This is a Horror Story

Elena Sichrovsky

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Where is the dividing line between love and horror? Is it clearly defined, or nebulous and shifting? In "This is a Horror Story," Elena Sichrovsky attempts to lay out that question, with an inventive prose and a cathartic narrative that, through the masterful use of the second-person "you" and other tricks, sticks with the reader, haunting.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

Go into the movie theater. Overhear from the aisle in front that this is a horror story. Lights dim slowly like cold breath sneaking over dry skin.

You return to your childhood town after 20 years. The town’s name is one word: either some biblical expression for holiness, or some discord of syllables meant to sound mysterious. 
          The sky is the same monochrome it was two decades ago: burnt grey with splatters of tearful white. You drive through the town and people on the street stop and stare as if a skeleton is behind the wheel.
          You go home and your mother and ex-lover are there, with forked tongues of vitriol and longing.

+

Go into the movie theater. Overhear from the aisle in the back that this is a love story. Lights dim slowly like a soft breeze conversing with moist skin.

You return to your childhood town after 20 years. The town is named after some lush vineyard or elaborate cathedral, some enduring landmark with strokes of whimsy.
          The sky is the same pastel it was two decades ago: honeyed orange with wide wisps of candy white. You walk up the road and people wave at you as if the earth’s favorite child has returned to the womb.
          You go home and your mother and ex-lover are there, whispering perfumed memories in tandem. 

This is a horror story. Your ex-lover is married and has two teenagers who smoke weed under the bleachers after school and listen to My Chemical Romance too loudly at four in the afternoon. His wife has long bleached hair and a penchant for baking her own bread.
          Your ex-lover and you exchange looks over the arbitrary reunion meal. He’s the only one besides your mother who knows why you left all those years ago.
          Your mother pinches your chin and complains about the tan on your cheeks. Her mouth opens too wide when she talks, wide enough that you can see the glint of fillings in the back of her jaw.
          Later, after the dishes have been cleared and the teenagers have argued about the party they want to go to this weekend, your ex-lover joins you at the kitchen sink. He dips his hands slowly in the disappearing soap suds. His thumb brushes yours when he reaches for the next fork to rinse.
          He says, why are you here.
          You say, I wish I knew. 

+

This is a love story. Your ex-lover is recently divorced but he sees his twin girls every weekend. His new girlfriend dresses them in ballet skirts and tiaras for the local beauty pageant. She has a bad perm and a side business selling organic face masks.
          Your ex-lover and you exchange looks during the arbitrary backyard barbecue. Everyone knows why you left all those years ago.
          Your mother rubs your stomach and laughs about how much she wishes she had grandchildren. She stretches her cherry-red lips and whispers about how your ex-lover hasn’t aged a day. How the other exes in town still talk about him being a good fucking lay.
          Later, after the paper cups have been stacked and the dirty napkins collected, your ex-lover joins you in folding up the picnic tables. He dips his hands under the tablecloth, searching for the hem of your skirt. His thumb hooks into the loop of your waist and he drags you to the back of the house, to the mulberry bushes where he first pulled down your panties with his teeth.
          He says, take them off.
          You don’t say anything. You close your eyes when he enters you. 

+

This is a horror story. You find yourself sitting on the sagging porch steps of your childhood home at three in the morning. You can’t sleep. Nightmares lay thick on the back of your tongue. You dream about blood settling into your skin like a slow toxin. You wake up drenched in sweat from clavicle to navel.
          Your mother joins you on the porch steps. She smells old and tired. When she runs her hands through your tangled hair, she isn’t gentle. It hurts a little, but you don’t tell her to stop.
          She says, I still see your father all the time.
          What does he look like now? you ask.
          Angry. She presses her lips to the top of your head. And sometimes, lonely.
          You fall asleep against her knees. This time when you dream, your father is soaking into your palms, his eyes fresh and spilling like a wound. 

+

This is a love story. You take a walk to the playground in the park at three in the morning. You can’t sleep. Your ex-lover has been texting you every few hours. He says you make him hard and he doesn’t even want to touch his girlfriend anymore. He wants your skin against his, from clavicle to navel.
          Your mother joins you in the sandbox where you’re sitting cross-legged. She smells like vodka and cranberry juice. She lies on her back across from you, her eyes fixed on the starless sky.
          You don’t seem bothered, she says eventually.
          By what? you ask.
          Showing up here. She burps, loud and putrid. Without a family.
          You fall asleep just for a moment. Then your mother cuffs her hand against the back of your head. She tells you to go home before anyone sees you out at this hour and thinks you’re a whore. 

+

This is a horror story. Your ex-lover shows up, uninvited, at the door of your childhood home. You let him come inside. He moves from room to room like a phantom, his features drawn together without emotion. His lips twist at the entrance to your bedroom.
          The blood never... we couldn’t get it out of the wood. (His shoe heel nudges the heavy carpeting.) Your mother bought this to cover the stain. 
          You move past him and sit on the floor at the end of the bed. He sidles up close, his shoulder pressing against yours like the marrow can crawl through his bones and enter yours.
          Do you think I’m a monster? you breathe.
          His hand rises, as if to stroke your cheek, but then he drops it. I think we’re all monsters in our own ways.
          You shift a little closer, closing the one-fourth-of-an-inch gap between you.
          What do you want? he asks.
          I want—
          you tilt your head and stare up at the ceiling
          —I just want someone to hold my hand.
          He tucks all five fingers between your clammy ones.
          Do you feel that? Do you feel the blood? you whisper.
          His fingertips stroke the hardness of your knuckles. I just feel you. 

+

This is a love story. Your ex-lover shows up, uninvited, at the door of your childhood home. He hands you a paper bag with a brand new dress wrapped in tissue paper and tells you to get changed. He takes you to a hotel room and moves around the wide space, his shoulders arched back as he lights candles and instructs you on where to sit and where to open your legs.
          I think about our baby all the time. (He unbuckles his pants with one hand.) I just know she’d have my brain and your looks. 
          You think about rain forests and bird species that are going extinct as he fucks you. He finishes and then tells you to hold your legs up so his sperm can flow to your cervix faster. While you lay there like a human trapezoid, he pours himself two fingers of Jamesons.
          Do you think I’m pretty? you ask.
          He moves back over to you and squeezes your left breast. You’re just as good a fuck as I remember.
          You sink deeper into the sheets, trying to distance yourself from the whiskey smell.
          Why didn’t you want my baby? he asks.
          I wanted a life of my own—
          you exhale shakily
          —being a mother at 16 isn’t that.
          You would’ve been the mother to my child. Isn’t that a life worth living?
          Yes. You nod when he pushes you over onto your belly and pulls out his dick again. Yes, of course. 

+

This is a horror story. You find your mother in the back of the house, in the one room you figured she’d have destroyed or refurbished by now. Your father’s workshop looks identical to the way your nightmares recreate it. His breath saturates  the seams of the furniture; his creak echoes from the chair your mother is sitting in. 
          She has a rifle in her hand. The rifle.
          Why did you keep it? you whisper, ghosting a shaky hand over the muzzle.
          To remember. She guides your hand to fit around the weapon. To remember what you did for me.
          I... I didn’t. I took him from you.
          She squeezes your thumb, making the trigger snap back. You jump back, a startled sob breaking from your lips.
          An empty click resounds through the room.
          You freed me from him. She sets the rifle aside and rises from the chair, cupping your face in both hands. Her fingers smell like onions and burnt bacon. She kisses you on the forehead, a wet, sloppy smear between the eyes. Can you ever forgive me for not protecting my little girl?
          You want to say no. You want to say yes. All that comes out is a breathy little “Mom” as you sag your entire weight in her sallow, gaunt arms. 

+

This is a love story. You find your mother in your room, going through your suitcase to find the right outfit for you to wear when your ex-lover comes over tonight. She pulls out a lingerie set from a paper bag in the closet. It looks vintage. She tells you to try it on. 
          I wore this for your father when you were conceived.
          You run a finger over the tight black thigh straps. Why did you keep it?
          To remember. A woman’s power is in creation. She pushes your shoulders back, pulls your breasts up to look fuller. You can’t be so childish anymore.
          Your eyes water, sparkling like diamonds in the mirror. I’m allowed to make my own decisions.
          You’re so selfish. She straightens the lace over your flat abdomen. Her nails feel sharp even through the layered fabric. She moves in closer to your breath and places a small, light kiss on your forehead. It feels round like a bullet hole. Can’t you understand I know what’s best for my little girl?
          You want to say no. You want to say yes. All that comes out is a breathy little “Mom” as you hear the front door opening and your ex-lover’s voice calling out.  

Elena Sichrovsky (she/they) is an Austrian-Taiwanese writer who uses the lens of horror to explore the intersections of religious trauma, queer identities, and mental health. Their work has been published in Ninth Letter, Mud Season Review, Apparition Lit, Baffling Magazine, and others. Read more on her website or follow her on Twitter/IG.

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