"Daddy, I had a bad dream."
You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness—it's 3:23.
"Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?"
The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter's pale form in the darkness of your room. "Why not, sweetie?"
"Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy's skin sat up."
For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can't take your eyes off of your daughter. Then the covers behind you begin to shift…
- Bad Dream
There seems to be a subtle difference between terror and horror. There are lots of horror stories, films, games and comics out there, rightly considered to be finely-tuned and crafted pieces of work. But I can deal with horror. The concept of werewolves, vampires, zombies, and the like can provide certain amounts of scares, for sure. I loved the horror tales of Poe, Lovecraft, Machen, and the films of Carpenter, Dante, Miller and more. But they don't always stay with me in quite the way others do.
I know that there are some stories that, once read, causes the sun of my mind to creep a little closer to the horizon, casting shadows a little longer, dimming the light of the world a little more. "Graveyard Shift," or "The Faces," or "Day of Reckoning." "The Wendigo." "Sticks." "Pigeons from Hell." "The Statement of Randolph Carter." "The Captain of the Polestar." Half of Ray Bradbury's work and Roald Dahl's fiction. There are films which can be frightening in ways literature cannot. Night of the Demon. The Haunting. The Innocents. Suspiria. Black Sunday. Ringu. Too many Hammer films and Italian horrors to name. In this age of the internet, meta-fiction can take strange and terrifying new turns. The SCP Foundation is responsible for more than its fair share of sleepless nights: The Stairwell, The Red Sea Object, A Ticket To Ride, The Hanged King's Tragedy, The Flesh That Hates, 13'' Chef's Knife, Cargo Ship, and the most terrifying interpretation of Bigfoot I've ever read.
But this idea I had...
I still don't know how the idea came to me. Perhaps it was reading all the alternate histories, fringe scientific theories, and crackpot musings coalescing in my brain. Perhaps it was reading all those dreadful, horrendous horror tales that posited truly monstrous possibilities. There are some stories... some things I've discovered, and I'm sure my life is a little bit darker having known them. Once in my mind, they can't get out. And sometimes I wonder if they should.
It's a shame, because this idea I had... it could be a pretty powerful short story. But I can't write it, because I just know that it would be trouble. People would be outraged, accusing me of any number of horrible, terrible things that aren't true - are they? After all, my mind conjured the idea, surely I must be considered accountable? Yet one doesn't accuse the horror author of murder, any more than one would suggest a mystery writer could solve crimes. Still, this idea, this concept, is so psychologically revolting that I just don't know what to do with it. It isn't a matter of gore, or obscenity, or anything like that - the source of the horror comes from the idea that everything you thought was so may not be what you thought... and that you were wrong. Everyone was wrong.
Here's an analogue. There's a brilliant sketch from That Mitchell & Webb Look which exemplifies a rough idea of the sort of thing I'm talking about:
This is about the most terrifying thing I could imagine: the idea that you're the bad guy. Being someone who takes pride in his general being a nice chap, I've had few problems conceding when I'm proven wrong, or mistaken. But there's something about not only being wrong, but being the bad guy, which is an existential crisis too far for me. Of course, I'm not talking about simple human faults, like taking criticism too far or taking too much joy in someone's misfortune: I mean being the guy who joined a rebel cell, only to discover one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. Or the soldier who signed up to defend his country, but ended up being a cog in a murderous machine.
This is the ultimate terror. The fact that, despite honest, good people wanting to think there's no way they could kill another human being just because they were told to, all it takes is the wrong sequence of events to turn someone into a monster. That someone can believe themselves to be above prejudice or all the -isms, but that assurance is all too brittle when forced. That not even the people making those experiments are exempt from this. We can try to lie to each other, that the Bathorys, Mengeles, Hamiltons, Shipmans and Breiviks are abberations, that there's some profound difference between humans and monsters. It would be nice to think that could be true. But just as men and women are capable of great, wonderful, saintly things, so are they capable of... others.