Have you ever really been scared? I’m sure you have. What scares you? While you’re scratching your head trying to conjure a response lengthy enough to fill a diary or the better half of a spiral notebook, let me tell you about an experience that caused my alarm bells to go off. It took place during my childhood, which I believe, is a time when a person’s intuition, sense of awareness, fear and imagination all blend together so that when something frightening happens, the overall reaction is akin to an emotional firecracker. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the same doesn’t happen to adults, but children are often more vulnerable to surroundings when they cease being familiar and border on being precarious. I wouldn’t bother asking you to embark on this journey with me if I didn’t think you could glean something from it as a writer, especially if you’re just starting out in the horror genre.
My grandmother once rented a summer cabin somewhere in the middle of Cayuga State Park, a place that for all intents and purposes has remained virtually untouched by the curse of modern technology. I wish I could tell you I was unlike any other curious boy between the ages of seven and eleven and not prone to wander, but that wasn’t true. My venture started out the way most others do, by following a wide, straight path. As they say in the Bible, “wide is the gate and broad is the way leading to temptation.”
My curiosity might as well have opened the gate and paved the trail I chose to follow, but my imagination was what ran on autopilot. How could it not with everything going on around me? The sun melted behind the horizon. Following a renaissance of fiery hues, a platoon of shadows descended upon the valley. A cool breeze rustled the surrounding bushes. Crickets, bullfrogs, crows, loons and other creatures contributed to the chorus of the evening. My nostrils flared with the odors of pine and old bark. Rabbits, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks and rats scurried about. My path spread into a dozen different directions at once. All these things beckoned me.
I had been warned by both my mother and grandmother not to stray, most of all at the onset of dusk. However, it’s often human nature that when you tell someone not to do something, ninety percent of the time they’re going to do it anyway. I couldn’t help myself. My venture continued. I guess you could say I was in a kind of trance.
Once Cayuga Park ceased to resemble what I knew to be familiar, it occurred to me that I had crash-
God only knew how far I had actually gone. I barely heard someone, it sounded like my mother, shouting my name. She didn’t drown out the crows or the crickets, but her voice traveled just the same. I imagined her face contorting with anxiety and how she might have shed tears when she realized I was nowhere to be found.
There I was, a boy straddled into a fetal position. While the wilderness was alive with noise, what made my heart leap the most were the duping frogs and hooting owls. Urine streamed down my pant-
Intuition warned me how vulnerable I was. What bloodthirsty predators had sniffed me out? Bats soared above me, possibly carrying myriad diseases. Surrounding trees had transformed into gargoyles, all of them groping with jagged limbs. Groping for what, I didn’t know and wasn’t sure I wanted to. I’m still not sure how much of this was real and how much I imagined. That was what frightened me the most. Wait, was that a bear I heard growling in the distance? Yikes!!!