Chad VanGaalen

spooky lakeMolten Light

By Lara Shelton

Cory was the pretty one. It would have been easy to hate her, but she was also so very very nice. A little Christian girl, raised in a perfect nuclear family, with a gaze as open as uncomprehending as a three-week-old puppy’s. She was always the first girl awake in the morning and the first girl asleep at night. Never mind that her brother liked to cut the tails off of mice and set ants on fire. Cory herself was faultless.

The counselor who stayed in the room with us had passed out. The two of us who still keep in touch agreed at one point that she had been drinking. At one point, that is. Because the story only came out between us once, about ten years later, when we both had been drinking as well. When I tried to bring it up another time, without alcohol, I could feel things getting strained, and could tell that Ellen was going to shut down—that the conversation was going to go someplace our friendship wasn’t strong enough to go. And maybe I was a little scared of how it would make me look, the press on. Because Ellen clearly believed it was some sort of mass hallucination.

spooky lake 2

It started innocently, as these things do. Cory had the make-up bag, even though make-up was contraband at camp. Of course we all tried to get around it. What about moisturizer? What about moisturizer with a little color in it? What about Chap-stick with a little color in it? What about lip gloss? But Cory had sneaked her make-up bag in, and it was an innocent thing to do.

The campfire story that night, told to us by the counselor who had probably been drinking, had only been remarkable for how inappropriate it was. I distinctly remember the word screwing, and I remember the word whore. As in, “She was caught screwing her boyfriend in his mother’s bed,” and “the word whore found written on the corpse’s forehead, in his mother’s shade of lipstick.”

But other than that, it was pretty standard slasher movie fare. Girl has sex, girl gets murdered, girl haunts woods. We weren’t scared. At least I don’t think so. We were just amped up. And when the counselor passed out Mina remembered Cory’s make-up.

spooky lake 3

“Come on, Cory,” we all begged. “We know you have it.”

It took a little coaxing, but eventually she brought out the bag. She had hidden it at the foot of her sleeping bag. I remember the bag was as tidy and Christian as Cory herself, a white quilted affair with a gold Clinique label. The inside smelled of a life spent in spotless suburban bedrooms, department stores, and freshly-vacuumed SUVs.

In the absence of a mirror we ended up putting teal eyeshadow on each other, doing each other’s lip stick. The tickle of the mascara brush so close to the eye was the only hint of danger.

After a while we settled down. Cory fell asleep first, as she always did.

I think I had drifted off when I awoke to Lisa leaning over my bed. All of the girls were standing with her, their flashlight beams playing across their faces. “We’re going to make Cory up like a whore,” she said.

I had only the vaguest idea of what a whore looked like, but there was a rabid intensity to their expressions which made me think it would be a good idea to do whatever they said. We slathered on eyeshadow and lipstick. We went thick with the mascara. Cory was a heavy sleeper, and we all knew it, which was why we knew we could get away with it. At the time I remember feeling awful about it, but there was nothing I could do. Cory had somehow become the target of all my adolescent girl anger and frustration.

spooky cabin 2“When the mother came in and found them screwing,” Lisa said, “she called her a whore.” I found myself nodding. “Because she was.”

“She was a whore,” Mina said.

“And she slashed her throat.” Mina took the lipstick and drew a line across Cory’s neck. At that point the spell was broken. I knew we had crossed a line. Even Mina and Lisa knew it. Lisa tried to wipe the lipstick mark away with the sleeve of her night gown, but Cory stirred when she did this, and we knew we couldn’t finish.

After we turned the lights out again, I knew the murdered girl from the story was in the room with us. She was hiding behind the bunk beds. She was underneath the covers. She was in Cory’s body, and in my own body, as much as out in the woods. I kept going in and out of dreams—one where the door to the cabin opened, one where the mother stood over Cory, about to slash her neck, one where I was lost in the forest and couldn’t find my way back, but a figure in white kept leading me forward. When I got close, she turned and I saw her face in the glare of the flashlight: ghastly and clown-like under all of the eyeshadow and lipstick.

In the morning when I awoke Cory was still in bed, but her face was clean. It wasn’t a mystery how it happened. She always awoke before anyone else. She probably saw her face in the tiny compact, probably saw the slit across her neck, probably went to the water pump with her pristine white washcloth which was always perfectly folded on her little shelf, probably scrubbed all of the make-up off.

spooky cabinThe saddest part of this version of events is that she then got back into bed, and pretended to be asleep, with all of her betrayers surrounding her.

The other possibility is that none of this ever happened. Which is more or less what Ellen said when we talked about it ten years later: that we all did things to each other during those two weeks at camp, and that some of them were not nice, but that no single thing was less nice than any other single thing.

When I heard this song about five years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in an urban environment, surrounded by warm lights and warmer drinks. But I felt a sudden chill pass through me when I thought about Cory, slipping back into her bunk and knowing that we had all betrayed her. And I thought about that long night in and out of dreams, when I was both the innocent and the whore, both the victim and the murderer.

During the month of October MIDKIN will devote entries to music and themes in keeping with the season. Submissions along these lines are welcome. Click the submissions tab.

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Chad VanGaalen

Goblin

Theme to Suspiria

by Andrew Fort

m.c. escher

In the dream there was a courtyard, and a pile of apartments across the courtyard, as if the window I looked out and the distant apartments were all part of the same circular complex.

There was also a caterpillar (or was it?) running through the various apartments.

Also, the apartments were built at impossible angles, so it was very much like an M.C. Escher drawing. And inherent in this was the knowledge that the caterpillar was actually a team of burglars in cunning disguise, scaling the sides and the stairwells of the building in order to sneak in and out of apartments unnoticed.

But this was just a portion of the dream, which mostly centered around the sense of dread that this plague of robbers represented.

I was home alone. I was eleven.

In the dream my friend Jeff and I had somehow stayed too late at school and it had gotten dark when we weren’t looking. As we walked home through a nightscape haunted by neon, adults were busy doing adult things in all of the houses. You could sense it in the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the electrical charge we both felt was, but Jeff was very succinct: he listened intently, then told me: “I hear balls.” That seemed to clarify everything.

He wanted to stay and try to catch a glimpse of what was going on through the bedroom window; I decided I’d better get home. My parents had left for the night, and my mother had put my dinner on the windowsill which faced the courtyard: a metal bowl of the type that we used to feed the dogs, full of liverwurst and cooked ground beef. She had never been the best cook in the world, but this was a new low. I pushed it aside and watched out the window, as the caterpillar-burglars raided the apartments.

hot lava

 

I was beginning to feel agitated, so I decided that, since I was alone, I might as well play “hot lava.” I got up on the bed and pretended that the carpet was untouchably hot, and that if I fell in I would turn to ash. As I made my way around the room, past my denim record player, past my lamp whose light bulb still had melted crayon stuck to it, over the bed, past the little bookcase, and the closet with the mysteriously rattling metal doors, and back to the windowsill, I realized that I was not alone. As the lava roiled beneath and the burglar caterpillar prowled the Escher landscape outside, I noticed that sitting on the window sill was a disembodied head: bright red, like a devil, but not with the traditional black hair and goatee; in fact, aside from the redness, it looked rather angelic, with close-cropped pale blond hair and the handsome features of a baby-faced man.

It began talking to me, saying things I didn’t understand—adult things—and I remember terror mounting within me as I realized that what I really needed to do was shove the head into the roiling lava.

I woke up in one of those panic-sweats.

Despite its vividness, the dream was forgotten by the following morning.

But these things have a way of lurking subconsciously. When I returned home after college, I had learned many of the adult things that the devil-head had been whispering into my ear, but rather than answering my childhood questions, they only raised more questions. The world had become more baffling and my place in it more uncertain.

For one, I had realized that there were two kinds of writers: writers-for-hire who recognized their status as writers meant that their talent was to be exploited for material gain, and those who wrote because they were unable not to. The first type seemed to me more practical, and it seemed like they had a clearer path forward to a successful, happy adulthood. The second type often ended up poor, miserable, and alcoholic, and quite possibly laboring under a delusion of talent. One of the baffling adult questions on my mind was whether or not the fact that my work had been rejected in bulk meant that I was of the second type.

suspiria redAbout this time I saw the film Suspiria. Almost immediately, the dream came back to me. In fact, the theme music, and the film in general, seemed to be an elaboration of that dream. It was as if Dario Argento and I had been to the same vacation spot in hell and brought back different postcards. When I saw the girl running through the forest, and when I saw Stefania Casini fall into the room filled with razor wire, and when I heard the Goblins howling on the soundtrack, something inside me unlocked.

Guided by this music, I found myself laboring over a screenplay which eventually became a novel, in the same bedroom out of whose window I had watched the Escher landscape. For better or worse, it was the first time I was able to follow a novel-length vision to completion.

As it turns out, writing is a lot more difficult than dreaming. And publishing that writing is even harder. But it was at that point that I knew irrevocably which kind of writer I was. The important thing is that I did it in that very same bedroom, and when I look back on all of the complex emotions of childhood, and the sometimes baffling and tortuous beauty of the everyday world, I think I wouldn’t have it any other way.

During the month of October MIDKIN will devote entries to music and themes in keeping with the season. Submissions along these lines are welcome.

Goblin