Tag Archives: horror

Do Not Enter: Isolation, Murder, and a Slasher’s ‘Happy Place’, Hannah Coupe

Vera continues down the stairs to the cellar. The door is ajar. She walks in. The room is empty except for the figure of a woman sitting in a chair.

‘Mrs. Bates.’

She gently touches the woman’s shoulder and the chair slowly turns to reveal the corpse of Norma Bates: pruning skin, hollow eye sockets, and skeletal smile. Vera screams. Violins shriek as Norman rushes in, dressed in his mother’s robe, brandishing a knife, and wearing an insanely happy grin to rival that of his decaying mother.

*

Tina walks out into the dark alley, following the guttural growls calling her name. A trashcan lid rolls ominously into her path. Then there is laughter. Slow, deep, sinister chuckles fill the scene before the screech of metal on metal announces the arrival of Freddy. His quavering chuckles grow louder as he relishes Tina’s mounting terror.

‘Please God,’ she whispers.

Freddy grins and holds up his right hand. He wears a knifed glove.

‘THIS,’ he growls, ‘is God’[i]

*

Wendy bundles Danny up in her arms as the first axe thud hits the front door. With no other route of escape, she rushes into the bathroom. The axe thuds continue and Jack’s face appears in the hall.

‘Wendy, I’m home.’ He breaks down the door and slowly stalks through the bedroom.

‘Come out, come out wherever you are.’

Playfully, he knocks on the bathroom door.

‘Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in. Not by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin. Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!’[ii]

*

What is it about these villains that make them so scary? It could be the brutal way they kill their victims, or how excited they look during the violence. Perhaps it’s the isolated environments making horrible deaths all the more imminent, or that each killer is a mentally misshapen psycho we can’t fathom. Any one of these is reason enough to become petrified in your seat, but all of them working together; that’s what makes an iconic slasher.

Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger, and Jack Torrance are amongst the most celebrated killers in slasher history, producing some of the scariest scenes of the genre. Despite being very different on the surface, each of them fits the classic slasher profile in two ways. Firstly, they’re all psychologically damaged figures: Norman suffers from an intense guilt complex coupled with a wealth of mother issues, Freddy was a reclusive child-murderer before the townspeople killed him, and Jack was an abusive alcoholic who despised his wife and son. Secondly, they each inhabit an environment pocketed away from the rest of the world and it’s in this isolation that they’re happiest.

Isolation is a recurrent theme in slasher movies where victims often meet grizzly ends by trekking into the wilderness (The Blair Witch Project [1991], Wolf Creek [2005]) or staying home alone (Scream [1996], When a Stranger Calls [1979]). But while we prevalently see how a lonely cabin in the woods or house on a hill affects unwitting heroes, little is shown about how it affects the villains.

Since villains are the characters that ultimately make the slasher movie experience, by carving their way into our nightmares, I plan to explore the slasher’s relationship with isolation, looking at the characters of Norman, Freddy, and Jack to determine just how much it assists in shaping cinematically iconic killers.

 

‘This place happens to be my only world’[iii]: Norman Bates

Donald Spoto, in his book on Alfred Hitchcock, comments that Psycho (1960) ‘is one of the few financially successful films which can defensibly be called an art film, it remains a quintessential shocker’[iv]. Considered to be Hitchcock’s greatest masterstroke, as it raised the slasher from the slums of common horror, Psycho’s iconic status can probably best be personified in the charming, albeit socially awkward character of Norman Bates. The ‘psycho’ of the film’s title, Norman is one of the most complex killers in cinematic history. Jim McDevitt and Eric San Juan, in their book on Hitchcock villains, place him within the same league as Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs [1991]), John Doe (Se7en [1995]) and TV’s Dexter Morgan (Dexter [2006]). As a killer, he ‘mixes charisma with crazy, giving us a character we just can’t turn away from.’[v] However, unlike socially charismatic slashers of today, his fascinating complexity comes from a disturbing relationship with isolation.

*

Marion smiles politely and eats the sandwich Norman has brought her. She shifts in her seat as the conversation becomes too personal. Norman continues chatting.

‘I think we’re all in our private traps. Clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never move an inch.’

‘Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps,’ Marion answers politely.

‘I was born in mine, I don’t mind it anymore.’ [vi]

*

Norman’s seclusion began at the age of five when his father died. His mother raised him in solitude in the house behind the motel. Norman boasts he ‘had a very happy childhood’ and the psychiatrist, at the end of the film, comments that ‘for years the two of them lived as though there was no one else in the world’.[vii] However, this happiness was shattered when his mother met another man. Already psychologically disturbed after his father’s death, the arrival of an outside social force was a rude awakening for Norman. As we know, the story does not end well.

By the time we meet Norman in Psycho, ten years after he has killed his mother and her lover out of pathological jealousy, his relationship with isolation has become very complicated. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, in an article in Screen Education, notes that he represents Freud’s ‘return of the repressed’ with ‘repression manifesting itself in the concept of the monstrous Other.’[viii] For Norman, the ‘Other’ is the fragmentation of his mind into two characters: that of himself and that of ‘Mother’, which occurs as a result of his matricidal guilt. The motel, located fifteen miles from the nearest town, becomes a site of trauma and escape for him. It’s the scene of his crime, but it’s also the only place that can accommodate his mental fragility. The motel’s isolation makes it the one place where he can exist happily as both personalities, Norman and ‘Mother’, in an attempt to resurrect the happiness of his childhood. And when outside characters threaten that illusion, he (or rather ‘Mother’) kills them.

However, while the motel helps to soothe Norman’s fractured mind by allowing him to live as two people, it’s also the only place where Norman himself can actually exist. According to the psychiatrist, Norman ‘only half-existed to begin with’ and it’s when he is removed from the motel that the ‘Mother’ half takes over, ‘probably for all time.’[ix] In the end, it’s Norman’s dependence on isolation that makes him the terrifying psycho of Psycho because he can only exist within it. Whenever reality comes too close, ‘Mother’ takes over as a violent means of exterminating the threat and prolonging Norman’s seclusion. Understanding this, it’s no wonder he looks so happy when ‘Mother’ takes control.

 

‘I’m your boyfriend now Nancy’[x]: Freddy Krueger

Film critic, Stephen Jay Schneider, in his book, 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die, describes A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as a ‘critical and commercial success that managed to creatively combine horror and humour, slasher movie conventions, gory special effects, and subtle social commentary’, as well as ‘let loose a new monster in America’s pop cultural consciousness: that wise-cracking, fedora-wearing teen killer, Freddy Krueger.’[xi] Freddy is a celebrated slasher for a number of reasons: his creative means of killing, which range from stabbing victims to sucking them into mattresses, his terrifying features including burned face and homemade knifed-glove, and the fact that he’s the indestructible killer that keeps coming back. But what primarily makes him the terrifying figure he is, is the fact that he exists in a state of the utmost solitude: the subconscious.

If Bates represents Freud’s ‘return of the repressed’, then Krueger is a nightmarish visualisation of the ‘dream-work’: the way in which suppressed, taboo desires of the id are distorted by the dreamer’s unconscious in an attempt to fulfil them. Charles Spiteri, in an article in Senses of Cinema, describes Freddy as ‘being shaped from the stuff of dreams, he’s able to change his body and the dreams of his victims to lure and kill’[xii] and it’s this freedom within such isolation that makes him so frightening.

 *

Tina runs through the garden. As she rushes past a tree, Freddy jumps out from behind it.

‘Tina!’

She turns in a snap of obedience. Freddy grins widely, lifts up his left hand and tauntingly wiggles his fingers.

‘Watch this.’

With a single swipe of his knifed glove, he cuts off two fingers. Green blood spurts from the stumps. His eyes bulge with excitement, his grin widens, and he starts to laugh.[xiii]

*

Freddy exists as a vengeful ghost in the dreams of his victims. While little information is given in the movie as to how he manages to supernaturally infiltrate his victims’ subconscious, there are a lot of clues as to what kind of relationship he has with isolation. As a conscious character invading the dreams of teenagers, Freddy is absolute boss. He possesses the power to shape the content of his victims’ dreams, turning it fatally against them as Spiteri points out. His overt relish in the freedom of his isolation, as is illustrated by his various acts of taunting self-harm (amongst other things), takes on a new layer of creepy when we consider that he was a reclusive child-murderer in life. For Freddy, the isolation of dreams doesn’t just let him painlessly cut off fingers or slice himself open, it allows him to physically fulfil his macabre desires without the inhibitions of social justice. Dreams are a realm of absolute freedom for him: a world where he can do exactly what he wants when he wants and there is no one who can stop him.

Even at the film’s end, Freddy’s tyrannical reign in the dream world is what leaves audiences with a lingering sense of terror as it seems that Nancy has defeated him and returned things to normal, only to be driven away in a possessed car and watch as Freddy drags her mother, screaming, through the transom of the front door. It’s a final, chilling statement: we’re in Freddy’s world now.

 

‘Five months of peace is just what I want’[xiv]: Jack Torrance

While horror writer Stephen King famously denounced Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel, many critics such as Roger Ebert praised his choice of changing the original ghost story into one ‘about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them.’[xv] A different slasher movie to others released during the time (Friday the 13th, Prom Night), The Shining (1980) produced some of horror’s most iconic scenes including the ghostly twin girls and, of course, Jack Nicholson’s ‘heeere’s Johnny’ line. But what most sets Kubrick’s film apart from other horror movies is the ever-present idea that the supernatural elements we’re seeing aren’t really there. We’re seeing ‘ghosts’ because the characters are, and the characters are seeing them because the hotel’s isolation is driving them mad.

Despite critics’ disputes as to whether The Shining is a horror or a thriller, the film’s base plot follows that of the classic slasher movie: a family goes to a remote hotel where they are threatened by grizzly fates. However, unlike psychos born into isolation like Bates or supernaturally resurrected into it like Krueger, Jack Torrance is the guy who starts the film as unwitting victim, but then gradually turns into an axe-wielding maniac; all because he wanted a little peace and quiet.

Kubrick quickly asserts that isolation is the theme of the film. Jeff Smith, in an article in Chicago Review, comments that the opening scene with its ‘sharp colours and outlines lend this land its own feeling of alienness.’[xvi] Unlike Freddy and Norman, Jack is chasing isolation from the film’s beginning. A recovering alcoholic and struggling writer, he takes the job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies, with the hope that a change of scenery will cure his writer’s block and help him get away from past transgressions.

Over the course of the film, the Overlook’s isolation quickly becomes a frightening visualisation of the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ as it starts working to unhinge Jack’s mind. While he doesn’t have the psychological fragilities of Bates or Krueger, he’s an emotionally vulnerable character caught in the transitional stage between alcoholism and reformation. As old grievances continue to be unearthed between him and his wife, his emotional fragility increases until it finally breaks with the fatal words, ‘I’d give my goddamn soul just for a glass of beer.’[xvii] Here, the first ‘ghost’ appears in true Faustian fashion and Jack’s transformation from inwardly frustrated man to outwardly homicidal maniac begins. Isolation becomes the alcohol he can’t get enough of and the steps he takes to ensure he gets it become more drastic: he destroys the radio and the Snowcat’s motor, pocketing the hotel further away from the outside world.

By the film’s climax Jack is completely transformed and the face leering at Wendy through an axe-hole in the bathroom door is very different to the one that he began the movie with. His deathlike pallor and unresponsiveness is replaced with colour and animation: the picture of an addict about to get his fix. Horror ensues as we realise that this guy is so far gone, he’ll kill his own family for some peace and quiet.

*

The slasher movie may value isolation for its guarantees of gruesome deaths or the promise of finding a murdering psycho out in the middle of nowhere, but on closer inspection of some of cinema’s iconic slashers, we can see that the lonely woodland cabin or remote hotel has just as much of an effect (if not more) on the villains than the victims.

It’s the villains’ relationships with isolation that makes them the terrifying figures they are. As a personality split in two by matricidal guilt, Norman can only exist within the seclusion of the Bates Motel. Freddy Krueger exercises absolute freedom in indulging his violent and murderous impulses beyond the reach of society as a vengeful ghost inhabiting the dreams of teenagers. And Jack Torrance went to the Overlook in search of peace and quiet; only to revert to his alcoholism with isolation becoming the booze he couldn’t get enough of. Each character gets some enjoyment out of seclusion and it’s this coupled with the actions they take to prolong that enjoyment (i.e. killing people) that makes them iconic cinematic killers.

 

Works Cited

[i] Englund, Robert, perf. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dir. Wes Craven. 1984. Warner Bros. Film.

[ii] Nicholson, Jack, perf. The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. 1980. Warner Bros. Film.

[iii] Perkins, Anthony, perf. Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1960. Paramount. Film.

[iv] Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of his Motion Pictures. London: W. H Allen, 1977. Print.

[v] San Juan, Eric & McDevitt, Jim. Hitchcock’s Villains: Murderers, Maniacs, and Mother Issues. Maryland: Scarecrow Press. 2013. Print.

[vi] Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Per. Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. 1960. Paramount. Film.

[vii] Oakland, Simon, perf. Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1960. Paramount. Film.

[viii] Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra. ‘Through the Peephole: Alfred Hitchcock and the Enduring Legacy of PsychoScreen Education no.75, p. 96-101, 2014. Viewed Sep. 25 2015, http://search.informit.com.au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/fullText;dn=658405856014362;res=IELAPA

[ix] Oakland, Simon, perf. Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1960. Paramount. Film

[x] Englund, Robert, perf. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dir. Wes Craven. 1984. Warner Bros. Film.

[xi] Schneider, Stephen Jay. 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die. Sydney: HarperCollinsPublishers Australia Pty Ltd. 2009. Print.

[xii] Spiteri, Charles. ‘Isolation and Subjugation: The Telephone in the Slasher Film’ Senses of Cinema vol.32, 2004. Viewed online Sep. 29, 15, http://sensesofcinema.com/2004/beyond-the-grave-of-genre/telephone_slasher_film/

[xiii] A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. Robert Englund and Amanda Wyss. Warner Bros. Film.

[xiv] Nicholson, Jack, perf. The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. 1980. Warner Bros. Film.

[xv] Ebert, Roger. Great Movie: The Shining. 2006, film review. Viewed online Sep. 29, 15, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-shining-1980

[xvi] Smith, Jeff. ‘Careening Through Kubrick’s Space’ Chicago Review, 33:1, pp. 62-74. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1981. Print.

[xvii] Nicholson, Jack, perf. The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. 1980. Warner Bros. Film.

 

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Where Light Doesn’t Exist, Alex Chambers

Robert and Jaden were running out of ideas. It had been too long since Georgia had disappeared down the cave and black clouds were quickening overhead.

The cave was unlike any they’d seen or read about as it wasn’t made of stone but foliage. Trees sprouted up from the ground then curled and combined with leaves, bushes, and branches to make a completely solid structure, daunting the barely teenage boys standing just outside its mouth. It was lightless inside and no matter how much the two of them called, there was no echo or reply from Georgia. But the strangest of all was that the inside of the structure was significantly larger than the outside. When Robert and Jaden had dared to venture inside earlier, it became clear that they’d walked for much longer than physically possible before turning back.

Robert thought back to earlier this morning, when Georgia had pounded on his door and demanded he come see what she’d found. Jaden was dragged along when the pair chanced upon him on the way into the forest. When they had arrived, Georgia pointed down into the abyss. ‘Come on!’

‘What is it?’ Robert asked, approaching slowly. Jaden said nothing and kept his distance as Georgia grinned and began trotting into the mouth of the cave.

‘I dunno,’ she said. ‘But it goes a long way—I’m gonna see how far.’

She hadn’t said anything more. Before Robert or Jaden could even utter a protest, she’d dashed off. When she didn’t return for a few minutes, the boys tried to follow her, but found that the seemingly straight line surrounded by impossibly close-knit trees wasn’t so simple. As they walked, the path twisted and turned even though they never once changed the direction they travelled. The further they went, the more the light was swallowed by the shadows of the cavern.

Robert, now pacing back and forth at the mouth of the cave nearly an hour later, was starting to mumble to himself. ‘It’s getting late—we need to do something. I can’t believe we couldn’t stop her,’ he groaned. He’d been running his hand through his tan hair so many times now it was no longer neat.

‘Calm down,’ Jaden growled from against a tree nearby. ‘It’s Georgia’s own damn fault. Always running off and doing stupid stuff like this. I wish you hadn’t babbled to her about how ‘interesting’ this ‘strange new phenomenon’ looked either.’

‘Okay, I got a little excited,’ he admitted. ‘But this is like something out of one of my sci-fi books! There could be a whole universe in there—’

‘Please don’t start again.’ Jaden rolled his eyes and began rubbing his forehead. ‘I’m tired. This is the fourth supernatural thing we’ve had to deal with this week.’

The isolated, English countryside town of Edgeville was far from the first place anyone would’ve guessed would be a hotspot for paranormal activity, but for the past couple of months, the town’s children had found themselves embroiled in a series of strange happenings. A decrepit mansion appeared on the outskirts of town one evening and disappeared the next. Pale, ephemeral figures stalked the town’s graveyards. Objects floated and flew across rooms. And the children had had more than enough encounters with fanged, clawed and/or winged creatures that stalked them relentlessly, but always just out of the corner of their sight.

No one over the age of eighteen knew about any of this and most of the older children tried to deny it or explain it rationally. No matter what, any time an adult was called to investigate one of the strange and dangerous incidents it would vanish. Whole haunted houses would disappear. The floating spectres would evaporate just in time for the adult to miss them.

The children of Edgeville no longer slept soundly, but that didn’t stop some of them from trying to do something about it or being intrigued.

‘Do you think it goes underground?’ Robert said. ‘That would explain why it goes for so long and why it’s so dark inside.’

When he didn’t get a response, he turned to see Jaden yawning.

‘You’re still talking science-y mumbo-jumbo,’ he said.

‘Aren’t you interested?’ Robert retorted and then he added, ‘or worried?’

‘No. You don’t sound like you’re worried either.’

Robert thought for a moment, then said, ‘Are we just getting used to this, maybe?’

‘Sick of it, more like,’ Jaden huffed. ‘I mean, how many times has Georgia leapt into some dangerous situation and come out just fine with that stupid grin all over her face? And you’re treating it like a big mystery novel that you’re trying to figure out.’

‘This is a big mystery,’ Robert said. ‘And I do want to figure it out. And if we keep investigating, maybe we’ll all figure something out.’

A distant rumble of thunder came from far above. Jaden wrinkled his nose and frowned. ‘Go get Veronica. We’re not getting anything done right now.’

Most of the town’s children tried to ignore or flat-out deny that there was anything wrong, but after the incidents had started, a small band of kids had decided they’d actively explore the terrifying events that plagued their town. Veronica, as the oldest over Jaden by a few months, had been unofficially designated their leader, which meant that when Georgia got herself into trouble, it was usually Veronica who ended up organising the rescue mission.

‘Does your phone have reception out here?’ Robert asked.

‘No.’

‘Neither does mine. Stay here then, just in case Georgia comes back out. I’ll head into town…’

‘Fine by me,’ Jaden answered, sitting down at the base of the tree.

There was another, louder bang of thunder. Robert gave a thumbs-up and hurried off out of the forest.

He first swung by his own house, creeping in through the garage door and rifling through his father’s things for anything of use. As he’d hoped, he found a rope along with a heavy-duty torch. He wasted no time making a run for Veronica’s house a few streets over. He mulled over the thought of gathering up more friends for the rescue, but a flash of lightning accompanied by a dangerously close rumble caused him to decide that he was close to running out of time.

He approached the front door, first tossing the rope and torch into the bushes, and then knocked. Robert figured it’d be best to avoid any suspicious questions. The door was opened by Veronica’s father, Curtis, who greeted Robert warmly.

‘What can I do for you, Robert?’ he asked. ‘It’s looking to be a heck of a storm. Not really the right time to be off playing in the streets, eh?’

‘No sir,’ Robert answered. ‘I was actually wondering if Veronica was around. I had a, uh, spur of the moment idea. It was looking to be a good night for a movie so I wanted to see if Veronica and some other friends wanted to come over. Is she in?’

‘What a great way to spend a Saturday night! She’s home—I’ll go and get her. Just remember not to put on anything too scary. You know how she hates all those violent horror movies.’

Curtis called his daughter and departed the room. Robert managed to hold the smile on his face until Curtis left before grimacing. Veronica came treading down the stairs and frowned when she saw Robert’s expression.

‘Let me guess,’ she said. ‘Georgia?’

Robert nodded. ‘She’s in trouble.’

‘What did she annoy this time?’

‘It’s a little more complex than that bat thing she upset last week. It might be better to see for yourself. It’s in the forest.’

‘I’ll go get my coat and some good shoes,’ she sighed. She hopped back up the stairs and returned a moment later wearing a pair of pink gumboots and a baby-blue raincoat. Veronica was a year older than Robert, but nearly a foot shorter. She wasn’t as smart as Robert and she definitely wasn’t as brave or strong as Georgia, but she had a shine in her blue eyes and a posture that was tall and confident. Robert could tell by looking—even if Veronica couldn’t see it herself—that she was definitely most suited to be in charge.

‘I’ll try to explain what’s happening on the way,’ he said as they departed. He stopped a moment to retrieve his rope and torch from the garden before they jogged towards the forest. A drizzle of rain had begun to shower the pair as they fought through the trees and bushes towards their destination.

‘It’s over there,’ Robert pointed past some trees and over a hill. ‘I left Jaden there, in case Georgia came back.’

In between breaths and crashes of thunder, Robert tried to describe what the cave was to Veronica.

‘So it’s like a cave, but it’s bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside,’ she panted. ‘But it’s made of trees?’

‘Exactly!’ Robert said. ‘Think of what could be inside there. I mean, there could be anything really—’

‘Is that it?’ Veronica interrupted.

The rain had intensified, but there was no mistaking the gnarled shape of the cave a few metres away. As they hastened towards it, a flash of lightning illuminated the area. In the half-light, the cave looked more twisted and unnatural; the branches of the trees sharper and darker, but something else had caught their attention in that brief moment of sudden light.

‘Robert,’ she breathed. ‘Was that…?’

‘Yeah, I saw it too.’

Something had jolted like a startled spider into the cave, too fast for either of them to make out what it could be.

‘A deer?’ Veronica suggested.

‘Too big and too quick,’ Robert shuddered. ‘And…I think it was black. And scaly.’

‘I really hope you’re wrong. Could it have been—?’

She stopped and they flicked their heads towards each other. Robert switched on the torch and they hurried down the hill towards the cave. He swept the light over the area, scanning for any sign of Jaden. They both began to call his name, hoping he’d just fallen asleep under the tree, but it soon became clear he wasn’t answering.

‘He probably just went home, right?’ Veronica said. Her voice was quivering.

‘I told him to wait here, though,’ Robert said. ‘And I know he’s lazy, but he wouldn’t go home without Georgia.’

They both turned and looked down the looming maw of the cave. Even now, armed with the torch, Robert couldn’t see anything other than the walls of trees on either side of the path deep into the darkness. It seemed to stretch on forever.

‘Give me the torch,’ Veronica said, holding her hand out. ‘And one end of the rope.’

‘But—’

‘One of us has to stay out here,’ she explained. ‘And you’re right—Jaden wouldn’t have gone home without Georgia. If they did go home, we’d have seen them on the way here. So they’re in there.’

‘I want—’

‘I know,’ she continued. ‘I know you want to see what’s in there. That’s why I’m going in; you might get lost or distracted.’

Robert huffed, but complied. ‘If you see anything dangerous…’

‘I’m not leaving without them either,’ she said. Without another word, she faced the cave, torch in one hand and rope in the other, and began to tread cautiously into the abyss. A ways in, she started to run, calling Jaden and Georgia’s names.

Robert watched her get smaller and smaller, the rope in his hand unwinding rapidly as the light from Veronica’s torch steadily vanished from view. He was alone in the closing darkness. The sky howled and rain began to pelt him furiously. He stepped into the mouth of the cave, hoping its branches would at least keep him dry as he waited. The rope in his hand continued to unravel.

*

The walls of the cave had begun to change. Veronica could see the branches and foliage of the trees melting together to form some new substance that was a dull brown. It looked like it’d be sticky to touch, but she didn’t dare test this thought. A smell like decomposing fruit had begun to gradually rise in potency and it took all of Veronica’s willpower to avoid turning back. What was worse was that the light from her torch was steadily becoming useless. The blackness of the cave seemed so immense that her light couldn’t pierce it. The ray seemed increasingly insignificant as she ventured deeper. Her heart was thundering like the storm she had left so far behind

‘Jaden!’ she called. ‘Georgia!’

She stopped running for a moment to catch her breath and listen for a response. She thought she heard footsteps somewhere ahead, but otherwise the cave was silent.

‘Please, please, please be Jaden and Georgia.’ she muttered.

Veronica increased her pace and began calling again. The ground beneath her boots was growing warmer and softer. She dreaded the thought of aiming her torch downwards to see what was happening to it; instead she focused the light on the void before her. As she jogged along, the light occasionally illuminated the walls and Veronica noted that they were stretching further apart. Something was dripping from them without a sound. There was no way she was still in the forest.

When she called her friends again, she gasped at a sound not too far ahead. She thought it’d been a groan. She sprinted into the darkness, clutching her torch and rope and almost tripped over the slouched figure of Jaden.

‘Jaden!’ she cried. The torchlight flew over his features, telling Veronica all she needed to know: he was hurt. Blood was dripping from his nose and mouth. She shrieked, dropped the torch, and began to shake Jaden by the shoulders. Soon enough, she heard a voice from the darkness.

‘What time is it…?’

Veronica stopped and picked her torch back up to direct it to the space beside Jaden. It was Georgia, lying face-down on the ground. When she sat up, Veronica became aware that she was also injured: she had a crimson gash across her forehead.

‘Georgia?’

She blinked and shook her head, realisation setting in. ‘Oh, ‘sup, Veronica? How’d you get down here?’

‘Never mind that,’ Veronica said. ‘Help me get Jaden up—we’ve gotta go.’ She moved to shake his shoulder again, but Georgia motioned for her to step back. Without any further prompting, she began slapping Jaden repeatedly until a series of moans came from his throat.

‘Quit it, quit it!’ he snapped, jumping to his feet. ‘I’m up!’

‘Then we’re leaving,’ Veronica said, standing. ‘You can tell me what happened when we get out of here.’

‘Okay, but question,’ Georgia said, dragging herself to her feet. ‘How’d you get past that thing?’

‘Thing?’

‘Yeah, the thing with lots of legs and eyes.’

Veronica didn’t move. Jaden turned to her and could just make out her horrified expression in the torchlight. ‘You didn’t see it, did you?’

She slowly shook her head.

‘Well ya might soon,’ Georgia said, looking past her friends. Veronica held her breath and could faintly make out a scuttling sound in the direction Georgia was facing.

‘Stay close and don’t look back,’ Veronica instructed. No more words were said as the three tore back through the cave along the path of the rope.

*

It was well and truly storming now, with rain slamming down like the world was ending. The cave offered little safety from it to Robert who was now drenched. However, not once had his gaze left the direction of the darkness where he now watched his three friends charging towards him. Jaden and Georgia’s faces were covered in blood. Veronica looked like she was about to cry. They arrived and stopped in front of Robert, whose expression was a mixture of concern and joy.

For a while no one said anything, and the cacophony in the skies above was all they could hear. Then Robert jerked his thumb back behind him, towards town. ‘I’ve uh,’ he said. ‘Got some Disney movies at my place. And a heater. You guys want to come over? Tell me all about it?’

Georgia made some sort of discontent sound and Jaden shoved her.

‘Sounds great, Robert,’ Veronica sighed. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

 

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