Guest Column: Embrace the Fear

By Liam Bouquet

You know that tension you feel snake around your body and constrict as you watch the scenes in horror movies when the killer walks into the room where his hapless victim has made his final stand? Now imagine, instead of some safe third-party observer to these affairs, you are that powerless fool who decided that hiding was a much better plan than running while flailing and screaming. That is a fairly faithful description to how I felt as the car slowly pulled up to the driveway we had decided to choose as our final stand.

I couldn’t die here in this lawn. I didn’t even know these people, and they had a garden gnome. I couldn’t die in front of a house with a garden gnome!

Luckily, and obviously, this is not the moment I gave up the ghost. The phantom car stalled only for a moment in front of this inconspicuous home, before moving on to the next home in his fruitless hunt for my friend and I. Now, I do not know that this mysterious driver was the Zodiac Killer entering back into the marvelous world of serial killings just for our blood, but, I mean, I was pretty certain.

This whole misadventure was the unfortunate end to an otherwise pleasant homecoming dance in my junior year of high school. Like a strike of lightning from a clear blue sky, this deranged motorist ruined that.

Around two in the morning, my friend was returning me home, and we saw, on my street no less, a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Naturally, we elected to pull off and wait for this obstinately intoxicated driver to drive off into the inky darkness of the, of course, extremely misty night. He did no such thing. Instead, he followed us. We turned; he turned. We sped; he sped. Eventually it all came to a point when we pulled off down a dead end, accidentally. We had gotten slightly ahead of him, but it sure would get awkward once we met at that dead end — emphasis on the dead.

So, I told my friend to pull off at a random house and shut off the lights. This man hunting us decided to check. Every. Single. Driveway. before turning around at the dead end and speeding off into the night.

So there you have it, one of the more surreally frightening moments of my life, crystallized into a few paragraphs.
When I look back on this experience — one where my safety could have actually been in danger— I still have the remnants of that old, almost dried up fear, accompanied by a small dose of adrenaline, prickle at my senses. But, oddly enough, there is a certain macabre fascination, a perverse joy I still feel at the digging up of those memories. It is a poignantly distinct emotion than that of the fear that often accompanies true trauma. It is a type of fear that I actually embrace.

But this almost distasteful or shameful enjoyment at the moments of fear for my own life — in which that fear culminated in no true harm — it doesn’t feel odd. Quite the opposite, it feels natural to me. I may be an outlier, but I believe it is an emotion that echoes throughout most people’s lives — the same small voice that both urges us to seek out frightening, if often sterile, experiences like horror movies and haunted houses but also the same voice that urges us to jump, just to see what happens, when we stand at the edge of a cliff.

Greater men than I have tried to deduce the nature of fear and why we both detest it and seek it out. Some have said that the answer is relatively straight-forward, we enjoy being afraid in controllable and realistically safe environments because it allows us to control and even dominate our fears.

I would agree with this sentiment, but I do not think it is the full truth, at least for some of us. Fear contains in itself, some element of wonder. When I was a little boy prone to bountiful harvests of anxiety and an overactive imagination, I saw part of “The Ring,” a movie about a VHS tape that, upon viewing, would send a creepy, black-haired girl to crawl out of television screens and kill the viewer in seven days.

I wholeheartedly believed that if I ever viewed this film I would meet the reaper in the form of a spindly teenage girl. Yet, I would watch small segments of that cursed tape because I could not help but be horrifyingly intrigued. I was essentially, in my small mind, playing chicken with fate itself.

But, seeing as I reach beyond my 21st year and the fear of ghost girls is basically dissipated, I find that I do not particularly believe in ghosts, demons or other supernatural creatures that wander our nights, nor do I think it is particularly likely I will ever come face-to-face with the human monsters that dot our stories. But, as with many, I do harbor a part of myself that believes wholeheartedly in these children of the night, and that part is sure to come out kicking and screaming when all the right elements are present — like in a purportedly haunted cemetery and on a hazy road at night.

And you know what, I would not have it any other way.

That same part of me that hears a creak in my cellar and immediately cries specter, is just another side of the man who can stare out into the stars or into the oceans and truly feel an almost preternatural sense of wonder at all the strange things, real and imagined, that compose that tapestry. Of course the unknown is a frightening thing, but that fear in the unknown — be it ghosts or the origin of the universe — does not preclude a powerful curiosity in it as well. For me, it fuels it.

Fear, as we have been told, is natural; it is a method of survival. To be void of any fear often meant ending up on the wrong side of an enemy’s spear or an animal’s tooth. But, as these threats have all but disappeared for most of us, fear could take on a new utility. When controlled, it can be another gateway to the raw power that has driven some of the greatest among us to mold the world in their perverted or fantastic vision.

So during this last week of October, if this is all something you seek, embrace the fear that is never in more abundance than on Halloween night.