Think back to the last time you woke up in the dead of night...
What did you see?
The room looks different than it does in the light of day. At night it ticks and creaks; it is awake. You stare into the darkness. It stares back.
What are those shadows at the door?
But the moment the light is switched on, the world you know returns. Now enveloped in the protective, keen-sighted swathe of light your surroundings as welcoming and familiar as ever before.
Your earlier panic is dismissed with a nervous chuckle. Yet before you flicked on that light things hadn’t seemed so benign. There was darkness, and in darkness there is fear. Because in darkness—in the unseen—there is the potential.
What inhabits the darkness that shrouds you in the night? Probably nothing. But, without sight to soothe away the conclusions a frightened mind can jump to; potentially anything. In the end the infinite possibility of the unknown is far more intoxicating than any monster.
Horror is at its most powerful when there is room left for imagination. Most monsters are not so terrifying once you get a good look at them, and the initial shock wears away, but a flicker in the darkness at the foot of your bed? That is whatever you fear the most. This idea is why films like Alien and Jaws are so effective; we are offered only hints of the antagonist, flirtations with fear that allow the mind to run wild with possibilities. Once our adversary raises its head above the parapet and we see what we are up against, we can begin to fight it. We can look for weaknesses. But if we never truly know what predatory force lurks in the darkness, we will always remain the prey.
The less-is-more theorem has been utilised to devastating effect across all mediums of horror, from film and theatre to video games and, of course, stories.
In a good ghost story atmosphere and crescendo are everything.
M.R. James, arguably the father of the modern ghost story, insisted that protagonists should feel comfortable in their surrounds, and into this environment, this safe space, the ominous thing should begin to creep, slowly and with subtlety until it eventually holds centre stage and grips your heart with its bony, slender fingers.
This mantra is at the core of the all the great ghost stories. If Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad began with animated bedsheets chasing Parkins across his hotel room it would have seemed quite ludicrous. Instead, the reader watches Parkins as he is followed along a desolated beach, indicating that someone —or something —is coming for him. The sense of threat builds slowly, and the confrontation finally occurs, it is terrifying; a truly pleasing terror.
The finest monsters are unassuming, things you almost think you could out-maneuver, lulling you into a false sense of security; something relentless and forceful, which cannot be stopped, and cannot be outrun.
While Creepypastas and dime-a-dozen found footage films have their place, it was a longing for these sullen, bare-bones stories, which we have come to refer to as Classical Horror, which gave birth to Shadows at the Door.
Like you, we have looked into the darkness our homes; homes whose nighttime chorus of creaks and moans are enough to make the blood run cold. Rational explanation is but a thought away, but the image of some emaciated spectre or cloaked intruder pushing open the bedroom door is a much more consuming notion.
Scribblings of these torments on paper became our first story, An Unwelcome Guest, and followings its publishing on Shadows at the Door, its popularity demonstrated that the market for subtle, skulking horror was far from dead.
Many more stories followed, and what began as a dark, murky corner of the internet soon grew, creeping slowly outwards like a fog in a graveyard. The site now harbours over forty ghostly tales, and has become a haven for lovers of the macabre; both readers and writers alike.
Welcome to the shadows. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring...