Over the weekend I saw a new film, and as I sat in the theater watching the story unfold, I felt a shiver of dread rising from somewhere deep within my basement of dark childhood fears. You know the place. It’s where shadowy dangers lurk and prey, and whisper your name from within the closet and behind the drapes. It’s where the monsters live. And wait for the light to fade.
Don’t kid yourself, the basement of terror is real. The iron clasped door may be locked by adult concerns and modern “fears” (money, mortgage, mortality and matrimony), but the frights we hold as children that pound and scrape with thundering fists and gnarled fingertips are far more terrifying than anything Hollywood can project upon our jaded grownup eyes. Oh sure, I was freaked out by Jaws to the extent that I now rarely go in the ocean, but that film merely ignited and fed a totally rational fear: there are things in the ocean that could eat me. Sure, the odds of becoming lunch are long, but I know that I can control those odds by not venturing into the Pacific, and once in the ocean the odds don’t mean a thing because eventually, for some unlucky swimmer, the wheel is going to hit double-zero. It’s totally rational to believe that lunch-Lotto could be as soon as my next splash past the breakers.
Childhood fears are special. They are rooted in irrationality and grow more vivid when fed by an overactive imagination. Moreover, the fears we have as children have the potential to seriously mess with our minds, biding their time in the protective depths of our psyche, just waiting to bubble on up to the surface for an adult nightmare or two.
Motivated by the resurgent childhood fear I felt in the theater Sunday afternoon (and we’ll get back to that specific tale of terror in a moment), I decided to put together a collection of blog posts about all the things that terrified me as a child. I even made a list, which was great fun! Strange though this may sound, I actually treasure my childhood fears. Sure, they were cause for many sleepless nights with lights a-blazing, but they’re mine… just like the unique collections on display throughout my home. They also likely explain quite a lot about the odd stories I tell through my photography.
The Bloody Hand
At the top of this post is a book cover, More Tales To Tremble By, published in 1968 by Western Publishing and containing a selection of horror fiction edited by Stephen P. Sutton. I’d like to tell you about the stories inside, but I can’t recall any of the “trembly tales.” In fact, I’m not sure that I ever got past the cover. Not the front cover, as seen above (which I immediately labeled as mine with a strip of masking tape), but the back cover.
So which is scarier? Most would immediately point to the creepy cat, the rotting ghoul, and shrunken head staring forth from the front cover and understand my little kid fears.
The bloody hand.
I was absolutely frozen with fear every time I saw those bloody fingertips reaching from the (surely!) dead woman’s Victorian sleeve on the back cover. Worse, my sisters knew this image scared me and they tormented me with the book. If I turned it one way, they flipped it the other. If I hid it away, they’d find it and place it somewhere that I’d find it. They went so far as to place the book (years later!) in my luggage when I went away to college.
What scared me about the bloody hand? I think it was the way the fingers dangled, all pointy and purposeful. They were reaching… reaching… reaching… FOR ME!!
At some point, not so long ago and well into my adulthood one of my sisters found a copy of the book and surprised me with it as a gift. Of course, little did my sister know, I still had my original copy, safely tucked away on a bookshelf. With the bloody hand unseen against the wall.
I think I may read a story or two from More Tales To Tremble By and report back. I’ll live… maybe.
Coming in part two — what I saw in the theater on Sunday to chill me to the bone.