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The H Word

Nonfiction

The H Word: On Cruelty

Growing up, I was a shy, tenderhearted kid. School was not a good place for me, and I remember being astonished by my classmates’ naked viciousness. When a girl’s skirt rode up from the friction of her backpack, people pointed, nudged their friends, grinned at her without saying anything. Someone was sent home once for lice, and that would come to define her for years, a stain that she and every one of her sisters had to carry.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Dark Constellations

When John Carpenter and Debra Hill began to sketch out their ideas for Halloween, they dreamed up a list of scares. The creepiest images, the most unsettling scenes they could imagine. A clown with a knife. A gravestone in a bedroom. A pale face emerging slowly from the shadows. A person pinned to a wall by a blade. Or—how about this one?—a woman gets into a car and finds the windshield fogged up. The wipers kick on with no effect.

Nonfiction

The H Word: You Really Don’t Want to Do This

Summertown, Tennessee, seems like a nice place to live. Located about an hour southwest of Nashville, it’s a town of less than 1,000 people. Rural two-lane blacktops wind past corn fields and wooded glens. New houses—each on its own acre of green land—can be had for under $250,000. The town has a Buddhist commune (Turtle Hill Sangha), and Wheelin in the Country, an off-road park. Summertown is, in other words, the kind of place that horror writers love to use in their works.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Proof of Afterlife

We’ve been fascinated by ghost photography since the 1860s, when Victorian-era photographers began to find evidence (of spirits or of double-exposure) in their work. At the time there was also a fascination with death photography, those utterly heart-breaking and deeply disturbing photographs of dead loved ones propped up for one last picture. Were the bereaved hoping to catch a glimpse of the soul in those photographs? Then, as now, people were looking for proof that ghosts exist. Because if ghosts exist, then the soul does.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Tragedy of La Llorona

Nearly every culture has the lone woman in white. For some, she is a harbinger of death to come. For others, she is a bringer of death herself. And in other cultures, she is a warning to those who stray from societies’ morals. Cursed to exist forever with her shame. To the people of Mexico and the American Southwest, La Llorona—the Wailing Woman—is all these things. Yet she is often portrayed in modern media as a one-note boogeyman (or woman, in this case). Growing up in a Mexican household, I only knew La Llorona as a threat. A way to scare me home before dark: “Hurry home, mijo. You don’t want La Llorona to take you away.”

Nonfiction

The H Word: Funny as Hell

I like visceral, bone-chilling horror as much as the next psycho. I relish the intensity of Silence of the Lambs or The Shining, or nail-biters like Halloween or Dean Koontz’s Watchers. But one of my favorite scenes in any suspense movie comes from Pulp Fiction; John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson with a young kid hostage in the back seat of their car. Travolta and Jackson are arguing about something utterly inane, and Travolta turns around, forgetting he has a loaded gun in his hand. He asks the kid for his opinion . . . and accidentally blows his head off. Shocking, completely unexpected, and unspeakably hilarious.

Nonfiction

The H Word: It’s Alive!

In 1726, an English woman named Mary Toft became the center of a rather peculiar medical controversy. The pregnant Mary was working in a field with other women when they disturbed a rabbit. It fled from them, and they pursued, but failed to catch it. The incident left such an impression upon Mary that it consumed her thoughts, eventually leading her to miscarry . . . but what emerged from her womb was not a human fetus, but a misshapen rabbit.

Nonfiction

The H Word: How The Witch and Get Out Helped Usher in the New Wave of Elevated Horror

If you haven’t seen The Witch (2015) and Get Out (2017), you must have been living under a rock. The former was a breakout title for A24 Films, becoming the fifth highest grossing movie they’ve put out to date (with over $25 million dollars in earnings). And the latter was nominated for several Golden Globe and Academy Awards, winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Two very different films, they both took chances at the box office—with their stories, images, themes, settings, and overall experiences.

Nonfiction

The H Word: A Conspiracy of Monsters

I imagine the filing cabinets of Sunnydale’s police department filled with missing persons cases, printouts of missing people tacked to every bulletin board. I imagine Sunnydale’s police are skilled at fielding calls and unexpected visits by alarmed citizens with strange accounts of monsters eating or murdering their children. Young people die a lot in Sunnydale. Life goes on. These things happen.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Shadow of Innocence

This is a story about two types of children: a Creepy Child and a Fast Girl. One is a trope found in horror. The other, a trope rooted in black culture. I have embodied both. The Creepy Child knows she’s not like other kids. Her otherness both strengthens and guides her, like a dusty amulet in an attic. Awaiting her. I lived up to the Creepy Child label as best I could since I lacked two crucial criteria: whiteness and innocence. No one informed me of that as I sat down to write my first obituary at age nine.

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