When my mother was pregnant with me, she saw A Nightmare on Elm Street with my grandmother, a movie which terrified them both so badly that my grandmother was afraid my mother might have miscarried.
After the movie my grandmother urged my mother to go to a hospital. My mother declined, because she was wise enough to know that miscarriages are only caused by chromosomal abnormalities, immunological disorders, and witchcraft.
My personal medical knowledge is limited, but I believe this incident instilled an early appreciation for scary movies in me while I was still developing. I emerged from the womb with a carnal lust for fear and gore, and I've been chasing the craving ever since. By the time I was six I had a refined palette for horror and a discerning taste for what I liked. And what I liked was true, grisly horror—not cheap jumps. I hated being startled. I felt like that was cheating. Once my babysitter thought it would be funny to jump out of my closet and scare me. I screamed and instinctively shot my arm out in defense, punching her squarely in the bone zone.
I'm not down with being startled. If people startle me, crotches get pummeled. When I saw Scream 2 in theaters, I went around punching dicks and ovaries left and right. It's how I cope. Don't judge.
In my lifetime, few things have honestly scared me. I found Marge's voice in the first season of The Simpsons terrifying, and I live in constant fear of dolls coming to life and stabbing me to death, but the first time I experienced legitimate fear was in third grade when the school library purchased copies of those heinous Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. The accompanying illustrations in those books were clearly designed to send children into terror comas. I firmly believe everyone born after 1975 has been permanently scarred by that series.
A few years later those scars were freshly opened when my grade school screened Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in installments during a week of heavy snowfall that made recess impossible. I might be in minority when I confess I found the bulk of the movie dreary and pointless, but there's one scene that made me freak the geek out. You know the scene I'm talking about. You know.
In short, Willy Wonka forces a bunch of candy-addicted children on a boat ride through hell. The children understandably flip their shit.
The Wonka scene is one of a handful of scary experiences I've locked away in my mind, but it's not a vast collection. While I'm constantly hoping to be terrified into cardiac arrest, few things sincerely scare me. Off the top of my head I can think of only two: bees and zombies. Stop laughing. Let me explain.
First, bees are scary, y'all, and I turn into a child when I encounter them. Case in point: one summer day a wasp flew through an open window and landed on my coffee table (wasps are essentially bees with a bad attitude). I immediately booked it out of the room, then peered cautiously around the corner, quietly hoping it would fly away on its own accord. He didn't, so I had to consider alternative avenues. I took the rod from the shower curtain taped a drinking glass to the end of it, and from a safe distance I lowered the cup over the wasp.
"Now I just have to wait a week for this thing to die," I thought. I couldn't wait that long, though. I also couldn't set it free because wasps are assholes and it probably would've flown back to sting me in the eyeball. I slid a piece of paper under the glass and then carried it to the freezer. Then for the next hour I nervously monitored the glass, waiting for the thing to stop moving.
After it had finally frozen solid, I tossed it out the window. "It'll thaw out and fly away," I thought.
Bees and wasps are a manageable worry, but zombies are my one true fear. They horrify me because it's really not that crazy of an idea when you think about it, and I think about it a lot. Several years ago there was a fake news story that spread through the Internet, citing a new strain of malaria that caused people to die, then reanimate moments later and attack everyone around them. Part of the hoax claimed Condoleezza Rice was losing her marbles over fears that the new super-malaria might be used as a biological weapon against America, and after reading the article, I was ready to lose it right along with Condi.
I have nightmares about zombies at least bi-monthly, if not more frequently. I'll wake up with a start, the grisly visage of a decomposing monster lingering like mist in my mind, and I'll have to spend the rest of the night with all the lights in my apartment turned on. It doesn't help that zombies are becoming more and more pervasive in popular culture.
A few weeks ago I was watching The Walking Dead while eating a burrito, and I became so distressed and entrenched in the episode, I had to stop eating completely.
When something causes me to neglect food, I know it's serious.
Sometimes I think about how I'd react should a zombie outbreak ever occur in real life. Fearful as I am of the living dead, I suspect I might actually do okay for myself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I'm pretty resourceful, I'm not entirely weak, and if it really came down to it I'd have no qualms using a child as a human shield.