When I was a kid, I had the same recurring nightmare that, it seems, I shared with most children. I would be in my house, where everything would seem fine. My mother and father would be there in the living room. I would leave for the kitchen...and there, standing at the sink, would be my mother. I'd know instantly that this was not her, my real mother was in the living room, this was some sort of monster or impostor, and when she turned around I could see the evil on her face. She would chase me back to my parents, or catch me and I would wake just as those hands that were not hers took hold of me.
But I wasn't alone in this. Talking to a few friends, I found that they had exactly the same type of nightmare. Even thinking about it now that dream still creeps me out, and it seems it's left its mark on my writing.
Tonight I read a post on Facebook which, summarising, said this - You hear a voice from the kitchen, your mother, asking you to come downstairs. On your way down you hear your mother calling from the bedroom, saying not to go down, she heard it too. Which do you believe?
Chills, right? Something so simple it borders on the cliché, but for some reason this really gets to me. Something which is not your mother, using her voice, screams malevolence. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Neil Gaiman's novel 'Coraline' features a young girl, the titular character, who, finding her way into a parallel world, discovers her 'Other Mother'. The main difference is that this Other Mother has buttons for eyes and means, in the end, to eat Coraline. A simplification of the plot, you understand, but there you have that old fear that one's mother is not who she says she is.
Let's widen the scope a little. In TV's 'Supernatural', there is an episode featuring the folkloric 'wendigo' - a creature into which humans could transform if they commit acts of cannibalism. The show's incarnation possesses one particular ability - the ability to mimic the voice of any human. Lying in wait in the woods, it calls out for help using the voice of one of the missing group. The group goes looking, and the creature devours them. In real-world Ethiopia, there is talk of a wolf-like creature called a 'corocotta' which has the ability to mimic the human voice, and lures its victims by calling them by name.
Sound familiar? In 'The Blair Witch Project', the antagonistic force in the woods calls out to the two remaining characters using the voice of their missing friend. It screams for help in the night, luring them into a trap. Therein, I believe, lies what is so unsettling about these dreams of the 'Other Mother'. It can also, I think, be seen in the folkloric changeling faery. A creature mimicking the voice, the appearance, or otherwise characteristic of what we know, what is familiar, what is safe. As human beings we, in our arrogance, consider ourselves to the apex of our ecosystem, so when something inhuman is able to mimic our voice, our intelligence, the thing that makes us human, it shakes us to our core.
I leave you with a personal note. In my story 'A Letter Found Amongst the Dead', a town is laid siege to by Knockers from the nearby mine. As usual it can be read on the left hand side of your screen, but I will quote a passage here:
The Knockers are on the roof again, clawing at the clay tiles, trying to get in. They call out with human voices, trying to lure us out, then cackle at their own cunning. They have learned our names, somehow, and call out to us using them, including the children.
The mimicking of the human soul - every writer has their major themes they revisit time and time again, and I think this is something that I will continue to write about. We write about both what we understand and what we hope to understand, so it is no surprise that our deepest fears creep their way into our stories too, whether they be the work of modern fiction or the whispered fears of our folkloric ancestry.
Until next time,