The Architects of Fear (with apologies to Meyer Dolinsky)

Matthew wanders through an occupied San Francisco, watching impassively as dozens of oblivious happy children are being ushered into a cinema. He’s wandering towards City Hall when Nancy spots him, barely able to conceal her relief. As she wanders towards him, desperate for an ally in these familiar yet alien surroundings, Matthew opens his mouth and points at her, emitting an inhuman cry.  Nancy, the only human, left in the city, helplessly screams…

The last meal before hyper-sleep with their seemingly healthy and recovered Executive Officer takes a horrific turn when he develops a sudden coughing fit and the crew suddenly discover – in the bloodiest way imaginable – that there’s a Banquo at their banquet…

As Mark Petrie stares at the gathering night-time outside his bedroom window, a white-eyed and fang-toothed Danny Glick suddenly drifts into view, tapping on the pane and urging his friend to let him in.  Mark starts to slowly step towards the closed window and his deceased friend…

Vera Webster tries to escape the control room, but a blue glowing tractor beam from the Ultimate Computer pulls her into its electronic mass. As she screams and struggles to escape, wires and cables bind her into place as metal plates and circuitry are welded onto her face and arms.  Her eyes open, metallic and blank, the transformation complete…

Not all of my childhood (and teen) memories are related to being afraid (I can still remember being six years old watching breathlessly and wide-eyed as Luke Skywalker – his colleagues lost – counted down the distance between him and the Death Star exhaust port), but they’re some of the strongest memories I’ve carried through life with me.  There are other ones, of course – having been prescribed glasses for the first time, first, kiss, that gravity-defying moment when the stabilizers were taken off my first bicycle… but that might have been some other kid.  It was a long time ago…

Is this why I write horror?  Because of the visceral strength of these memories?

I fell into writing by accident. From being introduced to roleplaying games back in the early eighties (Dungeons & Dragons and Traveler), I always enjoyed the role of referee, the Games-master, the Storyteller.  Creating worlds and settings for adventurers to play in, be they Knights and Wizards, Street Judges from Mega City One, or Vampires, werewolves and ghosts.

I’d end up writing journals for the characters or stories about those characters – never intended for the rest of the world, just for the players or, in certain cases, just me.  Writing for writings sake.  Later on, without role-playing as an outlet (friends move on, and jobs and kids put paid to any attempt at regular gaming – damn you to hell, real world!) the frustrated writer in me then got into blogging.

I tried my hand at a few short stories, and people – being the incredibly unpredictable lot they are – only went and bloody liked them. I tried to be as eclectic as possible – a bit of satire or social commentary, a bit of science fiction, a bit of horror…

From falling into writing by accident, falling into horror writing followed suit.  It wasn’t that the horror tales got a better reaction from readers, it was just that I found myself preferring to write stuff for that genre.  It was easier and, most importantly, more fun.  Horror elements started to appear in the science fiction and the satire.

Is this why I write horror, then? Because it’s easier?

I write horror because I like to be scared, and it’s a great thing as a writer to see that feedback from others. The wince, the gasp, the look of disbelief… Horror is like pornography in that they both provoke a definitive physical reaction.

(“Why not write porn, then?”, you might ask. I’d have at least hoped you’d bought me a drink before launching into such a question, though.  I’ll readily admit that there’s a fair amount of crossover – both genres relish the concept of things thrusting into other moist things, for example –  but I’m quite simply not of the right mind-set.  I’d struggle to think of enough metaphors for an erection, for one. Oh, and I find the word ‘ejaculate’ too amusing to take seriously. I’m giggling just typing it. Honestly.)

Primarily I’ve found myself writing about the things that scare me. I haven’t worked out yet whether this is to exorcise or exaggerate my existing fears…

Despite being a regular church-goer as a child, adulthood saw the scientific part of my brain rationalize the non-existence of God. As an atheist, I envy those with faith because they have the comforting knowledge that there, after death, there’s something waiting there for them. I sometimes lie awake at night terrified by the prospect of nothingness.  I’m really rather fond of being me, and I’d like that to go on indefinitely.  An equal (but infinitely more unrealistic) and slightly related terror is that of being trapped somewhere for eternity.  (One of my very few poems – “The Lantern” is a piss-take of that very fear – I’ll let you see it if you ask me nicely).

A health scare nearly a decade ago caused me to develop an unhealthy level of anxiety and hypochondria that remains to this day – one that’s given me a much deeper understanding of the body horror of Cronenberg and Barker. A recurring motif in my stories is that of cancer and disease.

I’m aware that the previous two paragraphs make me sound like some kind of terrified neurotic, but that couldn’t be further from the case. I’m a functioning terrified neurotic, at the very least. I think we all are, in some way. It’s what defines us a species.

We all have fears – it’s just that as horror writers we’re given the rare opportunity to channel something out of them, and we’re sometimes lucky in that we encounter others who find the same things scary.

I’m glad to be a part of Stitched Smile, and I relish the opportunity of scaring you somewhere along the way.

(And the no-prize quiz for the names of the films that made such an impact on my impressionable young mind?  The remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, Salem’s Lot and – not even a horror film – Superman III)

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