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It's ok to be scared

How horror helps to shape us

It's ok to be scared
Halloween 2020

The room was dark and very quiet, a few hushed whispers breaking the silence as the crowd settled in. Waiting. I looked around nervously, trying to pick up any hint of movement in the dim city hall. I brushed worriedly at my warm jacket with one hand, the other clutching tightly my little Siamese cat beanie baby, which I carried with me every where. A few minutes passed, and I began to relax into my seat, carefully tucking Snip into my pocket so I wouldn't lose her in the dark. I vaguely registered the sound of a door opening and closing, and was about to scan around the room again when...

AAAUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!!!! AAAUUUUGGGHHHH!!!!HAHAHAHAHA!

I jumped violently, nearly sliding off the metal folding chair as a white figure raced past up the aisle, screaming and laughing in a nerve-shattering way. On the other side of the room, a darker, bigger figure mirrored the first, the scream lower pitched and more maniacal.

As the figures reached the front of the room, I barely recognized two of the local librarians standing there, one dressed as a skeletal bride, the other as her zombified groom. Recovering slightly from the shock of the bride's high-pitched scream, I leaned forward, eager for the night's stories and scares.

When I was little, my family lived in a tiny little town in Colorado, called Palmer Lake. Each year around Halloween, it was a tradition for kids and adults alike to go to the local library or the town hall, and enjoy a night of scary stories we called "Stories in the Dark." It was a thrilling night of jump scares, costumes, and sometimes even a good scary song. Everyone was on an even field those nights. Kids would jump and scream, and sometimes even cry - but so would the grown ups. It was an odd confidence booster to young me, knowing that even my mom and dad, and my older sister, were just as scared as I was. Knowing that made things less scary, and even fun! During "Stories in the Dark", I learned a great many ghost stories and Urban Legends, was told about cryptids, and built up my repertoire of stories I would later use to scare my friends when we moved. From a young age, I had a special appreciation for horror, and I was always confused when people told me that it was weird, or even bad, to enjoy being scared.

When I was 13 or 14, I was telling one of my favorite stories, "Car Keys", to a captive audience at Girl's Camp. I had perfected telling this story, and it was a great opener to some of my scarier tales. The girls around me were wide eyed as I set the scenes, building up to my favorite part, which involved me humming a series of 5 notes over and over, each time replacing a hum with a word. As I finished the story, several girls gasped and nudged each other, and one looked utterly shocked. I asked if they'd like me to tell another, and got an immediate chorus of "YES, tell another one!". I was always careful with my Ghost Story nights. After telling an actually scary one, I would switch to a lighter hearted one, like "Didja", "Viper", or "The Dark Dark House". These cool down stories often had a weird twist, or a jump scare, which got people to laugh and loosen up after the scare from before. However, to my dismay, before I could pull one of those out, I heard one of the camp leaders call my name.

"No more stories, young lady. You're going to scare someone."

Even when my tentmates protested and said that they wanted me to continue, the leader stayed firm. No more stories. Not tonight, not for the rest of camp. I knew better than to argue the point, and shrugged at my friends apologetically. After that night I was permanently banned from telling ghost stories, and it wasn't until a few days after going back home that I found out why. We had recently gotten a new camp leader, a young woman in her 20s. She had been sitting outside her tent, next to the one I was in, and had listened in on "Car Keys". Somehow, this young woman had never heard a ghost story before, and my telling - with voices and hums - had badly frightened her. She had gone into the tent with the older leader and said that if I was allowed to continue, I would bring something evil into the camp. A fully grown adult was convinced that I would summon something awful into the camp with my stories.... Which had been eliciting giggles and whispers from the other girls. Which they had said wasn't that scary. That they were having fun. The girls, ranging in age from 12 to 18, had been enjoying the moments of fright. What was wrong with being scared for a few moments, if it meant laughter and relief once it was over? Why couldn't a much more experienced person recognize this?

I've never understood why some people are so against being scared. I enjoy a good horror movie or scary story. Sure, every once in a while I have a disturbing dream, or I feel the need to race full tilt down a dark hall when I'm alone at night, but I know that nothing is there, that I am in fact ok. Because I learned to calm myself after being scared during "Stories in the Dark", I have a very important skill, which is staying fairly calm and level headed during an emergency. Somehow, being terrified by the story "Bloody Fingers" when I was 4 helped me to be collected enough to help my brother when he was bleeding badly and I needed to patch him up before getting better help a few years ago.

Being scared is not a bad thing. It's ok to be scared sometimes.

halloween
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Jolie Determan
See all posts by Jolie Determan