In today's world, fears are mostly things that unnerve us or that we know make life disturbingly hard. Fears don't keep us alive like they used to. Sure, people in the African savannah know to fear lions, rhinos and crocodiles, but most of us don't really need to worry about being stalked, killed, and eaten on our way to the store, work, or school. The large metal boxes we tend to travel in make pretty good protection from mundane teeth and claws.
Pictured: NOT mundane teeth and claws.
As a fan of the horror genre, I have a pretty good idea of which subjects send chills down my spine and what things don't. The list of things which don't bother me include clowns, darkness, lightning, and enclosed spaces. There are things which do send chills down my spine, but which don't really impede my ability to function. Here's a little list for those curious about what kind of practical jokes are likely to get to me.
Heights. I actually like this fear. It's an easy one to challenge yourself on. Just climb a ladder until you don't feel comfortable, then push yourself a little higher each time. Or you can go for the overload approach and go sky-diving.
Spiders. I'm not going to turn and run screaming if I see a spider in my house (anymore). Chances are though, I'm probably going to smash it if it comes within reach. If it stays out of reach and minds its own business though, we don't really have any problem co-existing.
Deep water. There's a lot here which makes me squirm, the whole lack of air thing, being in a medium the human body isn't optimized for, as well as being aware of what lives out there and could be swimming underneath me just out of sight all combine to send shivers down my spine. One-on-one, these things don't bother me, it's just all together.
Snakes. Really, the whole idea of snakes is what gets to me. Face-to-face, they're just another animal and outside of a shiver now and again, these are probably one of the things I count as being afraid of the least.
Horror isn't about the little things that just creep us out though. Horror is about the things which send us screaming into the night. It's about the things we don't want to see but can't tear our eyes away from. It's about the things that we actively avoid to the point where, for the few moments the fear is there, our whole lives revolve around getting away from them.
What are the things that make my whole body shiver and make me close the book/change the channel/shut the curtains?
Cannibalism. There was a series on Animal Planet for a few years called Lost Tapes The premise is simply video being found which showed creatures of myth and legend on camera, doing what they do. I LOVED the show and I've seen almost every episode dozens of times to say the least. Except for one episode. The Wendigo. Animals eating people, I have no problem with. Vampires draining people's blood, I have no problem with. People killing and eating other people (typically raw, moments after the kill), I have a serious problem with. I don't know what it is that just disturbs me so about it, (you know, other than the obvious), I just know it does.
Twisted living bodies. I'm not talking about people mangled in car wrecks or anything like that. I mean people moving in ways the human body is not meant to move. All those scenes in the current crop of horror movies that have people spider-walking with their elbows and knees flexing the opposite of how they're supposed to go, just makes me look away. As someone who believes in and accepts the possibility of monsters and freaks hidden in the world around us, it makes what I say next hard to understand, but the way their bodies move while they are twisted around so is just so...unnatural. Trying to quantify it by saying it's not that it looks painful, I actually just realized, part of what makes it so horrible is the complete LACK of pain in all those scenes. It's the lack of pain, despite the knowledge that the human body isn't supposed to twist and bend that way, and the ease with which these beings move which makes them so completely wrong that the mind in no way wants to admit anything like that is even close to possible.
I'm not saying all this to try and sound like I'm cooler or braver than anyone else. It's more like I'm sharing some of how well I know myself, to encourage you to look at the things that scare you, challenge yourself to overcome your fears if you can, or try to understand what it is about those things that scare you. For a horror writer like myself, it's important because if I don't understand what it is about these things that scares me, how can I describe it in such a way and in such detail that the words leap off the page and scare you?
So, what is it that scares YOU?