A post from Goodreads came up on Facebook a few days ago: What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?
I didn’t have to think long at all.
I don’t like being scared.
I don’t like being scared. My mom would never permit anyone to frighten us when we were small, and even when we were teens she did not like it all all when someone scared her kids.
When I was really little, maybe five, The Wizard of Oz movie scared me so much I didn’t want to go to bed by myself. (The Wicked Witch? The Flying Monkeys? I don’t remember, but I was crying for my mom in the dark bedroom.) Soon afterward, television disappeared from our home forever.
I didn’t enjoy haunted houses; in fact, I think I visited only one when I was growing up, and maybe there have been two others since I became an adult. I didn’t watch horror movies or read Stephen King books (with the exception of The Green Mile, and that’s a post for another day) because I didn’t enjoy lying awake in my bed at night when everyone else was asleep seeing visions of monsters or murderers coming after me. I hated “thrillers” like Unlawful Entry and Seven with their horrifyingly predictable scenes (predictable in that I knew for sure something was going to make me jump and scream) and and yet I couldn’t stop watching until the end; hypnotized I would be, like the prey of a cobra.
I didn’t enjoy lying awake in my bed at night when everyone else was asleep seeing visions of monsters or murderers coming after me.
So it didn’t take me long to answer the question: What’s the scariest book I’ve ever read?
Elizabeth Peters was one of my favorite authors when I was young and she still is, although her “real” name was Barbara Mertz. She is one of those whose work reinforced my will to become a writer. The adventures of Ms. Peters’ feminist heroines entertained me and her writing inspired me to learn, not just about writing but also about Egypt and London and Helen of Troy.
Back in the seventies, before the Amelia Peabody series became such a hit, Ms. Mertz wrote novels under the name Barbara Michaels. Under this pseudonym she addressed spiritualism and the occult and frankly scared the pee out of me. I only remember the one title: The Crying Child.
This was a story (if memory serves) about two sisters, one of whom has recently lost a baby and is suffering from something like PTSD: she is hearing a baby crying in the night. The other sister goes to visit her to try to help her cope, and lo and behold, she hears it too.
I remember this book not just because of the horror but because of the research involved in the creation of the story and the way Ms. Mertz/Michaels/Peters used her research in the plot of the novel.
Let me tell you now: I won’t go if it’s scary. I won’t go to your haunted house. I won’t go see the newest version of It; I never saw the original. I didn’t read the Alex Cross Series; I only watched one of the movies because I am a Morgan Freeman fan (and afterward I wished I hadn’t). I haven’t seen Saw nor the Blair Witch Project nor The Exorcist–the scariest of all, from what I’ve heard.
If you read The Crying Child you may find it tame. That’s okay. It was quite scary enough for me. Scary enough to keep me awake at least one night, and that was enough for me to know that I didn’t want to read any more of Barbara Michaels’ novels.
I’ll hang with Elizabeth Peters and her adventurous, non-haunted heroines.