Terrifying Tales

A storyteller’s scary secrets

Monday, October 21, 2013

A few years ago, Doug Banner had a woman come up to to him after a scary storytelling event and tell him that, sorry, but the tale he’d just told wasn’t in the least bit frightening.

When he saw the same woman again the next day, however, she marched directly up to Banner and punched him in the arm. The reason for the assault? She told him she didn’t think she was scared—until she drove home and then spent a half-hour in her car frozen with fear while trying to get the courage to go up to the front porch and enter her darkened house.

Banner, a longtime member of the Bellingham Storytellers Guild, says he and the professional yarn-spinners he combines his talents with now use the harrowing experience as a meter to gauge their audience’s fear factor.

“It’s an indicator of how scary your story is by how long it stays in your head, and if they punch you afterward,” he says with a laugh.

When asked if it takes most people a while to realize they’ve been seriously spooked, Banner says plenty of listeners react directly to the stories at hand. In addition to the aforementioned arm-puncher, members of the Guild have witnessed lots of onsite screaming and gasping. People have also leapt out of their seats, gotten their arms bruised by terrified girlfriends clutching them hard enough to hurt and, in one case, a librarian sprung out of her front-row seat to turn the lights back on.

Banner posits that those who are brave enough to sit through all the stories without bolting or outwardly reacting are still getting a thrill—or at least elevating their heart rates.

“Humans get an adrenaline rush when they’re scared,” he says. “When you go to an event like this, you can be scared, but you’re still safe. There’s no risk—except for the deep psychological damage. It’s a rush—like eating chocolate or riding down Alabama hill on a bike.” 

To set the mood, Banner says he and his creative cohorts typically dim the lights, turn on a few electric candles and draw the listeners in through careful connections with them. They must also learn to improvise as needed and figure out when to hold back and when to lean in for the kill. As for costumes, Banner thinks they’re unnecessary.

“We just really use the art of language and word,” he says.” Tone, pacing, volume—it’s all part of our performance art delivery technique. Telling a vampire story while dressed up as a vampire isn’t scary.”
By working with basic fears that a lot of people have—whether they’re afraid of spiders, don’t like to spend time in the dark or truly believe in ghosts—Bellingham Storytellers Guild members then build on those suspicions to craft their tales of horror.

Banner won’t divulge what particular stories will be told at the annual Scary Storytelling for Adults gathering happening Halloween night at the Fairhaven Library, but he will let it be known that all of the tales are true (or at least partially true).

And, when the spook-night stories are over, Banner and the rest of the Guild members will be watching to see who heads for the door and who wants to stick around a little longer. If the crowd isn’t’ quick to disperse, they’ll know they did something right.

“You can tell how well you scared the audience by how long they hang out after the lights come back on,” Banner says. “Oftentimes, they really don’t want to go back outside.”

More Words...
House Arrest
A Gentleman in Moscow

Living one’s entire life in a posh hotel sounds like the ultimate dream—think of the precocious children’s book character, Eloise, who ran rampant at the Plaza in New York, or Coco Chanel at Hôtel Ritz Paris in the 1930s. 

But what if you weren’t there by choice, rather as an…

more »
Vanishing Things
In search of the sacred

What if rather than proclaiming “I have a dream,” Martin Luther King Jr. said “I have a scientific study?”

What if rather than invoking a “table of brotherhood,” he invoked sociological statistics?

What if rather than calling out for all people to join hands and sing to be “free at…

more »
What Happened
Behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton

Your vote counts.

That’s what you head to the polls hoping: That your single vote matters out of millions, and that you’ll have a hand in history.

On that note, about last fall, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a few things to say, and in her new book, What Happened, you’ll notice first…

more »
Book Group Mixers

5:30pm|Village Books

Bringing history into sharp focus


Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

U.S. Citizenship Class

6:00pm|Lynden Library

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Summer Bike Stories

7:00pm|Cafe Velo

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Grand Opening and Open House

11:00am|Social Fabric

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Clean Eating

2:00pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|downtown Bellingham

Art Night

5:00pm|SpringHill Suites by Marriott

12 Minutes Max Auditions

5:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Amber Sky CD Release Party

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

6:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Poetry Party

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre


7:00pm|Village Books

USA Dance


Thriller Dance Class

7:00pm|Moles Farewell Tributes

Halloween Movie Night

7:00pm|BHS Performing Arts Center

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Holding the Light

8:00pm|Honey Moon

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds


7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Terrell Creek

Scarecrow Stuffing Contest

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Landscape stewards work party

9:00am|Chuckanut Center

Pumpkins 4 Pajamas

9:00am|Lakeway Fred Meyer

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Pumpkin Patch on Rails

9:00am|Wickersham Station

Port race ponders a wasted waterfront


Everyday Superheroes 5K

10:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Blaine Oktoberfest


Community Cider Pressing

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Enlightened Caterpillar

10:30am|Village Books

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Crown Jewel Wilderness

11:00am|Western Washington University Bookstore

Mushrooms gone wild


Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Conquering Writer's BLock

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Winter Birds of Whatcom County

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Undersea Bubble Fantasia

2:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Brew on the Slough

5:00pm|Maple Hall

Community Library Celebration

5:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Seeds of Change

6:30pm|Edison Granary

The Great Unconformity

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Symphony's Gala Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Whose Live Anyway?

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Original Comedy Night

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Trove Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books CWWarrenMiller