Y’ever have a nightmare you couldn’t forget? Not a set of events, nor many details, but the very definite sensation of horror that sticks to you upon waking, and rises to the top of your mind over the days - or weeks - that follow?
I was living underground. Only it also wasn’t me. An old body, bent towards death, and wracked by a terrible cough. The wretch related the story of their life, aloud, to an absent audience. Only there was an audience of one: a scraggly dog, making snide comments.
And sure, on the surface, there’s little enough to it. Certainly nothing horrific. Unless there is. Why is this person living underground? From what I could recall, it was involuntary. Necessary, but not chosen. This person balked at their imprisonment, especially so late in life. What was left? How much had been wasted to fear? Sacrificed for the promise of safety?
And then there was the interiority. Pain wracking a body made thin by austere conditions. A cough that made the simple act of breathing a tightrope walk between inhalation and exhalation. I know that path intimately. Childhood spates of bronchitis. Seasonal and food allergies adding a fun roulette spin to pulmonary activity. Will I get oxygen? How much will it hurt?
The certainty of one’s own mortality staring them down until they decide that whatever lies in the unknown cannot be worse than what is known. And the comic relief of a talking dog who treats them as a god.
I’d run the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) gauntlet several times before I sat down with no more than this kernel in my mind. This nightmare seed. It burned in my palm like the last grain of Fantasian sand in the grip of Bastian Balthazar Bux. I made a wish to know more, and now we’re here with The Doomsday Book of Fairy Tales.
People who don’t write often want to know where ideas come from. In my experience, the process stems less from a singular idea which blossoms into a story of its own accord, and more from the clever arrangement of several pieces of otherwise unrelated detritus into a pleasing shape. This nightmare, that set of current events, and the memory of a television show where an old man tells fairy tales to a talking dog.
What happens if I glue these things together? Will anyone else care to look at this assemblage? And if I make the choice to remove the filter of gender from the character through whom we view this world, will anybody notice?
Emily Brewes grew up in the wilds of northern Ontario, where she learned to be afraid of nature, especially bugs. She now writes wistfully of its rugged beauty and haunting landscapes. Emily lives in Toronto. Learn more here.