QSFer E.F. Schraeder has a new lesbian gothic horror book out: Liar.
Who doesn’t crave a little escape? Dreaming of small town life and rural charm, Alex and Rainey find a deal on an old rustic home they can’t resist. But soon after Rainey moves, her preoccupation with weird local history and the complications of living alone in the woods take a toll.
Alex worries that the long nights and growing isolation are driving her stir crazy. When the Sugar House is damaged and Rainey goes missing, Alex doesn’t know where to turn.
Was it a storm, vandals, or something worse? What happened at the Sugar House? The only thing worse than wondering is finding out.
All we wanted was a cabin in the woods. We didn’t want this story.
From this vantage point, it was hard to believe a horror aficionado missed such a catalog of unheeded warnings and ignored signs. In a haunting tale it was easy to spot: an early sighting of a tense cat or dog standing at the front door, whining, pacing, avoiding the house. Or a bird at the window, tapping. A small thing, no bigger than a fist. Some poor animal that became a symbol to foreshadow all the bad shit about to go down. A small animal life anchoring one terrible thing: vulnerability.
When the animal whined or worried, and it would, the audience or reader or whoever the witness was, tensed up right along with them. Instant empathy, that was what the animal provided in so many stories about people getting into houses that had bad energy or ghosts or whatever. Cheap shots. Manipulation. And when the poor animal suffered and died, and it would, that death was a sucker punch. An easy, emotional tug by some writer who thought it’d be original to use an animal as shorthand, a moment in a story.
Don’t worry. I hate those tricks. No dead animals here.
That was a hell of a way to start. Negative, right? Makes you wonder about the narrator. Is she or isn’t she? Crazy, I mean. At the core, that question frames some of the best hauntings. Maybe that was the question at the center of this one, too.
But that wasn’t where we started.
Once upon a time, Alex and I wanted to change our lives. Who didn’t? Imagine an acre or two. A different pace and a new place. After years of hostile state policies, we were ready for a break. State law made it clear couples like us
didn’t count, and I had a portable job. The hope of friendlier laws, fresh air, and green space pushed us forward. As the eight-ball fortune teller would say: outlook good.
Now we’re through it, out the other side, and I’ve collected a patchwork of memories and conversations into a collage. I did the best I could for someone who didn’t want to do it at all. Because when Alex suggested I write this story I didn’t want, our story, I resisted.
“There’s no story,” I said. “Nothing happened.” My mouth tightened.
No matter how I shifted the pieces around they didn’t fit. Either that or I didn’t want to look at them too long. Fear brews when you look too long at any one thing, and fear wins.
Alex shook her head. “Are you kidding me? Everything was bizarre out there—I mean, I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know how you spent a night out there alone, let alone five years.”
I’m built for hostile situations, like all good Final Girls.
Alex stared like she was looking at me for something.
Not at, into. Something else in her eyes, too, not quite a question. A concern. I ignored it.
“Why? It was dark, and it was quiet. That’s it.” I shrugged. “There was a strange sensation. Like—”
I held my breath. I knew exactly what she was going to say.
“A presence.” And there it was.
I nodded. “The house wasn’t haunted,” I said. “I know, but—”
Words stalled on her, clogged in her throat. That look in her eyes again, far away. More than a little afraid.
“Besides, it’s all been done.” “What has?” “Jesus, the whole haunted house thing. A city couple sets out to change their lives. They buy a place in the country. Things go wrong. They get scared off, scamper back to where they belong.” I did my best impression of a literary critic, sounding utterly exhausted by such a fetid and fatigued suggestion.
“That’s not what we did. Not at all.” “Are you kidding me? We’re practically a trope!”
For a flash, the footage in my head backtracked, skimming the headlines. Living off the grid, living apart. The messy, privileged business of house hunting, cross-state, no less! Then at last, finding the old Sugar House, too good to be true. The sound of those damned trees. My focus shifted to an inner layer then, things I never told Alex. How any trace of optimism I had died a slow death in those hills. How I was afraid of everything now: people and isolation, change and stagnation. I was a bundle of sloppy contradictions, colliding dreams and nightmares like meteors destined to burnout before they leave an impression. I couldn’t recall how long it’d been since we’d gone on a hike or done anything that didn’t involve some kind of colossal effort under the pretense of having a good time. Ever since we moved back, we were great, the happiest people in the world.
Picked at too closely, anything crumbles. Write a goddamned memoir? I didn’t even want to look.
E. F. Schraeder believes in ghosts, magic, public schools, vegan cookies, and dogs. Schraeder is the author of Liar: Memoir of a Haunting (Omnium Gatherum, 2021) and the story collection Ghastly Tales of Gaiety and Greed: Unauthorized and Haunted Cedar Point (Omnium Gatherum, 2020). A semi-finalist in Headmistress Press’ 2019 Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest, Schraeder is also the author of two poetry chapbooks. Dr. Schraeder’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Birthing Monsters, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Dark Voices, Sinister Wisdom, The Feminist Wire, Lavender Review, and others. A former philosophy professor, Schraeder holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. and an advanced degree in Library Science.