Jim Mountfield, the pseudonym under which I write horror stories, has had a new piece of fiction published. It appears in the spring 2016 edition of a magazine called Blood Moon Rising.
The story is a short and nasty piece called The Balloon. However, despite its shortness and nastiness, it’s a good example of the unlikely and random way that different elements of a story can come together and form a single whole. A bit of the story originates in one place, another bit originates in a different place, and so on. Thus, the writer ends up like Frankenstein, sewing parts of different bodies together to make a brand new creature. (And that’s an appropriate analogy when you’re talking about horror stories.)
A while back, I read an interview with the Dutch director Tom Six, the man who gave us such yummy movies as The Human Centipede (2009), The Human Centipede II (2011) and – surprise! – The Human Centipede III (2015), which are about stitching people’s mouths to other people’s anuses so that they end up as a crawling, conjoined chain of bodies with a single alimentary tract. It goes without saying that everyone who isn’t at the front of the human centipede gets a ‘bum’ deal.
Asked how he’d come up with such a crazed idea in the first place, Six claims he thought of it after watching a news report about a paedophile. “His crimes were so awful I asked myself, ‘What’s the most extreme punishment that could be handed out to him?’” Then Six answered his own question by imagining some highly unsavoury mouth-to-bum surgery.
This surprised me, by the way. I’d always assumed Six came up with the idea for The Human Centipede after he’d asked himself: “What’s the grossest thing I can stick in a horror movie, so that blood-and-gore-obsessed teenagers the world over will shell out money to see it and make me a fortune?”
Anyway, that got me thinking: what’s the most extreme punishment I could give to a paedophile in a story?
It also made me remember something. A decade ago, I’d been travelling in Cambodia and one night in Phnom Penh, having drunk a few beers too many, I wandered into what looked like a nice relaxed beer garden with an outdoor bar in the middle of it. Gradually, though, I realised that the Cambodian barmaids there seemed a bit too young; while the customers – all Western men – seemed a bit too old. And leery.
I ended up sitting at the bar counter opposite a slightly Lolita-esque barmaid and I started lecturing her about how she ought to pack in her job, get away from these dirty old men, go back to school and get some proper qualifications. Being rather pissed, I spoke too loudly, and I soon noticed that there were a couple of sleazy-looking British men sitting along the counter from me, muttering at me in disapproval. But I had the sense to get my beer down me and stride out of that dubious joint before I got into a fight.
The next day, I took a boat along the Tonle Sap River to Siem Reap, which is near the crumbling, jungle-overrun but still stunning temple complex at Angkor Wat. Somehow, those two things, the grotesque punters in that bar in Phnom Penh and the venerable temples of Angkor Wat, got linked in my mind.
Then, two years ago in India, I visited a different sort of historical site. This was the Qutab complex in Delhi, where the massive Qutab Minar minaret built between the 12th and 14th centuries soars above an area of ruins, courtyards, pillars, pavilions, lawns, hedgerows and trees. There, I saw something else that lodged in my mind. As I wrote in my notebook at the time: “At least one end of the Qutab site was below the level of the neighbouring road. There were railings along the roadside and a group of little kids had gathered behind them. Apparently, they’d been playing with a big red balloon and the balloon had come down on the wrong side of the railings, into the grounds of the site, and landed on top of some medieval masonry a couple of yards below them. Now they were yelling down through the railings, trying to get the attention of some visitor who’d be kind and brave enough to clamber up onto the masonry and retrieve their balloon for them.”
And then all the story elements were in place: temple-ruins half-swallowed by the jungle, like in Angkor Wat; a lost kid’s balloon, like I’d seen at Qutab Minar; and a squalid old tourist who’s in a southern Asian country not to sightsee but because of his unhealthy interest in the country’s youngsters, which was the impression I’d got of those bar-customers in Phnom Penh. And from this, I managed to write The Balloon.
The magazine featuring the story can be accessed online, here:
And the last time I checked, The Balloon itself was available here. Read it if you dare.