Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, check out the guidelines here.)
My guest is Laurence Klavan, whose latest is book is the short story collection The Family Unit and Other Fantasies. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Family Unit and Other Fantasies is the debut collection of acclaimed Edgar Award-winning author Laurence Klavan. A superb group of darkly comic, deeply compassionate, largely fantastical stories set in our jittery, polarized, increasingly impersonal age. Whether it’s the tale of a corporation that buys a man’s family; two supposed survivors of a super-storm who are given shelter by a gullible couple; an erotic adventure set during an urban terrorist alert; or a nightmare in which a man sees his neighbourhood developed and disappearing at a truly alarming speed, these stories are by turn funny and frightening, odd and arousing, uncanny and unnerving.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Laurence Klavan:
The collection came about because of fear. Most of the stories were inspired by my dread, anxiety, and unease after 9/11.
In November of 2001, my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Susan Kim, and I rented an apartment ninety miles north of New York City. We intended to use it as a kind of bomb shelter where we would flee on weekends. It was in a ragged little ranch-house building complex that resembled a nursing home. We barely decorated it, bought just a table, a futon that doubled as a bed and couch, and silverware and cups; it was like the apartments that terrorists inhabit while hiding in sleeper cells. One time, we brought Susan’s cats with us, and they were so terrified by all the empty space that they hid in closets or under the futon cover, looking like three cancerous lumps (all have since died).
All day and night, the old woman in the next apartment watched The Sound of Music and smoked cigarettes; second-hand smoke seeped through the thin walls and coated our clothing and hair and was impossible to get out. Animals — raccoons, skunks — haunted the backyard, baying, foraging for food, and leaving their own bad smells behind. Soon after we signed the lease, the handyman was fired for selling meth and, upon leaving, abandoned the cats he had owned, which joined the other tormented, keening strays behind the house. One night, I sat on the futon and, in the morning, found a gray paté-like substance splattered on the wall behind it: I had inadvertently crushed to death and smeared a mouse there.
While we were gone, phone messages would be left for the same local boy, telling him where and when his Boy Scout meetings were, messages which he apparently never got (or had gotten years before, when he was still alive; that’s what it felt like). One day, when we walked in, we found that the pipes had burst during the week and scalding hot water had sprayed onto the futon where we would have been sleeping; it had bent and melted the candles we left there and curdled the pages of books open on the floor. The next time, a hive of bees hidden beneath our windowsill outside had been jostled loose, and the place was filled with dying bees which had gotten in and couldn’t find their way out. We cleaned up as many as possible but still awoke with bites all over us and more dying bees everywhere.
We ended up feeling unsafe in the place, as if we had brought the danger with us or, wherever we went, we would always find another threat, and so we moved out.
This was where some of the stories came from, exaggerated only slightly, that was the scariest part.
Laurence Klavan wrote the novels The Cutting Room and The Shooting Script, published by Ballantine Books. His novel Mrs. White, co-written under a pseudonym, won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His graphic novels City of Spies and Brain Camp, co-written with Susan Kim, were published by First Second Books at Macmillan, and their Young Adult fiction series, Wasteland, is currently being published by Harper Collins (the second installment, Wanderers, was published in April; the third, Guardians, debuts in 2015). He received two Drama Desk nominations for the book and lyrics to Bed and Sofa, the musical produced by the Vineyard Theater in New York and the Finborough Theatre in London. His one-act, “The Summer Sublet,” produced in the EST Marathon in New York, was published in Applause Books’ Best American Short Plays 2000-2001. His web site is LaurenceKlavan.com.