This is the second in a series of what we hope to be an occasional continuing series of personal letters from our readers. If you’d like to write for this feature, email your letter (or your questions) to email@example.com.
Autumn is the time for scary stories and Virginia’s Piedmont region is a perfect setting for them. When I wrote my book, “Virginia Creeper,” I had to use this setting for it. There is something about the sound of dead leaves crunching under your feet, a chilling breeze and the darkness coming earlier that all adds to the atmosphere, making it perfect for ghost and horror stories.
With its long and often bloody history, the crimson soil of Virginia is a tailor-made setting for supernatural tales and things that go bump in the night. It’s in the autumn as the leaves drop that we see landscapes otherwise obscured – we notice things that have been hidden – and these all feed our imagination. Fear is a byproduct of our imagination. The familiar warm summer shadows of evening alter and become darker, more sinister. As you drive along U.S. 211 and snake up to the Skyline Drive, for example, every corner looks different – there is a mix of fall beauty and a touch of seasonal change that feeds a sense of change – and change is sometimes unnerving for people. Things that feel safe and seem cute in the summer can generate an aura of darkness this time of year.
As humans, I believe we have a need to be afraid now and then. Horror movies always do well at the box office; books and TV shows on the paranormal are strong draws. Why else would we ride roller coasters if it wasn’t for the hint of fear and danger? There is a rush of adrenaline we get with fear, that burst of raw energy and cold sweat that comes with a good fright – then the moment of relief as the fear abates.
Fear is important, in the right amounts. It invigorates us, energizes us, taps energy stores in us that we normally don’t have. Most importantly, fear reminds us all that we are alive. In the few stark raving moments after we are frightened, we realize that no matter what our situation, things could be much worse.
The ghost stories we heard as kids stick in our memory because of the fear and imagination they sparked. We retell them to the young, not out of ritual, but because we know that the stories with hints of danger are those that bind us together. They are a shared experience that continues on from generation to generation.
So, welcome my old friend Autumn! I look forward the occasional nightmare you may rekindle.