I’m excited to be rounding out 2022 with a chat with Michael Hock, a fellow graduate of George Mason University and owner of three amazing cats. It was an exciting year for him, too! He had his first short story published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine this year. (Not too shabby a place to debut, my friends.)
Read further to find out what scares the pants off Michael and why you should never, ever, ever disturb a Canadian goose if you want to live to tell the tale.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?
Without a doubt, the scariest book I’ve read has got to be Cujo. I’m already pretty afraid of dogs, having been attacked by one when was I little. I knew what Cujo was about; it’s probably the only story that’s famous for everyone being happy when the dog doesn’t survive. And yet, I somehow felt it was a good idea to read it. I still can’t tell you why. Maybe it was the only thing to read? Maybe I was going through a phase where I decided I wanted to be really scared? I don’t know. But the fact that I read up about it afterwards to find out that it was inspired by two different dog attacks and dealing with a Ford Pinto only makes it even more terrifying to me.
The scene that sticks with me is when Donna and Tad are first stuck in the car. It’s a really scary situation: They’re extremely close to safety, but also so far away because this rabid dog has decided to trap them in their car. The sun is beating down. It’s a frustrating and terrifying scenario. It’s also one that seems so weird now, because it seems easily solvable by technology. I’d like to see an updated version of this scene that involves the technology we have now, and how terrifying it would be.
What is your weirdest fear?
It sounds like a joke but I’m being serious. If reincarnation is real, what happens at the end of the universe?
I’m a very spiritual person, and I 100 percent believe there’s life after this one. And part of me likes to think that it’s not just this one go around. I mean, there’s a lot of evidence out there that there’s some kind of reincarnation, even if it’s not the traditional religious view of it.
I tend to overthink things, especially when I can’t sleep. I went through a very terrible bought of insomnia a few months into the pandemic where I couldn’t sleep, so I let my mind wander. For some reason it settled on reincarnation. It was actually a very cool thought at first, trying to think about past lives and future lives. I even considered writing it down for a story. Then I started thinking about how, at some point all of this is going to end. The last star will go out. If we’re being reincarnated, then what happens when there’s nothing to reincarnate to?
At the time, I was obviously thinking about death a lot, and thinking about my own mortality. There was a new virus, we all had to stay inside, I was out of my workout/movie going routine… so my mind went there. I think it terrified me because it put an end point to even an after-this-particular-life. It terrified me, and I still think of it from time to time.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I absolutely believe in ghosts. First, it’s just more fun to think that ghosts exist. Our perception is very limited, so logically I think there’s a lot of the world beyond this one, and of course there would be some kind of interaction with ghosts. There’s a lot of weird stuff out there, why not spirits that are tied to Earth or a person in some way?
Secondly, there are just spaces where you can feel them. Maybe not ghosts in the traditional sense, but there are a lot of places that have an energy to them. I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve been places where the energy really was off, and there was something there. Maybe I brought it on myself by believing something was there, but that is what ties into my perception comment earlier. We have to be open to perceiving strange things and perceiving a world beyond our own. I think ghosts are messages or something to remind us that we need to keep an open mind.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?
Probably my poetry.
I’m just not a very good poet.
What animal scares you the most?
Canadian Geese. Those suckers are vicious, without mercy, and they just wander around like they own the joint.
Get too close to a spot where they decided they want a make a nest? They will come after you. A few years back there was a family that laid an egg at the entrance of a mall and terrorized anyone who came near. This was an entrance. To a mall.
When answering this question, I tried to Google a story I had heard about an aggressive Canadian goose interrupting a baseball game. This is a game that involves people with bats loudly hitting things while people yell at them. And in looking it up I realized it has happened multiple times. At times they have caused delays in gameplay. These are not earthly creatures.
Plus, they travel in packs, so they also have numbers on their side. I am 100 percent convinced that a zombie apocalypse would be put down quickly once the geese got involved. The zombies wouldn’t stand a chance. I might actually feel sorry for them.
Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?
As someone who loves movies and will watch just about any movie put in front of him, the one thing I don’t like is body horror. I don’t like gross for the sake of “how gross can we make this?” There’s a good way to do this… think Alien, where you have the creature bursting from the chest. That’s a very gross scene that has a lot to do with fears over childbirth, fears of the unknown, and how we’re overconfident with what we think we know. John Hurt looks surprised in that scene because this can’t be happening. His crewmates also have no clue (because the actors weren’t told what would happen.) And even though it’s a famous scene, it happens so quickly that I barely register it as body horror.
Then there’s just a way that seems to be daring the viewer watch the nastiest thing possible and dub that “horror” because the person is being scared while doing it or it jumps out at you. There was a string of movies in the early 2000s that tried to do this under the guise of calling it “torture porn” when really it was body horror, but without trying to send a message. Or if they do try to send a message, they lean into it way too much so it’s not as subtle and they want to beat the viewer over the head with the message repeatedly.
With a sledgehammer. And close-ups of the brains spewing out.
Or I don’t know, maybe special effects have gotten just that much better and I’m old. But it’s gotten to the point where I’m very happy for you if you enjoy it, but it’s just not for me.
What’s scarier: attics or basements?
Hands down: Basements. Attics are for lost things. You don’t need it? Chuck it in the attic. Wondering where that thing is? You probably chucked it in the attic, and you’ll get around to opening it up around the holidays when you need to pull out decorations. Plus, every terrifying movie that involves an attic is like, “Hey, let’s go into an attic at night!” then scary stuff starts happening. You have to want an attic to be scary.
But basements… they are underground. I don’t mean the houses that are on a hill where the front part is underground and the back opens up to a nice backyard under a porch. I’m talking an underground basement. Those things are always terrifying. They’re cold when they’re not supposed to be, there’s always something dripping, and there’s always a sound. You know what sound I’m talking about right now: you can hear it but never describe it.
Even the description of basements is off. “Finished” basement. Why would you have that in a house? How is that a selling point? “I’d like to buy this house with the unfinished living room, thank you.” Nope.
Circling back to the scary movie analogy, you could have the brightest, sunniest day in the middle of summer, but a basement is always going to be terrifying. It’s dark. It’s part of the unknown. And by design it’s a dark cold place we are supposed to retreat into, whether it be because of a tornado, hurricane, Kaiju attack, or even, in pre-fridge times, to keep food cold. It feels like a relic and is all too relevant at the same time.
Basements are designed for fear.
Michael B. Hock was born in the late 20th century, at a time before cellular phones or social media. Always wanting to be a writer, he spent a long time not doing that before deciding that he needed to get with it, because his ideas weren’t going to write themselves. He has master’s degrees in secondary education, literature, and fiction from George Mason University. His comedy writing has appeared in Cracked, where he has written about Spider-Man, and Points In Case where he sold people fairytale weddings with actual dragons. His first published short story, “The Artisan-Cheese Incident” appears in the November/December 2022 edition of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He lives with his wife, Marissa, and three cats: Lex Luthor, Ophelia, and Hamlet in a home that increasingly belongs more and more to the cats. He sometimes blogs at badshakespeare.com.