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Relevance of Horror in Literature

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My first tryst with horror was The Zee Horror Show. One would argue that Duck Tales and TaleSpin were more suitable for an eight-year-old. But the intriguing charm of the new horror show, the first of its kind on Indian television, was hard to ignore. Most episodes were rooted in superstition and dark magic. The actors who played the roles of ghosts were almost always in low-budget prosthetic makeup – a desperate attempt by the makers to scare the audience. That didn’t scare me at all. What really scared me, however, was the reaction of the characters to the situations they were often thrown in.

          Stand behind a door and say ‘Boo!’ and you may startle a few. But if you were to tell them a backstory about a young man who never left his room and went mad before strangling himself to death. If you were to then guide them into the room, slowly, they will imagine the rest and scare themselves silly. Horror, as I’ve come to believe, is all about the power of suggestion. It makes us uncomfortable at times and compels us to delve into our own darkness.

          Why do people want to indulge in horror films or horror literature? Why do I like the genre so much? I’ve often thought about this. The eight-year-old me was just fond of jump scares. But as I grew up and started reading more, and more important, as I started writing, I realized it was not just about enjoying the jump scares as much as it was about exploring our deepest, darkest questions. We bury our guilt, the anxieties, the sins, and the fears deep inside us, down in the dark somewhere, and try to look tough. Horror is the opportunity to discuss them through metaphors and bring them out into the light. It lets us look those fears in the face, quite literally, and helps us overcome them. Well, most of the time, if not always.

          Horror is different for different people. The supernatural may not scare everyone. My father didn’t flinch even once while watching a popular Hindi horror film. But he got scared when my little brother, who was four years old then, fell off a gate and hurt his head. The sight of blood on the floor made it even worse. My brother was all right an hour later. It was nothing that a tubful of ice cream couldn’t cure. Until then, however, I had refused to believe that anything could scare my father, the defender of my universe, the brave, the know-all. What I saw on his face that day was pure horror.

          In Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Night, a mother waits for her oldest son to return home. The boy is out playing with his friends. It’s nearly midnight and he should have returned home, but he hasn’t. The mother is anxious, worried, her thoughts are running wild. She decides to go to the ravine and search for him. Her youngest son tags along. When the son finally returns at half-past twelve, she is relieved. She scolds him for coming back so late and the three of them walk back home. There were no wraiths walking along the edge of the ravine, no apparitions emerging from the dark. Even if there were, they wouldn’t have scared her as much as the thought of her son never returning.

          A similar idea is explored at length in Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. A delectable blend of crime and supernatural horror, it’s a story of a missing child. Tommy and his friends regularly hang out at a nearby state park until one day, Tommy doesn’t return home – every parent’s worst nightmare. A desperate search for the missing boy ensues. We follow Tommy’s mother, Elizabeth, as she goes through her grief. No one in the little town is prepared for the strange events that follow: shadowy figures lurk outside the houses in the night, journal pages mysteriously appear at Elizabeth’s house, and more. But what’s scarier than the shadowy figures and such is the unrelenting grief that Elizabeth goes through. Not knowing what happened to one’s child is more horrible than death itself. She begins to imagine the worst and along with her, we imagine the worst, too. Is it really her grief or is there really some supernatural element at play? The lines between the supernatural and reality are blurred. Tremblay is at his best here.

          Stephen King’s Pet Sematary wouldn’t have been scary if not for the emotional struggles of parents over losing their child. Again, it’s the reaction of the father – just like Elizabeth’s reaction to her missing child in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – to the loss of his child that scares us, more than the floating heads in the cemetery and the dead cat coming back to life. His actions, although wrong and dangerous, are justified. We understand his reasons.

          John Langan’s Fisherman is a wonderfully written melancholy story about loss and grief. Abe and Dan are widowers who find solace in a shared hobby of fishing. And when Dutchman’s Creek offers something more than just fine fishing, something too fantastical to be true, one of them is tempted to take it up. Regardless of the dangerous choice he makes in the end, it is understandable.

          The easiest thing in the world is pitying someone who’s in trouble and saying we are ‘sorry to know’ and moving on. Empathising with them is hard, almost impossible without experiencing the pain ourselves. All good literature makes us more human. All good horror literature helps us understand the tribulations of the withering soul, the mechanics of evil, and mainly, the repercussions of not reacting when it’s necessary. Being empathetic is still hard, but we are almost there.

          Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door explores this in excruciating detail. The novel asks more questions than it answers. What starts off as a pre-teen puppy love soon dives into an unimaginable tale of humiliation and innocence lost. 14-year-old Meg Laughlin and her younger sister are sent to live with their aunt and her three sons after the death of their parents. Meg makes friends with the boy next door, David Moran. It doesn’t take much time before Ruth Chandler, the aunt, to begin resenting the sisters and subjecting them to acts that no human should endure, let alone kids. Meg is held captive in the basement and Ruth, along with her sons and the neighbourhood kids who are the same age as Meg, tortures her. By the time David finally decides to help her, it’s already too late.

          “There are things you know you'll die before telling, things you know you should have died before ever having seen. I watched and saw.”

          It’s not hard to understand why Ketchum decided to tell the story in first-person. As we read, we become accomplices in the atrocities inflicted on the girl. We are right there, in the basement, looking on helplessly as things take an ugly turn. We see what evil is capable of. We see how far humans can go to hurt another person. Just when we think it’s over and nothing can get worse, it will. It’s as if Ketchum is pointing a finger at us and asking: ‘Do you have the guts to know what she went through? What would you do if you were in David Moran’s place? Would you just stand there and think you are good as long as you are not putting your hand on the girl? What’s the breaking point for you to stand up and decide to help?’

          Sometimes, there is no other horror than the nature of the bystander effect.

          Ketchum’s writing is arsenic, to the point, without any unnecessary frills. He never lets style take over the matter. It takes incredible talent to strip your writing of all things purple and stick to the main story, to say what you have to say in plain and simple language. The beauty of his writing shines in the background whereas the unfolding of monstrosity takes place on the main stage. It succeeds in making the readers feel guilty. ‘You think you know about pain?’ reads the first line of the novel. One may never truly understand the pain of unfortunate souls like Meg in the novel or Nirbhaya, the Delhi gang-rape victim, but books, mainly horror literature, help us get close to understanding their pain.

          In Ania Ahlborn’s Brother, Michael Morrow is an unwilling participant in his family’s twisted hobby. He is adopted by the Morrows and is subjected to emotional and physical abuse since his childhood. He feels he owes his family for giving him food and shelter and helps them whenever they need him to clean up their mess. He has accepted his place in the family and functions on auto-pilot mode. He carries the weight of his family’s sins, especially of his brother, Rebel, who takes perverse pleasure in hurting people. He tries to protect his sister from the same abuse he has endured all his life but to no avail. He is at the mercy of his momma the ring-leader and his brother, and can’t get away from their grip. In the end, when his brother plays a despicable trick on him, Michael has only one option: to fight back.

          The reader is put in Michael Morrow’s shoes and the questions rise again: How much is too much? What will it take to shatter that bystander effect you’ve been nurturing your whole life and stand up for what is right?

          Horror doesn’t always go bump in the night. Sometimes it just sits around and waits, and when we are most vulnerable, it sneaks up on us and envelops us. Sometimes, ignoring the horror around us is the most perverse type of horror there is.

          The world we live in has always been filled with terrors, and horror literature helps us confront them. If we don’t, we will forever be encapsulated by everything dark. The pleasure of enjoying horror is all about reacting to this truth from a safe distance. In the end, we all face the same monsters: anxieties, social stigma, the unknown, the future, rejections, uncertainty, failures. When these monsters get more powerful, we lose the most important feeling that every human should have in abundance: empathy.

          “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” said H P Lovecraft. And when we do not know what our fate has in store for us in the future, our mind naturally meanders into unknown territory and scares itself by imagining the worst possible scenario.

          Horror genre extols one important virtue, one quality that’s the most important of all for us to lead a fulfilling life: bravery. We need an ample amount of it for whatever right we may want to do in our lives.

          Then again, what’s life without a few scares?

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Ask Me Anything

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Hey guys,

Come this November 19th, at 10:30 p.m. IST, ask me anything about my debut novel, The Parking Lot; about anything and everything related to reading and writing. The event will be live for 48 hours. See you there.

Here's the link:

AMAFeed Ask Me Anything!

The Parking Lot is a psychological horror novel set in the heart of Bangalore. Be entertained, be spooked. 

I hope to chat with you all soon.

Here's the blurb:

What do you do when your professional and personal life kicks you in the teeth on the same day? Watch a night show and then drink yourself into a stupor. That was Ekanth’s plan of action. But his bad day spills over to the next when he finds himself stranded in the mall’s deserted parking lot past midnight. Something attacks him; it is silent, sudden, swift, ruthless. Ekanth fights back with the unseen entity and escapes. But was it an escape or did he set something free? Something that will live in him … and unleash a terror the world has never seen before …

And here's the trailer:





The Parking Lot is now available on:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076PL6TS9 (India)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076PL6TS9 (USA)


https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076PL6TS9 (United Kingdom)



You don't need a Kindle device. You can buy it through the free Kindle app on your phone or desktop.

Read the prologue to see what's to come.

The Parking Lot - Book Trailer

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Category:

              What do you do when your professional and personal life kicks you in the teeth on the same day? Watch a night show and then drink yourself into a stupor. That was Ekanth’s plan of action. But his bad day spills over to the next when he finds himself stranded in the mall’s deserted parking lot past midnight. Something attacks him; it is silent, sudden, swift, ruthless. Ekanth fights back with the unseen entity and escapes. But was it an escape or did he set something free? Something that will live in him … and unleash a terror the world has never seen before …

Check out the video trailer:




The Parking Lot is now available on:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076PL6TS9 (India)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076PL6TS9 (USA)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076PL6TS9 (United Kingdom)


You don't need a Kindle device. You can buy it through the free Kindle app on your phone or desktop. The book's free till 30 Oct 2017, 12 p.m.

Read the prologue here: https://unalloyedwritingpleasure.blogspot.in/2017/10/the-parking-lot-prologue.html

The Parking Lot - now available on Amazon

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Category: , , , , ,

Hey, guys, my novel, The Parking Lot is now available on Amazon. Check it out. You will be entertained (and spooked), I promise. :)

The book is free till Sunday, i.e. 29 Oct 2017.

You don't  need a Kindle reader. You can install the free Kindle app on your phone or Kindle cloud reader on your desktop and buy the book through it. 


Check out the video trailer here:

https://youtu.be/H_Gj0aIyheQ


Here are the Amazon links:


https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076PL6TS9 (India)


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076PL6TS9 (USA)


https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076PL6TS9 (United Kingdom)






The Parking Lot - Prologue

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If Vidyut Shastri were a superstitious man, he wouldn’t have gone to the mall that day.
He woke up at around seven, over two hours later than usual.
Malavika Shastri walked into the bedroom and saw her husband lying awake in bed. ‘I tried to wake you, but you seemed like you were in a coma.’
Vidyut pushed off his blanket, rubbed his eyes. ‘Just a bad dream.’
‘That’s new,’ Malavika walked over to the windows and drew the curtains. Warm sunlight streamed in and gave the room a yellowish-white glow. ‘You hardly have dreams, let alone bad ones.’
‘Never mind. Do you need any help in the kitchen?’
‘Yes, please,’ she said. ‘But get washed up first. Let’s have some coffee.’


Vidyut couldn’t stop thinking about his dream. Malavika and Abhishek were dead. They were on their way to Shivamogga, Malavika’s parents’ place. The bus driver had tried to avoid a dog, hit the barrier of the bridge, and tumbled over into the river, killing all the passengers.
‘What’s taking you so long?’ Malavika called from the kitchen.
Malavika and Abhishek were leaving for Shivamogga today. Vidyut thought of asking them to skip it, but then thought otherwise. It would have been silly of him to consider nightmares seriously.
‘Coming!’ He got off the bed and scurried towards the bathroom.


‘I wish I could have come too,’ Vidyut said.
‘Oh, that’s all right,’ Malavika said. ‘You will get bored there. I know how much you hate weddings. We’ll be back by tomorrow morning, anyway.’
‘Wonder how you managed to convince him to go with you though.’
‘I had to bribe him, of course. If he accompanies me today, he can go on that trip with his friends next week.’
Abhishek came into the living room and joined them. ‘What’s funny?’
Although the dream still lingered somewhere in the back of his head, Vidyut forgot all about it when he saw his son. The boy was growing up fast. The moustache was quite prominent on his face now and his new hairstyle looked abysmal.
‘What are you looking at, appa?’ Abhishek said. ‘Don’t tell me that my hairstyle is bad again. You’ve said it a million times already.’
‘It’s the worst hairstyle I’ve ever seen in my life,’ Vidyut said and Malavika laughed delightfully. ‘But anyway, tell me about this trip you are going …’


It wasn’t until his coffee break in the evening that Vidyut thought about going to the mall. His colleagues were talking about the new Telugu movie, which was a massive hit. It was playing in IMAX, too. He remembered his son talking about it over dinner. ‘The screen size is four times bigger than the normal screen size, appa. It’s amazing to watch a movie there.’ He had conveniently changed the subject when Vidyut asked him what the ticket price was. ‘So appa, I was thinking of taking engineering after my plus two –’
‘Smiling to yourself, Shastri,’ a colleague of his broke his stream of thoughts. ‘What is it?’
‘Nothing,’ Vidyut said. ‘What is this new movie about?’
He wasn’t a fan of Telugu films. Or for that matter, any language films. His sources of entertainment were plays and classical music concerts. But he was curious about watching a movie on a big screen that his son had babbled on. His wife and son wouldn’t be back until tomorrow morning, so why not go to the mall? Dinner and movie. The idea of having some alone-time didn’t seem bad.
He left office at seven and rode to Horizon Mall.


His son was right about the screen size. It was enormous. His colleagues, however, were not so right about the film. It was entertaining in bits and pieces, but nothing to brag about. Either way, the overall experience wasn’t a disaster. If there was anything that he regretted, it was the food. Never ever eat anything in the mall, he vowed.
Had he not eaten anything in the mall, it would have turned out be all right. He would have gone home and slept nicely. But butter roti and matar paneer had messed up his stomach. While other people went out the mall, Vidyut Shastri went to the loo.
He came out after straining his stomach for over twenty minutes.
It was nearly two and the mall seemed empty. For a man who had made it a habit to hit the bed at ten-thirty every night, being awake till two was not a comfortable feeling. He hurried across the floor towards the lift.


When he came into the basement parking lot it was exactly 2 a.m. Except for his scooter, a black Honda Activa, there wasn’t any other vehicle nearby. He surmised he was the last one to leave the mall. Even the guards were nowhere to be seen. He rushed towards his scooter.
The parking lot was hot and dusty. The white tube lights burned brightly against the columns and the floor. The smell of smoke and dust stung his nostrils and he sneezed. The faint buzz of tube lights made him aware how silent it was in the basement. He quickened his pace.
Seconds later he stopped in his tracks when he felt a shadow move somewhere behind him. He turned around. It wasn’t a shadow. The light had gone out at the farther side of the parking lot. He turned and walked back.
He reached his scooter and all the lights in the parking lot went out at once. He jumped a little. He waited a few seconds for the generator to kick in. It seemed quite unusual to him. Malls like these were equipped with high-functioning power generators. Doesn’t matter, he thought. He didn’t need the lights in the parking lot to start his scooter. He would be out of the mall in ten seconds.
He reached into his pocket to fish out the keys when the lights came back on again.
He looked up and around at the vast spread of light in the empty parking lot. It somehow seemed smaller now. It was as though the darkness had squeezed the parking lot in. He turned to his scooter – or perhaps to where his scooter had been before the lights went out.
It took him a few moments to get his head straight. He was standing right in front of his Honda Activa before the lights went out. No question about it. Did the parking lot gobble up his vehicle in the dark? Surely, his mind was playing tricks. His stomach was messed up, sure. Not his head. Or maybe a messed up stomach shakes something in the brain? He almost laughed at his thoughts and shook his head. There must be some explanation to this.
The explanation, although not a perfect one, was staring at him from another corner of the parking lot. He stared back at his vehicle. A bug fluttered and buzzed around the tube light above him. He looked up. The bug buzzed for another second around the light and then, as though being shot, it dropped to the floor near his feet. The tube light above him went out.
Vidyut stared ahead at his vehicle. He couldn’t be sure of what he was seeing. He took out his glasses, wore them, and saw again. Air seemed to go out of his lungs at that instant. The humidity in the parking lot rose and he started sweating profusely. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve. His scooter was still where it was before, but now, its kickstand had come off and held itself steady, its handle straight.
Vidyut took a step forward and the scooter responded with kindness. It moved a bit towards him. Before he could comprehend what was happening, hot wind blew into the parking lot with a terrific force and the dust boiled up to his face. He felt as though someone had gathered all the dust and cobwebs in the parking lot and doused on him. He sneezed, coughed, spat.
He wiped his face with his handkerchief, spat on the ground again, and looked up. The wind stopped blowing, the dust settled down. His scooter was moving towards him with a comfortable ease of an old friend coming to shake hands. At first, Vidyut stayed put, not knowing what to do. All his life he had been an atheist; neither did he believe in supernatural elements. He believed that there were answers to everything in life. The only reality he was being offered was a challenge to fight for his beliefs.
The scooter was still moving towards him quietly. Vidyut took a few steps back as the scooter’s headlights came on. He took a few more steps back – or tried to. No matter how many steps he took backwards, he was still where he was. It was like turning around on a treadmill and walking backwards. He dropped his eyes a little and … the tires! Oh, dear god.
The scooter wasn’t moving. Its tires weren’t rolling. When he had tried to walk back, he hadn’t been able to. Earlier when he had felt the parking lot had squeezed in – it wasn’t just a feeling. It had squeezed in. Now it was happening again. The parking lot was closing in, squeezing itself. And whatever was stuck in it was being crushed, like a pair of gigantic hands holding the two corners of the parking lot and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.
The black Honda Activa was closing in on him. He slid on the floor towards the vehicle, his arms swaying sideways in a futile attempt to gain balance. He felt as though he was on a skateboard. An amateur skater who had never tried skateboarding before, but somehow managed not to fall off.
When Vidyut and the scooter were about twenty feet away, they stopped. They were stopped. Maybe for some pre-fight instructions? No clean fight, no protecting yourself at all costs, low blows, blows to your kidneys, blows to your head and face, blows to all parts of your body, understood? Good. Now back to your corner and get ready for a losing battle.
Vidyut looked around one last time, for a saving grace, for an answer, for an explanation, for anything, something. The parking lot had become smaller, had squeezed in a lot more than he thought.
He turned back to the vehicle, his face dripping with sweat, his heart beating hard against his chest. There was no escaping from this, the thought hit him before anything else.
The scooter held itself steady.
Its headlight went out and the parking lot embraced the darkness once again.
Moments later Vidyut Shastri screamed with all his might. 

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Copyright © Karthik Kotresh 2017

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