Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sleepless in Kentucky

My favorite site to browse during my morning Coke break, Entertainment Weekly, has an interesting discussion going on on its Popwatch blog. One of the bloggers is discussing a book he's reading that has him so scared he's having trouble sleeping. You can check it out here. Apparently, this book he's reading has a bad guy who uses spiders as a murder weapon, among other things; that pretty much insures that I will never pick up that particular tome.

I've talked a couple of times about how I love me a good scary movie. But reading this blog and the readers' comments has me thinking about a few good scares I've had from literary sources.

The grand master of insomnia fiction will always be Stephen King. I started reading him way too young (thanks for introducing me to Cujo in 7th grade, DD!) That introduction, even though it featured a creature I'm a little afraid of (I'll confess, big dogs cause me great anxiety), didn't freak me out. My next trip to King World, Pet Sematary, did.

It's not so much that Pet Sematary caused me not to sleep. It's that it caused what is, to this day, one of the most real and horrible nightmares I've ever had. It pretty much messed me up for the entirety of my 8th grade year.

I read it in the summer before 8th grade. No, I take that back; I devoured it in the summer before 8th grade. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading "just one more chapter." The night I finished I drifted off into the most vivid dream of my life. In the dream, I was walking across my side lawn in the dark toward my house. It seemed like it took me forever to get across the lawn, as if I had weights attached to my legs. I was wearing an itchy pink dress and in the dream I couldn't understand why I was wearing that. I lifted my hand to knock on my own door, and in the pale light, I could see that my skin was a funny color. (Yes, I remember all this. I'm telling you, this experience has stuck with my for a 2 decades.) When my mom answered the door, she didn't exactly look happy to see me there. I didn't get it. She said, "This isn't right. You're not supposed to be here." I realized I was dead, and the pink dress was what I had been buried in, and when I saw my own face in the mirror opposite our door, I could see that I had begun to decay.

I woke up in my own bed, drenched in sweat, not sure if I was awake or asleep or alive or dead. I started to sob. The next day after I had been moping around for hours, Mom asked me what was wrong. I started crying again and explained the dream and cried some more. Mom had heard my sister talk about Pet Sematary after she had read it, and knew the basic plot outline: people die, their loved ones bury them in a creepy Indian burial ground, the supernatural soil brings them back to life but not the way they were before. She told me if I was going to let what I read bother me so much, I shouldn't read scary books any more. Looking back, she had a point.

Instead of seeing that the book was messing with my subconsious and planting ideas into my fertile imagination, I started interpreting this dream to mean that I was going to die. I started telling my friends and family how much I cared about them and even wrote a little will and stuck it in my bedside table just in case (I was really concerned about who was going to get my stuffed animals and Guess overalls.) For the better part of a year, I stayed awake in bed at night thinking about death and our own mortality and wondered for the first time if there really was an afterlife or if this life is all we have. That book really screwed me up. Then I started reading It, and got worried that an evil clown was going to start talking to me through the bathroom drains, but that's whole different story.

Now that I'm a mom, I can't read things like Pet Sematary. If a kid dies in anything I read or watch, that's it; I bail out. Unfortunately, some scenes in Pet have lingered in my brain and re-surface from time to time in my parental consciousness like the skeletons in the pool in Poltergeist; there's a horrific scene in the book where the father goes to the cemetery to dig up his toddler son's body, and the gruesome details hit the maternal-love-bearing centers in my brain like a brick upside the head any time I hear a news story about a child's death. Those are the times that I grab Ainsley and hold her tight and pray that I go a long time before she does.

I didn't get scared in a life-altering way by a book again for a good fifteen years. Then, during radiation, when I was already a little vulnerable to scares because I was taking Vicodin syrup for the pain caused by a radiation-scorched throat, I picked up The Mothman Chronicles. I had seen the movie and was less than scared by that, so when a friend recommended the nonfiction book, I gave it a shot. The image of the red, glowing eyes of the Mothman haunted me during middle-of-the-night bathroom trips; I just knew if I looked out the bathroom window I was going to see those eyes. So I turned on my bedroom light every time I had to get up in the night, driving my husband crazy. I would then close my eyes once I got into our bathroom so that I didn't chance seeing anything out the window. Then I would spring into the bedroom, turn off the light, and bury my head in the covers until I fitfully drifted back to sleep. Vicodin + a scary nonfiction account of supernatural harbingers of death and men in black = paranoia. Remember that.

It didn't help when, shortly after reading the part of the book dealing with government conspiracy, aliens, and the MIB, I reached for the phone to give the friend who recommended it to me a call and heard silence instead of a dial tone. The hairs on my neck stood up because I could tell it wasn't a dead phone line; someone was on the other end. "Hello?" I said, hoping I was wrong. I heard my friend's voice saying, "Hello?" I just about jumped out of my skin. Apparently, she had decided to call me and had just dialed my number when I picked up our phone wanting to call her. Even with that logical explanation, we both got freaked out and were convinced that the little men in black knew we had been discussing Mothman and had tapped our phone lines. We're easily spooked that way.

Now it's your turn. What books have really done a number on you and your subconscious? Has there ever been a book that scared you into sleeplessness? Talk back!


Karen said...

I would have to agree about Pet Sematary. Although it didn't freak me out when I read it, what did freak me out was the movie. To this day I worry about getting into (and out of) my bed, for fear there's a demonic toddler underneath it with a scalpel, just waiting to cut my Achilles tendon. Just typing it makes me cringe. I could never read (or watch) anything like that now that I'm a mom. I can already think of too many ways something could happen to my kids - I don't need any more ideas!

Shan said...

The Shining. Not the movie (either version), but the book. The scene with teh wasps nest gets me everytime. *shudder*

And the film adaptation of 1408 creeped me out...but not nearly as much as some of the scenes in Pans Labyrinth (the eye creature...ick)

Robert K. said...

I can't think of any books, but E.T. scared the crap out of me when I was 8. I had trouble falling asleep for weeks for fear that a little turd-alien was going to wake me up demanding Reese's Pieces.

DD said...

I would have to agree that "It" is my end-all-be-all of easy freak-out moments.....we have a storm drain right outside our house and when I get into my car on the drain side, "you bet your fur" that I don't put my foot on the street! It looks like some crazy version of twister when I have to crawl into the car parked at the drain (right foot sidewalk, left foot car)!!!! AND those King stories caused me to sprint up the alley when I had to travel home in the dark....excellent cardio.....YIKES!!!!