Table of Contents
1/ Pete Johnson - Secret Terror
2/ Stephen King - Battleground
3/ Robert Westall - The Vacancy
4/ Guy de Maupassant - The Twitch
5/ Laurence Staig - Freebies
6/ Roald Dahl - Man from the South
7/ Kenneth Ireland - The Werewolf Mask
8/ John Gordon - Eels
9/ Bram Stoker - Jonathan Marker's Journal
10/ Anthony Horowitz - Bath Night
1/ Pete Johnson - Secret Terror
I've never met you but I know this about you: you're terrified of something. It's no use denying it. Everyone is. My mum, for instance, is terrified of intruders. That's why our doors are decorated with a whole variety of locks and chains. There's even a peephole so you can stare at whoever's out there, undetected.
But no lock can stop the intruder I fear. This intruder comes and goes as it pleases. And when it moves, no boards creak under its tread. There's not even the whisper of a sound to alert you where it is.
I can't remember a time when I didn't fear it. But then I was always a very nervous girl. Especially in those years before I went to school. For no one had realized then how short-sighted I was, nor that I was living in a world which was permanently out of focus. It was as if everything was being reflected through one of those distorting mirrors, the ones which twist you into something hideous.
My eyes were as crazy as those mirrors and as treacherous. And then, when I was four, I was suddenly left alone in the house. Mum had been rowing with Dad on the phone (a strange, whispered row) and then she'd rushed out saying, 'I'll only be a minute.'
But she was gone for much longer than that. And I sat in the lounge, cold and tired and afraid. What if Mum didn't come back? What if no one came back? Then I saw something new in the room: a small dark shape, blurred and mysterious. And then, the dark shape ran across the room.
I don't think I'll ever forget the speed with which it ran or its sudden, jerky movements. And before I knew what was happening it was on me, crawling over my feet. I screamed even though the house was empty. And finally my screams were so piercing a neighbour charged in through the back door. Then my mum returned and, a bit later, the doctor came too, because I couldn't stop shivering. He said I was in a state of shock. Well, why wouldn't I be? A lump of dust had turned into a spider.
That was how I overcame all my objections to wearing glasses. I had to know if lurking in the darkest shadows was another spider. At least, armed with my glasses, I could now identify my enemy.
Except when I was in bed at night. One time I saw a spider climbing across my bedroom ceiling. At once I called for my mum. She couldn't see it and said I was letting my imagination run away with me. But she didn't look for very long. And afterwards I thought, what if the spider is still somewhere in my room, nicely camouflaged for now, but later… later when I'm asleep it could scurry out of the darkness and continue its climb and perhaps even drop off the ceiling - spiders often do that - and on to my bed. And I'd never know. I'd only feel it as it crawled up my neck and on to my face. To wake up and feel its spindly legs scuttling over your face - I can't think of a worse terror.
I remember one evening when I was watching a James Bond film round at a friend's house: the one where a tarantula crawls over Bond and he has to just lie there, sweating like crazy, until the thing moves off him. And I was horror-struck, not at the prospect of the tarantula biting him, but because he had to stay completely still while a giant spider crawled over him.
I just ran out of the house. My friend's mum rang home and unfortunately, my new stepfather answered. And after hearing about this incident, my vile stepfather decided he'd prove to me that spiders can't do any harm. So one evening, just as I was finishing drying the dishes, he suddenly yelled, 'Catch, Clare,' and threw a spider right at me. Even now I can taste the utter panic and terror I felt then. My mum said the spider had never actually landed on me but no one was really sure where it went. It seemed to just disappear. For days, weeks afterwards I'd wake up convinced the spider was still somewhere on my body.
Happily my stepfather left us shortly afterwards and was replaced later by a stepfather I call Roger, who, whenever I sighted a spider, understood that he had to search properly for it everywhere. No, both he and my mum were very sympathetic. Although occasionally I could see them looking at me questioningly. And I knew they were wondering, is she just putting all this on to gain attention? But something, perhaps something in my eyes, always stopped them accusing me of faking.
As I got older, into my teens, my fear of spiders remained. Only now my reaction to the spiders scared me almost as much as the spiders themselves. For I couldn't seem able to control this fear. And I did try.
I sat down and tried to analyse what it was about spiders I hated so much. Was it their very thin legs or squelchy bodies? Or the fact that they were boneless? (I sometimes wonder how I know all this when I've never got that near to one, nor can even bear to look at one.) For some unknown reason it seems to be only spiders that inspire such blind terror in me.
More recently, some friends tried a kind of aversion therapy on me. They kept emphasizing the positive side of spiders. They told me how good spiders were at catching flies, for instance. And flies spread diseases, unlike spiders. So really, spiders are protecting us from diseases.
Someone even tried to make me feel sorry for spiders. 'Think,' she said. 'That spider you killed was probably a parent and now his poor baby spiders are fatherless or motherless. Next time you see a spider, think of its children.'
But I knew I could no more think of a spider as a parent, than I could an evil spirit. Yet I pretended to go along with it, for I was becoming more and more ashamed of my fear. And although no one ever said anything, I knew what they were thinking: fancy being scared of spiders at her age! And the fact that this fear never left me made it more and more sinister. Was there some deep, dark reason for it? Freud would probably say it pointed to some kind of sexual hangup. Or perhaps I was just plain neurotic.
Besides, being scared of spiders was such a girly thing. And I am, I suppose, a semi-feminist. I've certainly always despised women who jump on tables and chairs and scream loudly if they see a mouse. Yet, to other people, I must seem as moronic. That's why I tried to bury my fear away. I stopped talking about it and oddly enough I stopped seeing spiders, too. So everyone gradually forgot about it. Even my mum assumed it had vanished away as childhood fears often do.
Then one evening, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my mum and Roger went out to a dinner-dance. And they were staying at the hotel overnight so they could both drink and make merry (though they never told me that was the reason). I'd originally planned to have some friends visit but I was still getting over flu, so I said I'd just have a bath and an early night instead.
My mum left me a list of instructions headed by, 'Lock yourself in and keep the chain on the door'. And before I took my bath I did just that, even checking the locks on the windows. There's something about being in the bath that makes you feel especially vulnerable, isn't there?
Then I went upstairs. I was already a bit drowsy and my head felt heavy. I decided I'd only have a quick bath tonight. But first I'd lie down on my bed for a minute.
When I woke up the room was covered in darkness. It was two o'clock. I'd slept for nearly four hours. And