Strange & Scary Story Talk

 

I have a new project to announce-Strange & Scary Story Talk, my YouTube show where I discuss dark and strange works of fiction, both classic and contemporary, and, at the end of each episode, leave the viewer with a question (or three) to ponder.

During each episode I offer short and insightful commentary on not only a literary work but also its creator. I must say that the writers are as interesting as the tales they imagine!

So far I have discussed Shirley Jackson’s THE POSSIBILITY OF EVIL, Joyce Carol Oates’ WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?, Edith Wharton’s POMEGRANATE SEED and Daphne du Maurier’s THE DOLL.

Please be sure to check out Strange & Scary Story Talk on YouTube, and, if you like what you see, don’t forget to hit subscribe! Also, share your insights about the stories in the comments section so that we can continue the conversation!

I will be announcing the feature stories of upcoming episodes here on quirknjive.com and on Twitter @heather_nanni.

Can’t wait to talk strange and scary stories with you!

 

 

Let’s Play a Game

two men inside moving vehicle

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

A short story by Heather Nanni

“Hannah,” my mother said, watching me through the rearview mirror. “Think of a name, but don’t tell me what it is. Okay? Did you think of one? Ready?” She waited a minute, glancing back at me and smiling, and then she said, “Blaire.”

I wondered how my mother did it. “Yes, Mommy! Yes! Yes! Do it again. Let’s play again.”

“Okay, Hannah, now remember not to tell me. And be sure not to move your lips. As a matter of fact, why don’t you look out the window? That way I can’t even see your face. All right. Think of a name.” She waited a moment. “Did you think of one? Are you ready?”

“Ready, Mommy.”

“Okay. Here goes.” She made her silly drumroll sound-the one I tried to mimic but couldn’t. “Cindy!”

“Mommy! How do you do that? Again! Again!”

And so the game continued, until my mother had enough. “All right, Hannah. That’s it. Mommy’s tired.”

“Mommy. How did you do it? Tell me how you did it? Is it magic?”

“Hannah, you know there’s no such thing as magic. I’m disappointed at you for even asking. It’s God’s special gift to me.”

“Mommy, do you think God will give me the gift too?”

“No Hannah. Like I said, it’s a special gift from God to me. You have gifts, right? Like the doll I gave you for your birthday? Did Mommy expect a doll too?”

“No Mommy.”

“Well then you can’t expect this gift either.”

That’s how it started. I was six years old when Mom first played the game with me. And, although Mom told me I didn’t have her gift, once, when I was a few years older, I tried to see if she was right. We were having tea together and I said, “Mom, think of a name.”

“Why Hannah?” she asked.

“Because I want to see if I can do what you do.”

But, rather than think of a name, she reached across the table and slapped me in the face. “I told you already! That’s God’s gift to me. You greedy thing!” With that she threw my teacup against the wall, tea and ceramic pieces flying everywhere. After I cleaned the mess, she sent me to my room where I remained until the next morning when she took me to her minister so I could confess my sins. I was eight years old then, and it would be years before I tried my hand at mom’s gift again.

As I got older, mom developed her skills and expanded her repertoire. By the time I was about ten, she no longer limited herself to guessing names. She read my thoughts.

“Hannah, did you like the chicken Mommy made for dinner?

“Hannah, do you like Mommy’s new outfit?”

“Hannah, did you pay attention during today’s sermon?”

My answer was always, “Yes, Mommy,” and her response was invariably, “Oh Hannah. When will you ever stop lying?” Then she would continue with either a reprimand or a beating.

When I was a teenager, I realized my mother was paranoid.

“Hannah, did you tell Kathy about what happened here last night?”

Kathy was my best friend. Of course I told her about what happened the night before. How my mother rolled on the floor and begged God to expel the demons from our house. How she prayed over me, dragged me by the hair and locked me in my bedroom. My mother didn’t wait for me to answer. Instead she punched me on the side of my head and took me to her pastor’s office where they decided it was best to take my phone away and not allow me to see my friends any longer.

Being without friends or any life outside of school gave me a lot of time to study my mother. I learned the only thing that calmed her down after working herself into a frenzy was watching religious videos-mainly of zealot preachers yelling at congregations to repent. One night, she woke me from my sleep and yanked me out of bed. “Did you say your prayers?”

I hadn’t. I had fallen asleep. My mother raised her hand to strike me, and when she did I just closed my eyes and pictured her walking out of my room and going into the living room to watch a video. To my surprise, she lowered her arm and left, and, like a sinner’s sudden realization that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, it came to me­-if I could hold a thought with an image rather than with words, my mother would receive the message without even realizing.

It took a lot of practice and a lot of beatings to perfect my skill. I started small-envisioning a roast chicken rather than asking my mother to make one. It was tricky though. If I allowed the words to slip in-I hope mom makes a roast chicken for dinner-she would hear them.

After about three months, I decided I could put my gift to good use and help my mother manage her meds. She took all sorts of pills-for arthritis, migraines, her heart condition. I got pretty good at visualizing her not taking some, taking too many of others, swallowing entire bottles. One day, in fact, I walked into her room and found her lying on the floor, an empty bottle of heart meds next to her. I never felt so strong in my life. I finally had God on my side.

Of course, I’m nothing like my mother. I would never abuse my gift. Anyway, I’ve got to go and take mom to day care now. She’s never been the same since her unfortunate incident with the pills. She really needs round-the-clock assistance. Looking at her through the rearview mirror, it’s hard to imagine the person she once was.

“Hey Mom. I have an idea. Let’s play a game.”

 

Shadows and Light

tree pathway

Photo by Adnan Uddin on Pexels.com

Four years ago, I wrote this poem. Four years ago, I let go of the misguided belief that to write about painful family relationships is to be disloyal. Four years ago, I began the process of becoming an artist. Make no mistake-you cannot be an artist if you censor yourself; if you hid your past; if you sacrifice your truth to protect others.

Shadows & Light

Life with you was shadows and light.

On days when there was only light,

there was never only light.

A small step

in either direction

and you would cast your shadow.

Some days it would remain small

yet present.

It would lurk

and wait

and then grow.

It would grow

until it reigned over us.

And tears would rain

from eyes

that searched,

longing for light’s return.

If only it was always shadow,

the light would not be missed.

But such was not our fate.

.

Now that you are gone, it is only shadow-

that haunts my memories

that burdens my conscience

that chases the light.

Shadows

Light

You

I

Life

Death

An end

that never ends

Light Like a Sunday

IMG_3588

I am experimenting with line breaks and punctuation in poetry.  Which do you prefer, A or B? This morning, looking at both with fresh eyes, I prefer the rhythm of the first, despite B being my revision. Funny how a good night’s rest changes things.

A.

Light Like a Sunday

Light like a Sunday

afternoon-late

but not close enough to nightfall

just the dead, glaring light

of the interrogation room

declaring your guilt

in a game poorly played

in a life poorly played.

 

B.

Light, Like a Sunday

Light, like a Sunday

afternoon-late, but not close enough

to nightfall

just the dead

glaring light of the interrogation room

declaring your guilt

in a game poorly played

in a life poorly played.

 

Writing from Dark Places

lighted candle

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Most of my writing is dark-themes of loneliness, isolation, mental illness and uncertainty weave their way throughout. At times I wonder if it is irresponsible, this putting more darkness into the world. But my writing is born from places shielded from the light-the space under the stairwell where I hide, the corner of the basement where the single sunbeam cannot reach. If I wrote from places other than where I sit, anything I produced would be dishonest.

Before I became a writer, I was a dancer. Dancing was my life from the moment I began my  formal training at three-years-old. I was good-technically-but didn’t possess any real artistry until I felt true and profound sufferance. I could hear the music, move to the music, but could not feel it. Only when I learned fear, loneliness and longing for things that no longer existed did I acquire an understanding that connected me to music and movement. It was that understanding that allowed me to merge the two through dance.

Not until I knew darkness could I understand the haunting ache of Arvo Part’s Tabula Rosa or the torment of his Fratres. Not until I understood fear could I  connect to the foreboding of Marin Marais Bells of St. Genevieve, or the terror of Mozart’s Requiem in D.

But, locked away in a studio listening to these pieces, working through them, I found an almost ecstatic beauty and pleasure in the movement born from them, a beauty that never could have been experienced without the painful feelings and memories the music evoked.

This is the paradox of darkness-with its sadness, comes a heightened joy.

As with dance, so too with writing. Darkness is the foundation upon which beauty and joy is built, at least for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced enough pain to fully embrace the light that emerges from the shadows.

As an artist, a writer, a lover of this wretchedly beautiful world, you must be honest; you must not ignore what exists- the darkness, the sorrow, the joy, the sublime. As Mary Oliver states in “Wild Geese,”

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Read and listen to full poem here.

So tell me writers, dancers, artists; tell me your despair, your fear, your pain; share with me your darkness so that I can tell you mine, and we can learn the truth and beauty of the world that goes on and on….

 

 

 

Existence

From last March

Quirk N Jive

IMG_6043

Like mist over a lake that lifts and dissipates

into the air, so I disappear.

Like spring snow that, once it has landed, melts

into the earth, so I disappear.

Mist, snow, myself- things that last for a moment and then are lost,

perhaps never having existed at all.

These things that skim the surface of this world and then fade into the dark and endless sea of nothingness

or eternity

require proof, a stake to claim that they were,

or that they are.

Sometimes a simple photograph suffices.

As for my shadow self, I need words,

words on a page to prove that I am here

somewhere in this vast place

over which I hover, longing for an anchor

to hold me steady.

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