Now we come to the final tale in Drive, She Said, “The Shadow Over Tarehu Cove”. If you want the spoiler-free version of the story behind the story, check out the original post I made when the anthology in which it first appeared was released.

For a slightly more spoiler-laden elaboration, read on.

TY Kim (Mushstone) mushstone.deviantart.com, mushstone.tumblr, behance.net/mushstone / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

 

The brief for the anthology Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud was Lovecraftian-themed horror stories set in New Zealand or the South Pacific. The publisher was particularly interested in stories that incorporated indigenous myths, legends, or folklore. It felt like a gift landing in my lap when my internet wanderings yielded the story of the Ponaturi, malevolent amphibious creatures whose physical description matched closely with that of the frog-fish men inhabiting the seas near Lovecraft’s fictional town of Innsmouth.

The title of this story is a nod to Lovecraft’s tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Like Lovecraft’s story, mine features a stranger coming into a close-knit and secretive community. And if you’re wondering what parts of this story are inspired by personal experience, that would be the principal setting of rural Northland, and the tangi that occurs at the beginning.


Has it really been a month since I wrote my last story-behind-the-story? I think at some point in that month I was allowed out of the house for more than an hour a day, so maybe I was outside. Or maybe I went to the shops TWICE in one day (oh, the luxury…).

Anyway, silver lining and all that – here I am at my laptop, composing the penultimate back story in Drive, She Said.

“Symbols of Damnation” went to print in December 2011 in Dean Drinkel’s anthology Phobophobia. As the title suggests, it is an anthology of phobia-themed stories, and as with the other Drinkel anthologies to which I have contributed, each author was allocated a different letter of the alphabet. I got ‘H’ (I might have also mentioned in previous posts how Dean likes to stick me with the tough ones). The subtitle of this story is “H is for Hagiophobia”. This story is unusual for me, and unique in Drive, She Said, because it is straight-up psychological horror, with not a supernatural element in sight.

Most likely, unless you are some kind of specialist in the field of phobias (or unless you suffer from it, in which case you might want to skip this story), you haven’t heard of hagiophobia. I hadn’t until I looked it up. It is defined as the fear of saints or holy things. As with many phobias, it is thought to be caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition to mental illness coupled with traumatic events associated with the object of fear.

And here comes the spoiler alert. All sorts of spoilers ensue from this point on, minor and major. You know how this works – read on if you’ve already read the story, stop now if you haven’t and you like surprises.

I once worked with a woman, who went on to become a good friend until life and geography put us far apart, who was exceptionally intelligent and who came across as introverted, reserved and resolutely Lawful Good. One day she asked her workmates for help recording a television documentary that was playing that evening when she was rostered to work (this, as you might have guessed, dates back to the pre-internet days of VHS). The documentary was about a radical activist group who had planned an arson attack on a church and were thwarted at the last second. My friend casually revealed, like it was no big thing, that she had been a part of that group, and it was only a chance occurrence that stopped her from being there on the night. This, coupled with an undertaking to assist police and give evidence, was all that prevented her from a conviction and lengthy jail sentence with the rest of them.

This was such an extraordinary revelation, it had to ultimately make its way into one of my stories in some form.

The other thing I wanted to do with this story was to avoid the usual tropes. In psychological horror stories, it’s usually the men doing the abusing and the women copping the abuse. In “Symbols of Damnation”, the only contribution Dad makes is to die early. Poor Felix cops it from the women in his life, from his distracted and neglectful mother to his manipulative girlfriend to his psychotic sister (especially his psychotic sister), right down to the abusive, crucifix-wearing female customer at the opening of the story. It’s little wonder the most terrifying symbol of all is the Virgin Mary.

 


If you’ve been following along this series of blog posts, you might remember the one I made about the story “Q is for Quackery”. This story was in the first of Dean Drinkel’s “Tres Librorum Prohibitorum” series of anthologies. The anthology is called The Demonologia Biblica, the theme is demons, and the letter I was given was “E”.

There aren’t a whole lot of demons whose name starts with E (and now I’m beginning to wonder – did Dean give me such tough letters because of his confidence in me, or did he just not like me very much?). One I did find was Eisheth, a demon from Jewish mythology who is one of the four jinn of sacred prostitution. I got to thinking – if you plonk a demon whore and her friends in the middle of modern day, Western society, what might that look like? I filtered the story through the first-person viewpoint of Adam, a dodgy psychotherapist, and an abhorrent excuse for a human being that I had great fun writing.

Sometimes I find that when I reread one of my own stories after a long time away from them, it’s almost as if I’m reading something written by a stranger. I surprised myself revisiting this for the purpose of the blog post by how filthy and blackly funny the story is (although, your mileage may vary).