A Guest Post by Author Joseph Brassey
My son lies in his crib, his breathing even and rhythmic. I watch him. I do not lay beside his bed anymore, like I did in the first few months after he was born. I do not fear that he will suddenly stop breathing. His mother is asleep in the other room. She has work tomorrow. I am not in bed yet because I have the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is wrong. I hear my son fidgeting and whimpering like he always does when he’s waking from a disturbed dream or a fit of gas. I bend at the waist, leaning over his crib to check. I see a drop of red on the mattress, marring the sheets. “Shit,” I think, “He’s scratched himself.”
My son abruptly screams. I pick him up without thinking, on reflex. His screaming face looks back at me as I pull his hands away from it. He has no eyes.
I haven’t actually had that dream. The fears come to me when I’m awake. I sometimes think I write these sorts of things down expressly to jettison the images from my head so I don’t have to keep them rolling around in my brain. For years, my wife has asked me why when sitting in a car looking out the window I’ll suddenly give a minor - seemingly involuntary - convulsion. It’s because I just looked at a barbed wire fence and was struck by the mental image of a rolled spool of the stuff being wrapped around my body, and then spun off by some sort of vast sewing machine. Everyone I think has that primal urge when they see the fire to plunge their hands into it out of pure curiosity. The weird thing I’ve found about being a writer is that indulging that urge in the hypothetical brain-space of creativity doesn’t actually make it go away.
Fear is in the mundane, I think. I always hear that it’s in the cosmic unknown, but I think this disregards the extent to which most of our night terrors are rooted in the ordinary aspects of our life. The scissors on the counter that we could theoretically perforate our hands with because I wonder what it would feel like! I don’t consider myself a horror writer even a little, but there’s this sort of macabre fascination that drives my work on some days. It’s all the needles that I haven’t pricked myself with, pushing pushing pushing against skin that’s terrified but also kind of curious. The gift of storytelling to the teller is the freedom to conceptualize the unthinkable on paper and act the mad scientist on their hapless characters. An unmarked page is this beautiful space full of white walls on which we may paint with whatever colors and whatever materials we desire. Last week it was the Teal and Fuchsia of True Love. This afternoon it’s the fire-engine red of staccato screaming.
Or maybe writers are all just closeted serial killers.
Joseph Brassey lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, son, and two cats. In his spare time, he trains in, and teaches, medieval martial arts to members of the armed forces. He has lived on both sides of the continental United States and has worked everywhere from a local newspaper to the frame shop of a crafts store to the smoke-belching interior of a house-siding factory with questionable safety policies.