What Scares You?

By

Hello my little fiendish darlings. Come in, sit down. Make yourself at home..sit & listen a while.

This week the wonderful T E Grau has popped over to The HHHB to offer us a peek inside the darker side of his mind…in the shadows of his fears…

Fear is a funny thing. We hate it and we love it all the same. It’s like a cigarette habit, the paradoxical feelings you have for a mildly abusive sibling, or that niggling tooth pain that annoys the hell out of you, but you just can’t stop your tongue from messing with it.

We court fear, yet rarely do we try to master it. Why would we? We revel in the unexpected nature of fright, and where it can take us, knowing full well we’d never go there alone. Fear reminds us that we’re alive in a world that sometimes makes us doubt it, and feeds the cave-born savage crouching in our DNA that faced death every day before breakfast.

Emerging from the other side of a profoundly terrifying experience can curl your toes, producing that deep body exhale and endorphin bump without shedding an article of clothing or piercing a vein. It can act as a feeling of accomplishment, scaling and descending a mini-Everest. Fear can give a taste of death without canceling tomorrow’s appointments and leaving a messy clean-up for those near and dear.

As for me, I honestly don’t enjoy the sensation of being scared, as it makes me very anxious – that invisible grip of something stronger that renders you powerless and not fully in control (and sometimes apt to tinkle). Yet I constantly seek out those things that are created to inspire fear. But not because they scare me. Because they comfort me.

I adore the macabre, the grotesque, and the cosmically horrifying. The unimaginable makes me happy, melancholy makes me smile. I like living in those sorts of worlds. Not because these things necessarily scare me (although sometimes they certainly do), but because I find these sorts of circumstances to be beautiful and totally cool. Fear is the soul of Horror, and Horror is a way of life.

That said, traditional entities contrived to be garden variety “scary” rarely are to me. Ghosts, disguised serial killers, zombies, vampires, werewolves, and of course, every third horror film’s favorite antagonist – supernatural or “evil” children. I’ll punt those little fuckers. I’ll drop kick ‘em all. Cool yes, scary no.

What truly frightens me are things much more abstract and personal and oddly implausible, and while I’ve added and subtracted apprehensions over the years, some things remain rooted deeply in my lizard brain as completely terrifying on a fundamental level.

The most predominant of these fears came to me in recurring dreams as a small child, in which I was faced with an infinitely large shape or smudge – colorless to the point of being opaque and so utterly soundless that the air around it seemed to hum – that leaked down from somewhere in the void of space and pressed against me, smothering me, taking my air and absorbing me into nothingness. This lovely image would often tag team a scenario of me running atop an impossibly tall, endless black labyrinth (a la “Time Bandits”), trying to reach a glowing door offering entrance to a new realm of blinding white light. I’d often dream of doors hovering in the sky, crowded with people making it in while I was never, ever able to reach them. This is the sort of thing a young boy will envisage when brought up in a Baptist/Evangelical church heavy into Revelations, the Rapture, The End Times, and Biblical Armageddon, that showed a cheery little film called “Left Behind” to the congregation to remind us of what would happen to us if we weren’t “saved” properly and left to lose our heads to forces of the Antichrist. Naturally, I’ve been haunted and fascinated by “cosmic horror” from a very young age, years before I had ever heard of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Thanks, religion. You’ve done more to foster Horror inside me than a 1,000 tomes of speculative fiction. Couldn’t have asked for a better prep school.

As I grew older, but still very much a child, the tangled spaces around me revealed their abhorrence to me, while scary things became more specific. I was frightened of swimming in the muddy pond near our house known as the “sheep hole”, as I could never see what was lurking in that cold mud grabbing at my feet at the bottom. Getting lost in public and being left alone amongst a sea of strangers petrified me, fostered by the time I got lost in the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. for a full 20 minutes, and thought I’d lose my mind. I didn’t think anything could be more terrifying than Bigfoot on the television movie “Six Million Dollar Man vs. Bigfoot,” as I lived out in the middle of a primal Appalachian forest at the time, which to me seemed exactly the same as the Pacific Northwest which was apparently CRAWLING with enormous, hairy beasts with shiny eyes and fangs (and not hucksters clad in cut-rate gorilla suit trudging through a clearing and mugging for the camera).

In high school, and then more so in college, I was terrified of giving speeches and generally of being embarrassed, but little else, as I was daring and young and stupid and constantly ingesting mind altering chemical and living for the moment that really had no meaning or importance even though I was fully convinced that it did. I tempted fate, sometimes death. I traveled Europe alone for three months. I hung out with thugs and killers. I danced at the edges of tall buildings. Being “scared” was just another experience meant to be explored. I thought I was Jim Morrison, then Hunter S. Thompson. I was neither. I was an insufferable, faux philosophical douchebag with a substance abuse problem. People were probably scared of me, and not for the right reasons.

After college, what shook my knees was the fact that I had no career prospects, and no real outlet for my creativity. So I drank like it was my job (and it sort of was, as a bartender). During those years, I was spooked by sobriety, by reality. By commitment and normality. By sunlight and suburban living, which I though contained too much of all of the above. I was frightened of trying and then failing, so I never really tried. I’m scared to even think about those days.

Today, with a wife and child that I love more than myself (a first), I have a whole new raft of fears, that rarely – and FINALLY – have very little to do with my own well being. What scares me now are unexpected calls from my wife during non-traditional “chat times”, as they usually mean bad news or a medical emergency. I fear home invasion when I’m not home but they are, especially that day I spied a sketchy looking individual walking up the sidewalk as I pulled out of the driveway. A loud thump in my daughter’s room when the door is closed. The thought of either of my girls driving amongst the snarling masses, and being around people that I don’t know and that I can’t reach if something were to happen. I worry about them bumping into someone more misanthropic than I am, more sociopathic. Yes, I’m terrified of the insane, and I fear that most of the planet is mad.

I’m scared a lot these days, and will be until I can “Go Thoreau” and hightail it to the unpopulated hills, far from the people that are so fucked in the head, and carve out a nest in the forest. The trees never scared me, nor what might be hiding there. The real monsters are skulking in the asphalt jungle, not the rustling underbrush.

It feels that what scares me grows as I grow older. I already refuse to buy a smart phone, and purposely mispronounce all things associated with Twitter. So, add technology to that list. No need for an iPhone at Walden Pond…

Back in 2010, I interviewed filmmaker and proud Lovecraftian Stuart Gordon at the debut H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Los Angeles, during which I asked him what scared him most. Stuart smiled shyly. “Everything.”

I feel ya’, brother.

p.s. I fear that this entire post was a goddamn mess. For that, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.

Ted & Ancestor

T.E. Grau is an author of Weird, Lovecraftian, and Dark Fiction, whose work has been published in such anthologies as Dead But Dreaming 2, The Aklonomicon, Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities, Horror for the Holidays, and the upcoming Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk, Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus Anthology, and Mark of the Beast, among others. In addition to fiction writing, he is an essayist and contributor to The Teeming Brain, We Love Monsters, and the Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association (Off. Ed. S. T. Joshi); and serves as Fiction Editor of Strange Aeons magazine. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife (writer, editor, and artist Ives Hovanessian), daughter, and bunny named Cthulhu. T.E. Grau often blogs about beautiful and terrifying things at The Cosmicomicon (cosmicomicon.blogspot.com). His first collection of short fiction will be published in 2013.