I don’t write horror, not usually. I like psychological horror, but I’m not real interested in gore-slasher-horror. I like stories with an ounce of wonder to them, no matter the main genre, so when it comes to horror I tend to lean toward horror-fantasy (haha, is there such a thing?) that takes wonder and spins it up with a dash of super-creepiness.
I wrote a short story a few years ago called “Nerves” for a contest and then later I put it in the zine I helped create. “Nerves” was inspired by a rereading of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charolette Perkins Gilman and the Maggie Gyllenhaal movie Secretary. The idea of a girl being let out of the hospital before she’s actually cured intrigued me. I thought there could be a great horror story there.
I like “Nerves” but it isn’t a story I’d let my grandma read. Or my coworkers. It’s weird because as a writer I am sometimes worried about how I will be perceived by the content I write. When I write horror I am even more aware of this. I can come up with some pretty twisted, psychologically creepy stuff, but will that mirror back on me? Will people think I am twisted and creepy because I can spin a good horror yarn?
I don’t know. I hope not. I think most people would be shocked to find out I lead a pretty boring, video gaming playing, book reading, cat snuggling life. I don’t have a dirt floor basement or anything. I don’t know 101 ways to torture your friends. I just know how to put words together that will scare you.
I wrote “Nerves” with the intent that the story would be kind of creepy and sad where the main character is this victim whose life will never be like yours or mine. At the end, she shifts from victim-protagonist to villain-protagonist and I was really interested in exploring that kind of shift.
I do not usually go for the big disturbing finale. I like my endings to be a little warmer than that. But with “Nerves” I wanted things to get uncomfortable and yet I wonder if people will read it and think, “Wow that Sommer is kind of twisted.” Well, no, Sommer’s not. It is just one story with a shocking ending. I good horror tale and nothing more.
What do you think? Do you think horror writers must be twisted to be able to write about scary, disturbing things? Or are they just great spinners of tales that just happen to keep us awake at night? Does this idea that the content of our stories somehow speaks about the content of the author?
Click on the More button if you’d like to read “Nerves.” It isn’t very long, there’s no gore, but there is a twist ending that is a lot more shocking than my usually horror/fantasy stuff I’ll be posting later this month.
Thank you for reading and Happy October everyone!
When they told me I was going home, I didn’t believe them. They said things like “You’re doing so well!” and “You must be very excited to go home.” And then they’d get so confused when all I could do was smile, a little, in their general direction.
Like I ought to be throwing myself a parade every time someone brought it up.
They were wrong about me. I was not ready to go home, but they all seemed so sure and I didn’t have the heart to disappoint them.
My room, my home for two years now, is yellow with pink hibiscus painted on the walls. The yellow is faded to a soupy cornflake color and the flowers aren’t so pretty but it has been comforting to stare at for hours and hours, getting lost in the patterns when my eyes got weak and fuzzy and the drugs kicked in.
During my last few days I have been thinking of nothing but the normal people on the outside with their homes and fences, teevees and computers. Oh god their computers. And the internet. All the people in the world strung together, locked into a hive mind, sharing thoughts, moments, ideas, pictures – the constant back and forth personal private strings of text between every person in the whole world…
I vomited for twelve minutes. Shortest one yet. Maybe I was getting better.
The broken minds of the hospital would never join the hive, plug in and download. At least all the crippling madness around me was consistent. There were no teevee guides needed to tell you what channel Martin the drooler was tuned to on any given day or what planet the drugs helped Samuel explore each night. We could live here in peace of regularity and I was terrified of the normalcy and pacing of the outside world. That disgusting place overwhelmed me. How could they think I was ready to go back out?
Dr. Steve came to see me first and give me a once over, asked me about how I felt and when I tried to tell him that I wasn’t ready all I could say was “fine” and I worried that I was already logging onto the hive mind and I got sick again. He told me it was nerves. He said he guessed I was pretty excited about going shopping.
I was most certainly not excited about going shopping.
* * *
My parents came at noon and hugged and kissed me. They filled out many forms and with very little to-do, we were whisked out to the car, me in the back seat with a seat belt on and my bags, filled mostly with two years worth of arts and crafts thrown in the trunk.
It was October, the month mothers and daughters made crafts of dried orange and yellow colored leaves and gourds. It was the time of year everyone found it necessary to remark on how beautiful the trees were. Constantly. As if no other topic of conversation existed during October but to make mention of the colors of the damn trees.
The irony of course, was that these pretty things, the trees and the gourds, were all rotting, decaying and dying. Winter was coming. October made for pretty death and sweet decay.
The car we were in was new. I had never ridden in it before. I knew that waiting at home would be pieces of furniture and pictures and knickknacks I did not recognize. There was a baby brother, my parent’s attempt at a normal child, whom I had never held, that I had no attachments to, waiting at home with a babysitter.
We had to stop the car twice so I could vomit on the side of the road. My mother shushed my nerves and told me I’d love my baby brother. He’d be just the thing to take my mind off my nerves.
My nerves. The new, fashionable word for my crazy. You could calm nerves with scented candles and bath beads. Crazy was too elusive and more embarrassing.
The color of the house was new, taupe where there used to be navy. Every house on the block was a shade or two off taupe, but all matched in tone. I thought the color was completely bland and I longed for the yellow cornflake walls and pink hibiscus of my room in the house of madness.
The house of normalcy was a modular home, built in a development called Villa Rosa. The house was only three years old and my family were the only ones to have ever lived in it. I hated its guts.
The babysitter was an aunt on my mother’s side who I had never really known well though she appeared in many photographs with me. She was in the living room, sitting on the micro-suede couch (in chocolate with brick piping. Very daring, mom.) Behind the couch the walls were an understated ecru and featured a few select pictures of my youthful normalcy (in black and white) and many pictures of the new baby (in color) lined the mantle. Most of the furniture belonged to a grandparent or great-grandparent; antiques often gushed over as being of superior quality and gorgeous patinas. Oh we were so proud.
The aunt tried to hand me the little bundle of boy but I refused and turned my head in revulsion. It smelled faintly like the medical wing of the hospital, urine, sour milk, and alcohol wipes, and yet had a freshness that was unlike anything I’d ever encountered.
My mother said my nerves were shot from the transition and that I’d probably be up for it tomorrow.
My aunt said “Oh her poor nerves.” And they all nodded sagely, wisely. My father took my bags up to my room and I followed placid, trying not to notice the holly colored stair runner over the new wood floors that looked freshly waxed. I could actually smell the wax.
“I don’t think I should be here,” I confided in my father as he left my things in my bedroom which was not really my bedroom since my mother had cleaned and redecorated since my escape. The new bedspread was pretzel brown. “I’m not ready to integrate. There are voices…”
“Sweetheart don’t trouble yourself anymore. You’re home and the doctors say you’re going to be fine and you’ve got your mom and me and Scotty who will love you for who you are. Maybe you could even start taking some community college classes, something to get your mind off that hospital and all those doctors.”
But that was the last thing I wanted, to get my mind off the hospital and its doctors. I longed for yellow wallpaper and decided on the spot that I’d get yellow wall paper or they’d have to send me back.
I sat in my room for hours, unable to unpack, staring at the crème walls but there were no patterns, no soft weak eyes, no faces to comfort me.
* * *
At dinner I asked my mother about yellow wallpaper. She laughed uncomfortably and looked at me as if I were…crazy…and said “Don’t be ridiculous! Yellow wallpaper indeed. We just had your room painted, it’s a better color than yellow for walls. Oh honey no one paints their walls yellow, it’s just not done.”
“But I really like yellow. It comforts me. In the hospital I had a yellow wall. I just think it would be nice to have something around that I’ve been so used to seeing. Maybe that will help calm my nerves…”
And the baby…what was its name?…spit up his dinner and laughed about it and my mom giggled and patted his head and I thought that was pretty silly. Whenever anyone spit up at the hospital they were gently scolded and it was a big to-do to remove them from public viewing as to not encourage others to spit up their food as well.
“I don’t want to hear anymore about yellow walls. Maybe we can get you a yellow vase or a yellow picture frame. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
I did not think it would be nice at all. It took all my energy not to throw my food and upend the table because they wouldn’t listen, they were never listening, I was surrounded by a taupe kingdom with smart shades of carpet and table runners that matched the curtains and salt and pepper shakers that hinted at clasSICAL VICTORIAN AMBIANCE AND QUEEN ANNE CHAIRS THAT REFLECTED THE DELICATE CURVE OF THE BANISTER….
It took me 3.4 seconds thanks to the well placed aesthetically pleasing bathroom between the dining room and living room to reach the toilet and vomit.
* * *
That night I laid in my bed for hours or days worth of darkness listening to the quiet ticking of the alarm clock that you can only hear if you’re very silent and listen very hard in its general direction. I listened to it and stared at my crème walls and yearned for them to bleed yellow right down over the crown molding and pool on the pretzel brown carpet. It was Stainmaster carpet, so it would clean without headache to the resourceful wife and mother who would find it in the morning. I willed the bleeding with all my might, but it never came. Just endless browns, endless crèmes, endless streets of consistency.
I would never be okay here. I would never fit in. The voices would come back and drive me into the dark cool places of my head and they would all start to panic again and my mother would cry and they’d have to come up with another reason for me to be gone. Maybe they’d send me to a fancy French college or maybe I’d be assigned to an exotic country with the Peace Corps. Any place but the hospital for crazy people and mentally retarded psychopaths. My nerves just wouldn’t cut it as an excuse anymore.
I could get back there. I could do something. Something that would convince them I was beyond reintegration. They would know I was happy only in the room with the yellow wallpaper and they would be happy to keep me, knowing I was in a better place. I’d get all the macaroni crafts I could stand and I could be a real help with patients like Drooling Martin and the Wandering Anita and Jesus Our Lord of room 426.
That’s it! I’d show the hospital I belonged only to them through an act of great psychosis. They would be flattered by my sacrifice and take it as a symbol of true madness worthy of the best doctors and years and years of therapy and medication and the comforting hands of nurses and orderlies.
I found my excitement had brought me wandering out of my room, in my robe and into the hallway. There was a bathroom across the hall, a considerate placement for guests, but I did not go to the bathroom. I did not feel sick, only exhilaration at the freedom stretching out before me in all the shades of yellow.
My freedom floated me down the hall into the room of teddy bears and blue carpet with the cherry oak changing table and matching dresser. The silk drawstring of my robe would do nicely, a pretty and tasteful choice. My mother would approve.
The baby…what was its name?…made a precious little noise with the tightening of each loop. With each loop was a promise made to be the best patient I could be, to never give them reason to send me away again. I couldn’t wait to go back to my friends! I laughed and squeezed and told the bundle of joy about how very much I appreciated his help and maybe he could visit me there when he grew up.
When I heard my parents wake up in the next room and lights started to go on around me, I knew it was almost over. I was about to go back home where I would be safe from my nerves, this normalcy, this blessed kingdom of taupe.