Quick, what is more scary: Freddy Krueger’s burnt, ugly face, or the sound of his knives scrapping against a boiler room wall? Why is it that we are still obsessed over Jack the Ripper, a century after the fact, when we hardly give the Unabomber any thought at all? How come children need to sleep with the light on, when a monster could just as easily eat them without the darkness?
It’s because the unknown will always be more scary than the known. With Freddy’s face, at least we can see him, at least we know what he looks like. But when all we can hear is the sound of his knives scrapping against a wall, well, he could be pretty much anywhere, walking straight toward you and you don’t even know it. He could already be behind you. You just don’t know. And that is terrifying.
What makes true horror good isn’t the explanation, it’s the mystery. It’s why Rob Zombie’s Halloween was a flop, as well as all the other similar reboots. We don’t want to know why Michael Myers is a monster; why the hell would we want to see the friggin mascot of Halloween humanized? No, what made the original film so great was the lack of explanation—the total horrifying suspense of not knowing who this crazy guy was, or why he was doing what he was doing. All we knew was he wanted his sister dead, and he would not stop even if he had to stab all the babysitters in the world.
But enough with fiction. Let me give you the perfect real life example that I can think of; an example that still terrifies me to this day.
Back when I was about six or seven years old, a few nights before Halloween (my favorite day, of course), my brother and I were sitting in our room playing Resident Evil 2 on the original PlayStation. It was pretty damn late; our parents had long since gone to sleep, and for all we knew, we were the only two people still awake in the whole town.
But boy, were we proven wrong.
Sometime in the middle of shooting a zombie in the head and solving an asininely difficult puzzle (when it comes to Resident Evil, it was either one or the other), we suddenly heard a noise outside our window. At first, we didn’t give it a second thought. Probably just the wind. Of course it was just the wind. What else would it be?
But then we heard it again, and again. The sound of … something outside.
The most horrifying word you’ll ever read.
Something was outside. We didn’t know what. My brother assumed it was a raccoon getting into the trash again. My younger mind assumed it was an alien. But all we really knew for certain was that it was something, all right.
“Go check it out,” my brother said, and I of course obeyed. I got up from the ground and walked right over to that window, which was wide open since it was nearing the end of October and the weather was absolutely beautiful. The sound abruptly ceased once I approached the window, erecting the hairs on the back of my neck. The world grew still and completely silent. I know the video game was still playing behind me, and the TV from the living room was still blaring some stupid sitcom, yet in my mind, all sound had been cut off directly. It was just me, and whatever lay outside this window.
It didn’t even feel like my heart was beating.
I perched forward and, using two shaking fingers, plied the blinds apart to see out into the night. At first there was nothing there. The porch light was still on, which allowed me to get a brief glimpse of my surroundings. I had just enough time to notice that the trash cans were knocked down, garbage all over the place, when it appeared.
I only saw it for a moment. A second doesn’t even do the short amount of time any justice. It was there, and then it was gone.
A face. A face completely white, with eyes devoid of feature. Eyes completely black and hollow. A smile so wide it had to be sculpted that way. A smile so demented that it couldn’t even be classified as a smile. I don’t know what the hell you’d call it. I don’t want to know.
I looked into this face, and the face looked into me, and then the goddamn thing poked me right in the eye.
I flew back from the window, landing on my back crying my lungs out. My eye throbbed like nothing I had ever felt before. My brother had gotten up, grabbed a baseball bat, and was already running outside before I even had a chance to stand up.
He ran all through that neighborhood, too, but he never found anyone.
I was left with a black eye and a series of nightmares to last me a lifetime. We still have no clue what any of that was about, and I doubt we ever will. I can take a guess, sure. Maybe someone was breaking in, and I spooked him away. Maybe it was one of my brother’s idiot friends pulling a prank. Or maybe it was a monster.
All I know is that it was something. Something I won’t ever understand.
Originally from Indiana, MAX BOOTH III now lives in Texas to support his illegal gecko fighting ring. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and the Assistant Editor for Dark Moon Digest. He has recently edited two anthologies for Dark Moon Books: Zombie Jesus & Other True Stories and Zombies Need Love, Too, both of which surprisingly involve zombies. You can read his short stories in a multitude of magazines and anthologies, both in print and digital form. You can find out more about him at his personal website: http://www.talesfromthebooth.com/.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Max Booth III is offering one signed copy of his anthology, ZOMBIE JESUS & OTHER TRUE STORIES, which will be released in November. To enter post a comment in the section below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and put HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.