The Intimacy of Monsters
By Hailey Piper
I adore cosmic horror, but it isn’t what I usually write. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve penned a couple, but I’m happier leaving that scale of world-ending dread to P.L. McMillan and Caitlin Kiernan. I don’t connect the entropic, inevitable death of all things in a fearful way. Cosmic horror delights me.
Personal horror gets under my skin. The little, everyday injustices and horrors that are easy to miss. They could be happening right next door. And through those come the intimate monsters.
When an intimate monster creeps into your life, sometimes you aren’t even aware of what you’ve met. They might have been there all along. And if they get you, the world keeps turning. An intimate monster can shatter a life and if you’re lucky, at best someone might stop and look for a moment before carrying on with theirs.
Those are the monsters I write, because they reflect my experiences.
I remember reading an article, I don’t know how long ago or where I found it, that talked about brainstorming monsters by mashing together human and animal parts, different aspects and sizes. It reminded me of playing with the Creature Creator in the 2007 PC game Spore.
Staring in confusion at my computer screen, I said aloud, “What about the people who scare you?”
What about the boy at high school who tried to set my hair on fire?
What about the man who cornered me near the campus restrooms, his words praising me, his eyes and body language saying other, scarier things?
What about my mother? When she finished shouting at me and my siblings once, she said that wasn’t her who’d been shouting, but another woman who looked like her, a woman who would come into our house. In the daylight, I rolled my eyes—excuses. But at night, I worried what would happen if that false mother came into our house while I slept.
The worst thing about intimate monsters is when no one takes them seriously. When we’re little, the monster under the bed is dismissed as imagination. “You’re just tired.” When we’re older, scary people are dismissed just as easily. The person you’re trying to tell might smile, make a distracting joke, but press the point and they’ll turn away. They don’t want to know. I think every horror fan identifies with the teenagers who try to warn parents or police about the Blob and Freddy Krueger, but if it goes beyond identifying, blossoms into outrage? Then you’ve probably been there.
And if you insist, then congratulations. Now you’re the ghost. No one wants to see you if you only want to tell them that polite, friendly person they know is actually a monster. It reminds them that there is horror happening everywhere. Someone you look to as background characters in your life could be the monster of someone else’s.
I don’t find the unstoppable force that threatens our species a touchable monster. Their carnage is too big. I’ve seen weak monsters with ugly hearts, the ones that find someone vulnerable and make their life miserable. Intimate monsters; the ones I’ve met.
With Pride Month, I’m reminded how listening and togetherness are the stakes and garlic and silver bullets against intimate monsters. They can do what they do because they do it in secret and often to one isolated person. When we’re open to each other, stand together, intimate monsters have nothing.
For a while, I wasn’t sure anyone wanted to hear about my intimate monsters. I thought they would be seen as bothersome, the way bringing them up in real life can be seen. I believed I was supposed to streamline what I wrote, and because I didn’t know how to do that, I spent years not writing.
“Write what you know.” I’ve seen this misconstrued as, “Only write your areas of expertise” when really it means, “Write who you are.” There is no one else to tell those stories. I took a long time to understand that our every moment is a story, each memory a haunted house to be explored.
It’s our personal horror that brings authenticity to the stories we tell. The box must be opened. I let out my intimate monsters, the ones who aren’t in my life anymore, the ones who changed into better people, the ones who are fusions of various predators I’ve met. There’s significance to baring your heart on the page. It’s been said that no one else can write your weird; it’s all you.
I say the same of the intimate monsters. If there is a monster who has only been a monster to one person, that is the person in the world who knows that story. It’s one thing to face the dread that awaits us all, but it’s another to be personally haunted. All the people in the world, but they spent their horror on you. What could be more intimate than that?
Raised in the creepy woods of New York, Hailey Piper earned a BA in Literature and now writes horror and dark fantasy. She is the author of The Possession of Natalie Glasgow and An Invitation to Darkness from Demain Publishing. Her next novella, Benny Rose: The Cannibal King, will release from Unnerving in early 2020. She’s an avid reader, gatherer of much too many short fiction anthologies and single-author collections, and lives a stone’s throw from a library for emergency book grabs. Find her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays and on Instagram via @haileypiperfights.