Scaring Ourselves Silly – Finding the Fright on Halloween

no-longer-1210947When I was a kid, about 12 or 13, I bought an anthology of horror stories at the used book store. While I don’t remember which author scared the pants off of me, I VIVIDLY remember reading his or her story. It involved a couple of hapless teens (of course) who strayed into the woods and got lost (naturally) and came upon a creepy old house (expecting something else?). Though the set-up was rather formulaic, it felt fresh to this middle schooler. The author then described the ill-fated sleepover on the floor of the creepy old house, despite numerous warnings by the caretaker. A “frog man,” it seemed, haunted the property.

Undeterred, the kids settled down in their sleeping bags and drifted off. Within minutes, strange wet burps and slurps woke them. Since the house had no power, the teens had to rely on their flashlights. These white circles of light caught the outline of a hideous, slimy monster that limped out of view–The Frog Man. Horrified, the kids zipped themselves in their sleeping bags, hoping the ripstop nylon would save them. Fat chance, I thought at the time. As the main character huddled in his sleeping bag, he shivered with terror at the sound of dragging, dragging, dragging… When the house grew quiet, he slowly unzipped his sleeping bag to check on his buddy, and of course, the sleeping bag and his friend were gone. Before the kid could run, the Frog Man came back for seconds, snatching the end of his sleeping bag and dragging it away.

It sounds a little silly when I tell it. But the story stuck with me, and I was hooked. After that, I turned to Stephen King and never looked back.

Now, as an adult and as a writer, I’ve tried to analyze what was so darned scary about the Frog Man story. It wasn’t graphically violent. No death was ever described. Yep, it was the wondering that got me. Will the main character become frog fodder or not? The human imagination is a powerful place and can conjure up the worst horrors imaginable, tailor made for the thinker. So when I tried my hand at horror, I wrote it like I like to read it–more suspense, less gore. I do describe the violence, but it’s the story before the violence that provides the chills.

Think about the movie Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock. Only two people are killed, and the murders aren’t shown in much detail. The audience is allowed only a glimpse. But it’s still one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. For most of the film, we’re wondering and waiting, on the edge of our seats. Now that’s horror. The super-slasher stuff, to me, goes too far. It desensitizes us to the violence, and when our senses are overloaded with it, the scare-factor lessens.

This year, I read a few short stories by Edgar Allen Poe–“Metzengerstein” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I’m also currently reading Dr. Mutter’s Marvels, the real-life story of the guy behind the super creepy Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. But even after Halloween is in my rearview mirror, I’ll still be reaching for mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and well-written horror. I’ve always been more Aadam’s Family and less Leave It To Beaver, if you know what I mean.

lethal loreIf you’re looking for a last-minute read for for the spookiest day of the year, head over to Amazon and take a look at my new collection–Lethal Lore: Four Twisted Myths. Here’s the synopsis:

Lethal Lore has all of the shivers but half the gore of traditional horror. Ripped from the past, these sinister tales are the battered, broken remains of legend, recast in blood.

Killer Jack
A naïve Cajun bags more than he bargained for during a jackalope hunt in this campy horror romp.

Simple Math
In this sci-fi nail-biter, a man on the brink of suicide meets his doppelgänger, doubling his troubles.

Hell Cent
See a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have murder and mayhem in this psychological thriller.

The Bells of Bury St. Edmunds
Lock your doors and hide your knives for this gothic retelling of The Green Children of Woolpit.

BONUS CONTENT: Explore the lore with facts, links, and illustrations!

Because I’m a nerd, I also included a brief exploration of each legend (with supporting links) after each story. Oh, and if you haven’t heard about the Green Children of Woolpit, I urge you to find out more. When I read about them, it sparked my last story, “The Bells of Bury St. Edmunds.” The concept was too irrisistible to pass up. But, you know, my retelling has a bodycount.

Whatever you’re reading this Halloween, I hope it scares you silly!


Your turn, dear reader.  What are some of your favorite Halloween reads?


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