By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
What draws us to the scary things in life? Rollercoasters, movies about death and mayhem, and Stephen King books are all designed to generate a sense of fear and danger, all from a safe environment, of course.
That is it isn’t it? We are explorers at heart. We want to know the unknown and fear is one of those great unknowns. What is it like to be on a runaway train? No brakes. Steadily accelerating. Impact imminent. Sports like cliff diving, sky diving, and parasailing were all created with the idea of experiencing thrills and fear of activities that would typically end in serious injury or death. While we want the thrill ride, we also want to know that there is going to be a safe landing.
We have plenty of real-life, real-time fears to attend to. Fear abounds. Most of the population of the world has experienced sicknesses that bring suffocation, incredible suffering, and death, the latest of which is COVID-19. Other real medical threats are looming. And in America, looting, vandalism, and rioting are on the increase with major cities resembling cities in third world countries in the aftermath of riots. Countries like North Korea pose a real nuclear threat, with North Korea “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un determined to have nuclear capability and just as determined to create a missile that will reach the continental United States. Groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have an agenda to destroy America and kill as many Americans as possible along the way, with some of their operatives native-born American converts to their causes. And, as we have experienced here in Cherokee, individuals and groups are finding ways to infiltrate computer networks to shut them down for profit or political gain, with no regard for the cost to social or human life. Foreign countries are attempting to gain control of networks to shut down essential services like power, water, communications, and to manipulate elections.
So, the average reader is dealing with all of this, plus trying to keep their families together, safe, and provided for. Indeed, there isn’t much that will mask the dangers we face in the world we live in (pun intended).
We like the thrill of being scared, but we don’t want the risk. It is exciting to get on the rollercoaster because, unlike a runaway train, we are fairly certain of a safe outcome. We get a kick out of the ride. It is exciting. No sane person would jump off a cliff or a building to their almost certain death. But, tie a bungie cord to them or strap on a parachute and most people will take that leap with few reservations.
I know people who are legitimately afraid of spiders. Just the thought of one will elicit a visceral negative reaction, even to the point of tears. I recently read that the myth the average American swallows at least eight spiders per year in their sleep doesn’t have scientific foundation. I imagine that many of you reading this just breathed a sigh of relief. There was, however, a documented case just last year of a venomous brown recluse spider having to be removed from a lady’s ear. Apparently, it had crawled in there looking for a home (maybe to have some baby brown recluses). Real or imagined, people fear spiders. Just as equally, people, usually friends, love to scare those who fear spiders with spiders.
I have never really had a “paranormal” experience, but I have several friends who have related some pretty scary stuff. One friend told me of meeting an apparently ghostly young lady in the parking lot of the Oconaluftee Indian Village one night a few years ago. This friend was working when a gentleman approached him with a little girl walking beside him. My friend spoke with the man for several minutes. Then he asked the gentleman who the little girl was. The gentleman replied, “What little girl?”. When they both looked down at where the little girl was standing, she had vanished. Others have told me of balls of light and energy following them around in the woods. I have family members who are sure that they have heard the scream of a “bigfoot” while camping in Haywood County. We even have our own apparition sighting right here in the Cherokee One Feather offices. Staff members have told me of a ghostly little girl who visits our hallway.
We all need a way to escape the real-life fears we experience every day. I think that is why many of us seek out the thrill rides, scary movies, and spooky stories. It is something we can control. We decide how long it will last. We may stop it if we want or need to. And that is something we lack in most real experiences in our everyday lives. We feel like it is all out of our control. We need, even if it is a fantasy world, to be able to feel safe and control the moment. If things get too intense for me while watching Pennywise on the big screen, I can get up and take a popcorn break. If I immerse myself in a good horror story and the witch reaches out to get me, I can simply close the book and walk away. But, I probably won’t. After all, the thrill is why I started reading the story in the first place.
Some of the best therapy I know of is to read and write stories. Reading stories gives you some control. Writing stories gives you total control and a way to express your real fears in a safe environment. For the last few years, the One Feather has offered the opportunity in September to let your imaginations run wild to create the perfect spooky story. We are doing it again this year. It can be a genuine experience, or something completely made up, but either way offers you an outlet to share your imagination and talent in a safe environment. I highly recommend it for anyone. We have different age categories and I think writing would be a great distraction for young and old who are dealing with the many stresses of modern life. It would also be a great escape for those who will read the stories. And so ends my shameless plug for the Spooky Stories Contest.