“Concerning the Upstairs Bathroom” was a wonderful romp through the shadows. Comedy and horror, the mundane and the supernatural. I loved the voice and creeping tension of the letter. How did you happen to bring the story into the world?
Thanks! This story was inspired by a few real (non-demonic but still traumatic) domestic events, listening to too many irreverent first-person horror podcasts (Magnus Archives, Welcome to Nightvale) and the epistolary format and household creepiness of Gwendolyn Kiste’s “The Man in the Ambry.”
Residential or building horror is a well-loved genre. This story seemed a perfect blend of many works, a dash of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a smidge of “The Rats in the Walls,” a splash of “To Whatever,” even a touch of “The Amityville Horror.” Is this your first exploration of haunted moments in possessed homes? What do you think draws horror lovers to the genre?
I am obsessed with location and place-based horror. Pre-pandemic, my best friend and I would go on annual weekend pilgrimages to haunted houses and ghost tours. A lot of what I write is in contemporary settings and houses in particular. There’s something about aspects of the horrific or fantastic seated in a familiar, comforting environment that gets me. I particularly adore haunted house stories that present as out of context problems or cosmic horror rather than those which are gothic or ghostly. The stories set in places where Something Has Gone Very Wrong are my favourite. The appeal of any type of haunted house I think is that the mystery is compelling on two fronts: you want to know what happened to cause the problem—why is it like this?—and what happens next—how are the protagonists going to deal with it?
I was intrigued by the twist when the former owner suddenly realized that they were the demon’s victim. This returned a certain agency to the former owner and drove the story as a whole. Was this your intention from the start or did you have to play with the story to fit the pieces in place?
The twist was not in the original vision of the piece. I wrote the story originally wanting to explore making peace with something demonic or finding a way to live with the horror. But the first version was very flat—it didn’t escalate. I trunked it as a failed attempt. A few months later, I saw an anthology call the story might suit, and pulled it out to have another look. I thought it might benefit from more shock value and gore, so I started digging into the details of exactly what the previous inhabitant was doing to the animals. My search history got very weird.
I found digging into that content really difficult, and one weeknight when I was in my office working away with my shoulders up to my ears, leaning away from my laptop and making disgusted noises, my partner walked past and asked, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”
If you were the new owner, what would you do about the shower fixture?
Initially I’d try to rationalise it as a hoax. I’d definitely tweet about it. And then I’d wait and see if it affected me. If it did, I think I’d bring other people in either as a reality check or to try and see if company would alleviate the experience. Trauma bonding! One of the hardest things I think would be trying to solve the problem alone like the previous inhabitant in the story does.
I might also see if there was a pragmatic middle path, like if I could rent it out as a haunted house experience or a research location. Full disclosure about what you’re getting into, no refunds but you can leave at any time. Feed the demon short, voluntary pieces of people and use the cash to live somewhere else.
I definitely wouldn’t be game enough to touch the shower head attachment.
What can your fans look forward to in 2022?
I have a few other short story drafts underway and I’m working on a science fiction novel which I hope to have completed this year. I also have a weird, very Australian SF cosmic horror novella out on submission. All my previous work and updates are online at kieralesley.com or announced on Twitter at @KieraLesley.
Spread the word!