Scary tales whether read in the dark or the light produce both images and emotions that elicit strong occurrences. Sometimes it is through dreams and/or nightmares. Sometimes it is through our unconscious but wakeful mind. (Did you really hear that noise or see that shadow or are you just a bit paranoid?) Good scary tales are long-lasting. I remember growing up, I’d walk to school and pass this house that was rumored to have a ‘red room’ and of course you know blood and death, secrets and lies were never too far away from the rumored tales of the 'red room'. Never once did I pass that house with the curtains open; at least, not to my knowledge. However that is what makes a strong tale…your memory can’t always recall the truth because your body's endorphins release just the right amount of a ‘fear-high’ that the truth just doesn’t matter anymore. It is the scary tale that sticks and is all that matters.
I’m not a big fan of scary tales honestly but I am a fan of critical thinking. So I have created a weekly post called ‘Scare–Me-Saturdays' in which I will discuss a short scary tale and apply my love of psychological & intellectual discussion. You are welcome to join in on the discussion otherwise it will be a lonely, one-sided discussion…and I’m cool with that but I’d rather have some fun.
WARNING: These discussions do CONTAIN SPOILERS about the stories. DO NOT READ further unless you do not mind spoilers. Please do not come back at me complaining how I ruined the story for you. You have been warned
*The first ten stories are from Michael Montour’s collection of scary tales from his book Permanent Damage. I hate to use the same author however for the sake of saving money I'm going with the collections and works of such and such for these posts. (This book is only (as of today) $2.99.)
Story One: Upstairs, Locked
A.K.A Sympathetic to the ‘monster’
This story begins with the funeral of a mother and her adult children returning to the home they were raised in. Immediately the reader knows there is something wrong with the house. Maybe it’s haunted or maybe there is past abuse that haunts the adult children. There is definitely something though.
True to form of a good scary tale the pace picks up with creepy signals. Signals such as “She listened.” and “Waited for a scream or a rattle of a chain or that long drawn-out scratching at the door.” Obviously the title gives some aspects of the story away.
This brings me to my first few questions. Do you think scary tales should have titles? Have you ever read a tale and known that if it weren’t for that title you would have been freaked out? That’s how I feel sometimes, more so than not. But then, what are you going to do? Number them?
The story goes on to do a bit of back and forth with memories from the main character but I feel this doesn’t harm the tale in the least; it adds to the suspense and builds up the tension.
Eventually they visit the attic and reveal the (demon-spawned?) child their mother gave birth to after being raped in the middle of the night by someone knocking at her door. Now it is really up for debate as to whether the visitor in the night was something unnatural or whether the child's deformities were the result of an abusive husband’s actions: forcing her to drink pennyroyal tea which aids in a ‘natural’ abortion (if you can call it natural as doesn’t that go against ‘natural’ since it is another form of forced abortion?) It was used for other things as well however I'll keep to the topic of use for sake of time and space.
By the way, Nirvana has a song called 'Pennyroyal Tea'.
The gist of the story is what are they going to do with the 'monster' in their attic? They decide to let the 'monster' or really, deformed adult child (is that the proper term-have I offended any...sorry), starve to death as none of them feel comfortable killing it in the literal sense with a tool or weapon.
Of course, that wouldn't have been a great ending for a scary tale, now would it? The lead character in the book wakes up in the middle of the night and bravely decides to visit her sibling. She feeds it and over the course of her visit with Pennyroyal realizes her sibling isn't a 'monster' but it was her parents who always used Pennyroyal as scare tactics and threats when she was younger that made the sibling appear to be a monster.
In the morning, she tells her siblings she is leaving. They freak out because they were expecting her to hang around until the 'monster' dies. She calms their nerves by telling them she's taken care of it and drives away. Her siblings are shocked to find the attic door wide open, and empty. The End.
It depends on a number of ways you can look at this. I personally felt it more sad than anything else because Pennyroyal is free and yet you gotta know exactly what people will take it for....'a monster'. When really, and the author did well to make you sympathize for the deformed being, very few people would ever sympathize for it. Instead, it would be considered an outcast, a freak, a very real and true sense of a monster. Do you not agree?
'God help the outcasts'...from Hunchback of Notre Dame
So what makes this a scary tale? Is it even scary at all? In my opinion it leads the reader to explore attributes of themselves. Not just whether they would kill the deformity in the attic or release it (because isn't both just as awful in the end) but it leads you to consider what some of the possible views you have that are set in stone and makes you wonder what you've been seeing 'wrong' all this time.
Racism, bigotry, and even the simplest 'assumptions' we put on people are sometimes carried down from those we loved and looked up to. How much of your views are 'your' beliefs and how much are simply carried down from cultural and/or environmental upbringing?
When you see something in yourself that you never saw before...that can be pretty scary.
So those are my thoughts, my questions, and I'd love to hear from you. To make things easier, Here is a link to the facebook topic so you can chat there!
Many Blessings and I look forward to our next Saturday Shiver Episode.