To celebrate the paperback publication of The Stolen Ones by Richard Montanari, a thriller that promises to wake your deepest childhood fears, we spoke to some of our authors about what scared them most when they were younger. Here Dagmar Winther, one half of Danish writing duo Sander Jakobsen (The Preacher) shares his story.
I am hiding behind a wooden fence, frozen with terror. I can see my house; it’s right there behind the trees. The sun is scorching and blinding. I am five years old. I want to run home. But I can’t. Between me and my home, right over there on the wooden stairs, is a gorilla.
It’s a male. Enormous. The back of its head, the most terrifying feature of a gorilla, is bulging like it’s about to explode. It is calm but attentive, head turning slowly at any sound, as if he is fully aware of the absurdity of his presence but also assured in his complete dominance of the situation.
The last thing I want is for him to see me. I know for a fact that he is dangerous, that he will see me as an intruder, as an insult, that he will attack the moment he sees me. Which is why the next thing I do defies all logic. I stand up and I yell from the top of my lungs. My words have no logic either:
The only words the five-year-old-me knows in English.
The moment he sees me, he charges at me. I am frozen, I cannot move. I watch in horror up until the moment his enormous body leaps over the fence, towering above me.
And cut! It’s a dream. The same dream I’ve had for quite a few years. I always know when it’s happening, as if I’m only in a half-asleep state, somehow aware of the fact that I’m dreaming but unable to stop the inevitability of it. It must take its course; I must hide there in chilling anxiety and see the monkey unleash its explosion of power and charge towards me.
The dream bewilders me. Not the fact that I am being chased by a dangerous creature, which is quite common in dreams, like losing your teeth or drowning. But my actions in the dream! The certainty of danger, the crippling fear of the monster in front of me. And then the desire to attract it. To stand up and be noticed. And to remain standing even when he leaps towards me, blind with rage.
My mother, who’s read Jung and Freud, advices me to try and interact in the dream. Ask the monkey for a present, she says. But I won’t. I never do. I just want to stand there and be overthrown. I am a child, but still attracted to this creature like a moth to a blowtorch.
What still terrifies me about the gorilla is not its capability to hurt me, its strength, its deafening roar or the sharp fangs. A lion possesses these qualities as well. A lion is faster and far more likely to attack, as gorillas are not carnivores and only attacks humans when their territories or babies are threatened.
The true horror of the gorilla is its resemblance to us: the raw strength behind the familiar face. The unpredictability with which it is sometimes human, sometimes primate. The caressing fingers and the predatory walk.
And then, our never-ending desire to taunt it, to knock on the tempered glass of its cage, to enter its territories.