As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m taking an Intro to Horror Writing class this semester. The genre has never really appealed to me but I believe a good author is a well-rounded author, an author who can write several different genres successfully. (I don’t care too much for poetry either, but I’m taking a poetry writing class too. I’m even writing a science-fiction story, just to see where it goes! It’s actually a lot of fun to stretch my mind and leave the comforts of fantasy writing.)
Anyway, we’ve read a few short stories and discussed the elements that make up a good horror story: terror, horror, and the gross-out. As Stephen King said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” So I’ve been challenged to focus on these three elements. For one of our most recent assignments, we were asked to write a short story. Our teacher gave us the opening lines of a few well-known horror stories, asked us to pick one, and roll with it. See where the line would take us. The line I chose was “The door had been nailed shut for a reason.” This is what I came up with:
The door had been nailed shut for a reason.
It was only logical. Why would someone waste their time pounding nails into a door if there wasn’t a good reason? Maybe the house was separated into sections and rented out to different families. Maybe the previous owners of the house had a kid who thought nailing his little sister’s door shut would be a hoot. There was a dog-door-like square cut along the bottom of the wood. Maybe there was something sinister lurking in the room on the other side.
Gwen rolled her eyes at her own whacky imagination. Still, there was something strange about that door at the end of the hall, the door everyone else was intent on ignoring. Or maybe she was just the first one to notice it? The music was incredibly loud. So many bodies were pressed together into the living room of this old house. The only sources of light were the spotlights sweeping across the room, the candles lit in the open bedrooms, and the moonlight streaming in through the curtain-less windows. Whatever furniture that might have been there was long gone, having been tossed outside to make room for the party.
Gwen took a swig of her soda and finally tore her gaze away from the door. Why did it matter if the door was nailed shut anyway? Was she just looking for an excuse to leave the crowd? Parties weren’t exactly her idea of fun. She was too shy to talk to girls she didn’t know and the only boys who seemed to notice her were always creeps. But her sister was home from college for the weekend and had guilt-tripped her into coming so she was stuck in this creepy old house until Macy was drunk enough to forget her own name. Which might be sooner rather than later. Macy had made a beeline for the keg as soon as they’d arrived and had been parked there ever since, chatting up all the cute guys who came for refills. Gwen weaved her way through the dancing throng to get to her sister.
She turned away from the boy she was flirting with to give Gwen a wide-eyed look. “You’re not here for a beer, are you? I told you; you’re the designated driver tonight.”
Gwen waved the soda can in her sister’s face. “This is all I’ve had tonight. Relax.”
“Okay. So what do you want?”
“What do you think is behind that door?” Gwen asked, gesturing to the door in question.
Macy adjusted the straps of her fairy wings and blew a raspberry. “Don’t know, don’t care. Justin said he found this house abandoned last week and decided it would be a good place for a Halloween party. I think he’s only been here, like, twice to decorate and stuff. Go ask him.” Then she tossed her dirty-blond hair over her shoulder and smiled flirtatiously to her toga-clad stranger as if Gwen had already left. The guy gave Gwen the once-over out of the corner of his eyes, making her regret her slutty nurse’s costume immediately. She blushed and looked away, tugging at the hem of her little skirt as if that would suddenly make it longer.
Gwen’s eyes fell on the door again. She hadn’t seen Justin since she and Macy had arrived. He’d paused in his mingling to give them each a one-armed hug and comment on their costumes before he resumed his host duties. That was almost two hours ago. She set her drink aside and marched back across the room, getting a spurt of un-Gwen-like bravery. She didn’t need Justin. She’d unravel this mystery on her own. It wasn’t until she stood directly before the door that she realized she had no way of opening it. She dug around her white satchel (part of the costume she’d decided to use as a purse for the occasion), and pulled out a large nail file. Maybe she could pry the nails out? Doubtful but still willing to try, Gwen came closer to the door.
It was already open. Gwen blinked at the sliver of empty space between the door and the frame, wondering when that had happened. She could’ve sworn it was shut…
She shoved the nail file back into her satchel and gripped the warped door knob. The door opened with a spooky creak that made her shiver. The smell hit her then, the acrid odor of decaying meat. She slapped both hands over her nose, swallowing hard to get rid of the bile. But she couldn’t walk away. Morbid curiosity made her bump the door open wider with her hip and inch into the room. Darkness greeted her. She released her nose with one hand to search for a light switch along the wall. It flickered on a moment later.
Bones and chunks of meat littered the floor. Blood was sprinkled across the faded flowery wall paper. The windows were boarded up from the outside; the glass had been broken ages ago and scrapes cut jaggedly across the wood. As if someone had tried to claw their way out of the room at one point. A single bed mattress was shoved in the corner, covered by a ratty black blanket. A hole in the floor drew her eyes to the center of the room. Her mouth gaped open even wider when she realized its purpose.
This was a prison cell.
But for who and why?
A splash of blue among the meat and bones forced Gwen to look at the carnage again. She grimaced and turned with the full intention of walking away, but she paused. Something about that shade of blue struck a chord of familiarity within her. She took a hesitant step forward. It was a torn shirt made of fake, blue fur she was looking at. And it was smeared with blood. Gwen’s knees gave way. She would have fallen onto the filthy floor had she not locked her legs just in time. Suddenly, she knew where she’d seen that fur before. It had been exactly two hours earlier, when Justin had given her that one-armed hug and said how great she looked in her nurse’s costume. He’d been dressed like an alien from Star Trek. The remains of his mask could be seen on the floor, pressed up against the wall. Hair and brain matter freckled the edges.
Bile climbed up her throat again. The world grew fuzzy at the corners.
The door creaked, causing Gwen to spin around with a squeak. A little girl stood behind the door, pale hand pressed against the wood, pushing it closed. Gwen stepped back, the bile finally winning at the sight of the child. Her short blond hair was matted with grime, her face streaked with dried blood, her wide eyes holding pupils that were permanently dilated. She wore a large, gray sweatshirt with rips and a faded logo, but nothing else. Her feet were bare, exposing torn, black toe nails.
How long had she been imprisoned in that room? Had she eaten Justin? Gwen heaved and groaned until there was nothing left in her stomach. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly turned to face the child again. The little girl was smacking her lips and swaying slightly, watching Gwen with wide, unblinking eyes.
Gwen managed to shake her head. “No.”
The girl grinned, exposing blackened teeth.
The scream cut through the music. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned toward the door at the end of the hall. The DJ killed the music after being prompted by some of the dancers. Soon there was silence and a low murmur of confused voices. Then there was the unmistakable sound of tearing.
I know this is pretty mild for a horror story, but it’s my first one. I’m going to get better. I promise!
Something else I read about in the Book of Horrors textbook we’re using for this class is that, in order to write something that truly terrifies and leaves an impression, we should write about things that scare us. So that’s what I did.
The most memorable (and terrifying) episode from Supernatural for me was the one about the twins living in the walls of a house. An abusive father had impregnated his daughter with twins. The girl gave birth and had died shortly afterward (from her own hand or her father’s hand, I can’t remember). The father didn’t take care of them at all. He locked them up in the basement and fed them through a laundry-shoot-like hole in the wall. The twins had never seen the light of day, had never set foot in the house above them. They wandered the crawl spaces between the walls of that house until the day their father/grandfather became too old and careless. Then they emerged and exacted their revenge.
Nobody in the surrounding area knew how bad things had gotten between father and daughter. Nobody knew about the twins. It was a big mystery to the local law enforcement when they happened upon the old man, or whatever was left of him anyway. They scratched their heads for a moment, then shrugged their shoulders, and cleaned the place up as best they could. Several months later, a new family moved in and started hearing strange noises through the walls.
“Oh, don’t worry, dear. They’re probably just rats. We’ll call the exterminators.”
In come Sam and Dean Winchester in disguise, thinking this family has a ghost problem and they can quickly fix it for them. They do their research and find out about the poor girl and her father. They assume it’s her ghost that’s haunting the place so they get ready to banish a spirit…only to find that the killers are real live people. Naturally, it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. The family and the Winchesters want to get out alive, while the twins are hungry for blood. These kids have been abused and in-humanized. Technically, they have a right to be angry and homicidal. But they’re so out of control and beyond reason that Dean and Sam have to kill them.
No matter how good the CGI was when monsters and evil spirits were introduced on the show, none of that really scared me because I knew it couldn’t be real. But a story about people being treated so badly that they had to resort to creeping through the walls and killing others…That could be real. That terrified me. So I tried to incorporate some of that into this short story. I haven’t gotten my grade yet, so I’m not sure how well I integrated the elements of horror, terror, and the gross-out. But I’m fairly proud of this. Hope you guys enjoyed it!