Shadows, Psychos and Spiders
I’m trying to remind myself these days that horror is a many splendoured thing. In fiction, that is. I’m not watching the news, smiling a slow snake smile and muttering the word ‘beautiful’ to myself. I’ll leave that to the people pulling the politician’s strings. Surely there must be someone watching the blossoming groundswell of chaos reaching far across the world today and congratulating themselves. Before turning to Hitler’s living brain (now safely implanted inside the body of a gaunt, pale, asthmatic gorilla) and offering a deeply worshipful high five.
Sorry, might’ve drifted off there.
The point I’m trying to make is that all of my horror stories are supernatural in nature. I got into this world by following in the lightly trod footsteps of M.R. James. In particular, Christopher Lee’s amazing retelling of them, that the BBC showed through one Christmas back in the early 2000s.
The whispered terrors and shifting shadows of those perfect little half hours have always been my guide when it came to writing my own ghost stories. Especially the shorter ones. Which are my favourite kind to write. The incredibly satisfying run of short stories I had last year, after Fluff was bundled up and sent off to be prodded and poked by an editor, may have been one of my favourite few months of horror writing. Winter Wings came from that batch of stories. Mother Sable, which I’m particularly proud of. The Rags on His Back was worked into a script back then. There was also the ten lords a-leaping story I wrote for a Christmas charity anthology and, of course, The Costume Party. The rather dark, gory story I got up and read to an audience.
Now, in a post Fluff release world, I’m looking at novel number three and trying to work out what it is. Something Needs Bleeding was all about how horror can be used to mask true, internal pain. Fluff was about the horror of isolation and grief. It’s also about an evil, pink bunny rabbit. Because I was wanted to prove that horror worked, even if you changed the iconography.
As I take my first steps into the unclaimed territory and virgin snow fields of novel three, I’m starting to realise that my idea of horror is shifting. Our world these days operates on reactions to horror. Horror and terror. The news quietly reminds us it could strike at any moment. We catch ourselves wondering if someone will be safe if they travel or go to a certain event. We see a bag sitting alone near public transport and wonder just how long it’s been there. In fact, the roots go deeper than that. We just passed the eleventh of September. There was a time, not that long ago, where because of that date we would see machine guns in the hands of guards at airports and we’d talk about it. Now it’s the norm. Which fascinates me. Everyday terror. Background noise horror. It’s the accepted horror that we walk past and ignore every day of our lives. The homeless person bundled into the doorway, who hasn’t moved in a while. The kid still out at eleven at night, in no hurry to go home again. The buckled car, lying in a ditch, off the side of the road. Windshield a mosaic of cracks. One side crumpled like spent tin foil. No sign of the owners. Just a flickering strand of police tape.
It’s a horror I’ve not tried writing before. Look at Psycho. The novel and the movie. That is an icon of the genre I currently belong to and I’ve never tried to write about our human monsters. Not so much the slasher movie, but the damaged human being who has become the spectre of death. More and more, I want to try and make sense of why I’ve stayed away from that world. I’ve been watching a lot of those lone stranger movies. The isolated figure who contorts into horror through the actions of an uncaring world. Taxi Driver. Nightcrawler. Blue Ruin. American Psycho, to a certain extent. I’m not even exactly sure it’s exactly what I’m going to write. I just feel like I need to change my flavour of shadows for a while. I’m booked to read another Halloween story at The Gunmakers Arms. I might try and write something sweet, sharp and terror laced for the occasion.
For all of the horror I’ve been watching of late, I have to say that the most unnerving thing I saw happened on our garden gate on Monday evening. I was just home from work and rushing through a few chores that needed doing. As I went to bring the bins back in and went to unlock the gate, I saw that I’d startled a spider.
Its web ran right across one of the corners of the wooden framework. As it flustered away, my eyes told me there was something wrong with the shape of it. This wasn’t a twitching sack of eggs, waiting to spill out into little constellations of microscopic, cascading, fresh bodies. No, it was a moth. A large, trapped, moth. Fidgeting in the hold of the web. Wings buckled. Body half drained. Limbs wriggling down to stillness as the life emptied out of it. It had simply flown in the wrong direction and now it was a meal.
The spider had fled into the slats of the fence. It would return. The moth must’ve known that. I could’ve tried to free it, but it was too late. It wouldn’t have survived. I’d just caught the beginning of a slow, hungry murder.
In the end, I did what I’d gone out here to do. I opened the gate, collected the bins one by one and brought them back inside. When I returned to the gate and closed it, the moth was no longer moving. Maybe it was death. Maybe it was fear. Long, black legs were just starting to creep back out from a dark little hiding place. I put the padlock on, turned my bag and went back inside.
Now, I know it’s ridiculous to get unnerved by something so small and slight, but there are deaths in nature all around us. The dead birds and mouse the cats used to leave in the garden of our old house. I could never figure out if their were an offering or a warning. Every badger deflating and rotting against a curb side was alive only a while before. Every explosion of fur and organs in the middle of the road was a tiny life just trying to get to the other side. Before the lights came and fear froze it in the path of a tyre. How is that not horror?
It’s a question I want to answer. In fact, I’ve got a few to work on and, luckily, I’ve got some holiday coming up. Two weeks away from my own, dull, wage related grindstone. I’m hoping, by the end of that fortnight, I’ll have cleaned up my head a bit. Fluff burned me out and there’s no denying I’m still writing around the scar tissue. Also, if I’m being honest, I need to think about this blog a bit. I’ve been coming here once a week for nearly two years now and rambling. Sometimes I’ve tried to be funny, sometimes I’ve talked about loss or reviewed something. Or raged about The Dark Tower movie. I’m just not sure this incarnation is taking root. There might be a better use for The Blank Page. Something more productive than just producing something weekly.
So, here’s the deal, I’m taking the fortnight away from my laptop. I’ll get some rest and I’ll be back here with some sort of plan in October. In the meantime, anyone who finds this latest message in a bottle, I hope you have a good end to your September. I’m sure we’ll meet again, some October day.