I learned to tell creepy stories on a farm in South Africa. There was nothing better to the five-year-old Carleton than joining the barefoot village children on the earthen floor of a mud hut. Old Xhosa women would spin us marvellous tales of river serpents, brave warriors, and white-painted, clay-clad women who returned from the dead. My favourite was always the Tokoloshe, a mischievous, small, hairy man who would sneak into naughty children’s bedrooms to bite off their toes.
I’ve always got a kick out of making others squirm in delicious terror and delight in finding others who share my twisted enjoyment of the macabre. Friends haven’t always been so understanding of my tastes. Back in the days of land-line home phones, I told a group of friends a ghost story in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. It was the perfect setting with the wind moaning and sobbing around the lonely beach house we had shacked up in. On the spur of the moment I spun up a tale of a telephone repair man who had been killed by lightning while working on the phone lines. How his body had burned away leaving his soul nowhere to go but the phone lines. “and sometimes,” I ended. “You will still hear the phone ring in the middle of a thunderstorm.” Five pale faces stared at me in the dim firelight saying nothing until the silence was broken by the sound of the telephone ringing in the hallway.
We are all a product of our environment and upbringing; horror writers even more so. I spent my teens in the eighties, which was a whirlwind decade as anyone who has watched Stranger Things can tell you. It was the time of slasher movies and nasty urban legends that sometimes turned up as incoherent warning messages on the office fax machine. Times have moved on since those then. Lately I’ve become fascinated by creepypastas, the internet version of the urban legend. I love the way this underground web phenomenon has spawned a whole new generation of monsters like Slender Man, Momo, and Ted the Caver. Like all good contemporary folklore, creepypastas are all the more terrifying for the kernel of truth they contain. They are the dark twin of the internet meme, the creepier tales that end with an undertone of horror instead of filling your inbox with rainbows and kittens.
Perhaps your taste isn’t for the gruesome, but more for deeply unsettling psychological horror; or maybe you prefer to create disturbing monsters such as outrageous kaiju beasts and eldritch Lovecraftian horrors. Whatever your taste, Genrecon is bringing together some of Australia’ finest horror writers. Come, join me in the shadows. The conversation is bound to get interesting.