Earlier today, someone I haven’t spoken actual words to for the last sixteen years messaged me on Facebook to ask if I remembered the title of a “very scary, very adult” book we read in grade school (edited to add: not for an assignment, obviously). It was about a family and a haunted house, and it was a weird question, but did I remember it?
Most people would probably ignore this question, or reply in the negative because who remembers that kind of stuff?
The answer is Me. I remember that kind of stuff.
I replied “Oh yeah,” and told her the title of the book, a brief description of the plot (because I wanted to make sure it was the book she was talking about, and if you’re wondering it was about a teenage boy becoming possessed and turning into a necrophiliac schizophrenic I mean my god) and admitted that I could be wrong/she could be more specific because in hindsight, I read some really fucked up things when I was younger.
Any time I get confused about why people do things like jump out of planes, swim with sharks, or watch the Vice Guide to anywhere, I remember that while Adult Me is fairly staid and approaches situations with calm and logic, Child Me was a fucking crazy person who regularly did things that scared her. By “did” I mean “read,” because with the exception of some Judy Blume novels and a few half-hearted cracks at the entire Encyclopedia (World Book and I failed, so don’t get too excited), I read almost exclusively about sex and ghosts. And both of those things scared the shit out of me.
When I think back to all of the nights I spent lying in the dark, rigid with fear and anxiety, I marvel at how I managed to survive into adulthood, and also I wonder if I should get my heart checked because surely it was weakened by this sort of behavior. Every scary story I ever read was imprinted in my brain, and while the ghosts were way more disturbing than the sex, I was occasionally kept awake by an upsetting description from a sheaf of pages from a porn novel someone found in an alley once, because for some reason the brand-new-to-my-brain phrase “big hard cock” spooked me so bad I felt nauseous whenever I thought about it.
Scary fiction was okay but I was really into the “true” ghost stories, and I have no idea why because they terrified me enough that I actually consulted the map to learn how far away each of these places was from St. Louis. It must have been all of those years reading those stories in my parents’ and grandparents’ houses, because these days, whenever I have a nightmare about ghosts or the Devil or just plain evil, it always takes place there.
Of course, the villains have changed since I was a kid. Back then, they were visceral, flesh-and-blood creatures. They had shape and voice. Back then I woke up screaming and covered in sweat, seemingly oblivious to or uncaring that the stuff my brain was devouring every day was contributing to my issues. Now, though, my nightmares are subtler. More insidious. I’m aware that something isn’t right and I have to get out of there, but instead of a physical being doing the scaring, it’s something like a gradually-falling darkness that devours the house and the people within it, and it always starts from the crawlspace in my old attic bedroom.
Last night, I woke up with my heart thudding because of another darkness dream. In addition to sort-of-dating Matt Damon (I know) who had a Vietnamese daughter (because sure), we were all in my parents’ house and the little girl was trapped in one of the closets. I managed to pull her out just as I saw the darkness coming, so we ran down the stairs and out the door, noticing that my family had been mostly eaten up by the black and being hugely relieved to escape (with my old dogs, who are both dead now but whatever). Usually getting out of the house stops the danger, but this time the rest of the world started going black, too, and the few remaining lights fizzled out like embers.
“We’re the only ones left,” I said to my sort-of-boyfriend Matt Damon. “It ate up everyone else in the world.”
And the very last light was some kid’s high top sneaker, falling from the sky and smoldering from the inside.
This is what scares me these days for whatever reason. I’m too old and too smart to be scared by (most) stories and movies anymore, and the queasiness I still feel when I remember some of the lines from the book mentioned in the Facebook mentioned is so minimal that it barely registers.
…I also read a lot of Sideways Stories from Wayside School. You guys remember that shit? It was great. Also kind of scary, actually.