You’ll Float, Too

It’s a beautiful day for horror writing: thunder is booming outside and the wind is whipping the branches into my office window. The sky is grey and it looks like dusk at 1 PM. It’s cold, for spring, and it sounds like winter.

When I looked out at the street I saw a small river rushing down the gutter…

I think I’ll stay inside today.

Fuck Basements.

I don’t think there’s a scarier place in any home than a basement. (Except possibly a dark hallway. Or the back porch when the motion light comes on and you fully expect there to be a serial killer, knife upraised, on the other side of the glass…waiting for you.)

One of the scariest experiences I had as a kid was the time I went into the basement laundry room. I don’t remember what I was going in there for, but when I got inside I saw what I was certain was a dead body hanging from the rafters. It was life-sized, it swayed a little, and it was right in front of me. I remember my lungs froze and I couldn’t move, and my eyes slowwwwwwly worked their way up the corpse to realize…

…it was my Dad’s coverall, drying from him having worn it to shovel the driveway.

Even once I knew what it was, the terror took a few moments to subside; and while I tried to remember how to breathe, I kept watch, expecting it to reach out and touch my shoulder.

I think now, as a horror writer, that if I can scare one person the way that suit scared me, I’ll have told a story the right way.

creator unknown

Real Life Horror: Devil’s Breath

Scopolamine comes from Columbia. Known on the street as Devil’s Breath, this drug literally grows on trees. According to this Vice documentary, the merest whiff of this stuff causes you to become a living zombie, seemingly coherent but highly suggestible. It can be slipped in your drink, blown in your face, or spread by skin contact. Victims empty their own bank accounts and hand over the cash without the criminals having to do a thing.

Vice went to Columbia with the intention of experimenting with the drug themselves. In the end they were handling the stuff with rubber gloves and face masks, and were glad to be getting the hell out of there. Truly frightening stuff.

Why We Need Horror

I’ve heard it said again and again: why would someone want to read horror? With so much bad out there in the world, why would we willingly choose to expose ourselves to the darkness? Why not read a nice, relaxing love story instead? Or turn on a comedy movie?

Those are valid choices, too. Sure they are. Sometimes you want something completely innocuous to fall into.

But sometimes you need the safety of a well-controlled scare. Something that opens your adrenaline taps and lets your imagination run wild. Something that lets your body experience fright, and terror, so you can inoculate yourself against the real boogeymen that lurk in the dark of the bushes outside.

Some women watch sad movies to give them an excuse to cry. They’re feeling sad already, and they know they need to let it out. The movie just gives them a concrete reason to let go. It’s the same with horror: we all have fears, and horror gives us a safe place to push our limits.

We don’t live the tooth-and-nail life of our ancient ancestors anymore, but our bodies are still wired for it. Being scared out of your mind gives you a primal satisfaction afterwards. I lived through it, and I came out stronger.

As far as your brain is concerned, the monsters in horror stories are real, and they’re threatening your very existence. Right. Now. Your mind fills in the blanks the story leaves, and suddenly you can feel the hot breath of some horrifying creature on the back of your neck.

It’s why we ride rollercoasters. It’s why we take risks, some less safe than others. But no matter how scared we get by horror, there’s still the safety of knowing it won’t happen.

Probably.

Though, come to mention it, I think I hear a scratching at the door.