Dark Touchstones – a lifetime’s worth of creepy stuff, circa 1997.
Let’s be honest with each other, shall we?
Though most of us concentrate on the positive, responsible, serious aspects of being adults, I suspect there may be a deeper, darker, more child-like side to us all.
As for me, I harbor a morbid fascination with stuff that sends ordinary people running for the light switch and a baseball bat. I seek out stories of ghosts, cryptids, aliens and serial killers for a lark.
As a child, I chose to immerse myself in an In Search Of ~ Ripley’s Believe It Or Not ~ Twilight Zone kind of world. I read Nancy Drew, “true” supernatural stories, and any horror novel I could sneak into the house.
King’s Best in rough order:
09 Night Shift
07 The Dead Zone
04 ‘Salem’s Lot
03 The Shining
02 The Stand
The Other Authors, with thier best:
I never did get around to reading anything by Judy Blume–except Wifey of course.
As often as I could, I stayed up all night with my nieces and nephews (who were my age) and (on rare occasions) with slumber party friends, swapping urban legends (which we thought were really and truly true) sharing family folklore, and playing Light as a Feather; Stiff as a Board.
I spent hours watching the weekend matinees on local television. (Way long ago, when there were only 4-5 channels to choose from.) I was mesmerized by grainy, over-edited versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Creature From the Black Lagoon and Godzilla vs fill-in-the-monster which I watched while lying on the floor, in a warm patch of sunlight with the cats, eating bologna and American cheese omelets. (Don’t make faces, that’s what I knew how to make.)
In my very early adolescence, I discovered that PBS broadcast programs other than The Electric Company and ZOOM! I scoured the TV Guide for shows about ancient Mayan, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. When that wasn’t enough to feed my curiosity, I convinced my non-driver mother to take up bike-riding with me. I lead her downtown, where my brand-spankin’-new library card opened up the world for me. When I realized that neither Mother nor God would strike me down for my choices in reading materials, I explored Loch Ness, Transylvania, The American Northwest, Whitechapel and Salem. I discovered, among other things, that this last location is a place of ghosts, not witches.
I met, in these exotic places, the most intriguing and repellent and mysterious creatures.
I met, as well, the romantic, seductive, beautiful archetypes spawned by such creatures.
I looked into the past of my own town, (it has served as a model for at least two books that I know of) and my own state, and found a host of hints and facts and innuendos regarding the sanitarium, the outlaw shootouts, the fire, and the caves that are really mines.
This arcane gossip fodder won me some friends.
As a pack, we delved deeper into the unusual, and we scared ourselves silly. (Put six or seven mystery-minded girls of 15 in a room overnight … you won’t believe how many spirits are glimpsed from the corner of an eye and how many objects move, fall over, or crash to the ground for “nogoodreason”.) At an appropriate age I discovered poltergeist phenomena.
On other nights, wrapped in a blanket to protect myself from the chill of the basement rec-room, I tuned in to Tales from the Darkside and Hammer House of Horror and Kolchak the Night Stalker with the telephone in my hand. My best friend (a boy ~ and thus not welcome to my house late at night) and I watched together. Sometimes we talked, mostly we just breathed and crunched snacks into the receiver.
Suddenly, video stores bloomed on nearly every corner. All the movies I had ever wanted to see were available for a rental fee of a couple bucks. Shortly thereafter I found my mother’s copy of Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original Psycho, which, of course, sent me scrambling for a copy of Psycho (in the newly available VHS format) and ignited my love affair with the master of suspense.
In high school, when I wasn’t hanging out with my friends, I spent a lot of bucks and watched a lot of movies.
Genuinely Frightening Films:
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Near Dark (1987)
The Shining (1980)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
When I was 21, some of those same friends and I drove to Mr. Gein’s hometown. We found his grave in the town cemetery, just after dusk (though we hadn’t planned it that way) on the weekend before Halloween. We placed flowers on Mary’s grave. We were stunned to see a flower on Ed’s as well.
Now, at just past 30, I still relish the odd, the unexplained and the creepy. When I can, I watch The X-Files, Profiler, Millenium, Forever Knight and the reruns of the old programs that my 50+ channels provide.
Granted, I’m softer, kinder and wiser. I can’t watch the evening news most nights, because the cruelties that normal people visit on other normal people make my heart ache. I’d rather contemplate mysteries I can nearly comprehend.
There is, of course, a melancholy aura about many of my interests. It may be true that ghosts are the trapped and tormented souls of victims of circumstance. It may be true that human monsters like Dahmer and Gein are products of their preventable dysfunctional environments. It may be true that reports of aquatic monsters and sasquatch are sightings of the last of vanishing breeds. These possibilities sadden me.
It may also be true, however, that knowledge can contribute to the eradication of some of this sadness. The Web, in three days, has allowed me to collect information and links to all that I have spent most of my life looking for. In my searches, I do not mean any disrespect to those that have suffered pain, confusion or terror at the hands of some of the figures I am pursuing. I mourn for the victims and, often, the perpetrators of violent acts.
Still, I will continue to try to gain an understanding of some of the situations and characters that exist outside the boundries of our civilized world. Doing so is my way of whistling a happy tune in the dark. The dark exits, in our world, in our history, in our minds. Like it or not, it is ours to explore.
This essay was originally written for a website I created in 1997, during a 3-day manic state. I’ve brought it to The Paranormalist on Halloween 2011, as a nostalgic little treat for myself, in celebration of my favorite holiday. I have made a few small changes in the text (while preserving the “dated-ness” that I find so amusing) and updated all the links.