I know a child – a five-year-old – who is so very different from what I was when I was her age. I was terrified of my own shadow. I screamed and ran from strangers. I couldn’t even talk about vampires for fear that one would hear me and come take a chomp out of my neck. To this day, I can’t handle the sensation of *anyone* touching my neck – it makes me want to hurl.
But this five-year-old? She is so very brave. She laughs in the face of zombie conversations. She stared down Space Mountain and Darth Vader in Disney World, and she won.
But she does have one fear: fire. I mean, within reason, right? Show the girl a campfire and she’ll ask for the marshmallows. But show her something bigger – an explosion, maybe, or a bomb detonation – and she’ll run for the hills.
It’s like, even at five, she gets it: once something is turned to ash, it’s permanent. Remember Johnny-5 in Short Circuit? When a butterfly gets crushed? “No disassemble?” That is this child when faced with fire.
Seriously – she almost had to leave Disney on Ice when the Cars part had a couple of explosive backfires. She sat, rigid, not enjoying herself at all, until the Cars had left the ice.
At first I didn’t understand this fear…I mean, I understand not wanting to get burned, but WHY, when she’s fearless everywhere else, do fires make her cut and run?
Then I started to think about it. She’s very aware that I write books about pretend things: zombies, monsters, aliens, whatever else. She’s very aware that these pretend things cannot hurt her because they’re just that: pretend.
We often read and write scary things to escape reality, telling tales of ghosts and goblins that bring chills up and down our spines to avoid talking about the news at ten. But to me, one of the scariest movies ever made is still The Silence of the Lambs. Serial killers haunt me at night. It’s the terror based in reality – Hannibal Lecter was supposedly created to account for crime scenes Richard Harris covered working as a crime reporter in the 60s.
I mean, what writer could have preemptively imagined the devastation of the Holocaust? Of deadly nighttime killing raids through ancient villages? Of crematoriums built for thousands of bodies? Of mass graves, filled with the dead, the still living, and covered over with lime that didn’t even begin to hide the stench?
What writer could have ever preemptively imagined the destruction of a single atomic bomb, let alone two? Of the lingering effects of radiation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Of the fact that Chernobyl is still uninhabitable, all these years after the disaster?
What writer could have preemptively imagined the recent spate of terror in the United States, with crazy gunmen mowing down dozens in movie theaters and elementary schools?
I haven’t told the five-year-old about any of these things yet. I’d rather let her think the real world is safer than fiction, at least for now. Let her fear fire, and fire alone. Let her think the monsters are only in her dreams.
The real world is scary, and bizarre, and it’s utterly unpredictable.
And when the real world gets rough, and you need to find me or that five-year-old girl…you can find us immersed in an analytical breakdown of what makes a zombie tick. And we’ll be laughing about it.