When I was ten years old or so, my father and I went to visit an old friend of his at his sprawling home. While they chatted in the living room, I went wandering around the house, looking for books to browse through. (I had asked for, and had been granted permission to do so; my father knew it was the best way to keep me occupied while the adult conversation proceeded.) In a bedroom upstairs, I found a bookshelf, and began looking through its offerings. I quickly found one title that looked good for a read: Vampires. A pair of bloodstained fangs adorned the cover, and it featured a collection of plates mid-volume.
This was no pop book; this was a serious history of the vampire phenomenon in cultural history. I read the first few pages, grimly fascinated by the descriptions of the undead nocturnal blood sucking creatures that had so terrified and excited the human imagination through the ages. I had seen Dracula: Prince of Darkness a year or so before (somehow, my parents had allowed me to do so); I knew of vampires and their properties. But I had not realized they had been such a perennial fascination across cultures and time. I spent, as can be imagined, more time on the black and white plates than on actual reading–there were enough gruesome drawings and depictions of various forms of the vampyric to send chills down my spine as I sat there, alone, in that bedroom, engrossed and horrified in equal measure.
Soon, I was called downstairs by my father. Our visit was over. I was relieved and disappointed in equal measure. But I did not ask to borrow the book, to continue reading it. Something about it had made me deeply uneasy.
Later that evening, I went out to play soccer in the local park, and stayed out late, kicking around with my mates till dusk fell. At that point, with the sun setting and visibility increasingly poor, we reluctantly called it a day and headed home. I walked down my lane back home, ready for a shower, and then, dinner with my parents. I walked up the stairs to our second level home, and rang the bell.
No one answered. I rang the bell again. Still no answer. I realized, suddenly, that our normally well-let living room, clearly visible through the sliding glass door, was dark, utterly so. So was the bedroom my brother and I used. No one was at home. I was alone, standing on our darkened balcony.
At that moment, every single image I had seen earlier that day, came flooding back, jostling for attention. Every fear that had remained hidden, that I had struggled to keep latent during the day suddenly made itself manifest. This dark balcony was no longer familiar; its corners crawled with menace.
I burst into tears; I was utterly, totally, terrified. I cursed myself for having exposed my vision and my imagination to those depictions of bloody teeth, cowering victims, and caped creatures of the night. I was convinced my death and damnation were at hand.
A few seconds later, my mother, having heard my bawling from the back of the house, the kitchen, where she had been cooking the night’s dinner, came running out. Salvation was at hand.
I’ve never been as scared since. By the supernatural at least.