Did you ever sit around and tell scary stories when you were young?
When I was in elementary school kids would spread rumours about Creepy House, an abandoned home on a lot nearby. No one seemed to know where it was, but if you were unfortunate enough to end up inside Creepy House after dark, you were a goner. That was known. Kids would say other kids had disappeared, or they’d tell you their cousin knew someone who did. If you were really pushy about it they’d offer to take you after school. They’d chicken out on the walk home every time. Or you would.
I don’t know if anyone ever really saw Creepy House – or whatever was hiding inside it – but we had no shortage of creepy houses. Half my home town is farms, fields and old, rotting sheds with gaps in the fence big enough for some brave kid to squeeze through, if he really wanted to.
It’s a great place to have a big imagination.
I mean they shot X-Files there. That counts for something, right?
It’s one thing to sit at home and read scary stories after dark, all safe and warm in your bedroom. When you’re snug in your apartment, the power is literally in your hands: you can turn the page, grab a warm cup of tea, or turn all the lights on and have the TV in the background. Or you can throw the book off the balcony. The variables belong to you. It’s safe.
Listening to someone tell a scary story is something else entirely.
Being an audience for a horror story means placing your trust in the narrator. If they go quiet or suddenly scream, or use sound effects and music to set the scene, it’s all out of your control. They can lie, or change the story on the fly, and there’s no skipping ahead to find out what happens. You choose whether or not to listen at all, but that’s it: the method of delivery is out of your hands. And in that lack of control lives a very potent kind of fear.
The NoSleep Podcast knows this very, very well.
Remember our Creepypasta discussion from yesterday? NoSleep itself is one of many homes for internet Horror. It’s a decade-old subreddit where writers of all experience levels congregate to scare the bejeezus out of each other with chilling short fiction. Submissions can follow the Creepypasta convention of anonymity and first-person narrative, but they don’t have to: everything scary flies. And more of often than not, soars.
But of course, the NoSleep is just prose, and Creepypasta reach a fairly limited audience. That’s where Toronto’s David Cummings comes in.
Way back in 2011, Cummings was inspired by a post on the NoSleep forum: why hadn’t anyone made radio plays out of these stories? The wonderful thing about Creepyasta is that their first-person structure and brief length mean they’re perfect for solo readings. Even the stories that run longer are usually self-contained, making for perfect episodic content. A radio-play format would be a natural fit.
Meanwhile, a community of thousands of aspiring radio-play authors lay in wait on the subreddit. Tens of thousands of stories, all by indie horror writers, were begging to be adapted. He’d stumbled onto a goldmine.
Cummings already knew his way around recording equipment as a professional musician. All he needed was a cast, foley experts and a hell of a lot of studio time. Nine years later, The NoSleep Podcast is on its ninth year and 15th season. With over 400 episodes down, the experiment clearly worked.
But there are loads of Horror podcasts, why zoom in on this one? It’s because David and his NoSleep Podcast crew don’t do anything halfway.
Nine years in, the average NoSleep episode is over two hours long and adapts several short stories. Or, it adapts one long one for 3 full hours. Sometimes they perform original NoSleep Podcast productions, because their community is so huge that the actors themselves sometimes appear as characters and break the fourth wall. You never know what you’re going to get – especially with the holiday episodes.
Not everything they perform is sourced from the subreddit, either. Since the entire enterprise is independent, there are Horror authors writing original work specifically for The NoSleep Podcast. In rare instances authors will even read their own work – and the rest of the time there’s the cast of over 20 professional voice actors breathing life into their stories. Then there’s the composer and sound-designers working behind the scenes to make sure every story has the right feel. Then the variety of illustrators churning out each episode’s original album art (including Abby Howard!).
Then there’s the live touring show. Seriously, NoSleep stays busy.
The NoSleep Podcast stands out from the spooky-podcast crowd because of its professionalism and dedication to the craft. These are serious radio-plays produced by people clearly having the time of their lives. Episodes sound professionally produced because they are – and each one is so obviously a labour of love that the energy is infectious. Only the first hour of each weekly episode is free, but I’m happy to pay for the rest because the craftsman ship is exceptional. They’re horror movies for your ears, produced by a lovable pack of horror dorks.
That’s the dream, right? Or nightmare, whatever.
Of course, it helps that they’re often scary as hell.
Okay, one more story.
A million years after elementary school, I used to run a production facility way, way late into the night. It would just be me, my giant floor of hissing, groaning machines, and the Pacific Northwestern evergreens out back slowly swaying in the wind. There was a forest back there, but you couldn’t see more than ten feet in after dark.
I used to work until 2 in the morning sometimes, and I’d always come equipped with podcasts. For about a year there I was mainlining NoSleeps because they’re so long and absorbing. They’d help the time fly by, especially after dark when everyone else would go home and it would just be me with half the lights off, listening to my scary stories. I’d have only my creaking pipes and the odd mystery POP from one of the tanks to keep me company.
Well, that and the shapes outside that you’d only see out of the corner of your eye. And the solitary creepy house way back in the forest, only barely visible through the trees.
I don’t know if I ever actually made it out to Creepy House in my hometown. That didn’t stop me from telling stories like everyone else, embellishing and expanding the myth as I went.
It didn’t matter that Creepy House was probably fake. Creepy House was real every time we told the story, and that’s what mattered.
Now go listen to some ghost stories yourself. People like to fight over which ones are best, so maybe start with this list of chiller, creepier entries. I certainly have my favourite entries but really, start anywhere.
Have fun out there.