Your Fears – Defined.

When someone says the word “define” to me my stomach knots. When it is followed by the ever faithful “in your own words” a bile sets into my mouth. Yet today, I was asked to do just that – to “define” horror, as a genre or otherwise, “in my own words”.

Up until that moment I had never thought of the definition of what has become throughout the course of my life one of the most influential and poignant tools to not only my writing but in turn, to my view of the world and its inhabitants.

Horror is widely perceived to offer the consumer one thing – cheap thrills. Anything deeper, or darker, than superficial (and mostly superfluous) entertainment usually brings about a completely different genre definition – Dracula for example. I would not define Dracula as horror, for the intimidating elements of Bram Stoker’s classic are not the defining characteristics of what has made it so timeless. It is erotic, thought provoking and two steps away from absurd at times. It’s the ultimate anti-hero tale that just so happens to be set against a spooky canvas with some devilish undertones.

Those of you who know me (and have read some of my rants on here) will be expecting one name to drop now – Stephen King. How you ask, can I write anything about, well anything, without somehow bringing the King into it? Well my friends, you know me well, because I am going to drop his name right now.

I do not perceive what the King writes to be “horror” in any traditional sense of the word, and those of you who are learned enough to have read beyond “It” and “Misery” will know why I say this. I can think of more books that the King has given us that have no supernatural elements whatsoever, that scarred my mind and played with my heart for longer than even his most sickly tales of textbook gore.

Three words – The Bachman Books. A compilation of stories published between 1977 and 1982 all of which are void of the standard boundaries of horror writing as we know it. (*Disclaimer – I refer to the four short stories published in the compilation The Bachman Books and do not include “Thinner” (1984) in the next series of statements (PS. Brackets inside brackets rock! :P)).

“Rage” (1977), “The Long Walk” (1979), “Roadwork” (1981) and “The Running Man” (1982) – These are my examples and if you have not read them, then you have no earthly business here so please move along, long days and pleasant nights to you J

For those of you that remain these stories are in my mind offer some of the most notable and defining characteristics of horror and still to this day haunt my mind from time to time like no others. They have no supernatural beings, no demons in hoods or inbred super humans with chainsaws – all they have is real people, in real (and some would say unthinkable) circumstances. Because at the end of if it all, is that not what we are afraid of most as human beings? The REAL horror?

We are told from the time we can remember that the things that scare us as children are A) not real or B) not threatening – or sometimes both. Therefore we starve that fear within ourselves and no longer as adults find the vampires, ghosts and ghouls of time gone by intimidating anymore. This is a double edged blade in many ways. It allows us to grow up (reasonably) well adjusted as an adult afraid of such childish notions is frowned upon – but the sharper side of that blade is that it desensitizes us to the things we SHOULD live in fear of and paints our world an shade of magnolia.

We should fear the ordinary, the mundane and the dreary that sap at our souls and eat away at our subconscious. We should fear each and everyday being the same, repetition leading to passivity. To be passive, about anything, is a disease. To be passive is to be dead on the inside, if not on the outside too. So we starve the fear of childhood and replace it with the fears of adulthood.

If you were to ask a grown man in the street which do you fear more – a dinosaur coming through your bedroom window and eating you and your wife while you sleep in your overpriced linens, OR lets say life strangling monetary debt? I cannot make any guarantees in this life, for I am not Yoda, but I would bet my breeches on the latter being more scary to anyone “normal” in this day and age.

One simple fact makes this so – debt is real, dinosaurs are not (sad face). Therefore you must ask yourself, as our fears change due to social, political, economical and a whole lot of other -cal unrest in the world, does this not in turn, change the definition of horror?

As adults we fear our cars not starting more than psychopathic clowns lurking in the bushes with razors for teeth. We fear maxing out our credit cards and then dealing with grossly inflated repayments, more so than we fear faceless monsters under our beds at night. We guard our houses with alarms and flashing lights to ward off burglars, feeling no need to have a barrage of crosses and garlic hanging by our front doors to ward off vampires.

The fear of a child is a beautiful, endearing and natural being that should be starved for the sanity of said child. As a person whom read her first King novel at the tender age of eleven, I can vouch for this. We forget that those children, whom starve their fears until they have no strength to scare them anymore, never quite have the ability to kill them completely. They therefore carry these fears into adulthood – that’s when it gets interesting.

Authors are duty bound to make you feel what they are portraying in their prose. To make someone swoon at a love story, cringe at a war crime, or feel empathy towards a lonely old spinster in a wedding dress – these emotions are easy to capture, as love, guilt, hurt, empathy – they are all emotions we are allowed to express as adults. Mummy and Daddy are however, not so easily entitled to fear as their children are.

To make Mummy and Daddy look over their shoulder when they are walking home from work, for fear of what lurks in the sewer grates beneath their feet, to make Mummy and Daddy get into bed before turning off the light at night, for fear of what may grab their bare feet from under the bed in the process – to make Mummy and Daddy’s hearts beat in their throat until they feel as though the bastard were physically trying to climb out of their mouths – this is the power of horror, because when it comes down to it, the things we are afraid of never change, just our willingness to address them.

If as a writer you can force people to address the things inside themselves that they forget they were afraid of so long ago, to make them look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what they would do if they actually did find themselves in palaver with a clown with razors for teeth, you are in turn forcing them to question their own psyches and again, as a result – their own humanity.

To make a credit card seem small, to make a deadline at work seem frivolous, to render Christmas with the in-laws worry free, by replacing these fears with those childish notions of fright – to make an adult face that child within them – opens so many doors, the draught alone may cause a complete overhaul of that persons life. It has the power to change them.

If you are capable of doing this, then my friends you will have marked the earth for eternity, for when human beings die, they leave behind headstones but when legends pass on – they leave behind legacies, that long outlive even the stone that upon which the mere mortals of this world will all inevitably carve their epitaphs.

Dragonflies

Suffocated in the silence of splintered injustice, she’d kill herself if someone could guarantee her that the memory would die with her. She’s got this far on the distant dawning of carrying the pain with her through the doors of death and into eternity. Would that be hell? She wonders…to be locked away in a windowless room with nowhere to go but inside yourself? No ones face scares her more than her own, no ghostly shadow cast against the bare walls makes her skin crawl more than the black silhouetted copy of her shape, hunched and vulgar in it’s profanity.

Just a guarantee.

That’s all.

What use would it be to get a little too close to the edge of the canyon – to taste the dust that lifts from the bellies of pebbles pushed recklessly to their deaths by the soles of her shoes that rest unsteadily atop the soft blanket of spicy pine needles, that sting their scent into her eyes, feral wasps, the beauty of the cold air coursing through her veins, her teeth bared in predatory lust – as she stands crucified to the blameless blue of the sky, her bastard shadow grimacing on the ground, the awkward mould of a dragonfly laying in wait behind her on the cracked red clay?

And she’s ready. She’s been ready for a long time. And she listens to him still, now, even though her ears of full of blood and words. Too many words. They cram themselves in, tripping over their own tongues and stumbling just before the finish line, a heap of broken backs and fallen friends, their carcasses piled high on the brink of comprehension. Her ears are heavy and aching, the rasp of their breath that close to her consciousness, toxic and unpleasant. And he told her, didn’t he? He told her all that he is, and all that he was, and all that he’ll ever be. And she knows what he can do. She knows because he did it to her. She is too tired to cry.

Her stained fingers brush against the swollen welts on her face, cracked and red they mirrored the earth where her inner dragonfly still waits. It laughs. Her fingers trace the shape of what was once her mouth. It hurts, the flesh hot and tender, a new burn yet to turn pink and fade to coffee. She bites down, hard, on the bottom lip. It splits, a rotten melon, and gushes foul coppery blood. It spills off of her chin and runs eagerly down her neck where it pools. A warm flower, the colour of claret, begins to bloom across her breasts. She is septic inside.

The muscles in her legs twitch, her chest muscles tensing and relaxing, repulsed by the feeling of blood against bare skin. Her head swims and inside her putrid body she feels something rising, like smoke, violet in the sun, grey in the shadow. Is that sadness trying to escape her, or is it something else? Is it all hope, rising and falling, following the wind obediently to a place where it can settle, where it can be left alone, and nevermore picked apart by the mind of a person addicted to their own cruelty and punishment? A ripple of revulsion crumples her to the floor, pine needles draw blood from her palms, the once great dragonfly now a cocoon of its former self. It seethes.

And she cries. Silently on the fractured lip of the ubiquitous canyon as the smoke that she mistook for sadness envelopes her, hands and lips and faces and eyes, all of the same, all around her. It’s not the sadness that is leaving her tonight, as the sun bleeds red across the tangerine sky.

Tonight is the night that hope leaves this girl and where it stops, nobody knows.

When I Dream of Fire

It was dark and the house had no windows. Whether day light prevailed beyond the mortar that surrounded me I have no idea, but in the back of my mind I hoped it did. There was a rectangular glass case in front of my on a platform. As I approached it, the tank filled with water. I took a few steps back and inch by inch the water evaporated from the tank. I took a few steps forward and it returned, not falling from the ceiling or rising from the tank, but materialising as if from nothing.

With my nose practically touching the cool moist glass a key manifested within the water. It was larger than a normal key but no more ornate. As I watched it, it seemed to stand up, lifting itself with the help of the weightless water, until it stood on its narrow tip, the dull head now level with my eyes. The glass of the tank began to bulge and break, the water remaining shapeless and still.

As I brought my hand up to touch the glass the door behind me opened with a creak. I didn’t turn to see who it was. I couldn’t turn. The key was looking at me, begging me with all its heart to take it with me and not leave it trapped in the tank. My fingers grazed the glass,

“I wouldn’t do that. Not if you value that hand” The sound of his voice broke me and I fell to my knees. My eyes trained on the wooden floor below me, my finger tips digging into the soft, untreated oak. Tears started to speckle my view. I pulled my tired eyes from the floor and the tank was gone. The door behind me was closed. I felt as though the blood had stopped moving in my veins and the rhythm of my heart had been knocked off tempo.

I rose slowly, my ankles clicking. How long had I been on the floor? When I turned the door was still closed, its silence mocking me in the dark, damp room. I placed my hand tentatively on the handle, wincing slightly as if it were to burn. It didn’t burn. It levered evenly with a squeak and opened onto more darkness. I have never been afraid of the dark, but ran my entire life from the light. I slunk into the safety of the shadows, letting the door click closed behind me.

I could sense him everywhere. I could smell his body, the sweet, stale aroma of his sweat. I could hear his laugh, the beautiful sound of utter desperation masked with the bitter honesty of his smile. I saw his eyes in every nook of the corridor, glimmers of green and gold danced along the surface of the otherwise dull walls. Footsteps echoed and they were not my own, but for what felt like miles only the dimly corridor spanned my eye line.

Then a break in the hostile nothingness. An arch, not a doorway, now stood before me and resonating from beyond that arch way, a calm orange glow. As I drew closer to the arch way a burden of warmth engulfed my chest and tears once again broke out on my cold face. If I had tried to stop them, which I didn’t, I am sure I would have felt physical pain.

With one hand placed on each side of the arch way I hung my head and breathed from knees. The tears stopped momentarily but my face was still damp with their ghost as I stepped through the arch way. This room had a window but it was covered with boards, the ancestral slices of light cutting through the hot room and casting shadows upon the shadows.

A fire crackled neatly in the centre of the back wall. He was sitting with his body facing me but his head hung down as mine had been at the arch. I could feel his heart beat radiating through the room, clawing its way from the floor boards and up into my feet, then my legs and resting in my gut. The entire room smelt of him and as I searched for his face in the waltzing silhouettes the fire cast upon his body, I now saw that the fire did not glow orange, red or yellow, as one would suspect – but the palest shade of olive green and silken gold.

His face glanced up from the floor and his eyes met mine. He smiled and the whiteness of his teeth broke the air. We both knew our search had been killing us and the look in his eyes suggested that he was rather proud of the fact that once we had finished our hunt, we were both still breathing. He uncrossed his legs and stood, his boots in the fire. He held out his hand as one lock of thick hair wafted in front of his face.