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The Personal Path To Horror

I didn’t find horror, horror found me.

That’s usually the way it goes when a fandom is formed. But horror fans are a breed unlike any other. It might have been a movie or a book, a comic or some cool model kit we saw on a shelf. Maybe it was some gore saturated video game our mom didn’t want us playing or a copy of Fangoria that someone accidentally mixed in with the box of Playboys under the bed. Maybe you just hung out with all the Goth kids during lunch or turned your love of Halloween from seasonal affair to lifelong passion. However you fell into the horror lifestyle, it’s safe to say that it’s a huge part of who you are now.

As for me, it was a love of folklore and story telling that made me a horror fan. I grew up in the South, in this rural spread at the edge of a metropolis watching the ravenous, steady consumption as farm land was swallowed by urban expansion. I listened to my grandfather telling me stories about the Bell Witch, about murderers and monsters in the woods beyond our back door. I’m not a superstitious man by nature but before I write another word I’ll just go ahead and tell you I believe in the Bell Witch and I won’t say a word against her in this or any other article. That said, most folklore and superstition starts out as a way to scare kids into behaving, to keep them safe from dangers that would otherwise be too complex to explain to them.

We had a large sinkhole in the abandoned lot near our home, a cave entrance that had collapsed decades before I’d even been born. Local lore and legend said that it had been a hiding place where the Confederates had hidden stolen gold and weapons as they retreated from the Battle of Nashville. They’d blown the entrance to keep the Yankees from getting their hands on it but, for whatever reason had never returned to claim it. I spent my summers hunting for a secret entrance, a back door along the decayed wagon road that ran the length of the property, all the while careful to avoid the sinkhole itself. I was told that whatever had been buried in the blast was as cursed as it was valuable and that animals living in the cave had become twisted, rabid monsters that fiercely guarded their treasure.

There was also that weird old house at the end of the street. I think everyone grows up with one of those houses in their neighborhood, that one place that just looks a little odd sitting there on the road as if it hasn’t really been lived in for some time. In the 60’s the young couple that lived there had been artists and friends of my grandfather. She had made pottery and murals while he played guitar. They’d been happy for a while. Then one day, folks noticed she wasn’t around anymore. The police found her husband a few days later trying to push a fifty gallon drum into the Cumberland River with his mutilated wife inside sealed inside. He’d cut off her hands, as much to prevent her from escaping as to crush any hope inside of her of ever practicing her craft again. But one murder hardly makes for a haunted house. No, you also need a suicide or two to really give it a haunt. Not even a decade later another would be songwriter come for his shot at fortune and fame in the Music City hanged himself in the old house, followed by the next owner in the early eighties who decided to do the same thing. Some places are soiled, ruined with evil and unhappiness that drives people mad. They’re patches of land, collections of wood and brick that were never willing to claimed by anyone other than nature and make it a point to ward off whatever life tries to make them its own. The house at the end of the street will always be that kind of place.

These are the sort of stories that grow into legends that become embellished over time, with every storyteller until they have a life of their own. We share them to keep people safe, to warn them to stay away from dangerous places or people who might be as wild and unforgiving as nature itself. It’s easier to tell a kid that a monster might suck them into a pit than explain to them how the ground under their feet is unstable and that even the smallest change in pressure could open the sinkhole even wider than it already is. It’s easier to explain away the tragic loss of neighbors as the result of some inward evil than to talk in depth about domestic violence and depression, to explore the taboos that terrify us.

Of course, some stories are designed just to scare the shit out of people.

We have our own version of Bloody Mary here in the South using the Bell Witch as the antagonist. It’s pretty much the same ritual that everyone knows. You send a friend into a room to stand in front of a mirror. With all the lights turned off, you stand in front of the glass and say “I hate the Bell Witch” three times. When you turn on the lights, she’s supposed to reach through and grab you. Sometimes she kills. Other times she just cuts. I never knew a kid who ever said it three times, though, so I can’t say for sure what’s true and what’s not about that legend.

So much of what we love to watch, from teens being slaughtered in forest shrouded cabins to cursed objects and spiritually possessed homes, there is usually some kind of folklore or myth attached to them, some lingering hint of truth that makes them feel all the more plausible. And thanks to things like CreepyPasta and internet fueled urban legends on social media, we’ll continue to have new monsters and myths to terrify us for years to come. From story contest winners like Slenderman to the tragic and mysterious death of Elisa Lam who vanished from a hotel elevator and ended up drowned in a water tower on the roof, there’s plenty of folklore being written to become the horror story fodder of the future.

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