Non-Horror Stories That Scared Us
With Halloween just around the corner, a lot of us are looking for a good fright. And while there’s certainly no shortage of spooky novels out there sure to send you to a fitful sleep with the lights on, let’s not overlook the many non-horror stories that can give you nightmares. We asked SBT staffers to take a terrifying look back at the stories that inadvertently scarred them for life. Here’s what we came up with:
Steve Rapaport: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline l’Engle
A giant, pulsating, disembodied brain that has enough telepathic mind-control to keep an entire world tamed. It sits there pulsing on a dais. It has control of Charles Wallace Murry, the 10-year-old sensitive genius whom we’ve grown to love.
Charles’s eyes are little spinning pinpricks, his smile unnatural, his voice perfectly natural but a bit loud. He says things like ‘IT calls Itself the happiest sadist,’ and, ‘Meg, I really am much happier as part of IT. You would be too.’
Are you creeped out yet? Madeleine L’Engle scared me for years after that.
Laura Faggetter and Beth Bottery: The BFG by Roald Dahl
I am sure he was a friendly giant and all, but he took a small girl out of her bed at night to an alien world of huge violent figures and snozcumbers. As far as I remember, Sophie had very little say in any of it. No one seems to notice that she was basically kidnapped against her will. I mean – I feel there is a discussion about Stockholm syndrome in here. (Laura)
I feel there is a discussion about Stockholm syndrome in The BFG
I couldn’t sleep properly for months after reading it and could never sleep unless the curtains were tightly closed, I was facing the window and all the lights were off. That way the Bonecruncher or Meatdripper or Childchewer might walk past and not notice me! (Beth)
Brianne Moore: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I read this when I was maybe 14 years old and was horrified. I had never heard of postpartum depression and had a rather rosy view of Victorian life (I was young), which changed immediately after reading this incredibly sad short story about a woman actually driven insane by depression and the inability of anyone else in her life to deal with it properly. It made me hyper-vigilant about my own emotional health after I had my baby, and I’ve never been able to consider decorating with yellow.
Ros McGlynn: Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
One book that had a big influence on me as a teenager was Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews. I [remember experiencing a lot of] confusion about the storyline of incest that still makes me shiver and feel haunted to this day. It created feelings of morbid curiosity as I really wanted to know what the outcome would be, so I read on through the trilogy but I didn’t enjoy it.
Helen Croney: The Bible
Even though they weren’t religious, my parents had an illustrated Bible for children. I had many nightmares after reading the story of the flood and seeing the picture of the little illustrated people disappearing beneath the waves, their mouths open in silent screams...
Sarah Barrie: Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Tomi Ungerer
I still won't put anything on the wall above my pillow. All I can see is the resultant headline: “Edinburgh Woman Flattened in Bedtime Terror”
After reading Flat Stanley as part of a school project, six-year-old me went home and immediately moved the piece of card that was stuck on the wall above my pillow. It had previously been an innocent memento of my fabulous chime bar solo in the previous year’s nativity play but was now a very real threat to my future existence. If the Blu Tack on even a single corner failed, I would be flattened forever and would need to be posted everywhere. It wasn’t worth the risk. Even now, I still won’t put anything on the wall above my pillow – sure, shelves would be useful and some prints would probably make the place look nicer, but all I can see is the resultant headline: “Edinburgh Woman Flattened in Bedtime Terror”.
Nicole Brandon: 1984 by George Orwell and “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F Scott Fitzgerald
I threw 1984 across the room, I got so angry at and scared of Syme, the guy whose job it was to eliminate superfluous words. (Obviously I went back and kept reading, to discover Syme got boosted down the Memory Hole and unremembered - probably for being too smart and too good at his horrible job… which made everything even worse!)
My favorite short story is the genuinely terrifying “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The way the family who live in their secret mountain of diamond view the rest of humanity (and themselves) is absolutely chilling; but most sad and frightening of all is the (relatively poor) protagonist’s lack of shock at any of what he’s encountering. He doesn’t say, or even really think too much about their vicious, innocent, insane behaviour… because these people are so rich and so damaged by their wealth, that he understands immediately that he can’t reason with them, and perhaps he has no place to do so.
What books terrified you (perhaps unintentionally)? Share your thoughts in the comments below!