I am the first to admit that I have become an instant gratification junkie. I suppose growing up on the interwebs will do that to a person. I not only love the ability to immediately find an answer to any question that pops into my brain, I need it. Going for any significant period of time without internet access is like cutting me off heroin. I go into painful-to-watch-and-experience withdrawal.
Which may or may not be rather sad, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
What we’re here to talk about is an ongoing, increasingly frustrating failure to achieve that instant gratification I so crave.
This is the hook story.
Some people who know me know this story. Some don’t. It’s not one of those things I parade out (à la the polar bear tale, mostly because that one is hilarious), but if I happen to be around people when I’m thinking about it, I tend to share. For reasons I’ll disclose in a moment.
When I was a child (fifth grade, to be precise), I checked out a book from the school library. This was by no means a rarity for me, but it is that inauspicious moment that spawned what has become a 13-year-long losing battle. The book I checked out was a book of horror stories, bound in that dusky crimson, coarsely fibrous material 45% of my elementary school’s library books were bound in. Why I remember this when I can’t remember…
Nevermind. We’re getting there.
Within this book (title unknown), I read a story that has haunted me for over a decade now. The problem is… it is a vague, uneasy haunting (as all good hauntings should be). What has stuck with me is the general sense of fear without anything to base it on.
That’s my problem- I can’t remember this story in great detail. Not the title, author, book title, or even much of the plot. I believe I have a basic outline of the plot, but I can’t tell if it’s true or if I’ve fabricated it over the years.
Here’s what I remember from the story:
A group of people (kids? adults? Viennese midgets?) end up in an abandoned building by the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Inside the building is a room. The room is completely empty- save for a row of hooks along the wall, somewhere between 4 and 12 inches from the ceiling. The exact measurement escapes me. What I do remember is that the hooks are described as being situated too high to function as coat hooks. The characters are perplexed by them.
Anyway, the characters wind up trapped in this room. And then some kind of total mindfuck happens. It gets dark. They start tripping balls, seeing all kinds of things. I know giant spiders make an appearance. Also… I don’t know if this was actually part of the story or if it was just how I imagined it and now it’s become entwined with the actual story in the tangle of my memory, but there was a greenish/yellowish fog coming through the doorway (which may or may not have been tunnelesque at that point).
Like I said, I don’t remember a lot of concrete bits of the story. I do remember those hooks, though. At the end of the story, after being driven to a terror-induced insanity by their hallucinations, the characters look up and see ropes dangling from those too-high hooks… and realize they are placed just high enough for a person to hang themselves. Which they commence doing.
That’s the extent of my memory of the story. I don’t really know what happened in the room (beyond the spiders and the ending). And I want to know. Because this story is earmarked in my memory as one of the most subtly terrifying things I’ve ever read.
Yes, I was 10 at the time. But I’ve never been one to scare easily, even as a child, so I have a hard time believing a truly mediocre story would have such a lingering impact on me. It’s unfortunate that my memories of much of my childhood are just scattered fragments. Somewhere in time, I lost the memory of this story.
But the whispers of terror it inspired in me remain.
As I said, I’m haunted by it. Sometimes (about once every three or four months, I suspect), when I see an empty hook on the wall, those snippets of memory assail me. I’ll spend days on the internet, trying every combination of key words I can to discover the tale and put this mystery to bed.
And here’s where I can’t get no satisfaction, galleons. Because no matter what I search, I can find no trace of this damn story. There is no digital fingerprint for it. In the information age, it somehow manages to remain stubbornly stuck between the covers of that little red book and a shadowy corner of my own memory.
As I said, some people know this about me, and some don’t. I have a tendency to tell people about it when I happen to think about it, not because it’s particularly interesting, but because I’m hoping that they might have heard of it. One day, I want to mention these shards of memory to someone and have them say, “I know exactly the story you are talking about!” Because I can’t have been the only one who read it.
Can you solve the mystery for me, galleons?