What is the weird? Is it a song, is it a dream, is it a vision or a ghost? What is the weird? Is it a way of life, a way of dreaming, a way of seeing the corners of the world? Supernatural, natural, horror or not? What is the weird?
Come with me, follow me into the shadows beyond the city. Here is where the weird lives, out in the ruins of the world. And here we will survey the Weird and Weird Fiction, digging in deep for each of these articles in Weird Whispers Digest.
I’m not going to try and plant a flag, and I’m not going to define the weird as this or that or a genre or subgenre a community or movement. That is not the purpose, no. The purpose of these articles is to act like a vision, a seer, an anthropologist who digs in deep to the messy heart of it all, and comes out the other side maybe knowing something new, or maybe knowing nothing at all, but in the end still having experienced something. Something numinous, something dreadful, something that will never leave you be.
This is that experience, both in fiction, and not. This first article is about winter in the north end of the world, and how it relates to Weird Fiction. Come, let’s take a deep breath, breathe in deep, and walk amongst the cold to see what weirdling things there are to see.
Photo by Krzysztof Falkowski
The snow came early this year. Street lamps and rogue halos of car headlights stretching out, the world both haunted and uncanny. If you’ve never lived this far up north and in the snow belt, then you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. You might think of snow as some beautiful, holiday thing that’s mostly harmless and pretty to look at.
But here, way up north, we know better, we understand the harsh truth of winter. Snow is a primal force, an elemental beast that silences all sounds and piles up and up and up, making mazes from old sidewalk and labyrinths of shoveled paths in the dark. Night comes sooner, stays longer, and everything changes and becomes purely unheimlich. You may think of Autumn as the month of ghosts, but I know better. There is a reason why they used to tell ghost stories around the holidays, just take a look outside and you can feel it.
A shudder, a haunted whisper, and look there, a ghost walking just outside your peripheral vision, the ice distorting everything you see. This is weird fiction to me, not quite horror but instead the world turning from familiar to unfamiliar. See the ice and fog on window panes, and that chill that curls up into your bones even with the furnace burning.
This weather was the kind of weather to be worshiped and praised and feared. There could be bodies under the snow, inside the frozen lake, ones that would not be found until the great thaw that comes with the changing of the seasons. This is the weird to me, the idea that even death sleeps and any moment you can freeze to death or be saved. All on the whim of the weather.
It’s not supposed to be this cold, not yet, it’s not supposed to have this much snow, not yet. Weather does not care about cycles and times and what’s normal or not, the snow came early, the cold came early, and we deal with it as best we can.
I remember when I was a kid and we had an ice storm in the middle of spring. This was not a normal thing, and for a brief moment Winter came to the Easter hours, coating all of the trees in crisp ice. I remember walking around with my brother, he was taking pictures of it all with a nice camera my parents got him for his birthday, trying to capture that beauty of what we saw. The branches looked like spiderwebs in the streetlamps, glowing incandescent things.
I remember a story my dad told me ages ago, when he was a teenager, and how the snow piled up and up and up and trapped them inside the high school. There was no way out, and his friend (who’d stayed home) took his snow speeder up to the second floor window and my dad climbed out, leaving the rest of them there as he sped off towards home.
Imagine that, so much snow that it trapped you inside. Two years ago we got over six feet of snow in a single week here in Erie. Everything closed down, no one could leave their houses. If you ran out of food then you ran out of food, there was nowhere else to get any and you couldn’t drive or get inside even if you wanted to.
My front yard was a maze of paths I’d carved in the snow, and my car was parked on the street and completely submerged. It would take several days after the National Guard came and the snow finally stopped for me to completely dig it out.
Photo by Jesús Manuel Nieto Bobadilla
Snow weirds the world. To me, Weird Fiction acts in the same way, it takes what is known and breaks it, changes it, makes it strange, much in the same way snow makes ghosts out of our own lives. When I was a kid there was a time we were visiting some friends down the street from our house, and my parents were driving in a blizzard, and I remember looking out and seeing the snow flying about, watching it spin and whirl in the reflected street lamps like a million tiny lights.
I remember thinking how beautiful it was, even when the car came to a stop and we couldn’t move any further. Trapped and stranded in that cold metal cage, the snow piling up and the roads unploughed. We all climbed out of the sun roof and trudged on back home, trying not to fall inside the snow drifts. Loose bits of the world could give way at any moment, brittle under the weight of our bodies.
To the left and right of the road were massive mountains of ice and snow, looming over us and crowding the emptied streets. The next day I would climb these, and we would fight each other to stand tall on the roof of the world. The rare days when the sun came out it would shine and reflect off the snow, blinding us and sending us back inside our homes.
Now, I walk the winter world at night, walking between the labyrinth paths carved into the world. It’s cold, yes, but I think about all of these stories before me, and how it related to my favorite novels and weird fiction. How blizzards obscure, conceal the houses just out of sight, how the waves freeze in the winter and fish still swim beneath them, alive but just out of reach. How Weird Fiction thrives on ambiguity, on the occultation of the story itself, turning the familiar unfamiliar with every word and phrase it coughs up.
Here is the weird, here is the unreal, here is the physical manifestation of the strange. To me, the Weird isn’t fantasy or magical realism. To me the weird is a visceral thing, one that haunts and hunts you. Much like the mist, the snow, the cold and the dark.
Paul Jessup does not exist. But if he did, his novel Close Your Eyes would have been published by the Apex Book Company.