The stories we read colonize us.
I spent the weekend in New Hampshire, at Squam Lake, one of the most purely beautiful places I’ve ever seen. (Cold, though: I was sleeping in a fleece pullover and under at least four blankets at one point.) But it amused me how frequently little bits of reality would pull me back into fiction and how, despite all the times I was reminded of horror, I wasn’t disconcerted but pleased: sometimes it doesn’t matter what kind of significance your mind brings to the forefront, it’s just nice to have the landscape highlighted in bits and pieces. It deepened everything, and made me feel I would carry the vacation home with me, pressed between the pages of various books or in the stills of various movies, and keep rediscovering it later.
We were sharing the camp with a group of artists on retreat, and we kept stumbling across evidence of them through the little pieces of designed wilderness they’d left behind: a spiral of flowers that instantly brought to mind the eldritch Japanese horror comic Uzumaki and a construction of twigs straight out of The Blair Witch Project or True Detective.
The weather, the forest, and the thickets of trees kept reminding me I was in New England, and as I’d never been before, I just kept thinking how fertile the horror imagination had always been in this neck of the woods: King, Lovecraft, and so on.
There was an island in the middle of the lake with a church on it that I was told we could paddle to if the wind ever calmed down, and I immediately thought of Simon Kurt Unsworth’s powerful “The Church on the Island.”
In the airport, I thought how the crowded terminals would be a perfect place for the ghosts of Stephen Graham Jones’s The Elvis Room to lurk about in your peripheral vision.
Even the fireplace had a childlike charm for me, as I kept watching the flames with fascination, and recalled the episode of the much-loved Are You Afraid of the Dark? in which I was taught, at around eight or nine, that staring at the heart of a flame would call forth something terrible.
Now, granted, all fiction has this effect on me to some extent–another part of the weekend was spent in extensive reminiscing about the Little House on the Prairie books, for example, and certainly all the cabin doors, with their latches, reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder–but I do think horror and fantasy have a particular skill at attaching themselves to everyday objects. If they’re grounded in the world of “real things,” if they establish the familiar only to inundate it with emotion and significance, then they have automatic replay value later in life.
Without horror, the woods would just be the woods. I think I owe something to my reader for helping me walk through them not just with a sense of their hushed beauty, but with the exquisite delight of the prickles on the back of my neck, and with a lifetime’s worth of memories and narrative.
(I also, for what it’s worth, had my shoe fall off into the lake; star-gazed on a remarkably clear night and felt a wholly different and admittedly superior, if rarer, sense of meaning and profundity; overate to a massive degree; discovered that S.’s dad’s cousin had a subscription to Ellery Queen and so had already read my story; and borrowed someone else’s pullover for the whole weekend because I’d forgotten to pack anything warm, which is the kind of slipshod planning that indicates writing talent. Or so I’m telling myself.)