by Michael Leonberger
If novels are like great romances, then short stories are the equivalent of speed dating.
Fast. Flirty. Direct. If the encounter is good, it lingers in the mind long after the affair has ended.
Hopefully it leaves the reader wanting more.
Sirens, then, are the perfect subjects for short stories, creatures whose very existence are built around flash pangs of desire. Of course, far from being celebratory, these stories instill caution in their audience.
Caution against quick detours. Against mischievous dead-ends. Against anything that detract from the long, overarching novel narrative of ones life.
What’s apparent to anyone living it is that life isn’t structured anything like a novel. Life is more non-sequitor and coincidence than we’d like to admit, which goes at least part of the way towards explaining the resilience of short stories.
Sometimes, the story the old scabby throated fossil tells around the campfire lives in the mind long after the balanced and thoughtful prose of a novel. Part of the power lies in the brevity. In the open-endedness. In the gray stuff left open to interpretation. For the camp fire story, it’s the shadows outside of the fire. Those terrific and endless swathes of black, where the imagination lives on long after the story teller has done his work.
It’s the same with the quick romances in life. The surging passions, the darting glances, the apprehensions, the stolen kisses — but beyond that, it’s the imagining. The gifts that you only get when you don’t know. The agonizing but stupidly pleasing process of lying in bed, wondering about your object of desire, filling in the blanks, fantasizing.
Writing isn’t such a dissimilar preoccupation. Neither is reading.
Constructing narratives, weird solipsistic successions of dreams becoming nightmares, and back again, and in this area, short stories have the edge because even the best short stories end. Upon re-reading enough, their mysteries and pleasures usually become routine. Usually.
But some crushes, even long extinct, can still come shrink-wrapped in soft, nostalgic ellipses. Some of these can shred even the best of us to pieces.
The story I wrote for Sirens is about such a situation — worse, because the main character is a married father, seemingly helpless to the infatuation he feels for a young woman. I think, morally and emotionally, he is maybe the weakest character I’ve ever written. Which means I trust him a great deal.
The great thing about horror stories (or fairy tales, fantasy, and any genre that deals with caution and consequence) is they are a great platform for us to examine ourselves at our worst. To see what we might be like if our scabs were to break open.
I think, for this character, the scab gets peeled all the way back, and what we might find in that blood is that endless black shadows aren’t exclusive to the edges of a campfire.
No, they live somewhere inside of us, where the loneliness is indefatigable. We can hurl things at them- crushes, desires, the constructing and consuming of fiction — but sometimes those yawning black chasms are impossible to fill.
The Siren stories, then, aren’t about the corruptibility of man, or his susceptibility to turpitude. They are about exploiting the human need for companionship.
The horror here isn’t about being whisked away, drowned, or eaten alive. It isn’t even the horror of unfaithfulness, or infidelity.
It’s the horror of being alone.
“Michael Leonberger is a writer, a filmmaker, and a horror movie enthusiast. A graduate of the VCUarts Cinema Department, he is responsible for the short film “Hair Grows In Funny Places” (the tragicomic love story between a werewolf and a dominatrix) and the feature length romantic comedy “Goodish” (a movie he co-directed that premiered at the 2014 Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, VA). He recently published his first book, Halloween Sweets, about a teenage girl who can raise the dead, and has since published several short stories. He also writes a column for the website Digital America.”
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