For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a child of horror.
Every night, after my mother read to me and tucked me in, I kept my hands and feet safely under my blanket to make sure the monsters under my bed didn’t eat them. Even at that young age, I knew our limbs didn’t regenerate.
This was the 70s, when horror blew our minds with films like The Amityville Horror and Dawn of the Dead. My older brother and I were huge horror movie fans, and it seemed back then every other week there was something new on TV.
During the scary parts, he always laughed, which diluted the fear factor for me, and soon, I began to laugh too. I mean, who wanted to look like a scaredy-cat next to their big brother? Pretty soon, I was no longer scared.
Outside the home — my safe space — I was bullied through my childhood years despite occasional kindnesses from unexpected places. I survived the rest of grade school by being aloof and acting tough and made it out in one piece. There were no horror role models who were my age then, not until I reached my teens and met Nancy Thomson and Marti Gaines.
The 80s ushered me into my teen years with the Poltergeist trilogy, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and Hell Night, which really stayed with me because of that closing scene — the final girl surviving all the monsters with only her wits and instincts.
I thought if she could survive that, surely I could survive life. And here’s the thing, women in horror movies are tough.
In Poltergeist, Diane Freeling enters another dimension and swims through a pool full of rotting corpses to save her children. Nancy Thomson faces her fears and defeats the serial killer Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. And in Hell Night, Marti Gaines’ clear thinking and decisive actions save her from being another victim of the Garth brothers. For Marti, hell really is other people.
In contrast, I was far from tough. In high school, I realized I still had no clue how to make friends, ending up ostracized in whisper campaigns and surrounded by uneasy alliances instead. It was a whole other jungle. Horror films seemed to exist in a much simpler world where the final girl always won.
So I got myself tougher and took up martial arts. Soon, I exuded new confidence. I could handle myself in any situation. Things didn’t get easier at school but I no longer cared what others thought. I was no longer scared of anything.
Of course, life in horror movies was far worse than mine. That gave me a measure of comfort and solace. No matter how bad things got, it never got to the point where I’d be hunted by a killer at home or had my dreams invaded by monsters. (Not yet, anyway. I mean, I’m writing this in 2020 and this year’s motto seems to be Anything is Possible.)
Then somehow, slowly, in school and in church, I began to make my first friends and found my place in both worlds.
I loved my youth group and joined the church choir despite sounding like a strangled canary prodded by a taser. I even read for mass, uncovering a flair for elocution.
In school, I discovered that I was particularly good at sports and writing. I ran long distance, dabbled in swimming, and took up Judo and Karate, and began writing fiction and poetry.
Writing was cathartic for me in a world where no one understood me.
Emotions were too difficult for me to process as a teenager and I felt lighter after pouring my heart out on paper and truly, that saved me innumerable times from the albatross of depression.
The genre I wrote in was, of course, horror. It was the genre I grew up with, in a house of shadows that gave me safety and comfort, the genre I had happy memories with and was still deeply immersed in as the media’s love affair with horror raged on.
Yet it was always horror novels and British girls’ magazines that brought me the greatest joy.
After church every Sunday, I’d race down to the market where I would grab the latest issue of Misty, Girl, Princess, and Tammy by UK’s Fleetway Publications, all of which featured mystery and horror comics for girls at the newsstand.
Fantastically written, drawn, and with enough supernatural and mystical elements to intrigue a young reader, the stories were always about girls, (both the heroes and the villains), and they truly resonated with me.
I treasured my collection. Yet the entirety of it was lost when one day, my mother threw my neatly packed box of comics away. I have spent most of my adult working life looking for all my favorite issues, and to my relief, I’ve recovered a good many of them to share with my children who love and cherish them as much as I do.
At the same time, I began reading voraciously and devoured a plethora of horror novels from authors like Robert McCammon and Dean Koontz, as well as both the horror book series for teens, DARK FORCES and the DELL Twilight Series: Where Darkness Begins, that I collected from local used bookstores, prolific during that era, bringing in books I could never find in regular bookstores.
The DELL Twilight Series: Where Darkness Begins featured several of my still-favorite books, preciously guarded out-of-print volumes, Watery Grave by Joseph Trainor, Demon Tree by Colin Daniels, Voices in the Dark by James Haynes, and Storm Child by Susan Netter, reminiscent of Christopher Pike’s later series of books. They are still some of the coolest stories I’ve ever read and the books stay close to me on my bedside book trolley.
I wrote fiction throughout my teen years. One of the things I enjoyed most was writing horror novelettes in longhand during class and passing the small hardcover books to classmates who were keen to read them. When they were done, they’d ask me to quickly write the next installment.
It was the first validation I had that my writing had value and an audience. The stories were about teens with telekinesis struggling with issues we all faced. It was an instant hit and soon, I became more than just the Mentos dealer in class. I became a novelist.
Over the decades, horror has helped me shut down overwhelming emotions. Watching Buffy and Angel gave me comfort, knowing that even superheroes have their own problems, even if we regular folk can’t get stabby with our demons when we want to.
The characters winning is us winning by association. We share solidarity with people we empathize with. That’s why we watch and read. They are us and we are them.
It was only in my 40s that horror truly became an escape hatch as my life went completely south. You’re Next, Midsommar, 28 Weeks Later, Train to Busan, Kingdom, and The Walking Dead helped me see that there is great polarity in human nature. There will always be good and evil people, and the evil will never change. I have to learn how to see people for what they truly are. A new skill to acquire and hone at age 47. I am still learning.
I realize that to truly heal, I have to allow myself to feel those complicated and difficult emotions I’d blocked for decades: anger, rage, grief, sadness, disappointment, pride, joy.
After decades of not dreaming, dreams have slowly trickled back into my sleep. My brain is processing emotions again and this has lifted the incredible toll it had placed on my body.
I learned that if we don’t process how we feel, our bodies will pay for it through chronic headaches, stomachaches, inflammation, tumors, and more. I don’t like it, but it is what it is. My nightmares have transformed into a montage of chaotic dreamscapes and sometimes, they are even more horrific.
I have put them all down on paper.
Lately, I’ve been writing more about evil and the monsters in this world, reflecting what has afflicted all of us during this dark and dangerous season.
Will we survive this or is it the end of us? I don’t know. There are too many iterations to calculate and far too many unknowns. Maybe we will get a Hail Mary in the end. Maybe we won’t. But for certain, dark days are ahead of us.
And as they always have, writing and horror are slowly mending me, cushioning my falls, my pain seeping into the paper and screen, dissipating as they are transformed into fiction and poetry. They haven’t completely healed me. I doubt they ever will.
But they have kept me from the edge, made me strong to be there for the people I love, helped me breathe and fight another day. Like the Final Girl drenched in blood, holding a well-used ax, I will endure long after the credits have rolled.
Interstellar Flight Magazine publishes essays on what’s new in the world of speculative genres. In the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, we need “writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.” We use affiliate links and Patreon to pay our writers a fair wage. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.