There's this theory. To be honest, I'm not sure if it's a theory of astrophysics or philosophy. Those disciplines are extremely far apart, I know, but I think they find some common ground here. Anyway, I heard Neil Degrasse Tyson talk about it, and like most things he says, it swirled into my eardrum and nested in my brain.
It goes something like this: We will never know everything. For every thing we learn and understand, we learn that there are more things we don't know. The idea is that, as our knowledge pool expands, so does our pool of things we know we don't understand. The search for knowledge never ends, and in terms of pure curiosity, that's actually an encouraging idea. In another sense, it's not so pleasant.
In a previous post in the Darkness Dwells guest blog series, Slade Grayson, author of Blake Twenty-Three and Autumn Moon, discussed what scared him. His fears have changed as he's grown into an adult. He no longer worries about monsters in the closet. Instead, he worries about sickness and the ineptitude or ill intent of others. Above all, he fears for the well-being of his son who probably has not yet developed the self awareness to fear for himself.
Children have no concept of the future. Me? Nothing frightens me more than the future.
As we grow up, we learn there are no literal monsters, but we also learn the figurative meaning of monsters. Slade wrote:
"You grow up and realize that monsters don't exist like we thought. They aren't monstrous in appearance. They look like us. Sometimes they act like us. But then they plant bombs in a crowded area, or fly a plane into a building, or bring guns into a school or movie theater and open fire. Sometimes they travel the country and seek to lure victims into their car/truck/motel room. You grow up and realize that the real monsters - the human ones - can be anywhere. Sometimes you can spot them coming, and sometimes you can't."
We learn there is no end to the monstrous possibilities of our own kind. We may overcome our fears, but in doing so, we discover new fears.
Our fear pool expands.
Much of my storytelling takes place within a science-fiction framework, but always at the heart is horror. To me, horror is not a world constructed around people. It is not the vampire, zombie, or ghost that is terrorizing the characters in the story. Horror is within the people who inhabit these worlds. It banks on their fears, and we understand them through our own. Horror is what they are willing to do and how far they are willing to go.
Consider one of my favorite films, 28 Weeks Later. We open with a small English cottage at the beginning of the outbreak. A small family is trying to survive. The infected overtake the sanctuary. To save himself, a husband abandons his wife.
And, don't tell my wife, but what scares me about that is I am not sure I wouldn't do the same. Granted, the answer doesn't matter. It's about the question. I can say I absolutely would not leave her (fun fact: I actually put that in my wedding vows, no kidding), but there's always a doubt.
I am afraid of my own cowardice, and 28 Weeks Later taught me that.
That is, in essence, horror. It is far more than fear or thrills. It is the knowledge we bring to it. It is the depth to which we are willing or able to look, and I think we have the innate understanding that, no matter how deep we go into that abyss, there will be more of it waiting for us.
And we can come back from it. We are never the same, but we get to come back.
That is horror and the nature of speculative fiction. It is in everything. It is all around us, in every work of art, because the truth is we bring the horror. We bestow our fears upon the things we love. We are not only the light. We are also the darkness, every one of us.
Before wrapping this up, I'd like to shift gears and take a hard turn. Apologies for the sudden inertial thrust into the window if you still happen to be riding in the back seat. The suspension in this old heap was never meant for comfort. Don't worry about the smudge in the glass. I'll get it later.
When I was twelve, Michael Myers scared me. As the shape stalked the beautiful and innocent Laurie Strode through the idyllic town of Haddonfield, I watched for him in every camera shot, fearful of the primal thrill of finding him outside of Laurie's view. She didn't know her life was in danger, but I did. And I pleaded with her to get to safety.
As I grew, I learned that Michael Myers didn't frighten me directly. I feared for Laurie's life through empathy. Understanding that I was powerless to save her, I began to imagine myself in her world, a place where her brother could pick up a butcher knife and plunge it into her chest.
And now, I know that it was never about Michael Myers or Laurie Strode at all. I was learning that it was I who was not safe, and I never was. At any moment, a psychopathic killer could come into my home and murder me, and it is unavoidable and inevitable. I was learning that Michael Myers was a figurative monster who, in a sense, actually does exist in our world.
We fear monsters. We learn they aren't real. We learn they are real. We fear monsters.
The saying that we fear what we don't understand is absolutely true. I don't know what's going to happen. Nobody does. That's why, on every level, I fear the future. I am utterly afraid of everything.
I am afraid of the electric current running to this computer. I am afraid of a train derailment on my way home from my day job. I am afraid of an earthquake's effect on a high-rise building constructed off of a fault line without earthquake structural design. I am afraid of airborne viruses (alien or native) and their ability to spread on public transportation. I am afraid of the large hadron collider. I am afraid of quasars. I am afraid of my responsibility to my loved ones and failing them in that. I am afraid of getting my one chance to achieve notoriety and screw it up. I am afraid I am writing too much.
Everything frightens me, but I believe the extent to which we are afraid is a measurement of our knowledge and awareness.
So, with that, you now can boast, "I'm scareder than you," and it's totally a legitimate brag. Feel free to hash tag it.