“The Boogey Man” By Spencer Seidel (a guest post)
Do you remember the first book that deeply scared the living crap out of you? I sure do.
I started reading scary fiction when I was about thirteen years old. I think the first was Christine by Stephen King. You’d think that would have done the trick. It was a creepy book, one of his creepiest. But his stuff never scares me. It fascinates me and delights me, but does it scare me? Not so much. Same goes for Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and on and on. Fiction just doesn’t creep me out. Except in one case. I’ll get to that in a minute.
No, what scares me are real people and real events. Bad people doing bad things. Like Charlie Manson and his gang of creeps. When I first started thinking about this post, I was tempted to pick the book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. That book terrified me when I was in high school. There was something truly horrifying about the Tate and LaBianca murders and the disgusting amalgam of sex and violence that poisoned the minds of all who followed Manson.
High up on the list for the same reason was a book about Ted Bundy I’d read once. It might have been The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. One theme that (mostly unintentionally) appears frequently in my writing is secrets. Everyone keeps their secrets–perhaps you have an odd fetish or pick your nose or can’t resist smelling your own BO like that character on Saturday Night Live. Usually, these little quirks are harmless. But sometimes they’re not. What if your boyfriend’s little secret is that he has a growing fascination with the idea of raping and killing women of a certain type? That’s a truly terrifying concept to me. Worse is that it actually happened!
The scariest book I ever mostly read–I didn’t finish it–was called Hunting Humans. I don’t know who wrote it, and I’d bet that it’s no longer in print. I found it in a bookstore I used to frequent in Washington, DC when I was in college. From what I remember, it was basically a graphic accounting of the deeds of various serial killers, complete with crime-scene photos. I remember reading the first few chapters and realizing that I’d scared myself silly, perhaps irreversibly. Reading it made me feel ugly and dirty. On a one-off basis and certainly in fiction, I can handle reading about a serial killer. But this book just hit me over the head with it again and again and again and jostled some previously suppressed nugget of terror loose in my mind. A few minutes after putting it down and trying desperately to distract myself with something else, I realized that I didn’t even want it in my room. It had that much power over me. I threw it away. There was one crime-scene photo in particular that haunts me to this day–suffice it to say, it was a picture of a man shot in the head. Like Forrest Gump says, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
I guess I should give honorable mention here to one piece of what must be about 99% fiction: The Amityville Horror. A controversial book, it is nonetheless responsible for my enduring phobia of old houses. Those glowing red window/eyes… Ack!