I came across a piece of horror fiction online today that I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of before. Apparently it’s a bit of an underground internet phenomenon, causing a large amount of talk and speculation across – how do the kids say it these days – teh intarwebs [sic].

The reason I’m surprised it escaped me until now is that it’s possibly the most chilling experience I’ve ever had from reading a piece of horror writing. As I’ve spent virtually every night since my tenth birthday with a horror story in my hands at bedtime, that’s really saying something. Neither Poe, nor Lovecraft, nor Hawthorne ever scared me the way this tale did. I actually felt physical anxiety as I was reading it and, better still, after I’d finished I stepped out of the office into the unlit hallway of my apartment and for the first time in years, I was just a little afraid of the dark.

The story isn’t a traditional tale (although a little research afterward led me to understand that it is adapted – or at least ripped off – from a regular story… more on this later). Instead, it takes the form of an imperfectly written blog by an adventure caver by the name of Ted.

You know, I won’t go into any details about the events of the tale. I’ll just post the link and let you read it yourselves instead. (Note: it’s quite a long read – took me an hour and a half).

Link: Ted the Caver

Go on an read it… pour yourself a mug of cocoa first and wear something warm… you’ll want the sense of security.

All done?

What did you think?

For me this is a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of horror fiction. The imperfections of the site, the addition of the photographs and sketches, and the prosaic, journal style of the writing all added to its effectiveness. It felt like the fiction equivalent of The Blair Witch Project.

Curiously, the material on the site seems to be pulled almost verbatim from a more traditional 1987 short story by Thomas Lera called The Fear of Darkness*(see edit below).

You can read that version of the story HERE (PDF format).

What’s curious to me, is that the PDF short story, while more “professionally” written, is nowhere near as effective as the experimental fiction of ‘Ted the Caver’ blog. This got me thinking about the countless formats and methods of storytelling open to us horror writers. It made realize that while colorful narrative and riveting dialogue may be the ‘right way’ to tell a story, it may not necessarily be the best way to scare people.

~CGW

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* Note: It was brought to my attention that the Ted the Caver page may actually be the original story, while the Thomas Lera version may in fact be a later work trying to pass itself off as the original. Some research into this reveals a quite convincing post allegedly by the author of the Ted the Caver story which can be read here.

It seems speculation has been rife for several years on a variety of discussion forums as to which is the original work. You will have to determine which you believe. Regardless, it doesn’t change the interesting fact that the same story, in virtually identical language, told in two dramatically different mediums has differing affects on the reader and that’s definitely something to ponder. ~CGW