Top Fears

My good friend Febe Moss’s post about her fears has inspired me to make a blog post about my own fears. I do, after all, confront these things every day as a horror writer. But I’m putting a twist on it, because as I created this list I realized a few things. For starters, the things that scare me in real life are totally different than the things that scare me in books and movies. (I have no fear, for example of being possessed in my daily life – but that totally pushes my buttons in well-done movies.) And also, I realized that I’m oddly unafraid of some of the main things other people list, which I found interesting. So I’ve broken it up into three “top 5” lists.

Horror in Montalbano

Top 5 Things I’m Most Afraid of in Real Life

1. Someone or Thing Grabbing Me

Walking up the stairs, getting into my car, crossing a partially open doorway… gets me every time.

2. Hitting a Person with my Car

Thank heavens I’ve never done this. But the fear is so overwhelming to me that it became the opening chapter in my zombie novel. I don’t even like hitting frogs with my car. A person would be unbearable.

3. Bugs

I could have taken up more than half of this list by specifying roaches, spiders, and *God help me* centipedes, but the truth is that all bugs make me squirm. Centipedes especially. It’s just not right to have that many legs. (To read my poem inspired by this fear, read “The Centipede” on page 74 of the September issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.)

4. Being Locked Up

You know that scene in The Sixth Sense where the kid gets pulled into that closet at the top of the spiral stairs? Yeah, that’s what’s waiting for me in Hell. A dark little cubby that I can’t get out of.

5. The Dentist

I wish I could show you guys my poem, “Incapacitated,” that hones in on this fear, but I’m still hoping to get it published elsewhere, so I can’t. Just take my word for it: the dentist scares me. A lot.

*1st Runner Up: Dogs

Big ones. That bark.

*2nd Runner Up: Open Water

Open water is like outer space. It’s just so big that you become aware of how small and helpless you are, which (I think) strikes at the core of every person’s fears.

Top 5 Things I’m Most Afraid of in Fiction

1. Undefined Things in the Dark

For me, horror is like erotica (bear with me) in that they both play off of suspense for their impact. The best horror, like the best erotica, builds toward the pay-off. Desire is sexier than sex – anyone who’s ever been celibate for more than a few months can tell you that – and fear is scarier than the monster. So for me, it’s the undefined and the dark shadows that scare the most in fiction. Once I know who the bad guy is and what he wants, I’m rarely as afraid.

2. Insanity

Gong insane is a scary thought, but I figure… well, I’d be crazy, so I wouldn’t mind, right? It’s other people going insane that really gets me. How do you deal with someone that can’t reason on your level?

3. Hiding at Risk of Being Found

This goes back to the unknown. Talk about suspense. If the hider has to be silent, which they usually do, all the better. Think of how many scenes there are in horror movies where the victim hides behind a shutter-slatted closet door with a hand over their mouth as the killer stalks by. Clearly, I’m not the only one this works for.

4. Unknown Contagious Diseases

This is usually in the vein of zombies, these days, but disease in general is pretty scary. Even the bubonic plague makes my heart speed up if I think about it too long. There’s just no good way to guard against a new, unknown disease.

5. Possession

Possession is very similar to insanity, for me, at least as far as the reasons it’s scary. But added to that is the aspect of religion – and the idea that this type of insanity might be purely belief-based. I mean, if you don’t believe in God or Satan, you can’t be possessed, right? The concept intrigues me, and works especially well as ambiguous on screen.

Top 5 Things That Scare Others but Don’t Scare Me

1. Violence & Gore

Violence and gore can be gross, impactful, shocking, disturbing, and even fun, and I’m not afraid to use them to their best advantage. But they are not scary. Pain, the chase, death, motive, moral ambiguity, and suspense all can be, but not the violence itself. Murder with no motive of characters we don’t care about is not scary. Torture porn is not scary. It’s just cheap tricks.

2. Flying

I don’t know why, but this just doesn’t scare me. I’m more worried about getting in a car accident than a plane crash. It’s certainly more likely.

3. Heights

I actually like heights. I mean, sure, if someone was threatening to throw me over the edge of the Eifel Tower I’d probably be freaking out, but in general being high up doesn’t do anything but make me think, “Look at the pretty view.”

4. Death

This is almost too deep a topic to explain. Everyone has different thoughts on death and afterlife and what it all means. I guess I’ve mostly made my peace with my interpretation of it. I’m not ready to die, but then, who is? To me it’s not worth sweating over something we can’t control.

5. The Devil / Malevolent Spirits

This might seem ironic, since possession is on one of my lists of things that do scare me, but there’s a key difference, for me. Possession involves a taking over of the victim, body mind and soul. The devil or demons or whatever are outside beings – and usually executed pretty ineffectively, in my opinion. The best exception? Paranormal Activity. But I think I like that because it ties back into my #1 fear: Undefined Things in the Dark. If that evil spirit were given a name and/or a motive, it would be infinitely less effective.

So there you have it, folks. The skinny on what makes me quake and what makes me snicker. How about you? What keeps you lying awake at night, pulling the covers up just a little bit higher? What’s your number one fear, and which do you think is over-played?

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  • Lura Slowinski

    I’m not sure I’ve ever sat down to think about what things frighten me the most. I’m kind of like you in that a lot of common fears aren’t mine–flying, heights, and malevolent spirits don’t trouble me. Even darkness sometimes thrills more than frightens me.

    Things that do frighten me? Bugs. Cars, especially as driven by inattentive/careless people. Also–and this is a little weird–stuff falling on me. My husband and I once had the misfortune of camping beneath a dead, broken tree on a windy night, and I managed to convince myself it was going to snap and fall on us. The worst cases are in museums that like to suspend large, heavy objects from the ceiling. Luckily, this irrational fear doesn’t manifest itself often.

    In fiction I definitely share your number 1, and I also agree that once I learn what it is and what it wants the fear is gone. So books/movies that identify that too quickly don’t frighten me at all.

    • I had never thought about things falling on me, with the exception of bugs. One time a scorpion fell out of an AC vent in the ceiling and landed on my aunt’s lap; I’ll never forget that story. And as far as trees, that’s actually a legitimate fear. They call dead branches that fall “widow-makers” because they kill people every year. So I think it’s best to listen to that fear and not camp under dead trees anymore!

  • -j-

    Here’s what I want to know. How come, when I know that rats freak the hell out of me, do I click on a video that is already showing me a cat-sized rat! I’ve always found it interesting, the love-hate thing so many of us have with our fears, how we’ll read books and watch movies about things that completely freak us out.

    Love your list. That scene with the kid in the tiny closet at the top of the stairs is the scariest scene in Sixth Sense. We’re twins, except I have a really nice, gentle dentist. 😉

    • Haha, that’s so true. I don’t know why we’re so drawn to the things that scare us the most, but we obviously are. Otherwise, horror as a genre wouldn’t even exist! Even though the movie Paranormal Activity scared me more than any other movie I’ve ever seen, I can’t wait to go see the third one!

      I have a great dentist now, but childhood memories are pretty strong. I had lots of bad experiences when I was little, and even though logically I can calm myself and sit peacefully in the dental chair, it’s like my body remembers the trauma on its own and gets all tense and adrenaline-filled. *shudders*

  • Okay, you found one that I could probably agree to: hitting someone with a car. It doesn’t strike me as fear, like the nervousness I’d usually think of, but an absolute dread. Now, for perspective, I don’t drive, completely by choice. I don’t want to, I don’t have to to get around, and it’s unlikely that I ever will drive much if I bother getting my licence again. I didn’t want to drive anyway, but then in the space of a couple of months, I saw my dog get run over, and my step-father had a car accident, and that put me off it even worse. Because I cannot stand, at all, the thought of being the one who hits a living creature with a giant death machine. I already get really tense if an animal runs/flies in front of the car when someone else is driving. I think I’d have an outright panic attack if I hit something. So, if there’s anything you could chalk me up for having as a proper “fear”, it’s hitting someone/thing with a car. That would be so devastating. 🙁

    Meanwhile, I love bugs. I was going to be an entomologist (studying insects) before I decided I didn’t want to go through University.


    • You know, Ashlee, I know several people who don’t drive for those reasons, and I can completely understand. If I lived somewhere with better public transportation I would definitely consider it. And as for liking bugs… I can actually understand that too. If they’re in my house/crawling up my leg I loathe them, but I can admire how neat they are from a safe distance. 😉

  • Lisa

    My biggest fear is actually one I’m not proud of at all – I am terrified of facial deformities. People with giant growths on their faces, people who have been disfigured in accidents…I can’t look. I also have a completely irrational fear of someone walking into my house and attacking me whenever I’m home alone at night.

    • Well I certainly don’t think you’re the only one disturbed by facial deformities. Think of all the horror movies (The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.) that use it to designate the scary guys. Although maybe sad in real life, it’s certainly effective in movies to play off of that natural fear of what’s Other. And I know someone else who’s terrified of strangers walking into their house and attacking them too! That would undoubtedly be incredibly scary. :O

  • itavianna

    these are some scary things