It’s day three of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m very excited to have Phoebe Locke joining me for a seriously spooky post about the power of fear – and that undying figure of myth, the boogeyman.
Phoebe is the author of The Tall Man (Wildfire, 2018), which drew on the singularly creepy internet meme of the Slender Man. Here, she reveals why he inspired her to write her novel and why, despite penning one of the year’s most unnerving books, she still gets scared…
I have a confession to make. I am 32 years old and last night I went to sleep with the lights on.
In my defence, I didn’t start the night that way. I went to sleep in the dark like most other well-adjusted adults do every night. But when I woke in the early hours of the morning, I couldn’t stop the images that began to creep into my head; couldn’t stop imagining that every sound outside my door was a footstep or the door handle slowly turning. So I turned the light on and eventually fell asleep again.
The reason? Yesterday I watched episode 4 of Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House and, frankly, scared myself shitless.
I’ll avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched the series yet (do, though, because it’s brilliant) but episode 4 features a particularly frightening scene where Luke, one of the youngest of the Crain siblings, hides from one of the many ghouls haunting his family’s home: an impossibly tall and thin floating man.
Given I wrote a novel, The Tall Man, inspired by a similar figure, this should really be right up my street. And it is – I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series – but still, it scared the hell out of me.
When I was about eight or nine, the thing which kept me up at night was my fear of vampires. I’m not really sure where this came from or why it scared me quite so much (despite the evidence to the contrary so far, I don’t actually scare that easily – it would only be a year or two before that same child would be bingeing on Stephen King novels). But I remember very clearly wrapping myself up tight in my duvet, making sure it reached my ears and therefore protected my neck from any of the undead who might happen to be wandering through a Cambridgeshire village that night.
I also remember going to the library each week and taking out every novel about vampires I could find. It’s possible that I was looking for tips on how to fight one should the occasion arise, but actually I think it was simpler than that. Vampires scared me and somehow that was interesting. I wanted to keep poking at that feeling.
I think that we often have that duality as children – being frightened and yet fascinated by something. When I read about Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, the two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin, who stabbed their friend 19 times in a bid to please Slender Man, it was this which really drew me to the case and inspired me to write The Tall Man.
Watching the recorded police interviews and reading various accounts, you see it over and over again: the girls were scared that Slender Man would kill them or their families, but they also wanted to go and live with him in the woods, to be his ‘proxies’, and be rewarded for their services. The original internet forum posts which had created this urban legend – a boogeyman in his most modern form – truly frightened them, but they kept going back for more.
Both Geyser and Weier are vulnerable individuals and the case is an extreme and tragic one. But I think their reaction to the story of Slender Man is a bigger version of something we often experience – both as children, when we’re told about the boogeyman in all his guises, and as adults, picking up a horror novel or choosing a scary film to watch. We want to turn away, turn it off, hide behind a cushion. And yet we desperately want to look, too.
I think that’s what draws me to writing about the things that scare me. It’s an addictive feeling, fear; an interesting one. It takes me, time after time, back to the darkest corners of my imagination, makes me want to pull the things that hide there into the light. To look at them more fully, to keep poking at that feeling. The same way I used to check out more and more of those vampire books as a kid. The same way I’ll watch the rest of The Haunting Of Hill House both dreading and hoping for another glimpse of the floating man.
Tonight I’ll at least try to start the night with the lights off.
Okay, I officially won’t be sleeping tonight. Thanks Phoebe. For more sleepless nights, you can follow Phoebe on Twitter here. Tomorrow, I’ll be joined by a very good friend (and occasional co-author), who’s briefly whisking us away from books for a movie-related post. Scream you then.