The second victim… um… no, that’s not right… I mean… volunteer for this month’s “31 Days of Halloween/Scary Stories” launch event is Stoker Award-winning author John Palisano, whose short stories have appeared in anthologies from PS Publishing, Terror Tales, Lovecraft eZine, Horror Library, Bizarro Pulp, Written Backwards, Dark Continents, Darkscribe, DarkFuse, Dark House, and many more. His novels Dust of the Dead and Ghost Heart are available from Samhain; Nerves is out from Bad Moon; and Starlight Drive: Four Halloween Tales will arrive just in time for the spookiest night of the year. If that’s not enough reading material to add to your list, Palisano’s first short fiction collection, All That Withers is due out soon from Cycatrix Press, and he’s also contributed non-fiction to Fangoria and Dark Discoveries magazines.
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31 Days of Halloween… with John Palisano
Describe a time when a scene in a horror novel really unnerved you or caused you to turn on all the lights.
In Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, Louis Creed has lost his son Gage after the young boy is hit by a truck outside their new home. The scene that most creeped me out, and shocked me, even though it felt inevitable, happens when Louis decides to bring Gage to the Micmac burial ground. What got me most were the descriptions. How had his child gone from being a strong little trooper into a lifeless husk? The descriptions of Louis battling with his own repulsion at what he was doing, and both being freaked out at handling a dead body, but also handling his own son, really upset me. I was maybe 13 years old when I first read Pet Sematary, and didn’t yet know what it would be like to be a parent, but Stephen King brought me there. That was an awfully sleepless night. I think I stopped after Gage was buried, turned on my side, and simply stared at the wall until dawn.
In your opinion, what is the all-time scariest short story?
For me, the story that has stuck with me throughout my life, and has always scared me has to be Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. The idea that someone would be randomly selected to be stoned to death scared me so much when I first read it. Being a sacrifice had nothing to do if you were a good person or not. It was all down to chance. I kept thinking there had to be an escape clause. It just didn’t seem right. In our modern age, “The Lottery” is still as frightening as ever. Do we not still behave in this way? Do we not still have mobs, anxious to stone an unlucky person? Sure we do. It’s everywhere in North America. It’s still practiced, making “The Lottery” an eerie premonition.
What’s the scariest scene and/or book you yourself have written?
Without a doubt, the scene in Ghost Heart where Minarette is waiting outside the auto body shop for Rick. It’s snowing out, and he’s decided to crash at the shop instead of struggling through the roads. He’s all alone, and he’s lost his parents, uncle and best friend. He’s fallen in love with the new girl in town, Minarette. She is a classic blonde bombshell, and she makes him feel alive and special. But as he looks out, he believes he sees her amidst the blowing snow, only he sees what lies beneath her shell. Sick with the Ghost Heart, he sees her flesh light in places, clear in others, and he can see the dark blood trying still to get through her veins. He can see her pale heart pumping through her chest, nearly clear as it loses pigment and thins. What was scary in writing it was Rick’s realization that this being that he believed loved him had betrayed him, and that her act was so good, it fooled him. It was very unexpected, and made me unearth those feelings of betrayal from your youth, when you first realize just how deceptive and heartbreaking people can be. That scene put a pit in my stomach. It opens the door into the great wide nothing, where love isn’t real and nothing can save you.
List your top three fears.
Heights. Try as I have, I’m still really uncomfortable with heights. I’m not the gibbering mess I once was, and have learned to deal with it as a rational adult. On the outside, at least.
Snakes. I know. This coming from someone who works with animals. I can say with no irony that I love snakes, and love the idea of them, but they freak me out. Maybe I will get over it one day.
Surgery. Just because, damn it!