Friday, October 09, 2009

Things That Go Bump In The Night

from Jacqueline

A few years ago I bought a thumping great book on the subject of “Fear.” I was working on my fifth novel, An Incomplete Revenge, and wanted to really get to grips with the subject of fear, and its ally, violence. Scared people are known for doing things that, in the normal course of events, they might not do. Scared people en masse can be a force of madness to be reckoned with. Then, of course, there are the fears we encounter in everyday life. Most of the time we just get on with it, try to ignore something fearful as if it were a bump in the road, and continue with life. Other times fear can be debilitating. Writers of mysteries, thrillers, suspense and tales of horror deal in the business of fear, to a greater or lesser extent. I am one of those people who just cannot read horror stories or watch horror movies – they really do a number on me and I don’t sleep for weeks. But just lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, about the things that scare me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve probably been among the walking scared my whole life!

I’m still a bit scared of the dark. Not to the extent that I’ll leave all the lights on, but if I’m alone in the house, I definitely hear every creak, every whine in the rafters. When I was a kid, I remember my brother and I squealing from the bedroom we shared – we were convinced there was a ghost in the room. Dad walked into the room, the voice of calm. “Look at it this way – would you want to live with this family? You mark my words, the ghosts moved out when we moved in. You won’t find any self-respecting ghost in this house.” And of course, he was right.

When I was a child my mother would tell us stories about the Blitz, about how when she was a girl, the family were bombed out of one house after another. She’s a graphic storyteller, my mother, and those dark tales took root in my imagination and self-propagated like weeds . Our house was only a few miles from a small airfield, and at night you could often hear a solitary ‘plane making its way back to base, the distinctive rumble of propeller-driven engines coming ever-closer. In the darkness I would be close to tears, because I was convinced it was a bomber and that we would all be dead by morning. Except, when morning came, I would wake up under my bed, the place of safely to which I had retreated when I couldn’t stand the noise any more. The funny thing is, I could never get enough of those stories.

Snakes. I am really scared of snakes. And snakes seem to find me. My friend, Kas, says that she knows that if she’s hiking with me there will always be a snake on the path at some point. Oh, deep, deep joy. Last week – and for the life of me, I cannot remember where or with whom this discussion took place – at one point the topic of conversation was about people who buy snakes and other exotic reptiles, but when these pets get too big to handle, they throw them down the drain, so they end up in the sewers. And then of course we talked about those cases of people who go to the bathroom, only to find a 15ft python in the toilet bowl. Try getting rid of that with Lysol. So yes, I am scared of bathrooms in tropical places, especially when it’s dark.

I’m scared when the ’phone rings in the middle of the night. Me and tens of thousands of others. The ’phone in the middle of the night is not a good thing, though the last time it happened, it was my cousin John in Australia, who had managed to miscalculate the time difference. I was so relieved I spent over an hour talking to him.

When I was younger, I used to do things because they scared me, a sort of “feel the fear and do it anyway” thing. I think I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t a wimp. Of course, being older and wiser, I don’t jump from great heights with parachutes, crash rally cars and that sort of thing any more. Looking back at this post, I’ve realized that most of these fears could be seen as something of an indulgence – though perfectly human, in their way – when set against the fearful existence that amounts to everyday life in Darfur, Afghanistan or Iraq; or when one takes into account the fear that grips someone who has just had an accident and has no medical insurance, or who stands to lose a house or a job. But fear is fear, an emotion, one of the many things that makes us who we are.

So, that being said – what scares you? Go on, tell us. Talking about fear is the equivalent of turning the light on in a dark room - and believe me, there are no ghosts lurking in the Naked Authors cupboard. They moved out when we moved in!

PS: Another one of my dad's sayings, on those occasions when we were scared, was, "You don't want to worry about the dead - they're gone, they can't hurt you. It's the living you've got to watch!"


  1. Love the ghost picture.

    I had to think about your question because I'm not aware of having any fear at the moment. A few years ago, eight people I knew died in one year. After that, I adopted an "it is what it is" philosophy. Maybe I'm just a fatalist.

  2. from Jacqueline

    Patty - I've been working on the "it is what it is." In fact, that was what I was going to write about today, but changed my mind at the last minute. Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend about my horse, Sara, and her latest injury, and I said, "One thing you learn about horses, people and life - it is what it is." And you go from there.

    But eight people in one year? Oh, dear me, Patty.

  3. I'm pretty good at handling fear. I've had a few close calls and still managed to hold my wits about me and act. It's very reassuring to be tested and respond the way you'd hoped you would.

    That said, nothing scares me more than living too long, dependent, in pain, broke and infirm.

  4. I really wasn't aware of any particular fear until I went through two hurricanes within three weeks. Now, I know that I am very afraid of hurricanes. Who knew??

  5. How about reliving the Newport past?
    Now that scary!

  6. Spiders used to give me nightmares. Charlotte's Web had me leaping out of bed in terror.

    I'm getting better now.

    Now the thought of being trapped, helpless in my own body is a huge fear.

    Although I'm developing a fear of being assaulted by a mob, considering the fact that I'm openly gay and factoring in the current level of incivility and hostility being applauded by the wingnut sections.

    That one, I hope, is to be a fleeting fear.

  7. from Jacqueline

    Oh dear, these comment have had me thinking, "Maybe I should be afraid of that - I mean, if they're scared, well ...."

  8. .....well jackie, you asked for it, now deal with it!

    there are many fears we encounter throughout our lives. my fear of crowded places has been with me all my life. i think for most of us fear of the elements is another one. landslides, floods, quakes, tsunamis, fires, you name it. and, like fran, being beaten up by a bunch of imbeciles.

    love your dads remark about ghosts!