sounds funny and non-threatening now, but does it help to know he was a man-sized sneaker?  A man-sized sneaker who was chasing me around a really old house?  No, probably not.  At any rate, I still have never seen the film (I know!) or read the book, because I’m a tad traumatized.  I suspect sneakers are not a part of it.

Actually, as a child, I was both a total chicken and completely unwilling to accept that.  I used to read and re-read and re-read this big non-fiction picture book of notorious crimes, even though it gave me nightmares.  If I caught a glimpse of it on the shelf in the living room, I sort of had to look at it, because I was worried there was something I might not know I should be worried about yet.  (Knowing is half the battle?)  This meant, of course, that I grew up afraid not of being murdered, but of specific dead murderers.  I recall my mother explaining that I had no reason to be afraid of Jack the Ripper, even though they hadn’t caught him, because he’d have died in the meantime.  I don’t think it helped—what if he’d lived to be really, really, really old?  People can live to be 100, you know.  And some people are still very spry at that age.  I’m pretty sure I thought that fleeing to America and hiding out in the suburbs would have been a very good way to avoid getting caught.  I think I was still too young for my mother to also explain that I would have been fine anyway, seeing as I wasn’t a hooker.  I was also afraid of Lizzie Borden, Burke & Hare, and just the general possibility that I might own something that was secretly made out of human skin.  Sometimes I’d read the part about the Great Train Robbery last, as a sort of freak-out palate cleanser, because it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as the prospect that famous historical murderers were actually secretly still alive and coming to get me.

But the book that hands down wins the prize for terrifying me so much that I couldn’t cope with sleeping with the lights out and contemplated moving all my dolls so I couldn’t see them from my bed was a short story collection called Thirteen.  It featured the big name kiddie horror novelists (Christopher Pike, RL Stine, Caroline B. Cooney) and a bunch of others, and some of the stories still would probably creep me out if I read them today.  I read a lot of the works by the major authors in the collection, generally.  I was a devoted Christopher Pike fan for years, though I remember being sort of unimpressed with the story in this collection.  “Lucinda” by Lael Littke and “The Doll” by Carol Ellis were the two that really clinched the sleepless nights for me.

So what are your top scary moments in books?  And do the most terrifying still make a lasting impression on you if you read them today, or is that “cannot possibly sleep” feeling a remnant of your childhood?

8 Responses to Spooky times

  1. Darn, the apocalypse is next week and I forgot. I was hoping to finish my current novel by then, since it has its own apocalypse. I’m close, but not that close. Ahh well.

    I had this baby-sitter until I was about four who would watch horror movies all the time. She must have thought we wouldn’t absorb them or something. Most of the scary images I got in childhood were from movies as a result; I don’t remember any of their names, but I still remember this one where a girl went into her parents’ bedroom, stabbed her mother in the forehead, and then (I think) killed her father. Anyway, because I was so used to being visually scared, it was really hard for me to be scared of books as a kid, because the images were safely tucked between pages (for me). I found the Goosebumps/Fear Street series more interesting and silly than scaring. (I think I remember Thirteen, actually.) When I got a little older I liked being creeped out by Poe, but books never really kept me up out of fear. Gory movies still will, but if I read a gory scene in a book, I’m still able to compartmentalize it; I guess I need to actually *see* something for me to be scared of it in the dark. It’s a little disappointing, really.

    • Lauren says:

      I also usually find scary movies scarier than books, but I think as a kid I had a much better imagination. And was also a huge baby.

  2. Lisa Marie says:

    My first scary reading moment was Vincent Bugliosi’s true crime book “Helter Skelter.” My dad kept every book he ever read. Once Sunday afternoon, he and my mom went to visit friends and let me stay at home alone. I was around 11 or 12 years old, I suppose. I snuck “Helter Skelter” from my dad’s bookcase, because I’d always been curious about it. My parents were careful to make sure that I wasn’t exposed to anything age-inappropriate (this also included movies and television shows), and this book was not for children. When they came home, I was still curled up in my dad’s reading chair. Boy, did I ever catch it from both ends! I didn’t get to finish the book, needless to say, but the knowledge that something as horrific as the Manson murders happened haunted my dreams for a long time. The book was scary because it was true.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Man, I love horror novels. I grew up reading ghost stories. The first truly scary one I can recall was about a little girl who had a ribbon around her neck and when you untied it her head fell off. I think it was made all the more terrifying because her name was Jenny.

    I graduated to Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine, and by the time I was 12 or 13 I had moved on to Stephen King and the like. I remember reading Dean Koontz’s Darkfall late at night and hearing some small little creature scurrying around the attic and being too terrified to sleep. 😉

    Really, though, I just love being scared. I’m almost immune these days, but horror is still one of my favorite genres. I find it more suspenseful and disturbing than frightening, but if I ever found a book that really *did* scare me I’d be thrilled. Joe Hill is one of the best new horror writers I’ve seen and he does such a great job at atmosphere that he’s probably closest to truly scary I’ve read in ages. Love it.

    • Lauren says:

      What is it about that ribbon story that’s so terrifying? As horror stories go, it’s not the worst–I mean, Jenny’s doing OK, right? It’s inconvenient, sure, but she got decapitated and lived! And yet…I distinctly remember finding that story utterly frightening.

  4. Jenni Wiltz says:

    The one that sticks out in my mind is “The House on Hackman Hill” by Joan Lowery Nixon.

    I read it in elementary school, and the night I finished it, I could hardly force myself to walk down the dark hallway to my room alone. I flipped on every light switch from the bathroom to the hallway, knowing I’d get the wasting electricity lecture from my mom the next morning. I didn’t care. I did it anyway.

    I haven’t gone back and re-read the book. Ever. I’m still too creeped out.

  5. When I was in elementary school, I used to read all the ghost stories I could find. I always read well above my level, and one day in Grade 3, I discovered a new book of short stories and began to devour them as usual.

    I can’t remember the name of the book or the name of the story, or even the storyline. All I remember is the vivid mental image of a misshapen undead creature rising from a crypt and scuttling across a dark field. And I’ll never forget the gush of pure, unadulterated terror.

    That was the end of ghost stories for me. It took years before I could see that image in my mind’s eye without feeling the fear. I still don’t read anything in the horror genre. These days, if I want to be scared, I just read the news.

  6. I just found out at my book club today that the world is ending next week. We tentatively scheduled next month’s meeting just in case the billboards in town are wrong.

    I loved scaring myself as a kid–Stephen King was my favorite, and I read Dean Koontz when I got a little older. But what scared me most was a movie I can’t remember the name of, but had the line “Have you checked the children?” My brother once called the number of the house where I was babysitting and said that line. Needless to say, my parents had to come over and calm me down. :)

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