I’ve always been strangely attracted to the peculiar, that which disturbs the peaceful mind and makes the pulse beat just a little bit faster in the veins. Growing up, I was a pleasant, albeit shy, kid, the kind you could trust to look after your cat or babysit your children, although I suppose I was not your average 70s-era girl who was content to play hopscotch and listen to Donny Osmond records in her room. I had a fierce imagination, and it wasn’t long before I realized that my imagination could create in my body an exhilarating rush of endorphins and adrenaline—all through the effect of one particular emotion: fear.
I remember long summer days spent with my best friend Andrea, in which we would pore over her dad’s Creepy and Eerie magazines or read aloud tales from books containing true ghost stories. In the early evenings, we would go on walks to discover abandon houses and dare each other to go in, after first building stories around the demise of the owners, just to heighten the fear. In our idle hours after school, we would seek out scary television shows: Circle of Fear, Trilogy of Terror, and the often-disturbing Twilight Zone. We delighted in the feeling of being scared, of having cold shivers leap up our spines, and I think, in part, the camaraderie of the shared experience of building fear and exchanging words to calm and console each other again. Our young lives were rather consumed with feeding our imaginations with terrible things. One year my family went to Disneyland and from the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop, I brought back a glow-in-the-dark resin skull with flowing white hair. This I kept on my dresser in my bedroom; it was the last thing I saw as I fell asleep. And yes, now that you ask, I did have trouble sleeping at night.
One horror theme that haunted my nighttime imaginings was the concept that something evil could not die, that there was no way to vanquish permanently that which terrorized and haunted you. Through somewhat of an unconscious accident, this theme makes its appearance in A Peculiar Curiosity.
The Elements of the Story
Back in 2011, my then fourteen-year-old son brought home 100 stick bugs with the intention of selling them and making money. We soon discovered that it is illegal in our province to sell them. They are an invasive species and cannot be turned out into the wild. Oh, and another thing about stick bugs, they reproduce like crazy. Upon discovering our fate was to care for generation after generation of stick bugs until we died of old age, a sickening fear gripped me. It was that same fear that had fascinated me as a child, the fear of having to take ownership of something terrible, something you didn’t want, something you couldn’t be rid of. And it was this terrible feeling that made me realize I had a great theme for a story.
Then, I needed a setting. Around that time, I was fascinated with a TV show called Oddities. It focused on a curiosity shop in New York City that specializes in antiques of the macabre. I was fascinated by what I saw: bloodletting kits, two headed animals, shrunken heads, mummy hands… I knew I had to work all these things into my burgeoning story, and with a love of the mystical gothic London, I was all set.
Finally, I needed that antagonist. As a die-hard fan of The Walking Dead, I knew my story had to feature the undead, but I wanted to write a story unlike anything I’d seen or read. I wanted to return to the roots of the zombie invasion, Haiti itself. Thus, I had the makings of a story.
What it’s Really About
A Peculiar Curiosity is not just a scary, odd story, but it is a story that explores the themes of what happens when you make a bad decision, a decision you can’t alter. What happens when you make a decision that affects the welfare of someone else—a decision that could have a ripple effect that goes far out into the future? A Peculiar Curiosity is about two men, Edward Walker and Duncan Clarke, who all too lightly enter into decisions based on a compulsion to succeed, and the consequences they face because of their impulsivity. It is a story where do-overs are not possible, where the effects of decisions are permanent. Oh, and in case you are wondering, no stick bugs were harmed in the making of this story. I’m not sure I can say the same for the characters in A Peculiar Curiosity.
Melanie Cossey has enjoyed a twenty-year freelance writing career crafting non-fiction articles for the web and magazines, but in recent years has changed her focus to creating poetry, short fiction and novels. Melanie’s gothic fiction The Nymphalidae won Honorable Mention in the Storm Crow Tavern’s 2015 Tales from Beermat Micro Fiction Contest and her short story, The Choice Between Fire and Ice was shortlisted in the 2016 Surrey International Writer’s Conference’s Short Fiction Contest.