DarkEcho Horror
Nemesis by Rick Berry
Dark Thought
Afraid of the Dark?

by Paula Guran
April, 1998 [Originally published by OMNI Online]

Erik, the eight year old, entered the study and plopped down on a chair amid the stacks of books on the floor near my overflowing desk.

"I thought you were watching that Goosebumps video with your brother."

"I am."

"Seems to me you are in here," I said, turning back to the monitor and keyboard. Maternal inquisitiveness is best balanced with something of a perfunctory air.

"Just for now."

"Ah, is it a scary part just now?"

"No, not really. I mean I have seen it before."

Pause. Maternal inquisitiveness is also best served with silence at times.

"Well, maybe it's a little scary because it's night."

"Oh, like the book covers then." Mention of book covers made him glance down at my piles of horror books. We had discovered that the sometimes-lurid covers of the books mommy was always knee deep in weren't scary during the day, while at night they often were. There was a way to defeat them, though. You turned them over and remembered they were just books. If you were still a little nervous, you put another book on top of them. That always did the trick.

"Yeah, the dark makes things scarier."

The dark does make things scarier. It always has. Our ancestors lived in a world divided much more completely into light and darkness. At first the night was relieved only with firelight, then with fire contained by lanterns and candles. Flickering, fragile light that, for all its comfort, cast shadows and deepened the surrounding darkness with its contrast. Even now in our electrified world, we still avoid certain places at night -- because danger can be so easily hidden in the dark.

Of course the dark conceals real dangers, whether they are saber-tooth tigers or crackheads lying in wait. But our feelings go deeper than that, as if they have been hard-wired in. The dark is disorienting --symbolically, we equate it with evil and the negation of light. And it's this deep association from our species' past, this psychological effect, that makes things scarier in the dark.

ShadowKid by Rick Berry

But now, protected by the magic of electricity and the relative safety of our daily life, perhaps we are more inclined to take a walk on the dark side. When a flick of a switch dispels what scares us, perhaps we are better able to appreciate its enchantments, its beauty.

Maybe horror is like that for some people, too. None of us want to deal with real horror in our lives, but for some folks even fictional scares need to be taken in small doses. Like Erik, who can control his rampant imagination by remembering "it is just a book" and hiding a scary picture, or walking away from the television screen, they can set their own limits, find just the right amount of fear to make it fun.

Reading horror is not like that for me most of the time, though. What makes a satisfying read for me is an extended, if protected, stay in the dark. A chance to explore that darkness and discover something more than just a cheap thrill. I like the kind of horror that makes you think, that confronts you with ideas or imagery that can't be forgotten once you close the covers -- or turn the cover over, for that matter.

But Erik isn't ready for that, and neither are a lot of grown-ups. Which is, of course, just fine. Within horror you can find anything from the slightest of shivers to the most profound frights. It all just depends on the wattage of your personal inner-nightlight.


"Yup?" "

Are you afraid of the dark?"

"Nope, not really."

"I'm not either... especially when the lights are on."

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Copyright © 1998 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.