Behind the Curtain: “Cold Comfort of Silver Lake”

Taksara abides
Taksara abides

This week saw the release of Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror from the most excellent horror publisher Blood Bound Books (Available in both print and ebook format although I’ve only linked to the Kindle). This is not my first publication with them. No, that would be Rock ‘N’ Roll is Dead which I’ve written about previously.

When it came time to send something to them for consideration for the new anthology, I really didn’t know what to send. I had been trying to write something brand new, but it was stuck. Meanwhile, other recent horror stories had all sold to other markets. And that left me with an earlier story simply called “The Lake” which was…unsettling.

One approach for writing horror is to have the hero confront some sort of monster, some evil, some…thing! And since it’s horror and not fantasy, the hero suffers greatly in the process. In some horror, the result is that by confronting the monstrous, the hero themselves becomes a monster, becoming either an extension of the original horror or a different, perhaps greater monster than what they were facing. And for me, that tends to be more terrifying. An excellent example for me is the movie Straw Dogs. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a masterpiece and a movie that, once seen, I’ll never watch again. Brutal. Just brutal.)

It’s possible this kind of horror is all the more terrifying because we see it all the time in the real world.

I wrote the initial draft of “The Lake” when I was sifting through the crumbling remains of a marriage that had fallen apart. The story showed a couple that chose to try and move on from a personal tragedy rather than throw in the towel. Added to this, I had a powerful nightmare that involved swimming in a lake, and I couldn’t shake it for anything once I woke up. These elements combined to make for a story that was a bit too close to the bone for me. A story of loss, and false hopes, and something ancient and hungry hiding beneath the surface.

When I realized I didn’t have anything else to send, I went back to “The Lake” and tore it apart with the cold dispassion of having moved past the emotions that inspired the story. When I put it back together, it was less personal. It was something leaner. Meaner. And I almost didn’t send it in. The last time I had a story I was reluctant to submit, it was “Fishwives of Sean Brolly,” and there are some fascinating parallels to the story. Both involve a marriage in crisis and a dangerous, submerged temptation.

And, of course, death and horror.

The location for what became “Cold Comfort of Silver Lake” is in many ways inspired by growing up in Colorado’s silver country. With quaint old mining towns like Ouray, Telluride, Silverton, and Creede now turning into expensive and quiet places to retire, they aren’t the kind of locations you would expect to inspire horror. We weren’t all lucky enough to grow up in Maine. I grew up in a town like that, perched on the apron between mountain and high desert. It was a town built around a smelter for the mines higher in the mountains–silver at first, then uranium as the industry changed. When I was in high school, the smelter was demolished, and the giant hill of radioactive tailings next to it–and next to the river–was shipped off and buried somewhere. Somehow, I grew up in a town where a giant radioactive hill cast a shadow over downtown for most of my childhood without thinking about it. That same radioactive dirt had been used as fill for foundations all over town…even under the public swimming pool.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had pets that died of cancer. I don’t know how common that is. Growing up, we lost three pets to it. Maybe it was a fluke. Or maybe there was a hidden darkness in that town…something you just didn’t talk about, hoping that it wouldn’t hear you and pass by for someone further down the line.

That’s horror. The buried darkness. The hidden danger, lurking there, waiting.

Like a little personal tragedy between a married couple that they can’t put behind them but won’t talk about.

Like whatever is waiting in the bottom of Silver Lake.

I encourage you to take a look for yourself. Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror includes 23 deliciously dark stories by Brian Lumley, Joe McKinney, Lisa Morton, Daniel O’Connor, Jeff Strand, John McNee, K. Trap Jones, Maria Alexander, Ed Kurtz, and many others. And it’s available wherever books are sold. (Really! Go special order it from your favorite small bookstore!)

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