Kenneth W. Cain is the author of The Saga of I (These Trespasses, Grave Revelations, Reckoning), The Dead Civil War, the acclaimed short story collection These Old Tales, and his latest short story collection Fresh Cut Tales. He lives with his wife and children in Eastern Pennsylvania. kennethwcain.com.
by Kenneth W. Cain
When people discover I am a writer, the first question is almost always to ask what genre. I’m quick to snap off that I write horror, but despite a childhood filled with speech therapy I still sometimes have trouble with my R’s. Their reaction is just that, horror, when the last syllable has been dropped off the word. An awkward silence follows until I clarify my preferred genre as dark fiction.
The thing is, this is an expected response to the horror genre. Why? I think many people assume everything that comes out of a horror writer’s mind is hack and slash gore, and that only a horrible person would write such drivel. Although I don’t consider myself the slightest bit evil, I have been told I am because of my fondness for dark fiction. Strange enough, I am no sooner a monster than I am an angel. When I examine these knee-jerk reactions, I’m reminded of a first date back in college.
Picture, if you will, this younger me trying to impress a rather earthy woman. I enjoyed the outdoors: camping, hiking, fishing. But she had spent the last two years living in the bush of Africa, to which my outdoor experiences paled in comparison. Still, a hike around a local lake seemed apropos, and something we could both appreciate.
I had uncovered an old machete in the woods and thought it amusing to make a horror related joke. As she hadn’t seen a television in two years, my joke ended up misunderstood and did nothing to bolster my odds at a second date. With both of us somewhat put off, we continued on our way, and spoke less as we proceeded around the lake.
Having visited this lake often on my own, it had been a while since my last excursion. To my surprise, in that time, the path had become overgrown. Our only options were to brave the lake, in hopes of making our way around a clearing. Or we could try to push our way through the brush.
I attempted to clear the path using the machete. I slashed at the brush and as I chopped, the thwack of metal against wood altered to an unfamiliar sound. When I brought my blade down again, terror seized me as I took note of what I’d been hacking away at.
My forceful slashes had reduced a beehive as big as a basketball to a mere remnant, one that was now reminiscent of a partially constructed (yet fully operational) Death Star. A spiral of bees swarmed into the sky like tiny TIE Fighters. As they enveloped me and began their attack, I realized not even the Force could save me. And although my rusty machete posed little threat, I swung it about wildly.
Frantic, I turned to inform my date she should run. Only then did I discover she had already abandoned me, and now stood at the shore. I discarded the machete and hurried after her, slapping and swatting at the bees as they landed on me. When she saw me coming, my face strained by the persistent stings, she ran again. Each time she stopped and saw me bounding toward her, she fled to a new location. Should some unsuspecting eye have seen this dance, I am certain they would have thought it hilarious.
As the horde of bees thinned to a few dozen, I begged for her help. She had run out of ground, but remained reluctant to return. As I pawed at myself, I lost sight of her. An awful crunch at my back sent me to my knees. With my world spinning, I found her too late, as she’d already hefted the limb and started bringing it down. I tried to dodge her strike, but the branch struck me across the chest.
The wind was knocked out of me, and she proceeded to strike me with the limb again and again. All the while, what few bees were left became aggravated by her assault. The stings came with more frequency. Battered and bruised, I could do nothing but collapse and let them all have their way with me.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the best date. So what does this have to do with writing? Her reactions that day define why I enjoy writing dark fiction. My story has some of the key elements: the surprise of the bees, the horror of them swarming, her running, me chasing, her reluctance to come to my aid, and her nearly beating me to death. This is some semblance of what I see when I am out and about in this world of ours. I’m the one staring at you from across the room. I’m looking into your soul and wondering how you will react, whether your story might be amusing.
In my latest collection, Fresh Cut Tales, this human condition is what I try to examine. I wanted to look into the ordinary and extract the extraordinary. For it is there, in those things most common to us, that real horror exists. If you would like to find out more about my new collection, please visit me at my website, KennethWCain.com.