So, two weeks ago, one of my first tasks as a library clerk was to create a new display for the evening book club, reflecting next month’s theme. Since it will be October, the theme is spooky, ghost story, or horror, basically ye old “things that go bump in the night.”
This is one of the few literary genres I tend to avoid at all costs.
I have tried it. And I couldn’t handle it.
At least I am brave enough to admit it.
Unfortunately, seeing as I belong to this book club, I had to choose one of these selections for my own reading. And the covers alone freaked me out.
Here was me arranging the display: “No, no, no, NO, nope, nah, no way…GAH…ehhhh, no, no…Hey, HP Lovecraft, maybe I can do that?…A manga of Edgar Allen Poe? What the heck…No, no, no…”
Just putting up the books almost gave me a heart attack. That’s about how much scare I can take.
But, despite my better judgement, I checked out and actually attempted to read some Stephen King and HP Lovecraft.
Yes, you got that right: Attempted. I am officially throwing in the towel. Wimps R Us.
So be it. I finished Dracula years back. That counts. (Yes, it does, dang it.)
I am not a fan of fictional things that go bump in the night. Maybe it’s because I prefer to have a healthy fear of stuff that does, in fact, bump, and might get us. There is more than enough of that, between rare diseases, crime, natural disasters, and tiny creatures hanging out in your basement. We don’t need to add ghosts, demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and whatever else horror authors have dreamed up in the last 50 years to the list.
But for some reason, lately I’ve been thinking (a lot) about a book I read as a tween that knocked my socks off — so much, in fact, that I returned it to the library after a sudden jump scare scene, and it took me nearly 2 years to go back to that spot on the shelf and retrieve it to finish.
The story behind that is this: The book was called Urn Burials by Robert Westall, and it was a YA thriller. I honestly didn’t realize the category when I first checked it out. I was intrigued by the premise — the notion that ancient monuments, that Middle Age farmers probably wouldn’t have had the tools or knowledge to construct, were built by aliens — as I was in middle school and had yet to hear of this long-running niche theory. In the novel, it turns out the aliens are real, and they’re upright-walking-and-talking cats and dogs from rival races, and there’s a mystery plague involved. Now, for someone who had generally only read Beverly Cleary and EB White up to that point, this was a radical departure.
I was actually doing fine with Urn Burials until the chapter when the narrator is doing something incredibly normal, like washing dishes, and looks up at the nearest window…and there, staring at him through the dark of night, is an alien animal face.
The sun had set outside while I was reading, and as I looked up from the book, to my window with the curtains still wide open, that image was all I could picture.
I slapped the book shut, ran to the window — turning my head to the side, eyes down — and yanked the curtains closed.
The very next day, the book went back to the library. And it took me literal years before I could look out a window at night without feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck.
So, seriously, explain to me why I keep thinking about Urn Burials and am honestly considering re-reading it.
I did my online research, and am pretty sure it’s out of print; so I’ll need to either acquire it secondhand or as a library discard. This means more time and effort on my part, and possibly more money. (I already checked, and it doesn’t seem to be in my local library system.)
All of this could indicate that this endeavor may not be an advised one.
The major thing driving this idea is curiosity: Now that I know what’s coming, would I still be as afraid? Would my age and experience since the first time I read those words mean I don’t have the same reaction and feelings?
How important is it to prove this to myself?
Because the other side of the coin is: It’s worse than I remember. And I won’t sleep for a week, patrolling the house from dusk to dawn, carrying White Fang’s katana and shoving it past dramatically-whipped-open closet doors. In case of, you know, upright walking and talking feline and canine aliens about to unleash a mystery plague.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Did you get over it or not?! Share your terrified thoughts in the comments below!