Dani and I met when she published my flash fiction story about a Kraken. I feel like that’s all you really need to know about our budding friendship, since we clearly are soulmates. However, I want to say that if you haven’t read F(r)iction, the lit mag that Dani edits, then you need to. Right now. Go subscribe. We will wait.
F(r)iction breaks all the molds. It’s daring and fun and delightful. And beautiful. The magazine is a work of art. And if it’s not cool enough, Dani is currently working on a deck of Tarot cards (did I mention we are soulmates?)
So, read on to find out what terror lies in the depths of Dani’s soul….
What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?
I’m sure some terrible fear predates this, but the first one that comes to mind is watching FernGully. I should preface this by saying I am not a wimp about horror. The first book I read cover to cover was Stephen King’s IT…at age nine. And although I found the entire orgy scene utterly befuddling—like what were they doing with those body parts I knew nothing about?—I generally couldn’t get enough of King’s books. Sure, to this day I’m afraid of clowns—and, as an extension, women with too much makeup on—but none of that, NONE OF IT, compared to FernGully.
If you haven’t seen FernGully, it’s a 1992 animated kid’s film that is supposed to teach you an environmental moral of: stop fucking with the forest, lots of magical things live here, and you don’t need another shopping mall that badly.
To nail this theme, the writers needed a villain, a sort of personified monster of human greed and pollution. Thus, I give you Hexxus (pictured below).
Creepy right? Now imagine it singing…sorta sexily, about how hungry it is. How it wants to devour everything.
Now imagine that you grew up on a farm where everyone you love is always covered in thick, black mud, motor oil, and grease from the tractor. Now imagine you’re convinced those grease stains are going to seep off your mum’s apron and your daddy’s flannel and your own dirty hands, start sexily singing to you, and then eat your flesh.
WAY scarier than King’s worst villain.
What is your weirdest fear?
Vacuums. Yes, I said vacuums.
It’s the sound.
You know how most of us were afraid of the dark as kiddos (and/or adults), how our minds would drown in the possibilities of all the monsters living in the darkness? Things that would creep toward us?
Sound is the same thing. When we can’t hear, it turns off a sense. And I don’t know why, but I’m just petrified that I won’t be able to hear someone—or something—sneaking up on me when the vacuum knocks out this sense.
At university, I used to trick friends into coming over when I cleaned, just so I wouldn’t be alone. They’d be hammering me to get going, and I’d be all, “Oh, so sorry, just need to vacuum before we leave for the party. No…don’t leave without me. You stay RIGHT THERE where I can see you…I’ll be done in ten.”
And, I’d love to say it’s restricted just to the vacuum—though that is the largest perpetrator—but I also rarely blow dry my hair for the exact same reason. I don’t listen to music too loudly. I cringe when my garage door shutters loudly to a close.
God knows what that clanky sound hides! Probably that pollution slug monster, oozing behind me, widen its gooey jaw…
What is your favorite monster/villain?
I promise I’m not just trying to suck up to my high school English teach—hey Steve!—but I never got over O’Brien from 1984.
Here’s the thing about most horror, our Kings and Lovecrafts and Poes. The fantasy element creates distance, the ability to say clowns will only hang you by your intestines in magical worlds that don’t exist.
This allows me to read these sorts of texts right before bed, and never give a second thought about what could lay in the darkness when I flip that light off.
And I see the argument you’re forming. But Dani, 1984 is a dystopian novel with a deeply flawed grasp of reality. It’s a big old metaphor for power, and nations aren’t actually pretending to be at war to keep us afraid and malleable. No sneaky government agent is going to put a cage of hungry rats on your face.
But here’s the thing. 1984, read at the young age of 16, scared me on more than a physical level. It was the first time in which I thought the world could be something other than what people told me it was. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that authority figures would lie to us, that the way reality was presented—from the news to my history books—could be manipulated.
And then Orwell took that sudden realization and ripped it open.
You remember that moment, where O’Brian is talking to Winston, and he says: “If I wished, I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.”
I remember shivering when I read that, my mind spiraling through the entire intellectual rabbit hole of “holy fuck, if he controls human consciousness, can he control reality? And even if he can’t, isn’t controlling consciousness just as good. Can someone actually acquire that much power? Oh god, has something already acquired that much power?”
And if that wasn’t scary enough, I’ll never forget my response to the end of the book. If you haven’t read 1984, don’t read any more of this answer.
But for all of you who have read it, you remember that last line: “He loved Big Brother.” Just like that soap bubble, Winston, our hero, our rebel, our big shining protagonist who we all identified with, who we desperately wanted to succeed…he bent to power…and he loved it.
I remember feeling satisfied when I read that line, in a breathless sort of way. I commended Orwell for having the balls to let his hero lose. To show that even in a fantasy world, big power always wins.
It took me years to realize a part of my satisfaction was that I respected O’Brian. His efficiency. His intellect. His logic. A part of me wanted to be like him.
And sure, yeah, I wanted to use those powers for good. But damn, identifying with a villain has got to be one of the scariest moments anyone can have. Because, at the end of the day, don’t we all have the power to be the biggest villains in our own stories?
In which post-apocalyptic scenario are you most likely to survive and thrive: 28 Days Later (zombies), The Stand (sickness kills all but a few), or The Last Policeman (asteroid hits Earth)?
Remember how I dropped that I grew up on a farm? Well, farm life—especially in Colorado—prepares you for a lot of apocalyptic scenarios. Snowstorms that trap you in the house for weeks (with literal walls of 10 foot+ snow drifts blocking out the sun), animals out to kill you and your adorable goats (mountain lions are huge, by the way, 150 pounds of I-want-eat-you-and-your-goats-faces-in-one-swallow), and a population of people who moved to the middle of nowhere because they dislike society, people telling them what to do, and generally interacting with other humans…and they really, really enjoy weaponry.
Thus, anything that requires building large bunkers, rocking a firearm or crossbow, and having to make terrible, logic-based choices about the most tender and emotional parts of being a human. Yeah, sign me up for that. Let’s use my O’Brien aspirations for survival.
Also, my parents—for some reason that still befuddles the hell out of me—got a tank for the ranch. What the tank is doing aside from being dressed up festively for Christmas and storing some choice cheap wine, I will never know.
But when the zombies come, I’m driving that thing to raid our local grocery store and save all the cute survivors…
What’s worse: the black abyss of space or the black abyss of the bottom of the ocean? Why?
Ocean. Hands down. In a hypothetical world in which we don’t immediately die from the cold or oxygen deprivation, let’s think about what’s out there. Sure, space might have some crazy interstellar alien monsters, but the ocean definitely has them.
Like the giant Architeuthidae and/or the colossal squid. They’re squids…hypothesized to reach the size of a football field.
Nah, don’t graze over that description. Think about yourself on a football field, tiny, in this huge stadium. Now fill it with a squid. Not just any squid. It has razor sharp hooks on its tentacles AND suckers AND and a huge beak made of out fingernail-esque material.
Will it kill you by sucking the life out of you? Squeezing you until your organs pop, hooks digging into the soft parts of your flesh? Will it open up its fingernail beak and start singing, FernGully style, as it plays with its food, making sure it digs up childhood trauma right before your head is disconnected from your shoulders?
I mean, I wouldn’t put it past those guys. They have no natural predators. They do what they want.
Dani Hedlund founded the international literary nonprofit Brink Literacy Project as a doe-eyed nineteen-year-old and has been running the beast since. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of F(r)iction, the critically-acclaimed art and literature collection (which is how she knows Tara!). She’d love to send you a link to her novel, but like any good procrastinator, she’s using the two jobs listed above as a massive excuse to never turn it in…Speaking of distractions, she’s also making a Literary Tarot deck right now, and it’s frankly scary how much she loves it.