I am really excited to share today’s First Book to Terrify Me guest post! This one comes from Jennifer Connor of Literate Housewife. When Jennifer indicated an interest in participating in this series, she opted to face her fears and do a reread of the first book to terrify her, Pet Sematary, in preparation for her post. I’m so proud of her for taking on this mission!
When I was in junior high, Pet Sematary was the book to read. It was published in 1983 and by the time I was in the 8th grade, it was readily available at the library. I remember the Saturday I road my bike to the library and found it sitting there on the shelf waiting for its next reader. I can still it sitting on that shelf although it’s been a good decade since I’ve been to that library.
I brought Pet Sematary with me to my babysitting gig across the street the following Saturday night. My goal was to finish the book that night. Finish it I did, amidst the creepiest house noises you’d ever want to hear. They were real enough to make me feel as though I’d better check on those innocent sleeping babies, but it took every ounce of courage in me to get up off the couch and walk back down that darkened hallway. I was waiting for an evil cat to jump out at me the entire time. No cats appeared, but the creaking floor boards were just as terrifying. Care to imagine what the sound of the garage door opener did to my heart that night? It was with relief that I greeted the neighbors and told them how angelic their babies were. I wanted to go home and jump into my own bed in my own room.
There was one small problem. I had to walk home by myself and it was after midnight. There is no more than a football field’s distance between my parent’s house and the house where I was babysitting. There is a street light nearby so it wasn’t completely dark. It was by far the longest walk of my life. I was terrified of some resurrected entity popping out between houses. Surely pets had to be buried all over the place. I wanted to run, but I could barely move. I had to be a site to see shuffling across the street and then bounding up the steps to nearly hug the front door in relief. To this day, that night is one of the strongest reading memories I have.
There was no question I would write about Pet Sematary for this series. I realized, however, that what I remembered about that book was that trip to the library and the feelings I had that night. I couldn’t remember anything beyond the most basic plot (basic as in what could be told by looking at the cover). I decided to make this guest post an experiment and I bought a copy to read, curious to see how I would react to the book today.
The sections that frightened me at 13 or 14 still scared me today, but the underlying themes that would have gone over my head in junior high are what gave me tiny bouts of insomnia and more anxiety dreams than I have had in a very long time. It occurred to me that at the root of real horror, at least for me, are my responsibilities. Suddenly I’m a little nervous taking the wheel for fear of hitting a jogger. The tiniest worries about my children’s safety and their schedules kept me up at night. As the book progressed and Louis did what he did in the cemetery, I was horrified. Not really because of the way exhuming a grave feels or smells, but it was the thinking about how I would handle my own baby lying dead in the cold ground that put me over the edge. I wanted to vomit with Louis for fear of having to live through that experience. What was real and could happen to any parent is what scared me to death while I was reading Pet Sematary the second time around. I very much see why Stephen King, in his introduction, finds this to be his scariest book. Crossing that street in in the mid-1980s I had absolutely no concept of the true horror I’d just read.
I learned that I am still a big old chicken when it comes to horror. I quickly nixed the idea of recreating that terrifying walk. My neighborhood today is much more rural than where I grew up and I’m no fool! Scary books don’t necessarily get less scary as you reread them or as you leave childhood behind for the adult world. It is a testament to Stephen King’s writing and storytelling that a chilling junior high dare of a book can make your heart pound even harder in adulthood. Although I’ll never regularly read horror, there’s nothing quite like the reading experience.
Thank you so much for contributing, Jennifer! Although since today is technically the last day of October and should be the end of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, I still have quite a few posts like this to share. Stay tuned!