Thursday, March 20, 2014


During my sophomore year of college, I was the fiction editor of a literary magazine published by a handful of English majors.  (I was also an entertainment editor for the school newspaper, but I soon found that juggling theatre, English, and journalism was way more than I needed and eventually left the paper.)  As a way of promoting the magazine, the chief editors organized a reading in the auditorium of the Liberal Arts building.  Several contributors read their pieces.  A couple of English professors did the same.  I was asked to close the show, so I wrote a Gothic romance entitled "The Journal" especially for the engagement.  I wore all black that night, and my narrative was introduced as a "love story of a different kind."  I'm not sure whether or not I had more fun writing that story or reading it.  I can still see the eyes of that audience wide with shock and awe.  Who is that crazy fucker?  Exactly the response I wanted.  If ever I have channeled the spirit of Poe, that truly was the moment.  And I've even locked myself in my room for hours at a time with the sole purpose of writing my own Poe story!  The most effective, by the way, was "The Mask," a haunting tale about elderly people kept as prisoners in a retirement home.  One inmate retaliates by silently peeling off his face.

"The Journal" is written in epistolary style (think Dracula) and is about a widower who misses his wife so much that he goes to the cemetery during a thunderstorm (of course) and digs up her body.  He takes her remains to their bedroom, and they spend the night together one last time.  True love never dies … kiss me sweet and all that.  Anyway, a couple of suspicious neighbors witness the affair (or at least his paranoia makes him thinks so), so he boards up the room in kind of an homage to Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily."  Eventually, his guilty conscience (read "The Tell-Tale Heart") causes him to reveal his secret to some townspeople who then lead an angry mob, armed with torches and pitchforks, to burn down his house.  His final entry describes how he (thinks he) hears his wife beckoning him as the drapes are consumed by flames and he smells his own burning flesh.

Stephen King once wrote that we love horror because we can.  It's the only time we're allowed to enjoy what we would elsewhere find contemptible.  We wouldn't want to see "The Journal" on the Evening News or read about it on CNN.  Perhaps, a better example is the movie Psycho.  The film is a masterpiece, but Eddie Gein was an insane murderer.  The devil on Earth.  Get the point?  Maybe there's an element of catharsis.  There's so much shit going on in the real world that it's nice to purge ourselves through the horrors in print (or on the screen) because we know they'll never truly be extinguished from the real world.

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