Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.
“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?
I met Natanya Ann Pulley while getting my Bachelors in English at the University of Utah and she’s the only friend I’ve retained from my time at the U. I believe that attending creative writing workshops is a practice in self-control anywhere, but in Utah, there were so many times that we were analyzing Mormon-centric stories where writers applauded the virtues of chastity and it makes you feel a little insane. (I guess that kind of stuff spawns multi-million dollar franchises now, so what do I know?)
But Pulley‘s writing was dark in a way that felt new—and still does. Never have I met a writer who can mix menace, surrealism, Brian Evenson-ian unease, body horror, history, humor and mythology like she can. She’s written for A Bad Penny Review, District Lit, Ducts and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where her essay “An Open Letter To Johnny Depp’s Tonto” made the national rounds.
She is also a hell of an editor, having served as Fiction Editor for Quarterly West and currently South Dakota Review. In fact, she is usually the first person who sees anything that I write: Horror Business would not have been a possibility without her invaluable feedback six (!) years ago.
What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?
NAP: There’s a mason jar in a barn and it is filled with something red and oozing. Not the blood red that one might expect, but a glowing red like lava—actually now that I think about it, lava is orange. But it was glowing. It was red. It reminded me of lava.
That’s all I remember from the scene. Something caught on late night TV when I was 8. When I seldom had the clicker to myself. When I was still a kid to my 13 year old brother and his pack of friends turning all wolf and howl. Not the sexy and full-coated beasts, but the boy turning into something with wild hairs and rankness and fuel teen wolfs. I loved their world.
I hated mine. The only interesting thing about my 8 year old world was the doll my mom made for me. It was my size. My shape. My eye color. My hair color. We saw Poltergeist on video often and the doll was always that scary killer clown inside. I was afraid of an inner scary killer clown self. Nothing like those eventually wild and beating boys. My brother and I hid the doll away from us as often as possible. My mother or the nanny returned it regularly to my bed.
When I had the TV to myself in some late hour that only happens when one’s nanny is propped up on pillows in the other room talking to a boyfriend, I could sit around waiting for Duran Duran or Billy Idol to show up on my MTV. Or I could bypass the things I knew and head toward the channels that seemed out of my reach, even though back then there weren’t nearly as many as now.
That’s when I saw the jar of lava-but-red ooze. It was the devil. Or a demon. Or a possessed soul. I knew ghosts from Ghostbusters and Nancy Drew books. I knew monsters from sitting oh-so-quietly in the corner of my brother’s bedroom when I was given entrance to the latest D&D game (if I hardly breathed). I knew slashers from behind my dad’s hands—somehow always only hearing the cries of teens and never seeing the thing that caught them again and again. I knew vampires from the black and whites (not yet from love, Fright Night and Lost Boys were long away). But I didn’t know demons except for this jar.
Maybe I watched some of the scenes before and after. I remember a kid running from barn to house or house to barn. I remember night time and shadows. Scary music and that film-type from a decade earlier, not yet shiny. Hair and pant bottoms out of bounds. The strange squawking of over-acting and too long beats of people listening. And still listening. And that jar. For many years, I couldn’t sleep because I’d close my eyes after a day of yard-play and pushing about objects in my room and crying over having to learn how to read and play the piano. The cries of my new baby brother the soundtrack to that time. I’d close my eyes and there it would be: this thing left forgotten in the barn pulsing, never taking shape, like the weird swirl of atoms and stardust I use to see in Star Trek when they were beamed up. But this time, something different. Something too menacing in its continual pull around the glass of the jar. Like it might pull everything inward. The jar wouldn’t break or open, it would just disengrate one day and all the things I knew, including the monsters and evils that played out safely in front of me on the screen and the ones of childhood that play out in slow motion like watching a parent cry or being lost for three seconds at a carnival, would be swallowed by a new type of lava—one that didn’t burn, but undid us all. One that worked at any barriers we had. Angels, hymns, the strength in my brother’s arms when he’d pick me up after a fall, the soft fleece of my baby brother’s blanket, even the idea that I could walk safely through my yard or could imagine which stickers I wanted to buy next for my sticker collection. Something told me in those late hours lying in bed listening to the baby fuss and the strangled sound of my parent’s bedroom TV that nothing could ever be stored or contained. There was always—right then and right this now—a lure in our plasma to our own undoing.