For those of you who’ve followed me a while, you’ve probably gathered that one of my favorite genres of literature (and film for that matter) to consume is horror. I’m a huge Stephen King devotee (I’ve read pretty much every book he’s ever written), am fascinated by the work of Lovecraft and other proto-horror writers, and find good thriller storylines with bizarre twists and scary monsters super entertaining. Because of this, I’ve always wanted to write a good horror story, and recently I think I’ve come up with a great idea for one: a short story, no less!
In fairness, I’ve been down this road before. This winter, while I was on a trip to Morocco with a graduate school class and writing retreat, the desert scenes and eye-opening living conditions I encountered gave me the idea for the short fiction piece that eventually became my “submission” for the retreat. It was set on a desert-like alien planet, where human colonists are about to unjustly execute a man for a crime he supposedly committed, but when they do, the alien dust (which turns out to be remnants of a long-dead civilization and still conscious, having infiltrated the bodies of all the colonists), brings the dead man back to life under its control and proceeds to kill them all for the injustice they perpetrated. It was a bit horror-esque, but mostly sci-fi, and while I still like the story (and hope to do more with it at some point), I thought I could still do better.
Fast-forward to this past week, when I’ve been re-watching one of my favorite TV shows of all time, The Twilight Zone. If you’ve never seen any of this classic series, I highly recommend it: some of the best inspirations for my fiction have come from the darkly comic moral lessons the show teaches its flawed and self-absorbed characters. In particular, one episode features a woman at a bus depot who becomes convinced a doppelgänger, perhaps from a parallel universe, is trying to steal her life. For those in the know, this episode prompted Jordan Peele (a huge Twilight Zone fan himself and host of the show’s recent revival) to make his film Us, featuring a similar storyline about people’s “evil twins” trying to take over their lives and kill them off.
I’m also a big Doctor Who fan, and my favorite episode of all time also gave me a lot of inspiration for this. In this Peter Capaldi story, the Doctor becomes convinced that no one is ever truly alone: that there are creatures, unseen and unknown, that stalk every living being in the universe and only allow themselves to be seen by those who won’t be believed. It’s the reason for people talking out loud or feeling watched when they know they’re alone, or find objects mysteriously moved despite never having touched them–or, most unsettlingly, the common dream many people seem to have had of a hand grabbing them from under the bed. I know I’ve had that dream, and every time I think about this episode it sends shivers up my spine.
Bearing all of this in mind (and of course knowing I have about a million other writing projects I probably need to work on before this one), I’ve jotted down a rough plot summary of the story itself that I wanted to share with all of you! I’m using a female main character because I’d like to start writing more of them in my stories, and decided to go for a college setting to possibly appeal to a younger demographic as well as iron out some potential story issues.
“Alex Barnes, shy college freshman, is convinced by her much more outgoing roommate Nadia Chaudhry to go to a house party hosted by popular football team player Oliver Mack. When there, Alex awkwardly tries to blend in, but Oliver notices her and chats a bit, showing interest in her but backing off when he sees she’s uncomfortable. Alex does like Oliver and feels ashamed at her awkwardness and drinks more, but ends up getting sick very quickly and passes out in the bathroom.
The next day, she walks home to her dorm room and Nadia congratulates her on letting loose during the party, including taking Oliver into a bedroom for sex of her own volition. Alex denies it ever happened, but can’t remember anything from after she went to the bathroom. Alex goes to see Oliver and at first accuses him of taking advantage of her, but Oliver insists she was the instigator of the encounter and that the experience was incredible. He admits, though, that he was drunk and he’d like to get to know her better, but Alex leaves, disturbed. After some investigating, another person at the party shows her cell phone video of her taking Oliver upstairs, but Alex instinctively knows it’s not her. She starts to notice small things in her everyday life that are wrong: talking to herself when she’s alone, feeling watched, objects moving when she didn’t remember touching them, people’s deja-vu upon seeing her, being in different places at different times, and most of all, remembers a “nightmare” from when she was a child about another her hiding in her closet.
Alex tells Nadia and Oliver about the odd occurrences, but they both explain them away. She finally agrees to go out to another party with Oliver, but walks outside for some air and finds herself locked out of the house. When she finally manages to get someone to let her back in, everyone is awkward around her and Oliver is furious, insisting that she made out with another guy in front of everyone and humiliated him. He angrily breaks things off with Alex and leaves. Distraught and feeling as though her life is being stolen, Alex leaves Nadia at the party and runs into the woods, where she is finally confronted by her doppelgänger. The other Alex explains that all people have a “shadow” that follows them their entire lives who, like her, is an “anti-them” opposite in every way: she is confident, worldly, and assertive where Alex is meek, modest, and sheltered. She can’t explain what she is or where she comes from, but she hides in plain sight just like others of her kind do throughout their counterparts’ lives, managing to really live only when the situation provides it, such as when Alex was drunk or otherwise absent. However, Alex’s double says she’s tired of watching Alex make a mess of things and miss out on all the opportunities she could have. She brutally murders Alex and takes her place.
Back in the dorm room, Nadia is getting ready to go to bed when Alex’s doppelgänger walks in, still covered in Alex’s blood. Nadia begins to question her, but Alex’s double seduces her, saying she’s now been freed to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants.”
Creepy, right? I hope you see how all the inspirations I talked about sort of play into this, but I like to think I’ve given it my own unique spin. And yes, I did kill off my MC at the end. I’m that kind of writer.
Anyway, I’d love to know if people would actually read this and like the idea! I’m thinking this would be a short story rather than a novel, but looking at my notes I feel it might be a long short story. Of course it’ll probably be a while before I get around to this one, but for now it’s a fun one to think about for the future.