Today on Scattershot writing we have a guest post from Lauren James. Lauren's new collection of short stories, The Side Effects of the Medication, is one of the best début collections I've read for a long time, her stories mixing horror, crime, and general weirdness. I heartily recommend it.
Take it away, Lauren:
“I don’t like horror because I scare too easily,” a friend of mine once told me. He said that during horror movies, if things were too intense, he would try to pick out the shadows of boom mikes or visualize the cameras just outside of the frame.
A few months after that, I called to tell him that I’d had an unnerving thought. Even though nighttime usually turned my bedroom an ashy sort of gray rather than a pitch-black, I’d woken up and not been able to make out the square corners of the door. The shape of it in the dark, as constant as anything else, had vanished. I went on to tell him that even though I knew it was impossible, for a heartbeat—a two in the morning heartbeat, which is longer than any other kind—I had felt like the door itself had disappeared. Something happened—the moon came out from behind a cloud or a car passed outside—and the door leapt back into its soothing geometrical presence.
“But what would you do?” I said. “If you woke up in the morning and your door had disappeared? What if you couldn't get any signal on your phone? You’d have to assume the whole world had disappeared.”
“No,” he said. “I’d just assume there had been some sort of mistake.”
I ask you, of the two of us, who scares easily?
The question about the missing door, by the way, is neatly and conclusively answered by Michael Marshall Smith’s “What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night,” which is obviously the work of someone who scares easily—and then thinks about it.
Longtime horror readers and viewers may be immune to the simpler jump scares and decapitations, but if my own experience is any judge, we’re all too ready to be terrified by the subtler, deeper horrors. Our minds go to work easily on worst case scenarios.
A creaking floorboard in the hall isn't the house settling but a stranger walking softly towards your door. The cracked mirror may really give seven years bad luck. Most frightening of all is the suspicion I have sometimes that, elusively, there’s simply something wrong: with the world, with what’s happening, and—especially—with me. Sometimes horror shows us that we can’t separate ourselves from the darkness, because it’s lodged inside us like a rotten tooth.
I sometimes write stories about horrible things happening to apparently good people, but I just as frequently write stories about apparently good people doing horrible things. Sometimes we’re the horror, tipping over the edge of doing the worst things we can think of, either accidentally or willfully. I'm afraid of what I might do in a moment like that and I'm afraid in a different way of what the aftermath would look like.
What happens when you ignore your husband’s locked freezer in the garage? What happens to the people who used to be zombies? What would you give yourself permission to do if someone else was less than human—or even just a figure on a screen?
I don’t think my friend worries about these things. He’s not a horror reader.
Whereas I need horror to give concrete shape to the fears already in my head. I need it to pose questions and—sometimes, at least—propose answers. I have to read (and write) horror. I scare too easily not to.