What scares you?
I bet it’s not the same thing that scares me. Or the thing that scares your best friend. Or anyone else you know. Even if it’s similar, it won’t be the same thing. It can’t be. Fear is too personal. Our fears are our own. We know our fears and they certainly know us.
When I was little, I remember being afraid of the darkness at the top of the stairs.
Truly afraid. Terrified.
There was something in it—I was sure of that. Something with claws. Something that crouched out of sight and panted like a dog. Something hungry. I knew that unless I came up the stairs with my back pressed against the far wall, that a hairy arm would reach out between the slats in the second floor rail and slash me. I knew it. Absolutely knew it.
That was when I was eight.
I’m not sure when I stopped believing that there was a werewolf on the second floor landing. Maybe it was around the time my best friend got sick with leukemia and wasted away over the course of a long, bad summer. Or, maybe it was when my father started hitting us kids. Or, maybe it was when the gang of kids in the park threw rocks at a group of African American girls who’d come to the local skating rink, killing one of them and sparking a race riot.
Maybe it was any one of a dozen other things. We lived in an old row home in a low income neighborhood in Philadelphia. It was a very rough place to grow up. Poverty, violence, crime, racism, hatred. There seemed to be a lot of darkness, even on sunny days. Or . . . maybe I just noticed the shadows when the sun was shining. The contrast between dark and light was easier to spot.
Or, maybe what happened was that the things that scared me changed entirely. I stopped being afraid of werewolves and zombies when I realized how absolutely terrifying it was to just say “Hi” to a girl. Or, when I walked into a new school, and I was absolutely convinced that I was too weird, too poorly dressed, too geeky, too bookish, too whatever to make friends with any of the kids I saw. They all looked happy. They all seemed to know one another. I was sure they each had terrific families, got great grades, could afford nicer clothes, never doubted themselves, were loved, were funny, were cool, belonged. . . .
My fear changed, but my capacity for being afraid did not. Fear, I realized, it changed, it evolved like some kind of twisted chameleon. It raced ahead of us to make sure that we never completely outgrew it. Fear peered into our thoughts and made adjustments, picked new weapons, mapped out fresh strategies so that it could set traps along our path.
I’m older now, and tougher. When I was a kid and afraid of even walking down my own block, I began studying martial arts; now I’m an eighth-degree black belt. Very tough. You’d think that would make me crush my fear and toss it over my shoulder.
Yeah, that would be great.
Fear is too sly for that. Too slippery and smart. Now that I’m older, I have a whole new set of fears. Tough as I am, there’s no way for me to be there to protect everyone I love all the time. And there are new monsters: wars, political unrest that seems to be tearing the country apart, intolerance directed at those I love, new diseases. . . .
Well, you get the idea. Fear is always there. And it is so personal a thing. Some of the things that scare me don’t make my best friend twitch. He’s not afraid of those things. But I know for sure there are things in his life that scare him green. Things that don’t make me twitch.
Maybe that’s why I read horror stories. I want to understand my own fears, and I want to understand what’s happening in the heads and hearts of my friends. I mean . . . how can you be there for your friends if you can’t sympathize or empathize?
When I was a kid, I devoured every horror story I could get my hands on. The darker, the better. Why? Because it helped to know that I wasn’t the only one who was afraid of the dark. And it helped even more to know that I wasn’t the only one who was afraid of the darkness inside my own head and heart. I read it all, in print and in comics. Horror poetry, too, because sometimes a poet can stab right to the heart of the darkness.
That’s when I began writing horror stories too. To defeat monsters? Sure, that was part of it. Not all, though. I wrote horror stories so I could understand the shadows in my head. Sounds crazy, but it’s not.
I bet you understand that. You’re reading this book. It doesn’t matter if you want to write horror. What matters is that you’re willing to read it. Something about this book touched a nerve. Maybe it was the title, maybe the cover, maybe the text on the flap. Maybe it’s one or more of the contributors.
Or maybe it’s that you want to understand darkness too. The darkness around you in your life, and the shadows inside.
That’s probably it. To one degree or another.
You’re like me. You’re like the amazing lineup of contributors in this book. Some of them you’ll already know (who hasn’t read a Goosebumps book?), while others will be new to you. And I’ve included poets along with the writers of prose stories.
Scary Out There is a project of love—admittedly of the dark kind—I edited for the Horror Writers Association. The HWA is the home of horror writing in long and short fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. They recognize the very best in horror writing with their annual Bram Stoker Award, named for the author of Dracula. The contributors whose strange imaginings you’ll find here are all members of that august body, and the variety you’ll discover in these works suggests how long and how subtle the reach of horror can be. Like many works that we in the HWA consider horror, this is not a book dedicated to supernatural horrors. Sure, there are monsters here, but fear comes in all shapes and sizes, all frequencies and flavors. Being alone, being ignored, not fitting in, peer pressure . . . man, there are so many kinds of fear out there.
So . . . yeah . . . it’s scary out there.
It’s scary in here, too.
Take a deep breath and turn the page. . . .
Scary Out There
What scares you? Things that go bump in the night? Being irreversibly different? A brutal early death? The unknown?
This collection contains stories and poetry by renowned writers such as R. L. Stine, Neal and Brendan Shusterman, and Ellen Hopkins—all members of the Horror Writers Association—about what they fear most. The stories include mermaids, ghosts, and personal demons, and are edited by Jonathan Maberry, multiple Bram Stoker award winner and author of the Rot & Ruin series.