Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Today I have been thinking about genre in fiction. Not the nature of genre, its benefits and limitations as a means of categorisation, or the merits or lack thereof with regards to so-called literary fiction, but rather, what it means to me personally. Specifically with regard to the principal categories of speculative fiction (SF), namely: science fiction, fantasy, and horror; what I see as being the core elements of these labels, and what I like and dislike about them. I have also been thinking about crime fiction, but I’ll write about that another time.

There have been many arguments put forward about the nature of genre categorisations and the various ways in which they overlap and fertilise one another. There is a great deal of deliberate hybridisation and deconstruction of the boundaries of genre. It is not my wish to add further to this discussion at this point or to deny the imprecise and nebulous nature of genre tags. As I say, I’ve just been thinking about the (slightly bizarre) way the essence of these various genres translate to me. And why I might choose to explore, whether as a writer or reader, a particular area.

Now, anybody that knows me will know that horror is the genre I am drawn to explore most fully. It is my first love, in fiction terms, and I’ve read far more horror than any other genre. It is also the genre which forms the backbone of my own writing. I don’t agree with those who take the view that horror is simply a tone which can be applied to any work of fiction. That it is not a genre, but a stylistic or thematic tool defined by the intention to provoke, fear, dread or terror. I think it is those things, and that, yes, any work of fiction can have these “horror” elements, but I think to look at it solely in these terms is to disregard the fact that it has acquired the trappings of a genre, with convention, and history, and tropes that can be grouped together. And if we are to say that horror is not a genre on this basis, then we can say science fiction is not a genre, but just the application or exploration of science or scientific thinking in fiction form. And so on. So, if we accept there is something we might recognisably call the horror genre, then what is it? For some it is fiction about vampires or zombies, for others it is ghost stories and Gothic fables; some will see it as slasher fiction, with much gore and violence. I don’t know precisely what horror fiction is. I have some understanding of what it is in a historical sense; its relationship to and evolution from the Gothic tradition, and of the various arguments about its nature. But really, I only know what it is for me. Before I go further, I should say, I have a very ambivalent relationship with the term horror, because many of the things that might commonly be assumed to be at the core of horror fiction, I don’t much like or care for — juvenile tales of exploitative (often sexualised) violence, for one. And fiction defined purely by its intention to gross out the reader, for another.

Horror fiction for me is firstly and foremost the fiction of that which is hidden. Almost always with some accompanying aspect of, yes — fear, dread or terror. Certainly with unease. Disquiet. What if that which should properly stay buried finds a way to surface? What if we uncover that which is hidden, and the truth is more than we can handle? But it is this element of concealment that is more central to me than the fear element. It is really a sub-categorisation of mystery fiction in my mind. Allow me to divulge the weird (and let’s not enter into the murky world of weird fiction, and its various categorisations…) nature of my thinking.

I have been involved in various ways over the years with the study of shamanism (another term we could have a very long discussion about) and one of the things that is central to much of the material on shamanism, broadly speaking, is the idea of a tripartite cosmos; a middle world (this one, our earthly realm), an upper world (heaven or heavens, usually layered), and a lower or underworld (a chthonic realm of ancestors, the dead, etc). We could also simply say, Heaven, Earth, and Hell, or we might say, if we are that way inclined, superconscious, conscious, and subconscious and/or unconscious minds. You get the idea.

Now, because my brain is weird, it goes: aha! Horror — the fiction of the underworld. Hades’ scribblings. The stuff that looks at all those things buried away or that we would prefer were buried away. Things that we may obsess over, but that except in comfortable doses for a “thrill,” we prefer to keep at arms-length. Things that are not to be discussed in polite company. Stuff like death. And nasty secrets. And vampires that want to drink our blood (unless we think this is sexy, which — oh boy — is definitely a whole other conversation). Sex, though; that’s definitely there in various ways. There’s the whole Eros/Thanatos thing for a start. Not to mention that sex can involve, for various reasons, a lot of hiding away out of fear, and a lot of secrets we would like to see buried. And these are the things that I like about horror. This is what interests me, and what I seek out in the horror I read, and also why I am interested in writing, primarily, in a broadly horror framework. Because, basically, I find rummaging around in the dark caverns of the psyche fascinating. To my mind, no genre is better placed than horror to explore the hidden elements of society. At its best it can be deeply insightful, satisfyingly philosophical, and bloody unnerving to boot. What’s not to love? Well as I’ve already said, the element that sees the idea of horror as being all about the gore, or the adolescent shock aspects, but otherwise it’s all good (or bad. Whatever).

In the same vein, I see science fiction as being very much the fiction of this world. By which I mean the middle sphere (yeah, I know Middle-Earth comes under fantasy, smart arse), not just Earth. The entire manifest universe (or universes) is the middle world. Jupiter is part of the middle world in shamanic cosmology just as much as Earth, so is Alpha Centauri. Although the planets and stars are taken as a symbol of the upper world (we’ll get to the heavens and upper world in a minute). All that exists in the physical realm as we understand it is of the middle world in shamanic thought. And I say science fiction is the fiction of the middle world because I see it as about ideas (as is all speculative fiction) explored through the lens of scientific application, even if those ideas venture into the metaphysical. In other words, scientific methodology operates in a philosophically materialist framework; fiction that has as its basis the exploration of ideas, themes, or outcomes utilising the tools or framework of scientific methodology is materialist fiction. Ergo, its middle world fiction. And so, contrary to the ideas of many *waves at Margaret Atwood*, it’s also a kind of realist fiction in my mind.

Which means (I know, big surprise and shit) fantasy must be the fiction of the upper world(s). Mmm. The Jungian types reading this may well (quite legitimately), say, hang on there, fantasy is mythic fiction most often, and myth is the realm of the collective unconscious, archetypes and all that do-dah. I would agree. I’m nodding with you vigorously right now. But, but, BUT… the unconscious is the underworld, right? Isn’t that what you said? Indeed *strokes beard sagely* I did say that. At this point I could explore the way in which the deepest level of the underworld, and the uppermost heaven, wrap around and touch each other (in a purely platonic fashion, you understand – hand-holding at best); a kind of, the deeper inside you go, the further outside you go, thingy. But that’s just going to take us to a whole other level, let’s stick to the basics. Fantasy is in my mind primarily the fiction of myth and archetype. But myth serves principally as moral instruction. When Socrates and Plato got a little irritated with the endless repetition of the various stories about the goings-on among the Greek Gods, and announced, it’s all MYTH – god(s)dammit, they were not, as some thought, saying the Gods are not real. They were, rather like Buddha in relation to the Hindu Gods, saying their reality or non-reality is irrelevant, what is relevant is what we perceive to be true without questioning. What is the source of the stories we are told? And how does that influence our values, our behaviour, our choices, etc. It was about moral instruction, and the questioning or lack therof. It was about the quest for truth. Which is the realm of heaven, of the gods, and of myth. And because of the transcendent universal nature of truth as an absolute (as opposed to relative truth), not limited to the archetypes of Jung’s collective unconscious, but expanded into the realms of the superconscious; an exalted state, enlightenment if you will, which it could be said is the ultimate goal and purpose of (true) moral instruction. All of which again exists in shamanic terms in the upper world, that is to say it is accessed via the upper world, and in fiction terms, in my weird bonce, in the realm of fantasy.

So there you have it. A little strange, I know, but when I look at the three core genres of speculative fiction, I see horror as exploring the hidden psychological underworld, and the fear associated with that; I see sci-fi as exploring the ideas of where our thinking in scientific terms might lead us in this world and beyond, and I see fantasy as exploring the mythic moral landscape. There is in truth a lot more nuance and ifs, buts, wheretofores, whys, and maybes, than this piece would suggest, but by linking the core SF genres to my understanding of the three worlds of shamanic cosmology, I have a kind of shamanic mind map that I use to explore genre.

©Jasonbaki 2015

Ghost – Poetry

Posted: August 17, 2015 in Horror, Poetry
Tags: , , ,

Image result for morgue corpse stock images

Ghost

A sudden seizure sits you upright
Summoning you to awareness
Now you are gripped by fear
At the forms that appear
Through the midnight umbra
Silent and staring
You gather your thoughts
Make sense of it all
This hazy reality
This dread-filled chasm
You scramble for clarity
Evoke rationality
Yet when it is said
That it’s all in your head
It doesn’t explain
The terrible pain
The longing you felt
When they said you were dead.

Originally published in Horrorbound online

©2010 Jason Baki

The old tree groaned.

Perhaps in the knowledge it would soon be an accomplice to murder.

The victim, hands and feet bound, squirmed, struggled, and made panicked noises from behind a tight-fitting gag. The others sat him down at the base of the tree. One of them, the largest, out of breath from the effort it had taken to carry him, pulled the victim’s legs towards himself and then threaded them under the arch of a thick outgrowing root. A green pointed boot came away in his hand. He considered pushing it back onto the foot from which it had escaped but decided to toss it aside instead.

“Aw! He’s lost a boot. And look his ear on the left side has nearly come off,” he said to nobody in particular.

“You got the rope?” Said another. This one tall, and thin even with the black hooded robe he wore. He was addressing the third member of their amateur cabal.

“Yeah I got the rope, but I’m not climbing the tree, so you had better be good at tying knots.”

“Just give me the rope.”

“It will soon be dark.” It was the large one again, his breathing beginning to steady. He was looking at the cloudless and reddening sky.

“This had better work or we’re deep in it,” said the third, handing the rope to the tall one.

Royce, by unspoken consent their leader, seized the rope impatiently. “It will work. Why wouldn’t it? I know they come here, I’ve seen them.” He gathered the rope together with growing glee, and smirking widely, showed it to the one whose neck would soon wear it. The victim looked away.

“Just because you’ve seen them it doesn’t mean they’re going to respond. And even if they do respond it might not be in the way we expect.”  He was staring at the grass covered mounds on the hillside. His name was Hugh. He spoke with the same soft Welsh accent that had echoed through those valleys for generations.

“They’ll come, and they’ll respond as we expect. Just shut up.” Royce set the gathered rope on the ground and clambered out of his robe. He was wearing a dark t-shirt with a Celtic Knot design on it, faded jeans, and hiking boots. “You boys had better get your robes out of the bag as well.” He surveyed the tree looking for the best spot from which to begin his climb, and for the best place to fasten the rope.

“You know, we probably don’t need the props,” said the larger one. Raymond was his name, but they called him Redmond on account of his hair colour. “I mean, if this is going to work the way we think, all they really care about is the sacrifice.” He was studying the back of Royce who had now moved to the base of the tree and was testing for hand-holds.

“We need to do it the way it has always been done, and the book said they had pointy ears like an elf, and green clothing, and the others wore black hooded robes. Therefore we got the black robes and Harry has the elf costume.”

Harry, meanwhile, struggled trying to bring his feet out from under the root of the tree.  He was tired, and his struggles were weak. He had been drugged earlier and was still groggy. He leaned back against the base of the tree shutting his eyes as his head began to swirl.

“I never knew I’d end up being one of those insane murderer types you read about,” Hugh Said. He was still looking in the direction of the mounds. The sun was setting behind them, its red-orange glow a dying halo of contrasting colour against the lush green covering of the mounds.  “The weird thing is, I feel normal. I always imagined that if I went insane I’d at least feel different, even if I thought I was sane. Now I think I’m insane, but I feel…”

“Just shut the hell up will you. I’m trying to concentrate. Anyway, it’s not murder. It’s different,” Royce said. He was now a little way up the tree and poised above Harry who had sloped backwards, his eyes closed.

Harry began to hum. The sound clear despite his gag.

Ignoring Harry, Royce said, “I’ll need you to pass me up the rope in a second.”

Harry’s humming grew noticeably louder.

“What’s going on with him?” Redmond crouched a little and peered at his former friend. “He’s humming a tune, and he looks all delirious and happy. Sort of.”

Royce sat himself on the base of a thick branch which seemed ideal for the purpose he intended. “Leave him be, Redmond. It’s just his way of coping. Better he’s humming than bloody well screaming.”  Royce tested the branch, it seemed sturdy enough. “Pass me the rope.”

Hugh turned around and trundled to where Royce had put the rope. “We’re all completely insane.” He mumbled to himself.

Royce edged forward and took the rope from Hugh who held it out somewhat reluctantly. Hugh had his eyes on Royce, but his ears were listening to Harry. He started to feel light-headed.

Royce bagan tying the rope around the branch. A rising wind raised more murmurs from the tree as he did so. Royce fixed his attention on making good the knot. He did not notice Hugh and Redmond fall to the ground.

“Right, I think that should do the trick.” He gave the rope a tug — it held. “Excellent.”

Royce looked down to where his friends had been standing and were now splayed on the ground. His self-satisfied smile quickly replaced first by surprise and then anxiety.

“What the hell?” He said.

Harry was swaying now, rocking back against the trunk of the tree, and smiling visibly, his teeth biting loosely on the gag. The tune he was humming undulated high and low in time with his swaying.

“Now’s not the time to piss about guys,” Royce said, but he knew Hugh and Redmond were not the kind for such impromptu humour.

He began to edge backwards down the branch towards the trunk of the tree, and as he did his head began to spin. He managed to back up far enough to position himself once again just above Harry, before he fell and landed unconscious on top of his intended victim.

Harry didn’t feel any pain when Royce fell on top of him, even though the bulk of Royce’s rump dropped onto his waist and smashed him into the knotted base of the tree. He was elsewhere, lost in song, and focused on the figures calling from the twilight. One of them, slender to the point of being skeletal, walked towards him.  It was a curious movement, both graceful and jerky; a display of harsh angles and bony edges. Then a pallid face with thin lips and large black eyes appeared before him. It spoke and Harry heard the words faster than those stretched lips formed them.

“Why do you mock us?”  It said in an aged voice. “After all these years, you still have nothing better to do than taunt us?”

Harry couldn’t count how many figures were now before him, but it seemed like a dozen at least. He had stopped his humming. Fear was upon him, and pain from where Royce had landed on him. He tried to back up and felt something jagged dig against his back.

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled from behind the gag. “Don’t hurt me.”

The pale face withdrew a little, and the strange figure stood upright. It was tall. Harry couldn’t determine its gender from appearance alone, but its voice had been masculine. It appeared to be naked, but Harry’s vision was blurred and he could see no genitalia on display. The creature looked at Harry’s fallen captors.

“They brought you here?”

Harry nodded.

“To mock us.”

Harry shook his head.

The creature was in Harry’s face again. It smelled like dank earth. It raised a hand and slashed at him with midnight edged fingers. He winced and drew his head back, banging it against the tree. The gag fell away from his cheek on one side.

“Speak,” it said.

Harry regained his composure and shook his head vigorously to dislodge the gag from his mouth. He felt dizzy, and a warm trickle on his cheek.

“Speak,” it said again, withdrawing slightly.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“The truth.”

“We were friends. At least I thought we were friends. We played games together. You know, fantasy games. Not sex… Um. I mean like board games about fantasy things. Except we didn’t use a board really, either….”  He paused to test for a reaction, but was greeted only with silence.  “Anyway, we’ve been playing for a few years, met online, through a computer. You know. Do you know…?

The creature stared.

“It was good, but Royce was always into the fantasy thing a bit too much. He got lucky and found this apparently rare book after hunting for information about fairies. It had rituals in it that supposedly called the fairy folk. I thought he was nuts. But I guess I should have taken him more seriously. He told the others that if they did this one ritual, which required a sacrifice, the spirits, elves, would come and grant him great powers or immortality. He convinced them it wasn’t a real sacrifice as the elves would only take the victim to their world. I’m not sure actually how convinced the others really were, but I guess they were convinced enough. All along when I heard them mention stuff about it, I thought they’d get over it. They asked me to help find a suitable victim. I told them to grow up. They then decided I would have to do – I guess. Fuck. Royce said he came out here one night and saw elves. I’m thinking now that maybe he was telling the truth.”

The creature nodded, and sat itself down in front of Harry.

“Once we lived above ground as you do,” it began; “it was a battle, fought long ago, that forced us to retreat into the hills. Nevertheless people remembered us. They remembered what we had taught them. And they respected us. Back then we did not look as we do now, but the passing of time and the hatred of humanity has not been kind to us.”

Harry leaned back and listened, relaxing a little.

“Eventually the respect and reverence your folk once held for us was replaced by fear, and then some sought to make for themselves a name by seeking us out. They found ways to harm us, and to ward against our crafts, especially as we were weakened. They would hang us from the trees like your friends attempted with you, with chains made of hurtful metal, and our bodies smeared with painful pigment. They would mock us, and taunt us, and dare us to confront them.  In time we learned to stay away. To withdraw completely form the world of men. Humanity had become dangerous and demented, and there was no reasoning with men or their new found ideas. Thankfully, after some time they forgot about us. Eventually even their theatrical rituals invented to mimic and celebrate our suffering faded into memory. And now you come along. Unfortunately for you, after all this time we’re finally tired of hiding.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. And he meant it.

“Your remorse is not enough.”

“But I didn’t want any of this. They were going to hang me.”

“For hundreds of years we have hid from the surface because of the actions of your kind, do you really think your regret is of any consequence?”  The creature inched forward to peer into Harry’s eyes, its own dark eyes slickened with the appearance of an oily film.

“You cannot be allowed to live. You are a threat to us. We will announce our return to the world on our own terms.  Humans cannot be given opportunity to muster their strength against us.  I must tell you, in our exile we have grown hungry, as all of nature is now hungry from your actions. Even the tree is hungry. Can you not hear how it calls for your life?  This land has been stained by the actions of your people against us, and now only the life essence of the despoilers will remove that stain. Will revivify that which has wizened and stupefied. We intend to bring back vitality. To bring ourselves back to vitality. But you should know, in the past we never once required any sacrifice.”

“Please…”

Harry saw several of the figures beyond the one he had been talking to begin to close in on him. Then his mind began to spin, and a smile formed on his lips. He began to hum.  The aches and pain in his body subsided. He closed his eyes. He did not see Hugh and Redmond disappear down the hillside towards the mounds, dragged by shadows into darkness. He did not hear the sound of bone and flesh being rendered, or the last flashes of reflected sunset on the obsidian blade as it tore into the architect of his capture.  He did not feel the warm spray of Royce’s blood as it splashed across his face and stained his comic attire.  He saw and felt nothing. He heard only the enchanting melody that filled his mind and escaped his lips. He did not even feel the rope tighten around his neck. He certainly did not feel the breeze as he swayed back and forth.