|Image by Ken McMillan Licensed under CC-BY|
It’s something a lot of us experience every day in one form or another. Fear is something we have for a reason. It protects us from harm, helps us to think forward, and ultimately (in a healthy situation) pushes us forwards through difficult times. True, many see fear in a negative light, if only because it’s so closely related to stress. But, I want to take a little dip into the good kind of fear, and why I’m so fascinated with it. It has a lot to do with my creative work, doesn’t it?
With plenty of exceptions, fear is something we become accustomed to as a child. When many of us were younger, we feared something that’s now considered irrational. The monster hiding in the closet. The cellar creep. That thing that hides in the dark corners of Grampy’s barn. Fear is a vivid experience at a young age, or at least, it was for me. I can’t be sure, but I think the first frightening story I ever heard was the classic “Jack and the Beanstalk“ fairy tale. I was so young, I couldn’t tell you much about it, except the giant terrified me. The part in which jack narrowly escapes the giant as he rushes down the beanstalk held me so tight in suspense, and I loved it! At that age though, the fear aspect of it never stuck with me. By the end of the whole story, little me could go to bed safely with the knowledge that Jack and his family lived happily ever after. My attitude changed though.
When I was only a couple years into gradeschool, we moved house. In turn, I was thrown into a fresh environment, where everything seemed big and new. Around Halloween time, our teacher pulled out a book that would soon become the start of my inspiration: “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.“ I remember she read us the story “Clinkity-Clink,“ and although I wasn’t too happy about the sudden jump-scare, I found myself pulled in. I wanted more. That very night my parents took me to the library, where I checked out all three books (and plenty of others, like John Bellairs, Goosebumps, pretty much the whole folklore section.)
Unlike Jack and the Beanstalk though, my experience with these books weren’t so positive. I remember and waking up in the middle of the night crying, unable to get Stephen Gammell’s haunting illustrations out of my mind’s eye, the stories constantly running through my head. But, I got over it. Well, maybe. The sad truth is, that those books still frighten me to this day. Whenever I get an itch to look them over again, they take me back to when I was a child. Had I read them for the first time now, I probably wouldn’t have had the same reaction. It’s like the fear stayed with me, though. The intense feelings burned themselves into my mind, and they reappear when the memories return.
So, why did I continue on? Why didn’t I stop there, overwhelmed by the feelings of fear and unpleasant-ness? It’s not the easiest question for me to answer. To make things simple though, I just loved it! The comfort of reading a great story under a warm blanket by the small glow of a lamp was enjoyable for me. Even if I was irrationally afraid and jumpy for the rest of the night. The most frightening stories ended up being the most enjoyable, because of the strong emotional connection that bridged off of the page. I couldn’t get enough.
Later on I found Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, and many of the authors who continue to inspire me with their work. Then, after all of that, I found a giant user-submitted collection of horror stories online, which I later knew by the name “CreepyPasta.“ The world of horror never seems to end, and it’s something I hope continues to mature, develop, and branch off into whole new territories of fear. It’s truly exciting.
But at the end of the day, why do I search? Why have I always stuck with this, and for so long? What keeps me coming back? It isn’t an easy answer, but I suppose it’s how you look at it. Those feeling I felt all those years ago, back when I was in grade school... I miss them. It’s not every day that you can experience something like that: the joy of reading a great scary story for the first time. But I’m always looking. In the books I read, the stories I find online, I’m a fisherman looking for a catch. What will be the next story that truly gets under my skin, just like those far off days?
So that’s why with every story I write, every recording I produce, every project I take on, I only have one goal in mind: to give you that same rush of fear I felt. I want to take you back to a time where everything was big and new, and bring forth that first terrifying encounter you had with fear. A time when there was a monster in the closet. A cellar creep. That thing hiding in Grampy’s barn. It’s the push that keeps me searching endlessly, and at odd hours of the night when no one is awake to hear you scream.
Sweet dreams, fellow reader.
Or at least... If you can manage to sleep...