Letters

The following is a lyric essay I wrote in my penultimate semester of college, written for an advanced nonfiction writing class.  It is a found-form essay, using the form of a series of letters to personal heroes (three of whom are fictional) to allow for self-exploration.

slushpile“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”
-Joss Whedon

Dear Batman (or may I call you Bruce?),
I felt like I had to write to you. You are an inspiration to me, and I don’t know who else talk to about this.
It’s not really fair for me to write to you, since I know you are busy in your quest to preserve the spirit of Gotham, and I am writing you, knowing so much about you while you know nothing about me. I don’t even live anywhere near Gotham.
I suppose I warrant a little introduction. I am a college student aspiring to be a novelist. I have just one more semester to finish school.
That sounds so flat in comparison to a person like you– a brilliant, successful billionaire businessman who has dedicated his life to combating crime in the depressed, corrupt city of Gotham. You are part warrior, part detective, part inventor. You are brilliant and dangerous. I’m nothing like you.
And yet, I feel like I know you: the nuances of your character, your powerful sense of morality. I know many of your back-stories, how the keys to any of them is that your parents were killed on the street in front of you, and your fear of bats. Each version of you has been prepared in different ways, going through different struggles to get started. Sometimes you take on apprentices, an assortment of individuals who go by the names of Robin or Batgirl or invent new names when those roles are filled. I know about your failures, your successes. I know your long list of enemies by name.
The part I can’t get out of my head, though, is the death of your parents.
I have nothing in my life that compares to that. I have not undergone any great tragedy beyond the death of one of my best friends when I was fifteen, but he was ravaged by cancer, and part of me felt relieved when he died and escaped his pain. It was tragic, but it didn’t reshape my life.
Is it bad that I kind of want it to? I want to be able to make something beautiful out of his death, something tangible. More than just memories, I want to be able to crystallize the moment I found out he had died and pour it into a book, a story, a poem. That moment when I stood in the office of my high school, my mother hugging me tight then leading me to the car, while I stared blankly, wanting so badly for it to feel real enough that I could cry. Instead I just cried with dry eyes for hours, alone in my room. I want that day to really mean something to me, to shape my writing, and to have an effect on those who read what I write.
A common adage used for writers is “write what you know.” I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. Well, I don’t personally know the things I want to write about. I want to create something fascinating and deep and meaningful. Beautiful. Emotive. My interactions with the depths of human emotion have been brief and would not seem profound to anybody but myself. The writers around me have almost all known some sort of great suffering– parents have died, disease has attacked their bodies. They can draw on their experiences to create beautiful works of literature. How can I believe I can do that? I couldn’t even produce tears when Garrett died. I laughed during his funeral, so how deeply have I felt pain, sorrow, or grief?
Part of your goal as Batman is to inspire people, right? Well, how can you be my inspiration? I cannot do what you can. I do not have vast funds, combat training, scientific intellect, or the motivation to do what you do. I don’t want to be like you: your life is hard and riddled with sorrows and pain. Plus, you want to inspire people to stand up to corruption and crime, and those really aren’t big issues where I live. No, I just want to be able to draw something from your struggles that allows me to create something really worth reading. Worth writing.
I don’t have a person I really consider to be my mentor, at least not for my writing. I don’t have a person I can turn to who is a voice of experience and reason in creative pursuits. Nobody who will respond.
I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve, writing to you about all this. You can’t be a mentor to me. You’re fictional. You’re inconsistent. You can’t answer me. For heaven’s sake, you depend on my creativity to exist. The closest I can even come to interacting with you is to write a comic book manuscript about you (which is, in fact, one of my dreams). You can be whatever I want you to be, but that somehow seems to make you less worthwhile to look up to. That makes you too flawed, or too perfect.
Plus, how can something that doesn’t really exist provide inspiration?
And what does that say about my fiction?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Harry Potter,
You’re one of my heroes. You were an inspiration to me, especially all through my childhood. Your adventures always drew me in ways that made me feel like I was living them along with you, an unsaid friend who helped you alongside Ron and Hermione.
You were always so brave. Self-sacrificing. Willing to do anything for the sake of good. You stood up against hellish creatures and people. I used to actually shudder when I imagined the clammy flesh of a Dementor. They scared me in ways I couldn’t describe, and yet you were still resolute against them, using your stag Patronus to fight them back, keeping me and your numberless other friends safe.
And Voldemort and his Death Eaters– their darkness knew no bounds, but you were always there to drive them back with your personal light (and a lot of helpful spells, I might add). You always kept going on, even when you were injured, even when things were really hard. Even when Dumbledore, your friend and mentor, was killed. You never stopped, so it felt like I never stopped standing up to evil.
But here’s the frustrating part of all of that: I don’t live in a world where magic is real. I can never go to a place like Hogwarts. I can never learn a single spell. I will never see an elf, dragon, or phoenix. I will never ride a broom. I won’t receive a badass lightning bolt scar. I can’t even train an owl to deliver my mail.
Even more, I am never going to have to face problems like you had to face. The real world may have a lot of evil in it, but very few men come anywhere close to Lord Voldemort. Real evil men are far more complicated than he was, with have at least a few redeeming qualities. And I will never have to come in contact with any of those men. No, I am going to live my life in relatively boring ways. My big problems are almost certainly going to be financial or health-related. The possibility of laying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm really doesn’t hold a candle to destroying Horcruxes or dueling a dark lord with powerful magic. Though it still is scary as hell.
So, you taught me all this bravery, but for what? What can I do with it? Go hunt down a terrorist? You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess I could write about my fears, but once again, they’re just everyday fears, so how could they be interesting? Sure, I’m terrified to have history of cancer in both sides of my family. I am afraid that my writing will be rejected– by editors, readers, and myself. Heck, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a job in this crappy economy.
I don’t know if it would mean anything to write about those things. I want to create a world as wonderful and complicated as the one you live in, but how can I do that without falling flat, without any real magic to draw from?
Or is life magical enough? Is love? I’ve fallen in love, I married my high school sweetheart (like you did). I have friends that I can trust with anything, who would fight by my side, maybe even die for me (like you do). I have had helped change people’s lives (like you have).
–I’m not sure if those wonderful things really count as magic. So, inspirational character of my childhood, why didn’t you inspire me to do something that I know is useful, like learn another language or how to sew?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Ender Wiggin,
I hope this letter finds you well when you come into existence in the future and somehow come across this letter. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate what you will do for Earth by defeating the Formics, and I appreciate what you will do to allow other intelligent life to exist in the galaxy.
That was a fairly confusing jumble of statements, made more difficult by the fact that you are supposed to exist around a hundred, then upwards of a thousand (because of space travel) of years into the future. To speak simply, I am a big fan and feel like you have helped me to become a better person.
Your genius has long interested me. I felt a sense of kinship toward you as, at the time I first read of your future exploits, I was in junior high, in all advanced classes and several years ahead of my peers in the subject of math. I felt like I was quite a bit smarter than others and it felt good to see the calculating, nerdy kid and his friends be the ones who come out ahead. You will be chosen to quickly advance to Command School, skipping years of training, and even there you will succeeded. As I read about that, I felt like I was just like you. I wasn’t just in the higher math classes– I was almost always at the top of my class, and I had my three best friends there by my side.
You will be given the simulation game in Command School in which you lead the simulated International Fleet to defeat the enemy Formics, just to learn that you will have, against your knowledge, actually given instructions to real soldiers who killed real alien foes. You won’t cheer when you find out what happened– instead you will sorrow over what you have done, mourning for the dead, even though so many were foreign and dangerous. It was refreshing to finally have someone in fiction to look up to who hated violence, who dealt with problems with words and ideas rather than with a sword, gun, or lightsaber. You will leave the world, find the final remaining Formic egg, and then turn to writing to spread your ideas while all your friends will use armies to spread their causes on earth. You will write as the Speaker of the Dead, and your words will change for the better how the entire world perceived an alien species.
I’m not even anywhere close to as intelligent as you, regardless of how I identified with you when I was younger. I was foolish and didn’t realize that I really was just a little ahead of the curve, but soon would become just another college student, quite book smart, which really can only play a small role in whatever success I have in my life.
I will never be able to use words anywhere near the level of impact that you will have. You will be a world-changer. I am just a simple man. I’m a writer, I hold words as having great value, but I am aware that I never will have the opportunity to change lives like you have, nor do I really want to. It’s great to see that words can make such a difference, but I just want to write fiction.
Is writing fiction really enough to make a difference? I’m not even sure if it is enough in my own life, much less in the lives of others. I know some of my loved ones appreciate what I do, but that is hardly earth-shaking. I can write difficult issues into my stories, I can use symbolism, but what does that really accomplish? It seems like the only writers who really change the world are ones who write religious texts (which I will never do) or ones, like you, who only exist in fictional worlds where people are more willing to read and think and change.
Thanks, I guess, for the inspiration.
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Stephen King,
I am one of the Constant Readers that you mention in your forwards and afterwords and your non-fiction books. I have read, by my calculation, all but nine of your books, which, as you know, is no small accomplishment, with your, at the time of my writing, upwards of 60 published novels and collections. I love your writing and have drawn inspiration from what you have written and from your life.
A few years ago I read your most significant non-fiction book, On Writing. From your stories and advice I was able to see a man who had lived what I have long dreamed. Since I was very young, as far back as I can remember, I have loved telling stories, and when I was in sixth grade I decided that I was going to become a novelist, and I’ve never varied from that course. It was very refreshing to see one so successful also starting to write from a very young age.
When I read about the publication of your first novel, Carrie, I felt thrilled for you. I was ecstatic when I read about how its paperback rights sold for so much. I imagined myself in a similar situation: trying to scrape by financially, living in humble circumstances with my sweetheart, trying frantically to get published to help pay for rent, but finally making my break. Your early successes felt like something that I could achieve.
My adoration for you was furthered as I tried to follow the writing advice that you included in On Writing and I discovered that much of it worked for me and my methods of writing. Soon I began to create a number of short stories that I felt proud of (in fact, overly so, as I foolishly tried to get one published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, obviously unsuccessfully). I took a great deal of pleasure as I began to do some of the things that I saw in your writing that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, like subtly connecting stories and books in unusual ways, suggesting interesting connections that are not consistent or major enough to create series, but rather create your own multi-layered universe. Soon my stories began to connect, and few things brought me greater pleasure in writing.
So, you have influenced me a great deal, and have done so in ways directly connected to my dream. But I have begun to realize that inspiration only does so much. I can daydream about being rich and successful, creating complex masterpieces in a few months of writing, like you. I can imagine reaching toward the tops of bestseller lists, I can dream of book signings and becoming a household name, like you. But I am finding that most of the inspiration I have drawn from you has meant so much time spent dreaming of a successful future that I haven’t written half as much as I should have. And is a successful future really important at all? Sure, it would be nice not having to worry about paying the bills, but I don’t think that I really need to be successful to be happy.
I mean, are you happy? What does all your fame and fortune really do for you? Should I even be looking to you as a hero?
Either way, I should be revising a novel right now, or scribbling down fresh ideas in a notebook. I should be submitting polished stories, poems, and essays to magazines. The problem is, I don’t have anything that is good enough to be published yet.
And now I’m just wasting time writing to you.
-N. J. Darkish

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Waiting for Pyramid Head – Part 2

For starters, only read this if you’ve already read my previous post, found here: https://partisobscurum.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/waiting-for-pyramid-head-part-1/

Enjoy second half of my essay (I decided to only break it into two parts because I couldn’t really find a good breaking point again).

As part of my religious tradition I believe there are real, evil supernatural entities that plague the earth, that these were the followers of Lucifer, and that they hated us for our bodies. They were miserable, and wanted only to make us miserable. My parents, who were my principal religious instructors, would occasionally mentions these evil beings as they taught me but discouraged any form of lengthy discussion. They explained to me that thinking about evil too much invited it, and the last thing I needed to be dealing with in my life was manifestations of evil, be they temptation or literal creatures.

I took their word for this: I hadn’t had run-ins with evil, but others around me had, and I knew their stories.

My best friend, Nick, for example, was playing in his unfinished basement with his younger sister. She sat in a baby carriage that he shook back and forth like it was a ship. Abruptly the small bed began to shake and moved by an unseen force beneath the stairs, trapping his sister beneath while both screamed. It took both of their parents to free the little girl. Nick and his sisters were forbidden to go downstairs without supervision for years until the downstairs was finally finished.

Or my friend Jared, whose old house either had very peculiar wiring problems or something supernatural messing with their lights and electronic devices.

Or my uncle Keith, who faced down a possessed man while proselyting on his LDS mission, who snarled inhumanly with a visible darkness around him, charging my young uncle full speed before being repelled by an invisible force of light.

I sit, my right leg bouncing rapidly, a manifestation of my eagerness to take my turn to stand at the podium and read my story. At the beginning of the open mic night I let myself dive into the stories and essays and poetry being presented. Not so now– each word becomes dragging, road bump after road bump in the way of getting up and reading.

The piece in my hands is a revised copy of “The Cruelest Masterpiece of Gunfire,” part one of the horror novel I have named Dark Art. I can’t wait to read the words, even though I know I will stumble over them at times. I am hungry to see the reaction of my friends and peers. I crave the validation I’ll feel if I create a shock.

Writing horror is now more powerful than any other kind of writing for me. The emotional reaction– the strong emotional reaction– that comes with it is thrilling. The idea Pyramid_Headthat I can do more than just entertain my readers– or, in this case, my audience– but that I can make them feel a certain way, is exhilarating. It makes me create something real.

I’m going crazy to try to scare people.

As I finally stand at the podium, I can see a monster with a metal mask sitting in the back row in my peripheral vision as my eyes scan the text of the epigraph. “First smiles, then lies, last is gunfire. Stephen King.”

“Ah, what the hell.” I spat on the ground and went back into the warehouse, steeling myself against the horrors awaiting me. I put on rubber gloves and got on my hands and knees. My investigation took only ten minutes.

It didn’t surprise me that Verrick didn’t notice my discovery– he never had a very fine eye for detail. He was good at making connections, but he wasn’t good at finding the evidence that made those possible. I wasn’t surprised that when I showed him my little gem of evidence he instantly got an idea of where to go from here. I found a domino, white with a single black dot. It was hidden beneath a splash of blood. Familiarity flashed in my mind on several levels, but before I thought too deeply about the significance of the game piece, Verrick pointed out that not too far from us was a building with a sign bearing the same symbol.

I can’t help but feel a little sick inside as my mission president tells us he is revising a statement known as “My Purpose,” published in the church’s official missionary guide, Preach My Gospel, which states that as missionaries we are to “invite others to come unto Christ” by a variety of methods, instead reducing the statement to a mere five words: “My purpose is to baptize!”

I know that baptism is extremely important, but I do not believe for a second that it is my sole purpose as a missionary. Almost from day one of my mission in South Carolina, I have hated the bombardment of the idea by the mission president and other mission leaders that to be a successful missionary we must be a baptizing missionary, even though the scriptures– and most of the training materials published by the church– define success in much broader strokes than that. I see Christ’s apostles and church leaders helping change lives in small ways alongside the radical. I see people coming back to church, or coming to see Christ in their lives, or even just receiving a bit of kindness like brightening a day.

Soon the questions suggesting criticism of my work, proffered by other missionaries who are given assignments over me, become direct attacks. “Why are you not baptizing?” “Why don’t you stop seeing that person? They haven’t come to church yet.” “You are not working hard enough.” “You are not focusing on the right things.”

I keep my reactions bottled inside me, forcing myself to not shout back, You do not know what I am doing. You are not focusing on the right things. I am doing my best to try to help others, so shut up. You don’t know what you are talking about. You are baptizing without any care for what happens to the people you baptize. You don’t care if people actually change their lives. You just want to go home and say you’ve baptized X number of people, aren’t you so great? You just want a pat on the back from President McConkie. Instead, I just lower my head and keep doing the work I know to be right.

My mother always has hated horror- really, any form of entertainment that focuses on dark themes. M. Night Shayamalan’s film The Sixth Sense frightened her deeply. At the time The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings movie came out she barred me from watching it, considering the Ringwraiths too dark for me to handle– and I was eleven and had read all of the books– so I had to watch it behind her back.

I was very sheltered in that respect.

The strange thing is that my mother is a very strong, brave woman. It is no exaggeration to say that her example and that of my father helped me develop what I feel is a strong personal moral compass.

She advised I avoid horror. “You don’t want the bad spirit it invites,” she said, implying a connection to earlier lessons about thinking about real evil.

The nervousness I felt when my friends and I watched The Ring at my house for my thirteenth Halloween was only in small part due to the complications of the plot. My mom avoided the room where it was playing the entire evening.

Even though it was the middle of the night, we decided to try knocking on the door. The safest course of action was to fix Verrick up with a wire. This was a dangerous job, and I felt my curiosity should be satisfied with minimal risk. I didn’t want to risk my life in helping an old friend make a buck. Thank God I felt that way. That decision may make all the difference in the world.

I sat in his car, a few hundred yards away, listening on a radio as Verrick approached the building:

A door knocking, a faint creak as it opened. “May I help you?”

“Yes, my name is Dalton Verrick. I am a private detective investigating an accident that happened a few streets up. At the scene we found a domino that is identical to the one on your sign. I’d like to ask some questions.”

“Certainly. We would love to dismiss any possible suspicion of us with involvement with… whatever it is you’re investigating. Please, come in.”

The creak of the door opening wide to permit entry, followed by footsteps.

“This way, Mister Verrick. I’ll take you to my boss’s office. James Jackson. Lucky for you, we’ve been working a late night.”

“Oh, what is it you do here?”

“We’re in charge of shipping for various manufacturers. We have a big order to send out in the morning.”

“Happen often?”

“Far too often.”

Verrick laughed. “Yeah, I hear you there. As you can see, this job doesn’t exactly have the greatest hours either.”

“Ah, here we are. Make yourself comfortable while I find James.”

The sound of a door shutting, the clack of a deadbolt. Muffled laughter.

“What the hell’s going on?”

An inhuman squeal. Horrible screams. Dalton Verrick, one of the ballsiest people I know, screaming. A sloshing, ripping sound.

My shaking fingers turned off the radio with a click. What in God’s name just happened in there? I must be mad, but even though I had just heard Dalton Verrick die– oh God, I hope he died, I can’t imagine living after whatever it was that happened to him– I had to know what was inside that building. Verrick was right, my curiosity had to be appeased. I would go mad not knowing, just like silently not understanding my wife’s death ate away at the back of my mind.

The mystery of one death almost destroyed me. I could not deal with another.

I didn’t want to die, but I had to know. I absolutely had to. And now I’m not sure whether that curiosity is a blessing or a curse. Either way, I’m haunted by my decision whenever I fall asleep.

I am standing in an empty baptismal font with a woman standing next to me that we had been teaching for several weeks. I am filled with indescribably complex feelings of compassionate love for her. “Will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized?” I ask, tears filling my eyes.

She looks unsure at first, but the emotions that are filling me begin to reach her as well. She slowly says, “Yes.”

My companion Elder Edwards, a large, softhearted Texan, helps us out of the font. “Wait,” our investigator says, keeping us from leaving the chapel that is connected to the font. “I need to tell you something.”

I nod. “Of course.” We all sit.

“Well, you know I’m pregnant.” She had brought it up in past lessons, but she wasn’t showing yet. “The day that I met you guys, remember how I was sitting on the porch? Well, I was waiting for my boyfriend to come pick me up. He was going to take me to get an abortion. When you talked to me and taught me about Jesus, I just knew that I couldn’t do it. He showed up a little bit after you left and I refused to go with him. I’m keeping my baby.” Tears rolled down her dark cheeks, matching the ones that both my companion and I were crying.

That was the last time we saw her– she must have been told to stop meeting with us, and avoided us like we were an illness. We were sad, and frustrated, that she was not going to be baptized and become a member of the church, but those emotions were nothing in comparison to when we sat in the circle and learned of her decision to keep her child– and our role in helping that happen.

In high school I had three video games hidden in my sock drawer: Half-life 2, Resident Evil 4, and Silent Hill 2, each of which featured prominent horror elements or were full-blown horror games. I played them very rarely, only when I was alone (which , in a family with eight members, was pretty much never). I didn’t want my younger siblings to have the nightmares I had when I was eight, but moreover I didn’t want my mom to know I owned such macabre games.

After my youthful experience, I was pretty sure that if she saw the words “Resident Evil” on a case she would have been angry, or worse, disappointed.

I kept darker Stephen King books in my backpack rather than on my bedside table while reading them.

Simply, I kept my fascination with works of darkness in the darkness.

I drove home: I needed a weapon.

I snuck into my house, avoided waking up Natalie. Dug around in my sock drawer and pulled out my Smith & Wesson .357. I probably would have sold it if I had retired for any other reason than the death of my wife, but I had instinctively held onto it, feeling a need to protect my daughter from the haunts of the night. I dug out my shoulder holster, which I hid beneath my jacket.

I kissed my daughter’s head and slipped out. I drove Verrick’s car back to the building marked with a large domino. I popped open the trunk of the car and found some lock pick tools. I pocketed them, and slipped through an alley to the back of the building.

When I got to the back door, I drew a small bottle of oil from my pocket and greased the hinges and tried the door. Locked. I pulled out the lock pick tools and got to work. I was out-of-practice, so I was surprised at how easily and silently I was able to unlock the door.

The carpet was dark red, like you’d see at a movie awards show. It looked expensive, but looking at rest of the building, it probably wasn’t– the cement walls were cracking and there was dust everywhere. I had to fight to resist coughing– especially hard with my asthma.

Using my oil to maintain stealth, I began peaking into rooms one-by-one. Most were vacant, but a few held tools.

I have my headphones on, listening to a Silent Hill soundtrack, immersed in the macabre as I work on my craft, editing the third part of my horror novel, “The Artist.” My narrating protagonist, a middle-aged art critic named Laura, leads a group of her neighbors in battle against a bare-chested monster that was once a detective, while my ears are filled with industrial sounds of the quasi-religious nightmare Otherworld that the small lakeside resort town of Silent Hill becomes when sirens blare and dense fogs rolls in. As the creature saws through the chest of one of Laura’s fallen companions, I hear a long scrape of steel and wonder to myself if Pyramid Head is nearby.

It is widely believed in South Carolina that there is a dark entity known as the Hag that spends its time afflicting people at night. It is a shadowy figure that stands at the foot of one’s bed while you awake, paralyzed, unable to make a sound and unable to look at anything but the creature. Sometimes it just departs from there, other times it makes physical contact– prodding the sleeper, or even laying on top of the unfortunate victim. On my LDS mission to the said state, I heard stories of the Hag and shrugged them off as superstition.

Until I was shared a personal experience by another missionary whom I trusted– who was visibly frightened by his experience. The hag had stood over him, poking him until he awoke. My belief was underlined when, a few nights before Valentine’s Day 2011 a member of the church I was close to told my companion and I about when he had been “hagged” a few years prior, the awful creature pressing down on him as he was frozen in bed, about how he listened to talks by religious leaders on repeat all night for weeks.

The night of Valentine’s, I had an experience of my own.

I didn’t get “hagged,” but I did awake at about 2:00 AM, feeling confused beyond normal sleepiness. I couldn’t focus mentally at all. My mind darted frantically, voicing internal expressions of bafflement at the chaotic state I was in. It was as if there was another voice– another presence– in my head, controlling (or more accurately, fighting for control) of my thoughts. I couldn’t focus. It was beyond my grasp.

I had to force myself to stand, walking into the bathroom with my scriptures in hand. I washed my face, trying to get my body to wake up more. I tried to read the scriptures to clear my head, but I could barely get my eyes to focus on the words on the page, much less make them to make any sense. I fell to my knees, the scriptures clutched against my chest, and prayed.

I prayed until my knees started to ache, the whole time pleading to God internally while struggling to maintain control of my thoughts. My prayer was reduced to a simple phrase, repeated over and over, begging to be freed from the dark confusion.

The powerful duality of my mind persisted for most of an hour.

I wasn’t freed until I woke my companion and asked him to pray for me as well.

I held my scriptures like a teddy bear every night for the following week.

I came to a room marked with dozens of dominoes. I found that it held an occupant. It staring at me, wide-eyed. It was a monster. Its skin was the same color as its irises–red as rouge. When it saw it had a visitor, it smiled warmly and sloppily licked its pale lips with a deep crimson tongue.

My body stiffened. What the hell?

It had four main limbs, like humans, but rather than a distinguishable difference between legs and arms, it seemed to have four of the latter. Long hands with sharp claws clacked on the floor as it stood.

I ran, not restraining the screams that tore at my throat, forgetting I had brought along my handgun for protection.

The monster darted after me, catching the door before it latched and flung it open. It giggled and chattered in high, animalistic tones.

It was much faster than me. It caught me quickly, throwing me down to the floor. As I felt ribs crunch upon impact. As I stared at the carpet I thought it must be that deep crimson color to hide blood. I began laughing hysterically– no, that can’t be right! My mind flashed to the colors, the horrible yellow, from earlier.

My laughter transformed into screams as I felt its claws rip into my back. I tried to roll over to face my assailant, but as I turned, my face was ripped open, blood splattering into my eyes. It tore with claws like thorns. I felt my body surrender to imminent death, curling into the fetal position.

I am finishing a short story, nearly fifty handwritten pages in length, called “A Glass Darkly.” There are monsters in the story– a few supernatural, but the most frightening monster is a kind much more commonly found in real life: an abusive husband and father. Only known in the story as “Papa,” the creature leaves broken fingers and “clumsy accidents” in the wake of his drunken cruelty.

Just weeks earlier I had an encounter with a dark force that was beyond my ability to adequately express. Now, with pen and paper, I am finding my way through horror fiction to give words for an anathema that is real. Not problems that I have known personally, but rather the terrors I have seen hiding in the corners of eyes in many of the people I have been dedicated to helping and teaching who live in project housing. I write about poverty, of alcoholism, of dangerous relationships. I grow. I begin to understand.

Even Pyramid Head, who has been reading over my shoulder, can’t help but shake his head as my little protagonist, Alice, is left alone, crying next to the bloody corpse of her mother. I look up at the blood soaked monster and give him a nod of appreciation.

I am at Universal Studios’ Hollywood Horror Nights. I am breathing heavily, my asthma burning my lungs, drowning in smoke machine smoke, drawing heavily from an emergency inhaler that is not my own. I remember now that mine is in my suitcase. I silently curse myself for my stupidity.

We’ve just ridden the rides up to this point– Jurassic Park in the Dark, The Mummy, Transformers– so I feel now like I have my asthmatic body under control enough to walk through one of the horror mazes.

I have been dying to go one in particular to since I saw a friend’s link online– Silent Hill.

We move to stand in the line leading to a passageway that loudly sounded with an air raid siren over and over and over.

Soon my friends and I find ourselves in Silent Hill, clearly built as the Otherworld version of the town, where things go from unnerving to openly hellish. I dart past a Lying Figure, a humanoid creature that almost looks like a man turned inside out with no arms. It throws itself at a chainlink fence as we pass. I hiss, “Oh hell!”

My hand in my wife’s, we slowly follow our friends through a room marked with the Halo of the Sun, a red symbol of The Order, a cult that worships a chaotic goddess and the creatures of her Otherworld domain. Then, another dark room, full of grotesquely sexualized nurses who move with inhuman locomotion, snarling at us beneath masks of flesh.

Room after room: the Bogeyman with his long-handled sledgehammer, three Robbie the Rabbits, each a pink amusement park mascot with a smear of blood matting the fur around their mouths. Two of the rabbits are props, one jolts to life just as we are about to pass it.

And then, him. Guilt himself, Pyramid Head, the Red Pyramid. He rushes us with a spear and we cower in a corner. He chases us down a hallway, then herds us into a room full of bloody corpses swinging from the ceiling, reaching for us with his long, muscular arms. His glove-clad fingers brush against my shoulder just before I step out of the room–

And find myself outside, in the smoke, once again with my favorite monster behind me.

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