BEHIND THE DOOR by AARON POLSON
Cate asked me to write about modern monsters.
She also suggested I show you what’s behind the door. (Have you read “The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable”?)
I’m going to do both. Or, better yet, you are going to show yourself.
Here’s what you do:
1. Find a small mirror
2. Find a closet or other doorway behind which is a shelf
3. Place the mirror on the shelf
4. close the door
5. open the door, see your own image, and scream
Yes, you are the monster. So am I. Part of the thrill of horror and dark fiction, for me, is recognizing our own capacity for being monstrous.
Oh sure, you say. I’ve heard that before. Real original, Aaron.
I should be clear. This isn’t about serial killers. I’m not really speaking of human monsters, or accusing you of being inhuman. This is about what really lurks inside a man or woman, even a small child. The monsters in my stories are born of trauma, greed, guilt, sorrow, anger, and even joy. They are hateful but pitied. Objects worthy of both loathing and understanding. Our imaginations breathe life into their grotesque forms. Our thoughts animate their limbs. And the most monstrous of all is what can happen to the image in the mirror. True horror doesn’t stem from the threat of death—it’s the threat of losing one’s self. What happens when you look in the mirror and the mirror isn’t you?
In my latest book, Borrowed Saints, Phoebe Ellison interacts with the girl in the mirror. They are one and the same, but different. The selfish, self-loathing, vindictive reflection manipulates Phoebe and forces her hand to do some pretty horrible things to release her pain. I felt for Phoebe, even as I wrote the book. The thought of rescuing her was tempting.
But I didn’t. Phoebe needed to find her own way to slay the monster, as we all should.
So what’s behind the door—the magic one from “The World in Rubber…”, you ask. Go back to #5 above. This time, open the door and realize the image at which you are looking represents the most amazing creature on this pale blue dot we call a home. Yes, the capacity for hate and destruction and anger is there, but the ability to love, create, and express lives there, too.
In “The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable”, Andy, the narrator, refuses to go through the door. What does he see on the other side? If anyone has criticized the question, it’s because I don’t show what Andy sees. So what is it? Tell me, you demand. I don’t know—you tell me. Nothing more than you can find, too, if you peek. The world is filled with more wonder than I could ever imagine, and I will keep trying to tell its story, even when the monsters block the way.
Aaron Polson currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a tattooed rabbit. During the day, Aaron works as a mild-mannered high school English teacher. His stories have been reprinted in The Best of Every Day Fiction 2009 and 2010, listed as a recommended read by Tangent Online, received honorable mention in the storySouth Million Writers Award and Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. His latest novel, Borrowed Saints, is available for Kindle. The monsters keep telling him to write a sequel.