Veteran thriller author Jennifer Hillier returns to XOXO for a spooky post about the five things that scare her the most – just in the time for Halloween. Don’t miss Jennifer’s fourth novel, Wonderland, available now. And don’t miss her gripping earlier books, The Butcher, Creep, and Freak!

I find perfectly ordinary things scary. It’s why vampires, werewolves, and zombies have never spooked me – they’re clearly not ordinary things. What scares me are the seemingly normal, everyday things that aren’t supposed to be frightening at all . . . which is why they totally are.

Here are my top five:

5. Amusement parks

Yes, really. Amusement parks, as far as I’m concerned, are the most scary places on earth. They contain contraptions specifically designed to hurl your body through the air – for fun! While I know that amusement parks are have strict safety standards, the odd time that something does go wrong, it goes really, really wrong (think: decapitation, severed limbs, and lots of blood).

4. Clowns

Pennywise, anyone? Clowns are grown-ups who think it’s hilarious to wear scary makeup and bulbous noses. It’s not remotely funny. I will never understand why McDonalds has Ronald McDonald as its mascot, or why parents think it’s okay to hire a clown for their child’s birthday party. When I was growing up, our local McDonalds had a life-size Ronald right inside the restaurant, and I refused to ever stand or sit near him, for fear he would come to life. Also, my best friend had a clown doll in her room, which hung from a hook on the ceiling. He watched everything we did with glowing eyes.

3. Porcelain Dolls

When I was in high school, Marie Osmond was on QVC every afternoon selling her porcelain dolls. They had names. They had outfits. They had perfect spiral curls. With their glassy eyes and white faces, these dolls just looked like dead little girls to me. I couldn’t imagine why anybody would buy one of these dolls, let alone collect them. If I were to walk into a room filled with porcelain dolls, I would back out, slam the door, and never go inside that room again.

2. Basements

Now that I live in the Seattle area, I’m safe from basements because most houses – including mine – don’t have one. But growing up in Toronto, every house had a basement, including ours. I would do everything possible to avoid going down there. I didn’t like anything about it. The lone light bulb was never bright enough, and there were shadows everywhere. It was always cold and damp, no matter what time of year it was. And it smelled weird. Sometimes my mother would ask me to get something from the cold cellar, and I would be down and back up those stairs as fast as I could, certain that something was behind me, reaching for me with long arms and even longer fingers.

1. Santa Claus

Yes, jolly ole’ St. Nick scares the bejeezus out of me. Mind you, I’m not referring to the Santa in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s cool. I’m talking about the guy who gets paid ten bucks an hour to sit on a plastic throne at the local shopping mall wearing an ill-fitting red velvet suit, his face disguised behind a white beard, whose job it is to talk to little children. Even when you’re five years old, you somehow know that this isn’t the real Santa Claus, but yet you’re expected to sit on this strange man’s lap, whisper in his ear, and take the candy he offers you, which just goes against everything kids aren’t supposed to do. Why my parents – and my friends’ parents – made us do this, I’ll never understand. Every picture taken of me sitting on Santa’s lap shows me crying.

My newest thriller, Wonderland, is set at amusement park, and it’s about several teenage male employees that go missing. There are also clowns, porcelain dolls, and yes, a basement, because apparently I wanted to scare myself as much as possible when writing this book.

Wonderland does not, however, contain any Santa Clauses, real or of the mall variety. You’re welcome.