The horror hallway in my childhood VHS rental store was done up like a cave. Stretched cobwebs and movie posters plastered unevenly on rough paper mâché crags hung low over an at-attention army of 7×4 creatures, staring me down from their slipcovers, daring me to unearth what wildly inappropriate-for-children treasure each of them contained. Box art for Child’s Play and Ghoulies – two films I wouldn’t even experience until adolescence – terrorized me with recurring nightmares. Bedtime rituals became ridiculous – I discovered I could leap from atop my bed through my doorway, and only some terrible thing with terribly long arms could reach out that far from underneath the bed to snatch me where I’d land.
But the allure of those slim boxes superseded any fear they could instill. They called to me. They’d infected me.
I worked my way through as many of them as I could. Some, like Tremors, went on to become classics.Others, wonderful only because of their dreadfulness – Rawhead Rex, Split Second, CHUD, Pumpkinhead – were destined to be little more than repeat-viewing fodder on late-night cable, the most transgressive moments excised and replaced with running commentary from Joe Bob Briggs and his ilk.
Like a junkie, I couldn’t resist – every time we’d visit, I’d linger in that hallway, begging my mother to rent me something, anything to scratch that itch, no matter how dubious the quality. Often, I had to be satisfied with merely caressing the boxes, not successful that day in convincing mom that I needed it. Gently cradling Puppet Master, Friday the 13th – knife plunged deep into the eye of the goalie mask – I’d turn them over in my hands, sacred objects waiting to abduct me, always to return me to safety (and sometimes my parents’ bed) leaving behind only the fear. What if they really didn’t stop the monster? What if it comes here? The sinister force driving the greats – Carpenter, Craven, Cronenberg – to create such appalling things surely too had claimed me in full.
And I always needed more.
Print became another wayto sate it – Alvin Schwartz, R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike – She said she killed them because they were monsters. Mary Blanc walked into the party with a loaded shotgun. In the blink of an eye, she blew two people away. A story where the local high school football team had transformed into ancient murderous gargoyles couldn’t have been written for anyone but me.
It wasn’t until 2015 and a thousand horror stories later that I gave serious thought to the pursuit of the writer’s life. Stumbling from a failed career, I was once again slinging drinks in a bar like the one that had paid my way through college. I’d recently read a mediocre novel about robots, and thought, someone published this – and I can do better. The luxury of free mornings produced a manuscript about a VR game being used to cover up military action, sort of an Ender’s Game by way of The Matrix.
I’d internalized so much from what I’d obsessed over that, without being aware of it, I’d done a reasonable job structuring my own work. For an amateur effort, it was surprisingly decent.
Today, my writing bears the marks of a multitude of inspirations. I’ve written elsewhere for this publication that I set out to emulate a Stephen King character in “‘Round Back.” My love for genre has never been exorcised.
I think Transmundane is the perfect single-word to encapsulate this lifelong addiction. I’ve been fortunate enough to try my hand at several trades, seen a significant portion of the globe, all in the endless pursuit of novelty which can never truly be captured for becoming pedestrian. More than anything else, genre writing proves to be uniquely capable of transporting us beyond the everyday.
John Pedersen is a writer from Northern Arizona. He is currently shopping his second novel, The Archivist, a cyberpunk western. Fitting the mashup nature of the story, he is now scripting it for production as a hybrid audio book/radio drama.
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