The Top 10 Scenes In Literature To Bring You Terrorsleep: Part 2

Header image by Ricardo Esquivel

Previously on Terrorsleep

Still with me, brave readers? Grip up your talismans! We've got work to do. Some of you are humoring me nicely (or is it... scarily?) by leaving your own terror scenes here and on the networks. I appreciate your contribution to my ill slept week; your brains are delicious. Allow me to return the favor. As promised (threatened?) here are my final scenes of scary shit for which to people your dreams--should you manage better than I to find shelter in sleep!

(It bears repeating, as there's naught like a nerd book scorned: SPOILERS!)

'Blood Meridian' by Cormac McCarthy5. "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy was divined for these purposes; he tells stories that are so terrifying and melodically written that you feel completely defenseless to the experience. Just sit there and be brutalized! Let his phrasing ring your skull, friend; there is no other way. Of all his novels, Blood Meridian scared me the most, and it is also my favorite, so whatever that says about me is probably valid.  Certainly a good deal of that scare factor is continuous violence where no punches are pulled; we are talking scalping and child rape, gooshy stuff type horror. It was so well written that I couldn't put it down, took it to bed like a four mark whore and suffered the syph of scaresleep for it. I think the reason that the final scene burrowed so painfully into my headhold is because I imagined it so vividly. The rest of the novel is so unrelentingly violent and mean that it almost becomes ritual; you turn a page, you are in the shit. Simple. But that ending is brilliant: it is ambiguous. In a book full of horrific things, you find that the most horrific thing of all is your own imagination when it has been subjected to the worst of things and then the bottom drops out and it's left to its own devices. You are worse than can be imagined. In the end the protagonist, The Kid, is grotesquely murdered by the villain, The Judge, in an outhouse. We learn this not because it is described, but because those who catch an eye get all holy! holy! and lose their shit from fright. All we know for sure is The Judge was naked, and he's a giant fat pale hairless man, and what's left is an unspeakable mess. So it's the worst of fates. And while there's no accounting for pedophilic, homicidal, whale-size albino taste: nein.

Get Blood Meridian at Bookshop or Amazon


'Gerald's Game' by Stephen King4. "Gerald's Game" by Stephen King

Seriously, this book isn't fit to sit the same bookshelf as the man's other novels. I read it because I was young, had recently read The Shining, and realized I might be on to something. I was so bored (youth? burgeoning sensibility?) that I can't even tell you what in the Sam Hell the book wanted to be about. It takes a creepy--but delightful!--premise and then just bails into psychotherapy. You see the strings the entire time, it's so overtly manipulative. This woman is stuck handcuffed to a bed (sexy sex) after her husband is blue balled by a swift kick and fatal angina. Some voyeuristic CHUD appears and stands watch over her while a stray dog feasts on her dead husband's haunches. Once she's had enough of that, she nearly cuts off her own hand to escape, and then decides to become her own Sherlock Holmes (and therapist). She commences an obsessive investigation into her visitor that eventually leads, grossly, to the revelation that she was molested during an eclipse. I think? I don't remember because I don't care--there's a Nosferatu standing in the corner of my room. I was scared to look at the dark spots of rooms for too long, that my concentration would slowly reveal shape. The kitchen scene in The Strangers, dig? Except this guy carries a trophy box and will totally skull fuck a dead you. Look alive!

Get Gerald's Game at Bookshop or Amazon


'As I Lay Dying' by William Faulkner3. "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner

This was my first Faulkner, so I was perhaps conditioned to merely flinch at some of his other, more nasty backwoods horror (and if you've read Faulkner, I imagine you are just nodding solemnly). The Bundren family is wagonbound to bury their recently deceased mother. One of the brothers, Cash, breaks his leg medias in res their narrishkeit of a funeral procession. His younger and somehow omnipotent brother Darl cruelly suggests to his simple kin that they cast the leg in cement. They do--logic has little warmth in this dreadful libretto--and it goes as well as any dumb idea, by an order of magnitude. Walking around on a rotting leg encased in stone; I have no idea why that really clung to me, but it's something really macabre to be plagued by, non?

Get As I Lay Dying at Bookshop or Amazon


'Apt Pupil' by Stephen King2. "Apt Pupil" by Stephen King

This is the third King on this list (cocaine is a helluva drug), so to avoid smelling of charlatan lite, I will be brief. Technically, this is a novella housed in a collection (that includes the story that became The Shawshank Redemption. Fun game: go check your television listings. This film will play on at least one channel, daily. In the future, remotes will just have a setting: Shawshank). There is a lot of horror in this little novella (concentration camps and electric dildo rape notwithstanding) but I warned you about my weak spot, friends. An old man--a Nazi, if that makes my fear more reasonable--roasts a stray cat alive in his oven. It's entirely too detailed. I can't even. I was despondent and plagued by that scene alone in an outlandishly mean scene'd novella, whatever that says about me.

Get Different Seasons at Bookshop or Amazon


'Beloved' by Toni Morrison1. "Beloved" by Toni Morrison

There's no way in hot hell this book would escape my list. Beloved is a hyper-literate ghost story, after all. It concerns an escaped slave, Sethe, and the infant daughter she murders with a handsaw when she and her hiding children are discovered. Cut to: Sethe spends a stint in jail, her newborn daughter Denver with her. Everybody spits and crosses themselves when she gets out, because the ghost of the murdered baby, Beloved, haunts her home. The murder--and the state of mind to see that as a promising solution--is not what burdened me most; it was the "rememories" of slave life at Sweet Home and the barbaric treatment they suffered. A lactation rape, for one. Many a lynch, a man set on fire, and the image of men and women with iron bits in their mouths to stifle their speech. There is always the uncomfortable knowledge that this might not be out of the realm of historic possibility. Black experience is not one I can claim to understand personally or individually. But grief, loss, unconscionable pain, and the way those are shawled around the shoulders sometimes in a tight haunt: universal. When Beloved is finally forced from Sethe's home by the women in her town, one is both relieved for their heal, but also a little needing for exorcism, too.

Get Beloved at Bookshop or Amazon

And there you have it. I'll spare you all the feministic terror throes of The Yellow Wallpaper and Rosemary's Baby in exchange for your understanding that much of recent fiction flies beneath my scare-dar because honey, no. I'll gladly eat it if you can prove me wrong. Keep sharing!

Tina Estlin Page

Column by Tina Estlin Page

Tina Estlin Page has written for and, and was an editor for years at the biggest publisher on this'n here Earth rock. She's been called "Zooey" and "budget Aubrey Plaza." She takes no offense with the latter.

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jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 31, 2011 - 12:36pm

Agreed on Blood Meridian.  Also, the epilogue is one of my favorite pages ever printed.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books October 31, 2011 - 12:41pm

You know, the synopsis of Gerald's Game on Wikipedia actually makes it sound like something I would like. Guess not, though.

And LOL @ Shawshank. It's ALWAYS on. I usually catch it medias in res.

Elle Lassiter's picture
Elle Lassiter from Virginia is reading "Aletheia" by J.S. Breukelaar October 31, 2011 - 2:36pm

Beloved was a seriously disturbing read. The bits were the worst part for me, for some reason. Worse than the rapes and lynchings and the other horrors of slavery. 

I never finished Blood Meridian, but Child of God had enough nightmare fodder for a lifetime. It's hard not to love McCarthy. At least it is for me.

Matt Tuckey's picture
Matt Tuckey October 31, 2011 - 2:42pm

I thought The Shining was too slow and forcefully delivered, like King was reminding us that we're supposed to be scared. But American Psycho, holy God. Read it 10 years ago. Still stunned. What makes it so scary is that we're supposed to see how alike Bateman is to all of us (I hope, unless it's just me!) hence making us scare ourselves. McCarthy's No Country for Old Men was awesome. Will give Blod Meridian a shot one day.

Tina's picture
Tina is reading Drive, James Sallis November 1, 2011 - 12:24pm

I think The Shining was super needlessly long, but so is almost everything written by King. Still, I think he was at the top of his game with that novel. I maintain that Gerald's Game is King at some of his worst. I see the wiki makes better sense of the book than the book itself, but if you're a glutton for punishment, Josh--and I would say such!--then proceed if you must but be prepared for epic eye rolling after the first quarter. The creep in the corner watching is way scarier than what it's supposed to metaphorically represent; fail.

It's good to see Beloved and Blood Meridian get some likewise love from some likewise brains. moleskine (I love that name. moleskine to me is synonymous with the process): absolutely. Can't get that image out of my mind. And Halle with the butter...

J.Y.: you've got my number. it's a haunting way to end a brutal novel, especially connected to the last line, "He says that he will never die." And how.

Thomas Derry's picture
Thomas Derry from Bonanza, Colorado is reading Rand McNally World Atlas July 23, 2012 - 10:50am

Ambrose Bierce's short story "Chickamauga" for pure a Gothic horrorshow of the Civil War.

Rob Friesel's picture
Rob Friesel July 3, 2013 - 5:15pm

House of Leaves isn't on here? I lost sleep every night that I read that book.

Sarah Curtis's picture
Sarah Curtis from the nutfarm, AR. is reading the exorcist October 22, 2013 - 12:23pm

of stephen king's many works, i think i found 'Just after Sunset' very compelling;  and then i discovered 'Full Dark, No Stars.'  of any book written by Mr. King, this one was horrifying and largely repulsive, yet i just could not get rid of it.  overall, 'Full Dark' is absolutely worth mentioning on behalf of those who enjoy torturing themselves.

Wacky Taya Whovian's picture
Wacky Taya Whovian January 21, 2014 - 12:13pm

How can American Psycho only be 10? You have read it right? It totally wigged me out for a few days after I read it. Mmm no, I don't suggest that book to anyone unless you really want to get creeped out. I wouldn't say I hated it but I didn't care for some of the scenes but I mean Patrick was [or was he?] a serial killer, I mean his killing have to be over-the-top or we wouldn't be commenting on it years later after the novel has been written.

The Shining I will agree was a great book and film. I have to admit I like the TV version of The Shining over the original film but you got to love Jack.

I'm surprised that Psycho isn't on here, that was a hell of a book. But hey to each their own I suppose.

Call me a wimp but I threw American Psycho in the trash, NOT because I didn't like it, mind you, it's because it was giving me bad vibes and I would re-reading some of torture scenes [because I am a writer as well and wanted to learn how to write in more detailed ways] I wonder if anyone else has done this with a book and thank God the writer of this article felt the same way with The Excroist makes me feel better about throwing away American Psycho. :D






Laura Cassels's picture
Laura Cassels February 3, 2015 - 3:40pm

I'm amazed Graham Masterton is not on this list as he gave me most of my adult nightmares. There is also a novel by James Herbert called something like 'Chrichton Hall' featuring a family moving into an old boring school home. It was horrific. One particular scene regarding a small boy at the end was just nightmare inducing. Am glad to see the Shining on here though.

Lauryn_reader's picture
Lauryn_reader September 2, 2017 - 2:35am

The very top of my list would be The Ruins by Scott Smith. The movie screwed with me psychologically but the book absolutely terrorized me. I've woken up breathless imagining the vines creeping toward me. The second book on my list would be Night Sone by Rick Hautala. There are multiple scenes that leave you thinking but there is one in particular about the little doll that has kept me up at night. I imagined The only scenes in The Shining that really got me were the animal hedge scenes whereas Carrie left me with an undeniable sense of dread through the entire book

malenkydroog's picture
malenkydroog November 18, 2017 - 6:03am

How about Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk? ‘Guts’ has never left my mind, only book to give me an actual physical reaction.