Dizziness of Freedom

Brief Notes on Dread


This is a companion piece to Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas‘s post A Door into the Uncertain. It’s like a nesting doll of dark delights, and if you click on either of us the other one pops out too! In a non-scary way of course…

The Apparition Lit team has decided to extend Halloween season for all of us well into November! Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas and I are guest-editing the Dread issue, which opens for submissions November 15-30. Thank you for this dreadful/wonderful gift Apparition Team! Apparition Lit’s initiative to work with different guest editors in order to showcase different perspectives on storytelling and different authors/editors is one to look up to. With Nelly we go back to 2019 Clarion West class. I always admired her inventiveness when it came to story telling and the ease with which she can evoke dread in just a couple of sentences. So this is a dream coming true for all of us! 

Dread, unlike a jump scare is not a fleeting moment. It is a steady and increasing condition of unease. A house of wrongness built with uncertainty. For me, uncertainty plays a great part in the buildup of dread. It’s when you know something really bad is about to happen but you can’t explain how you know. And not being able to explain it keeps you always alert, always waiting. The tension never releases. And that’s when the story pulls the rug out from under your feet.

We walk around the world looking for signs of danger, of impending doom, personal or collective. It’s a survival thing. But sometimes these signs are not tangible or quantifiable. Sometimes the wrong thing can just be a familiar face smiling at you the wrong way. Or an object left somewhere it shouldn’t have been. A smell that takes you back to some dark place you had forgotten.

Dread is realizing every ghost story you ever been told is true, because the past is coming to haunt you. It’s already haunting you. It’s not personal. It is just history written with the blood of the innocent, just like in “Laal Andhi,” by Usman T. Malik.

Other times it is personal. Like in “Sharp Things, Killing Things,” by A.C. Wise. Sometimes what comes to haunt you is something that’s been coming for a long time. It’s because of something you did, or something you think you did but you are not sure. The dread comes from slowly realizing what you were capable of all this time. That you are both the victim and the monster of your own story.

Dread can be not recognizing your best friend. The person you’ve been to Hell and back with and now you are not sure if they are even human anymore or if they are something else. Something containing a piece of Hell within, just like in “The Blood Drip,” by Brian Evenson.

And sometimes like in Ian Muneshwar’s “Dick Pig,” dread can be a literal house of wrongness that you can’t stop from going deeper and deeper inside. And when you finally reach its guts, you know that’s where you’re meant to be all along. The dread stops being yours and belongs, perhaps, only to the reader.

I want to know your definition of dread. What keeps you on edge. What are the monsters that you check for every time you enter a dark room, and how do they torment you? Lure me into your own version of unreality and let me be both uneasy and glad to be there.