Scariest Book I've Ever Read

Since tomorrow is Halloween, I thought this would be a good time to tell you about the first and last time I ever read Dean Koontz.

I’d been in L.A. for only a few months and about to move into a new apartment with two other people. The lease didn’t begin until first of the month, which was also when phone and electricity would be turned on, but the landlord said we could move in early. My roommies said they’d wait but I thought I’d be a badass and moved in three days early.

I’ve never had trouble being alone for long periods of time as long as I have a book. So, I went to a used bookstore in North Hollywood to look for a cheap paperback I could kill three days with. A copy of Koontz’s Whispers was sitting in the bargain bin. I’d never read him but a friend was always recommending his books (I should’ve considered that my friend loved scary movies with guys named Freddy and Jason in them) and the dollar-price was right. I took it home with me and attacked it that afternoon. What else was I gonna do? Nobody to call and no TV to watch.

I sat on the floor of my new bedroom—I had zero furniture, not even a bed—under a window and read. For hours. And hours. I remember being vaguely aware of shadows passing by the window above me as the day got long and the sun started descending. But I kept reading. Because it was getting really good and scary. I didn’t even stop for lunch.

Suddenly, it was dark. I only noticed it because I could no longer see the words. I went to turn on the light and belatedly remembered there was no electricity. I also realized the temperature in the room had dropped precipitously. With the sun on my back from the window, it had been sufficiently warm in the apartment during the day. But now it was evening in February and my clothes felt too thin.

And I was sitting in the dark, alone, with a creepy-ass book in my lap. I had no cell phone to call anyone (this was early ’90s), nowhere to go. I don’t remember specific details about the book but the plot had something to do with a stalker who shows up at a woman’s house to kill her. A woman who’s alone, exactly like I was that night.

I wanted to go downstairs to get something to eat but looked at the dark chasm that was the winding staircase and thought, Forget it. Did I mention I didn’t own a flashlight? I was sure someone would grab me on the landing and no one would hear me scream.

After cowering in the dark upstairs for another half hour or so, I decided to try and sleep since there wasn’t much else to do. Plus, I needed relief from the escalating Whispers-induced paranoia in my head. I curled up on the floor with my blanket, certain my roommates would show up in a few days and find me as a corpse, cause of death being an actual intruder or heart attack from massive fear.

Don’t remember how I managed to quiet my brain enough to sleep but next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to a bright shiny morning. I’d never been so happy to see sunlight and all my limbs still attached. Went downstairs and ate a sandwich like a lion in the wild on a downed gazelle. Newly energized, I went back upstairs and finished Whispers because I don’t like leaving things unfinished. But after that, I never read Koontz again.

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Happy Halloween!



  • Reply
    October 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Oh, I had to write this down. I haven’t read this one but I’ve read quite a few Dean Koontz novels in the past and loved him.. Thanks for the scary recommendation 🙂

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm

      Hi Allison, I’m not sure if it was the book or my situation but that was one creepy experience. At the very least, the book didn’t help matters. Make sure you have the lights on and plenty of people around if you do read it!

      Thanks for stopping by. You’ve got a really nice website.

  • Reply
    October 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Wonderful and timely post, PCN. Okay, there are two books, both by Stephen King, that achieved this – for two different reasons. First, the only book that ever gave me a nightmare (while reading it) was Salem’s Lot. Second, while in college but home with the flu, I started to read The Stand. If you know how it starts, it’s the last thing a flu-sick person should read… EVER. Needless to say, I had to stop reading it (but picked it back up and finished it after flu-season).

    Thanks for this, PCN.

    p.s., if Whispers got to you, DON’T EVER read D.K.’s Intensity 😉

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

      Oh my gosh, that’s the worst book to read while having the flu! Glad you recovered, physically and mentally.

      I’m not going anywhere near Intensity.

  • Reply
    October 30, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Damn! That was scary, indeed!

    I was once left alone in a tent when with some camping friends during a cold & rainy night. I woke up halfway through the night and found myself completely alone… and when I reached for my flashlight it went dead. I managed to take a peek outside and it was dark as a wolf’s mouth and nobody around…

    Then about half an hour after it stopped raining I heard them arrive laughing. It turned out they went to the town nearby to get some “refreshments” but when it started raining they decided to stay until it stopped.

    Scariest night ever!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

      Oh no, they should’ve at least told you where they were going!

      I like the “dark as a wolf’s mouth” description. Do you have first-hand experience of this?

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    October 30, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I had to fortify myself just to read your post, PCN, let alone tackle a whole scare-the-BeeGees-out-of-me book. I just don’t go there. Brrrrrr! I’m glad you at least had a sandwich to wake up to.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 11:50 am

      Haha! I wouldn’t want to scare you—the Bee Gees can stay where they are.

  • Reply
    October 31, 2009 at 7:25 am

    It was Amityville Horror by Stephen King.

    My Mom and my brothers away somewhere doing something and I had opted to stay home with Dad.

    My father’s latest project was digging a five foot wide trench around the house so he could patch up the foundation and keep the basement from flooding during the upcoming Spring. He was a really tough guy and used to doing things like this all by himself. I had gotten in his way one too many times, so I headed upstairs to my room and started reading.

    I reached a really scary part in the book just as my Dad hit one of the main beams of our house and the entire place shook. I screamed like a little girl! Dad, thinking I had hurt myself some how, came running up the stairs with a pick ax still in his hand.

    Yeah…..I messed my pants.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 11:54 am

      Though that sounds absolutely terrifying, you made me laugh so hard. Your dad with the pick ax would’ve given me a stroke and soiled pants.

  • Reply
    Corey Wilde
    October 31, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Stephen King’s short stories are the scariest things I’ve read. And the scariest of all of his short stories, for me, was The Bogeyman. The man just tapped into all of my childhood nightmares.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 12:00 pm

      I’ve never read King’s short stories but doesn’t sound like I will. Yikes.

  • Reply
    October 31, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Years ago I read Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Haunting of Hill House” and had to stop reading it. It was just creepy—whether you view it as the story of a mind unraveling or as a truly malevolent ghost story.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 1:20 pm

      I haven’t read that but the description reminds me of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, an ambiguous story I couldn’t figure out but found terrifying.

      • Reply
        November 1, 2009 at 1:46 pm

        Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw was the basis for The Innocents which starred Deborah Kerr. And, it’s another of the truly creepy films in history.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          November 1, 2009 at 9:47 pm

          Yes, that movie messed me up, too. The story is just disturbing, no matter its format.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    October 31, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Oh, I’m not a scary book person or a scary movie person – at all. I’m guaranteed to have nightmares…for weeks. Here’s a example of how jumpy I am:

    I was babysitting one night. It was a family I hadn’t babysat before but they were just one block over from my parents. I was probably 15ish. The kids had gone to bed and I was waiting for their parents to get home. Meanwhile something knocked a garbage can over outside. O.k. I’m fine with that. No big deal. Might have been a dog or a raccoon or something. But when I sat down on the couch and leaned back into a vibrating pillow, I thought I was going to die of a massive coronary…

    I’m just a sad case when it comes to scary. So I stay away from both Dean Kootz and Stephen King for precisely that reason! I’m sure they are superb writers, but the objective being to scare the hell out of me is what keeps me away.

    P.S. – I also hate roller coasters for the same reason!

    Crap…maybe I should have put these things in my post as nerd descriptors! Ha!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 1:41 pm

      Oh, this reminds me of the time I babysat for a family who forgot to tell me they had their lamps on timer. I was sitting in the house, the baby asleep, when all off a sudden the lamps turned on by themselves. I almost jumped out of my skin. This was back in the early ’80s so I’d never even heard of appliances on self-timer. Thought ghosts turned them on.

      I hate roller coasters, too!

      I think you’re the early front runner for next year’s nerd crown. The not-having-a-TV thing already won major points a few weeks ago!

  • Reply
    sophie littlefield
    November 1, 2009 at 6:17 am

    i have to agree with corey…there are still a few king short stories that i can’t really focus on without getting completely creeped out. i have a high tolerance for that stuff but he really knew how to go straight to the kernel of terror…

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 1, 2009 at 1:46 pm

      I have a very low threshold for creepy stuff so I haven’t sampled his short stories. I’ve read some of his novels, though, and found them manageable. Are the short stories scarier than the longer ones?

  • Reply
    November 2, 2009 at 8:11 am

    I like reading Dean Koontz. They aren’t all super scary. I really like Lightning, and the Frankenstein books are interesting. Fear Nothing and Seize the Night are two of my all-time favorite books and I’ve actually re-read them a time or two (impatiently waiting on the third in the series). I think that the only Stephen King books that I’ve read are Firestarter, The Stand, and The Green Mile and those weren’t too scary.

    The scariest book that I ever read was The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I was in high school when I read it. Although I didn’t see the movie until several years later, I think the book is way scarier.

  • Reply
    November 5, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Great story, PCN, as always! (I experienced something similar when watching “Blair witch project” alone, late at night in an old deserted theater a few years ago… Brrrr! But your post is about scariest books not scariest movies!)

    When I was younger, I used to read many Koontz and King’s novels. Although they often gave me the creeps, I kept on reading them, probably waiting for my fix of fear and/or wanting to test my psychological resistance!
    I remembered having been both fascinated and frightened by Koontz’s “Watchers”, but the scariest book I’ve ever read was Stephen King’s “The shining”! That one really gave me goose bumps! When I watched Kubrick’s movie a few years after, I was nearly disappointed because I was expecting the same kind of terror and barely got scared!

  • Reply
    Margaret Hardy
    March 29, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I know I’m waaaaay… Late to this post but it did make laugh ! It was The Shining for me too, the only time I have genuinely been frightened to turn the page… But apart from the scariness it was a superb book. I think it is the ordinanaryness (is that a real word ?) of the characters eg – the kids feeding the dog under the table, which make the contrast when something scary happens seem so much worse. Dean Koontz I have been reading for years and he has matured into a fine and thoughtful writer, most of his books are not scary at all – well, OK just a wee bit in some !
    I am not a fan of horror, either in book form and definitely not in film. I remember watching.The Devil Rides Out with Peter Fonda in it many, many, many years ago and I’m still traumatised ! LoL.

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