Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I don’t believe in the paranormal or the supernatural, but sometimes I wish I did. I used to, back when I was a kid. I even went through a period of time when I hoped it was all real. Now I’m older, I’m a skeptic, and I can’t operate on faith or suspicion without evidence. So I, and maybe others like me, seek out the thrill of fear from things we know aren’t real but that we hope will scare us anyway. 

I have vivid memories of the first time a supernatural idea scared me senseless. The year was 1982 and I was five. I was out with my grandfather and we stopped in a little convenience store, probably for his cigarettes. It was there that I saw, for the first time, one of those old-fashioned comic book spinner racks. I was mesmerized by all the colorful covers. Grandpa offered to buy me a comic book and I chose a Batman issue because I knew the character from TV. On the drive home, I read it as well as I could at that age. I was enraptured by the moody, shadowy art, which I would later learn was the work of Gene Colan, possibly the greatest horror artist ever to work in mainstream comics. Then I got to the last page and my mind changed forever! 

            The issue ended on a cliffhanger, with the reader seeing that Batman has been bitten by a vampire, complete with two little blood-leaking puncture wounds on his neck! Not quite understanding the idea of “To be continued,” I assumed that was the end of Batman. My poor little five-year-old mind imploded and I couldn’t stand to hold that comic book in my hands again. Grandpa took it from me and gave it to the kid next door, who was a few years older than me and could handle the horror. 

            Yes, that experience scared me. Yes, it gave me nightmares. But I loved it too. I asked my grandmother (on the other side of the family this time) about vampires and she explained the whole thing to me: the drinking of blood, the transformation into bats, and the aversion to sunlight. She must have realized how fascinated I was by the subject and how much I enjoyed being scared, because she started telling me bedtime stories about Dracula (and even Jack the Ripper eventually!). But she forgot to add the fact that the vampires aren’t real! So I had in my head, for a thrilling little chunk of my childhood, the idea that vampires really existed and that one might decide to visit me at any time!  

            Thanks to an active imagination, I found plenty of things to be afraid of as a kid. Even when I was 99% sure something wasn’t real, which is how I eventually felt about vampires, there was always that little speck of doubt that would creep up and give me shivers in the shadows of my bedroom when I was supposed to be asleep. 

            Eventually, of course, I outgrew such fears. Still, there came a strange period in my life, when I was in my early twenties, when I did a lot of reading on the so-called real paranormal and hoped I’d find that ghosts, poltergeists, demons, and other such things existed.   Looking back on those days, I have to wonder why I’d want such things to be real. Considering the question now, in my mid-thirties, I think I understand.
            As I said earlier, I don’t believe in any of that stuff. I’m more interested in science when it comes to understanding the world in which I live, but I still love horror, the paranormal, and the supernatural when it comes to fiction. I read books and watch movies in the hope that they’ll scare me, and I write horror stories because I want to give others the thrill of suspense and fright. But why is this so?

            The answer came to me when I thought about mosquitoes. Those little insect annoyances really are vampires, sneaking up on us, drinking our blood, and flying away before we even notice their presence. But the similarity between mosquitoes and Dracula isn’t what gave me that answer. More importantly, they make us itch! 

            Childhood fears—Dracula lurking around the next corner, or the monster under the bed, or Bigfoot just beyond the tree line—are like sharp, quick bites that freeze our young hearts for a minute or an hour and then are blown away by the illumination of the nightlight or the soothing words of a parent assuring us that it’s just been a bad dream. But then we grow up and face real fears. As adults, we are all aware of the true horrors of the world, and they eat at us, not like zombies, but as true possibilities. These adult fears are always there on the borders of our minds. What if I lose my job? What if cancer comes knocking on my door?  What if that last big war-to-end-all-wars breaks out? What if she leaves me? What is some spying government agency checks my internet records and mistakes the morbid researches of a horror novelist for the homework of a nascent serial killer?  

            No, we don’t think of these things all the time, at least not consciously, but we know they’re there, know they really could happen to us. So they sit in the backs of our minds, gnawing at us, maybe even aging us, tiring us out like constant reminders of eventual doom. And that’s where the mosquitoes really come into the equation. 

            When a mosquito leaves the aftermath of its bite, the annoying swollen bump that itches like hell, we scratch. We do that with any itch. The reason for this is that we’re substituting a small amount of pain to distract the nerves from the more irritating sensation of the itch.
            Adult fears—financial problems, loneliness, illness, failure, the inevitability of death—work like an itch, a slight sensation that pokes and teases and annoys and can eventually infuriate us if we don’t do something to distract ourselves from its constant presence. 

            That’s where horror fiction comes in. We use it to scratch the itch of adulthood, substituting a brief stronger fear to fight back the constant lesser worries that tend to gang up on us. Maybe that’s why I spent that early adulthood period looking desperately for things that go bump in the night. I wanted the ghosts and demons to be real because on some level I preferred them to the real problems life was very likely to throw at me as I left childhood behind and stepped onto the long road that leads to age and ends in the grave. 

            Some of us love horror because it helps us scratch the itch. We look to something worse than what we normally know because it makes us feel better. We inject those moments of fear, brought on by words on pages or images on a screen, into our lives to send the terrifying reality away, at least for a while. The scratch can be as slight as the tale of a single vampire skulking through an otherwise familiar world or as extreme as the strange immensity of Lovecraft’s cosmos.

            As children, we love horror because it adds a thrill. Most of us have little to fear and so we crave more. As adults, we have a lot to fear, and none of the things that can solve our problems are as easy as a stake driven through a vampire’s heart or a bullet to the brain of a zombie. So sometimes we need to step into a world where the solutions are as simple as the monstrous problems, a world where crosses and holy water and exorcisms really do take away the terrors. Fiction-induced fear is reassuring. It helps us. It’s a good kind of pain.  

            I don’t believe in the paranormal or the supernatural, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend I do.

Aaron Smith will debut his horror title CHICAGO FELL FIRST later this year. The zombie tale explores science and civilization in a race for a cure to a zombie outbreak wiping out Chicago. Can one man’s illness be another man’s blessing? Coming in October from Buzz Books. 

Aaron Smith is the author of over thirty published stories in various genres. His novels include the spy thriller NOBODY DIES FOR FREE and the vampire novels 100,000 MIDNIGHTS and ACROSS THE MIDNIGHT SEA. More information about his work can be found on his blog at www.godsandgalaxies.blogspot.com

Buzz Books (publisher of CHICAGO FELL FIRST) site: http://buzzbooksusa.com/
Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Aaron-Smith/e/B0037IL0IS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1374366653&sr=1-2-ent

UPDATE: THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED. All four ARC copies are already spoke for! Thanks and we have lots more coming up! A new giveaway each day in October!







  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing Aaron! :D

  2. Aaron, my husband watches horror movies because he loves to see people in more pain than he is (chronic back pain.) But in truth he's loved them all of his life. I guess because I am a believer in the paranormal and metaphysics, I can't watch them. But I AM reading your book!

  3. This is so profound. Thank you for allowing me to see this new perspective. I think you make a great point. And so elegantly stated!