I have seen the Great God Pan. Not the harmless diluted modern Pan. The true God. He ran across the road in front of me, in broad daylight, and it froze my blood. I had once discussed the nature of the divinity, and how I felt that any human that was drawn to touch a God was a fool. I always felt that such things were better left alone. I knew, when I saw Pan, that I had been right in my belief. No human would ever be able to stand before that and survive intact.
He came from a field to the left of the road, moving with incredible swiftness. He ran in the light, yet shadows clung to him like a long, trailing cloak. He was of this world, yet beyond it. He was neither human nor animal, a creature that stopped my heart and twisted my stomach. He ran across the road, fluid, graceful and wild. When he appeared, the world seemed to slow and the sunlight paled, while everything around him leapt into sharp contrast. He was the Original, and the world was just a worn, tired imitation of his life.
Just as suddenly as he came, he disappeared into the trees on the right. I continued on my way, stunned and frightened. The sun wasn't as bright as it had been minutes before, and for days afterwards the air had a washed-out quality to it. I knew I would never see Pan again, and I was immeasurably glad.
Writers like M.R. James and E.F. Benson wove frightening stories about the supernatural. Benson specifically wrote about Pan, in his story "The Man Who Went Too Far." Both writers understood the fearsomeness of the Other, and I believe that their stories stand as classics of horror. Although I've read all of James' stories dozens of times, the titles are enough to send shivers of memory up my spine. I don't scare easily, yet these stories plugged into the atavistic fear within me that all humans possess. The fear of the dark, and the cold, unmoving and predatory creatures that live within the dark. The fear of human frailty and helplessness. The fear of a horrible, lonely death.
Benson's stories lack James' malicious, wicked edge. I find them less frightening, and more philosophical in nature. Yet they can be just as disturbing. He imbues his characters with an almost gleeful evil. To him, the wickedness that exists in the world is an active force that fully acknowledges and enjoys its depravity. His stories are a study in contrasts. He writes of comfortable villages, of cheery middle aged men living in comfortable circumstances. When the supernatural occurs, it provides a horrifying contrast: A vampire preys on young boys, Pan gleefully tramples a man to death or a ghost takes horrible revenge on a man. Disturbing events that tear at the fabric of the characters lives, and leave them forever tainted.
In order to frighten the reader, the writer must first frighten himself. Fear refines life and sharpens the wits. That's a lesson that I learn every day.