I was living in a small apartment many years ago. It was probably 2 a.m. or so. In my shower, next to my bedroom, was a very cheaply-made shower caddy. You know, one of those little baskets that holds your soap, shampoo, beer, assorted whatnot. Anywhoodle, around 2 a.m., the caddy fell from its spot thanks to shoddy adhesives and landed with a loud bang.
Now, that kind of noise in the middle of the night may normally cause one to awaken with a start. I, however, was out of bed, on my feet, and screaming like Janet Leigh in a hotel shower. Why? Because I was reading Stephen King’s Desperation and went to sleep after reading one of the scariest parts of a truly terrifying book. That is why I love horror.
Reading a good horror novel, be it King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, et. al., has always made me feel like a little kid. There is a certain joy in the kind of irrational terror this particular genre provides. That child-like fear of the boogie man, the cheap scare one gets during a campfire story, your wife coming home to find you trying on her wedding dress, all part of the thrill of being scared.
The particular scene in Desperation featured the supernatural villain walking slowly up the stairs to the cell where our protagonists are being held. They know there was no chance for mercy. They can hear him coming, step by agonizing step. The terror and apprehension building to a crescendo until he bursts through the door and all hell breaks loose.
A great horror story isn’t so much in the terrible event itself; it’s in the build up. King possibly more than any other has the ability to take a reader to the breaking point in his stories, where the tension has reached the maximum, and then unleash the worst thing imaginable on the last person you want to see die a horrible, painful death. The beauty of King, my first true horror muse, is that you rarely see the bait-and-switch. Not only does he deliver on the implied promise of terror, but it tends to happen quick and happens to someone he makes you bond with and love. And that’s just the first five pages of the book.
Unlike some, I don’t need a happy ending. In fact, I tend to see a finale where the villain wins as more realistic. Sometimes, the good guy doesn’t win and the damsel in distress not only isn’t saved, but is eaten by the dragon as the evil wizard drinks a vintage Cabernet out of the skull of the fair princess’s would-be hero. Knowing the bad guy is still out there, somewhere, maybe beneath your window, watching, waiting, only heightens the sense of dread and foreboding. Seriously, what’s scarier: knowing the monster has been killed or the heroes turning their back on the vanquished beast and as they leave, the foul being opens his eyes as the book ends?
I was raised on horror, both in literature and in movies. My parents loved scary movies and my mom introduced me to scary books at a young age. Which might explain a lot. No matter what I read, whether it’s young adult, sci-fi/fantasy, biographies, historical literature, whatever, there is always going to be a special place in my heart for the things that go bump in the night, when the house is dark and the storm is getting worse.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to turn some lights on and call my mommy. Not because I’m scared or anything…