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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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terror

Target

She thought, Am I real?

The hard wood of the chair dug into her ass – it felt as if her bones could reach right through her muscle and skin. The bowl of curry – once steaming hot – had begun to cool, untouched, before her. So she supposed she had to be real, at least for this moment.

He was still talking, the words a dull drone of sound, familiar and repugnant.  Was this really her friend?  She had asked him to stop so many times.  But he didn’t.  Instead, each request had only seemed to spur him on.  She wanted to not be sitting across from him.  Wanted to be home, wanted to be safe.  Feeling trapped.  Unsafe, not seen, not heard.

Targeted.

She pulled herself back into the present, willing her gaze to fall anywhere but on the men at her table.

“…..oops, she heard me,” he was saying to the man next to him.

She could feel her face redden, the muscles tightening into a grimace she knew no one would see.  Could see.  Her lungs felt caught in a vise, the pressure a hard weight on her sternum.  She couldn’t breathe.

Can this just please be over? Should I stay? Should I leave? If I leave, they’ll mock me. If I don’t, this will not. Stop.

She had always felt safe here, before.  It was not her preferred choice of hang-out, but even home could be too much of a good thing.  One needed to get out, to experience life, to interact with new people.  To be in an environment that was not familiar.

She was beginning to regret that decision.  Being solitary only hurt when you wanted love.

Were these people her friends?  Couldn’t they see that something was wrong?  Or was she to blame for his words?

How could she be surrounded by people she knew and still feel so alone?  Would they take his word that he was joking?  Because of course he wasn’t.  She knew.  This knot in her stomach, the rock on her chest, her constant checking for escape routes told her otherwise.  She was his target, he had chosen her, and she didn’t understand why.

But this other feeling.  That one she did understand.

Isolated.

Next installment: Isolate

So, I was reading my favorite Shirley Jackson novel…..

…….the terrifying, subversive ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, while waiting for a friend at my local wine bar. I was finishing up my dinner and was completely engrossed with Jackson’s prose.

“Hello!” came a voice at my elbow and I jumped with a yell, that immediately turned to giggles from both of us. I love scary stories, but don’t often get spooked by them.

This startled reaction was a first for me, as any and all who know me know that I am a lover of horror and supernatural fiction and non-fiction. It also reminded me of how Robert Wise had a similar action while reading the book.

In the audio commentary of the The Haunting (1963), Wise recounts how he was reading the book in his office. He had just gotten to a particularly tense scene when writer Nelson Gidding (who was working in the office next door) burst into the room. Robert Wise “jumped about three feet off the chair” (1) and realized that if the book could inspire such a reaction, then it should make a fine picture.

True horror doesn’t come from gross out imagery that is shoved into our faces – granted, it makes for a squeamish, shocking effect, but it’s also desensitizing. Horror comes from fear of the unknown, that which hides in the shadows and cannot be fully seen. What we can’t see is far more frightening than what is seen.

Shirley Jackson knew this – in reading The Haunting of Hill House, one is never entirely sure if the house is actually haunted or if it is Eleanor who is the haunting. This ambiguity is what lingers in our minds, why we can’t let go of it and why it haunts us. It’s also why some stories, like Jackson’s novel, take on a life of their own and become part of our language.

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(1) quote from the audio commentary by Robert Wise

Recommended Reading:

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
A Head Full of Ghosts – Peter Tremblay
‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
Hell House – Richard Matheson
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

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