“If you want to write horror, think about the things that really scare you. Think about all the stuff that makes your mouth go dry and your insides shake uncontrollably. Go deep inside, so deep it scares you. Go to that place you refuse to bring to light because it makes you ill to think about such things… If you want to show the reader what scares him, then show him what scares you. Go deep and face your fear.” Elizabeth Peake.
H. P. Lovecraft was afraid of a bunch of things. He had nightmares and night terrors (especially about being abducted by monsters), he had a weak constitution and was easily made sick by the cold, and didn’t like the sea, either. He was also afraid of people that weren’t white, foreigners that weren’t English, either of those kinds of people mixing it up with nice WASPs either geologically or socially, and so on.
And then there’s this quote: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
Basically, Lovecraft was afraid of a bunch of things.
But this is all good stuff, you know. Minus the bigotry. We could have done without that, definitely. But the reason that Lovecraft scares anybody is because he wrote about the stuff that scared him. The night-gaunts were something that he’d had night terrors about since he was a little tike. You may not be scared of sea critters, but Lovecraft could infuse his dread of them into his descriptions so that you were unnerved by Big Tentacleface anyway.
What does this mean for you, though? It means that maybe you shouldn’t write about fish people and ape people and other kinds of people that are derived from things that you aren’t really afraid of. I mean, sure, it isn’t a totally bad thing if you’re going to write about sexy, sexy Shub-Niggurath and all his/her/its octopus tentacles, but if you’re not a celibate hero and you think that octopodes are adorable, then maybe you should also do some fear-fueling of your own every now and then.
In Practice: Cordyceps Deep Ones
Here are some fears that I collected from people awhile back. Let’s see what we can do with them: Being forced to swallow small needles. Insects that burrow into your skin. Losing the essence of yourself and not being able to recognize it. Familial betrayal. Being made permanently deaf, blind, or mute.
For all that Lovecraft went on about Deep Ones in the family tree (er, pond?) and things like that, he didn’t make much ado about being turned against by your family. You were subsumed by your family’s dark secret, whether you were a Delapoer or an Olmstead. Not consumed.
Imagine the Deep Ones as like, say, the cordyceps fungus. You may remember it from The Last of Us or a freaky nature documentary. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s a fungus that gets into a bug’s head, hijacks it like the unholy child of a Yeerk and those mushrooms you had last night, and forces the poor thing to further its development and life cycle.
Maybe Deep Ones are the same way. They can be a fungus, they can be insects that burrow under your skin and nest there, or something else entirely. What freaks you out the most? Go with that.
They get into the brain. They eat it. They grow. They assimilate the victim’s knowledge, the victim’s memories and selfhood. Without any of their own, they adopt the resident personality and identity. For the sufferer it is like undergoing a terrible sickness, fevers and vomiting and pain.
The headaches are the worst. Oh man, the headaches. And also everything else. That’s pretty bad too.
Imagine being eaten from the inside out. Imagine something growing inside you. Imagine cancer. Cancer that is eating you and replacing you.
You start developing behavioral tics, cravings, and strange phobias. You don’t want to see the doctor anymore. You’re sure that you’ll be alright. You’re afraid to mention the pain. You stop going out to see people because it’s hard to mask the pain.
And then you die.
Except you don’t perceive it like that. Or something that considers itself “you,” at any rate. Identity’s a tricky beast.
It wears you like a suit. You wear your old self like a nice Edgar suit, and you produce the necessary chemicals to keep it preserved, even alive.
You are already fertile, and your babies are hatching and growing in the depths of your mobile home, like many-legged chestbursters, each one the size of a nickel. You can feel them via the hijacked nerves of your extended body, and it fills you with warmth to know that they are growing well.
You remember what it is like to be human. You remember what it is like to see through more than stolen senses. You are pleased by all this, for it allows you to better negotiate human society and find growing-places for your young, for when they grow too large and must find living nests of their own.
It does not occur to you to be horrified by this. Much of you remains. You even enjoy the same music, and find yourself going through the pages of your favorite novels, committing all these things to your perfected memory. You love them even now, even after your transformation. What is different is that mentality has been warped and turned down other paths. You think nothing of spreading the infestation, no more than you do of the choice between hamburgers and autumn stew for dinner tonight.
You will enjoy it greatly, whatever you choose to eat. You know, even as the day approaches steadily, that you are growing yet larger and this body you are inhabiting is beginning to fail despite your best efforts. The day is coming, when you will make sure to see off the last of your offspring, and find a dark place where your waste-leaving will not be found, and shed this body once and for all. Somewhere near the sea, where the salt is in the air and your journey to the depths will not be too long.
Without the hijacked senses of your Edgar suit, you will lack for sight, for smell, for hearing. It is no matter. You will have other senses beyond these, new senses for a new body.
You will never grow old.
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