Friday, February 17, 2012

Things that Go Bump in the Night

These words are part of a short traditional Scottish prayer.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

When that prayer was written, people probably believed it was ghouls and ghosts they needed to fear. Today…not so much. Vampires are sexy. Witches can be good—even the bad ones get their own Broadway musicals. And Demi and Patrick showed us that it can be sexy to make out with a ghost. No, people today have a whole different set of fears: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; terrorists; gangs and drug lords; and killing sprees like the ones at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and in Norway. The list is nearly endless. And the people who recited the old Scottish prayer would probably stick with their ghoulies, ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties. (Although my husband would probably put spiders on his top 10 list of fears.)

I don’t scare easily, certainly not by bumps in the night. It’s actually utter silence I find more disturbing. When I was little, I used to have a recurring dream about a woman with a mustache. I know, I know. It seems funny now. But all through elementary and middle school, this woman haunted my dreams. The nightmares were always similar. The woman would come into my house when my family was sleeping and try to take me away. Sometimes she would use a ladder and come through my window. Other times, she would slither out of my closet. To this day, it makes me uncomfortable to sleep with my closet open. The other constant: the woman never made a sound. Neither did I. Our battles were fought in silence, while my parents and brother slept peacefully just a few feet away.

So what does this have to do with my blog? Well, horror is today’s topic. I like scary books. Stephen King is amazing. Peter Straub easily induces chills. I read Red Dragon—where Hanibal Lecter is first introduced—when I was probably too young and without my parent’s permission. But books don’t scare me. At least not until the night I started reading Intensity by Dean Koontz.   

The main character, Chyna Shepherd, has come to Napa Valley with a friend, Laura Templeton, to visit Laura’s family farm. Like me, Chyna finds it difficult to fall asleep in a strange place. So she is awake to hear the first scream. So faint, Chyna almost doesn’t recognize the sound. Even after the second cry, she’s convinced the noises are coming from outside. At the soft thump, Chyna instinctively recognizes that evil is inside.

Following the stifled cries and the soft thump, silence sifted down like snowfall. The hush was eerily deep, as unnatural as that in which the deaf lived. This was the stillness before the pounce, the quietude of the coiled snake. In another part of the house, someone was standing as motionless as she herself was standing, as alert as she was, intently listening. Someone dangerous.

I recognize the scene. My mustachioed woman has returned. I am officially spooked. But I’m also hooked, and I can’t put the book down.

Footsteps. Evil is coming. As Chyna slithers silently under her unmade bed, I am right there with her among the dust bunnies. I scrunch my nose against the urge to sneeze. No one can know we are here.

Wait a second, I can sneeze. I am at home in Bowie, Maryland—not the Napa Valley. I am letting my imagination run away with me. I am also slightly ashamed. Chyna is much braver than I am.

Evil has killed Laura’s entire family. And he has done unmentionable things to Laura, who is still alive.

No one can know what they would do in such a horrific situation. I hope I wouldn’t run away, or worse, hide, choosing not to help my friend. I hope I would be as strong as Chyna. The next 100 pages are so “intense” my hand holding the book is cramping.

When the man carries Laura outside and puts her into an RV, Chyna heroically sneaks aboard. My heart breaks with hers, when Chyna realizes she is too late and her friend is dead. And now the RV is moving, and Chyna is trapped with not one, but two bodies.

About this time, I’d probably pee my pants. Thankfully, we’re stopping at a convenience store—okay, time to reel my imagination back in. And perhaps a bathroom break is in order.

After two more brutal murders (this guy means business) Chyna again has the chance to escape. But evil has bragged to the store clerk about a 16-year-old girl he is holding captive in his basement. It’s decision time. Does Chyna hide and take the chance that evil will get away—escaping punishment for what he did to Laura and her family? And what about the innocent teenager, who evil calls Ariel? In Chyna’s own words:

Throughout her childhood, no one had ever held out a hand to her. No one had ever cared that she was trapped, frightened, and helpless.

Chyna refuses to do that to Ariel. Chyna will take a stand against evil.

Eventually, I have to put the book down and go to sleep. The woman with the mustache visits me that night. But Chyna has emboldened me. I am not a child. I am not afraid. Instead, I tell the woman to shave. I have conquered my childhood fear. Thank you Chyna and Dean Koontz.

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