Alarming, creepy, depressing, disconcerting, distressing, embarrassing, foreboding, frightening, gloomy, impending, irksome, ominous, onerous, painful, perplexing, prophetic, sinister, troubling, unpleasant, unsettling, upsetting, and vexing.
Synonyms abound—and each is in possession of a complex network of unique definitions, sensations, and emotional experiences. But what disturbs us, really, and do we want to ride wave after torrential wave or find peace in placid waters?
Then again, I don’t need to tell you about what may lurk in the calmest bodies of water. While sentient sludge and selkies, ghost ships and gators are far from being new tropes, there are still untold tales to be told.
If we shift the verb, to disturb, to a noun, it then becomes a disturbance. A cat meowing ‘round our legs may be a bit irritating when we’re trying to read through a month or two of slush, but what if said cat is a dark specter darting through our living room? It may startle us, peel back the myelin sheath on each and every neuron’s axon, but eventually we sigh, laugh nervously with relief. It’s just a ghost kitty. . .nothing to fear.
But what about Hello Kitty and all she’s spawned? Or a particularly hungry Japanese kasha such as the Corpse-Eating-Demon Cat? Or maybe a werecat yowling for the kind of release that only its mate can provide?
What disturbs us varies. . .My neighbor, for example, had cardboard Smurfs on his porch, their unfathomably dark eyes glowing in the near moonless night. I swear they were going to give me nightmares. Seriously. Said neighbor then had the nerve to gift these cardboard monstrosities to my daughter and now grace our entryway.
While all the above is potentially tame, what about being absorbed by a hive mind or a modern-day cult? Been done to death, right? Then how about being adrift in space. . .alone. . .utterly alone. . .the coffee is running out. . .and there’s only decaf.
Or how about these scenarios: Not being invited to prom—or having to decide which prom date to accept; not getting into the university of your choice—or having them ALL accept you with free rides; losing your job—or getting promoted; being deployed for an obvious suicide mission—or being the sole survivor of said mission.
There are still tales to be told here as well. Zombie apocalypses alien invasions, and virulent diseases aside, day-to-day life can be a frightening proposition for some, so tell me how you (or your character) triumphed (or not, as the case may be).
Here’s an example: Imagine working for a manufacturing company that overcharges for obviously inferior products and services only to be barraged by phone calls—or visits—from dissatisfied customers. Come on! This is the stuff of which true-life horror is made, don’t you think? Take a supposedly normal scenario and twist it. That’s right. I know, I know. The Romero Brothers did that, but you can, too!
I think you’re following me, right? After all, I’m the editor of this publication, and I’m giving you some hints as to what may disturb or otherwise entertain me, and more importantly, our esteemed readers.
Do you want in these pages?
Of course you do. . .
Then again, this may be my way of telling you all how pleased I am at what the slush pile is unveiling. If I haven’t accepted your most-excellent work, you may be working right now on a tale about an editor who takes a stroll on the beach only to be drug into a subterranean cavern with one of Cthulhu’s Chosen Ones.
It could happen, right?
I suppose it already has. . .but I haven’t read YOUR version.
Then there’s the gross stuff. Okay. But when you heap it on, doesn’t it lose impact?
Not always. . .I’ve read a few stories in slush lately that have made me gag. I’ll spare you the details and the resulting menu. Nevertheless, your skillfully wrought gag might work—especially when there’s an ironic finale. I wonder what havoc could be wreaked during a Senate Hearing or Red-Carpet affair. Hmmm.
Speaking of gross-outs, even evisceration has its place. Especially when it’s lovingly wrought with exquisite detail and the true artistry is revealed. But there should be more to the story than that, right? We do need to come up for air and a glass of champagne or two or three.
Speaking of air. Imagine that it’s running out, and curious about what lies on the proverbial other side, your character welcomes a blissful end, willingly embraces that eternal sleep, complete with kaleidoscopic light show and multi-layered dreams? I’ve heard it’s a lot like drowning. There’s a moment where you panic, and then you let go. . .drift. . .so. . .so peaceful.
Okay. I’ve read that story, too. But not YOURS.
Or maybe I have.
What if you wake up in the morning to discover you’re in a cocoon and are morphing? What are you morphing into? Just imagine the possibilities! Vampire butterfly, perhaps?
What if there’s a knock at the door and when you open it, there’s a phalanx of devotees beseeching you to take your rightful place as The Chosen One?
Or what if you have just given birth and a contingent of saffron-and-maroon-robed monks come bearing gifts as your precious newborn is the reincarnation of their teacher?
Or what if you finally have time to write and your fingers (and mind) are frozen and your new document remains blank as the minutes become hours and the hours, days, the days, months, the months, years, and the years, decades?
Isn’t the most horrible experience NOT writing?
So get writing—and make it disturbing!
(Note: This article appeared in either a Sam’s Dot or Alban Lake Publishing publication._