Scariest Books of All Time, Part 4

This one might come as a surprise. Ostensibly a work of nonfiction (and I believe the author sincerely believes he is telling the truth), Whitley Strieber's bestselling Communion made the now-iconic big-headed and almond-eyed "gray" alien a staple of popular culture. I still vividly recall seeing the cover in a bookstore and being unable to resist picking it up, caught in the gaze of those hypnotic black eyes. Communion book cover

Setting the reality of alien abduction aside, Communion masterfully draws the reader into the tormented mind of Strieber as he is gradually forced to accept that bizarre, otherworldly entities are secretly kidnapping him from his remote cabin and forcing him to endure brutal and dehumanizing physical ordeals including, most infamously, rape via the oft-ridiculed "anal probe."

Of course much of the power of this material is built upon the idea that it is, as it declares on the cover, a "true story." If one accepts that the events are factual, then it suggests there are literally monsters among us. And what could be more frightening than creatures who can teleport into a bedroom, levitate a paralyzed person into some sort of craft, and perform sadistic, quasi-medical procedures on the terrifed abductee—and then completely erase the memories of the incident? No sane adult is afraid of vampires, werewolves, or zombies, but the monsters Whitley writes about are things that many rational people find terrifying because they just might actually exist. Strieber skillfully renders his see-sawing between Am I going crazy? and his ultimate acceptance that the entities he calls "the visitors" are absolutely, horrifyingly real.

I understand there are also many people who find this book ridiculous and believe Strieber to be either an eloquent con-man, mentally ill, or both. But I have reason to believe that he is telling the truth, or at least he is not consciously lying.

I share a mutual writer friend with Whitley, though he wishes to remain anonymous. Long before Communion came out, my writer friend (let's call him Bill) used to talk to Whitley quite frequently. They both wrote horror novels, so they often talked on the phone about their works-in-progress and their personal and professional lives. But then Whitley started calling Bill, sometimes very late in the evening, panicking and needing to share the bizarre things happening to him. He was going through the events he later chronicled in Communion and its follow-up books, and he needed someone safe to confide in. Bill knows Whitley well, and to this day he is convinced his friend was telling the truth. "You can't fake the kind of fear I heard in his voice," Bill told me. And this was years before the book hit the shelves.

But regardless of what you think about its veracity, this is a damn scary book. There's only one other true-horror book that equals its power: John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies. But that Fortean classic deserves a post of its own.

So go ahead. Scoff at the idea of alien beings yanking people out of their bedrooms in the middle of the night or out of their cars on lonely country roads. You're a skeptic, right? How could anyone believe such patently ridiculous monster stories in the 21st century?

Okay, fine—call me silly for thinking such things just might be real. I can handle it. But I dare you to read Communion alone, in a remote, wooded cabin, surrounded by miles of trees and darkness and a wide-open, starry sky. What do you have to be afraid of?

And before you head off to that isolated cabin, remind me to tell you about the two glowing, fast-moving lights I saw doing acrobatics in the sky in 1990. You know, my real-life encounter with something unexplainable that was the genesis of Blackwater Lights.

I'll tell it here. I promise. But not yet.