Every Day Is Halloween at Mike Allen’s House
Posted October 28, 2014on:
Mike Allen is editor of the speculative poetry and short fiction magazine Mythic Delirium and the acclaimed Clockwork Phoenix anthology series, and author of The Black Fire Concerto and his newest short fiction collection Unseaming. All around super talented guy and lover of all things creepy and scary, Mike was at the top of my list when I was looking for someone to guest post about the joys of reading scary books at Halloween time. Luckily, he wasn’t offended when I said “hey, you wanna write about creepy stuff?”. That’s how you KNOW this guy loves horror.
Continue reading, if you dare!
Building My Own Haunted House
by Mike Allen
At my house, every day is Halloween.
Little Red asked me to wax a bit about the pleasures of reading scary stories on All Hallow’s Eve — something I realized I couldn’t truly do, because I read scary stories all year around. And write them, too.
Anita, my wife, is often creating art in a similarly opened vein. My home office is full of skulls and plush monsters. (As well as piles of papers and books.) Halloween is simply when Anita makes the exterior decor of our house match the interior. We’re well matched that way.
I was introduced to scary stories via a Halloween reading conducted by my well-meaning third grade teacher. My parents had never ever done any such thing, so I had no clue what to expect when he had us make a circle with our desks. (Don’t get me wrong, my family celebrated Halloween. I loved trick or treating. But deliberately reading a story intended to scare? At 8 years old, that was still outside my experience. One, I think because it would never have occurred to my parents that this was entertaining. Two, because I didn’t handle scary things well. When I was younger, the sight of my beloved babysitter in a fairly realistic witch costume had terrified me.)
Our teacher read “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” By the end, my young classmates were ooh-ing and ah-ing and saying, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad,” as one does after a round of campfire tales. But me, on the other hand … I was deeply disturbed. Night terrors were a permanent part of my childhood from that day on.
I wrote this flash fiction about my ordeal (it appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Weird Tales, when Ann VanderMeer and Stephen Segal were at the helm.) It exaggerates only a little:
Six Waking Nightmares Poe Gave Me in Third Grade
by Mike Allen
1) At night, the light fixture above my bed stretched into a pale blue vulture eye, and the emaciated ghost of the man it belonged to swirled out, craggy face contorted in silent accusation as he reached for me, but
2) I didn’t dare turn my head, for fear of the man with the toothsome smile who would emerge from my closet and disassemble himself like a thing made of paper tabs and glue, and what he would look like as he kept crawling towards me. Yet
3) If I shut my eyes, the old man would never leave me alone, the pounding I heard not the pulse of blood in my ears but the beat of his heart, thumping, thumping, thumping, as he lay dismembered beneath my bed, and
4) If I kept my eyes shut, I would feel the deadly rush of air as that long curved blade swung from above, swept lower and lower as I lay wrapped and trapped in my blankets. I could never, ever sleep, and
5) If I did, I would wake up buried, faceless men dumping dirt on me from above as I screamed in my coffin, smothered and alone with the gold bugs that bit and the deathwatch beetles and hideous throngs of conqueror worms. But
6) None of it mattered, no matter how many nights I stayed awake and afraid, because soon the great raven that hid in every shadow would pluck out my pale and fluttering soul, and I knew then I would nevermore see happiness or Heaven.
Some of that love comes from survival strategy. My warped little brain wanted to tell me new horror stories every night, whether I liked it or not. Learning to appreciate horror gradually allowed me to convert that ordeal from something nerve-wracking into something fun. Nowadays I’m someone who will wake up from particularly vivid nightmare and think, Whoa! That was cool.
We humans seem to love touching the void while safely buckled in. At their most basic level, horror stories are like literary roller coasters, delivering all the sensation of a plunge to certain death without putting us in real danger. (The Halloween-specific equivalent to the experience would be your friendly neighborhood haunted house.)
The taste for this experience is perhaps closely related to the delight many take in the vicarious experience of love, desire and heartbreak that keeps the romance genres thriving. We enjoy living not just other lives, but other deaths. The (fictional) threat of death is often what keeps us glued to our seats in the movies, turning pages long after we should have gone to sleep. The horror story ups the stakes by waiving the hero exemption, raising the possibility that no one the reader cares for will reach the end of the ride.
Yet what’s fascinating and perhaps inexplicable is how many horror tropes hinge on tinkering with the inevitability of death. Things that won’t stay dead, the lich, the zombie, the ghost, the vampire, menace the living with a narrative charge more harrowing than tumors and drunk drivers. Perhaps it’s a backhanded way of making all us mortals comfortable with the status quo. Perhaps it’s a continuation of horror’s role as devil’s advocate, undermining the seductive fantasy of reunions with comrades and loved ones beyond the final veil.
And of course, the idea that death is mutable, for worse or for better, is at the heart of Halloween. How wonderful that horror gets its own holiday.
My own horror tales tend to take the darkest possible view: death is horrible, continuing after death is worse. And yet, I wouldn’t call my stories gloomy or depressing, and readers and reviewers of my new collection Unseaming haven’t said that either. That’s, I believe, because those who come to the book recognize that what I’ve done is built my own haunted roller coaster, the biggest, meanest one I can design as a connoisseur of all things horror. And I’m daring readers, when they finally step off the ride, to see if they can honestly say, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad…”
As it turns out, I love designing haunted houses.