Tuesday, February 26, 2013

author Sands Hetherington takes the mic

by author Sands Heterington

From ghoulies and ghosties 
And long-leggedy beasties 
And things that go bump in the night, 
Good Lord, deliver us! 

Judging by this traditional Scottish prayer, you'd think we would want to AVOID spooky stories, but they have been very popular for a very long time; I suspect forever. So there must be something in us that enjoys scary things, albeit vicariously or from some other safe distance. My stories aren't about spooks and monsters in dark places, although a red crocodile that sounds like a chain saw and lives underneath the bed might spook some young tykes.

Here’s a look at two great stories that definitely are spooky, though.

The story that scared me the very most ever was H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. Actually it was the movie and I was eight years old, but I did read the book years later when I managed to work up the nerve. After seeing that movie, I had a dread of dark places for a long time: not of anything specific in the story, but just a general dread.

The story is about a scientist who invents a drug that makes him invisible. The problem is what else it does: it makes him megalomaniacal and downright nasty, and he goes around killing people and NOBODY EVER KNOWS HE'S THERE UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE! He can have you in his sights and you won't know it until you feel the garotte. That's probably why I got scared of the dark. Dark and invisible are the same thing, and Wells has tapped into something primordial here. It's a real piece of horror genius and the most effective example I know of things that do in fact go bump in the night.

I'll bet you've never heard of my favorite ghost story. It's "Shottle Bop" by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, 1940). The central character is a ne'er-do-well, not altogether bad guy, who is down on his luck. He comes across a dusty little bottle shop in lower Manhattan. He goes in and meets the strange little proprietor who gives him a potion in a bottle and tells him,

 "It can do as much for you as you want it to. But mind me now. As long as you use what it gives you for your self-improvement, you will thrive. Use it for self-glorification, as a basis for boasting, or for revenge, and you will suffer in the extreme. Remember that, now." 

Our character goes home and drinks the potion and is suddenly able to see into the ghost world. And the truly remarkable thing is, he can see the ghosts but they can't see him! In any event, he manages to take up with a number of them and becomes rich as a "psychic consultant." Eventually he runs into an old enemy who calls him a phony. He bets the guy that he can show him a spook that will scare him half to death. They go to a haunted house where the ghost of an awful old murderer is supposed to live. Our man's invisibility magic wears off, though, because he has boasted and plotted revenge. The old murderer sees him, and our friend ends up quite dead. And he has to haunt the old house forever-----along with the horrible old murderer.

The story isn't all that scary (except at the end), but it's wall-to-wall supernatural phenomena, and delightfully funny and original. It's the finest ghost story I'm aware of. Invisibility is by no means the only device scary stories use, but both of these examples rely on it.

I don't do dead things or lots of scary. My only scary characters are the iguanas, and they are as amusing as they are frightening.

In Night Buddies, Impostors, and One Far-Out Flying Machine, there is one scary scene where Crosley morphs into an iguana and hijacks John and his blimp. The fright comes from what you thought was a friend turning into an enemy. And there is one example of terror in the dark at the very end of the book, but let's not give that away. If you are looking for real ghosts or real terror, check out Wells and Sturgeon. I promise you real results.

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1 comment:

Virginia S Grenier said...

Thank you for hosting Sands Hetherington and letting him share this zany guest post.