Esther Wagner Fiction Prize Winner
By Courtney Pfahl '02
The author has asked me to write a short introduction to this story describing some conventions of the popular horror genre. However, I would first like to say that I arn not an expert on popular horror, particularly not in the literary form. I am actually a director. My most important piece, Revenge of the Porno Clown, won an International Lovers of B Movies (ILBM) award for "Best Short Film: Under 15 Minutes." The author tells me that this story, which I have not read, is loosely based on my flm. Besides directing this twelve-minute masterpiece and watching all of the Halloween and Nightmare of Elm Street films, I have little knowledge on this subject. However, the author feels that this is an adequate background, so I shall try to do my best.
First of all, in a pop horror work, no matter what the medium, the heroine or hero, and any other characters really, cannot be too likeable, as any character in the piece is fair game for being the victim in the f~rst or any one of the sequels. Pop horror strives only to shock and frighten, and if one of the victims is too likeable, the audience may feel sadness or pity, which is not the ~ntent of the work.
Also, the audience should not in any way be able to sympathize with the killer. He should be, in every respect, the epitome of evil. The audience should hate and fear the villain throughout the entire piece - so that when he meets his inevitable end at some or many points during the series, the audience will be content with it instead of being confused by a number of emotions.
The deaths should be individual gore masterpieces, as this is me primary reason that the audience views the work. The other characters' reactions and/or subsequent actions in the piece should not detract from the gory brilliance. If characters were to just disappear instead of being slaughtered in horrible and creative ways, the audience would soon be bored with the piece.
Finally, and most importantly, the creator of the work must ALWAYS leave space for a sequel. Even if it is not obvious at the end of the piece, the author, director or what have you, HAS to have some sort of subsequent story in mind, because the determining factor of popular horror is that it never really ends.
A few weeks ago, an old college friend rang me and told me that he was compiling a Postmodern Horror Anthology. Being familiar with my novels, he asked if I would like to contribute a short story based on Popular Horror conventions to his collection. Naturally, I was thrilled to help, and the following is my story - which is based on the ILBM award winning movie, Revenge of the Porno Clown
Because this is a Popular Horror work and my friend has asked me to keep it short, I have decided that the beginning and middle of the story are extraneous (honestly, these aspects are usually just boring and time consuming), and hence have completely left them out. If as a reader, you feel that you really need either of these aspects, I suggest that you watch just about any Popular Horror movie. In particular, I suggset any of the early Friday the Thirteenth movies or the f rst or second in the Evil Dead series (though not the third because Army of Darkness is more fantasy than horror). This having been said, I hope that you enjoy my story.
[Editor's note: having two introductions seems a bit excessive, and doesn't the introducer (i.e. the director) usually read the work before he/she writes the introduction? Perhaps you should shorten or completely leave out the director's introduction and expand on your own intro. For example, I think that you should point out the similarity between the films that you suggested - i.e. they are all about a group of young people who vacation at a remote cabin, and subsequently most are murdered in the surrounding forest - so that the readers, if they have not seen any of the aforementioned movies, will have a decent idea of the setup (even if you don 't write it out) before they plunge into the story.]
Arion could feel her heartbeat as if she were in the final agonizing moments of a disease, fear of the unknown pounding out on the monitor in triple time before going flat. Her feet followed, also rising and falling in fast forward. She'd heard people insist that fear gave one superhuman sensual perception - those people were full of shit. She did not have vampire eyes to lead her through this impenetrable [Author's note: unfathomable?] darkness [Editor's note: neither. Both are overused - perhaps just darkness or-some word like 'glutinous' or 'viscous’1, and the gods followed suit with her body, disallowing any moonlight to pass through the thick ceiling of leaves. Her heartbeat pulsated up her throat, snaking into her sinuses and choking off her breath. And still she ran. Her ghastly follower chanted in his out of tune, singsong voice, Arion, Arion - the wind singing a chorus through the leaves. Each footfall unleashed a cacophony of breaking twigs and dirt rose with her foot, falling back in thunderous drumbeats. She could envision the laughing Diro following her, able to keep up (and gaining probably!) at a moderate walk- not making any noise to reveal his whereabouts other than her name. [Editor's note: No! Take "and gaining probably" out.] Bastard, she thought and unconsciously increased her pace.
Never had Arion been more aware of her breasts. She felt like a twelve-year-old boy with his first Playboy as she moved her mind from Diro to the heavy objects that beat the shit out of her chest with every step. She inwardly cursed Brodie for insisting that she need not wear a bra and berated herself for spending all of her money on a new bikini instead of saving it for a breast reduction. [Editor's note: Would the bikini money have been enough for plastic surgery?] However, there was little she could do about her chest size now, and she promised herself that if she got out of this alive, she'd seriously increase her practical lingerie collection and try to find an affordable plastic surgeon. The decision did little to lessen the pain in Arion's chest, but at least it gave her something to wake up for tomorrow. [Editor's note: this paragraph is terrible. Besides not ftting with the previous and destroying the seriousness of the writing, it is chauvinistic, crude, and all together unnecessary.]
But first she had to get there. Arion kept running, feeling each step behind her nose. [Editor 's note: this idea that Arion could feel her footsteps in her sinuses worked fairly well before, but now it is a little tired. I suggest that you remove the preceding sentence.] Her feet pounded blindly through the underbrush, branches grabbing for her long hair as she raced past. [Editor's note: the amount of running in this story, thus far, is a bit excessive. In the previous two sentences, you seem to really be aware of this and the writing is tedious. Perhaps find a more wholesome (or at least more female) thingfor her to think about instead of just allowing her to run.] Suddenly the rhythm was broken as her foot lodged under a root. Her body fell through the night, trapped ankle twisting painfully, underbrush attacking her fiace and arms as the ground rushed up to meet her.[Author 's note: Here would be a good place for aflashback. I 've written in aflashback to earlier that day, but do you think that I should have her think back to her childhood instead?]
Arion giggled and crept up the dusty stairs to meet Brodie in the shower. "Wait five minutes," he'd said, "so the others don't notice." She'd sat on the couch counting the seconds while the others talked.
One one thousand....
Two one thousand....
"We should go swimming later," Kimmy said. Sixty one thousand.... Sixty-one....
"There are too many bugs," Sharon answered.
"I'm up for skinny dipping," Brian suggested. The girls giggled and shook their heads unconvincingly.
One hundred eighty.[Editor's note: This is only three minutes. Perhaps you should either have her count up to 300 seconds or write something like "Arion was tired of waiting" instead of "Arion stood up."]
Arion stood up. "You guys can go ahead," she said, "I think I'm going to take a nap." She brought the back of her hand up to her mouth and faked a yawn The three barely took notice of her walking out of the room - each probably fantasizing about their possible menage a trots and glad they wouldn't have to incorporate a fourth.
Now at the top of the stairs, Arion could hear the shower, and steam seeped under the door and snaked up her legs. She smiled and entered the cloudy bathroom -barely able to make out the shower curtain. In slow motion her hand reached out and seized the blue plastic, tropical fish folding and merging in her grasp. [Editor's note: I like your description of the shower curtain.1 The rings above grated painfully on the metal rod, and a veil of warm mist dampened her face.
Her smile pulled on her teeth and would not let go - even when she began to scream her blank grin stayed behind. Brodie's white, fishlike corpse lay propped up against the back of the tub, blood still pouring from the open slash washed away with the water down, down the drain. [Editor's note: this description is disappointing and vague. You should make it more vivid.]
Arion pulled back - still in slow motion, hands still full of tropical-fish-blue plastic. Her heel landed in a pool of water, and suddenly she was pitched forward onto Brodie's body. [Editor's note: Keep thisflashback to earlier that day - having her think back to her childhood would be pointless. However, you should consider expanding on this passage, perhaps including (assuming this happened) the deaths of her other three friends.]
Painfully, Arion pushed herself into a sitting position, left ankle twisted at an odd angle. Every moment counted she knew, and counting off~e seconds as they rushed by, she grasped her leg, and jerked it from beneath its wooden clamp. Fire rushed up her leg into her brain, singeing the collected time away at her nerve endings. Stand up, she ordered herself, and surprisingly her body obeyed. [Editor's note: in the previous sentence, as this is the first time that you directly show inner thought, you really begin to demonstrate an advantage of writing over cinematography - i.e. the ability to convincingly communicate inner monologue. Though I have not actually viewed your director's Revenge of the Porno Clown, because it won an award, I 'm guessing that it is more artistically accomplished than your story has been thus far. I 'm presuming that this is because f lm too can do things that literature cannot. For example, through lighting techniques and varying camera angles, a filmmaker can render a scene during which the character does nothing but run artistically interesting. Therefore, I suggest that you leave out much of the "stage direction" and instead utilize the inner monologue technique.] Sheer will allowed her to begin running again, pain from her ankle swelling in red and yellow smudges before her eyes. Her hurt foot bounced behind her as she hopped along as quickly as she could [Editor 's note: take this sentence ("her hurt. . she could") out. It is pointless and repetitive, and the sentence preceding it sufficiently expresses the amount of pain she is in.] I'll beat him, she thought, I've still got the chance. And a smile stretched through the sweat on her face. [Author's note: should I add in a short passage from Diro's perspective here?] [Editor's note: yes, a paragraph from Diro 's perspective would be interesting insolong as you show him doing more than just chasing her You may want to include moreflashbacks and/or have him examine just what the implications are of his being a "Porno Clown."]
Suddenly, Diro was there. She stopped, her lame ankle dragging her down to the ground. He looked at her ganning with sharp yellow studs of teeth and laughing, "Arion, Arion." Diro's face was a caricature - white grease paint covering every inch of skin, a cartoon grin painted on in shades of blue and red, and a single red dot on the tip of his nose. But his eyes were the worst; the oversized blue triangle eyebrows framed the deadness - eyes completely devoid of white or color just dull blackness. [Author's note: I just realized that my writing style is fairly conventional. Because this is for a postmodern anthology, should I incorporate some postmodern elements in this story?] [Editor's note: yes. Besides adhering to the anthology's movement, including postmodern elements would definitely add another layer of interest to this story. For example, you could expose the process of writing by calling attention to exactly whatyou are doing at key moments in the story, or perhaps you could remove the director's introduction from the beginning and instead work his main points into the body of the story.]
Arion scuttled backwards like a crab, hands and feet propelling her. [Editor's note: take out "hands and feet propelling her, " as it is unnecessary.] Diro followed, bouncing back and forth on tiptoes. Her ankle screamed, and the pain nearly knocked her out. Suddenly, she was up against a tree trunk; too exhausted to try anything else, she curled her knees up to chest and wrapped her arms around her head. [Editor's note: the previous two sentences seem a little staged, and you should consider revising them perhaps going into her head, as I suggested earlier.] Diro was on top of her, laughing hysterically, and in her vision he was Technicolor madness, expanding and contracting as she screamed. [Editor's note: Wonderful! The previous sentence is visual brilliance! I think you should revise some of the previous descriptions keeping this image in mind.] His left hand emerged from behind his back. His fingers had been severed off at the knuckles, and the razor sharp blades stuck in the stumps glinted in the moonlight. Slowly he lifted the blades to his face and brought one to his mouth, splitting his lips at a 20 degree angle, blood trickling down his chin as he said, "Shhh..." His tongue emerged to catch the red smears. [Author's note: which ending do you prefer?1 [Editor 's note: how did "Revenge of the Porno Clown" the film end? Perhaps you should take this into consideration and decide how true to the movie you want to stay when choosing how to end your story.]
[Author's note: Diro kitls Arion?] Arion choked off her scream and stared up at him. The blades left his lips and attached themselves to her t-shirt, ripping through the cotton and sticking into her right shoulder, then pulling out again. She opened her mouth, wondering why she deserved this after everything that she'd gone through to avoid it, and no sound came out. Instead one of the evil clown's razor fingers went into it. The cold metal scratched at the roof of her mouth, and she gagged as he pushed it into the back of her throat. She stared up into his bottomless eyes as he slowly lifted his vile digit. She could feel it cut through the roof of her mouth, up into her nose and sinuses [Editor's note: perhaps now would be a better time to reinstate your earlier description of Arion feeling her step/heartbeat in her sinuses.], and then she could feel no more.
Diro pulled his razor claw straight through and let her body drop to the ground. An angry red line divided the two sides of her face, and her eyes preserved the last moment of sheer terror and pain. He wiped his blades on his checkered pants and walked away. [Editor 's note: this ending paragraph is incredibly disappointing after the graphic detail of the passage preceding it. Consider revising if you decide to use this ending.]
[Author's note: or Arion kills Diro?] Arion ignored him and kept screaming. He glared at her [Editor's note: you could really describe his facial expression in more detail. As this would be the period of greatest suspense, writing should be stretched out to add to the suspense.] and tightly covered her mouth with his unscathed hand, scream still trickling through his fingers as he set his blades beside her throat. She breathed deeply through her nose and pulled her head back just a little bit. Her mouth registered the slight slackness of his grip and clamped down hard on the stubby f~ngers, his acrid blood rushing into her mouth. He jerked his hand away, and she spat out the coppery liquid. He jumped on top of her, the blades attaching themselves to her t-shirt, ripping through the cotton and sticking into her left shoulder bone. As he was eying to detach his claws, she pushed as hard as she could with her knees and moved him off of her. Arion smiled and grabbed them for him, jerking them out of her shoulder and thrusting them into his white, soulless face.
She limped slowly back toward the cabin. Diro had laughed his last.
[Editor 's note: I feel that my following comments shall relieve me of trying to decide which of these two entirely cliche' and horrible endings is best. Instead, I have something to say as to the story in its entirety, if you'll excuse my French - it's shit. This story hasabsolutely no redeeming qualities. It doesn 't even have a point. Your heroine goes from being a self-centered, chauvinistic teenage boy, to Superwoman. As for Diro, your director forgot to note that all 'Popular Horror ' slayers have some sort of motive. Yours has none. In fact, yours does not even have a character, just a hand of knives. My suggestion of what you should do with your story - erase it from your hard drive, burn any paper copies, andpurge itirom your uninspired brain. Do not ever dump any of you literary garbage on me again. I quit.]