What Scares You?

Mario here:

It's October, the month for ghosts, ghouls, and frightful tales. With that in mind, I'm teaching a workshop at the Denver Public Library, as part of their Fresh City Life programs, Boo! Scary Stories That Really Scare.

I recently saw Let Me In, the Hollywood remake of the Swedish vampire flick, Let The Right One In. Both movies are entertaining and spooky homages to undead lore and the 12 yo vampire is one of the most vicious and creepy bloodsuckers on screen.

Interestingly, the American version kept the original's bleak and low-rent atmosphere. Though having been in Los Alamos, I remember it as an upscale burg peopled with PhDs and brainy folks employed at the nearby nuclear weapons labs.

Also, New Mexico winters are much like Denver winters; we don't get days of unrelenting gloom like in the movie. It might stay cold as hell for weeks on end, but the sun does come out to torment us with hopes of warmth.

Because I write vampire novels, readers assume that I was always an aficionado of monsters and all things undead. Actually, I wasn't. Vampires and zombies never creeped me out, and I thought monster movies were silly.

But there were a couple of things that terrified me. Deeply.

La Llorona.

In the Southwest we have the tale of La Llorona, the wailing woman who haunts rivers and lakes. According to legend, before she became La Llorona, a woman went mad and drowned her children. She now stalks the waters and lures the unsuspecting to their doom, hoping to assuage her torment and replace the souls of her damned children with those of her victims. As kids we were constantly reminded of La Llorona with stories of actual eye-witness accounts. Would our aunts and their boyfriends lie to us? Even as late as junior high, if my friends and I had to return home at night, we took the long way rather than shortcuts using the ditch banks crisscrossing my home town. We picked up sticks and rocks to defend ourselves in case we ran into La Llorona.

And the other thing that terrified me to fits was the threat of nuclear war.

Duck and cover drills had been forgotten by the time I was in elementary school, or else nobody thought the Commies would waste a nuke on Las Cruces. But I knew about the possibility of nuclear attack from the Civil Defense pamphlets my dad brought from the army reserves. The television would also broadcast the occasional CD public announcement, frighteningly surreal with their bizarre use of cartoons and marionettes to blunt the horror of atomic annihilation.

I read a lot of airplane and history books and so even as a little kid I was familiar with modern bombers, ballistic missiles, and Hiroshima. Movies like The Time Machine showed the consequences of atomic war and made the prospect of a nuclear Apocalypse ever more real.

Then...one October night, the Civil Defense alarm mounted on the local fire house went off. I recognized the constant tone wail. Red Alert! Imminent attack. Fifteen minutes to Armageddon! We were doomed. I broke into a sweat and started bawling. I expected to hear shrieks of terror burst throughout the neighborhood. At any moment a blinding light would burn through my window and the glass would shatter before the inferno consumed us all.

And then... nothing. No panicked mobs in the streets. No flashes of light. No big boom.


Only that damn alarm that kept wailing and wailing. As I lay there blotting my tears, I first felt foolish. Then disappointed. No nuclear war. I later found out the alarm was to roust the volunteer firemen. What a gyp.

The Fates had fun with me. Boo!


Jessica said…
Love the picture from The Creature from the Black Lagoon!! I LOVE that movie! I watched it once on TV then bought the DVD because I found the movie so funny and was wondering how it was even scary back when it first released.

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