Last week, David X. Wiggin joined Girl Meets Monster and shared a fragment about an alternate dimension where birds are our overlords. This week, my friend and fellow SHU alum, Ryan DeMoss joins me to talk about the trap of genre and what really scares him.
R.D. DeMoss has an MA in English and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. He has won awards for his short fiction and is continually working on his long fiction. He also teaches college-level composition in Washington and lives with a wonderful dog.
GMM: The scene you shared is a little scary. Is this a horror story or fantasy? A little of both? Which genre do you prefer? Why?
RDD: I usually get lumped into horror, but my favorite stories are usually not defined by a single genre. Those are the stories I want to write. I’ve also found that the scariest horror books often have more hope to them than we assume, and cheerful books often have more chills than we want to admit. In other words, I see this scene as part of a coming-of-age tale, but it has its share of darkness. Then again, doesn’t life?
GMM: I know that you like to spend time outdoors. Living in Washington State must give you plenty of opportunities to get out into Nature. What was the weirdest or scariest thing you ever saw while hiking in the woods?
RDD: I am certainly no mountain man, and I don’t think I have any experiences people would consider scary in the typical sense of a horror story. However, in my experience, the real terror of the outdoors is how easily and quickly situations change. I once did a hike in Hawaii that had a stone with dozens of etchings—a counter of deaths the trail had seen. On that same hike, in a muddy area, my friend slipped and started over the edge of a cliff. We laughed and called it a close call, but that fine line between a close call and tragedy terrifies me.
GMM: What made you stop writing this story? Do you plan to finish it? Without revealing too much, what happens next?
RDD: I do actually have an ending to this story. I’m not sure if it’s the right ending, but it’s an ending. As I mentioned, I see this as a coming-of-age story, and when Finch finishes his plan, Tyler learns that not everything in life can be explained. The fine line between rationality and chaos is thinner than kids are led to believe, and adults spend their whole lives trying to understand the events that blur the borders. In the ending I have, Tyler spends his whole life waiting for the next time the chaos will cross into his rational world.
Excerpt from “Tell Me a Lie”, by R.D. DeMoss
Finch’s house bordered a green space that stretched on for half a mile before breaking at the highway. We’d explored the area a few times before but always with full daylight, which must have been why the woods seemed different that evening. Orange rays of the setting sun trickled and fell over the tips of the evergreens. Under their branches, shadows stretched onto the lawn, and an unseasonably cool breeze swirled through the leaves and swept over me, chilling the bare skin of my arms and legs. Somewhere, in a distant subdivision, a lawnmower buzzed.
The sun’s light seemed to almost vanish as we stepped under the boughs of the trees. Finch’s figure became a lean silhouette as I hurried to keep up with him. Fallen branches scraped my ankles, and a few times, I almost fell face first into the muddy trail. Each time I gathered my balance, Finch’s shape blurred a little more until he vanished, leaving only the sharp dark arcs of brush behind.
“Finch?” I called, but received no answer. A bird cooed somewhere high above me. The ground seemed to exhale a frigid gust of damp earthy smells, and I shivered. “Finch?”
In the darkness, someone whispered.
I said, “Finch, it’s getting cold. We need to go back.”
My voice hid in my chest, but as I stepped closer, I forced out faint words. “Is that you?”
Finch grabbed my arm and pulled me behind a tree. “It’s behind you.” He pushed his finger to his lips, telling me to be quiet.
Out of the brush stepped a figure my mind couldn’t process at first. Maybe it was just a trick of the dim lighting, but next to me stood Finch and searching the trail was also the unmistakably tall, thin profile of Finch. There were two of him.
“Tyler,” the figure on the path called.
“Don’t answer it. It’s poisonous,” the Finch beside me whispered.
Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me I was in any real danger. I was nervous, sure, but I hadn’t felt threatened.
The Finch next to me twisted something clear and round in his hands. The top popped off with a soft sucking sound.
The creature on the path straightened. Its eyes darted toward where we hid. I held my breath. I was sure it saw us, but then it turned. When it did, its frame folded into the shadows and exposed what might have been its true form. It was a fraction of a fraction of Finch’s size, the size of a bug, a lighting bug. Its light shimmered with streaks of blue and magenta. It hovered in the air, bobbing as if it considering what to do next.
Finch sprung out from hiding. He swung the object in his hand over the creature that had looked just like him. By the time I understood the object he held was a mason jar, he had already screwed the cap tight. “Ain’t getting out, now,” he said.
The contents of the jar pulsed harsh shades of crimson, the colors of anger and warning. It wanted to hurt us. But, after a few moments the luminescence dimmed to a gentle pink.
“What is it? How did it look like you? Why?” The questions poured out of me as we walked back.
“It’s a wisp. You know, a wil-o’-the-wisp.”
I didn’t really know, but nodded just the same. “Why was it out there? Why did you catch it?”
“I baited it. Last night, I put a few of my journals out there. Wisp’s are really nosy, can’t keep themselves from invading someone’s privacy.”
Next week, Girl Meets Monster gets a visit from Elsa Carruthers. I’m so excited! Do you have a story to share? Send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week!