I asked my Twitter followers for their favorite childhood Halloween memories and all of them were the essence of innocent pleasure: mushing pumpkin pulp between their fingers, swapping candy with siblings, and my favorite contribution: “My dad came home with the original light sabers the first year they were out as a surprise.”
As little children, we believed in vampires, werewolves and ghosts. As adolescents, we pretended to believe. As adults, we grasp at the memories of how it felt to believe. And one of the most characteristic delights of childhood Halloween is the glee at being terrified by the unreal, and believing in ghosts.
I remember the years when I slept every night with the sheets pulled tight around my neck because of a Goosebumps book I’d read about vampires; but now the nighttime fear that haunts me most is of leaving the front door unlocked. These days I’m a sad Sherlock Holmes, discovering that behind every mystery are the same old human vices.
Maybe that’s why, as an adult, I reach for bone-chilling literature when I want to recapture that childhood feeling. In a uniquely adult way, the best horror writers pry open the neat machinery of the grown-up brain and activate the squirming illogical fears inside. We might not be able to believe in ghosts anymore, but we can believe in fiction. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe are old friends in this season, but below are a few fine works of horror that are less well-known. Each inspires a thrill of terror that opens like a chasm to the bottom of our most universal and mysterious fears.
Next: A Bone-Chilling Tale from an Unlikely Spookster…