A Poem A Story A Prompt, Issue 10

Horror

I’ve always loved horror movies, even as (or because?) I also find them torturous to watch, and often have trouble sleeping after I watch them. Clearly I’m not alone: horror movies get churned out by the dozens every year because they’re generally cheap to make and earn a ton of money. There’s been plenty written on the psychology behind the allure of horror, so I won’t attempt to reinvent the wheel here. I do like the way the writer Mark Fisher defines “the eerie”: “The eerie… is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something.”

The two writers in today’s newsletter explore horror concepts (vermin, doppelgangers, violent impulses) by inhabiting the perspectives of that which frightens us. It seems like a smart way to, if not disempower these things, at least understand them better, and by extension, understand ourselves and our own psyches better.

Poem

Rat Song

When you hear me singing
you get the rifle down
and the flashlight, aiming for my brain,
but you always miss

and when you set out the poison
I piss on it
to warn the others.

You think: That one’s too clever,
she’s dangerous,
 because
I don’t stick around to be slaughtered
and you think I’m ugly too
despite my fur and pretty teeth
and my six nipples and snake tail.
All I want is love, you stupid
humanist. See if you can.

Right, I’m a parasite, I live off your
leavings, gristle and rancid fat,
I take without asking
and make nests in your cupboards
out of your suits and underwear.
You’d do the same if you could,

if you could afford to share
my crystal hatreds.
It’s your throat I want, my mate
trapped in your throat.
Though you try to drown him
with your greasy person voice,
he is hiding / between your syllables
I can hear him singing.

—Margaret Atwood

Who is this lady?

Lately best known as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood is a prolific novelist, story writer, essayist, and poet. Born in Ottawa in 1939, she got her start self-publishing a book of poetry, and throughout her career has refused to follow a conventional path, instead exploring wide-ranging political, cultural, and environmental themes in her work, often through the lens of what she calls speculative fiction. You can read an excellent recent profile of her here, by Dianca London Potts.

Story

Born Stillborn (excerpt)

Haupt’s therapist had started coming to him at night as well, and even though Haupt knew, or at least suspected, that the man wasn’t really there, wasn’t really standing beside his bed with pencil in hand listening to him and writing notes on the wall about what he said, he seemed real. There was writing on the wall when Haupt awoke. He could not read it but, being familiar with his therapist’s unruly scrawl, its illegibility struck him as proving nothing. Their nighttime sessions felt, when he was honest with himself, just as real as his daytime sessions felt. Maybe even more real.

*

He did not report this to his therapist during the day. Instead, he waited to see if the therapist would mention it, and when he did not he decided that it must be some sort of test. No, as with so many other things, he would not share this with his therapist unless he was asked about it directly.

But during the day the therapist rarely asked about anything directly. He might say, “How was your week?” or “Did you have any dreams?” He was never more specific than that. At night, however, standing beside the bed, the night therapist would ask pointed questions, questions that wormed under his skin. When Haupt lied to him, he would say, “How gullible do you think I am?” When Haupt told only part of the truth, the night therapist would wait, tapping his pencil against the wall, for him to go on. And Haupt, at night, usually did go on, slowly extruding more and more of the truth through his mouth. It was as if the therapist was one thing at night and quite another during the day. Or even, it occurred to him, as if there were two of him, two different therapists who, for some reason, looked identical.

*

“Are you a twin?” asked Haupt once during a daytime session.

And the day therapist, usually reticent to talk about himself, was caught off guard enough to say, “Yes,” and then, shortly after, “no.”

“Yes and no?” said Haupt. “How can it be both?”

“I . . .  had a twin. He was born stillborn.”

But when Haupt tried to question him more about it, the therapist shook his head. “We’re here to talk about you,” he claimed.

—Brian Evenson (Read the rest of the story here)

Who is this guy?

Brian Evenson is a short story writer and novelist known for writing literary horror, work that goes “furthest out on the sheerest, least sheltered narrative precipice,” according to Peter Straub. Born in Iowa in 1966, Evenson often explores religious themes in his work; his book Last Days, for instance, is about a detective kidnapped by a cult to investigate the murder of their leader. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, he said, “I think of the story as a kind of laboratory for alternative experience: a means of living through possible situations and lives in a way that is intensive and affective for the reader but also operates at a remove.”

Prompt

In a poem or a story, inhabit the point of view of someone or something that scares you.


Alanna Schubach is a fiction writer, freelance journalist, and teacher. Follow her on Twitter @AlannaSchubach and read her work at alannaschubach.com. Send questions, recommendations for future newsletters, and the results of writing prompts (if you’re so inclined) to info@alannaschubach.com