Bewildering Stories

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The Horror of the Supernatural

by Eric S. Brown

“The supernatural,” that’s a rather vague term isn’t it? What is the supernatural exactly? H. P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” That’s what the term means to me at least, the unknown, the unexplainable which lies beyond the reach of man’s knowledge, no matter how advanced.

Human literature throughout the ages has been filled with tales of terror and death that can leave people pulling the covers of their beds over their faces to hide from the dark and what may dwell in it. In our world today where so many things are quantifiable or easily explained away by some kind of speculative theory, is not Lovecraft’s statement more true?

The world of the supernatural knows no bounds. Yes it rose up out of what mankind could not understand but it can be born solely from our thoughts as well from that creepy old church down the street, to an anomalous blip on a radar screen, to that spot in the neighbor’s cornfield where year after year nothing grows. To prove my point that a supernatural story can be contrived from anything, let’s look at these three examples.

That old church down the street now abandoned and left in a state of disrepair, why? Churches are built on holy ground or ground sanctified by God. Well, perhaps the land this church was built on was sanctified by something else, before man and our young religions ever set foot upon it.

The taint of the things before resided too strongly to be driven away, and over the years the churchgoers themselves became touched by it. In their prayers to God the taint answered and brought corruption and evil to the town, until finally outsiders killed the town’s population. But even that is long forgotten in the depths of time, and now a town has been reborn around the building, and the church is about to be reopened by a new bishop.

Or perhaps the evil has festered and given birth to a corporal being that lurks in the rafters, waiting any who visit the ruins of the church. Supernatural tales are often full of atmosphere and implication and a premise like this one lends itself well to those devices.

Now my example of a radar screen fits perfectly into something like Lovecraft himself would have written about. Suspend your disbelief and imagine a small, rural airport where a man has worked his whole life. Every month, at certain cycle of the moon, something goes haywire with the machine, and a blip pops up that is not a plane. Is it a monster from the caves of the surrounding mountains coming out to feed? A ghost plane always trying to find a way to land but never can? Or something far worse? In any case, our protagonist has to know, and so again we have a story leading to fear, death, or madness — yet with technology thrown in to prove the insignificance of man.

And finally, the cornfield. No, I am not going back to unholy ground or Stephen King’s “He who walks behind the rows,” but imagine this: a being who has lived since the dawn of time and once walked the Earth, giving birth to all our tales of vampires, and yet is nothing like them. This being lies dormant, waiting to be awakened, but even in so doing feeds in an intravenous fashion on all forms of life above his tomb as he waits to be freed by an unsuspecting farmer or work crew who, one year, dug too deep. He drains the farmer’s life force, leaving only a skeleton in rags, and sets out to rediscover the world of man and all its new wonders.

The supernatural is indeed boundless in terms of story ideas and its uses a horrific plot element from the demon-possessed child placed in a special-ed classroom to snowstorms in the desert, to the packs of werewolves who stalk Central Park. Let your nightmares run free and endless worlds and stories will unfold before you as you write. Poe himself once used a simple raven to invoke otherworldly fear, what will you use?

Copyright © 2004 by Eric S. Brown

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