Urban folklore, the campfire yarn, creepypasta – this evening I was looking up some of my favorite tales and thinking about what devices they share. Like the infamous story of the couple at Lovers’ Lane and the hook-handed maniac, all of my favorite stories have that end reveal which shows you (and the protagonist, if they’re still alive) that you were all in the company of stark horror without realizing it.
The caller’s inside the house! The killer was in the backseat the whole time! Stories in the vein of “The Hook” or “The Roommate’s Death” generally target young adults, either as cautionary tales or as expressions of a soon-to-be grownup’s fear of the “real world.” No doubt Jan Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker breaks down the emergence of these tales, as well as those of preceding generations. Being me, I’m more preoccupied with why these particular stories still get under my skin so much – so much so that, if I’m honest, sometimes after reading one I’m reluctant to navigate the darkness from my office to my bedroom. My flesh crawls at the thought of some wraith or madman seizing me from out of nowhere and yet I still read the damn things – and I have a goddamn three-foot undead clown in my bedroom. No shit. Just occurred to me as I’m writing this. What in God’s name did I ever do to me to deserve this treatment?
So I love the stories because some part of me loves being scared. That’s clear. They serve as my amusement park rides because I’ll be fucked in a diamond dress if you ever catch me on a Tilt-a-Whirl or Magic Carpet again. But I’m almost thirty-two and these are still the ones that get me. What gives? No children over whose naiveté I need to fret. And I’m a night owl, and a lone wolf, among other animals, so why dread the same two-A.M. silence I so enjoy when writing my own tales?
Maybe that’s why I write at night, and horror at that. To master these terrible little zingers, to beat them with some of my own. My Harvest Cycle flash in Slices of Flesh is a good example of the devices the aforementioned tales employ. Still doesn’t explain why they bother me so. I think I’m writing this post backwards.
Oh. Oh, wait.
It’s because I still haven’t grown up. Because I refuse to (see three-foot clown). Because I’m still not entirely comfortable in my own skin or the world surrounding it.
Well, good. If I can’t remind myself now and again what it feels like to be terrified of the dark, I ought not be writing about what lives there.