By Joseph "Skull Vault" Walter
They weren't draconian (though I had a nun for a teacher in 2nd grade) and I think I turned out alright (hell, we were learning about evolution and man-made climate change as 9 year-olds), but they definitely instilled some kind of religious fear into my soul. For whatever reason, this psyche-haunting fear only showed itself when it came to the devil, the desecration of sacred areas and objects or a combination of the two.
For example, in third or fourth grade, I was at a sleepover and, after we had had our fill of video games and Eiffel 65, the birthday boy's mother offered us the choice of two movies: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or The Exorcist.
Like the woefully ignorant and bravado-filled youths that we were, we had a good laugh and picked The Exorcist.
We were wrong. We were fucking wrong.
By the time we had seen the first subliminal image, we were basically shitting ourselves. And while that moment certainly played a part in my nightmares for the next few weeks, one image in particular scared me the most: the vandalized statue of Mary.
That thing haunted me in a way that I can barely compare to anything else.
I eventually got over it, but something I never got over was the similarly religiously-charged, pants-shitting terror I feel when I look at the desecrated church in Diablo.
Dreary, downtrodden and bathed in moonlight, Tristram made an immediate impression on me, and I began to explore it and its surroundings in earnest. Despite the absence of anything remotely threatening, the town's foreboding atmosphere began to eat away at my comfort level.
Soon, I wandered a bit too far off the path, and began panicking. I had a fear of getting lost at the time, like being separated from a parent at a store or being left at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (thanks, Dad!), and this situation was conjuring the same feeling.
I rushed through a forest of dead trees, nearly crapped my pants when I ran into a cow, bumped into a mausoleum and then saw a road. Still thoroughly unsettled, I did my best to regain some composure and began walking back towards what I thought was civilization.
That's when I saw it.
Unexpectedly coming upon the building was a shock to my system, especially after the frenzy of being lost for so long. Then there was the fact that it was a church, and not just any church, but the church that the townsfolk had told me about. And its decaying, dilapidated structure? Terrifying.
But it was the glow from deep within, the unearthly, hellish glow that struck the deepest chord within me.
Something burned bright in the belly of this church, and it was not of this Earth.
The way the rays of orange light stretched out of the windows and across the cemetary, and how the dim, sinister glow acted like some kind of ominous invitation as it filled the church's doorway made my heart pound.
This place was haunted.
In my mind, this is the picture in the dictionary of what a haunted location looks like. This isn't some poltergeist or dead grandpa ghost, either; this was sinister.
My mind raced: who knew what kind of foul, sacrilegious and blasphemous rites were being carried out at that very moment? Who knew what demons and devils awaited in the basement? What unholy and torturous acts would I bear witness to?
With a lump in my throat and sweat dripping down my face, I decided to find out...
The jarring silence of the loading screen was replaced with pulsing, threatening music that was beyond fitting.
Something truly malevolent was at work within this basement, and the forces of Hell seemed to be taunting me to seek them out. And, despite being filled with fear, I did exactly that... at least until the demo ended.
But maybe that's okay; maybe it stands for itself.
Diablo's atmosphere remains incredibly impressive, even today. The aesthetic, the music, the writing, the graphics, the overall design... everything works in perfect tandem to create a powerful sense of dread, with the exterior of the haunted church being the ultimate example.
Still... there's just something about this abandoned church in the dead of night with an unexplained, unearthly light emanating from deep within that touches a nerve in my soul.
In fact, it's one of the few things in my life that's actually given me literal nightmares, all of which involve a building standing alone against a clear, night sky, bathed in moonlight as an orange glow burns within its depths...