I tried to shut out the giggles and screams from the rest of the volleyball team so I could drift off into the sweet oblivion of sleep. That was it. The only plan I had to escape the horror movie playing out on the large tv screen in front of me. A movie I did NOT want to watch.

The music intensified and I buried deeper into my sleeping bag. Drew Barrymore followed the instructions of the psycho on the other end of the phone. I opened my eyes just a tiny slit. She was crouched on the floor, face full of terror.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Wild, my heart thumped to the pulse of the music and the character’s heavy breathing as she ran, looking for escape. I wiped my palms on my sleeping bag. For the next two hours I reassured myself, sleep would claim me any second.

I don’t usually like horror as a genre. It produces a strong physiological response: racing heart, sweaty palms, and paranoia as I glance over my shoulder. It’s not fun for me. It’s just stressful.

So when I came across a short story contest for horror, I kind of chuckled to myself and moved on. Horror? Yeah right.

Imagine my surprise when I kept thinking about it.

Now what were the guidelines again? I wonder…I pulled up the information in a separate tab on my phone and it sat there for a month. Just for casual reference.

I decided I’d just brainstorm some ideas. If nothing came to me then no big deal. I made a list of things that scare me. Things that set my heart racing with dread. At the top of the list: Having no control.

Over a year ago my family drove down a highway in northern Arizona as a driver in the other lane lost control of his car. He came straight for us and impact was inevitable. Pain was inevitable. The screams of my children as I tried to get to them through my injuries was inevitable. I had zero control over what happened that day, and that terrified me. Still terrifies me.

So I exploited that. I mean, some good should come from that experience, right?

Something became obvious from my list. Horror isn’t gore. It’s primal fear. An idea formed and the keyboard clicked furiously beneath my fingers. I was no longer the teenage girl cowering in her sleeping bag, and I was no longer the passenger bracing for impact.

I was in charge of this ride.

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