Come and play with us, Danny. Forever..." Do you remember the ghoulish twins in The Shining?" The movie has been seared into my brain ever since I sneaked downstairs one midnight to watch it when I was 12 years old. I had a love/hate alliance with being scared well into my 20s. I craved horror movies but my hand hovered over my face, creating a virtual window blind for the most suspenseful parts. I devoured thrillers, just not right before bed.
In my 30s, I decided truth was weirder and more alluring than fiction, and read little else but memoir, self-help, autobiography and historical books.
The pendulum has started swinging the other way. On holiday in July, I found a copy of Stephen King's 1994 novel, Insomnia, and was transported back to young adulthood, to the universe of King's masterful writing and storytelling. His words raised my shoulder blades and quickened my pulse. I'd emit the odd "ew", while devouring details of gore.
Likewise, reading local author and friend, Lee Murray's, Hounds of the Underworld kept me turning pages during a New Year's downpour. Better to read about blowflies buzzing above a bloody crime scene than fixate on whether our caravan would continue leaking.
Escaping into make-believe famine, pestilence and violence with a devilish dollop of the supernatural is counter-weight to real-life horrors of famine, refugee migration, terrorism and Donald Trump. The last on the atrocities list shares traits with King's creepy villain in It, Pennywise the Clown, who lives in a storm drain. Pennywise has the ability to influence memory and action, covering up and erasing knowledge of past violent acts.
Trump tries to influence memory and action by communicating in ALL CAPS. In a frightening world of dictators and autocrats, it's comforting to curl up with a fictional sewer clown who won't start World War III, pollute the planet, or try to grab my crotch.
King said, "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." The writer said horror movies have a job to do, deliberately appealing to the worst in us. King wrote anti-civilisation emotions – our most base feelings – don't go away. They demand periodic exercise. I say let demons run free on the page and on-screen rather than fire them from a gun, or unleash them on Twitter.
Murray told me consuming fictional horror helps us discover how we might respond to scary situations and can lead us to develop real-life coping strategies. "For example, if we read a lot apocalyptic fiction, then it stands to reason that we'll be better prepared when the zombies are shuffling down our driveways. Or if the grid goes down. Or an oppressive government takes over. When we shriek, 'Leave the cat!' at the heroine on the screen, we are testing our own responses and our own resilience."
I'm not the only one who enjoys role-playing and being scared. The UK's Telegraph reported in July sales of horror fiction reached a four-year high after a glut of supernatural TV series and blockbuster horror films sparked an "incredible resurgence" in the genre. Experts credit the boom partly to the success of the Netflix series Stranger Things, which captured nearly 16 million viewers the first episode. My own kids couldn't get enough of the drama, in which five children in 1980s America navigate supernatural mysteries.
Today is All Saints' Day, also called All Hallows' Day in the Christian church. It's preceded by what was known in medieval England as All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween. Like it or not, the holiday has gained traction in New Zealand as children and adults dress in costume seeking sweets and fun. My American small fries planned their outfits for a month before hitting the streets of Papamoa East for treats. This is a neighbourhood that digs decorating, disguising and doling out lollies. I love watching kids in costume marvelling at makeshift graveyards, faux spider webs and disembodied heads while parading up and down the street dressed as vampires, zombies, witches and fairies. The camaraderie of the evening feels much the same as in the States, minus the darkness and bitter cold.
The past week has brought us more than a Pandora's box of sadness and evil: In America, eleven people were killed in a synagogue shooting; authorities say a Trump fanatic sent mail bombs to 12 public figures critical of his hero; millions of people in Yemen have been pushed to the brink of starvation by a Saudi-Arabian led war; and Sri Lanka's political system has fallen apart.
Just when I thought I'd outgrown horror fiction, the genre has crept back into my life like a hairy spider. "Go then, there are other worlds than these," wrote King in The Gunslinger.
Those worlds live on my bookshelf and in my Kindle.
No wonder, as one commentator said, "Horror is the genre that rose from the grave".
Dawn Picken has written for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She's a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her family