I was reading a thread on Litreactor in which the original poster asked for the scariest stories that we (the reading public) have ever read.
Ever’s an awfully vague term, but I was more than happy to chime in with a few recommendations that long-time readers of this blog wouldn’t be surprised to hear. (Those being Adam Golaski’s “The Animator’s House” and Robert Shearman’s “Bedtime Stories for Yasmin”, as well as the usual plug for Shadows and Tall Trees, which has a new issue available!)
However, most of the posters responded along the lines of, “I don’t get scared by stories.” And that, I think, is a damn shame. Because I sure as hell do. And while I like to think that maybe it’s because I have good taste and pick the creme-de-la-creepy, it might also be that I’m a bit more willing to let myself be scared.
I think that this feeling, being terrified by literature, might be akin to participating in stage hypnosis. If you think it won’t work, then it probably won’t, and you’re just wasting your time (unless you’re getting some sort of aesthetic enjoyment from the stage patter, which isn’t completely unlikely). Or maybe, instead, it’s more like a wine (or scotch) tasting. You have to be prepared to sip the terror in, to hold it in your mouth and let it open. It takes a mindset where you start to recognize and name the tastes, classifying them as your palate becomes more accustomed these rare bouquets.
Just like there’s no “saddle leather” in your wine, no real caramel in your scotch, there’s no real terror in written words. But what is there are the esters, the elements, the particles that stimulate the reader’s tastebuds for the weird and uncanny. And then, after learning to recognize those tastes of the strange and the spooky, you can let yourself become terrified.
When I’m reading and I feel that first prickle on my neck, that first swelling behind my temples, that first involuntary shudder, I savor it. I relax and encourage it to catch and ripple, spreading goosebumps and shivers and those other savory, physiological indicia of fright. I want to be scared by what I read and I attune myself to those stirrings so that I can let them build and wash over me. Like any good spirit, it gives me a buzz and, in moderation, makes the world seem a little sharper and stranger after I’ve had a bit.
Actually, the whole point of this was that I was going to say that I read fewer horror stories when I’m alone and now that my wife is out of the town for a few days, I’ve stopped reading them until she gets back.
But that’s not true.
I just let the dog sleep on the side of the bed closer to the closet.