I try to publish something every year on halloween. I’ve had a lot on with starting uni at all so I haven’t really got anything new worth posting, although I am working on something that’ll be up next month (all going well). Instead, here’s a very old spooky story that I dug up recently and thought was interesting, plus some notes and further context on why I think it’s interesting.
I don’t remember too much about writing it, but apparently most of it was done in a café while waiting for my mother to finish work so we could go home. It’s notable for being the first story I tried writing to feature a nonbinary character. In this case I named the character Sammy, and then remembered I had a character in my terrible unfinished novel Title redacted for security purposes who had a similar name (not to be confused with unrelated character Sam in my other unfinished novel). Since I was (and, well, still am) obsessed with making everything interconnected, I decided to make it the same character. So it’s a little like at the same time I was getting my head round my gender, this character transitioned too.
Also, it’s a horror story. That was something I wanted to try out too. I find it interesting that I linked those two together even though I really had no idea what I was doing. Anyway, here it is, previously unpublished and entirely unedited from my handwritten notes.
DARKNESS [April 2015]
A whisper. A flash of movement. They shiver. Not knowing it yet—still mostly asleep—something is in their bedroom.
Soon they will know, though.
They roll over. Nothing has alerted them to any danger yet. If only it had.
The presence—whatever it is in their room—finally dares to make itself known. A hiss, quiet but growing louder until it will be unbearable, fills the room.
They don’t wake instantly. It is slower, until they are fully concious. It’s another unknown mistake that could be disastrous.
By now, the hiss is loud enough to be noticed as unusual. Once they fully awaken, they realise. They sit up with a start. Try to move, get out, escape the mysterious motion in the darkness.
But they can’t. They discover this as one leg seems to be stuck. Some attempts to move it show that it is not stuck but held in place. Their next instinct is to scream, to alert any others who could rescue them, but, alas, that is impossible too. Whatever is there is determined that they will not speak.
They lie back down, almost crying. It is hopeless. There is nothing they can do. The presence in the room is not hurting them but has made two simple adjustments to ensure that they are powerless.
The hissing stops, and the presence’s next move—to make them sleep—is welcome.
They awaken, gasping in horror. They try their leg—it moves! It must have been a dream! They almost cry out in delight—in fact they try to—but then their joy suddenly halts.
They still cannot speak. They freeze, both in motion and in feeling. Every part of them goes into panic mode, and it is some time before they decide that it might be a good idea to get up and escape the bed.
As soon as they make the effort to move, they flee the room. Their brain doesn’t allow for anything except turning the light on and getting out of there as fast as possible.
A hurried glance in a nearby mirror shows that nothing is visibly wrong with them. They can breathe, move their tounge—whatever is stopping their speech must have got to their vocal chords.
They are halfway down the stairs when they hear a voice.
It’s their brother. They allow a full second of pause to consider. Then, they continue rushing downstairs.
Everything is dark. All the lights are off. They tiptoe towards the living room, grabbing a scrap of paper and scribbling on it.
They look for the light switch.
It’s not there. Well, it is, but the switch itself is gone.
Instead, they wait for their eyes to turn on their dim lights.
And in the darkness, they see a terrifying sight. Their parents are bound by black, ink-like bonds. They are alive—although sleeping—but it seems that they cannot possibly move.
Footsteps. Behind them.
Sam shivers, remains facing the room, still in shock.
“Sammy? What’s going on?”
The inquisitive, high-pitched voice of their young brother.
They turn, hand him the scrap of paper, and flee the house.
He looks at it.
They’ve never cycled faster. Once again, the instinct to get as far away as possible takes them over. They wonder where they’re trying to go, and figure they’re headed for their friend’s house.
It is early morning, perhaps six o’clock, and late spring. The roads, houses, hedges fly past as they head directly for Tony’s.
They’re nearly there—one more turn—when they suddenly hit something in the road that isn’t there. They’re flung off the bike, barely saved by their helmet, and shortly feel a peculiar heat from nearby.
They attempt to get back up, and it takes a few stumbles before they manage it. Then they see the source of the heat—the bike is, impossibly, burning, bright orange and yellow flames licking the tires and metal.
There is nothing they can do but abandon it. They start sprinting, as fast as they can with a heavy limp. They notice something odd on a nearby streetlamp—a missing poster.
That’s them. How many problems can there be?
They do what they can—take the pencil from earlier and cross off the ‘uel’ in their name.
That’s as much as I wrote. I think after deciding it was the same character as in my other project I kinda got stuck, partly because I wasn’t sure how to get them from here to that story, but also because that wasn’t really what I was interested in anyway. I knew the compelling part of the story was the start, and looking at it now I still think it’s a solid opening. I wasn’t sure how to keep that tension once Sammy left the house and entered the daylight, so I stopped, but it always stuck in my mind. Maybe it’s okay to just end the story here. Maybe they’re still running. That’s at least a more comforting ending than what I’m currently working on with this character…
I do remember more of my thinking. I intentionally wanted to avoid depicting a monster, and instead only talk about the effects it had. I didn’t know why I wanted to do that but it works. The answer to what’s going on could be anything, and that’s more terrifying than any creature, right? What’s important is what happens to the characters.
It feels important to emphasise that I didn’t intend any meaning when I wrote this. I just wanted to write something scary. Looking at it now it’s clear to me this story is about something, though.
This is probably the turning point where I started to write the kind of thing I would write now. Sammy’s life is very distanced from mine, but “something horrible has happened and now I have no choice but to run away” is an idea I’ve often returned to since then…
Anywhere II [November 2017]
This is it. They’ve found me, and it all begins with two raps against the pale door that almost blends into the apartment wall. If they break it down, I might finally remember to redecorate and get rid of those hideous green-accented rails.
I take to the phone attached to the wall—just the right distance from the door that nobody could hear me—and dial a number I’ve memorised just for this.
“Damien?” I check, “I’m going to need that taxi. Get it two streets west of Origin.”
He’ll know what that means. I tear the phone and its wiring out of the wall and quietly lay it on the floor. Redesign time for sure if I ever make it back here.
The safe: 481, then 772. I grab the bag and venture towards the back exit. I lock the bathroom door after entering it, just to give myself some more time after the front door’s gone. I slide the window open—a little stiff, as expected—and carefully pull the hidden ledge out before crawling onto it. The descent from here is easy and hidden from anyone at my door or the apartment block’s main street entrance. I put my foot on that brick, hold onto that pipe, and before I know it I’m free.
…and now a lot of my writing is about why I used to write things like that. I’ve come to understand the tension better through my musical interests:
It’s the conflict between safety and authenticity. “Authenticity” doesn’t feel like the right word. Between safety and… being able to fully expand yourself. It’s a fairly fundamental human tension, more prominent for some than others, so it makes sense that it’s something I explore a lot now. I was always waiting for someone to come along and make everything okay, or for everything to break down so much that I had to take the risk and go it alone. The real answer, as I’ve come to understand it, is that you have to be clear about what you want and keep trying until you get it. But then maybe that’s just the “fight” option of “fight or flight”. I could never decide and got stuck in the “freeze” or “flop” option. Play dead and hope nobody notices, while desperately hoping the right person notices. You can’t move and sleep is welcome. You might stay alive, but in the end you gain nothing.
I mentioned Sammy’s life being distanced from mine, but it’s notable that the second version of Anywhere I included above is even further distanced from my reality, much more like the shitty spy stories I was writing before Darkness. I first learned about the various facets of queerness in late 2014 and started identifying as genderqueer. By 2017 I wanted to forget the whole thing. Now it’s 2021, I’ve been out publicly as trans for three years, and my writing looks a lot more like Darkness (although is hopefully a lot less clumsy). I had stopped writing nonbinary characters for a while, deep in my own confusion and repression, and have been going back recently and “transitioning” a few more, including the protagonist of another key early Tradia story. I think that’s a big part of what sticks out to me about Darkness: it’s this one piece amidst a large amount of mess where I got close to how I actually felt, and then I drifted right back into pretending to be something else.
All that and I haven’t even talked about the horror! You might have a sense of what it means by now, though. Sammy cannot move, and then they cannot speak, and then they can move but they still cannot speak. They cannot see, and then they can see that their parents cannot move or speak either. Still alive but unable to do. They run away.
It does scare me more now in a way it might not scare you because the first part has more-or-less become real. I sometimes find I’m unable to move my limbs, seemingly not because of any physical problem, but as much as I try to send the signal to move it won’t take any action. There are a few reasons I can think why this might happen but I don’t know for sure. It’s scary. My body is convinced of something I am not. I can’t remember if I’d experienced this at the time I wrote Darkness, which is why it feels even more ominous. I tried writing horror for the first time and immediately imagined a real problem I would face.
I’ve also often had trouble saying anything at all, even when what I want to say is inconsequential. I start thinking about it and then I just can’t. That one’s gotten better, at least. The motion lock has gotten worse.
There are less literal things to say about this, of course. I knew what was going on, although I kept doubting myself, but I was utterly terrified of telling anyone else about it. Perhaps the monstrous tendrils keeping me still was gender dysphoria… really it was the uncertainty of having no idea what would happen if I talked about it. Apparently in the story Sammy isn’t out to their parents, or they don’t accept them if they are. The sight of them bound in their bed is horrifying, but Sammy doesn’t try to do anything about it, only warning their brother to hide before it gets him too. I didn’t really consider whether the monster had any intentions other than doing its monster thing—it does try to stop Sammy from running, but then maybe that’s what their inner defence systems would try to do, at the same time as they’re seizing this opportunity to get out. Or maybe the force that’s trying to keep Sammy still is seperate to the one that’s seized their parents. Maybe I should finish this story…
Also worth mentioning that “Darkness” wasn’t meant to necessarily be the final title, but I was kind of happy with it. There’s not really a better summary of this story.
Sorry to go off analysing my own work so much. I know this is mainly for myself, but on the off-chance somebody else finds it interesting, here it is. And hey, this can double as some insight into my life in case anyone stumbles across this blog and is curious. Maybe I find it easier to do this kind of analysis when I know for sure my interpretation is valid, haha. It’s just stuck with me that I understood all of this subconsciously long before I got what was going on, and I wanted to write about it (although I kind of have, through other unfinished fiction). In the end I can’t know exactly what I was thinking, and this is just what it means to me now. What’s going on in the darkness can be whatever it means to you.
So if there’s any takeaway from all this… trust yourself more, I guess. I know it’s hard.