The Nightmares That Look After Us

08 Apr
tarantula hawk

New Mexican Tarantula Hawk (not actually a flying tarantula, but just as scary)

I’m in the completion stages (what I like to call the “sand, buff, and polish phase”) of a speculative horror story, and it has led me to a number of introspections on the nature of fear.

Not just any fear; proper fear. The kind that leaves you checking your hair and looking over your shoulders for hours, or even days. The kind that is unsettling on a deep level. I have no interest in panicking people (although doing that in literature is a feat in itself), I want to make an imprint on them. It isn’t an interest in their detriment as sentient beings, not an insult or a mock. It’s the same interest that brought us beyond the small children we once were, frightened of bees or spiders or shadows, and into the adulthood we know today.

The great catch is that we’re only fundamentally afraid of the things that we admire. As a youth, I for one was afraid of spiders, terrified of them. I would freeze, too chilled to respond, to move, to dust them out of the way.

Why was I frightened of something so small and squirrelly as a spider? I live in North America, the only deadly spider out here is the black widow, and last I checked, the antivenom was even more deadly than the venom itself. You get bit, you have a ninety nine percent chance of surviving after mild to severe flu symptoms, and I’m not even rounding. Spiders are beautiful out here.

Was it the eight legs? Irrelevant. How about the sheen of the exoskeleton, or the soft fur? That ranged from cute to gorgeous. Maybe it was the multiple eyes, or the pincers? Not particularly. Looking back, it was the way they were so cool about everything. They were trappers. Everything they caught had a singular intention that was bent back against it, stuck in an invisible web, bitten, envenomed, and wrapped into a helpless ball. The spiders are the lords of their universe, they do not panic.

They have no need to panic.

As a small child, I could think of dozens of reasons and many incidents in which it was an excellent time to panic. I was a pro at it back then. Small, kind of scrawny and frail, short-winded (no one ever did figure out why); maybe I was at the top of the food chain but I wasn’t feeling it. And yet, today, I am no longer concerned with spiders, in fact I welcome their company. They’re intelligent, they’re pretty, they keep the place tidy, and unless I do something stupid like roll on top of one in the middle of the night (again), they aren’t generally inclined to bite me.

Today, in many ways, I now am a spider. I have learned from my nightmare, and adopted its ways. Among many native cultures, this would mean that I have a spirit connection with the animal, a belief that I am inclined to follow. After all, they’re adorable.

A proper monster, the kind that remains as a relic of the film or book, in the imaginations of its viewers, long after completion, must also on some level be beautiful and majestic. It must be the kind of creature that we are intimidated by, because we doubt that we can overcome it. It must be everything and everywhere, inescapable, and inevitable; it must become a god to us before the end of the story.

(No, the story I wrote does not involve spiders in any way; but the principle is the same.)

As an addendum, I am now on Twitter as @MickOberlin. Every now and then I’ll come up with the prose equivalent of a limerick, and throw it there instead. I politely encourage you to follow it.

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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Fiction, Meta-Media


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