song in my head — “Pyramids of Salt” by The Wonder Years
For better or worse, I've always loved scary stories. Creepy things colored my childhood. Whether it was Goosebumps, Edgar Allen Poe, or Stephen King, I was fascinated by tales of the strange and macabre.
But few things impacted me as much as Alvin Schwartz's folkloric series, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark; greater still were the nightmare echoes that came with it in the form of Stephen Gammell's illustrations. These penciled depictions of worlds and scenes on the edges of our sanity instantly captured my imagination. The first things I ever remember writing fought to ape the feelings Gammell's illustrations gave me. And everything since has held shadows of those formative midnight mirages.
When I say I'm a horror fan, it often gets a somewhat confused reaction (especially if the reacting party knows that I'm a Christian.) The idea of enjoying scary and often "dark" things doesn't tend to vibe with the picture of a relatively positive, "normal" person like myself. I'm not wearing black makeup and listen to metal, after all. (Well, at least not today.)
But these are the assumptions of an outsider, the pictures painted by people who aren't in the know. Most typical horror fans will attest to being part of a tribe made up of mostly uber-sensitive creative-types, people who feel a little harder than the average lot or maybe see the world a little differently, maybe feel a little like outcasts. Most of us aren't odd or morbid people; we just find great fascination—comfort, even—among strange and sometimes morbid things.
Not every horror story out there is my bag. I'm not big on the slasher subgenre, and I tend to steer clear of needless gore and nudity. I prefer supernatural things (ghost stories, possessions, etc.); really bizarre or imaginative tales (anything by Guillermo del Toro); emotionally resonate stories with high tension and strong characters (something like Karyn Kusama's The Invitation.) "Slow burn" fare, as the kids call it, is my catnip. But everyone who likes being scared likes it for their own reasons, and those reasons kind of unite us in despite—or maybe because—of their divergency.
You see, I think there are two kinds of people in the world: those that avoid fear and darkness at all costs, and those who search it out. We're thrill-seekers of a type, people looking for that shiver down the spine. But consider that some of us might be looking for something more than cheap thrills. Perhaps we're searching for answers to questions, understandings on grief and terror and the traumas experienced in the actual, real world. Maybe we're looking to be surprised and transported. Or perhaps we just want to find something unique, something we haven't seen before. In that way, we're not that different from anyone else who likes books and movies and television. We're all looking for a story that sparks our senses and makes us feel.
When I'm in the basement, and it's dark, and the wind is howling outside, and a shadow moves across the corner of my vision, I turn to look at it, secretly hoping something might stir. Because at the end of the day, I want to be stirred. I want to feel bewilderment, breathlessness, to feel like a kid again.
Show me something magical, even if it's scary.