In my reading life, I can trace a long tradition of my scaring myself witless by reading nonfiction alone late at night.
And the weird thing is, some of my favorite books have had this effect on me.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
Exhibit A: High-school-age me, reading a biography of Edith Cavell, an English nurse executed by the Germans for having aided the escape of Allied soldiers during WWI. It’s late at night, and I’m alone in my room, the only person awake in the house. And I’m completely freaked out, thinking that if I turn out the lights to go to sleep, the ghost of the executed Edith Cavell will materialize.
(I don’t believe in ghosts. Didn’t believe in them then, either.)
Exhibit B: High-school-age me, reading a book about the sinking of the Titanic. Again, it’s late at night, and I’m the only one awake. I’m utterly terrified as I climb the stairs, because I’m convinced that the spirit of Captain Smith will be walking along the upstairs hallway banister, as though he’s patrolling the bridge of the ship. As though my reading had conjured him.
Exhibit C: College-age me, reading a book about the battle of Gettysburg. Same staircase, late at night. I’m quite certain I’m walking through a foggy field of ghost soldiers as I ascend the stairs. (I recall thinking of the book title In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead and nearly snorting when I realized that maybe that’s where the “fogginess” came from. Then I thought, James Lee Burke, you’re in trouble for making this vision worse than it already was. Because even laughing at myself did not particularly relieve the terror.)
Exhibit D (oh, yes, there’s more): Librarian-age me, reading Young Men and Fire for the first time. I stayed up late reading, because I could not put that book down. And this time the thing happened at the top of the stairs. (Different house, different staircase, same freak-out.) I swear, I was really scared that if I looked out of the corner of my eye, I’d see those men sidehilling down the hallway, to their deaths.
Exhibit E: Year-2011-age me, reading Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. I knew, I knew! it was a dumb idea to keep reading this book late at night. I was downstairs, all alone, and I (true-crime-o-phobe) was reading a book about a master criminal. Not a good idea, lady. So as I headed upstairs, I turned on every light in every room as I walked through it, and I made it up the stairs without incident. I was thinking maybe I’d conquered that old thing. Didn’t completely have the full freak-out effect until I was getting into bed. Then, out of nowhere, had the same fear that I’d had as a child (which used to cause me to leap—and I mean leap—across my room into my bed) that someone/something would reach out from under the bed and grab my ankle. D.B. Cooper might grab my ankle! I surprised myself with the crazed little hop I did as I got (let’s be honest: launched myself) into bed.
This, my friends, this is why you won’t be reading any horror reviews here. Plain old nonfiction is scary enough for this one.
Happy Halloween, y’all.