Real and Imagined by Kris Ripper
I’m sitting at a roller rink watching my niece’s junior derby practice. It’s so cold I can’t feel my fingers tap the screen. It’s so dark out that every time my kid approaches the glass doors to dance for her reflection I can’t help but imagine that outside is a blackened wasteland and we are the only people left alive.
I go tense each time the kid gets too close to the gap where the door doesn’t fully seal, waiting for an arm to reach in and grab her.
Hi. I’m Kris. I started reading horror at the tender age of…well. Early, let’s just say, and leave it at that.
A good horror story can invade my senses, convince me that the creak in the hallway is an undead intruder, or that the draft I just felt across the back of my neck was a spirit passing by. If you have the mind for it—if, for instance, you have an overactive imagination—you can make almost anything into a horror story. Including roller derby practice.
I have an overactive imagination.
When I was a kid, I thought that was a diagnosis, because that’s how it was said: “Oh, Kris has”—voice lowers—“an overactive imagination.” I used to picture my imagination as amorphous, constantly shifting storm clouds, hovering over me. Often dark, but with lights strewn through, very dramatic and intense.
Discovering horror novels was a relief; I wasn’t the only person inventing stories out of shadows, or the only person who found entertainment in the grisly and macabre. I spent years defending my favorite books from English teachers (who didn’t believe such books had “literary merit”, as if that was a value only they could assign) and family members (who thought someone with my sensibilities probably shouldn’t be reading such unsettling material).
I can’t tell you how glad I am that no one restricted my access to Stephen King and Anne Rice and Koontz and Straub. Or how grateful I am for the four-for-a-buck book bin at Thrift Town in El Sobrante, California, where I picked up piles of mass market paperbacks and devoured them.
I’m a loner.
I’m a loner even when I’m surrounded by people. It’s a gift. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to the serious, inveterate story-consumers out there when I say that books were not a pastime for me in adolescence, but a lifeline. And the ones I craved were the ones that made me feel. I needed the intensity, the fear, the hunger, the deep unease that no amount of self-soothing could address.
Headlights flash out in the parking lot of the roller rink, searing darkness, cleaving in through the glass. My kid laughs and jumps back as if they’re blades, delighted by whatever narrative is running in her head.
We aren’t the only ones left on earth, of course. That was obvious all along. When the owners of the car come in, pulling jackets tighter around themselves against the chill, I study them out of the corner of my eye.
Maybe no monsters lurk in the darkness, waiting to grab giggling children. Then again, so often the monsters walk amongst us, and we nod our hellos, none the wiser.
Kris Ripper is one of many amazing authors featured in the new queer fiction horror anthology, All in Fear.