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  • The Horror
  • Caitlin Pryor (bio)


There are two black actors, so one is about to die,you say into your longneck, a microphonefor what you know. The awful mathematicsof films like these: the other is alwaysthe first to go. Here we areat our worst, culling those we can’t knowfrom our plots like weeds—the rising action,our greedy ascent, is built on their bodies,flayed open and maimed. Typical, you mutter.You swig your beer.


These guts, these knife thrusts,these slugs exploding like supernovasfrom unsuspecting chests—they’re all still herein high resolution, gray matter so gelatinousit throbs with thought; saliva so stickywe taste the tide. I’ve returned to childhood,cloaked in the basement’s pall, gorgingon film after unrated film because my motherthought unrated meant the same as safe.She did not know that no eyes,no ratings board stuffed with clergyor censors had ever seen the horrorgurgling in those old cassettes.There is no safety. That is horror.


Reveling in imagined superiority—you don’t have enough bullets, [End Page 40] you ass—we list wisdom: the camerawill survive, but the cameraman will not.If you enter the spirit realm,make sure you have an exit strategy.The call is absolutelycoming from inside the house.Why do we make them this way,these open-mouthed wailers,these summer-camp slaughterers,these we have to go back-ers.Because they are us. Becausethey are not. The frames churn.


I promise if our dog won’t come in the housewe’ll sell it, you say: insurance policyfor our technicolor doom.There’s a reason the asking price is low, you know?We pore over and over the home invasionsand demonic toddlers drenched in gore, stunnedby the unbelieveable trust—maybe that moaningis only the wind. We won’t make the same mistakes.Then the layoff, the stillborn, or the poodlemangled by the road won’t slip between our ribs.Or will it. Are there, finally, only endlesspanoramas of grief. Kaleidoscopesmuddied, panes gone dark at the fringe.


Now we know this much, at least:If you hear a noise coming from the wardrobe,run. If your wife tells you she’s carryingthe devil’s spawn, believe her. Leave the feral childrenwhere you found them. When you exorcise evil,it has to go somewhere. We understand it all, yes?That when we bury our honeyunder so many shovelfuls of soil,if he comes back he’ll never be the same.His face we might recognize, its scar [End Page 41] on the left nostril, a pockmark crateringthe forehead like a test site. And yet—that gleam in his eye: that’s new.We wait. We see what he’ll do.


The theater is all clamor—blaring its counsel, yelling to quietour protagonist’s screams. The seats eruptwith strain, with worry, with popcorn and pain.A flourbag-clad intruder idlesbeyond her manicured reach. His chaos flitslike a songbird, and her death hovers over her—wings blackened and preened. When they slowly drivethe knife into her lover’s side, she asksthe foolish question: why are you doing this?Because you were home.Parrot with no pull string, an imbecile’s refrain.How did she miss these lessons:they do it because they can. Becausethey’re already there. Behind you.Behind you. Behind you. [End Page 42]

Caitlin Pryor

Caitlin Pryor’s poems have recently appeared in Gulf Coast, Boxcar Poetry Review, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere.



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pp. 40-42
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