What Scares You, David Dean?

David Dean is one of the nicest people you’ll ever hope to find yourself sitting next to at a dinner party, and yet, you might worry about meeting him at all if you’ve ever read his fiction. His stories and novels can often be twisted and dark (my favorite kind!), and I was very excited to hear what he had to say about all things scary.

You will be, too. Join us for small, dark spaces, vampires, and masked swordsmen….

What is your greatest fear?

If I had to pick the thing that terrifies me more than any other (and there are plenty of things that terrify me), I would have to say waking up in a coffin six-foot-deep in the earth. I probably have Edgar Allan Poe to thank for that, though I don’t blame him entirely.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and as a kid I tried slithering through a narrow storm drain that ran under Sixteenth Avenue. It probably evolved from a dare—we did a lot of daring back then.

About midway through, I discovered two things—I didn’t like dark confined spaces and apparently I had disturbed a great many tiny spiders, who began to crawl all over me. It was warm weather, and I was wearing my usual ensemble of white T-shirt, blue jeans, and no shoes—not a lot between me and the incensed arachnids. I was about one-third of the way through the pipe, and it was too tight for even a skinny kid to turn around. I had no choice but to go forward. All I could think about was what else might lie between me and the circle of light ahead. It was hard not to start screaming.

Nonetheless, I crawled as fast as I could until I tumbled out the opening and began to slap and brush all the crawlies off me. In the end, all I had was a lot of bites on my arms and neck, some really skinned-up elbows, and a permanently damaged psyche. Not keen on spelunking, as you might imagine. Oddly, I have no fear of spiders, just the confinement.

“It was hard not to start screaming.”

What is your weirdest fear?

Besides premature burial, I fear blindness, dementia, heights (this is a recently arrived phobia and something that never used to bother me at all—I was a paratrooper for God’s sake!), and masked swordsmen. This last may require a little explaining since I was a big fan of the Zorro TV series.

It arose from a childhood nightmare in which I was inexplicably answering the door at one of my friends’ houses. For reasons unknown, I chose to peek out the glass panel in the door before opening it. There on the porch stood three swordsmen dressed in satin-like material, one in red, one in blue, and the last in green; plumed hats, knee-high boots, and rapiers. You get the picture—the Three Musketeers as conjured up from a candy-wrapper. The sole difference being that each sported a matching eye-mask.

Upon seeing my face, the one closest leaned in toward the glass staring straight into my eyes…then began to scream. Not a shriek of fear, but of delight and bloodlust. Immediately they all began to scream and force their way through the door, their needle-like swords thrust ahead of them, seeking to pierce me through and through. As they advanced upon me, each grinning in anticipation of my skewering, I began to scream as well, but mine was certainly out of fear. That woke me. No more Musketeer bars for this kid.

Do you have any recurring nightmares?

I have only one, and it began in childhood as well. I dream of going blind in the midst of some task, or other, until I’m just groping and stumbling about in pitch darkness. Different scenes, but always the same ending.

What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen?

One of the most disturbing films I’ve ever watched is Suspiria(the original—I haven’t seen the remake). It has a fairy tale-turned hallucinogenic horror story quality to it, with some of the most bizarre events and nerve-jangling music of any movie I’ve seen. Not for nervous or squeamish natures. 

What’s the scariest book you’ve read?

Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird. I read it a very long time ago and have never re-read it, which is unusual for me. It disturbed me that much. It’s about a little boy in Poland during World War II. As I recall, he’s separated from his parents and finds himself in the care of a number of different households. Each chapter is a story of some fresh horror that he witnesses or experiences. The worst for me being a scene in which a young man has his eyes gouged out with a spoon by a husband that thinks he’s been cuckolded. You can understand why I find this particularly horrible.

Best monster?

My favorite (or would it be least favorite?) type of monster is the vampire. Why? Traditionally, they arise from dark, confined spaces—remember the storm drain? Secondly, and far more importantly, they prey on anyone, including those that loved them in life, and may turn them into vampires as well. To me, this is a bit like your mom, husband, wife, or daughter telling you one day that they’ve always hated your guts and hope to see you in hell—”…Mom?”

“…they prey on anyone, including those that loved them in life…”

You can’t trust vampires. They’re crafty and cruel and have the experience of ages. They don’t lumber stupidly about, or transition into a ravening beast that cannot control itself. They reason, calculate, seduce, and make helpless their victims, often preying on them over a period of time. In other words, they’re evil. They’re victims that create victims, that create victims….. What do they remind you of? I’m not even going to say it.

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David Dean’s short stories have appeared regularly in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, as well as a number of anthologies, since 1990.  His stories have been nominated for the Shamus, Barry, and Derringer Awards, and “Ibrahim’s Eyes” won the EQMM Readers Award for 2007.  His story, “Tomorrow’s Dead”, was a finalist for the Edgar for best short story of 2011.  He is a retired Chief of Police in New Jersey and once served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.  His novels, The Thirteenth Child, Starvation Cay, and The Purple Robe are all available through Amazon.   

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