Happy Halloween!

I wrote a guest blog for Natalie Wright, a fellow author. You can find the original post here, as well as a contest/giveaway she ran. Since the post was written for her Halloween-themed month of posts, I thought I’d repost it here for celebration of this scary day:


The Most Terrifying Thing

By Val Muller

A prickling on the skin—

A directionless wind against dry leaves—

More terrifying still!


A full moon in a ring of mist

Against the owl’s lonely call—

Are but a mild thrill.


A lonely voice upon the air

Crying across the field

May cause a chill—


A creaking door when home alone,

A footstep on the floor above

Will brain with nightmares fill.


But the most terrifying things

To haunt your dreams

Are the mistakes caused by your free will.


When I was eight, a white van pulled up to me and the group with whom I was Trick-or-Treating, and a scary voice yelled, “Get in!”

The night left several impressions in my memory: the sinister way the red brake lights glowed against the street, the raspiness of the perpetrator’s voice, the lonely way the leaves rustled as we rushed across the nearest lawn to escape our kidnapper, the way the scary Jack-o-Lanterns and spooky music on the nearest porch seemed benign compared to the very real threat.

Trick-or-Treating that year ended early, in someone’s living room, as we waited for our frightened parents to arrive, and a police officer asked us the same questions over and over.

largeillustrationI’d always thought one day I’d be a hero. As many in our group squealed and ran up to the nearest porch to escape the van, I hid behind a thick oak tree and tried to peer at the license plate. I wanted to be the hero, the one brave enough to have seen and memorized the license plate. I imagined they would write a front-page story about me in the newspaper: Girl Dressed As Reaper Catches Kidnapper.

But all I saw was a glowing blue block with some foggy characters hovering in white. It would be five more years until my parents or I realized I needed glasses to see into the distance. Not only had I failed to read the plate, but when questioned multiple times by the police, I had to admit: I’d been brave enough to try to read the plate, but I had failed.

That—failure—is what haunts me from the night we were almost kidnapped. Why couldn’t I have inched closer? Why couldn’t I have squinted a little harder? I failed.

It’s a theme that haunted Oedipus Rex and a theme I’ve played with in my writing. To me, the most frightening and haunting parts of life are the failures we’ve caused on our own. The mistakes we’ve made that we insist on playing over and over in our brains. The mistakes we may never let go.

Faulkner's ApprenticeThe theme is apparent in my spookiest of works. Adam Hollinger, fifth-grade protagonist in my kidlit mystery series Corgi Capers, often succumbs to his own fear—and beats himself up afterwards. Lorei, the tragic hero of my supernatural chiller Faulkner’s Apprentice, learns that the devil is nothing compared to her own destructive tendencies.

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