BS Chick: Marta Acosta is the author of Happy Hour at Casa Dracula and a long-time contributor to the comments on this blog. She is still afraid of dolls.
Scary Things by Marta Acosta
When I was five, my parents gave me a lavish gift: a life-size doll with long brown hair and glittery blue glass eyes. I was not a girly-girl, so while I was impressed with this doll, I was not enamored of it. One cold winter night, when it was propped by the fireplace, my father told me that it was a witch and would come alive at night and “get” me. My dear father based his child-rearing techniques on lessons he had learned when he joined the Merchant Marines at 15 and later became a paratrooper. Perhaps these institutions were not the best source for information on raising a daughter.
He saw that I was afraid, so he told me to walk to the doll and touch it. You know, the old face your fears, jump out of the plane, land behind enemy lines, and attack approach to life. I refused, which annoyed him. He demanded that I touch the spooky doll, whose eyes seemed to stare at me. Fear beat obedience, and I began shrieking. That’s when my mother came in and restored order. In my father’s defense, he protected me against all actual dangers, but had no tolerance for fear of imaginary dangers.
I gave away the expensive doll at the first opportunity, but I can still remember how blandly malevolent and alive she looked in the flickering light of the fireplace.
By the time I was ten, my fear of things that go bump in the night was a source of great amusement to my brothers. They were horror movie fans, and when they came back from some new gorefest, they would follow me around the house and reciting the tales of terror in excruciating detail. I tried not to listen, but the images they described are still as vivid to me as if I’d seen the movies myself.
I was able to read mildly scary books and watch mildly scary television shows. But I kept all the lights on, checked the locks on the doors, and made sure that someone was around if things became too real. And the line between real and imaginary blurred late at night.
Why do some people enjoy entertainment that makes their hearts pound? The theory is that humans get an adrenaline rush from perceived danger and find the quick hormonal jolt pleasurable. Some of us, however, don’t leave the scary story in the book or on the movie screen. We look out of our windows and see a movement in the bushes. We wake in the night, hear an unidentifiable sound, and assume that it must have a supernatural origin, even when we are the most hardened of skeptics. We toss the sheets over our heads and hope that a headless demon, animated doll monster, or angry poltergeist doesn’t attack.
Little known fact: sheets can protect you against the depredations of supernatural monsters. There is some dispute whether low thread-count sheets work as well as high-thread count sheets.
Logic, reason, high-thread count sheets cannot convince us emotionally that there is no danger when we’ve just made the mistake of reading a really spooky novel. And I wonder if maybe the wiring in our noggins is different, and that is why the imagined danger is as unpleasantly frightening as actual danger.
I wonder, too, if bad wiring might explain why some of us take so much pleasure in reading, because the “reality” of the stories is heightened for us. Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about being a pathetic scaredy cat.
Where do you draw the line between pleasurable fright and awful fear? Do you watch re-runs of “The X-Files,” but start tensing up at the first da-da, da-das of the “Jaws” theme? Do you devour Stephen King books, but refuse to go on extreme rides at the amusement park? And what happens when you take on more than you can bear? Do you have secret fears, like a terror of clowns, or rat-phobia? Inquiring minds want to know.