Monday, October 2, 2017

The 3 Books That Scared Me Most

It's October and people are dusting off those old horror movies and preparing to scare themselves silly. This got me thinking about the books that had frightened me most. While the ones I chose don't strictly belong in the horror genre—one is a literary short story, another is a dystopian SF novel and the third is dark fantasy—they scared me far more than anything I've read by that master of horror, Stephen King. Why did they make the top slots? Because the horror factor stayed with me long after I turned the last page and sat in a stupor, eyes glazed and tee-shirt sweaty, my mind reeling from the hellish possibilities conjured by these authors.

Now, what scares me might not scare everyone. I know that some are scared by evil spirits and things that go bump in the night. Storms. Sharks, spiders. No Internet service. I'm not scared of those things. It's reality that makes my teeth chatter, or the logical projection of current reality into a nightmare reality that is all too believable, even inevitable. This brings me to my top contender, the book that scared me more than any other in my 50+ years on the planet....

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
(Spoilers!) Here is the earth, America to be precise, after some ass started a nuclear war. Nothing grows because sunlight can't get through the thick cover of smoke and dust. Everything is covered with ash. Everything is dead, including the ocean. Shorelines are strewn with the bones of all the dead fish. Some people survive, and what they become in the desperate quest for food and water is something that cannot be called human. This book contains the single most horrifying scene I've ever read—even more horrifying than a scene in a short story I read decades ago where a child is slowly disemboweled by a Mephistophelean character. Yes, it tops that.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.
This novel should not even be on this list because I never finished it. I was a child when I blithely picked it off a bookshelf at home, and I didn't get very far. All I remember is a fairground where nothing is as it seems, and the more I read, the creepier everyone and everything became. To my child's eyes, this perversion of things that should be innocent and harmless, like carousels and merry-go-rounds, was so terrifying that I closed the book, slipped it back on the shelf—and shivered every time I saw its grey, faded cover over the next couple of decades. Still can't bring myself to finish it.

3. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor.
(Spoilers!) This is a short story I read just a few years ago, so I vividly remember how this tale hung over me like a seething, dripping, noxious cloud for several weeks. O'Connor takes an ordinary, flawed family, Granny and all, and puts them on a road trip from Georgia to Florida where they make a wrong turn and fall into the hands of some men who embody the worst qualities mankind has to offer. The family—mom, dad, gram and kids—do not survive the encounter, and it was the utter banality of the savagery that did me in. It was a long time before I could push that horrific tale of murder, madness and mayhem out of my head.

There we have it—three stories that scared the pants off me. What are the stories that terrified you the most? Tell me in the comments!


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't know if the Road scared me but it certainly had a very powerful emotional effect on me. I was close to weeping several times.

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, yes. The dread of that story is still with me.