The First Horror Story I Ever Wrote
By Emily Verona
Some people remember their first doll. I remember my first ghost story. I was maybe ten years old at the time—which is troubling, but not surprising given the sort of child I was shaping up to be. An Are You Afraid of the Dark? fanatic who’d seen one too many episodes of Haunted History. I didn’t write the story alone. The story—which turned into a novel—was a collaborative effort with my cousin. We were a fitting pair, really—the only two people in our family the same age. We liked the same movies and shared a lot of the same interests, especially storytelling.
We were already writing letters back and forth during the year (we only saw each other in the summer) and so, one day—and I don’t remember how we came up with the idea—we decided to write a novel together. It was all done very old school, because this was the 1990s and we were only just getting into having e-mail. I got us a notebook—a cheap little 3x5 with college-ruled lines—and we mailed the notebook back and forth. My cousin lived in Florida at the time. I lived in New Jersey. We took turns writing chapters, scrawling them out with (at least, on my part) atrocious handwriting and outrageous spelling. The story centered around the Bloody Mary legend, because we already knew it and understood it. At the same time, it was vague enough that we could make it our own. Urban legends have a way of feeling personal, especially at that age. They are secretive and sinister, scary enough to make you jump without being so graphic that your parents forbid you from telling them—not that they could anyway, because urban legends are everywhere. You hear them out on the playground or sitting on the school bus. They differ a little town to town, but a lot of them are identifiable all over. The Hook Man who terrorizes teenagers on lover’s lane. The woman who hasn’t checked the backseat of her car before driving down the dark road. The babysitter creeped out by a clown doll that’s almost too lifelike. And, of course, Bloody Mary.
We’ve all heard it, right? Say Bloody Mary three times in the bathroom mirror and she’ll come out and get you. It was a thrilling concept—so very tempting because it wasn’t tied to place or circumstance. Anyone could go into the bathroom and recite the chant. The premise of our novel was pretty simple. The new girl in a small, unassuming town recites Bloody Mary in the mirror and is subsequently hunted by the vengeful spirit. My cousin and I both remember snatches of the story—scenes with squeaking floorboards and broken mirrors. There was no “final girl” because we didn’t know that was a trope (or even what a trope was). We had a female villain. Female protagonists. Centuries old lore. Small town spooks. Every time I think about this book I smile because it was so dark and weird and a perfect representation of who I wanted to be as a writer.
After our Bloody Marry book (neither of us remember how it ends) I moved more into writing historical fiction and fantasy, but I continued to love scary stories. Couldn’t get enough of them. Then, a few years later, I started watching horror movies…and that was it for me. I became my friend group’s resident creeper—the one who brought the Saw DVD to sleepovers and who’d recite the “rules” from Scream whenever I saw one of my friends breaking them. (“Never say I’ll be right back!”)
It’s been twenty years since my cousin and I first launched our pen-pal ghost novel and I’m still completely hooked on scary stories. I have a few horror projects in the works. The short fiction I write, and the few which have been published, usually fall into the category of horror and/or crime. I’ve written about ghosts. Demons. Monsters. I’ve written about all kinds of people—good and bad—doing terrible things. I’ve always felt a need to look into the dark. See what there is to see there. As an adult, I continue to explore these ideas through fiction—but that little book we wrote at ten still hangs in the back of my mind. It is my true north—the story that showed me that it could be done. We were little girls but we could use our voices to tell a story—all kinds of stories. Even scary ones. And that’s exactly what we did.
(DISCLAIMER: To the best of my recollection, I never actually tried to perform Bloody Mary in front of the mirror but I did encourage my friends to try it. Horror writers can still be cowards.)
Emily Verona received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from The State University of New York at Purchase. Previous publication credits include work featured on BUST.com and in The Pinch, Indigo Rising, and New Legends.