I’ve been rewatching the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House this week. It’s prompted me to think about what is truly frightening in a raise-the-hairs-on-your-arms kind of way as opposed to what is just sick-to-your-stomach horror. For me personally, I enjoy the goosebumps more than the nausea.
But investigating the sorts of things that I find scary has forced me to do a bit of psychoanalysis on myself, as well as scouring photographs on the Internet to see what makes me shudder or shiver or shriek. I have concluded that the unnatural and the unexplainable is universally scary. But I also came up with a personal list of scary things, which is too long to discuss here, so I’ll just name three:
Doppelgangers: I’m not talking about someone who just sort of looks like you. In German folklore, the doppelganger, which means double walker (to me the translation is scary enough), is an apparition or a spirit that takes the form of a living person. I’ve heard stories of people who claimed to be talking to their daughter at the bottom of the stairs, only to glance across the hall and see the same daughter in her room brushing her hair. Generally speaking, and for obvious reasons, seeing your doppelganger is not considered a good thing. Often they are associated with bad omens and prophetic portents of doom. If you want to read some creepy real-life encounters with doppelgangers, check out this article.
Disembodied voices: Whether it’s the voices of children, demonic growls, or garbled sounds on EVP recordings, disembodied voices fall into the unexplainable category. Paranormal chronicles are filled with people who claim to have heard someone say their name or even speak to them in full sentences. The scariest tales are the ones in which demonic voices tell people to kill someone else or themselves. In 2007, a hotel in New York recorded an EVP in which numerous phantom voices had full conversations and even requested help. You can read the full account and other stories about disembodied voices here.
The monster in the closet: I often think childhood fears are some of the scariest. The monster in the closet or under the bed is a cliché, but that doesn’t reduce its scare factor. I remember being terrified at night of what was in my closet. It often looked to me like the door was swinging ajar and shadowy forms were floating out of it. Even opening my eyes in my darkened bedroom scared me sometimes. I was afraid of seeing something that shouldn’t be there. For the most part, of course, these are just childhood fears that all children experience, spurred on by imaginations or something they’ve watched or read. But, sometimes there’s something more to the story.
I had a friend in high school who was not easily scared. But one Monday morning, she arrived to our first period class visibly terrified. A few months before, she had moved her bedroom from the third floor into their newly finished basement. She’d been happy there until now. She told me that over the weekend she had awakened to find a man sitting on the edge of her bed, leering at her with what she described as “a child molester’s smile.” Reactively, she had screamed and turned away, but when she looked back again, he was still there. She then scrambled to turn on the television to light the room, and when she looked again he was finally gone. She told me she had sprinted upstairs, taking three steps at a time. From that time on, she slept in her old bedroom and never in the basement again.
I believed her. And that story really stuck with me.
We all have our fear trigger points. Many of them are personal, but some are universal. Doppelgangers, disembodied voices, and closet monsters have been reported across the globe. And many of the experiences are similarly described.
Some monsters are real. Sometimes the goosebumps and the nausea go hand in hand.
What do you find really scary?