The Monsters in my Head

The skeletons that tormented me as a child were very real, but most of my other monstrous fears were rooted in nothing but my overactive imagination. I had a knack for throwing myself into a fear-frenzy, imagining all sorts of spine-tingling situations and allowing them to escalate to the point where every cell in my body vibrated with nervous energy. It could happen anywhere: in my room after bedtime, in the darkened hallway that separated me from my parents, in the harsh light of the bathroom that I hoped would set me at ease. In the worst situations, I would fall into a sort of paralysis, too frightened to move but terrified to remain where I was–I could only gather every last ounce of my courage to make a sudden leap forward and bolt towards my ultimate destination. It was a near-nightly occurrence for about five years. My poor parents tried everything, arming me with dream catchers, rosaries, “magic” blankets, watchdog plushes, even cable TV to protect or distract me from whatever the Fear du Jour happened to be. While their creativity is commendable, I still found ways to scare myself.

And then, it suddenly stopped. It wasn’t the protective talismans, the magic dolls, the enchanted items–it stopped the same way it began: with my imagination. In a remarkable gesture of childhood logic, I realized that my imagination was far more terrifying than anything that could possibly exist in the real world. That meant that was far more terrifying than anything I could encounter in my hallway, or my bathroom, or my bed. I was suddenly empowered. Even as I grew up, reading about serial murderers and cult  killers and plenty of very real things that could do me harm, it remained a sort of mantra. Descending the basement steps to do my laundry at night it less unnerving when I remind myself that any monsters lurking beneath couldn’t be half as terrifying as the things that live in my own head.

As May Monster Madness draws to a close, I wanted to share with you some of my own work. I wrote these snippets several years ago, as a tie-in to a novel I was working on at the time. It was about a girl devoted to a horrific, ancient god and the man who sought knowledge of it, but the pieces below are about their daughter. They’re over-written and need a lot of work, but since they didn’t really belong to anything, I didn’t worry much about them as they sat in my scrapbook. Perhaps someday, Melissa and the monsters inside her head will deserve their own story.

Blue eyes stared upwards, studying the moulded plaster ceiling as if its bouquets ribbons held news of her fate. They hid no ghouls, she reasoned, but they bore no angels, either. Melissa sat up slowly, her watery eyes rippling with disturbances: every night, the terrors gripped her. The moment she turned out her lamp, they came, brandishing their talons like swords and licking their knife-like fangs. When she was little, she could close her eyes and will them away, but no longer–their eyes had taken on a deadly phosphorescence, piercing the darkness to find her. Now they turned her inside-out, her eyes stinging with the smoke of Hell’s fires as her lids fluttered against the back of her skull. They danced for her to the primal beat of their drums, terrible instruments crudely fashioned of parts she dare not speculate the origins of. …and each morning, as the sun rose, they would clamber towards her, claws outstretched, mouths and tongues shaping words of love and devotion. On the light of the Great Star they would disappear, uttering vows of their return…and finally, exhausted, Melissa would sleep.
From the foot of her bed, the mirror glinted, beckoning. She raised a hand to touch her face: long, pianist’s fingers brushed across the smooth, alabaster surface–so different she looked with living flesh. Certainly, she was more accustomed to seeing herself as a collection of gleaming red muscle and pearly pink bone, reflected in the eyes of her monstrous bedfellows and in the muculent trails borne by the floors where they walked.
Convinced as she was of their existence, Melissa crept cautiously to the foor of her bed, avoiding any swift or heavy movements that might rouse the beasts beneath. She was fixated, still, on her eyes, heavily fringed in white and gold–she remembered a time when these lashes gave her a sleepy, tranquil appearance. Now, it was rare that she didn’t look frightened, like a rabbit that has come to feel the hot, hungry breath of the fox on his neck.

“Yes, poor dear!–blessed as you are with those big blue eyes and golden curls!” The boisterous presence of the old housekeeper caused Melissa to jump, nearly tumbling off the bed–a mistake which, to her, could prove fatal. “Sorry to frighten you, but your father is holding breakfast…”

The warmth of life stirred beneath her, a welcome albeit alien sensation. Eyelids fought anxiously to open, wishing desperately to throw off the cover of sleep. …But for the first time in her life, Melissa resisted. Never before had she awoken at her leisure, undisturbed by her ghoulish consorts and their nightmarish mummery. Rather, she recalled nothing but bliss. Through the dusky veils of intoxication, she witnessed scenes of passion, played out as tenderly as she had never imagined love could be; with a script of foreign and endearing words; a choreography of writhing flourishes. The very thought brought a smile to her rosepetal lips and she playfully flicked a fingertip over her lover’s tool, touching it to her lips and tongue searching for the now-familiar bitterness. …this taste, too, was familiar, but not the same pungent salt of last night. This was too familiar, too customary…like sacramental wine to a priest, her tongue was trained to receive…

Blood. Sticky, hot…her spine quivered as the coppery spice hit her nerves. She wanted to be repulsed, both by the taste and by herself–for she knew no monster of her nightmare world could have committed these heinous tasks, created this grotesque work of deadly art. None of her horrid consorts would have torn his flesh to reveal the pearly bone and tendon within, sucking him dry of fluid and stripping him of tender meat. No…this was the stuff of her own dark fantasy. This was her own doing.

Looking over at the husk beside her, the bag of tattered skin and bones, her blue eyes glazed, water trickling down with a heat from the back of her skull…

Brought to you as part of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop —


Integral Fear: the Monsters of Junji Ito

Most children are afraid of the things around them, real and imagined, but I was worse than most. Halloween was a trauma that repeated every year–I couldn’t turn on a television, listen to a radio, or even follow my mother into a grocery store without being faced by some terrifying monster or another. Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula adorned doors and windows in the form of stylized cartoon cutouts, and I often had the imprint of weekly circulars on my face from pressing them against my eyes as my mother led me around stores. But the thing that chilled me most was hardly a monster at all: it was a basic component of human life. My biggest childhood fear was the human skeleton. There was something about the proportions of it, the incompleteness of a creature full of holes and open space that gave me chills. The skeletal figures in films or cartoons moved with distorted, jerky motions that made my skin crawl. It was a monster I imagined at the end of every dark hallway, in every ill-lit closet, under every proverbial bed. My mother thought it would calm my nerves to tell me that we each hid our very own skeleton inside, but it only made things worse. That only meant there was a monster inside of me, hidden just beneath the surface of my own skin.

image by Shigeru Mizuki

image by Shigeru Mizuki

Perhaps this is why, when fear turned to fascination, I found myself obsessed with Japanese horror. There was a certain psychology to their hauntings and invasions that I was taken in by, and a sense of poetry to their direction that I couldn’t find in Western horror. As an artist, I was drawn to manga, the comic culture of Japan, and was pleased to find a decent amount of horror titles available to import. I loved authors like Senno Knife and Eiji Otsuka, but they weren’t being translated at the time and I had to rely on my own working knowledge of written Japanese to get a general feel of the stories. Luckily, I was able to find a good body of Junji Ito’s work translated for me. A true master of Japanese horror, Ito has produced about a dozen titles, some series spanning numerous volumes in length. Best known for Uzumaki and Tomie, two serials that later became films by the same name, Ito’s sense of the uncanny coupled with his distinct drawing style makes his work easy to recognize. But what drew me to his work above others was the idea that our own fear can turn us into the very monsters we try to avoid.

Ito's Mimi no Kaidan

Ito’s Mimi no Kaidan

Ito’s antagonizing forces are usually mysterious and unexplained–creatures that surface from the depths of the ocean, holes in the earth millions of years buried, plants that bear impossible fruit. Certainly, the uncanny situations in and of themselves are unsettling, but what makes his stories truly horrifying is the reaction seen in the characters and the people that surround them. Amigara Fault might be the title enigma, but the chilling part of the story is what the characters feel forced to do. While we find ourselves intrigued by the cursed village in Falling, we realize we don’t really care what happened to the sleepwalking townspeople or where the abducted group goes. What we’re really concerned with is the irrational reaction of the family members left behind to gang up on the sole survivor. In each of these stories, like so many of his others, the disturbance we are presented with is not inherently evil or bad as far as we can tell–instead, we watch the characters begin a complete psychological breakdown as they face the fears that arise within them. Their own sense of doom is what does them in–no one forces the residents of Amigara into the holes, they simply feel as if they must.

Ito's Thing that Drifted Ashore

Ito’s Thing that Drifted Ashore

Of course there are plenty of stories where the characters do face actual monsters: the Thing That Drifted Ashore is certainly monstrous, alien in its appearance and function. It might seem as if the most horrifying part is its belly full of hardly-digested human bodies, but one girl’s distant memory of a strange dream suggests that there’s much more at play than we immediately thought. The Thing itself is really just an object, like the carving in the Chill, that through some mysterious process transforms the ill-fated characters into monsters themselves. Through curiosity, or greed, or lust, or paranoia, the characters are changed into the worst possible versions of themselves with horrifying consequences. The Slug Girl seems to morph into the object of her revulsion simply through her fear and hatred, the same force that drives privacy-obsessed Saiko into the claustrophobic Town with no Streets.

The terrifying thing about all of Ito’s monsters is that they all began as human. We could easily have been any one of them, at the wrong place at the wrong time, equipped with the wrong set of phobias. I find myself obsessed with the imagery, the ideas he presents, and therefore find myself afraid of meeting the characters’ fates as a result. Like so many of the writers who imagine apocalyptic situations, Ito does not see a sympathetic and helpful population. Instead, he imagines our own fears will devour us, render us inhuman and transform us into monsters deserving of annihilation. His most terrifying forces are the fears within the human soul, as basic a component of life as the skeleton that hides inside every single one of us. And that thought in itself is downright chilling.

Brought to you as part of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop —


Zombies: Our Worst Case Scenario

Image by Banana Workshop

Image by Banana Workshop

If I was to make a list of common themes in my favourite horror, the Unknown would rank pretty high. Whether it involves the supernatural in any form, Lovecraft’s Cosmic Unknowns, Poe’s mysterious psychologies, or Ito’s unexplained phenomena, the idea of a terror beyond ourselves for which we might never have an explanation is thrilling. But I have a ritual that I perform each night–I turn off the outdoor lights, lock my back door, and close all the curtains. When my door lock broke, I realize it was not some malformed Hellbeast I was afraid of, but something much more familiar. Something much more human.

The other night, while rigging the makeshift trap that serves as the lock now, a rather unwelcome vision entered my mind: a man, standing alone in the spotlight of my back porch. My instinct was to examine exactly what made the situation so chilling. In my mind, he brandished no weapon at all, and I came to realize the vision was more terrifying the more disconnected he seemed–it was more frightening to imagine him slouched and staring at the concrete below than poised to break in, or beckoning to me from behind the glass. The horror did not lie within him, but in what I would probably do in reaction: I would have to unlock the door. Every scenario I could imagine, including calling the police, involved me opening that door at some point or another. And I knew, in my all-too-human heart, I would still want to help a lost or wounded stranger.


Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”

I’ve watched countless presentations of the apocalypse, some two, three, four times or more. It’s become a common theme in television and movies recently, where the ultimate battle for survival has us not only fighting a deadly sickness that medicine has yet to address, but also ourselves in so many ways. Zombies frighten us in the same way that my midnight vision frightened me: the humanity in us recognizes the humanity in them, even when the humanity in them is gone. As children, we’re taught to be compassionate human beings and we’re conditioned to recognize suffering so we can help where we can. We give to charities and volunteer to help people we’ve never met on the sole basis that they are also human and deserve better than what they have. It’s part of our condition. In order to effectively stave off a zombie apocalypse, we would need to deprogram ourselves and see the sick, the suffering, and the unfortunate as a threat to our lives, and as a threat to our very existence as human beings.

No amount of Doomsday Prepping, weapons training, stock piling, or escape planning can prepare us for that. Those of us who devoured Romero’s Living Dead series and later films like 28 Days Later or REC might think we’re prepared for a zombie apocalypse by counting the cases of bottled water in our garages, the number of shot gun shells we can purchase, the level of gas in our tanks. But can we ever prepare ourselves for the inevitable breakdown of our social structure? Can we complete shut our hearts to our fellow man? What happens when our loved ones fall? We might scream at our televisions and denounce our favourite characters for being soft when faced with an infected fiancée or sibling, but would we be prepared to aim our weapons at faces we once found familiarity and comfort in? Once upon a time, I thought I could. We tell children that dead things are just empty shells, that their spirits, the part that makes them the things we knew and loved, have left them. The dead hamster in the cage is no longer Fluffy–Fluffy left that body behind with that last little hamster breath. But it’s easier to believe because those bodies are no longer moving, those faces are no longer emoting, that voice has gone silent. With zombies, that isn’t the case. Is it as easy to believe that the body approaching, arms reaching, eyes staring back at you no longer belong to your best friend? I’m no longer certain.

Fulci's "Zombie"

Fulci’s “Zombie”

Perhaps I devalue the human survival instinct. Maybe in the face of certain death and total destruction, we throw off our own humanity as a fail-safe. Even this is no comfort, however, as it poses more problems than it solves. Without our humanity to keep us on task, we’re free to turn on each other–the still-living, the healthy, the survivors. In that scenario, the zombies are not the only inhuman monsters we’re fighting against, we’re also fighting ourselves. We wouldn’t have to worry about hurting former friends and family, but we would also have no one to trust, no one to comfort us, no one to conspire with. It would be every man for himself with little to no real endgame.

Zombies are scary enough on their own, as disease-riddled undead drones that just keep coming, but they’re terrifying in their familiarity. They were once us, and we can become them. They cause us to question what being human really means, and what it means in relation to others. While the idea of Terrors from Outer Space may be horrifying, the concept is more abstract and unlikely. Zombies are all too real: they’re our Worst Case Scenario, one that might be one wrong flu or plague away. Maybe this is why they’ve captured the attention of our television producers, our filmmakers, our novelists. Zombies are clinical monsters, all too easy to reconcile in the world of scientific and medical reality. When I lock my door at night, I can shake off the fear of some unknown creature lurking in the darkness, but I can’t always keep myself from shivering at the thought of something more familiar. Zombies are something I’m not sure I could separate myself completely from, and I’m not sure what it would mean for me if I could.

Brought to you as part of


Metamorphosis 133.0 – Shiny Things

Believe it or not, it’s February 1st, which means it’s time for the Sophistique Noir Monthly Theme post! This month, the theme was Rings. I’ll be honest–I wasn’t sure how to shoot these photos, and I didn’t want them to look like I was just taking pictures of my hands, but I don’t really know what I could have done differently.

I have a “thing” for hands. I look at absolutely everyone’s hands, whether they’re passing me paperwork or just walking down a hallway. Hands, to me, are like faces: each and every person’s hands are entirely unique and identifying. I’m a bit self-conscious of the size of my hands, but I like the shape of my fingers and nails well enough that rings are one of my favourite accessories. For many years, I didn’t wear rings. I was elbow-deep in dough or icing for more than half of the day, which really wasn’t conducive to wearing more than a simple, short necklace. I didn’t even wear a watch. But that’s not to say I didn’t own a few nice pieces for days off or events that didn’t require any sort of manual labor. These days, I still forgo my rings and bracelets much of the time so they don’t get wet or disappear, but I make sure they’re readily available for days off.

This little guy started life as a spoon. Personally, I sort of wish it had never underwent transformation and I somehow magically acquired the whole set. Could you imagine a table setting of scarabs? The band (which was once the stem) is decorated with stylized lotuses and stalks, leading up to this beautiful beetle. I believe it’s stirling, and it’s quite heavy.

This was a gift from my boyfriend three years ago, when we had been dating about three years. It’s not the only ring he’s given me, but it is my favourite. I love the three cut garnets and the intricate filigree on the white-gold setting, but I also love that it was more or less a “just because” gift. He saw it and thought of me. I’m pretty sure if pieces of jewelry can really house spirits, this is the one I would haunt as a ghost.

This ring is my most recent acquisition. Hand-cast in silver, this delicate little skeleton hand was given to me by my mother. Of all the bones in the human body, I think the hands are among the most interesting: something about the way the bones are elongated, making the whole hand look like nothing but wrist and fingers, two things I love about the human form. When people see me wear this, however, I don’t think that explanation is what they think of.

I do wear all three of these rings just about every day, unless I know I’ll be getting wet. They may not exactly “go” together, being of three distinctly different styles and not particularly matching any other jewelry I frequently wear, but I’m not the type to really care.

Do you have any pieces you wear every day? What’s your favourite jewelry to accessorize with?

If you haven’t all ready, I highly encourage you to participate in Sophistique Noir’s Monthly Theme. They’re super fun, and I really enjoy seeing people’s variations on it.

Love you to the Moon and Back,

Luna Valentine