At the bottom of our sad, gusty high street, my track-suited friends and I wasted afternoons at our local Blockbusters. Long gone now, of course, but they were all the rage back then. You could waste a lot of time in that vivid blue atmosphere. I can still taste all that plastic. Empty cassette cases (they were empty to stop us from knicking them) lined the walls from top to bottom.
A vivid memory stands in my mind of carrying the empty cases of Poltergeist 3, Child’s Play, and Toys. Toys seems to have vanished from the world, but the terrifying jack-in-the-box on its cover still haunts me.
We handed our treasures over to the dead-eyed girl behind the counter. She’d hammer at keys with her long nails and then we were good to go. Not a glance or a thought. We were not the age written in red circles on each of the films. We were barely into our double figures.
My mate’s parents had a pretty serious bootlegging operation going. The films that we’d take back would be recorded on two VCRs – one to play, the other to record. Trying to explain that to someone in their twenties is like pulling out teeth. What? You put a tape in the top one, an empty tape in the bottom one, hit record, and you had to watch the whole film while it recorded? What a load of bother! They’ll never understand how much joy it brought.
In my mate’s house, films lined the walls in shiny black plastic. I always wondered how much damage could be done if you slammed into that wall of videotapes. How it would feel being rained on by hundreds of copied horror films.
Horror was the thing when I was growing up. You couldn’t escape its grasp. Did you see that bit when Freddy stretches out his arms? Did the version of the Exorcist you watched have that spider-walk bit? Do you know the girl in Poltergeist died? These were the talking points in lunch queues. The golden age of horror at its peak.
Huddled under a shared blanket, cans of Irn Bru and crisps being passed among us, Pennywise climbing out the drain in that shower scene, we were a cozy bunch. We laughed at who screamed in fright, making sure none of us were allowed to cover our eyes.
We didn’t know true horror lived just outside that cozy place.
Poverty. Drugs. Suicide. Six-year-olds smoking while queueing at the ice cream van. Adults queuing behind them, talking in hushed tones when they got to the front of the line, slipping their money over. It wasn’t ice cream they left with.
Last week, when catching up with an old buddy from work (Teams), they asked what scares me the most. Typical October fare, since I write mostly horror stories. The assumption is that I’m hardened to it all – must take a lot to scare you, eh? My answer? Stairs, grapes, roads – the list transformed when I became a dad.
Truth is, I’m not very hardened at all. It’s one of the reasons that horror is what pours out of me when I write. My gift for seeing the worst that can happen in each situation is what gets my nightmare juices flowing.
One of the things that terrified me as a kid was my ceiling and the demons that appeared if you didn’t blink. That fear stayed with me so much that I wrote The Swirly People, which is in the latest fear-swelling collection by Eerie River Publishing. Give it a read if you need a good scare.
The world outside is one big horror story right now. Sometimes I think the reason horror fiction doesn’t sell as well as it used to is because horror is served in person – fresh, painful and up close. Viruses, violence, discrimination, and the general deletion of human decency (seriously, how much petrol do you need, you muppet?!).
Without Blockbuster ignoring our ages and giving us our horror fix, I might not be so equipped to deal with these things.
My kids are still small and innocent. I won’t be letting them watch Hellraiser with their Weetabix before getting ready for school. At least not for a few years.
It Calls From the Doors (Foreword by Dave Jeffery, author of “A Quiet Apocalypse”)
by Eerie River Publishing
Genre: Horror/ Anthology
Open the door to your nightmares.
They are the silent guardians of our inner spaces. We throw them open to welcome friends and family. We shut them tight against the darkness and trust them to keep us safe. But they also hide our true natures, ward off intruders, and seal away what can never be allowed to escape.
But, what happens when the thing that we rely on the most, welcomes the bad things in? What happens when our protector becomes the thing we fear?
Turn the key, pull back the bolt, unfasten the latch and let the darkness through. Discover 19 tales of terror and despair that lurk on the other side of the Doors in the fourth instalment of Eerie River Publishing’s horror series.